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Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography, Part Two

Page 2 of 15

They drove through the night, completely stoned. At the Atlanta post office in the morning they picked up another batch of dope and replenished the dwindling supply in the jar, and Dylan gave a concert that night at Emory University, a black college. A number of Dylan's friends from SNCC were there, and afterwards a select group of people returned with him to his motel room — kids in the civil rights movement, enough groupies to make everyone feel welcome, to take the edge off the hard travelin', and plenty to drink and smoke. Dylan called Suze, to tell her the concert went off well, and they hung around for a couple of days, filling up on the pleasures.

Through Mississippi later, and Louisiana, driving at top speed, the dope jar on the dash board and not caring about Southern cops. Clayton leaned out the window in one town, as they flew past three or four young rednecks sitting in front of a store, and shouted: "Muthfuckers!" Putting down everything they saw, deliberately courting danger.

New Orleans was alive with tourists, in town for Mardi Gras week. Dylan found their motel where there was only one room available for the four of them, and they quickly headed for the Latin Quarter. "Gotta find the black bars," Dylan said. "That's where it's happening." He led them into one place and they got thrown out by the bartender who didn't want trouble with white cops. In a second place they had a couple of drinks, talked with black patrons, and were thrown out when a cop came by and wanted to know if they were part of a desegregation movement. And into another place, Dylan enchanted by the owner, a huge man in woman's clothes, a transvestite who called himself Wanda. And then off to the streets again.

There were a dozen people trailing them by this time, who had to see what this Pied Piper was up to. A white street singer and poet, Joe B. Stuart, became part of the entourage for a while. Everybody flying high, floating through the town, Dylan at the head of a freak carnival procession.

Out in front of one bar they came across a young white street singer who was busking — playing for the coins of passersby — his guitar work and singing style a fusion of Leadbelly and Guthrie. "Hey," Dylan said, "can I borrow your guitar?" The singer handed it over and Dylan began to sing a couple of things off his first album. "Man," the kid exclaimed, "you sound just like Bob Dylan." Bob's face was impassive. "Saw Dylan once," he said. "A place in the Village. He's all right, I guess."

They returned to their motel room and Dylan was talking in elliptic, flashing images: "No one's free, even the birds are chained to the sky." And saying: "Rimbaud's where it's at. That's the kind of stuff means something. That's the kind of writing I'm gonna do."

The guy's freaky, Karman thought. He asked: "You moving away from social protest stuff?" His voice sounded disapproving, and disappointed.

"You becoming a critic?" Dylan snapped.

"Hell, I only know your protest songs mean something to a lot of people . . ."

"Hell with 'em," Dylan said. He went to the typewriter and banged out a few lines, then turned to Karman. "Even the birds are chained to the sky," he repeated.

"You're only saying that 'cause you're stoned," Karman said, and walked out.

They had to race out of town after a couple of days, racing through Louisiana toward Denver, where Dylan had a concert that he would miss if they didn't hurry. "Drive, Pablo, drive," he shouted at Clayton from the back of the wagon where he sat with his typewriter, working on "Chimes of Freedom" again.

But on entering Dallas, Dylan had an urge: "Let's go see where Kennedy was killed." They drove around, looking for the Texas Book Depository and Dealey Plaza, four months after the murder, lost in downtown Dallas. "Where's Dealey Plaza?" Dylan asked, leaning out the window, and no one knew, four people, and five, and six, and none of them knew the place. At least, that's what they said. The seventh man they asked answered: "You mean where they shot that bastard Kennedy?" Dylan didn't answer, and the Texan gave them directions. For about a half hour they wandered around the murder scene, Dylan grim and silent, and then back in the car and on their way, and all of them shouting out the windows, condemning all Texans as assassins.

They made it to the Denver Folk Lore Center, the local freak haven, with several hours to spare. Harry Tuft, the young operator of the place, apologetically told Dylan the concert had not sold too well, only about half the tickets gone. Dylan didn't react at first. He hung around, enjoying the hang-loose feel of the place and the kids. Then: "Hey, tell you what. Let's cancel the concert in the big hall and do it right here. I'd rather a small place, anyway." Empty seats: the performer's nightmare.

But the concert was a success, Dylan getting it on and living up to the audience's expectations. For weeks there had been rumors that he would not come, that he had been killed, or gone insane, destroyed by a System-conspiracy. On stage his appearance seemed to justify these fears, his fragile body, his wounded voice. James Dean's death, now Kennedy's, had done that to this generation: they were certain their leaders, their heroes, would be taken from them. Dylan — because he was like a broken-winged sparrow — appeared the most defenseless, the most vulnerable.

Karman had some straight friends in Denver and he went to visit them for a couple of hours and they blew his mind, he says. They were so warmly normal and average and stable, while Dylan and his group seemed on the edge of some dark cataclysm, totally unreal, always stoned, speaking in unintelligible parables. Karman felt as if Dylan was backing him into a padded cell.

They all were, in fact, almost thrown in jail. Karman was behind the wheel as they drove through the mountains in western Colorado and, as they were climbing one very steep hill along a narrow two-lane road, they were caught behind a funeral procession.

"Pass the goddamn thing," Victor shouted, from the seat directly behind the driver.

"That's illegal," Karman said. "You're not supposed to pass a funeral."

They argued a bit, Victor growing more insistent, Pete standing his ground. Suddenly, Victor threw a leg between Pete's shoulder and the door, shoved Pete to the passenger side, and jumped behind the wheel. He gunned the accelerator and the car shot out of lane, on a blind curve, swinging around the last car in the procession, past one big limousine after another.

The station wagon finally pulled abreast of the hearse. "Okay, we made it . . ." Victor started to say and Dylan shouted: "Cops!" At the front of the procession a state police crusier paced the way, its dome light gently revolving, and before Victor could slip back behind the hearse the trooper spotted him and waved him to pull over. The funeral procession ground to a halt.

"The stash!" Dylan shouted. "Hide the dope!" Karman grabbed the marijuana jar from the dash board, hobbled it like a nervous first-year quarterback, and passed it back. Dylan shoved it under a rear seat.

The cop walked over to the driver's side and if they were all high a moment ago, they were now as sober as they'd ever be. "The registration," the trooper said, in a soft Western drawl. Dylan pulled it out of his pocket and handed it over. Ashes & Sand was listed as the owner. The cop glared at the four freaky-looking guys in a brand new car and not one of them could safely be identified as Ashes & Sand.

"What are you people doing?" the cop asked.

"We're a group," Dylan said, holding up his guitar. "Like the Kingston Trio, but there's four of us. We sing." He couldn't say he was Bob Dylan because the cop probably had never heard of Bob Dylan, but a group like the Kingston Trio might work. Dylan strummed a few chords and sang. Clayton joined him. The other two remained silent, for fear of giving it away. And the cop finally said: "OK, get on out of here. And be careful." Victor drove off, slowly. Dylan leaned his head back. "Stop at the next gas station, Victor boy. I got something to do."

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