ACL Fest Sunday Interviews
Bob Dylan & His Band
8:30pm, AT&T stage
The first time I spoke to Simon M. Campden of the Unofficial Bob Dylan Free Tape Library, I imagined him holed up in an abandoned castle in Claremont, Calif., surrounded by whirring analog instruments and straw-filled crates of bootlegs.
“Siiimmmon speaking,” he answered that call and subsequent ones, a sing-songy baritone with British inflection. Beneficent, shaved bald, possibly holding a crowbar. “How may I help you?”
In fact, Campden was in Claremont, and he could help me very much. This I knew from his website (www.freelib.org/dylan/freelib.html), which enables Dylan devotees to select from concerts listed by decade, make requests by telephone, send in blank cassettes and self-addressed stamped envelopes, and receive the dubs a couple of weeks later. Now, audio and even video dissemination is nearly instantaneous, and I don’t imagine Simon gets too many calls anymore.
I stumbled across his site the summer after going to my first Dylan show (Jan. 28, 1998, Landmark Theatre, Syracuse, N.Y.) and then my second and third (May 21 and 22, 1998, Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles). I wanted to sit in the balcony with my college ex and hear “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” once more and rediscover the rare “Restless Farewell” dedicated to Frank Sinatra a week after his death. Alas, the library had yet to receive audience or soundboard recordings of those performances, so I chose another.
On Dec. 8, 1975, I went to my fourth Dylan show. It was a benefit for Rubin “Hurricane” Carter at Madison Square Garden. I’ve gone to about 600 since, but that’s one of my favorites, if only for the “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” and “Romance in Durango.” Throw my ticket in the wind; throw my mattress out there, too. Take the rag away from your face. No llores, mi querida. I could use one more “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below).” What a life.
And life is brief. How many years can a mountain exist? My heart’s in the highlands. Well, anybody can be just like me, obviously. My burden is heavy, my dreams are beyond control. Do you know where I can get rid of these things? A little confused, I remember well. I’m hangin’ on to a solid rock. What was it you wanted? Where do you come from? Where do you go? My name, it means nothing; my age, it means less. I was so much older then, etc. Some of these bootleggers, they make pretty good stuff. Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan?
I find myself thinking back to those exchanges with Campden and first listening to those tapes he sent in looking forward to Saturday night at Stubb’s and the final set of this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival. For those keeping count, they’ll be the 1,979th and 1,980th dates on Dylan’s so-called Never-Ending Tour, which supposedly began in 1988. According to Olof Björner, another legend among Dylanologists, this band – Dylan on vocals, guitar, keyboards, and harmonica; Denny Freeman on guitar; Tony Garnier on bass; Donnie Herron on violin, mandolin, and steel guitar; Stu Kimball on guitar; George Receli on drums – is the tour’s 20th. Stubb’s will be this incarnation’s 250th stop; Zilker Park, its 251st.
Don’t get too caught up in that stuff. As far as Americana goes, Bob Dylan is getting to be as big as baseball, and his fans as infatuated with myth, ritual, and numbers. On Sunday night, after My Morning Jacket, you’ll smell Nag Champa and pot. You’ll see roadies tape down set lists that will be reported in real time like statistics and discussed for hours, days, years, decades.
You’ll hear the strains of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” baby boomers say down in front, me say shove off if it bothers you so much, hippies keep the peace, an announcer, cheering, maybe “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” to start things off. And whether this is your first show or your 605th – in person or on cassette, CD, YouTube, BitTorrent, and whatever else they come up with – here’s where you’ll feel it. What a life.