I took a cab across Lake Malaren to see what I could find out and if I could meet the legend. I also had visions of Patti Smith, who Young recorded when she was twenty, hanging out there or in a coffee shop around the corner.
The news of the morning was that the New York Times contained a story about Israel “Izzy” Goodman Young—founder of the New York Folk Center at 110 MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village in 1957, promoter of Dylan’s first concert at Carnegie Hall (November 4, 1961; $2 a ticket; 50 in attendance), and resident of Stockholm for the past thirty five years. The story’s lead photograph showed him standing in front of a green door at his Folklore Centrum in the Sodermalm neighborhood. Perhaps you know it as the downscale neighborhood of the fictional Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. Top 10 Stockholm describes it as “formerly a rough working-class district…blossoming into the area to see and be seen in.” I took a cab across Lake Malaren to see what I could find out and if I could meet the legend. I also had visions of Patti Smith, who Young recorded when she was twenty, hanging out there or in a coffee shop around the corner.
Carl Schyler picked me up in his Mercedes, a good taxi to drive during a early not so hard rain. A gregarious man who started joking as soon as we pulled away from the Mornington (“Let’s see if we can get the car moving. That’s a good start.”), he was more than willing to answer my questions about both the city and Dylan. He was not only a great taxi driver but also a bit of a bodhisattva when it came to music in general and Dylan in particular. As we crossed Lake Malaren (“the second largest lake in Sweden,” Carl told me), I learned that he was also a musician who played guitar and piano. He is fifty-six, has three daughters between twenty-one and twent- six, and the oldest (Mathilde) is a Dylan fan much like her dad.
“Of course I was surprised when I heard Dylan won the Nobel Prize,” Carl began. “Everyone was. But I was not surprised when he said he was not coming. He looked terribly uncomfortable at the Polar Music Prize in 2000.” The Prize, which was established by ABBA’s manager and the Swedish Music Academy in 1989, is to international music what the Nobel Prize is to other fields. Recipients are deemed Laureates and the list cuts across genres. As Carl patiently answered my questions, he shared that the radio stations had been playing Dylan’s music all week as well as excerpts from his memoir Chronicles. He had been Googling the American newspaper responses to both Dylan’s receiving the award and his mixed messages about attending the ceremony. Playing a variation on the theme I had heard all across the telegraph, Carl stated, “I’m disappointed but I understand. It’s probably just not his thing.” When I asked him who his favorite musician was he instantly answered, “Springsteen. I want to see him again.” This, too, was an answer I had heard from a few other Swedes.
As Carl patiently answered my questions, he shared that the radio stations had been playing Dylan’s music all week as well as excerpts from his memoir Chronicles.
As we pulled up at Wollmar Yxhullsgatan 2 and I saw the green door on the corner, Carl told me one last story: “When I was growing up, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ was in our official songbook. He was clearly an author even then. It’s odd to hear it translated into Swedish. For me, that song was part of learning English.” I recruited a passerby to snap our picture, hugged Carl, wished him good luck (“like Bob at the end of ‘115th Dream,’ I told him and he laughed. I walked toward the darkened shop.
Izzy Young was not open at 10:30 in the morning. Nor did he have any hours posted. So I went around the corner, eyes peeled for him and/or Patti, and had one more cup of coffee before I went to the valley below. At 11:00 the Folklore Centrum was still closed. I asked another passerby if he knew about the Centrum and he told me he did not but looked it up on Facebook and offered to call Izzy Young. I loved his generosity but was not comfortable with calling, particularly given that I had no specific questions for him. The kindly stranger, a man of about forty, mused, “These bohemians open when they choose to open.” As he moved on, I peeked in the windows and saw approximately twenty folding chairs circling the walls, stacks of papers, a circular table with three chairs, a film magazine with Francis Ford Coppola on its cover, and a few pages titled “Talking Folklore Center Blues” by Dylan. I took a picture of the cover and one of myself in front of the green door around the corner. I was not really disappointed because I figured that the last thing Izzy Young wanted to do was to talk with someone else about Dylan or the days.
I thought about “these bohemians” as I entered a corner bookstore facing Mariatorget, a square with a statue of Thor taking on a sea creature while a few gypsies panhandled. I had a brief flash that perhaps this looked more like Izzy Young’s and Bob Dylan’s Greenwich Village of the early 1960s than does today’s Greenwich Village. The window had a Dylan display that caught my eye, particularly the poster promoting him as Nobel Laureate. The man who was stocking his shelves told me that Dylan sales—in English and Swedish; of Lyrics, Chronicles, and Tarantula—have been very good since October 13 when the Prize was announced. “It’s a blessing for a small store like ours,” he stated as we discussed the fate of independent bookstores around the globe. “I think things are coming back a bit.” And then added, “But ,then again, I’m an optimist. And I am very thankful for Bob Dylan.”
From those two small corner shops I headed toward the bridge that would take me across the river and into Old Town. My mission was to buy a few red Dala Horses from Gunter, my cigar guy at Denifl Tobak. Gunter, like Carl Schyler and Pelle Ekman, is in his mid- to late-fifties and another “Dylan man.” He grew up in Salzburg, worked as a landscape and nature photographer for years, and “moved to Sweden when I met my beloved.” He has seen Dylan perform a few times and made trips to Cuba for cigars. He expressed concern about President-elect Trump. And he smiled when he said, “Every day here is new.” He and I talked about travel, what makes a good Dala Horse, and “the right card for you to take back to your wife.” After he wrapped my new ponies in bubble wrap and joked “you can drop these out of the plane and they will be fine,” he cut and gave me a Cuban “on the house, my friend.”
I decided to save it for Sunday, when it is supposed to snow. It will be my reward for packing. The Cuban and the ponies went into my shoulder bag, along with a reindeer keychain I bought for my sister and some coasters for some of my fellow committee members back home. It struck me that I was crossing over into, for lack of a better term, Christmas shopping mode. Crossing another bridge on my way to City Hall, I settled on a park bench, phoned home before my battery ran out, and ate the banana and apple I had packed from the breakfast buffet, which clearly did not say “all you can eat here.” I hoped that I didn’t look too much like the guy on the cover of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung.
I was going to City Hall because at the premiere dinner Ann told me, “You must tour City Hall to have a sense of where the banquet will be and how it will look.” Rick Steves had it right below the Skansen and the Vasa Museum, describing the 1920s structure as the “gilt mosaic architectural jewel of Stockholm.” They steered me right and I was, once again, luckier than smart in that I managed to be on the last guided tour before the building would be shut for full throttle Nobel setup. I was already seeing hundreds of flowers, huge soundboards, and racks of waiters’ white coats in the halls.
There were about fifty of us from all over the world and our guide was Ida, a good-humored linguist who gave us equal doses of architectural history, civics lessons, and delicious factoids. One such factoid, as we looked down at the tables to accommodate 1300 people on Saturday night, is that all guests receive “exactly 60 centimeters of table space unless they are at the table of honor, where they receive 70.” Victoria, a sixteen year old from Moscow, was beaming with everything Ida said, and she rivaled me for enthusiastic questions. It made me very happy to see someone so enthused about the layers of it all.
This wasn’t my first city hall rodeo. I toured the City Hall of Bruges in 2014 and it was amazing. As impressive as it is, it is to Stockholm’s City Hall what the Bedford Whaling Museum is to the Vasa Museum. Although I’m sure of that totally personal value judgment, I am also aware that I am starting to sound like I’ve gone native. There is just so much to be impressed by in a city without guns and with free health care. The city council has 101 members (“51 women and 50 men”), a coalition of four different liberal parties making a sizeable majority over a small conservative faction, and voted to recognize all marital unions in 2009. Any Stockholm citizens can be married for free in the Oval Room on Saturdays (“foreigners can pay fifty Euros” added Ida as Victoria smiled).
While Ida led us through the building, I asked her (out of earshot of my fellow guided ones, of course) about a political issue I kept hearing about whenever told someone that I was in town for the Nobel Prize event. It was about another building, the Nobel Foundation’s proposed conference center. She confirmed what I heard at my hotel, in cabs and in restaurants: that such an eyesore (what may are calling “a nuclear plant”) would be incredibly disruptive to the texture of life in the old part of town, that taxpayers do not want to take on the added cost, and that all participants in the discussion of the project—from the King and Queen to the affected neighborhood—have questioned not “progress” as invoked by its proponents but rather its location in a historic neighborhood, its incompatible design, and the potential irreversible damage it will do. She did not deny the rumor that there might be demonstrations on Saturday. I found myself caring about this more than your casual tourist might. (And thinking about Dylan’s Only one thing I did wrong/Stayed in Mississippi a day too long.)
The last room we visited was the Golden Hall, where the 1300 will begin dancing around 10:30 on Saturday night. It is a spectacular space with enormous mosaic murals of real gold tiles, my favorite of which has the Lady of Lake Malare looking out for the whole wide world. My camera’s battery chose that moment to go on sabbatical. I apologize for the poor quality of the image that you see.
What I want you to know is that she is right there in the Golden Hall, pictured on the very lake I crossed in the morning. If you’re with me, you choose to believe that she’s watching out for all us sinners, whatever buildings we’re in or proposing and whatever bridges we’re crossing.
*The words are Ani DiFranco’s rather than mine and came to me last night as I listened to Tessan Milveden sing “Misty” in the Mornington Lounge.