Touring with Bob Dylan


Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 9.47.08 AMDumas   Dumas, Texas is not to be confused with Dumas, Arkansas.  Dumas in southern Arkansas is where the clarity of the KABF signal begins to drop in the rich, delta of the state and where a “Hot Donut” sign not far from the Walmart store alerts a traveler to the location of the best apple fritters made in the entire country.  Dumas, Texas is in the fat of the Texas panhandle about 45 miles north of Amarillo.  Almost 15000 people, more than 50% Hispanic, speaking silently of the change coming to Texas in the future, live here with the wind steadily blowing on the plains.  In the pre-dawn dark, Lucha and I stumbled onto an amazing set of community athletic amenities that include a giant swimming pool and water park, a skateboard park, two huge baseball fields with giant lights, and a nearby football field.

            All proving that there’s always something happening when you turn off cruise control and move along and away from the highway.

            With the merger of United and Continental, I passed a million miles with a letter from the airlines giving me a George Clooney moment this year and temporary upgrades that no doubt will be short lived.  Eric Shragge, a professor, author, and activist based in Montreal remarked a year or so ago about how rare it was to see me showing up in his city every six or nine months still trying to put the pieces together for ACORN Canada.  Without saying so to him, I’ve often wondered since then if there’s another way to do the work.   Since 1975 I’ve been on the road every year no less than 30% of the year or 120 days and over the last decade often more than 50% of the year or more than 180 days.   Is there another way?  What part is me, and what part is the work?


            I read a piece about Bob Dylan called “Restless Wanderer” by Bill Wyman in the Wall Street Journal.  Since 1988 he pointed out that Dylan has played 2500 shows and more than Springsteen, the Stones, and U2 combined, and that he is on a “never ending tour,” beginning in his late 40’s then and now still rolling at 72.  Reading that he has played in 49 states and 50 countries was no surprise, but I found it fascinating – and important – that he has played in 450 cities in the United States including towns where I have been as well that, frankly, are a stretch to call them cities like Aberdeen, Maryland, and Zebulon, North Carolina, as well as 350 cities or more overseas.   He has sung as many as 700 songs in these shows with only about half from his own work, regularly playing 150 per year without a teleprompter.  The story says he “likes playing in venues he hasn’t played before…” including “baseball fields, casinos, or stranger environments.”  According to Wyman, “The shows align him with an earlier era – when blues and country musicians created their art on small stages in small towns or in small corners of big towns.  They also trenchantly separate him from the current era.  Mr. Dylan just keeps playing and rarely gives interviews.” 

            I’m not sure organizers in my tradition, who sign up to move the work wherever people want to organize and are willing to do so, are that different from the troubadours in Dylan’s practice.  Wyman ends the piece saying of Dylan that “He has given fans everything and nothing – just a portrait of an artist at work, hiding in plain sight.”

            An artist at work.   Organizers at work.  He is an organizer in his own fashion, fighting boredom and doing what he knows how to do, just as organizers are learning and singing our songs in communities all over the country and the world.