I met the guy who turned Dylan
Dylan Rosenberg moved steadily behind the ancient lawnmower calculating how much more he had to do. He cupped his hands checking out the sun, doing the math. He figured the last plot of lawn should take under an hour. The Whittakers were gone for the morning. The house was quiet.
and the Beatles on
He had time.
In the corner of the yard, under a huge elm, Dylan falls back against Whittaker’s high redwood fence. Wiping his hands on his cargo shorts as he slinks down the fence, he settles with his knees arched on the ground. Guarded by the confluence of the shaded tree and the anonymity of the fence, he extracts from one of his multiple pockets a baggy with a couple of pre-rolls and a lighter. Laughing again, this time, he not sure at what exactly, he decides to finish the last part of his day with the Whittaker property stoned.
“I thought I heard someone out here.”Dylan jumps up, catching his cargo shorts on his knees coming up, causing the shorts not to rise as quickly as Dylan did.
Pulling on the waist of his sweaty shorts, Dylan sees an old man in jeans and t-shirt, sandals and socks, walking towards him. He drops the joint to the ground, covering it with his green-stained Nike.
“I should have said, I thought I smelled someone out here. You don’t have to make that doobie worm food if you don’t want to.”
Dylan frowned unsure how to proceed. “Do, um, do you know the Whittakers?”
“Roger’s my son. Did you go to school with Rog Jr.?”
“He’s three years behind. I live, er, grew up at the end of the block. It’s the only brick house in the neighborhood. I’m Dylan. The rest of the houses are wood, siding or…”
“Dylan?”“Yeah, I’m back for part of the summer. Roger, I mean, your son, Mr. Whittaker, saw me on the street and asked if I still had my old mower and if I’d do their lawn like the old days.”
“Like the old days…”
“I said, yeah.”
The old man came to the fence where Dylan had been reclining and did a three-point landing, ending with him sitting comfortably on the ground leaning against the fence. “Now where’s that doob?”
“You smoke pot?” Dylan unable to comprehend that anyone in the Whittaker family might be cool. Rog Jr. barely would hit a beer. Not that they ever hung together.
“Do I smoke pot, Young Master Dylan? You’re lucky, I’m in a mood.” The old man says absently playing with a fallen stick looking at Dylan. “Do you have anything else besides the one you’re standing on?”
Thinking, is this guy for reals? Dylan grabs the baggie from his pocket. He straightens the slightly wiggly joint out as he surveys the old guy. He does look normal in his faded jeans and hippie t-shirt unlike the old people who try too hard to look young and hip. But socks and sandals. How cool could he be?Dylan lights the joint, joining the old guy leaning against the fence. “You really smoke pot? You’re like the oldest guy I’ve ever smoked with.”
He passes the joint to Mr. Whittaker Sr.
“Call me Diamond Dave.”
Passing the joint back to Dylan, he said, “Is your name really Dylan?”
“Know who Bob Dylan is, Dylan?”
“Of course. You can’t be from here and not. And besides, you know when you’re named Dylan; everyone asks if your parents were fans of Bob. And they weren’t. They just liked the name.”
“Dylan. Do you have time for a story?”
“Sometimes I think I have time and then in other moments, there’s not enough. Like being in a jet plane. Going fast and slow at the same time.”
“Spoken like a young Dylan, I’m sure.” Diamond Dave uses the limb as a pointer, placing the tip on the fence. “Dylan, we’re here, getting stoned. Good weed, btw, I got stoned off it.” Then arcing the stick, he loops backwards to a point a foot behind where he designated they were on the fence. “And this is where it all started.”
“I ran a small club on the Southside. This was when we still had jazz houses and the city did its best to stomp. So this club was an old dance hall. But no energy. The big bands are gone. Mitch Miller’s a drag. So I start doing a little folkie thing. Pretty soon, I’m doing good business. In no time at all, we got what they call a “scene.”
Next thing you know, we got this scrawny kid bussing in the Iron Range, asking for a spot. You guessed it, Dylan. Bob. Dylan. Here’s the thing, here’s work from the get-go. He’s magnificent. He’s got thousands of songs. Every time he’s asked who he is or where he comes from, he’s got a different answer. He’s something. So far ahead of everything else, I’m the only one who’ll give him stage time. The Scholar barely let him on. Dylan’s a genius, you can tell right away. But you had to take care of him. Literally. Feed him. Clothe him. House him. If he asks for something and you say “no,” he’ll probably steal it then anyway. A real character.
So Dylan is living with me and my old lady and he decides he needs to go to New York and see Woody Guthrie, I guess before old Woody gets too old. We go out. I see Bob Dylan in two phases. When he cut his nails and when he stopped. He was still cutting nails then. They’ve always been dirty.
Now while he’s staying with us at Big Blue–that’s the name of the gnarly mansion we owned, I’m not saying it was anything like you’re familiar with–I had this Mexican weed I had procured from a musician friend downtown. Bob’s interested so, I turn Bob Dylan onto weed. He’s really digging it. Gets even more squirrelly than normal. Now he’s telling real tall tales. And that’s our ride to the Big Apple. Nothing but talkin‘ Bob Dylan. And this is like ’61. Soon Bob lands a gig at Gerde’s. Great club. Bob at his best. John Hammond sees him. The rest is history. And I go back to the Midwest.
In summation, I had a club. Met and cared for a young Bob Dylan. Got him stoned for the first time.
Jump ahead three years. Dylan opens for Martin Luther King and the “I have a dream” speech. He’s the biggest thing in the world. He’s still cutting his nails. He gets every award a young man can get. From the ACLU, the NAACP, this group and that group, everything except the Medal of Honor…Everyone wants to meet him. It’s 1964. People are finally getting over the assassination.
Dylan calls. He’s like in a phone booth. He’s on this cheap phone saying, “Comme Nuuuu Orrrrk, man. You gotta come. I need ya man. You gotta help me meet da Beatles.”
Meet the Beatles? I know I’m hearing him right. I speak Dylan. Pretty soon his change gives out and the operator hangs up on us. So I go to New York. Dylan’s living in the Village, just broke up or was breaking up with Freewheelin’ Suze.
It is August and it is hot in New York. It’s me and him in this little walk-up. I’ve been there for days and he hasn’t said one word about the mysterious phone call that brought me out here. We’re sitting around getting high, he writes songs and poetry and I walk around the Village.
I’m out front on the steps, watching the world go by and Bob shoots down the steps saying, “It’s time.”
We catch a cab to this famous hotel, the Delmonico. Good steaks. There’s cops and press and screaming young girls in a frenzy. This is outside on the sidewalks. Inside it’s worse. A security force usually reserved for a president or premier is invading this hotel.
All for four guys trapped on the 18th floor.
Bob and I are expected. This is Bob’s first time meeting the Beatles. We’re brought into their suite. There’s the Beatles. It’s Paul, John, George and Ringo, plus assistants and handlers and more assistants. The room kind of clears except for the main assistants, and Paul realizes that they don’t have any wine or drink. One of the top guys goes out for wine, real cheap wine, if I remember. Now it’s just the Beatles, Brian Epstein, Bob and me. And one or two assistants.
Bob asks the lads if they wanted to smoke. Brian Epstein, their moral guide and fearful that anything bad should ever befall the Beatles, gets all paranoid. “We’ve never smoked before. Will we get hooked? Can they perform tomorrow?”
And then the boys start mulling it over.
Bob’s perplexed. “You guys don’t get high? What about your music. You talk about it. That hold your hand song, “and when I touch you, I get high, I get high.”
“No, mate,” John turns red, “It’s ‘I can’t hide, I can’t hide.'”
There’s this weird silence. Worldly powers meeting and not sure how to act. Finally Bob says, “Let’s get high.” And rolls a joint.
The first joint Bob hands to John, who immediately turns it over to Ringo, as he is John’s “Royal Taster.” But dig, the Beatles had never smoked pot before. Ringo takes the joint and goes into another room to bogart the whole doobie by himself. He doesn’t know you’re supposed to pass it.
Well, Bob and I start rolling joints like we’re Dutch Masters. Everyone’s way high. Paul’s so serious saying, “For the first time in my life-I’m really thinking.” Epstein’s crawling along the floor thinking he’s on the ceiling looking down. Their road manager is writing the new bible on a paper cup. John is playing word games with himself in the mirror as George says to no one in particular, “Should we worry about Ringo?”
This goes on for hours. Remember squirrelly Bob Dylan? Now he’s cool and fun and a storyteller when he’s stoned. Soon the Beatles and Bob are on flip-over couches talking about this and that.
The Beatles kept repeating how they were high, or whacked, or some Brit thing like “Plowed to the stars”, so Bob asks them if they were stoned?
“Yeah, man, like I’m stoned, do you wanna get stoned?” Dylan wonders.
So Dylan goes into this Ginsberg/Beat/history of the origins of stoned, being stoned or getting stoned, only to end with, don’t let it be confused with biblical stoning or ‘punishment by stoning’. Then he plays the Beatles this new song on George’s guitar that starts with, ”Well, they’ll stone ya … They’ll stone ya like they knew they…”
After an afternoon of non-stop giggles and that precious behavior that happens the first time you’re stoned, now the Beatles are really impressed and in awe.
“You’re saying getting stoned or being stoned is not the same as they’ll stone ya at the breakfast table,” Paul repeats so terribly seriously, dissecting each syllable for meaning.
“What’s the name of the song?” Ringo wonders.
“Don’t know man. Don’t want it to be a weed song, man. Get too much of that already. People seeing in lyrics what’s not really there. The Man wants to find lyrics that they can twist and pull and say, “You got a drug song here.” Be careful, that doesn’t happen to you. I’m talkin‘ ‘bout getting stoned like they’re biblically judging ya. I’m not gonna talk about me unless I’m talkin‘ ‘bout me the way I want”, Bob snarls to the number one band in the world.
“So, Baaub, wha‘ ‘r yooo go’ng to call it?” Paul says thinking of song titles for him.
“I’m thinking of calling it ‘Rainy Day Women, Sheila and her kid, Anita.’” Bob says in total seriousness.
“Gee, Ah don’t know Baaub, a little wordy for me,” George says shyly.
“I wanted to include them somehow. Maybe not by name.”
“Giv‘ ‘em numbers,” suggests a still giggling Ringo.
“That’s interesting. But it can’t be demeaning,” Bob says earnestly.
“How about their ages,” John suggests.
“I only know the kid is twelve,” Bob says to the Beatles.
“Well double that for the mother,” Ringo says. “Two times twelve, what is that Brian, thirty-five?”
“Brian’s still swimming on the carpet,” John says nonchalantly. ”Ringo mate, it’s 24, not 35. Are you ston’d or are you high?”
“I’m 12 and 35, I think.” Ringo says and then nods out, falling asleep in the hotel chair.
“Hey man, ‘Rainy Day Women #12 and #35.‘ I like it, man,” Dylan proclaims starting the song again on George’s guitar. “Nobody gonna call it a drug song now. Rainy Day Women #12 and #35 got nothing to do with pot.”
The Beatles road manager who’s been scribbling the meaning of life on a paper cup, now starts writing the numbers 12 and 35 on a new cup.
The Beatles have an interview with a radio station and Bob and I had to go.
Dylan thanked all the guys with helping him name his new song. Told the lads from Liverpool to watch out for fans and fame and looking for hidden meanings where there’s none.
“Not a clue, man. I got an accountant for numbers.”
“It comes to 420.”
The Beatles and Dylan look around to see if it has any meaning to anyone.
“Don’t worry man. There’s always one out there who’ll find a way to turn 420 into something about getting stoned. I gotta fly.”
“And that was the day that Bob Dylan got the Beatles stoned for their first time in New York on August 28, 1964,” says Diamond Dave finishing the story. “He stopped cutting his nails after that. On a regular basis.”
“And you turned Bob Dylan on?” Dylan now looked at the old guy in the backyard with a whole new set of eyes. He knew the Beatles and Dylan and he knew what 420 was, and I got stoned with him.
“It all started here,” the old man says standing up. “It was nice to meet you Dylan. Remember me on 420, or the next time you get high.”