By Kieran Loughney
Crossing Jones Street in Greenwich Village, a street just a block long, I paused. My brother stopped too, and we stood looking around us. “You’re standing in an historic spot, Kevin,” I told my twin, “Follow me…” Nearby, at Record Runner, I pointed to a copy of The Freewheeling Bob Dylan album in the shop window. The 1963 release features some of Dylan’s most enduring songs, Blowin’ in the Wind and Girl from the North Country among them. The record cover shows Bob walking right there on Jones Street with his arm around his then girlfriend, Suze Rotolo.
On that afternoon we did our own freewheeling among old Dylan haunts; White Horse Tavern, where young Dylan met the Clancy Brothers, and The Bitter End, Kettle of Fish, and Cafe Wha?, venues where he played his earliest New York gigs. The liveliness of the streets excited our sense of something eventful unfolding. This storied neighborhood has always sparked creative, even revolutionary, passion. The mingled scents of fresh pizza, Indian food, gift shop incense, reefer, and coffee rode the late November air as it must have when Dylan stood at the intersection of Bleecker and McDougal Streets. The blend of languages spoken, the variety of music heard from car radios, shops, and street musicians surely stir the creative juices of artists, writers, and free thinkers even today. We stood beneath the erstwhile folkie stronghold, the Washington Square Arch. On Dave Van Ronk Way, we thought of the man regarded as the unofficial mayor of Greenwich Village. Van Ronk mentored, inspired, and supported the young talents of the burgeoning music scene in the 1960s. A young Dylan crashed on Van Ronk’s couch, and on his first album, used an arrangement of House of the Rising Sun, which he’d learned at Van Ronk’s feet. As teenagers we had explored Dylan’s already substantial catalog. A day spent touring these sites returned us to our own youth, when we spent a great deal of time sitting around a turntable in the small bedroom we shared with our older brother Ed.
“I’ve got two tickets to Dylan’s New York concert on the weekend of our birthday. Want to join me?” I had asked Kevin, who has lived in Florida for 40 years, having moved there from our Scranton, PA, homestead. He astonished me with, “Yeah, that sounds fun.” We had not seen each other in several years. On his first visit to my new home in the West Village, he would also be meeting my fiancé, Patti. The Dylan show, a poetic catalyst, was bringing us together.
The ornate gilded décor of the Beacon Theatre seemed the perfect setting for such an auspicious occasion. Dylan stepped onto the dimly lit stage and sang, “What’s the matter with me? I don’t have much to say.” More than 60 years after New York first met Bob Dylan, the artist opened a three-night New York run with that line from his tune Watching the River Flow. With characteristic irony, Dylan, now 80 years old, would then proclaim in song, I Contain Multitudes. The show’s eighteen numbers showcased mostly new material from his latest album, Rough and Rowdy Ways. One new song, Key West (Philosopher Pirate), ran about 10 minutes. Dylan was back in New York and still had plenty to say.
I had placed a personally-guided walking tour of sites in Greenwich Village where Dylan first distinguished himself in the early 1960’s atop the agenda for Kevin’s visit. I wanted to share with my twin the path Dylan trod, one which I have revisited often since moving here. After so long apart, I felt closer to him than I had around that turntable in the small room we’d shared decades ago.