Dylans Downloaded

By Sandra H. Ramer

It was a normal day. About 4:45. I'd burned out on work and was trying to figure out how to download some computer pictures of Bob Dylan from the Internet. I wandered down the hall to the Office on Political Strategy (OOPS) to see if Max, the resident computer guru, was in. He was, sitting in front of a terminal looking inscrutable, as windows of various sizes appeared and disappeared on the screen. "Max, can you help me figure this out?" I handed him some scribbled notes on the ftp location and the names of the files: Dylan66, Dylan56, Dylan61, Dylan76, Dylan79, Dylan94. "You want all these?" Max was there in a flash and downloaded something else he seemed to be interested in--a naked young male in a very convoluted position. "Yuck," I commented. "Hmm, interesting," said Sara, a graduate student. She was trying to be blase, but her blush indicated otherwise. "Max, the Dylan pictures? Can you get them? I downloaded one, but it was just computer gibberish," I said. "You have to undecode them," Max said. "It's all a matter of the right software. I just noticed a new undecode program." "Let's see--here it is, proto.glp. I'll just download and undecode all at once." Max's fingers flew. Suddenly there was a blinding flash from the screen, a ripping sound, and a rush of wind. I heard him before I could see anything. "Jesus, Bonnie, aren't there any stairs out of this place?" I rubbed my eyes and opened them just in time to see Bob Dylan, circa 1961, also rubbing his eyes and looking around the room. He was wearing a Woody Guthrie cap and carrying a Gibson acoustic guitar. Those chubby cheeks are adorable, I thought, before going into denial about the whole scene. Bob stared at us; we stared at him. "I'm Sharon," I said, "this is Max, and that's Sara." "Sara?" Bob said, "I like that name." He flashed a killer smile in her direction. Sara's brown eyes began to sparkle as she attempted one of her own come-hither looks, but her legs gave out before she reached high beam and she crumpled into a chair. "Well, ah, welcome to Madison, Bob," I said. "Madison? Madison? Madison, Wisconsin?" We nodded. "But I was in Minneapolis, at my friend Bonnie's apartment." He mumbled to himself, "What did Tony put in that wine." Then he turned and asked who'd brought him here. "Maybe a simple twist of fate?" I said, smirking. "Huh?" Bob said, scowling. "Oh-oh, 1961," I thought. "I mean it--who dragged me in here and what is this place?" Bob said, looking as menacing as his baby face would allow. "This is the OOPS center," Sara said brightly. "Oops? The Oops Center?" Bob giggled a little. Sara was serious. "The Office On Political Strategy. We are trying to find new ways to integrate real people into the political process in the 1990s." "Why wait until then?" Bob asked. Sara started to open her mouth and I frowned at her. "Later," I said. "Bob, we'll try to get your friends to come back here and pick you up. But you're here now. So why don't you tell us what you've been doing? I know a guy named Fred who said you drove out to New York with him from Madison a while ago." "Oh, you know Fred?" Bob said, sitting down on a desk. "Yeh, I've been in the Village--Greenwich Village, singing and playing and writing some of my own songs. I know Woodie Guthrie! You want to hear a song I learned from him?" We all nodded, gasping in unison. Bob took a harmonica out of his pocket and blew into it, then tuned the Gibson. He started strumming and then singing "Pastures of Plenty," in a gravelly young voice, with studied "old-man" inflections. "Pinch me," I whispered in Max's direction. But Max had turned around to the computer screen and was busy entering commands. Whoosh, a bright flash, and an adolescent Bob stood in the middle of the room. He was wearing a shiny charcoal suit jacket, his hair was greasy, slicked back on the sides, and piled high in a James Dean swirl in the front. He carried a glossy black electric guitar. "Man, we're really flying tonight! Guys? Where are you guys? Whooaaaa." He stopped dead still in front of Bob61, who had been playing his harmonica, eyes closed and oblivious to the new presence in the room. Bob61 opened his eyes and the two stared at each other. I thought I could hear goosebumps popping in the room; maybe I was just feeling mine. "You're me! You're me. What kinda trip is this. I told Dave I didn't want anymore of his damn morning glory seeds." He paused, then said again, more slowly, "You're me." Bob56 opened his mouth and let out a scream that would wake all of Jerry Lee Lewis's dead wives. He stopped and for what seemed like an eternity they just stood there looking at one another. Then--it was extraordinary--they reached out and touched each other's faces, staring until the younger Bob broke away and spun around in a circle. "You're a musician. I knew it. I knew it." He turned and leaped into the air, doing a scissor-kick. Then he spun back to face Bob61. "But that didn't sound like Rock and Roll. What was that? Rhythm and Blues?" He looked hopeful. Bob61 said "I'm doing folk music--it's what's happening in New York." He again began sucking on the harmonica. "Folk music?" Young Bobby looked confused, but he sat down as Bob61 began playing something that sounded a little more like the blues he listened to late at night on his radio. Max was at it again. The next thing we knew, a perfectly coiffed, painfully thin Bob Dylan circa 66 was in the middle of the room. The younger Bobs clutched each other and stared at this newcomer. He was wearing a pencil-thin pin-striped suit, the bones in his face stood out in sharp contrast to the smooth laquered curls on his head, and his eyes looked like burning coals. "With your mercury mouth..." popped into my head. "Now, what," I thought, "he's so hyper he's vibrating. He must be on speed." He hadn't said a word, but the charisma was palpable. There didn't seem to be enough room. I noticed everyone was backing up slightly. "How long before we go on?" He didn't blink, didn't seem surprised--just asked when he was going on. "You've taken a slight detour," I told him, fighting an urge to grab a microphone from the audio-visual cabinet and set it up in front of him. Maybe we could get an impromptu performance. I knew he had just finished his seventh album, Blonde on Blonde. "Detour?" he said. I noticed the pupils of his eyes were getting smaller and he was starting to focus on the room. Finally he saw his two still-shocked younger selves sitting together on a desk. Bob56 piped up, "How old are you?" Bob66 replied, "25, kid--you look a helluva lot like me, you know." "I am you, don't you get it? But you look kind of sick." "You are me? Ohhh. It's that time stopping thing I been thinking about. What a trip." I couldn't control myself any longer. "Let the kid hear something--"Visions of Johanna!" I yelped, sounding like an obnoxious guy who seems to be in the audience at most Dylan concerts. "And who are you?" he asked, spinning around. "I'm Sharon, I work here," I said lamely. I pointed to the others--"Max...Sara." "Sara? Where's Sara?" Bob66 asked. "Oh, a different Sara. Hi." He turned back to the Bobs. "So you are me--you both are me. "Well, you know what, I've done it all, all you dreamed of. Thousands of people all over the world come to hear me. Paris, London, Spain, Italy. Sure I'm a little burned out; I take stuff to stay awake. The songs just keep coming and I gotta type 'em out when they come, work out the music. "It's not all good, though. People just won't leave me alone. They want me to never change. They expect me to justify everything I do. I'm doing rock, playing electric guitar; lots of people boo me at shows because I'm not doing folk anymore. People act as though they expect me to lead a Movement I have nothing to do with." "Electric Rock?" Bob56 grinned, jabbing the Woody Guthrie look-alike to his left in the ribs. "Well, I still like Rock and Roll," Bob61 said defensively. "I had to make it somehow. With folk music you don't need a band, you can do it yourself." "Here's my electric guitar--is there a cord here?" Bob56 asked. I went to the cabinet and dug around. "Here!" Bob56 handed the guitar to Bob66, who launched into "Highway 61 Revisited"- -"God said to Abraham, kill me a son..." The youngest Bob did a double-take on the words--but he was soon bopping around, delighted with the beat. I wanted to tell Bob66 not to ride his motorcycle when he got home, but I knew it was no use. Motorcycle or not he was heading for a crash and there was no stopping it. There was a crash of drums and a swirling violin sound as Max brought in the next Bob--the consumate performer Bob76 in all his raging glory, fresh from the Rolling Thunder Tour and wearing a turban over long auburn curls. He was clearly inside the proscenium arch and staying there, in the midst of singing "Idiot Wind." "I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me." Every Bob was entranced--Bob66 obviously troubled at what the song might mean. When Bob76 finished "It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves," we applauded. At the puny applause, his eyes jerked open--he'd been expecting applause from 50 thousand people. "What?" he said, shaking his head and looking around. Three other pairs of those deep blue eyes looked back at him. "Don't even ask," Bob66 said to him, bursting into a laugh that shook his frail body, then rushing across the room and leaping into Bob76's arms. They fell to the floor, and the other two Bobs rushed in to join an impromptu wresting match. They broke apart laughing uproariously, then stayed sitting on the floor. "Let's sing 'Blowin' In The Wind,'" Bob61 squealed. And so they did, wild thin mercury harmonizing with fresh honey. "Anybody have an E harmonica?" Bob76 yelled. The others fell back laughing. Bob66 started playing train sounds on his harmonica and and he and Bob76 burst into "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry." Meanwhile, Max was back at the computer. The next Dylan had a more difficult "birth." Fiery sparks and smoke filled the room as Bob79 appeared, shouting "Jesus is Lord. Every knee shall bow!" Bob56's hand flew to his head, as if grasping at an imaginary yarmulke. "I'm Jewish!" he said. "Mom and Dad better not hear about this." His voice rose another notch. "Grandma better not hear about this." Bob66 turned calmly and said "nothing is really sacred." "Don't you know we're living in the last days of the end times?" Bob79 demanded. "Salvation, huh?" said Bob76. "You did get a lethal dose, didn't you?" "We need another Bob, now," I whispered urgently to Max, who turned again to the computer. In seconds, a mellow Bob94 appeared. I'm sure the other Bobs thought he looked mighty old. But, damn, he looked great--strong, calm, and in charge. Not the guy I'd seen on TV a couple of times in recent years. My impulse was to give him a hug, but of course I didn't dare. He was dressed in a blue and black plaid flannel shirt, black jeans, and boots. I knew he had just finished a European tour, including stops in Eastern European countries, and the reviews were good. He was about to begin another U.S. tour. But right now he was here in this room. "Nothing much surprises me anymore," he said as he looked around. He walked over to Bob79, put his arm around his shoulder and said to the others, "it was something I had to go through." Bob79 frowned. And Bob94 added, "I wrote some really good songs during those days--if people would only take their hands away from their ears and listen to 'em." "How about `Every Grain of Sand.'" He pulled a harmonica out of his pocket and began playing it, then started singing. Bob79 joined in. "In the fury of the moment I can see the Master's hand, In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." If he'd do "Blind Willie McTell," I could die right now, I thought. The other Bobs gathered around Bob94, buzzing with questions. Finally, one of them said "Let's get out of here--let's find a piano." They burst through the doors and walked downstairs and outside in a clatter of boots. From the window I could see them, arms linked, walking down Bascom Hill toward State Street. God knows what happened next. In the office, Max had turned back to the screen and was looking at that nude male picture. I decided I'd better leave. Postscript: Now we know what happened next: the very wonderful troubadour Bob95!
Sandra H. Ramer RAMER@ssc.wisc.edu

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