I´m spending the first few hours of the afternoon looking over some material I´ve been collecting for my literary biography project. By chance, I come across a 1962 interview, one of the first Dylan gave on New York´s WBAI Radio where he talks about the performances he used to give in Greenwich Village, at the Gaslight and Café Wha? :
“I sang down there during the afternoons, played my harmonica for this guy there . . . he used to give me a dollar . . . play with him every day from two o'clock in the afternoon. Play till 8:30 at night. . . . He gave me a dollar, plus a cheeseburger."
Things must feel pretty different now, to be playing with friends, no timetables, no wage. The sessions in the basement are not usually as long as those in the Village, though sometimes they do go on into the early hours. I´ve got to wait till seven today to go down – Robbie´s tone left me no doubt. I´m finding it hard to contain myself. Luckily, at about four a smiley face looks in through the front windscreen of the caravan.
“Come in, Rick.”
“No interrupting anything, am I?”
“No, not at all, I was just making some notes, just whiling away the hours till it´s time to come down to the basement to listen to you.”
“Yeah, Robbie told us this morning…. Richard and I kind of like the idea of having you as our audience, even if it´s just for a while….”
“Well, we´ll see how long either of us can take it! Already know what you´re playing today?”
“No fucking idea. That´s always decided- I think- when Dylan comes down the basement stairs, depending on what he´s got or not in his hand, could be a text, some chords, a newspaper, the harmonica, even just the face he´s got on him, or both. From below, we watch him come down those steps, sometimes it´s slowly, sometimes it´s two by two. We just set to tuning up wearing our Poker face, or light up a cigarette waiting to see what he says…. Sometimes it feels like when you toss a coin up into the air and it takes hours to come down.”
I´m finding it hard to accept that I´m going to miss that moment- Orpheus, katabasis, a hundred thousand discordant associations around the pleasure of descent-, to accept that this evening I won´t see Dylan coming down the stairs to meet his pals. By the time I get to the basement it´ll be half past seven and the five will have been playing already for a while, will be absorbed in their instruments and in their mutual understanding, so they will not notice how I sit in a corner, looking at them from the floor, hands together, fertile ears and eyes gaping open.
Today I will not see Dylan descend, but whatever song they´re singing when I sit down to listen to them on the concrete floor of the basement will be as rapturous as the image of the five of them gathered around that shared joy: the perfect soundtrack to a secret, intimate and anarchic glory.