“Do you ever wonder just what God requires? You think He’s just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires?” — Bob Dylan
“You call that singing? Shut that garbage off.” — my mother
Bob Dylan, just a Jewish boy from Minnesota. I’ve listened to Dylan nonstop for over 50 years.
In 1976, I was living in Greenwich Village, begging for money and writing poetry. I even had a poet’s beard. One evening, I was at a rock club called The Bottom Line with my lifelong buddy, Bernie Ferrera. Seated three tables away from us were Bob Dylan, his wife, Sara, and their friend Louie Kemp.
I grabbed the menu off our table and went over for an autograph. He gladly signed it. Without missing a beat, I said, “After the show, would you and your friends like to come over for a cup of tea?” I had never done anything like that before. He then asked where I lived. I mumbled, “Six blocks away.” He stared at me as if he were X-raying my soul. He told me to write down my address and he would be there. I said, “Really?” He nodded, and my head exploded.
During the two-hour show, all I could think of was Dylan’s visit. After the show, we ran back to my apartment, which I shared with two roommates. My gay roommate happened to be home and, when I told him that Dylan was coming over, he snapped, “Why didn’t you call me? I would have baked a cake.”
An hour passed and no Dylan. Maybe he wasn’t coming. Maybe I was dreaming. People probably invite him places every day. Why was this night different from all other nights? The answer is, “Because it was.”
The doorbell rang. I looked out the window and the three of them stood there. I ran down to let them in. When someone you deeply respect keeps his promise like Dylan did, it means the world to you.
Up the long flight of stairs, the four of us trekked. All I could think about was Bob Dylan is at my house, now what? Sara and Kemp sat on my old couch (which I had found on the street) and Dylan stood leaning on a small stepladder tapping his fingers. He wouldn’t answer any questions about himself but kept inquiring about me. “What do you do, man?” “How long have you been writing poetry, man?” Dylan was interviewing me. Pretty cool. Then just like that, after 40 minutes, Dylan said, “We got to go, man. See you again.” And poof, they were gone. I can only imagine that our conversation had to have been one of the least interesting experiences of his life. I had nothing to say. Yet it was amazing.
All I could think about was Bob Dylan is at my house, now what?
A few months later, I was back at the same club and this time John Lennon was sitting with singer Maria Muldaur. I asked him over for tea and he politely declined. Maybe he’d spoken with Dylan.
Cut to 20 years later. It’s Shabbos and I’m in shul talking to this guy who introduces himself as Louie Kemp. I said, “I know that name.” Then I remembered. I said, “Louie, you, Bob and Sara came to my house in Greenwich Village.” He kind of remembered the night and said I was lucky to have caught Dylan at a very open time in his life. Since then, Kemp and I have been friends.
A few years later, Kemp and I were on our way to see Dylan perform in Los Angeles. He said, “First we have to stop and pick up Joni Mitchell at her house.” Pretty cool. When we got there, Mitchell asked me if I wanted a cup of tea while she got ready. Sure did.
Sometime after that, I saw Dylan at Young Israel of Century City at his grandson’s bar mitzvah. It was good to see him again. I didn’t say hello because I sensed he wanted to be left alone. But thank you, God, for Bob Dylan. And thank God I like tea. All I can tell you is, “Never be afraid to ask. You just might receive.”
Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.