“We set out that night for the cold in the North…”

Well, not quite, since it was only mid-November, and right around then winter was bearing down hard on  Niagara Falls, New York, but it was warm enough that — fortified by strong alcohol and a strong sense of destiny — that my friend Phil and I set up camp that night outside the Niagara Falls Convention Center and waited to buy tickets in the morning for a show the next night by Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue.

We were so young. I remember thinking that it was amazing that Dylan was out on the road again, performing again, at the ripe old age of…what, I guess ol’ Bob was about 35 years old!

There was an afternoon show and an evening show on Nov. 15, 1975. We went to the evening show with two girl friends. Here’s the set list from the show we attended: (not including songs by other performers — the featured guest star when we saw Rolling Thunder was Joni Mitchell):

When I Paint My Masterpiece
It Ain't Me, Babe
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
Romance In Durango
Blowin' In The Wind
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
Never Let Me Go
Mama, You Been On My Mind
I Shall Be Released
Love Minus Zero/No Limit
Tangled Up In Blue
Oh, Sister
One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below)
Just Like A Woman
Knockin' On Heaven's Door
This Land Is Your Land

Friend Phil recalls this: I remember clearly the rendition of “Tangled Up In Blue’, when he changed the lyric “Some are carpenters’ wives” to “Some are truck drivers’ wives”.

Me, I remember that the most impressive and thrilling songs were the songs from the new album “Desire” — “Romance in Durango,” “Oh Sister,” “Hurricane,” “One More Cup of Coffee” and “Sara”; the powerful symbolism of Dylan and his merry band doing a finale of “This Land Is Your Land” in tribute to Woody Guthrie and with a nod toward the upcoming bicentennial (as an idiot wind blew from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol…); and, I believe, a duet with none-other-than Joan Baez on “Mama you’ve Been On My Mind.” I remember being in a bar in Niagara Falls when a girl I knew ran in and excitedly handed me a handbill she’d just been handed by some guy on the street — a handbill for the Rolling Thunder Revue.

I remember that a girl named Lee — blonde and beautiful Lee — came with me to the concert, to which I wore a stupid black fedora, which fedora Lee decided sometime during that evening to wear over her long golden locks, and I never saw that fedora again. As I recall, we had great seats in the middle orchestra, no more than ten rows back from the stage. I have a vivid image of Dylan wearing that clear plastic mask and a hat just like the hat he wears on the cover of “Desire” and he’s standing at the microphone without his guitar doing a sort of hipster pantomine as he sings “Isis.” I remember falling in love, alternately, with Joni Mitchell, Roni Blakely and Scarlet Rivera. I remember that the show opened with a song by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, who was dressed very much like Dylan and looked very much like Dylan and until he started singing many people in the audience were cheering because they mistakenly thought he WAS Bob Dylan.

Memories of Rolling Thunder from more than thirty years ago….still echoing as I listened last night to the sound of distant thunder and flashes of light in the northwest sky…as my son and I get ready to head North for this weekend’s show in Saratoga Springs featuring Bob Dylan and his band with LEVON HELM and others. I promise to not wear a black fedora and I promise to report back on this coming Sunday’s performance by the man my friend and fellow writer Steve Hart has dubbed “His Bobness.”


Souls in the balance

This is the latest in a series of essays titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death.”

A friend checks in with a response to my previous essay, “Beautiful corpse,” in which I state my case for writing about death. This old friend signs his note “written with tongue in cheek and Soul in the balance.”


I like the fact that he – born and bred in northeast Massachusetts, near the New Hampshire border, a true neighbor of Thoreau and Hawthorne and most especially Emerson – capitalizes the word Soul.


My old friend speculates that “perhaps as the body ages there occurs a chemical reaction that translates into the conscious awareness of one’s own mortality.’‘


He notes that a phrase he learned “from my mother,” the phrase “There but for the Grace of God, go you or I,” was “never wasted on anyone’s Death. It was strictly reserved for the most miserable and blighted living creature. Those who’d be better off dead.” 


My friend writes, too, about the night his entire family gathered in his parents’ bedroom to keep vigil as their father, a prominent surgeon in Boston, died. “We watched as my father literally breathed his last.” The next day, my friend recalls, one of his brothers “spoke of how palpable was the experience of seeing a soul separate from a body.”


Finally my astute friend – who, I note with total disregard for relevance, is the person who first played a Bob Dylan record for me; for the record, the record was “Blonde on Blonde,” and the year was more years ago than I want to calculate, and the place was on the outskirts of Niagara Falls, N.Y., in a room where the windows looked out over the Niagara River to the flat and frozen plains of eastern Ontario – speculates that “We will never read in the papers a story with the heading ‘Scientist create Death in laboratory.’ Death is the given. It cannot be cloned.”


 In closing he suggests that maybe that’s the reason for religion: “Improving the quality of our state of being Dead.”


 I like the way my old friend capitalizes the word Dead. Lots of people capitalize Death. I’ve never known anyone to capitalize Dead unless they were referring to Jerry Garcia and his merry band.