Like a dope, I was standing outside the Beacon Theater at approximately 7:20 on the evening of December 3rd. Bob Dylan and his band were concluding a well-received, five-night engagement at the ornate house. Falling in the middle of Thanksgiving and Christmas, there was a definite festive buzz in the pre-winter air.
And yes, the venerable ticket scalpers, a Manhattan tradition like stale cigar smoke, were out there in full force. There were almost as many scalpers as ticket holders milling around. How do I know? Ticket scalping, of course, is against the law and it would be easy for a cop to put the cuffs on some dumb miscreant.
Therefore, you gotta understand the lexicon. When someone shouts, “Need one!” That often means, I am selling one ticket. No fuss. No muss. No Big House.
The scalpers were asking for a few hundred bucks for a ticket in the orchestra, and slightly under that figure for less desirable locales in the Beacon. I have been buying and selling tickets outside the Beacon since Dylan was leading the Rolling Thunder Revue (1975), so I felt pretty savvy.
I waited. I waited for an opportunity. I wasn’t paying hundreds of f*ing dollars a ticket, that was for sure. I last saw Dylan in October 2012 at the Hollywood Bowl and the show was so disappointing that I immediately pledged never to pay my money to see him again.
I had traveled to LA to go on Tavis Smiley and promote my new book, Forget About Today: Bob Dylan’s Genius for (Re-)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution (Penguin, 2012). Since Dylan was playing the sainted Hollywood Bowl — The Beatles played there in 1964 and 1965! — I was anxious to go. My friend Julie got us good seats there for $75 apiece.
But when my friend Nichole, who generally catches Dylan all over the US on his annual tours, started raving about this show, I slightly reconsidered. If I could obtain a ticket for a reasonable price, I’d lift my ban.
I bided my time and enjoyed watching the professional ticket scalpers — a rather low form of life — squirming and sounding increasingly anxious themselves. My thinking was clear. If I didn’t get to see Dylan that night, I’d take the subway home at a reasonable hour and listen to Before the Flood, his masterful 1974 live album with The Band (marking the first time I ever saw Dylan play on a stage). I’d be (slightly) disappointed, but that’s the way it goes.
And that’s the way it went.
I didn’t get to buy a ticket that night. I refused to pay the scalpers’ price. So I went home and listened to Before the Flood and a very strong Dylan bootleg from 2002, in which he and his band covered the Stones’ song, Brown Sugar, really well.
I read on the Internet that the show was terrific. People claimed that Dylan had never sounded better (yeah, right). I would have enjoyed being there.
I have thought a lot about Dylan for many decades, with special consideration during the time I was researching my book. He is genuinely a hero, a survivor, an icon, a role model, and an artist with a capital “A.” And he is known to make great, memorable, timeless music, too, when the spirit moves him. Next to The Beatles (mostly John and somewhat Paul), no cultural figure has meant more to me.
But I’m not a nut — one of those people a guy wrote about in a recent book who will do truly reality-bending, probably clinically insane things to see Dylan in concert or collect memorabilia or meet him. I enjoy the songwriting and the singing and the music the most of any Dylan feature.
Oh well. It would have been fun to see the Beacon show. Better luck next time.