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On the Road With Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and the Rolling Thunder Revue

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The feeling is good," Joan handed me her glass of wine, "because everybody has some room onstage. Bob made sure of that. He didn't have to and I argued against it. I thought it would slow things up. But Bob insisted. He said the guys in the band have to work day and night, and so each of them ought to get some attention. Not that, as you saw, Bob has sworn off attention for himself."

He no longer seeks pleasure, he says. But what of the pleasure of attention? Why, that comes, it just comes.

Blood on the Tracks has been released and Allen Ginsberg, listening close, is moved to write the poet about a rhyme in "Idiot Wind": "idiot wind blowing like a circle around my skull from the Grand Coulee dam to the Capitol."

It's an amazing rhyme, Ginsberg writes, an amazing image, a national image, like in Hart Crane's unfinished epic of America, The Bridge.

The other poet is delighted to get the letter. No one else, Dylan writes Ginsberg, had noticed that rhyme, a rhyme which is very dear to Dylan.

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Bob Dylan

Ginsberg's tribute to that rhyme is one of the reasons he is here with Bob and Joan and the rest of the merry motley. It was, says Allen, "one of the little sparks of intelligence that passed between Bob and me and that led him to invite me on the tour."

Joan, in faded jeans and multicolored, boldly striped cotton shirt, is talking with amused affection about Dylan, about the tour, about herself. The Ghost of Johanna still marvels at the sparks that never cease coming from this "savage gift on a wayward bus." Throughout the tour, although Lord knows she knew his numbers well, Joan would slip into the audience to hear Dylan's sets or, if she were weary, she'd sit down backstage to listen.

"Bob has so powerful an effect on so many lives," Joan says. She has been saying this for some 13 years; and at the beginning, before his pop beatification, she pushed mightily to press that savage gift on those who had come to pay homage only to her. Dylan was the "mystery guest" unveiled at her concerts, lurching onstage to break the spell of high-born doom across the seas in someone else's history as he rasped about freak shows right outside.

"I'm still deeply affected by his songs," Joan says. And by him? "Well, of course, there's that presence of his. I've seen nothing like it except in Muhammad Ali, Marlon Brando and Stevie Wonder. Bob walks into a room and every eye in the place is on him. There are eyes on Bob even when he's hiding. All that has probably not been easy for him." She says this entirely without her usual irony.

Sometimes," Dylan says to me on the phone in 1966, "I have the feeling that other people want my soul. If I say to them, 'I don't have a soul,' they say, 'I know that. You don't have to tell me that. Not me. How dumb do you think I am? I'm your friend." What can I say except that I'm sorry and feel bad? I guess maybe feeling bad and paranoia are the same thing."

Onstage, all during the Rolling Thunder Revue, Joan had put her arm around Dylan's shoulders, wiped the sweat off his forehead, kissed his cheek, and looked into his eyes, giving rise to a frisson of voyeurism among those in the audience who yearn for Diamonds & Rust to have a sequel, several sequels, for where else these days can you find that old-time mysterious rhapsody in the romances of the famous? "It's on again," a woman behind me whispers eagerly as Dylan and Baez intertwine in close harmony onstage. "It's on again."

Later I ask the question and Joan laughs. "This is a musical tour for me. Actually, I don't see much of Bob at all. He spends most of his time on that movie he's making. The movie needs a director. The sense I get of it so far is that that movie is a giant mess of a home movie."

Joan, sitting back on the couch, as spontaneously straightforward as Dylan is cabalistically convoluted. And as he figures in who knows how many sexual fantasies of how many genders, so she is erotic, still freshly erotic, but probably stars in somewhat straighter fantasies. But who knows?

And she is funny, especially in self-defense. As on the day she showed up for her first rehearsal for the Rolling Thunder Revue.

"I'd like to hear that song off your new album," Dylan asks the once and former girl on the half-shell. "You know, 'Diamonds & Rust.' "

"You want me to do that on the show?" Joanie looks at him in solemn question.

"Yeah." There is a distinct collector's gleam in Dylan's eyes. "Yeah, I do."

"You mean," the ex-madonna grabs Dylan by the chin and looks him in the eye, "that song I wrote about my ex-husband."

Dylan has been aced. "I have to keep him spinning," Joan says of the rout, "in order to keep my balance."

"Those duets," Joan says of what she's sometimes been thinking while also wiping Dylan's brow and looking into his eyes, "are a hazard. It's hard singing with him because he's so devilish. There are times when I don't know what song he's plucking on that guitar until he starts singing. And he can be tricky. On one song, we'd been doing two choruses all along the tour but one night, just as I'm about to belt the second chorus, the song was all over. Done! Thanks a lot. Bob had worked out the new short ending with the band and hadn't told me. Oh, he's a lot of fun onstage."

Curtain! The second half of the nonpareil Rolling Thunder What-Might-Have-Been-and-What-Has-Been-Point-to-One-End-Which-Is-Always-Present Revue is about to start!

Under the cowboy hat, the klezmer, the Jewish hobo musician with roots — roots by the centuries — turns to the sad-eyed lady from Chavez country. That lady who, he used to say, "proved t' me that boys still grow." Dylan looks up at Baez and says, "Don't upstage me."

She smiles her luminous smile and says, "I'm going to use everything I have to do just that."

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