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Tangled Up in Dylan

Page 2 of 6

Three decades later, A.J., now fifty-five, his once-wild mane receded to silver fringe (but still talking very fast), recalls the incident, one of the more colorful in the often drearily hagio-graphic Dylanological chronicles: "I'd agreed not to hassle Dylan anymore, but I was a publicity-hungry motherfucker . . . I went to MacDougal Street, and Dylan's wife comes out and starts screaming about me going through the garbage. Dylan said if I ever fucked with his wife, he'd beat the shit out of me. A couple of days later, I'm on Elizabeth Street and someone jumps me, starts punching me.

"I turn around and it's like — Dylan. I'm thinking, 'Can you believe this? I'm getting the crap beat out of me by Bob Dylan!' I said, 'Hey, man, how you doin'?' But he keeps knocking my head against the sidewalk. He's little, but he's strong. He works out. I wouldn't fight back, you know, because I knew I was wrong. He gets up, rips off my 'Free Bob Dylan' button and walks away. Never says a word.

"The Bowery bums were coming over, asking, 'How much he get?' Like I got rolled . . . I guess you got to hand it to Dylan, coming over himself, not sending some fucking lawyer. That was the last time I ever saw him, except once with one of his kids, maybe Jakob, and he said, 'A.J. is so ashamed of his Jewishness, he got a nose job,' which was true — at least in the fact that I got a nose job . . ."

It was all too bad, A.J. said now, remembering how Dylan reportedly offered him a series of jobs if he would stop his "Free Bob" campaign. "He said I could be his chauffeur, but I told him I don't know how to drive. Then he said I could be his prompter. But I said, 'Forget it! It's not going to work! I'm the one person you can't buy out.' In retrospect, that was a sad mistake. I could have had a career as a rock critic or something, and not as a pot dealer, and not, you know, ended up where I'm going to end up."

This was the news. Just the week before, A.J. had been in the Union County Correctional Facility, finally busted by the Feds for allegedly running a marijuana-delivery service. He was out on $100,000 bail, looking at a possible ten years in the joint. When I called to ask if he was going to be home, he shouted, "Of course I'm going to be home, moron! I'm under fucking house arrest!" And there he was, the supposed Anton LaVey of Dylanology, with a plastic monitoring device snapped to his ankle, on the terrace of his apartment overlooking Central Park that had once been home to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince. It was a far cry from the old days at the Bleecker Street bunker, where A.J.'s famous Dylan Archives were zealously guarded by Dobermans.

"As fate would have it," A.J. noted with bitter amusement, "the Feds watched my office and saw me throw away these big huge wrappers from the pot in the garbage, and they used that to get a search warrant. So the garbologist got caught with his own garbage."

This irony was not missed by the current generation of Dylanologists, the postings of whom can be found on the popular Usenet site rec.music.dylan. Under the thread "Weberman in jail!! I bet Bob is laughing," D fans rejoiced with comments like "not so instant karma but I'll take it" and the inevitable "don't need a Weberman to know which way the wind blows."

Dismissing this, A.J. stood by his recent highly controversial claims, notably that Dylan is suffering from AIDS, supposedly contracted from a dirty needle. As always, the proof was in the song interpretation, A.J. contended, especially in "Disease of Conceit," "Dignity" and the overall doomsday pall of the 1997 Time Out of Mind album. To show me what he meant, A.J. rang up his own Bob page, Dylanology.com. But there was a problem. The site, written by A.J. himself almost exclusively in JavaScript, uses so much memory it often crashes computers. A.J. never noticed this until the Feds seized his high-powered system in their raid on his office. Now, forced to make do with a less zippy older machine, he found that Dylanology.com kept getting blown off the screen.

"Fuck this!" A.J. screamed, smacking the computer; the whole thing was a disaster, especially since, along with everything else, the government had confiscated the Web site's backup discs.

"Yeah, Dylan's going to be glad I'm going to jail all right," A.J. began to spritz, getting that look in his eye. "This is going to revitalize his career! He's going to be so inspired by my downfall he'll write five great songs by next week! Dylan'll owe me for this!"

But then Weberman's wife and kid came into the room. The idea that he might not see them for a long time stopped the old Dylanologist in his tracks.

After a moment, he said, "You know, I come from a people that, they looked at every word in the Bible, and they commented on it, then they commented on the comments. In the Torah, the Gemara, the Mishna. They know it so well, they look at a word on a page and tell you what word is behind it on the opposite page. They studied genes and interiors of things like maps of the heart. So it doesn't matter what people think about me and Bob Dylan. Because he's from the same place I'm from. And that's the real Dylanology . . . and that never stops no matter what's gonna happen to me."

Rock is full of cults, but nothing — not collecting the Beatles, not documenting Elvis — rivals Dylanology. Back in his dark-sunglasses days, Dylan might have been the coolest, but Dylanology is not about cool. Neither is it a hobby, a fleeting affectation or indolent lord-it-over-you taste-making to get girls, like in High Fidelity. Dylanology is a risk, a gamble, a spiritual declaration, a life choice, and if you don't believe it, ask those real Weathermen, erstwhile college students who took the drama of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" to heart, maybe too much. A year after Rubin Carter addressed the United Nations, several of those forgotten revolutionaries continue to rot in jail, so ask them which way that wind blows. But this is how it is with Dylanology. To be a Bobcat is to acknowledge the presence of the extraordinary in your midst, to open yourself to its workings, to act upon it. In a world of postmod ephemera, this is a solemn bond.

In turns, a real folkie, a real rocker, a real lover, a real father, a real doper, a real shit, a real Christian, a real Jew, a real American from a real small town come to a real big town with real dreams and little false modesty, Dylan, big-tent preacher of millennial concerns both sacred and profane, has never offered less than authenticity to his variegated flock, no matter what peculiar ax they might grind. With Bob, you may feel betrayed, bitterly disappointed, but you never think it's a hustle. Because he has always been so willing to lay his heart on the line, so are we.

Nowadays it seems that without the Bible, McDonald's jingles and Bob Dylan, there'd be gaping holes in half the world's conversations. Couple of months ago I went with my mother to Romania. We were supposed to find our roots, but all we found were the vanished graves of murdered relatives, and dart-eyed Gypsy boys looking for someone's pocket to pick in front the hideous palaces built by the dead Commie leader Nicolae Ceausescu. "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose," a Gypsy boy said, standing beside a pile of red peppers in the market.

I see that Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones named their baby Dylan, which is very nice, but half the kids in my son's class are named Dylan. There are even girl Dylans. Buy whatever apocryhpha you like about Bob taking the moniker from either Dylan Thomas or his gambling uncle Mr. Dillon — now it's just one more name on the birth-announcement card, like Ashley or Justin.

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