They are a matched pair, Bob Dylan in Oslo for the Nobel Prize, and Dario Fo, who already had a Nobel Prize, on his way to the Great Beyond for a reunion with Franca Rame.
Dylan and Fo, a couple of troublemakers. Dylan upset the establishment with his macaw singing voice and his confrontational lyrics; Fo upset entire nations with his anarchic words.
Which one of them wrote, “Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Signore Rossi?”
My wife saw Rame, a true survivor, on stage in London a few decades ago, performing a short Fo play about a woman locked in her apartment by her husband, wearing a shortie negligee, ironing endlessly. It was an allegory.
After that, we cheered when the United States lifted a 15-year ban on Fo and Rame for their political views. (What, you think Trump invented this stuff?) They were heroes to us for thumbing their noses at convention, and hardship.
Dylan was more accessible here in the Stati Uniti, honking on his harmonica, rasping into the microphone, an outsider.
I have never met Dylan, exactly, but I annoyed the heck out of him in 1974 when I covered the great tour by him and The Band. Dylan did not do interviews but Bill Graham, the great promoter, slipped me into a highly secure sound check in an empty Madison Square Garden. I mean, even ushers and security people had to wait outside. But I was crouched down behind a chair, observing Zim as he checked out the acoustics and the lighting, uneventfully, as I described in my early space-holder story.
That evening, the joint was throbbing, like when Clyde and Willis were at their best. Dylan came out on stage and in a rare aside to the audience, he rasped it was “An honnuh to be here.” Wow! Dylan speaks!
That night, after a knockout show, Dylan was back in his hotel suite, perusing the early edition of the Times. He reached for the phone and called David Geffen, the uber-promoter, in Europe, to report: He Had Been Observed.
Dylan was so mad that the next day Graham sidled up to me and said he had to tell them that I sneaked in there on my own. Absolutely, Bill, I said.
I’ve always been proud that an innocuous little early story could spur Dylan into phone rage.
Now he is a Nobel winner, deservedly, for all the songs he gave us.
The best description Dylan was written by Joan Baez in Diamonds and Rust,” describing their love affair between “the unwashed phenomenon” and “the Madonna” who was his for free.
One of the most romantic sentences in pop music:
“Speaking strictly for me
We both could have died then and there.”
Then Baez sums up her vision of Dylan:
“Now you're telling me
You're not nostalgic
Then give me another word for it
You who are so good with words
And at keeping things vague
Because I need some of that vagueness now
It's all come back too clearly
Yes I loved you dearly
And if you're offering me diamonds and rust
I've already paid.”
Dylan and Baez, matched in their temporary way. I like to think of Fo and Rame, performing again.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.