Paging Bob Dylan …

The news that Bob Dylan had been selected as winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature was a big deal in some quarters, but now that the excitement has died down there remains an important question … where is Bob Dylan?  Apart from making passing reference to the award shortly after the announcement, he has not discussed the honor and has even removed any Nobel Prize reference from his web site.  One can only assume that being awarded an international prize (and the more than $900,000 that goes with it) simply does not hold much allure for Dylan.

At least one member of the Nobel Academy has suggested that Bob Dylan’s reaction to the award reveals him to be both arrogant and impolite.  Others closer to the artist would point out that Dylan is just being Dylan.  What, after all, was the Nobel Committee expecting from someone who has expressed his views on fame this way: “Being noticed can be a burden.  Jesus got himself crucified because he got himself noticed.  So I disappear a lot.”

While some seem shocked that a Nobel winner would drop off the grid upon learning he had won, this has happened before.  In Dylan’s case, though, this should not have been a surprise.  In August of 1969, he lived in upstate New York not far from the site of the Woodstock Festival and, despite several invitations to appear and a nodding commitment to do so, Dylan was a “no show” there as well.  At the end of the day the current contretemps may come down simply to his adherence to a philosophy he has expressed in the past: “Just because you like my stuff doesn’t mean I owe you anything.”

Wait … What? Bob Dylan?

The name of the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature has been released and it is … drum roll … American song writer and singer Bob Dylan.  Many of his fans and admirers rightly celebrate this distinction, pointing out that his song lyrics captured the essence of the struggles and cultural dissonance of the 60’s, the 70’s and beyond.  It is noteworthy that Dylan, the first American recipient for Literature since Toni Morrison in 1993, received the award for having created “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Others, however, are less certain that Dylan should have been selected.  One naysayer, for example, expressed his feelings this way: “I’m a Dylan fan, but this is an ill conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”  One is left to wonder what that writer really thinks!

Whatever your position on naming Bob Dylan a Nobel Laureate, it would be entertaining to tune in to the awards ceremony.  Scheduled for December 10, 2016, in Stockholm, Sweden, a viewer would likely be hard pressed to say who was more difficult to understand … the presenter speaking in Swedish, or Bob Dylan making his acceptance remarks.  As Dylan aficionados know, he has taken to mumbling his way through concerts of late, a fact he readily admits!

Dylan, who resided in Woodstock, New York, in 1969, has a tangential connection to the famous music festival bearing the name of that village.  As aging Hippies will recall, when Woodstock was deemed to be too small for that event and a second community refused to issue a permit, things did not look good for concert organizers.  At the last minute, though, a dairy farmer named Max Yasgur stepped into the breach, offering his 600 acre farm in Bethel, New York, as the venue for those remarkable three days of peace, love and music.

But with Bob Dylan, a genuine music icon, living so close by, festival planners could not believe their good fortune.  They extended several invitations for him to join the thirty-two other bands and performers at the festival but, to their dismay, he did not appear in person.  For those at Woodstock, though, there is little doubt that he was there in spirit through his contemporaries and close associates including Joan Baez.

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock, many veterans of that remarkable event (myself included) feel drawn back to Bethel, White Lake and Yasgur’s Farm.  Though impractical, it would be nice to mingle with some of the other folks who were there in 1969 and to, perhaps, reminisce about those three days.  But before we start packing our bags and heading for that meadow in upstate New York, it might be a good idea to listen to what Bob Dylan has to say about such a trip down memory lane.  In his 1997 song Mississippi, Dylan says: “You can always come back, but you can’t come all the way back.”

Hippie Transportation

Volkswagens have been a significant part of  my life for more than fifty years.  My love affair with this great little vehicle began with the green beetle that I bought new upon returning home from overseas in 1965, and continues to this day with a beetle convertible. Over the years our family rolling stock has included a Super Beetle and a Squareback, and we were never disappointed with these very dependable (but small) modes of transportation.

When I became a police officer in the late 1960’s it immediately became clear to me that I was not the only person enamored of VW beetles … they were also the primary mode of transportation for that group of young people commonly referred to (at that time) as “Hippies.”  The ubiquitous bug seemed to be everywhere at that time, and with good reason … they were relatively inexpensive, easy to maintain and fairly reliable.

The Volkswagen beetles of that era also had several little-publicized features that, for some, were very important … they had a number of interior nooks and crannies that were perfect for hiding contraband like (gasp) marijuana.  And if the owner of that type of car was so inclined, the beetle also had a good-sized open area under the back seat that could conceal large quantities of … well, most anything.

Despite all these neat hiding places, I always wondered why the occupants of VW beetles were not better at keeping illegal items out of sight.  On many occasions, after stopping one of those cars for a traffic violation, I would approach the driver’s window only to see marijuana or other sorts of contraband lying on the seat or the floor in plain view.  How could this happen?  Did the occupants forget that this material was just sitting there?

Well, to answer my own question … that, in fact, may have been the reason.  One of the side effects of marijuana use is reported to be diminished powers of recall … and just for the record, my fading memory is attributable to age rather than the ravages of drug use!  But speaking of drugs, I am reminded of the reason why it has taken so long for marijuana to be legalized … the Hippies kept forgetting where they left the petitions! (smile)

What Would Wavy Do?

The manuscript is now in the hands of the publisher, and it is anticipated that Dear Hippie … We Met At Woodstock will be launched in both print and digital formats later this year.  Putting this book together has really been a labor of love, for writing about some of the things that happened at Woodstock, 1969, has brought back a number of warm memories.  Though it took place almost fifty years ago, the mere mention of this iconic event often stirs up images of crowds, traffic jams, mud and assorted anti-social behaviors.  True enough, but there were also many remarkable displays of kindness, generosity and cooperation over those three days, and I was able to capture a number of them in the book.

One person who stood out from the diverse cast of characters at Woodstock was Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney).  His personality, style and good humor were, I believe, among the key elements that helped keep things relatively calm in the midst of all that went on during the festival.  For example, organizers had arranged for several hundred off-duty New York City Police officers to provide security, but the police commissioner – at the last minute – withdrew his authorization for them to do so.  Into the breach stepped Wavy Gravy who announced that he would handle things with a “Please Force” rather than a police force.  He said festival attendees would be asked to “please behave” and, if they did not, he and his associates would be armed with “cream pies and seltzer bottles!”

Wavy Gravy has been a fixture on the “Hippie” scene ever since Woodstock, and is still active in a number of programs he founded over the years.  He also uses his unique and humorous style to talk about a range of issues including politics.  At the Yippie convention in 1976, for example, he nominated “Nobody For President,” and crafted the campaign slogans “Nobody is Perfect” and “Nobody Should Have Too Much Power.”  He even arranged for a campaign ticker tape parade in Sacramento, California, with motorcycle officers escorting a convertible occupied by … wait for it … nobody.

I am not sure what Wavy Gravy’s opinion on the current Presidential campaign might be, but I have a feeling that, if asked, he would use his razor wit to make us think carefully about the choices we face … he might even cause us to reflect back upon the points he was making in 1976.