‘Bob Dylan and Me’, from “Memories of a Rotten Childhood”

 

 I’ve been working on this book for a while, and just came back to it recently.  It’s pretty raw, and over three, four years, writing changes and you scramble to make the revisions.  I haven’t done much of that but need to.  This ‘Bob Dylan and Me’ is a true story.  Growing up was a time of extreme awkwardness and a lot of embarrassment.  But there really isn’t a way around this.  I feel affection for that little girl who was so clumsy, so cowed by life and circumstance.  All in all, except for most of the adults, it was a pretty good childhood.  Rotten in some ways, but probably no different than the usual for the times.  Simplier, certainly, we didn’t have Ipods or videos, or anything electronic.  We generally had books and the outdoors.  Not a bad way to grow up.

Lady Nyo

Bob Dylan and Me

I was fifteen years old and not cool.

Fifteen was after dolls, during horses, and way before boys.  I was a slow learner, combined with a timid manner and a few pimples.  My parents were no help, they were off fighting the war called marriage. We three kids were on the battlefield, carrying water to each side.

At fifteen I was barely holding on to daylight.  Life was getting complicated and I was in a permanent daydream. Now, forty years later, I understand all this was the natural process of growing up.  Then it was just massive confusion with a good dose of shame to leaven it all.

On top of this there wasn’t any real guidelines for parents back then.  No Dr. Spock or if he was around, my parents certainly didn’t read him.  Most fathers back then were WWII  veterans  and had their own view on childhood trauma. Fully half the men in my father’s B-24 squadron were under twenty. Babies flying bathtubs.  “Buck up and take it like a man”, “wrap a rag around it, it’ll stop bleeding” was what most of us heard from our fathers, and the mothers just looked away and dropped another Miltown.

I’m not much of a better parent today, just with more guilt.  Genes hold like superglue.

I remember lots of rather ‘beat’ parties at our house, where my mother and father would serve white wines and people would sit on the wide plank pine floors. Each year Halloween masquerades for the adults, my mother in fishnet stockings, stiletto heels, a ballet leotard, and for some reason, cat ears on the top of her head.  I must have been pretty young, because my nursery was set up in the future upstairs bathroom.  I remember her leaning over me and the smell of Woodhue floating off her into my mouth as she kissed me good night.  Must have been some party, because I heard her complain chillingly to my father that he had ‘slipped her a Mickey.’  Apparently she had vomited in the one of the four fireplaces downstairs, and blamed my father for her drunkenness.  My mother never got drunk, so this memory remains strong of my childhood.  These things stick because they are the few times I got noticed. Maybe it’s something sensory with the perfume, but I don’t really know.

I also remember the concrete divisions between adults and children.  There was none of today’s behavior asking kids their opinions around the dinner table.  We didn’t have any. We were trying to swim through the deep waters of childhood and adult issues generally elicited a groan of having to think hard, something we only attempted in math.

High school, sometimes for all four years, was brutal.  Too big, too many stairs and too much distraction complete with cynical teachers who should have retired but were hanging on. Where else could they abuse the unworthy?  They were addicted to the power,  while we, their slaves, went under the wire.  The natural order of life back then.  The time of “squat and hug your knees”, the threat of Commies dropping bombs on our baseball fields- all good training for life.

I had a girlfriend in my sophomore year. I can’t remember her name, but except for getting two tickets to the Bob Dylan concert in McCarter Theater at Princeton University, she was unmemorable. I’ll call her Gloria for this story.

We had no idea who Bob Dylan was except for posters glued to walls calling him a  New York Folk Singer.   Both of us were in band or orchestra, depending upon the need of the teacher.  Violin and clarinet were our only forms of music back then.  Radios were tuned by my parents to classical or their big band music.  In fact, the only time I can remember listening to radio was on a Saturday night, when my brothers and I would listen to WOR in New York, and the crazy dj would try to scare us with stories about the Jersey Pine Barren Devil. Can’t remember his or the Devil’s proper names, though.

So Gloria somehow gets two tickets to a Bob Dylan concert.  We, at fifteen, decide our Sunday best would be appropriate. It’s a concert after all, and this signals dress up. On the afternoon before the event, we curled and sprayed and flipped our hair, put on white dresses with pearls and our white low heeled Sunday shoes and went to McCarter Theater.  I don’t remember much about it, except they set up the stage with chairs, right behind Dylan, for the overflow of audience.  Somebody thought it cute to put the two strange girls in matching white dresses right behind the singer.  I remember sitting there very primly, our hands crossed in our laps, trying to take it all in, watching his ass.

The stage lights of course were glaring in our eyes, and drunken frat boys yelling, “Hey! Bobby! Play Blowing in the Wind!”  “Hey, Bobby, get some singing lessons!” “Hey, Bob, …..”  A couple of cans of something were thrown on the stage, probably beer.

I remember Dylan looking mystified as he turned and looked behind him.  I didn’t know the word then, but now I would say his thoughts were clearly: “What the fuck?”  Each time he turned we would beam and clap. He would bow.  We were his own cheering section as the cans of soda and beer came hurling from the balcony.

As I write this, I am laughing but there is also embarrassment I was such a hick.  I got cooler as the 60s progressed.

Really.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2009

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4 Responses to “‘Bob Dylan and Me’, from “Memories of a Rotten Childhood””

  1. eileen fleming Says:

    In 1966, during the last week of 6th grade, by a “Simple Twist Of Fate” in Mr. Friedman’s music class at Island Trees Elementary School in Levittown, Long Island, I was introduced to “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” and “The Times They Are A-Changin.”

    I “felt a spark tingle to my bones” which I now know was my first spiritual experience.

    Normally, Mr. F would make us sing lame tunes such as B-I-N-G-O, and I would spend the weekly hour day dreaming out the window. But, on that particular day in ’66, Bob became one of my gods; for there was something in his voice, lyrics and that harmonica that lit up my brain and every fiber of my being:

    How many roads must a man walk down
    Before you call him a man?
    Yes, n how many seas must a white dove sail
    Before she sleeps in the sand?
    Yes, n how many times must the cannon balls fly
    Before they’re forever banned?
    How many times must a man look up
    Before he can see the sky?
    Yes, n how many ears must one man have
    Before he can hear people cry?
    Yes, n how many deaths will it take till he knows
    That too many people have died?
    How many years can a mountain exist
    Before it’s washed to the sea?
    Yes, n how many years can some people exist
    Before they’re allowed to be free?

    Yes, n how many times can a man turn his head,
    Pretending he just doesn’t see?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
    The answer is blowin in the wind…

    On 20 June 2011, Bob Dylan PLAYED Tel Aviv and Sent this Message to me:
    http://www.wearewideawake.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2110&Itemid=247

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  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Eileen,
    This is soooo funny! I hadn’t posted this entry a minute and your comment came in! LOL!

    I had a music teacher in grammar school named Mr. Friedman…a wonderful man. I wonder if he moved to your school afterwards? He was a lovely man.

    Your comment made the hair on my neck stand up! Yep, Bob Dylan was quite a radical rupture from what we knew…in school and out of it. “The Times They are A-Changin” was one of the strongest influences of my life back then. My parents, both classical musicians hated this music, but one uncle, now long dead, loved him. It think Dylan is still a strong part of my being, for many reasons.

    I am so pleased you sent this comment. I couldn’t open your site at the end, but I will register to read.

    Thank you, again, Eileen…sounds like we share a lot in life!

    Peace!

    Lady Nyo

    Like

  3. eileen fleming Says:

    Oh my, i am sorry to learn you had problem accessing my site as it is all freely given and the only need to register is for archived articles which are years old, so i will alert my webperson.

    NOW regarding our connections:

    My Mr. F wore glasses and had dark hair. I remember him only in 6th grade, which was 1965-1966 and he was a lovely man; but he broke my heart when I tried out for a part in the chorus-which i was not even interested in until AFTER I heard Bob sing.

    I practiced for hours for many weeks every day singing along with the second album in my collection- “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” -my first album was Rubber Soul.

    When the day for tryouts came I sang my copy of “Blowin in the Wind” but i blew the audition! Mr. F would not accept me into the chorus!

    Here is another Bob tale:

    On THAT DAY we call 9/11, after my initial shock and awe passed, in my inner ear I did hear Bob from his 1981 “Shot of Love” Album:

    See the massacre of the innocent
    She was walking down the hallway while the walls deteriorated
    West of the Jordan, east of the Rock of Gibraltar
    I see the turning of the page
    Curtain rising on a new age
    See the Groom still waiting at the altar…
    Try to be pure of heart; they arrest you for robbery…
    Got the message this morning, the one that was sent to me:
    About the madness of the comin’…
    I see the burning of the stage
    Curtain rising on a new age
    See the Groom still waiting at the altar
    But I know God has mercy on them who are slandered and humiliated
    West of the Jordan, east of the Rock of Gibraltar…
    I see people who are supposed to know better standin’ around like furniture.
    There’s a wall…
    West of the Jordan, east of the Rock of Gibraltar…
    Cities on fire, phones out of order
    They’re killing nuns and soldiers, there’s fighting on the border…
    West of the Jordan, east of the Rock of Gibraltar
    I see the turning of the page
    Curtain rising on a new age
    See the Groom still waiting at the altar.

    PS: In Christian lingo The Groom is understood to be Jesus-I am a Christian Anarchist meaning i take JC seriously but all the rest is commentary.

    Now, I hope you can tell me what his current tour backdrop logo means-you can see it here:

    People are telling me the crown above the eye refers to the illuminate which i know nothing about. I thought the crown and eye might refer to the supremacy of the INNER EYE/sanctuary meaning higher consciousness above what our 2 eyes see.

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  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hey Eileen,

    Haven’t a clue what that logo means…..I’m not religious….hopefully spiritual, which I generally express through my poetry and hopefully life.

    Mr. Friedman: sounds like he is a generic Mr. Friedman…but I am a couple of years older than thou, so I think it could be the same man. He was a sweetie. Was my first violin teacher, though I never heard him play…he just tuned my fiddle for me. LOL!

    Christian Anarchist? Sounds interesting….if you want, email me privately (janebartels3@bellsouth.net) for a further explanation. I’m interested in these things….as long as they don’t close down the individual belief system. Or are cults as some religions are….did that long ago…too long.

    Yeah, I figured “the Groom” was Christ.

    Lady Nyo

    Like

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