Monday, November 2, 2015
Bob Dylan at the Riverview Cafe
As you probably know, Bob Dylan and I occasionally hang out on the Thursdays when he's in my town. Due to nostalgia mostly, and perhaps because of an old family connection or two of his, this happens as many as half a dozen times a year. But also sometimes, when he's in town, he just sort of shows up at places that I mentioned during the time we were hanging out. At most he might nod at me once when I run into him at those spots, but he generally keeps his own counsel and a very low profile.
So I wasn't shocked to see Bob Dylan at Open Mike Night at The Riverview Cafe.
Thursday night is an open mike night there, and sometimes my wife and I get a cup of wine and spend the evening. I don't perform, not being a musician, but I enjoy the unadorned Americana of it all, the art on the street, famelessness of it. It is delightfully not for profit, ridiculous, battered, homely, and secretly deep and holy. That doesn't mean that when I saw Dylan show up my heart didn't skip a beat. I'd sure like to see Dylan sing two songs for a crowd of 20, especially when my wife and I would be ten percent of that crowd. And I was struck by the weird and wonderful quality that, though he is one of the mightiest musical legends that will ever walk our land, he simultaneously fits well into the scattering of crusty, glamour-free old people who populate the Riverview's open mike night. As great and insanely brilliant as Dylan is, him sitting on a stool up there with a guitar, playing maybe Blood in my Eyes, with only part of the crowd paying attention, would fit in and show not a single seam or splice or gray hair out of place with any other Thursday night there.
But no, Dylan didn't play at open mike night. He just hung around. One person did play who was so good you had to notice, saying he hadn't played anything for 4 months. He played a song he wrote that reminded us of Lucinda Williams and that Lucinda Williams would have been proud to have written herself. Dylan heard it, as he heard everything that night, looking at his phone a lot, sitting in one of the upholstered chairs, drinking something, I don't know what, chai maybe? He politely applauded like he did for all the performers. I applauded too. Dylan kept his brimmed hat down low and talked to just one person for a minute or two the whole time we were there. Besides me I don't think anyone spotted him that night in the guise of his notoriety. He received no special treatment and mostly seemed to be killing an evening. Everyone is entitled to kill an evening, and there are worse ways to do it.
Did I pay extra attention that night to the old man in a hat and sweatpants who also happened to be Bob Dylan? I guess so, a little. What did it mean that a cultural legend plopped down at The Riverview open mike night, sat in a chair for two hours, and drank a chai? Maybe nothing. Maybe it meant nothing, and I could have told you about any number of old men, doing roughly the same thing. I could find a thousand of them in any cafe anywhere. But any of those people I would have had to describe to you from scratch. And I would have had to find an excuse for writing about them. I would have had to have a point.
I would have had to make it interesting. That's a lot of work, and not likely to go well. But Bob Dylan? That it happened to be Bob Dylan took care of all that for me. Though don't ask me how.