Backstage in South Florida: Happy Belated, Bob!

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Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week: Lee attempts to dig the dirt on Dylan 

I've never met Bob Dylan. Never even come close. I've seen him live a few times in concert and after I mentioned it in this column, I received some pushback from readers who lambasted me for lambasting Bob forgiving his audience the silent treatment. My point was - and it remains - that while his music speaks to me, I wish that the man that conceived it would speak to me as well. Dylan's an enigma; that's part of his mystique. But Bob, I want to get to know you better.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way. After people note that my last name is Zimmerman they often ask me if I'm any relation. You see, Bob was born Robert Zimmerman, and it just so happens that I have a cousin named Robert Zimmerman. I'm all too happy to point that out. "But is it Bob?" they ask. "Not saying," I respond. 

I mention this because it was Bob's birthday last week, and to me, it seemed somewhat auspicious that he was turning 70. That used to be an age reserved for seniors, grandparents and old politicos. But I grew up listening to this guy, so I view this birthday with some significance. It marks the passage of time, an acknowledgement of mortality. The one-time boy bard now turning 70? Wow! 

Several months ago I came as close as I ever have to intersecting Dylan's trajectory. I had occasion to chat with Peter Himmelman, a gifted singer-songwriter with an extensive - and impressive - resume of his own. Himmelman also happens to be Dylan's son-in-law, being that he's married to Dylan's daughter Maria. 

A couple of years ago when I was visiting Los Angeles, I met Himmelman's former publicist, who tantalized me with tales told him by Peter himself, how Dylan was a doting grandfather who attended family gatherings on the Jewish holidays and eagerly participated in all the rituals inherent in those celebrations. 

 Naturally, when I spoke to Himmelman, I was eager to confirm what I'd been told, even though I knew full well that as part of the extended Dylan clan, he probably tired long ago of fielding questions from curiosity seekers.

"Nobody needs to hear that from me anymore because they can get that from Jakob (Dylan)," he shrugged. "So what do you need from me? My story's not even going to be that interesting. Not that I would ever tell it. But really, it's not going to be as interesting."   

I pressed on. I told him I was simply seeking some insights, and yet he remained overtly evasive. "Whatever you think it is, it's not," he said mysteriously. "It's off limits. I'm very judicious about not riding that thing." 

I mentioned that I thought it would surely further his career to be able to open for one of Bob's tours. After all, an opening spot might go a long way towards boosting his own visibility. 

"It's off limits," he insisted. "All I can say is that it clearly hasn't happened."

And yet wouldn't a family tour - involving the elder Dylan, perhaps Jakob, and Himmelman present itself as a possibility? Himmelman balked at that prospect. "It seems to me it would be kind of a weird pandering thing," he replied. "I always I had to be very judicious about riding on that thing. 

"It's always more powerful not to say anything," Himmelman continued. "I've never said anything about it in 22 years. The press asks me about him all the time and I don't blame them. It's a hugely interesting and valid question. The answer would be so surprising. Again, nothing is what you think. The mystique is good." 

By now I was getting the hint, but unfortunately not getting anything else. My curiosity was peaked, but I realized it was fruitless to press the point any further. So I tried a different tack. How I wondered, did he meet Maria? 

"Ah, this is another off the record story," he answered. "And what a sweet story it is too." 

That exchange transpired eight months or so ago and in the interim we fell out of touch. Admittedly that was my fault, because Peter seemed like a really good guy, and although he had given me both his cell number and personal email, I never followed up. It happens that way most of the time. You have a really good interview, make a nice connection, and yet once the article is written, you lose reason to stay in contact. However as Bob's birthday approached last week - the date being May 24th - I couldn't resist the temptation to email him and ask what the family had planned for the Bobster's big day. 

"Is it as big a deal for the family as it appears for the world at large?," I wondered.

"Everything's a more complex story than appearances might tell," he answered. 

"Hmmm. That seems somewhat cryptic, Peter." 

"Cryptic's how I roll." 

And that was that. No hint of what they had planned. No idea of what the grand kids -- his kids - would do for their grand dad on his big day. No inkling of what sort of gift daughter and son-in-law might give a guy that seemingly wants for nothing. 

They say discretion is the better part of valor. Apparently discretion's also the rule when the woman you're married to has Dylan for a dad.

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