An Apocryphal Tale From 1975

While messing around Facebook this week, trading messages with Bobby Jameson and mutual friends, I was reminded of a tale I heard sometime during the fall of 1975, a tale I never quite believed. Nevertheless, it’s a tale that over the years has occasionally tickled my mind in the manner of “How effing cool would that be if it were true!”

I was with my friends at The Table in the snack bar of St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center, and a friend of a friend told us about her trip the day before to Minneapolis, seventy miles away. Actually, the tale didn’t start until she and her companions were returning to St. Cloud.

The routes between St. Cloud and Minneapolis were not as direct in 1975 as they are now. These days, one gets onto Interstate Highway 94 south of St. Cloud and with only a few moments of concentration required, can find oneself in downtown Minneapolis a little more than an hour later. With a little more required focus and a little more time, downtown St. Paul, ten miles to the east, is easily accessible.

In 1975, however, the system of Interstate highways was still being completed. There were points between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities where drivers would find themselves on state highways or local roads and, given congestion, there were times when local roads were preferable to getting back onto those portions of the freeways that were completed.

That’s what had happened the previous day to that friend of a friend and her companions as they left the Twin Cities and headed back to St. Cloud. Avoiding crowded roads and quite possibly road construction, they’d gotten on to county highways just outside of the suburban area, which was much smaller in 1975 than it is now. They found themselves in the rural areas of northwestern Hennepin County, some of which remain rural to this day. And as they drove, turning here, turning there but always heading northwest toward St. Cloud, they came upon a country tavern, standing by itself along the road.

Being college kids, at the sight of a roadhouse they realized they were thirsty, and these friends of my friend tumbled and laughed out of the car and into the bar, where they found a table and ordered at least one pitcher of beer. There were, the tale-teller told us, plenty of tables available; the place had no more than eight to ten other customers during the midafternoon of a weekday. It also, she said, had live entertainment. On a small stage, a guitarist about the same age as the new members of his audience was performing; his repertoire, the friend of a friend said the next day, was folkish versions of songs popular within the past ten years, with some countryish stuff thrown in. And as the visitors from St. Cloud listened and watched, they became aware that the singer was frequently looking off to his left, where sat a patron of the bar with his chair tipped against the wall and a wide-brimmed hat pulled down low, hiding his face.

And here’s where the story turns from plausible tale to rural legend.

After a half-hour or so, the singer said he was going to take a brief break, and a voice from near the wall told him to wait for a little while. The man in the broad-brimmed hat levered himself upright, reached down and picked up a guitar and came up to the small stage, where the brighter light revealed him to be Bob Dylan.

I know. I know. I’ve been running this story through my brain for more than thirty-five years, and I don’t really believe it either. I never knew the friend of a friend well enough to know if she found satisfaction in spreading unmitigated hogwash just for the fun of it. One would suspect so. But there is one fact that can alter one’s perception of the tale, shifting it from utter bullshit to slight plausibility. Bob Dylan did own at that time a farm/ranch/retreat in rural Hennepin County and was known to be in frequent residence there. I suppose there may be a recording log or concert schedule that shows that Dylan was somewhere other than Hennepin County during October 1975, making the friend of a friend an absolute liar. I’ve never looked. But absent that proof, the tale, however unlikely, is remotely possible.

Anyway, the friend of a friend said Dylan grinned or grimaced as his identity became clear, and then he took a chair next to the young performer on the small stage. The two of them performed three songs. I wish I knew what they were but I don’t. I don’t recall if I asked the friend of a friend and she did not know or if I was so preoccupied by sorting possible truth from likely bushwa that I didn’t think to ask. She said that after three songs, Dylan left the stage with the younger performer and the two headed to the back of the building. The St. Cloud students finished their beers and left, eventually finding their way back to St. Cloud and The Table, where I heard the tale the next day.

As I said, I have no idea if the story has even a kernel of truth. There are times when I think of the tale and doubt every word, down to the color of the car in which the friends of my friend were traveling. There are times when I think, “Well, maybe . . .” and wish I had been there.

And then there are the moments when I think: If I had a chance to perform just one song with Bob Dylan, what would I choose?

I’ve written about a lot of his work over the past four years. (The fourth anniversary of EITW is in fact approaching; we might serve cake.) Two of his recordings – “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” and “Things Have Changed” – found their ways into the Ultimate Jukebox. But all of that was about listening, not performing. And when I think about performing a Dylan song with guitars only, I find myself juggling three choices that are likely described as “quirky,” one from 1974’s Planet Waves, one from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks and one from 1989’s Oh Mercy.

The first two – “Forever Young” and “If You See Her Say Hello,” respectively – are among my favorites, but when I think of the utterly mind-boggling idea of sharing a stage with Bob Dylan, I keep coming back to the fairly obscure “Shooting Star,” which I think is one of Dylan’s gems. Here’s a video of him performing it for MTV Unplugged, which was released in 1995.

I’ll be back Thursday, probably with a look at early 1967.

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4 Responses to “An Apocryphal Tale From 1975”

  1. Well, as a professor I had for a class on the occult often said, “It’s a big world. There’s a lot going on.”

  2. Paco Malo says:

    Yeah, everybody should hold on to a story like that.

    Re: Shooting Star, I went through a period where I was listening to it a lot and re-wrote the lyrics — I know, the unmitigated hubris:

    My adaptation:
    Seen a shooting star tonight
    And I thought of you.
    You’re trying to break into a world
    You never knew.
    I wonder each night
    If you’ll make it through.
    Seen a shooting star tonight
    And I thought of you.

    Seen a shooting star tonight
    And I thought of me.
    If can become, if I can be strong
    As you need me to be.
    Will I miss the mark,
    Trip at the starting line?
    These things, only the Lord can see.
    Seen a shooting star tonight
    And I thought of me.

    (bridge)
    I listen to my heart, I listen to my friends
    I read your letters, and I melt in your hands.
    I pray for guidance, I pray to be wise
    But it’s up to us, we’ve got to decide,
    Is our future together,
    Or nine time zones apart?
    Do I only need money, or some new strength in my heart?

    Seen a shooting star tonight
    Fade Away.
    I grabbed for it’s dream
    And used it to pray.
    For the courage to bring us, through this wilderness.
    Seen a shooting star tonight
    Slip Away.

    The real “Shooting Star” (c) 1989 Special Rider Music

  3. Yah Shure says:

    Nice story!

  4. David Young says:

    HI – there’s a Scandinavian Dylan site with a listing of all his activities and where he was when. I can’t remeber the address off the top of my head. I used this once to prove to someone that Dylan wasn’t in Montreal when he said he was as the info on this site said he had a concert somewhere else at the time my friend said Dylan was in town.

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