While everyone is clamoring for their 15 minutes of fame, I’m intrigued by a celebrity who is a living legend, and yet is trying his utmost not to be — namely, Bob Dylan.
I can’t seem to shake last month’s cover of Rolling Stone (Sep 27, 2012) with him on it. At 71 years old, he’s promoting his 35tth album, “Tempest”. It’s a disturbing interview to say the least, made more so — especially to me — because I ran into him back in 2011, and it was not the man in the article. The man in the article was Bob Dylan. The man I spoke to was Bob Zimmerman. Dylan is the alter ego of Bob Zimmerman. Zimmerman is the real guy, the name he was born with – and here’s how I met him.
It was a few days before the Grammys in L.A., and I was reading in the paper that they were rehearsing out at Center Staging, literally walking distance from Burbank Airport. That morning, I was to fly out of Burbank, but my plane was delayed. So I decided to walk on over to Center Staging in hopes of running into a fellow celebrity musical artist to put on my album.
(By the way, I’ve already recorded with R.E.M., and Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins wants to record a version of his hit “Today” with me.)
Now I’m the kind of guy who exudes such confidence that I walk right into closed rehearsals and film sets and nobody ever stops me…ever. When you’re Tony Clifton, you can do that. So I boldly walked into Rehearsal Stage #4 at CenterStaging, and I see a band that is new to me setting up to rehearse. I started talking to the lead singer by the name of Marcus and found out they were called Mumford & Sons – a new group from England that was taking America by storm. (Their new album, “Babel”, is currently the #1 album in America.) Nice guys actually.
After taking full advantage of the craft service table laid out in front of me, I needed to make a phone call, so I stepped out of the rehearsal room and found myself a bench right off of the entrance. After my call, I wasn’t sitting there but two minutes before an old scruffy man in unpressed clothes sat down beside me. At first I thought he was some homeless asshole, but then I figured he never would have got past security. Besides, he didn’t smell. He must be some down-and-out guy they throw a few bucks to keep the bathrooms clean.
I lightened up and decided to chat with him until some big star showed up. I asked him if he had seen the Black Eyed Peas controversial performance at the Super Bowl a few days before. He wasn’t sure who they were, and then said, “Do they dress in funny costumes and jump around the stage?” “Yep, that’s them” I answered. And then for the next 10-15 minutes, we had the most mundane but pleasant conversation. Just two strangers shooting the shit about the weather and other unimportant things.
It wasn’t long before the stage door swung open and out came T Bone Burnett. He turned to the old guy next to me and said, “Mr. Dylan, we’re ready for you.” I was in shock. Here I was talking to Bob Dylan for 15 fuckin’ minutes, and I didn’t even know it. But here’s the best part: Dylan loved the fact that for that 15 minutes I didn’t know who the hell he was. He didn’t have to put on the Bob Dylan act. When he got up and followed T Bone into the rehearsal room, he turned, looked at me, and gave me a big smile and a wink, as if to say, “Thanks for letting me be Bob Zimmerman again, if only for a moment.”
I let a minute pass and then walked back into the rehearsal room. And just like that, Bob Zimmerman was nowhere in sight. Standing at the microphone instead, tuning up, was Dylan in full-blown myth. He spoke to no one. The expression on his face had changed. He was dead serious, even almost miserable. I realized right then: here was the man Bob Zimmerman hated the most, the man that critics stigmatized by labeling “the poet of a generation,” a meek folk singer who over night unwillingly became the poster boy for the 60’s. A man who got type cast in history and eventually began to hate every fucking famous minute of it.
Don’t get me wrong. The talent is intact, the financial fortune has to be extraordinary, but the freedom is imprisoned. And freedom for Bobby Zimmerman was what it was all about to begin with. It’s in his lyrics. Just consider on of his most iconic lines ever, from “Like A Rolling Stone”: “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
Poor Bobby. Nowadays, his “Napoleon in rags” has everything to lose. Fifty years of getting used to waiting limos and the best pussy money can buy. Just too comfortable to give up. It’s called co-opting and has destroyed most of our more anarchistic artists.
The same thing happened to Obama. He went into the presidency relatively poor. Now he’ll be rich. He’s been co-opted. I don’t think he really even wants another four years. Just cash out. Michelle telling him, “Fuck ‘em. We tried. Take the money and run.”
Of course, co-opting can’t happen to me, as I give most of my money away to charity (in the form of gainful employment for young women in the sex trade).
Eventually, Dylan started to rehearse “Maggie’s Farm” with Mumford & Sons, never once acknowledging their presence, and they too intimidated to murmur a word to their idol. It was all pathetic in a way.
I decided to leave. When I got to the door, I turned back one last time and looked at Dylan. He was now looking straight at me. His eyes were so sad and lost, like the eyes on the cover of the Rolling Stone. I tried to smile, but he didn’t see. Bob Zimmerman had left the building.
As I walked back to the airport, I thought how the pressure of being Bob Dylan has to be overwhelming: Imagine every moment of every waking day everyone is expecting genius to flow from your lips. Obviously, he’s learned to keep his mouth shut. It’s easier that way.
Zimmerman, if you read this, give me a call. I’d be happy to sit down with you on that bench again and discuss nothing, nothing at all.