Tangled Up in Bob

Dylan, up close and impersonal

| January / February 2003

I’ve always had a knack for spotting celebrities. This might sound vacuous, but for me, running into a celebrity just makes a day feel somewhat special. Whether it’s someone I don’t particularly care about (Hugh Grant at a bookstore in Los Angeles) or someone I do (novelist Lawrence Durrell alone in an empty café in Paris), there’s always a mild sense of visitation. Celebrities are, after all, as close as most of us come to having gods. And occasionally you see one who really is kind of a god.

That happened to me at the junction of Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. It was a cold January afternoon in 1983, one day after a snowfall, and the streets were turning syrupy with slush. As I crossed at the light, an unmistakable profile grazed the corner of my left eye: Bob Dylan had just walked past me.

He was wearing a fur hat, a black leather jacket, and brown corduroy pants tucked inside knee-high motorcycle boots. Head down against the cold, hands jammed into jacket pockets, he walked away with a slow, rolling stride. It was like watching him walk into one of his own album covers.

Four months later, I saw him again. I was crossing the street at Columbus Circle uptown, and once more the familiar profile grazed my left eye. This time, Dylan was with two children—his own, presumably—and though it was a warm spring evening, he was dressed in the same pants, boots, jacket, and voluminous fur hat. Emboldened by the fact that I had now seen him twice, I turned around and followed him.

I watched from a distance as he said goodbye to his children at the subway entrance. Then, as he walked toward me, I jumped from the shadows. Not sure how to address him (“Bob” seemed too hippie-ish and familiar; “Mr. Dylan” ridiculously formal), I just started talking. I explained, as if it could be of any conceivable interest to him, how I had passed him in the Village four months earlier. You know: the street intersection, the profile, the left eye—it was, like, fate, man.

Amazingly, Dylan stopped and actually listened. Leaning against a wall, he took a pack of Benson & Hedges from his leather jacket and offered me one. He lit my cigarette, then held the flame of his brass lighter up to his own, which gave me a moment to study his face. I found it compellingly strange. Under the fur hat, Dylan looked about as metropolitan as a Cossack. He might have just come back from the “wild unknown country” he sings about in “Isis.”

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