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Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown by Ron Radosh

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Every day is the same thing out the door
Feel further away then ever before
Some things in life, it gets too late to learn
Well, I'm lost somewhere
I must have made a few bad turns

I see people in the park forgetting their troubles and woes
They're drinking and dancing, wearing bright colored clothes
All the young men with their young women looking so good
Well, I'd trade places with any of them
In a minute, if I could

Bob Dylan, "Highlands"

Well, undoubtedly you've heard the story. Wandering around  Long Branch, NJ on July 23rd,  while taking a walk before his concert tour, police apprehended the  nation's most prolific and gifted singer-songwriter after homeowners  called to report a strange man standing in their lawn.

The owners called Bob Dylan an "eccentric-looking old man," and one  of them followed him as he left the yard and continued to walk down the  street. The phone call to 911 led a 24 year-old police officer, Kristie  Buble, to respond. "We got a call for a suspicious person," she told  the press. "It was pouring rain outside, and I was right around the  corner….I asked him what he was doing in the neighborhood and he said  he was looking at a house for sale." Buble asked his name, and he  responded promptly, "Bob Dylan."

First reports that she had never heard of him and didn't know what  he looked like were incorrect. Buble did know of him, but had only seen  photos from decades earlier, and hence, she said, "he didn't look like  Bob Dylan to me at all."  Besides, he was "wearing black sweatpants  tucked into black rain boots, and two raincoats with the hood pulled  down over his head." Anyone who knows about Dylan's desire for privacy  knows, in fact, that even on nice warm sunny days, he often wears a  sweatshirt with a hood, so his distinctive give-away hair is hidden and  he can go unnoticed in major cities, like "a complete unknown."

Of course, when Dylan told the officer, and another cop who had  arrived, that he was giving a concert with Willie Nelson and John  Mellencamp, they didn't believe it. "We see a lot of people on our  beat," she said, "and I wasn't sure if he came from one of our  hospitals or something. He was acting very suspicious," and couldn't  produce an ID when asked for one. Dylan might have said, as he did in  song:

Ain't talkin', just walkin'
Walkin' ever since the other night
Heart burnin', still yearnin'
Walkin' ‘til I'm clean out of sight

As I walked out in the mystic garden
On a hot summer day, hot summer lawn
Excuse me, ma'am I beg your pardon
There's no one here, the gardener is gone

Bob Dylan, "Ain't Talkin'"

But, the police officer noted, Dylan was extremely nice and polite,  so she drove him to the hotel parking lot where the tour buses were  parked, and finally after knocking on the door of one of the buses, was  handed Dylan's passport with his photo. She sheepishly apologized,  telling Dylan to "have a nice day."

Dylan had been through this drill before . A few years ago, when he  was recording one of his recent albums at a Miami Beach studio, he was  staying in a 5 star South Beach resort hotel. As he came back in during  a daytime outing, the doorman refused him entry, saying that only  guests could stay there. When he responded that he was a guest, the  doorman still wouldn't admit him.  Only when the manager was called and  a staff person from the recording session was found, did they let him  in. At another time in October of 2001, he was not allowed backstage to  one of his own concerts in Oregon because the security people refused  to believe he was Bob Dylan.  Obviously, anonymity has its price.

Not only does Dylan roam through communities "masked and anonymous,"  he often acts as their benefactor. As Sean Curnyn points out on his  wonderful Dylan website,  where he links to a report by Ronnie Keohane, Dylan has recently gone  out of his way to give back to communities in which he has appeared,  particularly poor communities. He evidently researches the needs of  places where he plays, and following Deuteronomy 24.21, (the  grapes gathered from your vineyard "shall be for the stranger, the  fatherless, and the widow," ) leaves a good deal of his tour profits  behind for the local community.  As Curnyn adds, when Dylan played in   Belfast in 2004, he visited sick children in the local hospital,  singing for them and giving out harmonicas. The kids had no idea who he  was, although one of them evidently said that they thought he was  someone famous, because "he was wearing a cowboy hat."

So what is the lesson, if any, of this now famous incident? Some  have said that had Dylan been black,  he would have suffered the fate  of "Skip" Gates at his arrest by Officer Crowley. But Dylan was walking  in a predominantly African-American community, and the call probably  came from a black homeowner who was worried when he saw the strange  looking man on his lawn. He did not say- as some Hollywood types might  have- "What? You don't know who I am? I can't believe it. Fuck you! My  people will sue the ass off you when this is over!" As Curnyn writes,  "instead of making some kind of angry stand, he simply cooperated to  the fullest extent possible with the police, and allowed himself to be  detained in a de facto way (of-course he was never arrested  as such and there was no crime in question)."  The cops did the right  thing. Again, Curnyn says, "This was not a case of someone being  arrested for committing a crime, but rather it was a case of police  responding to a citizen's complaint, finding what appeared to be an  oddly behaving character on the scene, and having the character then  claim to be a world-famous individual."

So, will President Barack Obama now convene a get-together for a  beer, with Kristie Buble and Bob Dylan?  At least this time, we'll be  spared, largely because Bob Dylan acted responsibly, and did not turn  it into a cause célčbre; it took days for the story to get out-almost  two weeks after the incident occurred.

Well, as Bobby says in his most recent album in part of a stanza:

Cop cars blinking, something bad going down
Buildings are crumbling in the neighborhood
But there's nothing to worry about, 'cause it's all good
It's all good
They say it's all good

Bob Dylan, "It's All Good"

This time, on July 23rd, it was all good.

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