I am walking towards the practice field, I’ve got my jacket over my neck, sweatin’. I’m carrying my sousaphone at rest—you carry it on your other shoulder when it’s at rest. I’m draggin’ off towards the field and I see the band sort of half-assembled about three or four minutes before rehearsal time. It’s Thursday. We’ve got a big show we’re going to do Friday night. I know everything! It’s ridiculous. I know the whole thing—we’ve been rehearsing this stuff every night for a week, I know every last step. I’m tired. I had a bum day. I half-sprained my ankle in swimming class. I was kind of bugged. You know how you have those days. What the heck.
I see Schwartz ahead of me lugging his sousaphone, and behind me is Snuffy Smith, who isn’t much of a marcher, but one of the best sousaphone players I ever heard. The three of us are truckin’ out to that field. What makes me do it, I don’t know, but I turn around and go back to the band room. That feeling of goofing off—what the hell! I slide my sousaphone into the big wooden rack in the band room. I cut across the hall, out the side door, and five minutes later I’m sitting in the Red Rooster knockin’ down a cheeseburger and a Black Cow.
Sitting with me is Pete, who plays in the baritone section, who is also knockin’ down a Black Cow and a cheeseburger. And off in the distance we can hear faintly, oh so faintly—we can hear the band, faintly, so faintly, just drifting in as they’re playing away. Here are two top-flight aces from the band knockin’ down a cheeseburger with a little piccalilli and a little chili sauce, french fries, and a Black Cow, and the rest of the guys are knocking themselves out in the hot sun.
I’m cool, on top of it, see. Little realizing I am laying the groundwork for one of the most embarrassing moments I ever lived through. And I don’t know whether I ever did live through it. There are people who say that terrible things that have happened to us in our lives never truly leave us. Quite possibly, had this not happened to me, I could have gone on to become god-knows-what? Johnny Carson, Soupy Sales, who knows what great man in this world.
I went to the Joan Baez concert at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium on August 17, 1963. Half-way through it she introduced a slouchy, unkempt kid I never heard of (though at least one of his songs I’d heard, sung by popular entertainers). He sang a song that sounded like an extended one-note melody with, at the end of each long phrase, a little one-note musical up-tick. Every line sounded like that. I can’t say I liked it. It was weird. But it caught my attention. His name was Bob Dylan.
The next day I rushed to a record store and bought the only two albums of his so far released. The song he had sung that night that captured my attention was “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I became a Dylan fan.
One day about a year or so later he had already made it big and I was one of a couple of people in a small theater lobby waiting for an avant garde film to start. About ten feet away, by himself, was Dylan. We looked each other in the eye, I wanting to go up to him, he probably hoping I wouldn’t. I didn’t. Now knowing that he probably would have bruskly shrugged me off, I still wish I’d been bold enough to try, but I was not yet artsy fartsy.
Over the years I’ve seen him in concert several times. He does not have a “good” voice. But, in a strange, aggressively modernist style, never the same, he artistically expresses meaning or gives the song a new, jazzy feeling. He uses his voice perfectly attuned to the genius of his music. Doing his own songs, few people but Joan Baez, who, with her gentle elegance, so unlike his unpredictable, rough and ragged, shaggy, magic voice, achieves some parity.
For me: “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix, is very good; “Mr. Tambourine Man” (a great Dylan song) as done by The Byrds, has not even a touch of feeling–it is a soulless travesty; “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul, and Mary is an equally saccharine void.