The Time I Almost Met Bob Dylan

24 Sep


            Back in 1998 I was working with a Deadhead magazine called Dupree’s Diamond News. The publication’s name was taken from the Grateful Dead song, Dupree’s Diamond Blues and I covered many concerts and other events for them between 1995 and 1999, when they discontinued publication. In 1998, I had a connection with a Columbia Records publicist who was the gatekeeper for journalists who wanted tickets and photo passes to cover artists like James Taylor, Billy Joel, and Bob Dylan. In this case I wanted to cover Dylan’s upcoming concert in Eugene, Oregon and wanted tickets and a photo pass.

            “I can provide tickets to the concert,” I was told, “but Bob Dylan does not allow anyone to photograph him except close friends like Danny Clinch. I can provide you with tickets, but the only way that you’ll get any pictures of Bob Dylan, is if you sneak your camera in. Would you like two tickets?”

            “Yes,” I said.

            “Okay, they’ll be at Will Call in your name. If you get any photos of Dylan, send me some 8 x 10s, but if you get caught, I don’t know who you are.”

                        I realized that I wouldn’t have to sneak my camera in, if I got photo passes for Morrison and Lucinda Williams the other two acts performing with Dylan. They were on other record labels and had different publicists, so I connected with them and got two photo passes, which allowed me to bring in all my camera gear with no hassles. At that time I had a computer geek doing a website for me, and I paid him by taking him with me to concerts, as my assistant. When we arrived at the venue, a line was wrapped around the side of the building with a couple thousand people. We were wearing our jackets, since Fall began on time and it was a cool and sporadically rainy night. I walked to the head of the line, where the entrance and ticket booths were and went to Will Call where I picked up my tickets and photo passes.

Once we had our tickets and photo passes, I turned to one of the security workers at the door and asked him where I could enter with my photo pass, which I showed him. He immediately motioned with his hand and told us that we could enter the empty arena ahead of the crowd since we had press passes. This was the best stroke of luck that could happen, because the concert was not reserved seating, but festival style, which meant first come first serve on seating and we were the only ones in the auditorium that held thousands.

My first reaction was to sit in the front row just right or left of center, but then if I wanted to sneak a shot of Dylan, I would need to be hidden from view. I decided to sit in the sixth row, a little right of center, so we sat down and waited for the crowd to be admitted. Once the auditorium was filled, I walked up to the stage with my cameras and bag slung over my shoulder and made sure that security knew who I was to avoid any problems while I was shooting. While I waited for the show to begin I saw an assortment of people file past me in what seemed an endless parade of a diverse cross section of humanity. I did a double take as two eyes caught my attention as they passed by not more than 10 feet away. The eyes were the only recognizable feature on a face that was blown off by a shotgun blast in a failed suicide attempt that I read about in the newspaper a few years earlier. Then a man wearing an American flag button up dress shirt was walking in my direction, whom I recognized as Ken Kesey.

“Hi Ken,” I said.

“Oh hi,” he said, and then apologized, “I know that we met but I can’t remember your name.”

“It’s Bob,” I told him.

“Hi Bob, I hope you enjoy the concert he said,” and added, “I’ve got to go.”

It was the usual S.O.P. (standard operating procedure), three songs and no flash, for both Lucinda Williams and Van Morrison. The night before when the show played Portland, Dylan closed the show, so I assumed that it would be the same this night. Dylan and Van Morrison were billed as co-headliners on what came to be called “The Never Ending Bob Dylan Tour.” The early part of the tour included Judy Collins on the bill with them as a triple headliner, but by this time Lucinda Williams was the third performer and opened. She was promoting her new album “Car Wheels on a Dirt Road,” with a full band and some of the most incredible mind blowing sexually drenched country/blues/folk/rock ever to be performed by a female. The only other time that I had seen her perform was on an Austin City Limits show with Rosanne Cash and Bruce Cockburn in the early 1990s. The performer that I saw in Eugene was a completely transformed person, whose music I fell in love with.

After I shot Lucinda performing her first three songs, I sat back down, put away my camera gear and watched her set. When she was done, I waited about 10 minutes and then walked up to the stage with my camera bag and took both of my camera’s out. I had one loaded with 800 ISO black and white film with a wide angle zoom and the other with 800 ISO color film and an 80-200mm telephoto zoom. As I watched the stage crew assemble the stage for Van Morrison I noticed a man on the stage who was beckoning me. As I looked up at him he asked me what I was doing?

“I’m getting ready to shoot Van Morrison,” I told him.

He answered back, “Bob Dylan is playing next and you cannot photograph him. All the photographers have checked in their camera gear backstage, and you will have to as well. Meet me at the door on the left side of the stage.”

Disappointedly I followed his directions, and went through a curtain and through a door into the backstage area. It was packed with boxes and cases and other items, as well as folding chairs with the members of Dylan’s band sitting in them with their legs blocking our passage. Tony Garnier moved his legs as he looked up at the road manager without smiling. The others all did the same until we entered a doorway into a room that contained about 6 camera bags with claim checks on them. Dylan’s manager gave me one and told me to fill it out and put it on the bag, then keep the upper part as my claim check get my camera back for Van Morrision. He said that he had to go, so just go out the same way that I came in. I found myself all alone in the room as I was filling out the tag, when I suddenly realized that I could take one of my cameras out of the bag and hide it under my jacket which I still had on. The black leather jacket that I was wearing was unzipped and I put my camera loaded with 800 ISO color film and an 80-200mm zoom lens under my left armpit with my right hand, then I hunched my shoulders in so the open zipper of my jacket nearly came together. I walked in this awkward position towards the exit sign that identified the door that I entered at.

I was more concerned with keeping my jacket closed and avoid being seen sneaking my camera back out, than I was with who was in front of me. About ten feet before I got to the door I looked up to find the door knob, when I saw that someone was standing in front of the door, with their arms folded and one leg cocked to support their body leaning against the door. Suddenly I realized that this was Bob Dylan with his foot against the exit door that I needed to pass through. Thirty-Five years flashed before my eyes as I realized that this was one of those once in a lifetime moments when the entire world stops, as your heart goes in your mouth and you realize that your wildest fantasy as a rock photographer has just materialized, at the wrong moment.

My mind was vacillating between wanting to extend my right hand that was holding my camera under my left arm and getting through the exit door without detection. At this point, if I were caught with my camera, after I was told to retire it during Dylan’s performance I would have my camera gear confiscated and would be thrown out of the concert. So I was freaking out, as I made eye contact with Dylan and when he saw the panic in my eyes, he made a disgusted expression and stepped aside to let me go through the exit.

Later I found out that one of the rules that Dylan has in place backstage was to never make eye contact with him. I ignorantly violated this rule, but at least I made it back into the auditorium with my camera and took my seat, waiting for the performance to begin. Once he began with “Everything Is Broken” I began to judiciously take photographs when the opportunity for me to do it without being seen by either security or the band on stage, I did so. Most of the time I took shots when everyone stood up, and I would find an opening between their bodies, until they began to sit down again. After Dylan performed, I went to the backstage area and claimed my camera gear, and set up to photograph Van Morrison. I included a few shots from the show to go along with this blog entry.


One Response to “The Time I Almost Met Bob Dylan”

  1. Bkolad September 24, 2013 at 6:48 AM #

    Good one Bob, so did he know you had your camera in your jacket?

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