Tangled up in Bob: my life chasing the Never Ending Tour
I’ve seen Bob Dylan play live about 30 times across the world but nothing beats that first encounter. And when I bumped into him on the street, it was anything but an accident
Ian O’Riordan with his signed album at the spot on Dublin’s Leeson Street where he met Dylan in 1995
Bob Dylan live in 2012. Photograph: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for VH1
The plan was to hang around the Point Depot for the afternoon and act like one of the roadies. There is no easy way of getting to Bob Dylan, only the lucky way, and when you’re young and free and obsessed with three chords and the truth, that’s all it takes.
It was a grey Tuesday in April 1995, and by then, Dylan was my god. Charles Bukowski always said the gods should be left alone, that one didn’t bang on their door. All I wanted to know was where Dylan was staying that night, not to bang on his door but just to wait outside it.
Three enormous black trucks filled the parking lot, facing out on to the Liffey. Dylan was in town, live and in person. From somewhere inside the Point, the band ran through some bluesy bass and drums. Dylan didn’t bother with the soundchecks (I knew that already), and at that moment might well have been cycling around Martello Tower or walking down Raglan Road.
When the man sitting in one of the trucks climbed out for a cigarette, I casually passed by, said a quick hello, and stalled for just long enough to ask did he know where the band were staying. He briefly stared me in the eye, then reached back into the truck and pulled out a small spiral-bound notebook. “Stephen’s Hall Hotel,” he said, after flicking through a few pages. “Leeson Street.”
Knock-knock-knockin’ on Ian’s door
In the couple of years since borrowing Highway 61 Revisited from my younger brother – then his copy of Robert Shelton’s unauthorised biography, No Direction Home – Dylan had come banging on my door, and I couldn’t stop myself from letting him in. No one actually recommended Dylan. I had heard some of his stuff in school but didn’t particularly like it. And my dad never played any Dylan records, although he does like Woody Guthrie.
Yet within those couple of years I’d obsessively borrowed, stolen or else bought Dylan’s entire catalogue, by then about 30 albums, and hearing those for the first time – the creative sustenance of the songs, their phrases and rhymes, the startling authenticity of his voice – simply outplayed anything I’d heard before. Now, I can hardly imagine being blessed by hearing Desire, Blonde on Blonde, Saved, and Blood on the Tracks for the first time, all within a few weeks of each other, but I did, because Dylan had completely taken me over. Most of the songs also sounded great on my beat-up Yamaha guitar.
Then his 1995 European spring tour was announced. Dublin was the last date, and there was no way I couldn’t be there. At 23, and just out of Brown University, I was still living in the US, starving broke and trying to make it as a long-distance runner. I got home, somehow, then blew whatever cash remained on my Dylan ticket. If at that point someone had offered me an Olympic medal in exchange for that ticket I would have said, “No thanks”.