Bob Dylan, Forgotten
Something has happened, Mister Jones. A Brave New World has emerged in the new decade. It appears as if we've been hit with a new kind of pandemic: Memory Assured Destruction (MAD). Half the country wants to remember the past, the other half to forget it. That's the divide. Who remembers and who forgets? Politicians love it: nobody will remember statements made in the past that are contradicted with those made in the present. Advertisers prefer us to live in the moment and buy the latest products, without memory of what works or doesn't work. Better to live in the moment, eh? I began wondering about that. Here's a little riff -- fictional, yes, but based on a true story I came across in the news recently about an episode with Bob Dylan.
The origins of the memory-loss pandemic could be traced, quite probably, to the day Bob Dylan was forgotten. The folksinger had been wandering the streets near the stadium where he was scheduled to perform one Saturday afternoon when he was stopped by a pair of cops in uniform, one woman and one man, both in their mid-twenties. The policewoman thought he looked like a suspicious character and asked to see some identification. Bob Dylan had none on him. I'm Bob Dylan and I've got a concert coming up later in the day, he told her, just taking a walk to check out the neighborhood and stretch my legs, you know, Who's Bob Dylan, asked the policeman, and the policewoman shrugged her shoulders and said, I've never heard of him, either. The policeman shook his head, and said, You're making this all up, you're casing the houses in the neighborhood, aren't you, you're fixing to break into one, Listen, I've got my ID back in my hotel room, if you don't believe me, said Dylan. OK, let's go there, said the cop. Then they dragged him into the backseat of the police cruiser and drove him to the hotel where Dylan was staying. Inside his room, Dylan grabbed a driver's license with a photo of the folksinger from earlier days and showed it to the policewoman, who shook her head and said, Anything more recent, buddy.
At which point Bob Dylan's manager stormed into the room and shouted, Hurry up, Bob, you're going to be late for the show, hey, who are these cops, you in some kind of big trouble, Can you vouch for this man's identity, said the cop. Of course I can, he's Bob Dylan, famous folksinger, voice of a generation, poet extraordinaire, Never heard of him, Is this some kind of joke, officer, c'mon, we've got a show to do, fans waiting, band's already tuned up, All right, said the policewoman, I'll let you go, Mr. Dylan, if that's your real name, Actually, it's not, said Bob Dylan, I was Robert Zimmerman until I changed it, C'mon, let's not get into that, said the manager, hustling Bob Dylan out of the door with his guitar flung over his shoulder. The cops turned and left, shaking their heads, smiling in disbelief, as if to say, You really put one over on us, didn't you, they'll be laughing their heads off at the station when we tell them we got duped by a man named Bob Dylan, whoever he is. Indeed, by the time they got back to the station and told their version of the story to their fellow officers, they were the butt of all jokes. How could you not recognize Bob Dylan, said one cop. He's an icon, said another. He's never changed his looks from that time when he first appeared on the music scene, bigger than Brando and Elvis, I grew up with his music, I set my life to his songs, you guys ought to have your heads examined, Honestly, I've never heard of Bob Dylan or maybe I've just forgotten who he is or who he was, whatever.
The incident of forgetting, the first of many to follow, made the local newspaper when the story was leaked to a young reporter looking for filler material under the strain of a midnight deadline. From that point on, the story got picked up and reprinted across the country, sparking peals of laughter, wry commentary from media pundits and assorted bad jokes on late-night television. When similar stories appeared in the days that followed, stories of entire high school classes forgetting to come to school, of parents forgetting who their children were, of bus drivers forgetting their routes of travel, of bank managers forgetting to lock their vaults at night, a pandemic of forgetting was declared by the Surgeon General. We must face this crisis head on and take appropriate action, he proclaimed in a television broadcast. At first there was talk of quarantining all those afflicted by acquired memory loss, a syndrome now medical recognized.
A round up of those poor afflicted souls was proposed. A convention center was going to be used to accommodate the victims. There is currently no known cure for the ailment, said the Surgeon General. We can identify the symptoms: fatigue, running nose, coughing, lack of sleep, all of which are similar to the symptoms of a virus. We know the malady is spreading rapidly to all sectors of society, afflicting the young and old alike, whatever race, creed or color. As soon as we can isolate the virus, we can begin to develop a vaccine. But others doubted the root cause of widespread memory loss, the plague of forgetting, as it was called, was anything at all resembling a viral attack. Reports of recent solar activity, flares and bursts of electromagnetic radiation from hotspots on the sun were taken into consideration by scientists. Perhaps the radiation had broken through the atmosphere and targeted a certain class of individuals with weak resistance, wiping out blocks of memory from the cerebral cortex. The matter was further complicated by the fact that memory itself was not locatable in the brain, but rather distributed holographically through the central nervous system.