I'm at an important meeting, I rush back in late from lunch. I get a message that Alex, my brother-in-law, wants me to call him urgently. I gather it is something very urgent indeed. I have to go into the meeting as I'm already late. I reckon that it can only be one of two things: an illness in the family or something Dylan-related. If the former he surely would have said, I have to assume it is the latter and sit in a ferment of worry and nerves (I presume that Dylan is on telly or that some big news has broken) for the eternity of 100 minutes that follow.
The minute the meeting ends, I rush out to 'phone Alex. I'm more than stunned to hear that Dylan has been in Camden and that Alex has stood next to him. (Unable to speak but in the line of the video as Dylan walked backwards into a cafe.) One of Alex's colleagues even spoke to Bob & got an autograph with a lovely little personal message for Alex. Stunned, pleased, a bit jealous - all those feelings at once with the nagging question: Could he still be there?
Alex is still talking, of a song possibly called Blood In My Eye, of Dylan singing with a busker. Of the autograph he has. This is all too much. He goes. I 'phone Larry. General disbelief and astonishment later, Larry says he cannot possibly get there but will 'phone a friend in Camden to see what has happened/if anything is still happening. He tells me to call back in 20 minutes. Five minutes later I call him back. He hasn't got through to his friend. I ask him - very precisely - to tell me that there is no possibility that Dylan is still there and that I've to be sensible and go home. He exactly follows my instructions; I hang up the 'phone, stop the first taxi and ask the driver to take me to Camden.
Within three minutes we hit a traffic jam. I gnaw at my fingers, fingernails, knuckles, wrists and arms, still the taxi crawls along. I have the bright idea of calling Compendium Bookshop who sell Homer, the slut. I tell the driver that I'll be back but must run & make a 'phone call; I have no worries that I'll catch him up. I think that I'd better appear cool and collected - after all Dylan probably left ages ago.
Hello, I supply you with Homer, the slut, a Dylan magazine, do you need any more copies?
Funny you should ring just now, he's sitting straight across the road at the window of a restaurant.....BRRRR!
I impress upon the driver that, traffic jam notwithstanding, I have to be in Camden High Street NOW. I expect he couldn't make out any of my words but he got the idea. Sooner than I'd thought possible, we were in Camden High Street.
I get the taxi to stop straight across from Compendium Bookshop. Sure enough there is a restaurant there, called Flukes Cradle. I walk in, for Chris from Compendium to have seen him Dylan would have had to have been in the room where I now stood.
The room was empty of Dylan, bereft of Bob.
I trudge across to Compendium to ask when he left, what they saw etc. They - kindly looking after my interests - grab me at the door and say:
He's still there, he's in the back now, having a meal.
Can I have a Homer, the slut?
Yes, but don't take the top one, it's dog-eared. Take two and bring one back signed.
On your bike!
I take two and go back across to Flukes Cradle. It is a very hot day but I'm beginning to sweat even more than that accounts for. My plan is simple - I'll go into the restaurant and sit as close to Dylan as possible, and ask for his autograph if there is a convenient opportunity as he leaves. I pass through the bar, thinking that above all I must be inconspicuous. I go into the restaurant and....OH MY GOD HE'S REALLY THERE! OK, I went in knowing he would be there but seeing him really there, like really him, really sitting there....too much! [I've read that in moments of shock supposed to have a kind of automatic defence system; I've obviously been programmed wrongly as when I went into shock my body went onto the attack. Knees buckling, head spinning and heart attempting to smash through the ribs!]
He's wearing a top hat, sitting in profile, that nose, those curls; visions of Blackbushe and all that '78 meant to me seeing him live for the first time, visions of so many years before and after that. I stand stock still. I somehow remember that I am supposed to be inconspicuous.
Dylan's table was down a few stairs to the left. I go to sit at the nearest table to him on my level of the restaurant (a whole other level) and try to be cool. I pick up a menu, though I know I'll never swallow anything I order. The menu slips through my sweaty paws. I decide I'm too conspicuous so I move to the next nearest table which just happens to have a better view of our man. I realize I am, in fact, totally conspicuous as Dylan and his entourage are the only people in the restaurant apart from me. Maybe I'm not supposed to be there? I think and this thought prompts others that remind me I always said I'd never disturb him in this way and that I was acting very stupidly. I leave the restaurant and go back to the front bar.
I'm feeling pretty happy, seeing him so close is a big thrill.
I order a shandy. I sit down. I stand up. I sit down again. I move table. I decide on an alternate strategy. I could go downstairs again and ask someone if they could get Dylan to sign a Homer. This I do, whispering my request and stressing that I only want it if it will not unduly trouble Dylan.
Go and ask him yourself.
I glance up at Dylan, a mere four seats away:
No, I don't want to disturb him and anyway it isn't physically possible.
I'll be sitting in the bar if you manage to get it signed. Thanks a lot.
I sneak back out and wait. A few minutes - or eternity - pass. My Homer is returned, this person doesn't feel it is right for him to present it to Dylan. Fair enough I think. I'm happy enough and have remembered all the stories about him being pestered by fans. I'll just sit and watch him leave.
A few more minutes pass and someone comes over to me and says:
Go now! Now's a good time.
I stand up, hesitate, look doubtful.
You'll never have a better chance in your life, go now.
I go. Back in the restaurant only Dylan's table now occupied. The furthest away table; Dylan, naturally, the most difficult person to get near to. To get to him I'll I have to push past someone I don't recognize, then Dave Stewart.
If I'd thought that my heart was pounding before - and, hey, it was - it was doing something else altogether this time. There were four young looking people at the table; three on the far side, one nearest me then next to him Dave Stewart and next to him, Himself. Looking absolutely gorgeous but you know what they say about "an aura around him"? Well, I'd always thought that was nonsense - or, rather, a projection of our feelings. I was wrong. The aura is almost tangible. My legs are threatening to give way before my rib cage. I try to detach my tongue from the roof of my mouth and my jaw from the floor.
At this moment there is a babble of conversation in the room. Dave Stewart is facing Dylan - who is staring straight ahead in profile (and what a profile) - asking questions quite forcibly. I cannot make the questions out due to the talk amongst the others. Dylan is not responding at all. I push past the first person between me and Bob.
A silence falls around the table with the exception of Dave Stewart's drumming questions. I cannot make out the words because my heart is now beating so hard that my ears are drumming louder. I try my pen for the last time - but I'd tried it once too many times and it ran out - luckily I'd brought eight with me, so I fished out my seventh last. I'm now standing right beside Dave Stewart's chair. Dylan is within arm's reach.
The movement in getting Homer and the working pen out alerts Dave Stewart to the fact that there is someone behind him and that everything has gone quiet. He stops talking and looks around and up at me. His look is marvellous: it says "Oh no not another one of these Dylan nutters". ( In a kindly way however, later I admire his ready acceptance of himself as a mere pop star beside someone who is a real Star.) He moves his chair slightly, I help him move it a little more. I am now standing right beside Bob Dylan.
There is total silence.
Dylan just keeps staring ahead, not reacting to the sudden silence or anything. This lasts for 7 zillion aeons, or about two seconds in real time.
Well this is it, after eighteen years of interest - some have called it obsessional - in the Man, I'm at the point many of us have thought about. What am I going to say? I have no idea. Staying alive is only barely within my grasp at this moment. Thinking stopped some time ago. I tear my tongue from the roof of my mouth.
Excuse me, Mr. Dylan.
HE MOVES - and how - the head swivels round in an instant, he stares into my face (or, at least, the rivers of sweat where my face should be) and says interrogatively
I am dead. It is not a pleasant feeling. I want my mummy and daddy. I want the ground to swallow me up and never let me out again.
I am reborn and mysteriously function
I hold out a copy of Homer issue 9. I force the Sahara Desert above my chin to respond; the sand becomes a torrent of burbling water. Something along the following lines pours out:
Could you please sign this? Of course, it doesn't matter if you don't and I'm very sorry for disturbing you, I realize it is a stupid thing to do, and it has been great being this close to you and I'll leave now.
See, I told you I'd lost control. I don't know how much of this he made out, possibly Please and sign or possibly he just guessed what the pen and magazine were for!
He took the magazine in his left hand and the pen in his right I was pleased to see. However, the pen was upside-down! A tale flashed through my mind of someone asking for his autograph who didn't have a pen and his devastating response....maybe if he tries to sign it now he'll get annoyed. Oh No...
Fate, however, intervened. Or perhaps it was the whole point of the suggestion that I 'go in now' (if so I owe that gentleman so much I could never, ever repay him). Dylan laid the magazine down and jabbed a finger - beautiful finger - at the embroidery on the jacket sleeve pictured on the front cover:
That's it, that's the jacket I'm talking about
They'd been arguing/discussing that very jacket???! Someone says from the far side of the table:
Well, that's it then, it's Hammersmith
I answered, without taking my eyes of Dylan's right hand which was signing the front cover of Homer at that very moment. (In a very small voice:)
Actually it is Belfast. But, hey, if you guys want it to be Hammersmith, then Hammersmith it is.
I take the signed copy from Himself and slither backwards out the room. I am aware of acute physical pain. But the thought resounds that IT HAS HAPPENED.
I sit in the bar again. Stunning. Staring at Homer. More stunning. Slowly the brain tries to re-establish a modicum of control. "Sit where he'll have to pass you on the way out" it urges. I do. I get crafty, I get a table where they'll have to pass in single file as they approach the door. I take away the second seat and wedge myself into a perfect viewing position as they leave the restaurant. I place the signed Homer by my right hand and lay the other one on the table in such a manner that anyone looking as they passed would have to see it.
Another few zillion years (2 minutes) later they start to leave. Stewart and some of the others (three, I think) are talking quite animatedly and, gesticulating over to me, one says something along the lines of:
Oh yes they still do, look at that lad over there
They all laugh, in a friendly fashion, I keep my eyes glued straight ahead waiting for You Know Who. However, attracted by the laughter the next person out - a young American - stops at my table (thereby blocking the passageway, so I have another hero) and, pointing to the unsigned Homer, asks
Do you subscribe to all of these?
Yes, and, actually, I run this one.
Well I type it up on computer and I've a photocopier at home...
As those last three words came out, every sensory input in my being went into overdrive again. Dylan had majestically walked up the stairs and was now heading straight for my table. Do not believe he is 5' 7", this man is at least 95 feet not including the top hat.
He rests one hand on the table and lifts Homer from the young man's hands. The youngster backs off a little, Dylan moves in. I self-liquidize.
Dylan starts reading the inside cover page. He says something about the warmline number and laughs and then flicks a few pages sometimes pausing to read. There's a smile, a grunt, an "uh-huh". Some of my senses are still working, I realize that behind me everyone has left except Dylan and the youngster who first stopped at my table. He is shifting his feet as though to leave, Dylan is still reading but I feel he is about to go:
Please take it Bob. And thanks for a great year..
('Heard it a million times before' voice.)
He is still standing reading.
Did you write this?
I have no idea what page he is on. Remember I am sitting down, wedged in, he is right ahead and above me. I can see the front and back page and HIM. Having written virtually none of Issue Nine, I answer anyway:
No, I edit it...it's not a very good issue anyway Bob...
He raises an eyebrow and flicks a few more pages, keeps on reading. Suddenly he realizes it is time to go, very regretfully he says:
This is eh, uh, really interesting but you know I just don't have time ...
Please take it, Bob, take it with you...
He leans towards me with a look that says: "There's a puddle on this chair and it is trying to speak to me but I don't know what it is burbling".
Thankfully the young man translates:
He's trying to tell you it is yours to take, Bob.
(How come he said that so easily, I wonder)
Bob, still pretty close, in a very surprised voice:
Really? I can take this one?
Utter panic, his face is now too close for its own safety. I gasp/scream/whisper whatever:
Nothing would give me greater pleasure in life.....
He - Bob FUCKING Dylan - puts the hand with Homer (his left) toward my right shoulder and his right hand squeezes my left shoulder as he leans forward and says gratefully:
Hey, that's great....
I am now beyond death, beyond rebirth, beyond Nirvana. I am also almost completely incapable of movement. However, Dylan is still nearby so I manage to get up and follow him to the car waiting outside.
I notice Dylan is still being generous with his time, a denim-clad man is shaking his hand and they are exchanging greetings. I notice too that Dave Stewart is in the back of the car videoing everything. But mostly I notice Dylan and how friendly he's being and how people are drawn to him and, finally, something which even he may never understand, how even the ordinary things he does do not lessen the aura, the mystique - whatever you want to call it. He has been nothing but friendly since I've been in Camden and by all reports from throughout the day. He is doing normal things, but he is set apart. I never believed such a thing possible; but he just doesn't walk and talk like anybody else. He is Bob Dylan. (The clothes at Camden certainly aided this feeling but, honest, he is stately.)
He walks around the back of the car and goes in the far-side back seat. (They let him walk near the cars? - dear Christ, I wouldn't.) He is waving to people on the street, unfortunately this brings too many people across the road, they press against the car, staring in at him. He opens the Homer and buries his face in it as the car speeds away.
I have a feeling that I will never be able to describe the way the fear, pain, hesitation, wonderment changes to an unbelievable rush of adrenalin..
I want to tell everybody in the world what happened. I could start at Compendium and Alex's office and thank them at the same time. I ran across the road to Compendium. In my delirium I had forgotten such things as traffic. It was coming straight for me. Screeching brakes, burning rubber. Chaotic hubbub.My hero from the entourage shouting:
Hey watch the cars!!!
I spin round in the middle of the road and yell back:
What the Hell does it matter now?!