Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hey, Allen--The Sun is Shining: Bob Dylan on Xm Radio

It’s already been a month since Glen died. On April 4th, the previous night, I had visited the local Shambhala Center in Brattleboro a few blocks from my house to celebrate the 'parinirvana' of Chogyam Trungpa, also the day Allen died nearly ten years ago. He’s been on my mind lately so decided to include “Visitation” in my forthcoming chapbook I've been working on:

For Allen

A few days later I saw you
seated at a dusty crossroad
looking toward a vista of waterways
reminiscent of a cranberry bog or saltwater marsh
I once visited, maybe the river Styx.
A geography of immensity without habitation

where you sat on an old wooden stool,
pored over books and papers, focused intently.
One air of familiarity—your Calvin Klein
Goodwill navy blazer, my favorite;
your pens poking out from the pocket.
I stood quietly to your side waiting to assist you
yet not disturb your concentration.
Finished, you handed me a sheaf of papers,
Here, these are for you—for translation.

Then, you got up and walked slowly down the left-hand road.
I followed but you turned to me and said,
"This is as far as you are allowed to go, I don’t have the water rights
for your passage" —
a hitch of sadness in your voice, your face mostly
impassive, Bell’s Palsy, making one eye bigger, your face a bit cock-eyed,
but looking straight on as we finished our business together once again
in clarity and respect, our natural elegance hanging there a second
as we stared at one another.
I watched you walk off and knew that you were finally gone
on some other journey, to some other place.

Dylan's theme-time radio show debut yesterday morning on XM radio's Deep Tracks station delivered the kind of smarts, warmth, and expansive presence so absent in current media. We're not talking here about a quaint ole time radio show like "Prairie Home Companion" but a magnanimous reach for the underbelly of American music-- Harry Smith at Allen's kitchen table circa 1988

"Old Weird America," folk scholar, Harry Smith called it. Don't let Dylan's folksy accent kid you. He's erudite and comfortable with it too. His consonants sounded as crisp as ever. Dylan, if nothing else, is a master of elocution. Listening on that dank and rainy spring day in Brattleboro to Dylan's show on "Weather" with him asking the audience if it was raining here too was a bit of magical synchronicity.

I'm sorry Allen isn't around to experience Dylan's graceful shift into old age--the "Chronicles", "Masked and Anonymous", "No Direction Home", now his theme-time weekly radio show on XM. Seeing Dylan at last coming to terms with his fame would have eased his mind as he worried that Dylan found it all too concrete unlike himself. During the years I worked for Allen, there were many precious moments but one of the two times I wished I had a tape recorder was on my 40th birthday when Allen made dinner for me (or rather Jack Shiu did) inviting friends Ellen Pearlman and her Tibetan husband, Tsonam, to join us squeezing us all around his four-sqaure kitchen table in the East 12th Street apartment. That night, he played host bearing books to the dinner table to introduce Tsonam to Cezanne. Later after the guests left, Allen started playing Dylan records--all of them for hours, commenting on phrases here or there he thought especially exquisite. Here's where I wish I had the tape recorder or took notes. [the other time was driving with Edith Ginsberg, Allen and Bob Rosenthal around Patterson]. He loved Dylan, I think more than anyone--for his brilliance. In "No Direction Home", Allen's commentary is heart breaking. Seeing him already so ill-looking was a shock. His comments about Dylan as a "receiver" were faithful to his long recognition of Dylan's literary genius which he perceived as amounting to a quintiessential archytype for poetrymind.

In the office, we were always a bit amused how unusually "ga-ga" Allen would get when talking with Dylan on the phone.As far as I know, Dylan was the only one who commanded such reverence. For our pleasure, Allen would put their calls on speakerphone. Late in 1994, after work one night he took me with him to a concert at the Beacon Theater where we went back stage. In previous years, Bob Rosenthal and Peter Hale had the privilege. One of the telling signs about Dylan is that his staff has worked with him for years. Diane Lapson, one of the co-producers of the radio show, brought us back stage where that particular show Dylan wasn't seeing many people. That might have been the last time they saw each other, I'm not sure. Bob Rosenthal woould know as I left NYC about two years before Allen died. Somehow that event made it into Barry Miles revised bio from a journal entry Allen made later that night....they had bantered back and forth about—Gregory Corso, Blake, the room was dark and lit with a candle with Dylan sitting on the floor and Allen in the only chair. Did I imagine this? The first thing you notice about Dylan is just how smart he is. At one point, Allen said to Dylan something like, "“If you want to know about Buddhism, ask her" which embarrassed me. Dylan laughed harshly saying something about a laughing Buddha bar in Kansas City. I must have jumped or reacted in some way because then Dylan flashed his dazzling smile, the same one his audience would get a momentary glimpse of at the end of his set later that night at the Beacon--—a few seconds of blazing sunshine, a gift from the poetry muses or devas and dakinis we mortals can only take in small increments. Yes, the sun is shinning these days...Thanks, Bob & Company. Hope Harry, Allen, Gregory and all our departed are taking a break to tune in!

See You Later, Allen Ginsberg

Photo credit copyright by Dale Smith, 1965 at TEXT
Photo creditof Harry Smith by Allen Ginsberg circa 1988