I've been reading the wrong books. I've enjoyed a tour of art galleries and art history in "An Object of Beauty" by Steve Martin, who may well be one of the greatest teachers of art because he never slides into pretentiousness. Even if you're not all that interested in art, you can at least understand it through his words.
I liked the 2000, 2005, and 2010 editions of "Best Food Writing", but became burnt out on it towards the end of the 2010 edition, desperately needing a break. It is for research, but I saw that I needed to take a different tack on my research for now.
I read Sam Shepard's "Hawk Moon" last Saturday and it's so obviously his very young writings, though right at the start, he fully embraces the strangeness of life in his words, of those people who can't possibly live like that, and yet they probably do.
"Hawk Moon" came in 1973. "Rolling Thunder Logbook", about Shepard's experiences being within the world of the Rolling Thunder Revue show, made up of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and so many worldly, spiritual others, was published in 1977, and my god, if you want to see what four years can do to a writer in prose, read "Hawk Moon" first and then "Rolling Thunder Logbook." Shepard was writing a lot of plays in between those years, but there's only one way to describe this book: It's like someone ripping your heart out of your chest and leading you around with it while it beats in their hand, and you're not only compelled to follow, but you're grateful that it happened to you. I'm serious, and there are so many passages I have bookmarked to show you.
Initially, I was bookmarking pertinent passages about Montreal for a friend, who had been to a Rolling Thunder Revue show, and she wondered if Sam Shepard had been in Montreal with them. He hadn't, as he peeled off to New York City to work on a play of his that was opening soon, as I understand it here. But then, reading what Shepard had about this adventure, I couldn't only look for that. I was finding descriptions that stunned me. Poetry in prose is rarely done well, and Shepard nails it.
Shepard was brought onto the tour for the purpose of writing dialogue for the performers for a movie that never quite seems to gel. He becomes part of the background, but what a momentous place to be. There's one photo in here of Bob Dylan looking down at Jack Kerouac's grave. One great man alive, one great man dead.
I'll start off with page 48, entitled "Alchemist Scene", dialogue that was written for the proposed movie, between Allen Ginsberg as "Emperor" and Dylan as "Alchemist":
Emperor: (Ginsberg) I've heard through the grapevine that you have certain powers.
Alchemist: (Dylan) Oh, that's not me, but I know who you mean.
Emperor: You're not the alchemist?
Alchemist: No, but I've seen him come through here carrying his bags full of bottles. We talk now and then.
Emperor: What's he tell you?
Alchemist: Nothing special. I've seen him perform certain mysterious gestures though. I never say nothin' about it. I just watch.
Emperor: What does he do?
Alchemist: Sometimes very small things and sometimes very big ones.
Emperor: Like what?
Alchemist: Well, I've seen him touch fire to ice one time. That was interesting. The whole place melted.
Emperor: You were right there?
Alchemist: Right in the middle of it. I stood very still so as not to disturb his activity. Most people ran out of the joint but I stood right there watching.
Emperor: What happened then?
Alchemist: Well, next thing I knew we were rolling on ice. But that was some dance he was doing. He showed me other stuff too but I ain't tellin'.
Emperor: Well, the reason I'm asking is that I'm a little concerned for the Empire.
Alchemist: Why is that?
Emperor: Everyone's going bankrupt, and seeing how I'm the Emperor, I feel it's my duty to bail them out in some way.
Alchemist: Well, who do you owe?
Emperor: Certain invisible ones. Nobody's sure.
Alchemist: How did you get yourself into this situation?
Emperor: I inherited it.
Alchemist: Well, I'll see what I can do for ya, but like I say, I'm not the one.
Emperor: I'd certainly appreciate it.
Sounds familiar. Sounds like today's political scene.
On page 89, entitled "Fans", above a photo of Dylan signing a program for a fan, there's three sentences:
"Fans are more dangerous than a man with a weapon because they're after something invisible. Some imagined "something." At least with a gun you know what you're facing."
That was what made me want more so badly and right away.
This is on page 93, "Singing on the Grave: October - Lowell", to the right of the full-page photo of Dylan looking down at Kerouac's grave:
"Allen quotes from Kerouac's favorite Shakespeare: "How like a winter hath my absence been . . . What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!/What old December's bareness everywhere!" It's right close to the time of year he died in. Trees sticking up naked, blankets of blowing leaves. Dylan and Ginsberg perched close to the ground, cross-legged, facing this tiny marble plaque, half buried in the grass: "'TI-JEAN [little Jack], JOHN L. KEROUAC, Marc. 12, 1922-Oct. 21, 1969 -- HE HONORED LIFE -- STELLA HIS WIFE, Nov. 11, 1918--." Dylan's tuning up his Martin while Ginsbero[sic] causes his little shoe-box harmonium to breathe out notes across the lawn. Soon a slow blues takes shape with each of them exchanging verses, then Allen moving into an improvised poem to the ground, to the sky, to the day, to Jack, to life, to music, to the worms, to bones, to travel, to the States. I try to look at both of them head-on, with no special ideas of who or what they are but just try to see them there in front of me. They emerge as simple men with a secret aim in mind. Each of them opposite but still in harmony. Alive and singing to the dead and living. Sitting flat on the earth, above bones, beneath trees and hearing what they hear."
Page 97 is "Dylan's Hands", with four sentences above a photo of Dylan sitting cross-legged, gesturing gently with his hands:
"White, wrinkled, double-jointed little finger. Long nails hovering over Allen's harmonium like a tentacle animal. Weathered, milky leather hands that tell more than his face about music and where he's been. Ancient, demonic, almost scary, nonhuman hands."
Page 99, "Lowell, Massachusetts":
"Now, in the face of burned-out Kerouac, Cassady, and all the other ones who went over the hill, this life seems like a miracle. Still ongoing. Ignoring all that. Respecting it but not indulging in remorse. Allen and Dylan singing on his grave. Allen, full of life, hope, and resurrection. Poets of this now life. This here life. This one being lived and living.
Dead and don't know it. Living and do. The living have a dead idea. - Kerouac, Mexico City Blues"
More? More? I thought so.
Page 100, "The Inventor". Opposite it is a full-page photo of Dylan sitting at a table in a diner, with a menu of "Fried Clams" and "French Fries" just above his head:
"Dylan has invented himself. He's made himself up from scratch. That is, from the things he had around him and inside him. Dylan is an invention of his own mind. The point isn't to figure him out but to take him in. He gets into you anyway, so why not just take him in? He's not the first one to have invented himself, but he's the first one to have invented Dylan. No one invented him before him. Or after. What happens when someone invents something outside himself like an airplane or a freight train? The thing is seen for what it is. It's seen as something incredible because it's never been seen before, but it's taken in by the people and changes their lives in the process. They don't stand around trying to figure out what it isn't, forever. They use it as a means to adventure."
I can't say it gets better, because what's better than the best?
Page 103, "Pilgrim Fear":
"They didn't know what they'd find. So they run into this huge continent and beach the boat. But they're scared shitless. Even though they've found what they were looking for, they're still scared. There's crazy naked savages all around them. There's one-eyed pirates lurking in the harbors, licking their lips. There's wild wild animals. All kinds of foreign shadows. Things they hadn't expected. So they pray harder than ever now. They build forts and walls and haul in cannon. They rebuild Europe on a primitive land. Everything's full of possible danger. They don't trust a soul. Even their own kind are burned as witches. They lynch Indians at the drop of a hat. They fire wildly into the night. They jump at shadows. They don't play after dark. They bury their dead in secret, in the dead of night, so as not to let the "enemy" know they're weakening. They start dying off. New ships roll in to replace the dead. They're determined to continue. Nothing's going to stop them now. Come hell or high water they're going to persist. They're going to spread themselves no matter what. But now they've forgotten why they came in the first place. Talking to God is out of the picture, because now they've got to exist. Now they've just got to stay alive."
This one I really like, page 112, "Danbury, Connecticut - Ethan Allen Hotel":
"I'm extra horny for a car. Walking is suspicious in a place like Danbury. There's not even dirt banks on the sides of the road. I try hitching three miles into town but wind up hoofing the whole route. Stop in for a chocolate egg cream at the local pharmacy-diner. News in color on TV. Gun shop across the street. I strike up words with a guy about the rising popularity of dog tracks in New England. "There's a new one coming to Connecticut. The horsemen don't like it though. Bad for business." The cook shifts the channel to a William Bendix movie. "No roughhouse in here or you'll get a face full of knuckles," says William. Everyone's hiding behind the Daily News. The pock-faced waitress is smoking, bored. Cook moves to the Belmont Racing Form. This could be the 30s or 40s easy. But it isn't."
Page 114, "42nd Street Face Lift":
"Tonight Dylan appears in a rubber Dylan mask that he'd picked up on 42nd Street. The crowd is stupefied. A kind of panic-stricken hush falls over the place. "Has he had another accident? Plastic surgery?" Or is this some kind of mammoth hoax? An imposter! The voice sounds the same. If it is a replacement, he's doing a good job. He goes through three or four songs with the thing on, then reaches for the harmonica. He tries to play it through the mask but it won't work, so he rips it off and throws it back into the floodlights. There he is in the flesh and blood! The real thing! A face-life supreme! It's a frightening act even if it's not calculated for those reasons. The audience is totally bewildered and still wondering if this is actually him or not."
Page 116, "Explore":
"All the land had been discovered. Some parts of hidden South America maybe still lie out of sight, but this land here has been discovered. Every inch. Now the move is inner space. New religions, est. Gurus. Meditation. Outer space is too expensive and only lies within the reach of the government or corporate industry. Where does Rolling Thunder fall in all this? It's too simple to write it off as just another good-time tour revolving around the mysterious presence of Dylan. There's too many elements involved that keep it swinging off in unforeseen directions. Even if its first intentions weren't to start an expedition, it's turning into that because of something coming from all these people. Everybody's been through something to arrive at this point. Ginsberg's not just along for the ride after going through America backward and forward for over forty years. After seeing close friends die away from him. After sitting with burning corpses on the shores of the Ganges. Baez has spent nights in a bomb shelter in Hanoi during the worst air raid of the war, marched on the Pentagon, still holds beliefs in the power of pacifism, watched her "public image" like it belonged to another person. And Dylan hasn't exactly been in a coma all these years. So what's the story? Beyond the impact of everybody's individual charisma and personality, something is lurking. It's as though we all can smell it but nobody can put a finger on it. It's almost got to be that way so that the search can continue. Gregory Corso once described poetry to me as "a magic probe." He said, "A poet takes it all on. The whole shot." If poetry has the power of transforming emotions the same way music does, then at the same time it has to be discovered halfway in the dark. It discovers itself. It lets itself be known through the revelation of the poet. At the same time Dylan is helping people, he's being helped. The camaraderie is growing."
Page 119, "Raw Meat", a vivid description of an audience:
"Strange fear comes over me that the audience might actually devour Dylan and the band. It seems that close. I'm afraid for them. Just the thought that I might be a witness to it. The whole audience takes on the shape of an animal. No more singles, just a throbbing mass, fierce and being teased by raw meat. They make a sound together like a primitive rumble. They crush Styrofoam cups, they chew on blankets, bottles smashing in every corner. I'm getting out fast. Into the night."
Page 122, "Joni Mitchell", who joined them during the tour:
"Here's someone who just appears, just walks out with a plain guitar, a beret, and a history of word collage. Every single time the place goes up in smoke like a brush fire. She stands there in the midst of it, making believe she's tuning an already well adjusted guitar until the place calms down. No doubt the element of surprise, of the audience not knowing she's on the bill, is partly responsible for the explosions, but there's something more important in it -- the fact that people listen to her every word. Her music's nothing outrageous, but her word maneuverings tend to verge on uncanny. "I got a head full of quandry and a mighty, mighty, mighty thirst." She seems to have merged into a unique jazz structure with lyrics and rhythmic construction and even managed to bite the masses in the ear with it."
On page 125, there's a vertical line of notes called "Bus Notes." Shepard doesn't indicate who said what, but there's one quote I can't believe I've never read before in everything I've read so far: "I'm so horny not even the crack of dawn is safe." Brilliant.
Page 130, "Burroughs", with a photo of William S. Burroughs underneath an exchange between Ginsberg and Dylan:
Ginsberg: So what about Bill Burroughs? I think he would be great in the film.
Dylan: But what can he do?
Ginsberg: He'll just be himself.
Page 135, "Connecticut Blues":
"Feel myself nose diving into negativity. Just wanna go back home. Be in the mountains. Near horses. Near my woman. Back. The organization of the film has fallen into smithereens till it has no shape or sense. No way of planning a day's shooting. Everything's at the mercy of random energy. Ideas flying every which way but no plan. Meetings up the ass. Meetings in oval-shaped, U.N.-style conference rooms, so the sense of self-importance permeates you beyond control. More talk of shooting concerts. More talk on how to organize scenes. How to get Dylan into the picture. Sara. Joni Mitchell. Baez. It's almost that the sheer overkill of available talent is busting us wide open. No one knows where to begin. No information is fed through a common source. Everyone wanders off to rooms, to dining rooms, to front desk, to rent-a-cars, to buses, to game rooms, to bars, to pools, to hospitality suites, to nowhere. Meeting ends. Snow is flying in Connecticut. Buses move out to Hartford concert. Rick Danko and Sandy Bull have joined up now. Like metal shavings on a magnet. My disinterest kills me. Why aren't I blasting off with them to hear all that great music? I've heard it already. But it's not that. It's not having an ax. Being a backstage parasite. Running headless through the dressing rooms. Watching everyone get loaded. Dancing through packs of concert freaks with my plastic I.D. card bouncing from a silver neck chain. Getting the nod from security dudes. Grabbing handfuls of dried fruit, nuts, making notes as a means to stay sane. But I'm not. I'm cracking up behind this. My body quakes from it. This is truly being transported back to the mid-sixties when crystal meth was a three-square diet with "yellow jackets" and "black beauties" for chasers. Not just the sixties of the imagination but the actual body-and-mind sixties. The shattered feeling. I DON'T WANT TO GET BACK TO THE SIXTIES! THE SIXTIES SUCKED DOGS! THE SIXTIES NEVER HAPPENED! Color TV is my only hope now. Room service. The sanctity of pastel hotel suite with two double beds and no people. Chained door. California's long gone. California's over the hill. Los Angeles is burning far off in the papers. Pacific. Blue. Ocean. Far off."
Page 137, "Acton, Massachusetts." Think of a comedic group like the Three Stooges or the Keystone Kops, maybe even a little bit of the Marx Brothers. Strap in:
"Neuwirth is losing his voice. He's sounding more and more like a bullfrog on a bender. Stoner's got the runs. Myers is nauseated and I'm not feeling too good myself. We all pile into a rented Plymouth Fury and head for the Acton Medical Center. Raven is driving and trying to make the best out of playing nursemaid. We brodey into the parking lot with Neuwirth hacking up yellow lungers and Stoner bitching about he'd better not have to wait and "Why didn't they have the doctor come to the hotel?" Once inside, the waiting room is not to be believed in contrast to our rampaging intestinal condition. Lots of mothers sitting on tweed couches reading Redbook while their sniveling offspring do push-ups off the side of the aquarium. Everything's totally quiet and in waiting except for the tittering kiddies. Neuwirth is seized suddenly by an attack of the lower stomach and lurches off toward the bathroom shouting, "I GOTTA CRAP! WHERE'S THE DAMN SHITTER! I GOTTA GO NUMBER TWO REAL BAD!" This goes over real big with the locals as they watch him go staggering by, heading toward the rear of the building. Stoner in his solid-black rocker outfit is trying to straighten out the appointment book with the nurse behind the desk. "There's no reason we should wait. We got a gig to do in two hours. Go tell the doc that we need some shots. I ain't gonna feel real till I feel that steel." The nurse is strugging to retrieve the appointment book and totally aghast at the brash intrusion. Raven's cooling things out, leading Stoner to a soft chair and selecting a current magazine for him. "Here's one on how to build your own flagstone patio." Myers stands numbly by rubbing his blue knitted sailer's cap and blinking at all the funny people. Finally the doc shows up and everyone goes charging in at once except for Neuwirth, who's snuck out the back somehow and disappeared off down the road. Raven shoots out the front door after him. "Neuwirth, goddamnit! The doctor's ready now! Get your ass back here!" Neuwirth yells over his shoulder from the highway. "Tell him I've already died! It's too late!"
Page 142, "Boston":
"Is Boston all that heavy as the papers make out? Is any place heavy if you're just moving through and out the other side? People seem to believe the topics. The topics create the atmosphere. Even over clam chowder you hear it going on. "Busing," "gun laws," "sex crimes," "murder." Back to back with traditionally powerful intellectual community. The Seat of the Nation. The Underpants is more like it. The Higher Education marketplace. Harvard, Yale, Radcliffe, bookstores up the ass. Bookstores, murder, chain of violent repercussions. Gestapo outfits on cops. Third Reich sirens. Professors. Judges. Law and School. Law School. Law and ORDER! The Chained Animal of the City. Sleepy lobster beach towns. "MONEY DOESN'T TALK IT SCREAMS!" Money oozing out the suburbs. Dylan fits this atmosphere like a super counterspy. A sneak thief in the dead of night. Vanishing like the Lone Ranger. Painted white mask and a mouthful of heart."
Now this was for the film, page 161, "Dylan Monologue":
"I was lookin' for myself in this country store. I was informed. I was told by certain sources that this was the place. I had no idea why. I mean from the outside it looked like any other joint. Firewood for sale, stuff like that. So I went inside and asked if they'd seen me. I just asked straight out like that. They sorta looked at me like I was crazy and told me to wait right there. They disappeared into back rooms and there I was. Just standing there. So my body started moving while I was waiting there. Sorta dancing. Looking around. Kickin' the floor. Tapping. Then I started talking to myself like no one could hear what I was up to. I started listing things around me. Everything the eyes could see and the ears could hear. Making lists to myself. Chain saws, hammers, cheese barrels, cracker barrels, crackers, rednecks, preachers, panthers, nails, jigsaws, horses, hobbyhorses, sawhorses, outboard motors, rain clouds, lightning, lumber trucks, pig meat, breakfast, tea cups, dancers, Nijinsky, divers, deep seas, oceans, rivers, railroad, rapers, radio, waves, mothers, sons in battle, danger, ideas, magic, warlords, ghost bombs, replicas, machine shops, galaxies, torture, treasure hunts, band leaders, Dixieland, wheat crops, tractors, trailers, engineers, bodyguards, cheetahs, Mexico, badlands, desert life, organs, drum rolls, executions, crucifixions, embalmings, ambulances, bloody hands, gimmicks, inventions of the mind, inventions of the body, sporting goods, taxis, rolling pins, ball bearings, working parts, blisters, broken backs, white-face cattle, robber barons, landlords, dressing rooms, diamonds, fast hands, goose bumps, Apaches, dingo dogs, and monkeys in space. And then I just ran out."
Page 162, "Thanksgiving - Holiday Inn":
"Homesickness is hitting me strong, even though Barry Imhoff has done everything a producer could to turn this snowbound Holiday Inn into a family atmosphere. Great long tables arranged in a horseshoe, complete with white tablecloths and all the holiday trimmings. Dylan's kids kicking dozens of colored balloons past the waitresses' heads as they weave toward the tables balancing steaming golden turkeys and platters of cranberry sauce. It's not exactly "life on the farm," but it fills the gaps left by six weeks of room service and "take-out" hamburgers. Halfway through the main course a pitching contest breaks out between opposing tables, using cashew nuts, turkey leg bones, small white after-dinner mints, and an assortment of side orders. Lou is really getting into it and perfecting high arcing lobs with creamed onions, using a spoon for a catapult. Myers and the rest of "B-Unit" coming staggering in from the cold, shaking snow off them like a scene out of Yukon King. Most of the turkey's been devoured, and they go back into the kitchen in search of leftovers. The kids have really taken over now, diving under the tables and bombing each other with turkey carcasses. Dylan sits in an overcoat and hat picking over the remains of his giblets. He rarely looks up from his plate, as though anything worth seeing could be just as well heard and felt through the atmosphere. There's a sudden crash from one end of the room and a loud gurgling roar coming from Dave Myers, who's pushed over an entire table, glasses, silverware, plates, the whole shot. He begins pounding both fists on the fallen table, bellowing "FOOD! FOOD!" over and over. Evidently he didn't find any in the kitchen. This is turning into a far cry from what the Pilgrims had in mind. Dylan looks up slowly, eyes toward the chaos, then goes back to his giblets. The waitresses are hauling in cakes, pies, puddings, and stuff like that. B-Unit goes ape shit tearing into the rich goodies. Dylan's mother is helping herself to seconds and seems to be enjoying life on the road. The accountant brings by a stack of veterinary certificates for the dogs, in order for them to cross the Canadian border. Everything seems to be in order. This is the last night on the tour for me. In the morning I head for the Big Apple by rent-a-car while Rolling Thunder crosses into Quebec and places north. I'm getting a little nervous about my suitcase. Peter Orlovsky seems to have forgotten which bus he's packed it into. I round up Peter and his ponytail and we head out into the snow in search of the buses. Peter has a huge ring of keys which he jangles, as though by jangling in a certain order the right key will magically appear between his fingers. The blizzard is hitting us in the face like a Marlboro commercial, and even with insulated boots the freezing wet stuff gets through to the skin. Each bus has about four huge luggage compartments and each compartment has a different key. The whole thing is turning into a Zen koan with a "beat poet" at the helm, shuffling through each key in the dark, in a blizzard, in the middle of Maine with an insane dinner party only fifty yards away, with the bus leaving the country in a few years, with my suitcase buried under miles of sound equipment, and with me left in a Holiday Inn. There's nothing all that valuable in the suitcase; it's just the idea of us going our separate ways after having traveled together so long. Me and the suitcase, that is. Peter finally surfaces with what he thinks is the right key, and presto the long corrugated metal door rises like a southern California garage. Peter starts hauling all the baggage out one piece at a time into the snow. The cavern grows deeper and darker but still no sign of my suitcase. He flips his ponytail over his left shoulder, makes an "I can't figure it out" noise, and starts putting each piece back in. We repeat this process eight times, him handing me the pieces, me setting them in the snow, then me handing them back to him again until finally on the eighth compartment we strike gold. There it is in the deepest corner sitting on its end next to a guitar case. Peter snorts. "I'll be darned. I was thinkin' we'd probably have to start lookin' in the semi for it."
This is Shepard's take on the December 9 Madison Square Garden concert, page 165, "Night of the Hurricane":
"December 9--Madison Square Garden. The Garden is sold out for the concert within five hours after the box office opens. The question is, why the Garden after all that talk of keeping the show on a small-town level? Why wrap it up with a giant fandango in New York City? It seems like a combination of helping to heal the costs of money lost on the New England circuit plus a genuine interest in aiding Ruben Carter. It is billed as a benefit, and it's for sure that the "public interest" generated by the presence of Muhammad Ali and Dylan in the same space is going to leak down to that New Jersey jailhouse and work its own kind of leverage on the law. Already the papers are talking about reprieves and retrials, and there's no doubt that this event will add some muscle to the whole cause.
In the afternoon the Garden is totally empty except for a few janitors and the Neuwirth band doing a sound check. The levels are generally too high, which seems to be coming from the impulse to put the music across in this gigantic tomb after playing to so many tiny halls for weeks on end. Mansfield has a superkeen ear and it doesn't take long before the vocals match up with the bottom end. I climb my way up to the very top of the volcanolike auditorium until the band looks like a miniaturized Punch and Judy show. Nobody's face is recognizable. Only certain random gestures give any clues as to who they are. It's very strange to know these people and then see them from the audience's point of view. The Garden is a stupefying piece of suspended architecture. Not beautiful or even aesthetic, but you can't help but wonder how they came up with a design for this gargantuan ceiling that seems to be just hanging in midair. No pillars or columns anywhere. Just cables all coming into a central hub and somehow holding the whole thing up. Seeing it with only a few people in it really adds to the immensity of it. I keep moving around to different places in the auditorium and sitting for a few minutes in each place just to see what it's like. I begin to notice certain sections filling up with people. In one section all the people are wearing blue. In another section, white. Then a whole section of brown people. I start descending the mountain to take a closer look at this phenomenon. It turns out that the blue people are cops. All of them sitting within a definite perimeter, sucking on coffee cups, jackets open, feet up on the backs of chairs, and talking to each other. The brown people are ushers, doing more or less the same thing as the cops and carrying flashlights. The white people are technicians. Each section totally cut off from the other section like little territories on a topographical map. There's something very warming to me about all this, but I can't figure out what it is.
I make my way backstage, imagining all the different atmospheres this place has contained and how amazing it is that it still remains without a physical identity of its own. It's just a building and then a whole world enters into it and takes it over and then goes away again. Dog shows, rodeos, circuses, prizefights, hockey games, basketball, horse shows, ballets, musical events. The smell of hot roasted chestnuts and sauerkraut brings me out of my stupor. Barry Imhoff has done it again. He's hired a hot-dog man and a pretzel man from off the street, and they're both handing out their steaming stuff to anyone who wants it. It's been a while since I've had a real New York hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut and onions, so I stop. As I'm standing there waiting for the little fat man to pile all these layers onto two white buns resting in a piece of cellophane, I notice what seems to be a small army of black men in pinstripe suits, grim-set faces, eyes darting in all directions, all swarming around an even bigger, taller black men dressed completely in black and looking a lot like the "heavyweight champeen of the whole entire world." My two hands go paralyzed, one reaching in my pocket for change and the other one reaching for the hot dog as my eyes try to shake loose from this vision. Ali is cool and graceful while all around him these other guys never stop rotating their heads and twitching their pockets. If there aren't any assassins around, it looks like they'd just as soon dream one up right there on the spot just to let somebody know they're not feeling around. They move off down the hallway like a colony of worker ants surrounding the queen. The little fat hot-dog man is making "fed up" noises in a New York accent. I pay up and stagger off toward the dressing rooms. This must be the American way all right. Nothing's important or has any value until it's blown up into "bigger than life" proportions. "Get the biggest damn fucking hall in the whole entire planet! Get the heavyweight champ of the whole entire world! Get the greatest folksinger since Edith Piaf! The most incredible poet-musician phenomenon the world has ever seen and throw 'em all together in front of the biggest goddamn flesh-and-blood toe-tappin' audience this side of the Rio Grande! And we'll have ourselves a show, folks!" I'm game.
I veer into a dressing room marked GUAM and come to rest on a metal bench. The table in the middle of the room looks like it couldn't support any more flowers and nuts and fruit. Barrels full of cans of beer, soft drinks resting on ice in every corner. Telegrams from all over pinned to the walls. Ginsberg comes bouncing in wearing a suit and tie plus his youthful tennis shoes. It's a good feeling seeing him in this atmosphere. Like a little breeze of sanity blowing through the door. "My father's out there. He's eighty years old and he's never seen a rock concert." I ask Allen if he's not afraid his father might have a heart attack at that age. "Naw, my father's a poet." He laughs and goes off bopping into the men's room. He shouts out of the bathroom to me. "He is! A real poet! We gave a reading together the other day at a college up north!" Neuwirth joins us, spinning on both heels, nervous as a cat. Already he's worked himself up into a lather. He grows something unintelligible, cranes his neck as though looking for someone, and then pivots back out the door. Most everyone is catching this drift of emotional frenzy. I can't remember the feeling of tension being like this at any other time on the tour except for maybe the very first concert at Plymouth. But that was mostly just butterflies, hoping the show would get off the ground on an up note. But there is more verging on anxiety. To add to it, Roberta Flack has been called in at the last minute because Aretha Franklin was tied up with dates in Los Angeles. Roberta makes no bones about being picked as second string to the great Aretha. She comes on like full-tilt Hollywood, storming around backstage in a flashy bandanna, decked out in jewelry and shouting orders to her entourage. There's a definite taste of black-white tension going on backstage, which is another new ingredient that was lacking on the New England schedule. Nothing weird or violent, just these two totally different streams of musical culture swimming by each other without mixing. Almost as though there were two different concerts to be given on the same bill, having nothing in common. I keep coming back to the idea that it's a black man the concert's being given for. A benefit for a black convict initiated by a white singer with black support. It's too sticky to figure out. Ali's been trying to trump up support for Carter for quite a while. Before Dylan even. But it took Dylan to get this whole thing together.
Back in the auditorium, the audience is steadily sifting in, filling up the entire cavern like salt in an egg timer. Lola, an old friend of the tour who left somewhere up in Vermont, is back tonight for the big one. She's broken a heel off her boot and has a cop doubled in half trying to hammer it back on with the handle of his gun. Someone else donates some epoxy and a popsicle stick. Pretty soon three or four people are crowded around Lola and the broken boot, adding their two cents' worth. None of the repair methods seems to be working, and she's getting more and more anxious as the time for the first set to open draws nearer. The idea of her hobbling around the whole night on one broken boot, otherwise dressed to the nines, has her on the verge of hysteria. I offer to run backstage and see if I can borrow a spare boot off one of the women in the tour. Joni Mitchell has only one pair and she's not parting with them, since she's going on stage in about ten minutes. Ronee Blakely is wearing a pair of black high-heeled English jobs which she warns me are her very favorite boots, hand tailored to fit her extra-small foot. She agrees to loan them if I swear on a stack of bibles to get them back to her before the night's over. I run out of the dressing room with the boots flapping in front of me, feeling like a surrealistic decathlon runner. I wedge my way through to Lola, who's now surrounded by "repairmen," and present her with the fancy boots. She stabs her foot down into one of them, full of hope that she's found the solution, only to come to a crunching dead end at the ankle. Still full of determination she goes on cramming and yanking until a low ripping, popping-of-stitches sound begins to emerge from the boot. I don't have the heart to tell her to stop, but she finally has to, since there's no way her American foot is going to conform to English style. She heaves a sigh of despair and then tries to back her way out, but since her first efforts were so forceful, the boot is now frozen solid in a halfway position that looks like it could become worse than having no boots at all. Now the men come back into the picture. Each one grabbing the heel and hoisting backward as Lola clings to the railing, grimacing as though the whole process were worse than labor pains. Now the cop takes a turn and even unbuttons his blue jacket for the attempt. Finally the boot is born with a mighty ripping of the calfskin and the entire inner lining is left hanging in shreds. Lola is lying in a heap on the floor gasping for air as I grab the boot before it can come to any more disaster and dash off for the dressing room again. My head is going through all kinds of contortions trying to figure out the right way to present the mishap to Ronee. All the time I'm stuffing the lining back inside the boot, hoping it will somehow glue itself back together again. The dressing room's empty except for T-Bone, who says that Ronee's decided to go on in tennis shoes, since her best boots are being "borrowed" for the night. I'm standing there like a shoplifter caught in the act and decide the best place for the boots is behind a pile of towels in a darkened corner. I can always put the explanation off till later. I sprint back to the arena.
The whole atmosphere has changed now with the coming of the crowds. Even the air is different. New York is really the testing grounds for any experiment. It's plain as day. If you want the world to know about it, bring it to New York. Better yet, bring it to the GARDEN!
The band kicks off into "Good Love is Hard to Find" and the volcano erupts. Rolling Thunder meets itself head-on in the voice of over thirty-five hundred screaming beings from earth. Dylan may be just a kid from Minnesota but this here is his hometown. No matter how many politico-music critics find disappointment in his recent lyrics and his life style, the people here tonight are saying YES in full strength. Bring on the punk who changed the entire face of American youth consciousness in one fell swoop! Generally the musicians seem to be pushing themselves to the point where the music seems strained and speeded up compared to the more informal concerts up north. Ronson, on the other hand, really gets off on this monster crowd. His initial style is broad and theatrical anyway, coming from English "rave-up" and David Bowie. He begins to uncork all the flash he's been holding back throughout the tour. Giant, spread-eagle leaps into thin air. Triple vertical spins, wrapping the guitar cord around him like a boa constrictor, slashing at the guitar with huge full-arm uppercuts. Platinum-blond hair spraying in all directions. Then stalking around the stage, stiff legged, Frankenstein macho strutting, shaking the neck of the guitar with his vicious chord hand as though throttling his weaker brother. All the time, never losing a lick. Through every motion playing genius, inspirational lead lines, then melting into the background again to support the other musicians. Neuwirth seems on the verge of exploding through his skin from sheer tension. His voice is splitting down the middle through every song. The band holds it together though. Right down the line it's the music that's making this whole thing happen. The solid experience behind every member of the band. Joni Mitchell blows the top off the place again, just by walking on. She looks incredibly small from where I'm sitting. Like a vulnerable little girl trying to sing a song she's written for a huge living room full of adults. One of Neuwirth's standard introduction lines at every concert has been, "Welcome to your living room," and tonight's the first night I've really seen what he means. The set rolls on and then Muhammad Ali is introduced. This is becoming like a study in emotional trauma. It's hard to believe how the space can contain any more hysteria than it's already had, but Ali is like nitroglycerin wherever he appears and tonight is no exception. He cools the audience down and starts in with one of his casual lines that make you feel like he's talking to you personally and not thousands. "You know, when they asked me to come here tonight, I was wondering who this guy Bob Dylan was. Then I show up and see that all these people come to pay money and I think this Bob Dylan must be something. I thought I was the only one who could pack this joint out. Did all you girls really come here tonight to see Bob Dylan?" Huge cheer explodes from the house. "All right, all right. He ain't as purty as me though, you'll have to admit. Now I just want to say that it's a pleasure to see such a turnout here tonight, especially when it's for the cause of helping a black man in jail. 'Cause everyone knows that you got the complexion and the connections to get the protection." Now here comes the real theatrics. One of Ali's aides walks out onto the stage carrying a telephone. Someone interrupts him at the microphone and whispers in his ear. The whole thing's been planned long in advance but it's being put across like it's just now happening. Ali pulls back from the man and grabs the microphone. "I've just been told that we have a special phone call right here that's been put through all the way from New Jersey by special order from the governor. We've got Mr. Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter on the phone and you're going to be able to hear his voice as he's speaking to me." Ali picks up the phone and Carter's voice can be heard as though it's coming through thousands of miles of submerged cable. It sounds much farther away than New Jersey but comes around totally clear-headed and eloquent. In fact, Hurricane Carter sounds more present just through his voice than most of the flesh-and-blood people here. The whole reality of his imprisonment and our freedom comes through loud and clear. "I'm sitting here in jail and I'm thinking that this is truly a revolutionary act when so many people in the outside world can come together for someone in jail." Ali is still aware of the audience and tries to lighten it. "Listen, Rubin, just promise me one thing. If you get out, just don't come and challenge me for the title, all right?" Rubin keeps on, nothing have to pay dues to an audience he's not even in front of. "On a more serious note, I'm speaking from deep down in the bowels of a New Jersey penitentiary. The dialogue keeps on and the audience is surprisingly intent on listening to Carter even with the anticipation of Dylan still in the cards. The solitary voice keeps sailing into every corner of the place like a phantom. The imagination is working double time conjuring up images of this man, locked up and speaking over a phone somewhere to an audience he can't even see. The phone call ends and Ali spins into his next piece of histrionics. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce to you tonight the next President of the United States." What's going on now? Nobody's prepared for this one. Dylan's backstage ready to go on for the second half of the show and Ali's up there pulling off a sleeper on everyone. "Now, you know that I'm known for making predictions. And if it hadn't been for this man getting me his own private plane at the very last minute, I couldn't have been here with you tonight." Ali leaves to the sound of massive booing as his white "candidate" appears from out of nowhere, looking like a cross between Howard Hughes and ex-mayor Lindsay. The booing keeps up and rises in volume and intensity as the man tries to speak a few words on his own behalf. It's a pathetic demonstration of bad timing and totally out in left field in terms of what the whole concert and tour has been about. The "next President of the United States" gets about three words in underneath the mounting din of disapproval, then slinks sheepishly off stage. By this time everybody's champing at the bit for Dylan. As usual he just appears. Nobody announces him, he simple sidles out there with his head slightly down, plumes shaking, white-face thicker than usual, and starts singing. He's always got the jump on the audience that way. He knows he's out there way before they do, and it gives him the edge every time. Now the place is storming again. He's rocking back on both heels, doing a duet with Neuwirth on "My Masterpiece." Wyeth's jackhammer drums are splitting the four-four time into smithereens. He has a right hand that's not to be believed. It comes down on the accent and then plays half a dozen little cluster strokes in between striking two or three cymbals for added color. A drummer like this usually goes totally unnoticed, since he lacks the obvious flash of the more athletic types who leap around the set using twice as many muscles as they need to. Howie sits there like he's driving a '58 Impala, cruising down the highway while his arms and legs follow the patterns with the minimum of effort.
Halfway through the set Baez has worked out a "groupie" routine where she dashes on stage in blue hot pants, blond wig, and high heels. The security guards go along with the gag and drag her off stage kicking and howling. Later, she pulls off a real show stopper by coming on dressed completely as Dylan. For a second you think you're seeing double for sure until she tries to sing like him. Then the whole thing dissolved. It's like an apparition up there. Both of them the same height, dark eyes peering out through white-moon make-up. The same straight-brimmed hat, black vests. There's so many mixtures of imagery coming out, like French clowns, like medicine show, like minstrels, like voodoo, that your eyes stay completely hooked and you almost forget the music is going on all this time. Down by the side of the stage, one of the cops is asking me which one is Dylan. I point to him up on stage. "You mean that guy with the funny hat? I was just talking to him!" He jabs one of his sidekick cops with his elbow. "Hey, I was just talking to Bob Dylan! I didn't even know it was him." His sidekick tells him to pipe down and listen to the music. Even the cops are tapping their blackjacks to the band now. The whole joint is like one huge humming organism. I thought I left this whole thing behind up in the far north of Maine, but here I am. No way to walk out on this one. No way for anyone to deny the power of this event.
Back in the dressing room Dylan rushes in ripping the harmonica brace off his neck, make-up dripping in long streams, red eyes popping out. "Rubin's been acquitted! He'll be out by Christmas!" I'm the only one there and I don't know what to say. We just stare at each other. I wish I had something to say back to him but I can't find a thing. Nothing comes out. He turns and darts back out the door."
Find me a piece of music journalism that equals all of that. I dare you.
Now this is post-show at the Garden, page 178, "In the Bowels of the Garden":
"Steam-breathing tacos are strung out in a line fifty feet long, with all the Mexican trimmings. Huge, cargo-elevator loads of party people are unloaded in what's known as The Felt Forum (named after Mr. Felt, not the fabric). Dylan is moving in slow motion through a coagulated mass of parasites, pulling on his coat like he was Lindbergh just returning. His gray caballero cowboy hat with the dancing plumes is the only thing visible of him. Once in a while a rare snatch of red coat with pink hands clawing it. Movie stars are here, spitting up beer in the aisles in fits of hysterical glee. The place is on fire with unchained energy. Somehow we escape and dive into his camper in a garage situation. An underground garage. Dylan's definitely an escape artist. I've never seen the like of it. He vanishes. Just like that. Now he's at the wheel of this thing, which on the inside, if you didn't see the driver and the steering wheel, could pass for a California ashram. It's dark in this garage, but you can still make out the wide-brimmed hat at the wheel. Several other heads are crowding up the floor space. All silent. I'm taking a leak in the portable bathroom and hanging halfway out in order to see where we're going. As though that could verify the situation somehow. The back is full of fancy women sitting on a thick bed, rolling black joints. The mobile home is moving but we're still surrounded by black space. It lurches like one of those old potato boxcars which were never successfully shock absorbed. I can't believe he's actually driving this contraption after just completing a full four hours of ripsnorting musical magic. Even if the evening was somewhat marred by the political presence of Muhammad Ali's Presidential candidate and the backstage show-biz gyrations of Roberta Flack and company, the Garden was definitely the culmination of something for Rolling Thunder. Now we're hitting the streets and he's starting to crank this monster up to around fifty, which is really hauling ass for an apartment on wheels. Blue clouds of reefer smoke are blinding the windows but you can still catch the outside life. I'm losing track of time and space but it seems we're hitting midtown through some miracle of navigation. He brakes the sucker and bails out in the middle of the road. Now here's the situation. Every one of us inside this hulk of a machine is just along for the ride. Dylan's gone again and it's only us. Just like it was before we got on. The streets are cold, and the vast difference between the womb on wheels and this hard cement is enough to send an honest man backpacking for Montana. The fervor's on us all though and we go in search of the action. Down into an Italian underground restaurant with security guards firmly planted at the door. Gary, the bookie, is frisking everyone with his eyeballs. In a flash he's got their number. He sorts out the goodies from the baddies like an experienced assembly-line technician. Nothing gets past him. If anything tries, he's got several combinations of kidney and tenderloin shots that are guaranteed to leave a dent in your memory. I once made the mistake of putting on gloves with him at a Howard Johnson's while allowing him to remain bare-fisted. I got out of that one with a blue welt on the rib cage the size of a mature jellyfish. Inside, the place looks like it's strictly set up for pizza and wine and no more. The juke box is cranked up full on a Hank Snow medley. At least it feels like that. It feels like it's snowing in my brain. There's an upstairs part to this too which is even darker and slightly more sticky with relationships. Somebody's wife is screaming and Ronson is being pulled into the men's head by two teen-age jewels. This is the life. I descend to the ground floor again. I'm not sure what I'm feeling. This is supposed to mark the end of something. This night. The last gathering of all these people after all that tightly packed time of travel. It doesn't seem like it's over though. Just hitting its stride.
This final selection is when Dylan came to see Shepard's latest play. Page 181, "Geography of a Horse Dreamer" - New York":
"Tonight I've got a play opening called Geography of a Horse Dreamer at the Manhattan Theatre Club. It's one of those modest off-Broadway jobs that house about ninety. Dylan and Sara want to come, so I'm waiting in the hotel lobby for the Cadillac convertible to haul us all over to the theater. The big boxcar camper pulls up outside and Dylan hops out. My stomach does a full gainer as I see him approaching the hotel. The idea of him sitting in the audience is more like a nightmare than a blessing. He comes through the revolving doors and then starts wandering around the lobby reading all the little plaques on the walls about "what to do in case of fire," the breakfast menu for room service, and directions to the elevators. He pauses at one of these signs long enough for me to scuttle past him out into the street and hail a cab. It's bad enough knowing that he'll be there without having to ride there with him in the same car.
Once at the theater I learn that tonight is strictly for the press, and all the critics are chugging away on martinis in the bar. Great, an audience full of critics and Bob Dylan. Couldn't be worse. It's impossible to escape that feeling of Judgment Day that always accompanies any opening night, but this is getting a little thicker than usual. I start chain-drinking brandies, hoping for some kind of numbing of the nerve endings. A girl I haven't seen in six years comes up to me full of nostalgia. This is worse than holding a full house against a possible four aces. On top of all this, the so-called curtain is being held for Dylan's late arrival. He shows up plastered, along with Neuwirth, Kemp, Sara, and Gary Shafner. They take up an entire row. The play begins and there's a deadly silence throughout the house. It's not intended to be a Greek tragedy, but with newspapermen you can never tell exactly what their approach is going to be. In this case, it's "cadaver city." Not a sound in the whole joint. Just the actors knocking themselves out, hoping for some sign of breathing life out there in the darkness. Dylan starts to twitch as though somebody's given him a bum steer about this whole theater trip he's finding himself in the midst of. I'm standing in the back between the aisles of eats, hoping for an earthquake or some other "act of God" to bring the whole thing to an abrupt close, but nothing happens. Just the same aching silence in the air. I've got nothing against silence, but this is the wrong kind.
I shoot out the back door into a big darkened room with only a piano in it. I can still hear the actors pushing the words of the play as though it were a broken-down freight train about to cut loose any second. Still not a sound from the audience. I'm cringing in the dark. "Why'd he have to come see this play? Why couldn't he have come to see one of the other ones? One of the ones with music in it or something. One of the ones when the audience laughs!" I'm halfway on the verge of just cutting out all together when Jacques Levy, who directed the play, comes sauntering in like a bear holding out a burning stick of reefer, with a Burt Lancaster grin on his face. "Here's something for the pain, Sam." I bite down on the joint with a vengeance. Everything in me is wondering about the reason for ever wanting to set a word down on paper. If this is the real truth of it, why bother? Why go to all the trouble of getting people to come and pay good money to sit and watch something that doesn't even get them off? Then my head shifts to the idea that they're all critics. Seasoned veterans bored out of their minds by anything that doesn't set fire to their seats. That doesn't work either. Somehow I have to just stand here and face this whole agony of it being a public event. Something you do completely in private is suddenly revealed. It's standing out there in the open, and every aspect of it is glaring out at you in a way it never does in the typewriter. You see it for what it actually is, and not the way you imagined.
The act break comes and I skirmish the staircase down to the bar with the realization that I'm stoned out of my skull. The journey downstairs seems to take four hours, and by the time I reach the bar the whole place is jammed to the gills with the audience. I can't figure out how they got there ahead of me. And now that they're there I don't feel much like going into it, so I hang a U-turn and start back up the stairs. Somehow, in all this, I become convinced that Dylan has left the theater. I don't feel him around anywhere and it doesn't seem likely that he'd sit through something that's wasting his time. He went to a Pinero play the other night and left in the middle of it, so why shouldn't he leave mine? I'm trying to slow my head down enough to at least reach the top of the stairs in one piece.
Now the audience is filing back in for the second act. I feel like I've been ambushed into a time warp. "The intermission's over already? I've just made it to the top of the stairs!" I watch the sullen faces plodding back in for another hour of torture. It looks like a documentary on experimental lobotomy. No Dylan. I don't see him anywhere. Now I'm certain he's done another one of his miraculous vanishing acts. Dissolved without a sign. I try to soothe myself. "It's okay. I can take it. This is good for me. I can take it. It's good for me to taste defeat." Then I see him appear from the bathroom. He throws the door open like a saloon scene from High Noon, stuffing a bottle of hooch in one pocket while he fumbles with some notepaper. He's been scribbling notes throughout the play, borrowing pencils from people in the row in front of him. Now it looks like he's trying to file them in some kind of mysterious order in all the pockets of his coat. He keeps shifting the notes to different pockets and weaving toward the door to the theater.; He sees me standing there and pauses as though trying to bring certain thoughts into focus. "hey Sam, what happens to this guy in the play anyway? Does he ever scape?" I'm dumbfounded for a reply but come out with something like, "That's the reason for seeing the second act." He stares at the floor, his knees shifting slightly as though he's about to go into a nose dive.
"Hey, how come you named that horse in the play Sara D?"
"That's the name of a racing dog in England." It suddenly cuts through me that it's also the name of his wife.
"I mean it's the name of a greyhound. A real greyhound. You know, the kind that races around the track."
He smiles and shuffles through the door, almost making a left turn into the light booth. I don't know what to do with myself. I don't particularly want to hit the streets in this state of mind and I sure don't feel like venturing inside for the second-act horrors. I head for the piano room again.
The silence of the second act is even more penetrating than the first. I last about ten minutes int he dark room because I'm back inside the theater staring at the rows of critics. Two of the "heavies" from the major papers are sound asleep, nodding out over their overcoats folded neatly on their laps. The ones who have managed to stay conscious are peering intently at the play as though it was one of those cut-away bottles showing how ants make their tunnels. At this point in the play, the main character is about to get shot up with a hypodermic syringe by a fat doctor. Dylan stands in the back row. "Wait a minute!" Who's he yelling to? The actors? "Wait a second! Why's he gets the shot? He shouldn't get the shot! The other guy should get it! Give it to the other guy!" Lou Kemp is trying to haul him back down to his seat. The sleeping critics are snorting in the midst of their dreams. Something is merging into their comatose condition. Dylan is struggling to free himself from Kemp's hammer-lock grip. Neuwirth is telling him to shut up. Finally something is happening! The actors are soldiering on with their parts as though nothing has changed. Finally the Sam Peckinpah sequence begins, with shotguns and catsup all over the stage. Dylan leaps up again. "I DON'T HAVE TO WATCH THIS! I DIDN'T COME HERE TO WATCH THIS!" Lou grabs him again by the bottom of his coat and almost pulls him backward clean off the platform of seats. Sara pays no attention. She sits very regally and cool, looking straight ahead. Dylan is fighting like a cat now to get free as Gary, Lou, and Neuwirth are all trying to hold him to the seat. It's a perfect ending. An explosion in the audience to match the one on stage. Shotgun wadding, bursting blood, and Dylan over the edge. "HE'S NOT SUPPOSED TO GET THE SHOT! THE OTHER GUY'S SUPPOSED TO GET IT!" I look back over to the rows of critics. Suddenly they've come to life, all of them desperately clicking their ball-point pens and scribbling in the dark like crazy. The play comes to an end and Dylan is hurtling over the aisles, looking for the exit. The critics don't know what to make of it. Have they missed something? Who was that masked man that just flew by them in a red coat and a gaucho hat, yelling at the top of his lungs? Is the play over already?"
I have nearly all of Sam Shepard's books on hold at my library to pick up on Saturday, save for "Motel Chronicles", which is a reference copy at one library, and there's two Spanish language editions at two other branches. Since I failed Spanish in 10th grade, and didn't do much better in summer school (But I passed), I can't attempt that. I've also put on hold as many of Shepard's plays as I can find.
Now I put this to you. I have "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson in book stacks in my room. But what have you read that made you feel like a bullet had just whizzed by your ear? What books made you feel the vividness of what was being described? I have "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain coming to me by mail after I read a selection of it in "Best Food Writing 2000." But I want more. I need more.
Tell me what's made you breathless after reading it.