IN QUEST OF BOB
I don't have the money to travel the world. I listen to Bob, and only Bob, in the relative seclusion and isolation of where I live, but in 1998 I have enjoyed the experiences of a lifetime. After never having seen him before, I saw and heard Bob four times this year, culminating in front row seats at a concert only twenty miles from my home.
But, I get ahead of myself. I don't have the advantages of people who live in more densely populated areas. I haven't seen Bob thirty-five times or written a book about him. Bob has toured for a long time, but over the past thirty years I have had to accept the fact that seeing him was out of my reach.
Before Internet access, the only times I heard about Bob being in Canada were usually after the fact and that was always too depressing to contemplate. Seeing Bob live was more remote than a dream.
I take you now to August 1993, when I was seven months pregnant with my third child. My husband, who works as a geologist at the northern Saskatchewan mining camp of Cluff Lake flew home for his week off. He and his crew listen to cable radio from Vancouver up north, because there are no local stations for hundreds of miles. Randy casually mentioned in conversation that he'd heard that Bob was playing the following week at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) in Vancouver opened by Carlos Santana .
I was stunned, shaken and could hardly believe my ears. I did some phoning and found that tickets were still available and I even had the money to drive there! But, then, came the letdown of my lifetime. My husband and family agreed that my pregnancy was just too far advanced to risk a journey of that distance. They thought that a two thousand mile return trip in four days might trigger premature delivery. I know in my heart that they were right, but I mourned my loss for weeks and months afterward. Two months later on October 18, 1993, I gave birth to a son and named him Dylan Samuel.
Now, I jump ahead to early March 1998. I followed Bob via the net and continued to listen to and love Time Out of Mind. I was uplifted and validated by the genius of that album. I never lost faith in Bob's abilities.
I discovered information about Bob's West Coast North American tour that was to begin on May 14. I convinced my husband that this would be the perfect fortieth birthday gift for me and ordered tickets.
I won't bore you with a description of the preparations for that excursion. That is a complete story in itself. Stay in touch for the sequel.
Anyway, we took our children out of school for a week, and prepared for the pilgrimage to see Bob. As I was packing for our trip on May 8, I happened to hear on the CBC morning news that Bob was going to play a club date on May 13, the night before the big concert with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. Those tickets were to go on sale in Vancouver on the same day we were to begin our journey. Tickets to the Rage weren't even sold over the phone, so I considered myself out of luck.
My family and I traveled to Vancouver, arriving at noon on Monday May 11, 1998. (See Vol. 2 for interim adventures and details). I phoned radio stations and everywhere I could think of to try and locate Rage tickets for three days, but had no luck. Late in the afternoon of May 13, only hours before Bob was scheduled to be on stage at The Rage, my husband took our children for a seabus ride. I decided to sit in our truck in a downtown parkade and make a few last attempts at finding Bob tickets. After many phone calls I finally got an answer at the club! The man I spoke with gave me the number of a scalper that did have tickets! YES, YES, YES!
I had to pick up the tickets at a dubious pool hall location before 6:30 p.m. and it was already 5:30. I frantically paced in the seedy parkade until my family returned. My extremely good-natured and supportive husband found the pool hall in the midst of rush hour traffic and accompanied me in the purchase of my tickets. I was ecstatic and my husband didn't even flinch when I spent $250 of our last $400 in cash on Bob Rage tickets.
I'm sure my feet didn't even touch the ground with those tickets in my hand. My children thought I'd lost my mind, but kindly patronized me when I allowed them to TOUCH the tickets.
The race was on. We got our children deposited and settled in the hotel, then fought our way through traffic back downtown to The Rage. After an eventful wait in line, we eventually were allowed into the club and carved ourselves a chunk of standing room at the top of five stairs. .I made sure there was a railing beside me in case the reality of Bob became overwhelming. After all, I still really couldn't believe that I would be seeing Bob live very soon. The crowd was electric and extremely entertaining. Every age and income bracket was present, including a large number of red-haired women, in whose number I include myself.
My husband and I stood absolutely unchallenged by security at the top of those five steps during the entire concert, when everyone else who stood near us was asked to move, in compliance with fire regulations. Our view of Bob was perfectly unimpaired. In the back of my mind I wondered at the reason, then finally just accepted it and decided that I could not be denied. All my stars were just perfectly aligned. In retrospect we realized that my husband's EMT-mine rescue leather jacket looked very similar to some British Columbian law enforcement jackets. Security didn't ask us to move because they thought my husband was a cop. Thusly we had a guarded Bob-viewing platform.
Eventually, finally, wonderfully Bob was introduced and stunned me with his silvery bluish suit. The intimate setting, one thousand of only the most ardent Bob lovers and the best music in the world all came together in an experience that defies definition. Bob was obviously there to ROCK. He opened with Not Fade Away and blew me away with every single song. He smiled, danced, mugged, looked very relaxed and happy, and was obviously really enjoying himself. It was an unbelievable evening. I went to the concert expecting no particular musical itinerary. I didn't care what he played. I was ready and willing to hear anything. I was just as thrilled to hear the many Time Out of Mind cuts as anything else (see set list). I just loved every note and every second. My tears of the evening came when he played "It Ain't Me, Babe" in the encore. Randy and I were standing behind the soundboard and a woman in front of us was holding a bouquet of red roses. She tried unsuccessfully to get people to pass them to the stage and the crowd was far too tightly packed for her to get to the front. Finally someone lifted her and the crowd floated her and her flowers to the stage so she could give them to Bob herself. It was very touching and I just stood there with tears running down my face. After that Bob played Love Sick and Rainy Day Women and it was over. It was absolutely the greatest night of my life to that point.
I take you next to the Bob/Van/Joni concert the following night at GM Place. We had precarious nosebleed seats and no binoculars. Bob was still miraculous, but so different from the previous night. At The Rage he was rock n roll Bob and at GM Place he was Bob Dylan Superstar Legend. The whole atmosphere and crowd were completely different. Two nights in a row were unforgettable, but for my very first times seeing him, it was almost sensory overload. He opened the second night with one of my favorites, Absolutely Sweet Marie (see set list), and my tears ran. I was thrilled to hear Cocaine Blues and Mobile even though the hockey arena echoes didn't help the sound quality and I had to share Bob with the masses rather than an intimate one thousand person crowd all tuned to the key of Bob.
I got more than I ever dreamed from my two Bob concerts and I thought my fairy tale was over. As we started our long journey back to Saskatchewan the next morning, we heard on the radio that Frank Sinatra died while Bob was playing last night. I was sorry, but wept not for him, but because Bob was gone. I went back to my old life, but would never be the same.
Life over the next four months was relatively normal, except for the lingering smile on my face that I hope I never lose. Then, one morning in September, I heard unbelievable news. Bob was booked to play the Canadian prairies in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg. The Saskatoon venue is only twenty miles from our home! I got my wristband for ticket purchasing, but didn't need to use it because I WON FRONT ROW SEATS the day before tickets went on sale. I had pictured in my mind that only front row seats would be acceptable to me in Saskatoon and that's what I got. I just would not be denied. I also got tickets to the Regina show. I doubt that I will ever be able to see Bob again in two cities so close to home.
After receiving three feet of snow on October 10 and 11, it all melted and Sunday, October 18 was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day of 14 degrees Celsius. It was not only the Saskatchewan Place concert, but also my son, Dylan's, fifth birthday. We had a party, cake and presents, but it was one of the longest days of my life. I couldn't concentrate on anything. I paced all afternoon until it was time to go see Bob. Jann Arden opened for him and was very good. She obviously was honored to get this gig and said so. She joked that she and Bob have been seeing each other and shared a big brass bed. It was cute.
Finally, finally, finally Bob came on stage and we were right in front of him! He was so beautiful, even with a chunk of hair sticking up at the back of his head like he had just gotten out of bed. I loved his bedhead. He began his set rather sternly and distant during Gotta Serve Somebody, I'll Remember You and Cold Irons Bound, but by Just Like A Woman he just came alive. He was impeccable, unbelievable and wonderful! He played the harp and that was a first for me. He didn't play it all in B.C. in May. He played a brilliant acoustic set, including The Times They Are A'Changin', and I heard every syllable. I know I gush, but he was magnificent! He played stunning blues, electrifying guitar and he mugged, strutted and posed, all for me and looking right at me. It was an unbelievable, wonderful night. To be so close to him, to see those beautiful blue eyes, bedhead hair, gorgeous clothes and HIM! That face, that look, that profile. I don't have to tell you that I love the man. He wore black snakeskin cowboy boots, a black suit and the pants had silver piping up the legs and seven silver buttons going up the legs from the cuffs for about eight inches. (see set list)
I knew the concert was over after the encore and we left. Massive blue northern lights were exploding across the sky. I hope Bob saw them, too. I was numb from the magic of it all.
Oh, I almost forgot something. People make so much of the fact that Bob speaks very little on stage. I just thought I would add that when he introduced Bucky, he said "that's Bucky Baxter on the steel guitar and he almost has it paid for."
My last night of Bob was on Tuesday, October 20 in Regina, Saskatchewan. After another day of waiting, pacing and driving, we arrived at the Agridome and found our sixteenth row seats. Jann Arden opened again and told about Bob having a "big, fucking dog." There were BEWARE OF DOG signs on his equipment. She also said that Bob's dog was "bigger than her ass."
Bob really rocked and he and the rest of the band seemed to be having a much better time than in Saskatoon. The crowd in Regina was very appreciative of the outstanding musicianship and showed it. It was an amazing concert.
I thought, after my three previous concert experiences, that I was relatively prepared for what Bob would do or play. I was ready to accept and love anything he did, but My Back Pages touched me in a way that took me right back to my unhappy youth when Bob's music was the only thing that kept me from killing myself. I was caught completely off guard and my tears ran freely. That song always symbolized my past and Bob meant every word. He WAS so much older then and is younger than that now.
Our seats were right at the end of the row and I just got up and walked to within three people of the stage. I stayed there for the rest of the show and was electrified as much by Bob's proximity as by his music. It was another incredible night.
Now, I revel in and am absorbed by the memory of having seen, heard and been very close to Bob. I am very grateful for what I have, but I do have one problem. How does a person go back to an ordinary, mundane existence after receiving what Bob gives so openly and freely? The whole world pales in comparison after having been so close to him . How do I deal with it being over? I guess if my experience "strikes a match" in anyone, then it won't ever be truly over.
If I could follow Bob forever I would, but real life demands attention, so I go on, post-Bob. But life is not quite the same. I don't pay homage to Bob in a vacuum. I've had a taste of the living, breathing, miraculous Bob and I'll never again feel left out when hearing or reading about the experiences of others. I've been closer than most and feel truly and forever blessed.