On a snowy evening in January 1965 four friends, including myself, drove across the Hudson River from Tivoli NY, where we were living at the time, to Woodstock. We had heard that the folksinger, Tom Paxton, was singing at the Café Espresso. I had become enamored of Paxton’s music so I was anxious to see and hear him in person. What we didn’t know was that the rising counter-cultural folk star, Bob Dylan, was also going to be there. By the time we arrived I was wondering whether it was good idea to drive the twenty miles for this mini-concert. The roads were treacherous.
As a college student in 1965 I hadn’t heard much about Bob Dylan but I did like some of his music, which my dorm mates at Bard College played constantly. Dylan was sitting at the next table when we entered the cafe. There were only a handful of customers, mostly from the area. As Paxton started singing some of the patrons were still talking. Suddenly, Dylan shouted at them to shut up. Perhaps he was already experiencing his celebrity because his manner was slightly intimidating. Heck, he was just a scrawny, unimpressive kid, about my age—one year older, actually.
During a brief intermission of Paxton’s mini-concert I found myself in a backroom with the two (not too distant) future giants of counter-cultural folk music, the heirs of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Dylan wanted to show Paxton, if memory serves me, some chords on the guitar. There were four of us in the room, including my classmate, Paul, who was the driver of the car to Woodstock. I can’t remember how this little gathering happened, what permission or lack thereof we had to witness this intimate discussion between Dylan and Paxton. I do recall thinking that I should not give up the chance to be as close to Bob Dylan as I could get.
At one point during this strange encounter Dylan looked at me directly with a penetrating stare. I was nervous and amused at the same time. Did he know something about me I didn’t know or did he see me as a kindred spirit? I’ll never know.
Fifty one years later I still listen to the music of the “old Dylan.” I still marvel at the fame he’s achieved since the time I met him in person when we were both barely beyond being “kids”—at least by today’s standard of what it means to be a “kid.” Today, I can appreciate the impact songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a’ Changin’” have had on my generation especially.
What I don’t take for granted is that the younger generation, the “kids” I teach today, can appreciate, much less have heard of, the lyrics of those songs. I don’t believe they would find Dylan’s music or even Paxton’s music inspiring. Their clarion call for a change in the status quo wouldn’t seem relevant to them or even “cool.”
Richard Sahn teaches sociology and embodies the mission of Bracing Views. In his own way, he’s as cool as Dylan.