The Critical Mass

Like a Rolling Gnome

Here I am, all dressed up for the 2011 Dylan Night.

Here I am, all dressed up for the 2011 Dylan Night.

You will hear beautiful versions of “Things Have Changed” by Jeff Riales and “Simple Twist of Fate” by Connie Deming and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Rita Coulter Saturday at the 26th Bob Dylan Night at Skylark Lounge. I suspect Fred Vine will present “Blind Willie McTell” in its proper blues setting, I am told Sarah Jane Hardy will kill on one of my favorite Dylan songs, “All Along the Watchtower.” Nearly three dozen Rochester musicians celebrating Bob Dylan.

At some point in the evening, there will be a train wreck.

I am not a musician. I am an act. But a crowd will surely gather, as always happens at derailments.

I remember quite clearly how I first got involved in this event. They asked. That was six years ago, and I’d just read Bob Dylan Chronicles: Volume 1. So I said, “What the heck, yeah. I’ll read an except from the book. I can handle that.” And I put together a little medley of coolness from various passages in the book and read it while the house band, HuNu?, backed me with the cocktail riff from “If Dogs Run Free” from Dylan’s New Morning album. Yeah, that was easy.

The next year, Rita suggested I try “Talkin’ New York” from the Bob Dylan album. I hesitated, then said, “Yeah, it’s just talking, I can do that.”

The next year, they asked again. I thought, “I can handle ‘Masters of War,’ because that’s just a real angry rant. I found a wood-splitting wedge in the garage and banged on it while HuNu? played, and people said, “Yeah, that was pretty funny, he only hit his fingers a couple of times.”

The next year, The Dady Brothers did “Masters of War,” and they did it way better. Because they’re musicians, and I’m just an act. I did “Ballad of Hollis Brown,” because it’s about murder, and HuNu? laid down this really creepy sound behind me. I was really thrilled to turn around at one point and see that Joe Dady had jumped onstage and was playing fiddle. Cool.

The next year, I did “Senior (Tales of Yankee Power).” I had a couple of shakers, which sounded kinda evil in the microphone, like a rattlesnake, and after the song was over I threw them into the audience. That was it, I figured. The 25th Bob Dylan Night, on Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday, on the 10th anniversary of the death of Chuck Cuminale, the leader of The Colorblind James Experience, which first started the event. And my fifth Dylan Night. All numbers that suggested it was a good time to get off the stage, since I’m not a musician, I’m an act. And HuNu? had decided this would be the last Dylan Night, anyway. Probably.

Well, after a year’s break, it’s back. And so am I. They asked again, and I said, “Well, I’ve gotten away with it five times already…..” I picked two songs. One was a Dylan song virtually no one knows, because it’s only on one of the official bootleg albums, “Series of Dreams.” The other was “Like a Rolling Stone.” I figured the band would go for “Series of Dreams.” No one had ever done it before, drummer Jim McAvaney would dig the driving rhythm, and it has some of Dylan’s most amazing, surrealistic lyrics. The band huddled over the boom box, listening to “Series of Dreams.” And decided no, “Like a Rolling Stone” it would be.

Oh. Well, the first five times I’d done Bob Dylan Night, it was stuff that people weren’t overly familiar with. If I screwed it up, maybe not a lot of people would notice. I’d consciously avoided The Big Ones. Let the pros handle those. Now I’ve got perhaps Dylan’s best-known song. Maybe the greatest rock song ever written. Here comes the train wreck. And I’m the engineer, screaming out the window for help.