“Encountering” Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village: N.Y.U. to Fourth Street

Before my presentation at New York University’s “Freedoms at Risk Conference” on February 23, I looked for Bob Dylan’s place at 161 West Fourth Street. I walked out of the Kimmel Center at Washington Square, turned left and headed west on fourth street. I walked  a couple of blocks and crossed MacDougal street and saw Dave Van Ronk carrying a guitar without a case. I said, “Dave where is Bob’s place.” He said, “I don’t know if he split the Village for awhile or not, it’s, “Wintertime in New York town, The wind blowin’ snow around.” I said “Yeah, maybe he’s gone back to Hibbing to warm up, huh?”

Then a couple of more short blocks and I get to Sixth Avenue, or the Avenue of the Americas as it is now called, and I see this prepossessing woman with long hair coming toward me. “Suze Rotolo, is that you?” “Yeah how are you, Peter,” and I say “How is Bob doing and how are you all getting along? Where is his place?” She said, “You mean where is our place because we live together.” We talked briefly about her recent photo shoot with Dylan. “He is probably home warming up: we walked forever to get photos for the album.” Don Hunstein, a Columbia records photographer took the photos for the new The Freewheelin Bob Dylan album. But is this a snowy February 1963 or 2008? The cars look different you know.

So I cross Sixth Avenue and ask a man who is cleaning the windows of an establishment if he knows where Dylan lives. I then give the exact address for 161 West Fourth which is between Sixth Avenue and Jones Street, which is a block west of Sixth. I have trouble talking to him because I am distracted by a lamentation or some poetic musings of Allen Ginsberg who appears out of the blue and says, “Look, his place is there, just practically right across the street.” Indeed, just a few buildings west of the avenue, is Dylan’s place on the north side of the street.

I am baffled; I can’t believe it, the bannister, the fourth floor walkup, Dylan lives on the third floor. Is this really where he lives? The same address; no gentrification; frozen in time; Ahhh, but is he in? Will I be able to talk to him? There is a sign on the door written in pencil that says: “I’ll be back later Suze. I am at Cafe Wha? and then will catch Tom Paxton at Gerde’s Folk City. Maybe Mike Porco will give me a gig. Maybe I will change the world! Hahaha. Peace, Bob”

The entire walk from N.Y.U. to Dylan’s place is about three minutes or so. There is a Tic Tac Toe women’s lingerie shop on the basement floor of the great folksinger’s building. It sells shoes and women’s stuff as if it were a tawdry storefront cousin of Victoria’s Secret. A mannekin of a nude-topless woman with red ribbons covering the nipples can be seen inside the front window. A brusque employee comes out who was rather unresponsive when I said, “Bob Dylan lived here.” I think I am in Dylan’s dream now. “I wish, I wish, I wish in vain, That we could sit simply in that room again.”

A car drives pass me on fourth street as I scamper to avoid getting snow showered. I take my first mobile-phone photos of Dylan’s place. Three of them! I look up at the third floor of this modest edifice which is positively caddy corner to Fourth Street and Sixth and I hear a unique voice singing and composing. I touch the bannister, the famous bannister.

My eyes water; I am hearing a genius from an open window slightly ajar due to wintry New York’s Greenwich Village on the island of Manhattan in the warrior kingdom of America. He is singing. I hear the voice and the sound of protest against the many crimes and irresponsible behaviour of this violent and selfish nuclear, escalation dominance, counterproliferator of only other nations. Not its smug self:

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

Then I go to Bleecker Street and asked my pal Richard Fariña–who was married to Joan Baez’s sister Mimi–who would die in a few years at age twenty-nine, “Where is the Gaslight?” “Oh, Dylan’s singing there tonight. I will show you the way. They say he will do a new song. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

And I woke up, returned to the N.Y.U. Kimmel Center, gave my talk and thought what a wonderful day! Dreams, Dylan and the comeback kid from October 31, 2002.

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