Monday, September 16, 2013

Bob Dylan at the Library

In earlier years I often frequented Zuma Beach. Near there, looking up to the bluffs, was a big house that looked just a little like a castle. For reasons I've long forgotten I imagined that that was Bob Dylan's house. I don't think it was, but his house was up on those bluffs somewhere. Still is. And when he's not touring I suppose he's out there. Just another elderly Jewish guy from the entertainment industry enjoying the mellow coastal climate of Southern California. There's several of those older Jewish guys out there, the ones who did unusually well having nice views of the ocean.

And yet, this one is a little different, even while being the same. Bob Dylan. I know his music. I know his music very well. To me he is a figure of the arts for the ages, a maker of our world, all majesty; Caravaggio, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Bob Dylan. A wonder. But I also know that scowl. I can do that scowl. I can see my brothers in that face. The dark eyes are my dark eyes, the twinkle my grandfather's, I'm sure my cousin has had that hat, worn in the same way, and I have had the same look of irritation in that face leveled at me from a different face. It is all familiar. Myself, family, men I have known, all swirling in that face. Once upon a time I did a show of portrait paintings of Jewish people 85 years old and older. Drawing Dylan here, the first time I ever had cause to do so, I see him in that group, maybe only 10 years or a bit more away, ready to join them if he can. Another person echoing everything I have known, good or ill.

Vastly many are the elegies written of Bob Dylan the artist, many far better than any I might write. But this is not that lesser elegy. Here is the thing I know, but most of the time fail to understand under all my wounds and the bedazzlements of my culture, but it is true: Our art, our work, does not exactly belong to us. Or perhaps I should put it this way. Bob Dylan the artist is only that Bob Dylan when he is doing his work, writing It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, or playing the harmonica, or whatever it is. When it's over he gets the credit, he can speak for it, maybe he gets a bunch of money, it is his. The pride is his if he wants it, and he did it, but the second he steps away, he is just whatever man he is. Another guy out on the cliffs near Zuma Beach. My 42nd cousin. He looks a little like my Grandma Bernice.

And so me too, on my infinitely smaller (artistic) and exactly the same size (human) scale, am who I am. At this moment I am the blogger. At the top of the post I was the artist. It was a one way street, it is a one way street doing those things. The umbilical cord runs to however much light my soul can shine. This conversation we are having is an illusion. If we talk for real, it is different. When I log out here I become a person walking, a clerk at work, whatever I am doing and feeling and thinking, one person, equal in size to all others. There is no way that I know of to make that larger, no song, no masterpiece, no blog post. When I say I know, but most of the time I fail to understand, it is that that is so, and a thing to be loved. Everyone lives on the ground. No money, no glory, no fawning retinue, changes going to the bathroom, or lying in bed or breathing air or thinking about the world, one thought at a time, one breath, one stream of pee, alone under our sky.

When Bob Dylan tours, when he comes by my area to visit some remnants of family, he does what any older guy with free time and a penchant for wandering about does, he comes to my library. A senior citizen, low key, halfway between dapper and seedy. Before you know him, from your perch at the front desk, you toss him into some random patron categories that you do inadvertently for everyone; trouble, funny, impaired, interesting, work, needy. I don't know what category I put him in. I kind of like them all in a way anyway, even as I dread some. For him maybe it's old guy, ready for a brief, appreciative exchange of observations, a couple light, situational jokes. It doesn't matter. And when I make him, when he becomes Bob Dylan, it doesn't matter either. Oh, it does, it's the most dazzling amazing spectacle in the world, but he is not singing, or writing, and he is just there. A library patron, one of 2500 for the day. To be helped, if I can.

What does the magnificent and massive Bob Dylan check out from the local Library? Ha! I knew you'd ask. I would've. But I can't tell you. His browsing habits are protected by our Data Privacy policies. I can give you a hint though. I keep trying to get him into the Gerald and Piggie books. I think he'd like them, and I have totally sold him on Anthony Browne, particularly Zoo and One Gorilla. Bob Dylan is practically obsessed with Anthony Browne's One Gorilla! But I probably shouldn't have told you that. Could you please sort of keep it to yourself? It's not much of a story anyway. 


  1. I like you because:

    1. You like Bob Dylan.
    2. You mentioned Caravaggio.
    3. Paragraph four
    4. You mentioned the Gerald and Piggie books.

    Glad to have come across your blog.

  2. Enjoyed this piece very much. There really are some perks to your job at the library!

  3. Thank you. Yes, there are 8 perks to my job at the library:

    1. Constant interaction with fascinating famous people. We have gone to an all famous people all the time library model.

    2. Book leeching. The wisdom of accumulated literature slowly seeps out of books into one' soul so that after 20 years of working here one becomes, basically, a Zen master, albeit without robes, monastery, acolytes, and enlightenment.

    3. Sometimes someone brings in free doughnuts from a reputable enough bakery to be edible.

    4. It is an environment rich with encounters to blog about.

    5. Opportunities to develop passing relationships with ex-convicts who are on their very best behavior.

    6. Far quieter than an industrial Hen laying operation or a pipe manufacturing plant.

    7. A living wage. The world is so cruel this seems like a perk.

    8. If you unobtrusively stand near Bob Dylan while he is browsing the DVDs you can hear him hum Buddy Holly songs.

    Thanks again for the comment. I gave you an extra blog post in thanks.


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