This is a love letter to you, who called to me from the precipice, you with your wild hair and your thin bones and your silver-tipped black boots, a figure of my imagination, a fact of my life. When I was at the edge, when death was at my door with his raven look and his hour-glass -- your words, like the point of a knife, cut to the bone of memory. You spoke to me of timelessness, of light, told me where I had been, helped me not to fear where I was going.....
You materialize in some city, we embrace, and you are always a gentleman, always kind. I remember that summer at Newport, boats bobbing out on the harbor, sun dancing on the water, crowds screaming, critics saying you were a traitor. All of us, singers, audience, loved you because you didn't care what the critics said, because they were fools, because we knew we were fools, too, children of an uncomfortable and unfathomable, disturbing age, an age of shattered dreams, and nightmares. You gave words to our journey, treaties to our wars of the heart and the head, and your music moved in our bones, into our spirits like water, like time, like memory, your voice coming across the crowds, electric guitar wailing, harmonica liquid silver over the water.
And I remember another summer in Woodstock, a summer of green and sheltering leaves at Albert's house when I woke from dreams to hear your voice, sweet and haunting, singing a new, wonderful song. Deep in the basement behind a closed door you sang softly so you wouldn't wake anyone but my heart must have heard and I climbed out of my high feather-pillowed bed and crept down the stairs to sit outside your door. When I knocked and asked you to sing the song again, you did. You sang it all night long, it was "Mr. Tambourine Man." My life was in turmoil and your songs were solace,
There was that first summer of '59. I was singing at the Gilded Garter, a bar in Central City, Colorado, three shows a night, spelling a rock-and-roll band whose lead singer was an ex-stripper. You were playing a honky-tonk mountain bar over in Cripple Creek, singing for miners and cowboys and summer people. I was barely nineteen, you were even younger.
When I moved to New York I found you in a funky bar in the Village, a sloppy hat drawn over your forehead and the tops of your eyebrows, your elbows on the bar, a drink in front of you. On stage at Gerde's you bent over your guitar, muttering the lyrics of Woody and Cisco. Cisco hung around with us sometimes and Peter was there -- he didn't have a Mary or Paul yet. Van Ronk and Jack Elliott and Cisco showed up sometimes, and Joanie and Paul Butterfield, with his wailing, crying harp. We howled at the moon on Broadway, you sang the old blues and then you found your own voice, giving our fears and our triumphs faces and names. Somebody sent me a copy of "Blowin' in the Wind." I couldn't believe that rumpled guy, slumped in the shadows of Gerde's between sets, could have written such a breathtaking song. I wrote you a fan letter, remember?
And that cold snowy winter night in December, walking in Greenwich Village, you and Sue Rebello, the three of us a bit drunk, a little giddy, walking in wet boots in the black soot that sprinkled white mounds of snow, smoky breath coming out of our mouths. You had sung "Hard Rain" at the Gaslight and the melody kept running in my thoughts, three a.m. lamplights pale on the sooty snow. Behind us the night, dawn in front of us on West Fourth, about to greet the hangover blues and a new day.
I recorded "I'll Keep It With Mine," which you said you wrote for me and the years went by and ancient troubles turned fresh and new wounds became ancient and there was some peace for a time. You gave words to a world where we all had something to lean on, however fragile. We knew the slender thread of 'what is,' a thread we had constructed out of God knows what grit and dreams and smoke.
And then I lost the treasure, almost lost my mind. It is unbearable sometimes, what happens in life, and I needed comfort. I found you on the journey again, remembering how you took the hollow-ribbed blues and fat-backed soul-songs of your predecessors, the troubadours, how you molded something new, something fresh, a music all your own. I was moved again by your melodies that are so often lush, simple and easy, to carry the freight of your lyrics. You sing them beautifully, these big, acrobatic jumps, these lines that confront the horizons we once knew.
I have a fantasy that back in Minnesota you had a high tenor voice as a child. Right behind the raspiness in your singing there is a sweetness that never got lost, the tone always true to our hearts and memories. As I sang these songs I looked for you.
I found you.
And I found me.