KNABLE GAZING: Reflections on a Dylan Dream
“We were in front of a house I knew in the dream but never in real life. He had a black Camaro that I regularly took him out for rides in. I had to do the driving and it was my honor. Top down, dirty old car, two-door so it opened wide and he climbed in back, me in front like his chauffeur. We pulled out of the driveway onto a dirt road covered in snow. I turned left to drive deeper into suburbia instead of out to the main highway and he got annoyed. He didn’t say much but he was uncomfortable with me driving his car into unplowed backstreets. We hit a bump and he yelled at me. I said we’d turn it around as we approached a round in the road with enough room, a small snow plow ahead. He muttered under his breath while I made the turn and drove back to the driveway of the house where we started. This whole time, like I always do in Bob Dylan dreams (a popular genre for me), I wanted to bring up my songs, but I decided I didn’t need to. I considered asking to take a selfie with him and shook my head before I spoke. For what cheap benefit? To boast of having been there with him? I wanted meaning, the real relationship, the same thing everybody wants. The right to call him Bobby. I woke up sometime after we got back to the front of the house, a ramshackle front porch jutting out anonymously, proving nothing and with nothing to prove.”
So went what I posted at 4:27 in the morning after waking up from the dream, with a short preface to say that this was meant only to report it, with no relation to any bad news about Bob Dylan’s health.
Jay Buchanan responded first, ominously saying it was “serious” that I needed to check out the Kurt Vonnegut documentary on Hulu, which I don’t have. I asked him to text me if it was so serious. He hasn’t yet.
Dan, whose civilian status means I won’t use his last name here, wrote that he remembers a line from a play I wrote in high school in which I referenced Bob Dylan “writing records.” This was news to me, but it sounded like something I would have made reference to back then, when I was already deep into my first wave of obsession with Bob Dylan. It was nice of Dan to remember something connected to me and I told him so. I was all hope and promise in that memory, about to depart for the East Coast and college the next year. I was so full of myself.
The next response was from an agent I first heard of when I visited New York as a winning young playwright right before college. She had ended up representing my fellow teenage playwright champs but never actually me. She commented that Bob Dylan’s been on her mind lately with all the artists being “called to rapture.” I quoted her back from Dylan’s “Mama, You Been on My Mind” but I substituted “Dylan” for “Mama.” The last time I saw her was at the memorial service for the woman who ran the play contest that brought us all together.
The very next person to respond was Lach, a.k.a. Steve Rogers, a.k.a. the punk-beatnik guru who ran the Sidewalk Cafe open mic where I reported dutifully in my early New York days after college to try to be a singer-songwriter. Lach not only ran this open mic of open mics, but he bestowed the performers gigs based on the quality of their open mic showings. I’ve rambled before about this here, but it was my first New York bardic victory when, after several appearances at the open mic, I finally impressed him enough for him to say I could call him to book a half-hour slot.
Lach’s response to my Bob Dylan dream was nearly as devastating as all the times he didn’t ask me to call him to book a half hour slot, but for an entirely different reason. He suggested my dream was about me feeling regret over giving up on my artistic self in some way. I struggled over how to respond, or whether to respond at all. I tried a few passes that I deleted, quoting Bob Dylan snidely (“Everybody said they’d stand behind me when the game got rough, but the joke was on me, there was nobody even there to bluff”), then I went for optimism, spinning my dream into a different kind of allegory about acceptance and getting over the need to seek approval. We ended up having a nice back and forth about making art, something it’s getting harder and harder to take seriously for me–the very notion of making art. For whom? And why? As it turns out, Lach, or Steve, has similar questions. He wonders about the difference between playing a song for one person versus a thousand and why that matters. We’re in the same boat, or the same Camaro.
Anyway. Approval. It was meaningful to get it from Lach and even to get that acknowledgement from the agent who I would have loved to have had represent me, even though she didn’t. And I hate myself for admitting that, but it’s true.
Luigi, who I almost know, said something about avoiding motorcycles. No problem.
Then my old elementary and middle school band teacher, Mr. Seto (Mike), checked in with his wisdom. “Don’t analyze the dream. Just enjoy the ride.” This is the guy who taught me how to play saxophone in fourth grade, helped me record my Sacramento All City band audition tapes in 7th and 8th grade, who gave us all rides to those performances (in a station wagon?). One time we stopped at the Japanese Baptist church where he was also a pastor. There was something strange going on with the heating system; it bellowed with a big boom from underground, beneath a metal grating where we stood and he bent to check it. Memories.
Sabrina directed a friend of hers to my dream because it reminded me of her friend’s dreams. Her friend loved that, but I don’t think we’re going to end up talking about our common dreamscapes.
Jeremy was someone else from high school. “Vivid.”
And then there’s Karlus Trapp—a pro-in-all-ways musician who I’m pretty sure can walk on water. Karlus covered bass for my band when we needed coverage (before Jay Buchanan started playing with us) and we always loved playing with him. He said the dream sounded like a song. We got into it in the public forum for a while and we’re now talking on email about collaborating again after maybe 15 years. His Bob Dylan dream wasn’t about Bob Dylan but about Jesus and he wrote a song about it. There was an old car and a similar lesson in his dream.
I’ve been thinking a lot about recognition lately. About accomplishment. About life experience. Leave it to a dream to sum that all up as cryptically as a Bob Dylan song, and to feature Dylan while doing it.
A couple weeks ago, on a long drive to Boston, I voice-dictated some inspiration to myself. I showed the dictation to my friend Sabrina up in Concord, MA, where Hawthorne, Emerson, Alcott, and Thoreau are buried.
”In terms of satisfaction, there is accomplishment and there is experience. I am not satisfied with what I have accomplished because it is not enough and I suspect would never be enough. I am satisfied with what I have experienced so far, and I think the way toward satisfaction is to figure out what I want to experience next. Accomplishment will happen as it does from that experience.”
Like a rolling stone or something.
Jim Knable is a performing songwriter and published playwright. He released the single “Moclips Beach Hotel” in October 2021. His 2020-21 album is Blue Reunion, by Jim Knable and The Randy Bandits. He has had articles published in The Brooklyn Rail, Tablet Magazine, The SDC Journal, and other online and print publications, including the occasional Bob Dylan album review. KNABLE GAZING is a semi-regular column appearing on the Big City Folks blog.