Monday, 2 March 2009

The Dylan Companion

Edited by Elizabeth Thomson and David Gutman

Word was out on the streets that Dylan just might show up and before midnight the normally sparse weekday crowd was elbow-to-elbow. Phil Ochs had a head start on everyone and wandered around, drink in hand, lecturing about 'the Jewish Mafia' and the strange case of Sonny Liston. Patti Smith shyly slunk into one corner, while Commander Cody showed up with two limos full of shitkickers. Roger McGuinn sat outside in his Sunshine limo, never one to arrive too early. Then, just past 1.00 a.m., a red Cadillac Eldorado pulled up and Dylan strode briskly in, followed closely by Kemp and Neuwirth. They greeted Mrs Porco, hugged Mike and retreated to a far corner of the club. Then with the inevitable tableside introduction, 'Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest star of all, Bobby Dylan', Dylan found his way up to the stage, grabbing Baez on the way for a duet of 'Happy birthday' and 'One too many mornings' -- but the music stopped abruptly when bassist Rob Stoner's bridge snapped right out of its mooring.

Jack Elliott joined in on stage and Dylan seized the opportunity to shout, 'Let's turn the stage over to Ramblin' Jack Elliott,' and headed back to the semi-solitude of his table. Jack did a hauntingly beautiful ballad, 'South coast blues'; Bette Midler fell on stage to duet with Buzzy Linhart; Allen Ginsberg sang some poem/songs backed by female guitarist Denise Mercedes. Then Eric Andersen and Patti Smith harmonised a bit. Finally, Neuwirth, looking like some turn-of-the-century Cuban porno star in a black eye-mask and cowboy hat, grabbed the stage and sang a touching 'Mercedes Benz' for 'someone who couldn't be here with us tonight'.

It seemed over but then Phil Ochs, who's been battling some of his own private phantoms recently, performed a moving medley of folk and country, stuff like 'Jimmy Brown the newsboy,' 'There you go', 'Too many parties' and 'The blue and the grey'. Everyone at Dylan's table was standing, gaping at this poignant moment.

Ochs spotted Dylan heading for the bar. 'Hey, Bobby, come up with me,' he shouted. 'I'm only going to the bar, Phil,' Dylan replied reassuringly. 'Well, here's a song of yours that I've always wanted to do,' Ochs answered, breaking into a dirge-like 'Lay down your weary tune'. But things lightened up when Ochs stumbled off the stage into the waiting arms of David Blue who, with Kemp and Neuwirth, was part of an ambush designed to retrieve the cowboy hat from Ochs that Dylan had worn in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

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