By Tim Johnson
I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan since the early 60’s. Influenced by my dad’s eclectic music taste, I was already collecting country blues records and everything I could find by Woody Guthrie, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers and so when I read about the first Dylan LP I immediately ordered a copy. I was there at the Sydney Stadium on 13th April 1966 for the first concert of the Oceania leg of the world tour and for almost every Sydney concert thereafter. Along the way a number of interesting things happened….
The first one relates to Bob’s on stage poetics at the 1966 concert. “This isn’t my guitar” he drawls as he endlessly tunes the guitar, “my guitar got broken here in Australia”. My girlfriend at the time knew the luthier who was repairing it. Apparently Bob had damaged his guitar by closing the lid of the guitar case on it and had been lent the luthier’s own guitar as a temporary replacement. This explains the slightly different sound on the acoustic set of the Sydney concert.
At a 1978 concert at the Sydney Showground One More Cup of Coffee was starting up and just as the chorus began a girl sitting next to me said “would you like a cup of coffee?” and handed me a cup of coffee. That’s a strange coincidence I thought.
Then in 1986 I got a phone call from artist Brett Whiteley. “Guess who’s coming to my studio?” he said. “Aaah, Bob Dylan?” I guessed. “Yes and I’m only inviting you and Martin Sharp”. Brett’s studio was being used for the Bob Dylan press conference at the start of the Australian tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It was an event to remember and afterwards I said to Brett, “You know your studio is a sacred site now”. In Australia sacred site’s are important because of their place in traditional Aboriginal culture. It turned out I was right because after Brett died in 1992 the studio was turned into a public museum and is now visited by thousands of students, tourists and art lovers every year.
At the State Theatre in 1992 where Bob did seven concerts we used to run to the front of the stage after a few songs. When I got there, standing right in the middle, a girl next to me threw rose petals onto the stage in front of us. Bob was impressed and came forward to take a look at her and then took a look at me. Later he sang All Along the Watchtower, looking straight at me, tilting his head from side to side and kind of smiling at me as he sang. I didn’t know quite how to react as he was only about 6 feet away, so I eventually smiled back at him. When I did that he immediately looked away and that was it. My friend standing on the other side of me said “did you see that? – he was singing to you”.
Another time when I was late for a show at the Entertainment Centre in Sydney in 1998 I was hurrying across from the carpark. I was walking past the back of the theatre when a limo drew up beside me. Out stepped Bob looking at me before going into the stage door. It would have been so easy to say something but I thought “silence” was the appropriate response and just gave him a nod and a smile.
At the Entertainment Centre in 1986 he sang Happy Birthday. “We have a very special friend here tonight whose birthday is today. So if you all wanna help me out here, I want to sing Happy Birthday to my very special friend. Her name is Queen Esther. So, you know Happy Birthday. You know how it goes. It goes like this.” and we all sang Happy Birthday together. Then Bob says “Anyway, I had to do that, because I forgot to get her a birthday present, thank you, alright”
Being a bit self centred I wondered “what’s he going to give me” as I drove home later. When I got there I saw a For Sale sign had gone up on the house next door while I was at the concert. In the morning I looked out the window and saw that my daughter Ruby had thrown my copy of Tarantula out the window and it was propped up against the wall of the house next door. I thought that’s auspicious and rang my father in law, a bank manager, who came over to see the house and offered to lend me the money to buy it, which I did. After a year or so he said that I didn’t have to pay the money back so I got the house for free. I always think of it as a gift from Bob.
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