A few years ago, he was picked up by the police in Long Branch, New Jersey, for the crime of walking in the rain, dressed in sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt, and peering into the window of a home for sale in a dodgy neighborhood. The news was greeted with a lot of predictable headlines—NO DIRECTION HOME, A COMPLETE UNKNOWN, etc. But here’s the obvious question, asked by a friend of his: “Do you really think that’s the first time that he’s done that? He does a lot of walking no one would expect. He’ll walk through neighborhoods undetected and talk to people on their front porches. It’s the only freedom Bob Dylan has—the freedom to move around mysteriously.”
People say that a lot about Dylan: His privacy is all he has. It’s an odd thing to say. It assumes he’s powerless and needs to be protected. But Bob Dylan has never been powerless. Even when his songs stood up for the powerless, he was always pioneering new ways to use the power of his fame, of which the two-way mirror of his privacy is the ultimate expression. Yes, it’s cool when Ron Delsener says, “I’ve seen Dylan walk down Seventh Avenue in a cowboy hat and nobody recognize him. I’ve seen him eat at a diner and nobody come over to him”—it makes you think that Dylan is out among us, invisible now, with no secrets to conceal, and that at any time we might turn around and see him. But we never do; nobody ever does, even where he lives. What a woman who works the tunnel between the buses and the backstage area at an arena outside of Atlanta remembers about Dylan is not that she saw him; what she remembers is “I was not allowed to look at him.”
He was, of course, on his way to the stage when he passed her averted eyes—on his way to be looked at and listened to. It sounds like a paradox typical of Bob Dylan, worthy of Bob Dylan, but it’s really pretty straightforward as an exercise of star power. The crossed relationship between Bob Dylan and his audience is the most enduring one in all of rock ‘n’ roll, and it keeps going—and will keep going to the last breath—because from the start he laid down a simple and impossible rule:
We don’t go to see Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan goes to see us.
[Picture Via: Like a Rolling Stone]