Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Bob Dylan received the Pulitzer Prize yesterday. I've seen him live a few times, once with my brother John at Deer Valley here in Utah. We went early and sat right up front to get a good view and good sound, except that we ended up standing the whole time because everyone squeezed in front of us and raised their arms to the beat and all we could see were hairy armpits if we remained seated. The best, the very best, concert I've ever attended was under the trolley tracks in Pittsburgh PA with my son, the other John.
"Lay lady, lay. Lay across my big brass bed." He sang with a twang, or something like it. The words slurred into each other like molasses on the kitchen counter, smooth and unsettling. I heard him through the paneled wall that divided our room from our brother's. Grumbling in Hi Fi. Haunting melodies I hummed while I walked to elementary school. His songs sat on my skin and tickled it. "Is that a real singer?", I used to think. That was before I realized that songs didn't just appear from heaven...that people had to create them.
Years later, the day after we buried my mother-in-law, my son and I went to see Bob Dylan in concert in Pittsburgh. Took our heavy hearts downtown to Station Square. The Pittsburgh Press had whispered the news to us on the living room couch. Back from the funeral home, painfully quiet. "Hey," I said, "Says here Bob Dylan is playing downtown this weekend." "Take John and go," Dave said. So we called and ordered up two tickets. Drove through that old familiar Pittsburgh traffic, parked under the trolley tracks and walked to the outdoor cafe with the stage up front. There were maybe 200 people there, and we could order a drink and some nibbles and watch him from the table if we wanted. We chose to get closer, right up front. So close we could see the thickening wrinkles in his skin, the wacky frizz in his hair. We could watch his fingers find the chords, see the shadow of his eyelashes when he really felt the music. He wore black. I've seen Bob Dylan three times in concert and he always wears black. Bob Dylan would probably look really dorky in chartreuse. Black for mourning. He took our pain and swirled it around in his cup and drank it with us. Drank it with us.
I hear Bob Dylan now and I am all at once the little sister, the mother, the writer, the daughter...and the leaves are mulching beneath my feet, and the air is sweet with new Spring growth, and Mom is clinking the dishes into the cupboard downstairs, and the crabapple in the front yard is just about to burst...my son is 14, long and skinny, and the walls of his room are covered with pictures of Bob Dylan while his music wafts out of his bedroom window and up into mine.