That Time I Didn’t Meet Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan had a birthday recently. I read it online. On my Facebook profile, I did not get a notification of his birthday. We are not Facebook friends. That simple point strikes me as simultaneously both reasonable and absurd. Why shouldn’t Bob Dylan be my Facebook friend? Have I done anything to insult him, offend him, or even bore him? Does Bob Dylan hate me or my Facebook writing? Is Bob Dylan angry with me? Does he have a bad memory of me? I cannot have done any of those negative things to Bob Dylan. I have never met Bob Dylan.
I have many Facebook friends I have never met: graduate students from various programs across the country, people in my discipline I do not know, friends of friends, friends of former girlfriends, people who live in Lexington, friends who I may know but can’t really place ever meeting so I just say I don’t know them, fake friends who do not have real profiles, one fake friend I made up and created an account for and then lost the password to. The practice of friending suggests intimacy, but we all know that a social media platform’s ability to integrate the social with intimacy is often fragile if non-existent. Yelling at people about their politics is not the intimacy I suggest. Knowing what someone ate for dinner is not the intimacy I suggest. Reading additional commentary that I also read on CNN just a minute earlier is not the intimacy I suggest. Intimacy is more than friendship, whether that friendship is on Facebook or elsewhere. I am a person who desires intimacy. But intimacy seldom is why I friend people on Facebook, Bob Dylan or anyone else.
I do not know what Bob Dylan eats for dinner, partly because we are not Facebook friends. When I was a kid and my parents bought a small house in the mountains of Hendersonville, North Carolina, the realtor told them that the home at the bottom of the mountain was owned by Dylan’s parents. A sign over the mailbox read “Zimmerman,” Dylan’s real name. “His wife was once so bored one summer,” the realtor said, “that she went and got a job at the Piggly Wiggly as a cashier.” We’d pass that house on our way into town or when we were heading back up to the mountain to our home. Many days and nights, I’d imagine Dylan inside, watching TV, eating snacks, writing songs. I imagined him visiting his wife at work one day, asking what was on sale in the meat department. I’d make up plans to take my guitar and walk all the way down the mountain, sit outside his parents’ home, and play “Tangled Up in Blue” or “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” as if my playing might coax him out and we could meet and be friends. I never did, though. For years, I believed Dylan’s parents lived in that house, where occasionally a deer was hung upside down on the front lawn so that its blood would drain, its hide could be removed, and its meat would be butchered. I don’t remember when, but later in life, when I was an adult, I was told that wasn’t really Bob Dylan’s parents’ house. For some reason, and despite all the hope I attached to this fantasy of Bob Dylan and my guitar playing, I was not disappointed. I have told this anecdote many times. It is a type of effort to establish intimacy. “I have a story about Bob Dylan,” it says. “And this story makes me human to you.” At least that’s what I think I’m doing when I tell the anecdote for the thousandth time.
I can believe that if I ever met Bob Dylan, he would agree to be Facebook friends. I can believe many things, whether they are accurate or not. Belief does not demand accuracy. I believed we were once neighbors with Bob Dylan’s parents. The lack of accuracy regarding this belief has done me no harm. In fact, it’s given me an anecdote to tell to people, whether I meet them for the first time or have known them my whole life. It’s fairly easy to get a Facebook friend these days, despite a South Park episode to the contrary. “Friend me on Facebook.” “Ok.” There usually isn’t much debate beyond that exchange. Almost all online dating that extends beyond the initial conversation ends up with someone being friended on Facebook. I am Facebook friends with many women I matched with online, spoke with once or twice, and then never met. I know about their family trips and their hopes, and what their kids look like and do, and what inspires them and what disappoints them. I may even know why their marriages ended. But we do not know each other, and we do not talk anymore.
Bob Dylan did not actually have a birthday the other day. His birthday is in May. I don’t remember where this false information came from regarding a recent birthday, but it likely appeared on my Google News feed where all kinds of information appears. Much of this information is accurate but feels untrue. I collect these headlines from time to time and post them on Facebook. I do this because I think the headlines aggregated across various news sources are sometimes funny, and, of course, most times superficial. Even though I find a great deal of journalism superficial, there is nothing wrong with the superficial. When something is superficial, it is neither accurate nor untrue. It is highly superficial to give a shit about a famous person’s birthday or even death. Celebrity, by its nature, is superficial. For some, so is social media. Some headlines I collect include the following:
For each one, I offer what I think is witty commentary. By the count of likes or laughing emojis attached to each post, I am likely the only one who thinks my commentary is funny. Others probably think I am superficial for sharing such nonsense. I’d like to pretend that Bob Dylan would find my commentary funny. He might give me a like or laughing emoji. Or even a witty remark such as “Jane Fonda wore boots on Sunday/and Bob Hope was the groom.” That sounds like an early Bob Dylan line, something we might hear in “Desolation Row” or “Tombstone Blues.” Some of Dylan’s lines sound superficial, like naming celebrities or making up sentences. I don’t mind. I like his music. Once in an MTV interview, he was asked about Jakob Dylan, and Dylan said he didn’t know who that is. Jakob is his son. This, too, might sound superficial for a parent to say about his famous son.
I usually wish my Facebook friends a happy birthday when the platform alerts me to their special day. Many years ago, I changed my birthday in the Facebook settings so that every day was my birthday. Every day I awoke to hundreds of well wishes. People who had wished me a happy birthday the day before, wished me another one the next day when they saw the notification reappear. I thought this was funny. I did this for maybe a week. This might be a commentary on the wishing of happy birthday to people. Or it might indicate something else about me.
When I saw Bob Dylan play in Gainesville Florida sometime around 1988, he did not speak to the audience other than to say an occasional “thank you.” Thank you can be as phatic an expression as “happy birthday.” It must take a lot of energy to truly wish upon another human happiness. Do these wishes come true? Does the utterance “happy birthday” bestow on someone else happiness? Are we birthday genies, capable of changing someone’s day for the better, especially someone who posts inspirational quotes or shares personal suffering online across various social media platforms? Dylan’s refusal to speak to the audience might indicate a belief that such speaking is superficial. We bought tickets to listen to music, after all, not hear a man speak or talk to us. People could say that about many of my Facebook posts as well: We friended you on Facebook to hear about what you think about Donald Trump or people being killed in Myanmar, not some rambling about your dinner and weird proverbs or a conversation you had with your children.
One day, when I was maybe 15, my parents said that they were going to some store whose name I have long forgotten and that a record store was nearby. Did I want anything? “Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde,” I said. This was the first and only time my parents offered to purchase for me a record while running errands for something else. I know my parents heard of Bob Dylan, but did they ever listen to him? My dad listened to muzak while driving, a highly superficial art form. When they returned, they gave me Blood on the Tracks. These are different albums, not just because their titles are different — a superficial discrepancy — but because the sound and content are dramatically different. Blood on the Tracks is about a relationship’s failure, its collapse, its breakdown so bad that two people who were once in love in “Tangled up In Blue” are now forever separated in the longing of “If You See Her, Say Hello.” I love both albums, but Blood on the Tracks is the most meaningful for me. “Simple Twist of Fate” is like a painting, each verse revealing a bit of a much larger scene of two people who fell in love once, but are no longer in love. The supposed fate that once brought them together failed. The first stanza is:
They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark.
She looked at him and he felt a spark
Tingle to his bones.
’Twas then he felt alone
One can be on Facebook, have a thousand Facebook friends, get tons of laughing emojis on each post, and obviously still feel alone at times. If Bob Dylan friended me on Facebook, would I feel some sort of spark people typically associate with celebrity culture, as if the engagement with someone famous indicates something out of the ordinary, something that elevates us from the banal to specialness, something that suggest a semblance of hope, something that overcomes the superficial typically encountered on social media platforms? I don’t think so. I really don’t care about meeting celebrities. Maybe that’s why I never met Bob Dylan.
I took out my guitar last night, my girlfriend there beside me, we were drinking pinot noir, and I started to play “Tangled Up in Blue” on my new Martin acoustic. The dog was trying to hump us, so I eventually stopped. If I did ever meet Bob Dylan, I hope it would be on his birthday. I would talk about what I eat for dinner, share with him my North Carolina anecdote, and maybe even ask if we could play a song together. I don’t think I’d wish him a happy birthday, though. I don’t want to pretend that I have the genie power to wish anyone happiness, on their birthday or any other day.