Jeff Smith 2 p.m., April 16
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A Phone Call From Bob Dylan?!
This happened to me 2/12/01:
“Is this the number where ahh kin reach Mr. Jay Allen Sanford?” asked the man on the phone with the twangy voice.
Assuming the caller on my company's 800 line was ordering Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics back issues, I had pen in hand and an order form ready to fill out. "I'm Jay. Can I help you?"
“Well hahh," said the caller, "Ahh’m Bob Dylan, an’ I was hopin’ I’d be able to talk to ya.” I smiled, admiring the passable impression and writing “Bob Dylan, ha ha” atop the order form.
“Hey yourself, Mr. Dylan. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“You kin call me Bobby,” he replied. Yeah, right, like Dylan would say that. And how hard can it be to drawl out words and end sentences in an upward register that emulates Dylan’s laconic singing?
But, I wondered, of all pranks to play, why this one? And why on me?
“Ahh just finished reading the comic books you did about me. Ahh hardly ever read stuff like that all the way through, ahh jes' skim over ‘em, but ahh gotta tell ya, ya got a lot of yer facts right on, lot more than I woulda thought. Y’know ahh’ve always liked comic books an’ all so what a great idea. Art wasn’t so great though. Didn’t look much like me.”
Still positive I was being clowned, and waiting for the punchline, I mentioned that he and I have – or rather had - a mutual friend.
Rick Danko, former bassist and violin player for Dylan protégés the Band, had been married to the sister of my editor at Soundwaves magazine, an east coast entertainment rag I write for.
Having met through Soundwaves, Danko and I occasionally got together and corresponded, plus he’d sometimes request feedback regarding audio tapes he’d send me with songs from projects of his which rarely seemed to go anywhere.
“Oh yeah, shame the way Ricky wore hisself out like that. His old lady [mentioning Danko’s wife by name] must feel purty shot down, having to deal with all that.”
I think that’s what he said. Or maybe he said “partly shat on” or “party shut down” or something else that apparently concerned Danko’s 1999 death, from ailments related to years of heavy drinking and drug use.
My attention was focused on the other part of his sentence, the part where he’d mentioned Danko’s wife by name.
Pretty obscure trivia for even a dedicated Dylanolgist to cough up, especially without advance knowledge of my own connection to Danko.
“Ya’d think he woulda learned, after what happened to Ritchie,” he added, apparently referring to the 1986 suicide the Band’s keyboardist and singer Richard Manuel. “But [long pause] that’s how it goes when the party never ends.”
Or maybe he said something about a “ghost” and “parting ever friends” or “partner at the end”...my caller was kinda hard to understand.
Kinda like Dylan sometimes on his satellite radio show.
We talked briefly about Danko. “Last time I saw him was in Berlin," said the caller, "few years back, when he an’ I were both doin’ some shows...he was kinda messed up and really heavy, y’know, bigger than I’d ever seen."
I was just fixing up the tape recorder I use for phone interviews when he asked “Are you tapin’ this call or anythin'?”
“I’d like to start one up, if I have your permission,” I said.
I was actually entertaining the actual notion that I was actually talking to the actual Bob - er, that is, Bobby - Dylan.
“Nah, yer a reporter. Kinda, anyways. Yer the media so, nah, don’t do that. I don’t care if ya use something I say but, really, I’m not sayin’ much.”
Which was true. I could tell he was ready to wrap up our conversation.
I mentioned that one of my favorite Dylan albums was the live Budhokan set, rather than a typical fan pick like “Blood On The Tracks” or “Nashville Skyline.”
It almost sounded like he chuckled (does Dylan “chuckle”?!”) before he replied “Yeah, not many folks ever say that, man, but I always liked that one too. Hey, one last thing - you guys make a lot of bread doing these comics?”
“None of us are rich,” I said, “but it pays the rent, and sometimes we can afford a pizza at the end of the month.”
“How’d mine sell compared to the ones ya did on the Beatles?”
“Yours did about the same numbers as the Beatles,” I lied, caught by surprise.
I was reluctant to lay a bummer on the guy. He had just about convinced me, with his Beatles allusion, coupled with his naming of Danko’s wife, that he was indeed who he said he was.
“That’s pretty cool, then. Good luck, man,” and the line was dead.
I never got the chance to ask for a contact number or email address in order to send information and updates about the comic line…and, of course, to assist in confirming my caller’s identity.
I quickly dialed the service provider for our 800 phone number and asked for the most recent origin number.
As sometimes happens, the source information was blocked at the caller’s request, with the exception of an area code - 518. Upstate New York.
The caller mentioned being at home...and doesn’t Dylan still have a house up there in Woodstock?