Time is such a funny thing; half a century can happen before you realize it, and then a photograph brings it all back home. There we are, me and Bob, at a cozy press interview, Friday September 24, 1965, at the now vanished Villa Capri Motel on the afternoon before Bob’s first concert in Austin, his fourth electric performance, and the very first time he was accompanied by “The Hawks”, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm, later known as “The Band”.
Fifty years ago, as a mop-topped, serious teen reporter with Buddy Holly glasses, wearing slacks with a sport jacket and tie, as required by the dress code of St. Stephens School where I was assistant editor of “The Spartan” the school newspaper, I did not know I was about to momentarily pass through the flames of creativity, in the presence of some astonishingly strange and muse full wizards about to become legends.
Things were so different then, it was easy for the editor of “The Spartan” to reach Angus Wynne, the concert promoter, to get permission to attend a small press interview with Dylan. It was not so easy for me to get permission from the school Headmaster to miss one academic class and to be driven to the interview with Bob by the school chaplain. The Headmaster had refused to let me go, but finally granted me leave at the last minute, due to the lobbying of my 11th grade English instructor and best teacher ever, Bowen Davis, who later became a mentor and friend to some of the women and men who were about to burst onto the Texas political scene, Ann Richards, Sissy Farenthold, Sarah Weddington, and Jim Hightower.
A book could be written about Bowen, who could be seen walking across the campus, nicknamed The Hill, with a satchel in each hand and a stack of books or print outs for class under each arm. Bowen was a human computer in the days before desktops. Decades later at his memorial service, Ann Richards and I agreed that we were in awe of Bowen’s ability to give you a list to see, do, listen to, or read, and months or more later, the next time he saw you, he would ask you if you had completed the list.
Bowen said that if I wanted to interview Bob Dylan, he wanted me to write a ten page typewritten paper on the significance or an interview with Bob to be printed in “The Spartan”. He told me to have the completed paper on his desk by first thing in the morning. Then in his usual style, Bowen hand me a stack of bibliographical material including “Bound For Glory”, Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Naat Hentoff’s “Playboy” interview with Dylan, several other interviews as well as articles on Leadbellly and others who had influenced Bob, and a copy of the first edition of Bob’s book of stream of consciousness prosaic poetry “Tarantula”, published earlier that year by Albion underground press of San Francisco. “Spin” magazine ranked Bob in first place for unforgettable sentences written by rock stars for his line in Tarantula, “Now’s not the time to get silly, so wear your big boots and jump on the garbage clowns.”
My collection of all the Dylan albums with liner notes and being able to recite the lyrics of all of Bob’s songs helped that epistle take form as the midnight oil burned. A pen edited copy of the typewritten paper was in Bowen’s hands shortly after breakfast, and when the Headmaster told me at lunchtime that I could go, gravity lost all of its effect on me, and barely two hours later, there I was at the Villa Capri with the chaplain, talking with some of the members of the band, “The Hawks” on a balcony waiting for one of my heroes to appear.
If only I had known. The band were a friendly bunch, though with such strange energy and appearance, especially Garth Hudson. Although I liked to hang out at beatnik coffee and tea houses around Austin such as The Id, and was at ease with the bohemian artist lifestyle, and was even considered far out for my over the collar hair, there was something very different going on here, and I did not know exactly what it was.
Then Bob appeared walking across the courtyard below headed our way and I went inside the interview room to wait along with a reporter from the Austin Americn-Statesman, a DJ from KAZZ radio, the hip, eclectic FM station of the day, and some of the band members and promoters. I picked a chair beside the couch Bob was to sit on and as he came in and slipped by me he said, “Howdy, good to see you”, then sat down next to me.
What fun. The hour or so of back and forth slipped by in a wink, it was Bob being his most playful self. Then Bob and The Hawks retired to prep for the concert that night. The chaplain and I drove back to school, then isolated from Austin in the middle of the Davenport Ranch three miles down a one and a half lane road off of Bee Caves Rd. After dinner that evening a school bus full of preppies, attired according to the dress code, rolled back down that road and to Palmer Auditorium for what was to be a historic changing of the guard.
Bob’s first set was solo acoustic, but when the curtains opened for the second set, Bob and The Hawks let if rip. Garth Hudson played the organ like I had never heard before. There were a few boos from the serious beatnik folkies, but not as there had been at the Newport Folk Festival and two other concerts that summer. A couple of dozen of the beatniks walked out though. It was the end of their era and the beginning of something new, the hippie era was being born.
My interview story printed in1965 can be read below, perhaps with magnification.
When I asked Bob what kind of artist he called himself, with his changing musical styles, his venture into writing, and his plan to make a movie, his reply was quick, “ a trapeze artist”.
Now fifty years later, Bob is still a trapeze artist, I am a hermit goathereder and aging agitator living in rural Texas and agree more than ever, “Now’s not the time to get silly, so wear your big boots and jump on the garbage clowns.”
Happy Birthday Bob, may you stay forever young and may the chimes of freedom flash like never before.