On a rainy afternoon in July 2009, Bob Dylan, age 68, went for a stroll in Long Branch, New Jersey. Long Branch is a small seaside resort community, and Dylan and his band had stopped there before their concert in Lakewood that evening.
In its heyday, Long Branch was known as the “Hollywood of the East.” The city’s boardwalk—now all but abandoned—had at one time been crammed with prominent politicians and theater performers. But in time the city lost its relevance and popularity, and is now mostly preserved through a sense of nostalgia by those who summered here in their youth and who now feel an obligation to bring their own families.
Dylan and his band, as well as guest performers John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson, were staying in Long Branch at the Ocean Place Resort and Spa. As the day rambled on, and as the rain clouds appeared, Dylan moseyed over to the Latin quarter of Long Branch. As he walked through the neighborhood, he made his way to a home with a For Sale sign in its yard. He stood in the rain and looked at the house for a long while. As he wandered away from the house and down the street, he was stopped by a police officer who had been called in about reports of a suspicious-looking character wandering around the neighborhood. The police officer, Kristie Buble, age 24, described Dylan as “wearing black sweatpants tucked into black rain boots, and two raincoats with the hood pulled down over his head.” Officer Buble asked his name. “Bob Dylan,” he replied. When asked to provide identification, Dylan said he had none.
Beyond this point, accounts differ as to what happened next. On one account, Officer Buble claims to have been familiar with Dylan, but only through photos from his younger years. In another account, both Officer Buble and another officer who responded to the call fail to even recognize the name Bob Dylan. However, the two differing accounts coincide in that they both recount Officer Buble escorting Dylan back to the Ocean Place Resort, where he claimed to be staying. At the hotel, Officer Buble was met in the parking lot by a vast, congested mass of tour buses. Soon thereafter, several members of Dylan’s touring group vouched for his identity and Officer Buble, metaphorical tail betwixt her legs, left peacefully and no charges were filed.
As Officer Buble recounts, when asked why he was in the Latin quarter of Long Branch, Dylan claimed to be looking at houses. Whether he was looking to buy or rent, one really can’t be sure. However, as is often the case with Dylan, there is a more interesting story beneath the surface. Bruce Springsteen, native New Jerseyan and an avowed Dylan follower, wrote much of the material for his ’75 album, Born to Run, while living a few blocks from where Dylan was picked up by Officer Buble.
As it stands, no decisive evidence points to Dylan purposefully attempting to visit Springsteen’s old abode. However, from ’08 to ’09, Dylan visited, unannounced, the homes of Mark Twain, Neil Young, and John Lennon. At Lennon’s childhood home he took a public tour and wasn’t recognized by the other tourists. And at Twain’s home, he came unannounced and didn’t admit his name until a shocked tour guide asked him.
On a Sunday in November 2008, Dylan, accompanied by his manager, came by cab to the childhood home of Neil Young in Winnipeg, Canada. The current owners of the home, John Kiernan and Patti Readan, often give tours of the house and they did so with Dylan, guiding him through the house and bringing him upstairs to Young’s old bedroom, now with walls awash in pink and occupied by the Kiernan’s teenage daughter. As Dylan looked out the bedroom window, he asked Kiernan, “Would Neil have looked out this window when he played his guitar?”
We can imagine that Dylan is pleased and amused at this strange and metaphorical turn of events. Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, six hours southeast of Winnipeg, Canada, and has spent most of his life as a contemporary of Neil Young. To see him, here on this pilgrimage to his friend’s childhood home, one imagines he is happy. It is, for him, a simple act of reverence and friendship. However, Dylan—the iconic Voice of Generation—doesn’t have the freedom to do simple acts anymore. Every decision, utterance, and nervous tick is combed for its artistic significance. Regarding the incident in Long Branch, the critic ventures to ask, Who or what was he looking for?
But right here, looking out the window of his friend’s childhood bedroom, he’s only a man paying homage to a friend.
[Previously published in a slightly different version in the Luther College student-run publication, The Gadfly, March 15, 2011, Vol. III, Issue 3.]