Laughin’ and Singin’ till the early hours of the morn…

The word premiere perhaps makes it sound bigger than it really was. But I do accurately use lower case and this was, technically speaking, the debut/first public presentation of 30 minutes starring Dylan and co-starring Ricks and me in supporting roles. My Salvation Army buddies, the crew at the Mornington Hotel, Nicolas of the mStore, and other new acquaintances I had made over the previous twenty four hours assured me this was “what you Americans might call a big deal.”

I got out of the elevator and knocked on the door of my director, Ann Victorin, and her husband Ekman Pelle a few minutes before six. Ann was slicing avocadoes for the salad and Pelle returned to roasting pine nuts for the sauce. Ann and I first met on October 25 when she and her cinematographer, Sven Visen, came from Stockholm’s SVT (the Swedish equivalent of PBS) to make the official documentary about Dylan’s Prize for Literature. Ann, a Scorpio sphinx and multilingual lover of all things literary, had made the previous fifteen documentaries and worked to varying degrees with all the Literature Laureates. She and Sven visited Sir Christopher Ricks, a Boston University professor, and me before heading toward Dylan’s shows in Shreveport and Baton Rouge. I had been invited to their apartment, and shortly would be joined by seven members of the SVT, journalistic, and Victorin-Pelle family, for the premiere of Ann’s movie on SVT2.

The word premiere perhaps makes it sound bigger than it really was. But I do accurately use lower case and this was, technically speaking, the debut/first public presentation of 30 minutes starring Dylan and co-starring Ricks and me in supporting roles. My Salvation Army buddies, the crew at the Mornington Hotel, Nicolas of the mStore, and other new acquaintances I had made over the previous twenty four hours assured me this was “what you Americans might call a big deal.”

When Ann and Sven were on Southwestern’s campus six weeks ago, they filmed me in my office for a couple of hours and on the main mall for fifteen minutes and then went to Dos Salsas for mole and Dr. Peppers before they drove through East Texas with Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” in their heads and ears. During that spot of time, Ann told me, when I got a bit emotional reading “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “my husband is like you, what we call in Sweden ‘a Dylan man.’”

I handed my fellow Dylan man three cd’s—a compilation of river songs, Dylan piano tunes, and the New York sessions of “Blood on the Tracks”—and we were off and running. While Ann worked on the largest salmon I have seen outside of fishmongers’ cases, Pelle took me up to the attic deck to look out over the Stockholm skyline. He described the city with such pride that my heart soared. He told me about how the building he and Ann and their kids had moved into twenty years earlier was a converted school. Then he went farther back and told me how he and all of his childhood friends had gravitated towards Stockholm “for the music, the culture, and the girls.” He sounded like me heading to Austin from Grand Prairie long ago or, perhaps, Dylan leaving Hibbing for New York.

As we returned to the kitchen, sprinkling Dylan lyrics throughout our conversation and touching upon Pelle’s time as a drummer, Sven arrived. A man of few words and a terrific smile, he had been filming in Turkey and Somalia since being in Boston, Georgetown, and Baton Rouge. Ann and Pelle’s children appeared, as did Ann’s SVT boss Alexandra (yes, I made a reference to Leonard Cohen’s song about Alexandra and we all lifted a glass to Leonard). A journalist and a film editor made us ten. Before dinner Ann was toasted and she said far too gracious words about my importance to the film. Dylan stories were exchanged, comparisons were made, the Patti Smith watch began, and we speculated about who would read Dylan’s address at the Banquet on Saturday. The fish was a poem; the potatoes and salad did their office; we waited for dessert until after the show.

Our premiere audience was all in place a few minutes before 7:30 when Ann’s movie began with Dylan at a 1986 press conference playfully talking about the strangeness of his fame, of his being Bob Dylan. I had only read the transcript of that press conference and got the first of what would become a series of goose bumps. Ricks was brilliant, charming, and (as I think Alexandra put it) “so adorable” explaining how Dylan’s music worked as not only poetry but also music and performance. I had read Ricks and exchanged e-mails with him. But seeing and hearing him took my respect into the stratosphere. I have no critical distance on my moments before the camera (you will have to judge for yourself when I get a copy to share). But I will say that the campus looked beautiful, my tie was amazing, and I would not take back a single thing. And as Dylan’s words and music wove through it all I went beyond goose bumps to muted sobs (those of you who know me know the mode). I didn’t look at Ann or Pelle because I did not have to. I knew they were right there with me.

We celebrated Ann’s amazing work—her ability to tell so much of the story of Dylan’s literary significance in so short amount of time and, even more miraculously, to audiences that might care deeply or know absolutely nothing about Dylan’s art. Hers is public art at its best, and I am ecstatic to have been a small part of it.

The Haagen-Dazs and the after-show drinks arrived. The reviews came in over Facebook—starting with a member of ABBA, followed by the Queen’s Secretary, and then many more. All were variations on my theme in the previous paragraph. Elvis Costello sang Dylan’s “Lost on the River” on the river mix I brought. Adele’s cover of Dylan’s “Make Me Feel Your Love” worked its way in, as did Miles Davis’ “Dear Old Stockholm” in response to an e-mail I received from another Dylan man. The evening somehow pivoted from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. while we talked about Athens (Georgia), Big Sur, Jack Kerouac, Trump and Clinton and Bergman and Woody Allen, Bowie (chcchchchaaanges…) and Prince, parents and children, the great blessedness of our lives.

The coffee table of joy was full and Ann, who had just finished the final cut right about the time I landed in Stockholm, and Pelle, who had tears of joy in his eyes, refused to let me help clean up. We made plans for Wednesday and Saturday and hugged the hugs of friends becoming family. My Iraqi cabbie told me that he had not seen anyone as happy as me in weeks. I told him, “It was the fish and the music and the people. I love your town.” He told me, “It’s a bit quiet for me.” I rode in the front seat and smiled all the way home.

NOTE: Today’s photograph was taken as Alexandra was leaving. Ann, Pelle and I are sporting Raybans in homage to Dylan.

6 thoughts on “Laughin’ and Singin’ till the early hours of the morn…”

  1. cpsikora says:

    Just utterly magical. An event of a lifetime.

    1. David Gaines
      David Gaines says:

      I gather that you and Steve have been here. It is quite remarkable–and during a very special week to me and my fellow Dylan men [and women].

  2. NGaines (@gainesn) says:

    Wonderful post of this dinner. REALLY look forward to seeing this documentary!

  3. David Gaines
    David Gaines says:

    “You’ll love it.”

  4. Sven-Åke Visén says:

    It was a great evening, David! And it was so nice to see you again. Thanks for the wonderful review of our Dylan-film, it means a lot to us. Hope the rest of your week in Stockholm continues in the same, positive style! And maybe we’ll run into eachother outside Stadshuset on Saturday.
    / Sven-Åke, the man of few words 😉

    1. David Gaines
      David Gaines says:

      Thanks, Sven. Yes, to be continued. Take care and glad we agreed on “True Detective” and Creedence.

Leave a Reply