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JOHNNY DARK IS BEHIND THE WHEEL. The white Chevy Nova is rolling down through San Anselmo, lazy, spoiled brat of a California town. Teen-age pool halls, sporting goods. Arco stations. The rear end of the car is dragging from the weight of roofing paper and galvanized nails.
"It's hard to see Dylan ever hitting what he once was back in the sixties," pipes up Johnny out of nowhere. "I mean I guess it's not in the cards or something. He already had his day, I guess." I'm daydreaming on the three-year lease we've just landed on a twenty-acre horse ranch and thinking about all the work that's left to do before we can move in. We've got less than a week left to get it all done and the idea of Dylan seems like a distant ghost. It's a long way back to the mid-sixties and dancing naked to "HOW DOES IT FEEL?" in the bedroom of an older woman.
"I mean he still writes some good songs, but it's not like it was back then. I couldn't believe it the first time I saw 'EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED'; on the jukebox. I mean there it was on the jukebox, right in front of everybody. Right there in a restaurant on Christopher Street. I couldn't believe you could play that kinda stuff in public while you were eatin' your cheeseburger." Johnny keeps shifting the gears and talking to the windshield. I'm filled with a mixture of the past and all this new life happening to me now. Installing wood-burning stoves, roofing, fencing, foaling corrals, getting ready for the rains.
We slide off the freeway at the Paradise Drive exit, past Big 4 Rents, Denny's, North Bay Lumber Company. He's still going on about the life expectancy of a star and how "even events have a birth, life, and death." We pull up in the suburbs. Temporary digs. An area that looks like the outcome of a recent battle between opposing bands of landscape architects, having nothing to do with the original lay of the land. Inside, on a pine table, is a green note: "Dylan called - Will call back later." I'm standing there staring at it, surrounded on all sides by cardboard Safeway boxes filled with books, toys, everything collected for the big move. "Dylan called?" I can't put it together. Something won't compute.
"We were just talking about him," shouts Johnny over a stream of piss from the bathroom.
"Dylan called here? Why would Dylan call? I don't even know him." I'm weaving sideways through the kitchen repeating the note out loud. My eyes finally fall on an L.A. phone number at the bottom of the note. I return the call but no Dylan. Instead, I get an entangled series of secretaries, lawyers, business managers, each one with a guarded approach.
"Shepard? Shepard who? Are you the one who killed his wife?"
"No, I'm the astronaut."
"Oh. Well, what's all this about? Why did Dylan call you?"
"That's what I'm calling you about."
"Oh. Well, just a minute. I'll see if I can find somebody."
The phone goes blank and then a new voice. A man voice. Then blank again. Then a woman voice. Then back to a man.
"Yes, Mr. Shepard. Let me explain. Bob is going on a secret tour in the Northeast. He's calling it Rolling Thunder - the Rolling Thunder Revue."
There's something about the way this chump is calling Dylan "Bob" that immediately pisses me off, combined with the confusion of trying to figure out where in the hell the Northeast is exactly. Before I know it, something hostile is coming out of my mouth.
"If it's so secret, how come you're telling me about it?"
This doesn't go over so good on the other end. A long blankness. I try to soften my inflections as best I can. "Well, what's he want me for? I've got a green note here that says he called."
"Yes, you see, he's doing a movie of the tour and he wants a writer."
Ahaa! Writer! That's me. Writer. "Okay, what's the scoop?" (In my best Chicago-reporter style.)
Then comes a long vagueness about a projected film with me somehow providing dialogue on the spot for all the heavies.
"It's going to be a high-pressure situation. You're used to working under pressure, aren't you?"
"Oh, yeah. Sure. I don't scare easy, if that's what you mean."
"Good. When can you leave?"
That's how it works, right? Dylan calls you and you drop everything. Like the lure of the Sirens or something. Everybody dropping their hoes in mid-furrow and racing off to the Northeast somewhere. I'm bleating into the phone. "This couldn't have come at a worse time. I'm right in the middle of moving into a horse ranch." Zero on the other end. Absolute nothing. The guy must've gone unconscious on the "horse ranch" part. "You still there?"
"So when can you leave?" comes the voice. "Tomorrow?" The pressure's already on and I haven't even packed my toothbrush yet. Half an hour ago everything was cool. I was inside my life. Now it's like a hurricane has struck my intestines.
"Look, I gotta have some time to think about this." My stomach feels like Luca Brasi has just knocked on the door to collect my debts. "I don't fly either. I only take trains. Haven't flown since Mexico, 1963." Loud, exasperated exhale on the other end as though the guy's convinced he's got a turkey on the line.
"Jesus, that's going to take you a week to get out there then. They're leaving New York at the end of the week. You gotta leave right away." There's a charley horse in my left arm from the grip on the phone.
"All right, all right, I'll let you know first thing in the morning." Phones go down and I'm gasping for air.
Excerpted from THE ROLLING THUNDER LOGBOOK by Sam Shepard Copyright © 2004 by Sam Shepard. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 12, 2012
This book probably has more appeal to Sam Shepard fans than Bob Dylan fans, although I guess those options are not mutually exclusive. You might expect a lot of inside dish about Dylan and the other Rollingeers. But maybe, like the Eskimo of song, some might find it “not my cup of meat.” Sam Shepard is more about what it feels like than what it is. You get a lot of this:
“MORNING. Knock on Dylan’s door. Inside he’s on the phone, shirtless, ordering frankincense and myrrh, royal jelly, long distance.” Yeah, I get it. That’s what it felt like to be on that tour. I like that sort of thing. Do you?
Posted July 21, 2010
No text was provided for this review.