March 2, 2014 by billysparrow
October 16, 1992. If that’s not the exact day I started loving Bob Dylan’s music, it’s as close as I can get.
Sure, by that day I was already well aware of Dylan. I might’ve owned a few tapes and records, but if I did they were Greatest Hits (I do remember buying the “Infidels” LP at a flea market at Immanuel Union Church, but I think that came later). And I also loved the Traveling Wilburys by that October evening, though, truth be told, Dylan (Lucky/Boo) was running a distant third behind Roy Orbison (Lefty) and Tom Petty (Charlie T./Muddy).
I definitely liked Dylan based on all that I’d heard of him, but I hadn’t had that “a-ha” moment just yet. I was still more interested in Huey Lewis (and, fear not, I’m still plenty interested in him today), movie soundtracks, and the stuff I heard on WCBS-FM in the car than anything else.
But I’d heard that WNEW-FM was going to simulcast the big Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary concert on October 16. As it was a Friday night in the early 1990s, I had nothing planned, so I figured I would tune into the concert because it sounded like it would be pretty cool–not cool enough to warrant begging my parents to order the pay-per-view telecast, but cool enough to listen to on the radio. And I decided I should record it off the radio, too.
So I sat in my bedroom with the tapes lined up and ready to go, turned the radio to 102.7, and got ready for my Friday night. I don’t think I sat and listened to the whole thing, but I definitely listened to large chunks of it.
And at some point during that night…
Listening back to the concert now (on the about-to-be-released remastered CDs, not those old cassettes, or even the official cassettes that I bought later at Nobody Beats the Wiz), there’s definitely some stuff I could probably live without. But when I was listening to those tapes in 1992 and 1993, there were no bad moments. I loved everything equally the same. And there were people I hadn’t heard anything about prior to the concert that I soon started seeking out. There were the Clancy Brothers with Robbie O’Connell and Tommy Makem, singing a song I’d never heard before that October night and singlehandedly (well, I guess multihandedly) introducing me to Irish music.
And I’d had a feeling that country music might be cooler than I’d suspected (or that at least it had people cooler than the Oak Ridge Boys and the Statler Brothers, my dad’s two faves), but Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson confirmed that at Bobfest. This also might have been the night I first “got” Willie Nelson. For sure, the next year’s “Across the Borderline” was the first Willie Nelson album I fell in love with (and it holds up; go get yourself a copy), and it featured not only a duet with Dylan (on “Heartland”) but also a studio version of the song Willie did at Bobfest.
And October 16, 1992, was definitely the night I fell in love with The Band. I’d certainly heard “The Weight” and “Up on Cripple Creek” by that point, but they hadn’t really made much of an impression. When I heard the 1992 version of The Band do “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” though, with Richard Bell and Garth Hudson on accordion and Levon Helm and Rick Danko’s voices dipping and soaring all around, I knew I’d be a fan for a long time. It’s still one of my favorite Dylan songs (and the source of my high school yearbook quote).
And I heard another of my favorites (probably the favorite) for the first time that night, too, when Eric Clapton did “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” It sounds nothing like Dylan’s melancholy original, but, like all good covers, it takes something that was already pretty great and brings it someplace entirely different but no less interesting. I’m not the world’s biggest Clapton fan, but if he had only given this one performance, he’d be OK in my book.
I’m getting a little carried away here. I don’t want to wind up posting every performance (but…but…Ronnie Wood doing “Seven Days” and Neil Young doing “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “All Along the Watchtower”). I didn’t even intend to write this much about the concert itself, but I can’t bring it up without mentioning what an enormous impact it had on me. I can follow the lines that had their beginning on that night October all the way through the last 21+ years up to today. And it’s what led me to probably my all-time favorite musician (though Dylan’s appearance at the end of the concert seemed a little anticlimactic), who I’ve been lucky enough to see dozens of times since, with lots of great friends in lots of great places.
I’m not saying I never had a better Friday night in my teens, but…well…maybe I am saying that.
So already knowing how important the concert was (aided by finally seeing the concert when it aired on PBS) and beginning to embark on a hobby of autograph collecting in the mid-1990s, I took the cover of the cassette box, had a color photo copy made, and began getting as many people as I could on it. I’m guessing the first person on it was Richie Havens, because I’m pretty sure he was the first person to sign my Woodstock poster, too, at a CD signing at the HMV record store on 72nd St. The order after that is a little hazy. Next might have been June Carter Cash, after I saw Johnny and her at the Hunter Mountain Country Music Festival. Then I probably got Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante, and Richard Bell from the latter-day version of The Band after a Honky Tonk Gurus show at Louisiana Community Bar and Grill on Broadway. Don Was might have been next, and I got him, three Heartbreakers (Howie Epstein, Mike Campbell, and Benmont Tench), and Nanci Griffith after different “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” tapings (pretty sure that’s where I got Shawn Colvin, too). Rosanne Cash, Booker T, Steve Cropper, and Duck Dunn signed outside the Beacon Theater after soundchecking (at different shows, naturally). I had John Mellencamp (and likely Kenny Aronoff), Chrissie Hynde, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson sign it outside of “Late Show with David Letterman.” G.E. Smith signed it after a show he did outside at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, and Roger McGuinn signed it before a show I saw him do at The Bottom Line. There also appears to be a stray marking just above McGuinn, but I don’t know if that is in fact a stray mark or an actual signature. Lou Reed and Al Kooper both had/have terrible, inscrutable signatures, so I suppose it could be one of them (there’s another stray blue mark at the bottom, but I think that’s Chrissie Hynde’s fault).
So that’s 22 (maybe 23) signatures crammed in there. The photocopy got a little battered over the years, there’s a bit of fading going on, and I got caught in the rain with it once, so a few of the signatures got a little smeared. And, as you can see, there aren’t a ton of the “big names” on there anyway. I don’t think it has a lot of resale value, which suits me just fine. No one’s getting it from me anyway. I’ve got too much wrapped up in it, from the memories of sitting in my bedroom and listening to the simulcast to wearing out my taped copies in the months after that to the days spent carrying it around Manhattan and getting it signed at music venues that are now long gone or outside of places I don’t go to much anymore.
It’s not an autographed item so much as it is a time machine. And you can’t put a price on a time machine.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on the CDs now and stare at my time machine for a bit.