San Francisco in 1965 was the best place in the world to be. Anything was possible.
—Hunter S. Thompson
I was fourteen years old and had a head full of ideas that was driving me insane. Right now the main one was a question: Why was Bob Dylan sprawled across me with his head between my thighs?
On December 5th, 1965, the artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman gave a performance at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco. My parents dropped me off at the concert with cab fare, a slip of paper with the address of a party they were attending in “The City,” and careful instructions about how to call a taxi to transport me to them after the show. I had seen Dylan perform in Berkeley the night before and could not wait to get another dose. I slipped into my seat among the sold-out audience with excited anticipation. By this time, Dylan was an international phenomenon, and adulation was running high.
Just as Joan Baez had been a spokesperson for my longings for Truth and Beauty, Dylan expressed my anger at what was happening in the world around me. His surreal imagery created something that had not been embraced by songwriters in the folk and protest idioms. Dylan’s lyrics harked back to the Beat poets and forward toward the psychedelic future. However, he was none of the above. He was an original when we all aspired to be original, yet he also tapped into the collective consciousness of the times that were a-changin’. Sam Andrew, rhythm guitarist of Big Brother and the Holding Company, voiced what so many of us felt: “I paid attention to Dylan’s lyrics as my pattern for living.”
The performance had a prickly, uncomfortable feel to it, as if Dylan didn’t really want to be on stage. He made the audience come to him on his terms; he didn’t make any attempts to woo his public. In fact, he played hard to get, ignoring us, seemingly turning inward to the deep place from which his magnificent lyrics emerged. His rough voice and intermittent harmonica-playing were a gift, a glimpse he offered as an afterthought to those fortunate enough to witness his own private jokes, musings, epiphanies, sarcasm, rage. People loved it. Following Joan Baez’s lead, we regarded him as a prophet operating on a much higher plane of existence from the hordes of pedestrian mortals. He could see and understand the workings of the universe. Bob Dylan was better than us!
Joan Baez made a surprise appearance for a couple of duets, draping an arm over Dylan’s shoulder, claiming him as her own. His body language indicated something less than reciprocal affection. He even tried to shake away her arm. That was confusing, but he was a poet, a seer. Bob Dylan could act any way he wanted, even towards Her Royal Highness of Folk, Queen Joan.
The concert was over all too soon. The magic dissipated and the packed house slowly emptied. I found a phone booth in the lobby and called a taxi, carefully mimicking my parents’ unfamiliar instructions step-by-step. A half-hour later I was alone, sitting on a bench in the massive polished granite foyer, still waiting for the cab. Through the row of glass doors I watched the rain pouring down outside. The wet street was as shiny as the lobby walls, reflecting car headlights, blinking neon shop signs and streetlights in what seemed like a visual counterpart to the surreality of Dylan’s lyrics. I sank into a reverie, reliving the concert and my hero’s enigmatic presence.
The sound of footsteps jogged me loose from my thoughts and I looked up, expecting to see a cabbie. Instead, what to my wondering eyes should appear but Bob Dylan! He was staggering and weaving across the lobby in my direction. His shock of unruly hair was even more disheveled than usual, his skin even more pallid and his normally hooded eyes unfocused and partially closed. Before I could take in what was happening, Dylan collapsed next to me on the stone bench. His head fell into my lap face-down, and his arms wrapped around my hips as if by their own volition. He was out cold. By then I was barely conscious myself. I froze. I stared in catatonic terror at the sainted head between my legs.
A few seconds later there were more footsteps. Joan Baez appeared. Seeing her beloved sprawled unconscious across a paralyzed teenage girl, she hit the lobby at a dead run. She hurled herself onto the bench and dragged him off of me. She placed the holy head into her own lap. She stroked Dylan’s face and tenderly crooned to him.
“Someone get some water!” Joan Baez ordered the empty lobby. Water did not appear. She cast an accusing look at me. I stared into the beautiful dark eyes, now filled with urgency, and slipped even more deeply into catatonia. Unlike Michelangelo’s Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, who was brought to life by the touch of God, I had been rendered inanimate by the touch of my god in the Masonic Auditorium lobby. Baez looked disgusted. She gently propped Dylan’s inert body against me as if I were a statue. The creases in his brown suede jacket pressed into my arm and his hair tickled my cheek as I struggled to support the surprising heft of the slight form of my fallen idol. As his body language gave every indication that he was going to slide onto the floor if I didn’t do something, my arms suddenly rose as if by their own volition and wrapped themselves tightly around Bob Dylan.
Joan surveyed the lobby until she located a trash can. She fished out an empty Coke bottle and filled it with water from a drinking fountain. Then she returned and quickly poured it over his head and into his mouth. I watched rivulets of Coca Cola-laced water cascade down my best dress, then pool and sink into the immaculate black velvet.
Dylan slowly regained consciousness and pulled slightly away from me, his suede jacket making sandpaper noises against my soaking dress. Joan Baez draped one of his arms over her shoulders to support him and hoisted him to his feet. For just one brief, shining, shaky moment, Dylan turned around, placed his free hand lightly on my shoulder and gave me a slight, lopsided grin.
“She’s a friend of mine,” He muttered to Joan.
At that moment my cab pulled up in front of the auditorium. I held a door open for them as Joan half-guided and half-dragged Dylan out of the building and down the rainy steps. They commandeered my taxi. She folded him into the back seat and then climbed in beside him, her body curled towards him with almost maternal concern. I watched them as the cab pulled into the snarl of traffic and disappeared amidst a parade of taillights, two silhouetted heads in the back seat, Joan’s arms tightly around her man and her cheek pressed against his, and Dylan appearing to pull slightly away.
I called another cab.