It was an enormous party. It was part celebration and part catharsis. Ingredients for a good soiree. After twelve years wandering, wondering and wallowing, they had won.
I sat there on the heavy blanket, one of the carpets leftover from The Spouse’s single days when a housemate tried to conjure rent money by selling the junk blankets from his ancestral home to yuppies in the upscale markets. He did alright.
The blanket was a critical barrier against the cold January sod. It was both a tablecloth and a canvas to arrange the Cheerios in my pocket–and those in my bag and in the sandwich bag and in the other pockets–in different puzzles to keep the bitty boy entertained. And snacked up. A full child is a content child.
We were surrounded by hippies that hadn’t quite aged out. Okay, they aged out, but Baby Boomers would never admit to that. For evidence note that they still sing the self-hating anthem in which they “hope to die before they got old.” They are old. They’re not jumping on ice flows. Seems like some cognitive dissonance on fleek.
Why don’t you all fffffffffffffff-ade away?
I think that that stutter was for a very different eff-word. But I digress. Back to the show.
The stage was the Lincoln Memorial. An oversized stone-faced icon sat staid, unmoved and unmovable behind the performers. The disciples that had come out of the desert lined the ledges of the reflecting pool and fanned out to the hinter roads.
Some had been there the day that Dr. King exhorted us to be our best selves. Many others wished that they had been, but were grown and prosperous enough to make sure they didn’t miss out this time. That cohort was checking off an item on their political-moral-ceremonial bucket list. Only the left would do this, the privileged left that benefitted from education and draft deferments. And then without any apparent irony sang that they wished they were dead. Baby boomers. Ugh.
Of course there was a brave left that were once peaceniks, activists and, some, hippies. Then there was the more populous faction who wished that they were hippies–and even had imagineered stories to support that narrative. But the reality was that at the time they were worried about their futures. No tattoos, no extra piercings, no inhaling, no arrests. People who wanted nothing on their permanent record. Go ask Alice, when she was just small.
Michael Bolton sang his blue-eyed soul, and Kenny G blew his little soulless whistle. The crowd went wild over those curly coiffed stars of that time. Me? I rearranged the Cheerios for another round of war. I was waiting for something better and had a bitty boy to entertain. Then it happened.
It was the Queen. The Queen of Soul, Aretha, entered stage left and saved the day. As she does. She brought her authentic self. I stood up with the bitty boy in my arms and taught him to spell. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. She sang from my hometown, from Motown. She brought church and people of color and working people to the Mall. And it was good. I could have gone home then.
It was chilly and I snuggled up next to the bitty boy. He snuggled back and I pulled out the secret sandwiches. Rule one of successful parenting at an event or trip? Hold back some surprises. Hold them back so tightly that you sometimes bring them home. Keep your powder dry until you are on the precipice of too late.
Then they all rose, as one. As if at church. And I covered my ears with my hands as a reedy phlegmatic voice pierced the January afternoon. I turned to the standing Spouse. “Who’s that?” He looked at me incredulous. It was Dylan.
I stayed seated on our blanket, divvying out a quarter of a PPJ on wheat bread and a small handful of goldfish crackers to the bitty boy. I punctured the top of a juice box. The Spouse may have been a bit embarrassed at my nonchalance, but I didn’t care about that artist. He was not from my time.
But the crowd was awed to take in his poetry and mouth harp. I didn’t know his music, except when Jimmy covered it, so I don’t know what he sang. But me and the bitty boy didn’t spell have anything to spell.
That’s my Bob Dylan story. I remembered it because he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature and doesn’t have enough manners to return the awards Committee’s invitation.
You know, Aretha would.
Later on we walked into one of the many entertainment tents erected on the field on the mall. The tempo was up and the guitars were prodigious. In the center, surrounded by the mariachi band was a woman circled by colorful rings down to the floor on her traditional skirt. It was Linda Rondstat, who had found herself after a career of starvation and exploitation that brought her fame and financial success. This afternoon she was singing most beautifully. She channeled memories of music from her childhood. And it was authentic. And it was good.
She would be polite, too.
Dylan’s biggest sin wasn’t going electric. It was going full hubris. It’s not cool to be rude. Especially if someone is giving you snaps.
But ultimately, I didn’t care then and I don’t really care now. And I’m going to find Rondstat’s catalog for streaming. Respect.