That Cat Could Play
Sleep came hard Wednesday night. Too short, also. I climbed into bed on time, with the intention to get a full mid-week rest to help carry me through to the end of the workweek. But it did not happen that way.
Just before going upstairs, I turned off all the lights, closed the windows and shut everything down except the stereo. I positioned myself in a chair for the perfect sound to listen to four songs from one of my favorite Bob Dylan albums, Time Out of Mind.
These intentional listening sessions are a common practice for me. The mode goes back a long way. I remember taking short winter afternoon naps on Friday afternoons with headphones or speakers perfectly placed before heading to the gym to play high school basketball games. I’d doze off to The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane and other musicians I was discovering at the time. It goes further back than that, if you count when I was a thirteen year-old listening to the Top 40 hits with a transistor radio on my pillow.
Dylan hit the spot Wednesday night. I found that I had to shift the chair slightly or turn my ears to a different angle a few times to keep the perfect spot, but that’s Bob for you. Even though Daniel Lanois produced the album, there are always variables with Jack Frost productions. No problem. The act was just another element of the active listening. The album is rich with emotions and life experiences familiar to many. I’ve never wearied of the man’s way of communicating his thoughts on the human experience.
Time Out of Mind was released the same year Dylan was hospitalized with a potential life-threatening infection that caused swelling in the area surrounding the heart. Those of us who think about such things wondered at the time if we were hearing some of the last from Bob. As it goes, he’s released a number of albums since then and toured pretty much non-stop. Just this week, he played five concerts in Sweden, Norway and Poland. Good for him. Good for us.
I’m just glad to be feeling better. I really thought I’d be seeing Elvis soon.
– Bob Dylan in May 1997, after leaving a hospital
Back to Wednesday night. Unable to fall asleep and wanting just one more tune, I reached for today’s version of the transistor radio and turned the dial for a wonderful set with Susan Tedeschi joining Dylan on stage. She was having the time of her life and Dylan was clearly energized as well. I could have shut it off, read a chapter of Moby Dick and tried once again to sleep.
Instead, I told myself, “just one more.” I had the urge to hear Johnny Winter play Highway 61 Revisited. Many have covered this Dylan song, but Johnny Winter was one of the first and one of the best. We learned about Johnny Winter in high school. Anyone who could play guitar like that found a listening audience with adolescent males. Michael Bloomfield introduced him in December 1968 to his New York City concert audience at Fillmore East.
Hold on. Dig this. Dig this, man.
We got a cat sitting in, a cat that I met oh, a long time ago playing like twist joints. And this cat was on the road. He was playing in Chicago. He’s from Texas. Man, this is the baddest ‘MF,’ man. So dig, man. A cat coming out is named Johnny Winters (sic).
(Light applause for the unknown guitar player.)
Aww, you’re gonna have to make him feel a little better than that. This cat can play.
Needing just one more Wednesday night, I went back to the Tubes and quickly found a 2009 video with Johnny on stage with Derek Trucks and his band. He appeared frail and worn, as he was helped to a chair in front of the other musicians. His blindness and other afflictions from Albinism, compounded by years of substance abuse, placed a toll on him. Once settled and with guitar in hand however, he became a powerhouse. He led the band through a searing version of Dylan’s timeless song.
There, that’s all I needed. It was lights out. But things didn’t turn out as I intended. I had many vivid dreams and woke up often during the night. Soon, it was “quarter-to-early” and time for me to get up and get after it again. As I started sipping my morning coffee yesterday, the night before was still blurred with the new day. I hadn’t really found the break between the two. And then I saw the news that Johnny Winter had passed. I went to sleep hearing his guitar and woke up to discover that it was now silenced.
That cat could play. Yes, he could.