Bob Dylan, stuck inside of New Jersey
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As encounters with cops go, it wasn't Gates-Crowley II. It didn't end with anything as useless as an invitation to the White House for some beers.
Still, Bob Dylan's rainy-day encounter with a cop in the New Jersey shore town of Long Branch qualifies as the most surreal episode in a long time about the limits of fame.
It would be silly to expect what happened on the early evening of July 23 to appear in a song someday, though it certainly cries out for epic commentary by someone.
According to news reports that emerged last week, the incident began around 5 o'clock on a rainy evening. Bob Dylan was in town for a gig that night with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp just a few miles away.
Dressed in a hoodie and dark raincoat, Dylan must have looked like a cross between the mysterious stranger in "The Man in the Long Black Coat" and the hipster "lost in the rain in Juarez." What he didn't look like was someone who belonged in that Hispanic working-class neighborhood on a rainy evening.
Unlike most rockers who surround themselves with entourages 24/7, Dylan has always craved alone time whenever he could get it. One of his hobbies is sleuthing out the rock 'n' roll roots of whatever community he's performing in that night.
The 68-year-old Voice of a Generation gets his kicks visiting the childhood homes of his contemporaries and the various literary and performing artists who have inspired him over the years. There is speculation he was looking for one of Bruce Springsteen's old haunts when he lingered a little too long in front of a house with a "For Sale" sign on it. Dylan spooked an occupant of the house, who called the cops when he allegedly peered through one of the windows.
"We got a call for a suspicious person," Long Branch police officer Kristie Buble, 24, told ABC News. "It was pouring rain outside, and I was right around the corner so I responded. By that time he was walking down the street. I asked him what he was doing in the neighborhood and he said he was looking at a house for sale."
For a split second, Bob Dylan must have wondered if his unflattering depiction of the cops in Patterson, N.J., immortalized in the song "Hurricane," had finally caught up with him. He probably felt a pang of relief mixed with mortification when Officer Buble failed to recognize him at all. Just like the character in "Like a Rolling Stone," Bob Dylan was experiencing what it felt like to be "a complete unknown." It was a rare slice of anonymity in a world that generally worships him. He decided to own the moment by becoming one of his trickster characters.
"I asked him what his name was and he said, 'Bob Dylan,' " Ms. Buble said. "Now, I've seen pictures of Bob Dylan from a long time ago and he didn't look like Bob Dylan to me at all. He was wearing black sweatpants tucked into black rain boots, and two raincoats with the hood pulled down over his head. So I said, 'OK, Bob, what are you doing in Long Branch?' He said he was touring the country with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp. So now I'm really a little fishy about his story."
Had Officer Buble seen the smile forming in the corner of his mouth, she would have known something was happening, even if she didn't know what it was. She asked him for ID, but Bob Dylan doesn't carry ID. What would be the point? He hasn't needed to show anyone ID since about 1963.
While identifying cultural icons that transcend generations obviously isn't Officer Buble's strong suit, she gets points for accurately perceiving Dylan's spiritual evasiveness, even while he was "cooperating" with her. Little did she know that she was fitting all too neatly into a narrative Dylan has recited countless times.
For nearly five decades, Bob Dylan has chronicled the adventures of scruffy wanderers and tricksters nearly laid low by the cleverness of a waitress here or a girl with calico eyes there. Whether named Isis or the Girl from the North Country or Sweetheart Like You, these women usually demand something from Dylan's stand-in -- often something he characterizes as a piece of his soul. Though Ms. Buble is the first to ask for ID, she's very much part of a tradition of women and authority figures easily perplexed by him.
Ms. Buble's sergeant, only a few years older than she, also failed to recognize Bob Dylan. It would be easy to complain that we're entering a new Dark Ages because people in their mid-20s can't recite the lyrics to "Lay, Lady, Lay" as well as their elders. But one of the things Dylan so eloquently points out in his songs and interviews is the fragmentation of our culture. We don't have common reference points anymore.
We hear about "Jon & Kate Plus 8" every day, but I couldn't pick them out in a police lineup if my life depended on it. Lady Gaga is a mystery to me. Megan Fox -- who's that? Cultural obliviousness is a two-way street, I suppose.
Eventually, the cops got Dylan back to his tour bus where his manager vouched for him. Dylan even produced an ID card to seal the deal. Satisfied, the cops left.
Things could have been worse. The cops could have knocked on Willie Nelson's tour bus door and been nearly overcome by billowing clouds of marijuana smoke. We were a Taser gun and a mass arrest away from another White House beer summit.
First Published August 18, 2009 12:00 am