It’s really too bad that music legend Bob Dylan was away on tour when I gave a talk about him a few weeks ago in Stuyvesant Town.
The Nobel Prize recipient would have enjoyed my lecture – well, of course.
The subject was Bob Dylan himself (or, as his acolytes might prefer me to spell the word, Himself). And the 78-year-old Dylan would have fit right in regarding the demographic of the audience. These were mostly senior citizens. (OK, millennials!).
I delivered a snappy History of Bob Dylan in a fast-paced 90 minutes. Thanks to the bumper crop of questions from audience members, everyone had an opportunity to put in her or his two cents.
This was definitely Dylan Country. Though Dylan once said to critic Robert Hilburn, “Nostalgia is death,” this audience embraced its fond memories.
One gentleman remembered seeing Dylan play during a Joan Baez concert in the Forest Hills tennis stadium in 1963. A woman swore she actually witnessed one of Dylan’s earliest New York City performances, in 1962. (But she also insisted that he sang “Lay Lady Lay” that same night, even though that song didn’t see the light of day until seven years later, in 1969).
I spoke to the throng about his arrival in New York on (according to some experts) Jan. 24 or Jan. 25 in 1961. There were gasps at the recognition that this titanic event took place so long ago.
As a lifelong Dylan fanatic, I found the subjects of the questions to be illuminating. Many people were fascinated to learn that Dylan had become a born-again Christian in 1979, following the end of his 12-year marriage to his first wife, Sara, the subsequent separation from their five children and a series of professional disappointments and setbacks in 1978.
Others were curious about how Dylan spends his money, why he seemed to reluctantly accept the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature (I had no clear answer), the nature of his collaboration and friendship with music icon Johnny Cash (the questioner was pleased to learn that there is a new Legacy “Bootleg” album showcasing the Dylan-Cash recording sessions in 1969) and the level of friendship that Dylan and The Beatles shared, particularly John Lennon.
The audience was also happy to learn that Dylan may have spent time in Stuyvestant Town when he came to New York, an indelible connection.
We Stuy Town resident like that it is not on the tourist maps so we have a relatively quiet life here. The New York Times once referred to it as an “oasis” in New York City. It’s a neighborhood where a lot of people don’t leave.
I overheard a woman at my Dylan event ask someone how long he had been living here. The man replied, “Since the 80s,” he said proudly. To which the lady sniffed, “Oh. Is that all?”
Stuy Town prides itself on being family friendly. It’s a place where there are a lot of ways to entertain children, such as places to go ice skating and play basketball. They show movies and, of course, they hold special events for seniors.
Dylan’s impact on our lives has been so immense that – let’s face it – we can all claim him as a part of us. The denizens of Stuyvesant Town are no different. We can only wonder what songs Dylan might have written while crashing on some Stuy Town couch.
Jon Friedman is the author of “Forget About Today: Bob Dylan’s Genius for Reinvention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution.”