He looked like he was scrounging around for his next meal

An amusing account in the New York Post, with several of his lyrics and song titles cleverly stuck in, about Bob Dylan’s brief encounter with two Long Branch, New Jersey police officers, brought on by Dylan’s walking around a residential neighborhood to no apparent purpose, dressed like a bum, and carrying no identification. The man doesn’t carry a wallet?

August 15, 2009

He may have written “Rainy Day Woman,” but to one New Jersey cop, Bob Dylan was little more than a crazed bag lady standing in the rain.

The bizarro rock legend got tangled up in blue in Long Branch, NJ, on July 23 when a homeowner called to report a weirdo hanging around her house.

When the “Like a Rolling Stone” crooner, who was looking for shelter from the storm, told cop Kristie Buble who he was, she thought he was pulling her leg.

“I’ve seen pictures of Bob Dylan from a long time ago and he didn’t look like Bob Dylan to me at all,” the 24-year-old Buble told ABC News.

“He was wearing black sweatpants tucked into black rain boots, and two raincoats with the hood pulled down over his head.”

Buble asked what the 68-year-old rock legend was doing in town.

When Dylan said he was doing a show with John Mellancamp and Willie Nelson, she figured he might be a joker or a thief.

“We see a lot of people on our beat, and I wasn’t sure if he came from one of our hospitals or something,” Buble said.

Even though a second officer joined Buble, he also did not recognize the singer, who was not carrying ID.

The officers then put Dylan in their patrol car and drove him back to the Ocean Place Resort and Spa, where he said he was staying.

“He was really nice, though, and he said he understood why I had to verify his identity and why I couldn’t let him go,” Buble said.

“I pulled into the parking lot,” she said, “and sure enough, there were these enormous tour buses, and I thought, ‘Whoa.’

“We go over to the tour bus and knock on the door and some guy answers and I say, ‘Are you missing someone?’ ” Buble said.

Eventually, tour staffers showed Dylan’s passport and a red-faced Buble thanked him for his cooperation.

“Um, have a nice day,” she said.

Long Branch business administrator Howard Woolley said that given the officer’s youth, it was understandable why she may not have known the counter-culture figure.

“I don’t think she was familiar with his entire body of work,” Woolley said.


- end of initial entry -

Paul K. writes:

That’s funny. But would Willie Nelson have fared any better? These old rockers in their 60s and 70s who still dress as if they were in their 20s are inevitably going to look like derelicts.

I’m glad that Dylan took it good naturedly, giving up his chance for a beer at the White House.

Rethinking my post of last night, Dylan’s line would not be, “Yo mama,” but, “Oh, mama, can this really be the end …”

Mark A. writes:

Didn’t we, as Americans, during the Cold War, mockingly use the term “May I see your papers, please?” to describe life in a police state? Why must he carry his papers with him?

LA replies

Fine. Go walking around in a strange city, in a residential neighborhood, peering at people’s houses, dressed like a bum, without ID.

And don’t call me to vouch for you if the police pick you up.

Mark A. replies:

Ahh, yes. Trading liberty for security. And so it goes…

LA replies:

I’m trying to imagine how you’re saying society should be organized. What are you actually saying is the wrong here, in what the police did, or in my comments, that you’re complaining about?

If police get a report that a strange-looking man is walking aimlessly around a residential neighborhood peering at houses, are you saying that the police should have ignored the report, because if they were concerned about what the man was doing, that would be an imposition on his liberty?

Are you saying that once they went to the neighborhood and asked the man—an older, haggard man—what his business was there, and he said he was “on tour,” they should simply have accepted that explanation, said, “Thank you sir, sorry for bothering you,” and gone on their way?

Are you saying that they should NOT have asked him for identification to show that he was indeed Bob Dylan the performer, as that would be an imposition on his liberty?

Are you saying that when he had no ID, they should NOT have driven him to his hotel, to find people to vouch for his identity?

So, again, what are you saying is wrong here, and how would this situation have to have been handled, for you to feel that it was handled correctly?

And finally, are you saying that it is an imposition on liberty by me to say that a person walking around in a strange town, acting somewhat oddly, ought to carry ID with him?

August 17

Mark A. writes:

My understanding was that he was walking down the sidewalk. If this is so, then what reasonable suspicion did the police have to stop and ask him for government ID? Under Anglo-Saxon common law, a law-abiding citizen may travel freely and has the right not to speak to the police. What law did Mr. Dylan break? If he was walking up to windows and peering into houses, then the police would have not only reasonable suspicion, but probable cause as well. I would have supported the questioning in that case. But it is my understanding that he was merely walking down the sidewalk. I’m confused as to why the police should have such authority over their civilian “subjects.” Are we not free citizens?

We can trade all sorts of liberties to make society safer. I am merely stating my preference for liberty as opposed to security. They don’t always come as a set. Yes, I understand it is a balancing test and there are limits to all rights. But again, the burden is not on me or Mr. Dylan—the burden is on the police. What reasonable suspicion or probable cause did they have to not only demand government ID from him, but also take this man into custody???! Is walking down the street probable cause in 2009?

LA replies:

What you’re saying is reasonable, but only up to a point. We live in a society with a lot of bad people. A man, probably odd looking, with a rain hood over his head, walking along the sidewalk in a residential neighborhood, stopping and looking at houses, made a resident feel concerned and the resident called the police. Now what you’re saying is that the police should have ignored that call. They should have said to the caller: “We don’t check on a man walking around unless he’s doing something of an obviously suspicious nature, like walking up to a house and looking through the window.” Or if the police saw him themselves, they should not have asked him what he was doing in that neighborhood.

That’s not the way police operate, nor should it be. There is a natural and normal suspicion of strange men walking about alone without apparent purpose in a residential neighborhood. I’ve been stopped myself in those circumstances, and I wasn’t offended. There are lots of bad people in today’s society. The job of police is to protect a community, to keep an eye on things. For the police to ask a man his business is not an undue imposition.

Mark A. replies:

I completely agree with this. My problem is neither the investigation of the call, nor the stop. My problem is with the arrest. An arrest requires probable cause. I am merely questioning whether a man walking down the sidewalk is probable cause that warrants an arrest. I need to know more about this case, but I suspect they didn’t have probable cause. If Dylan were walking up to houses and peering in windows, that would be probable cause. And perhaps that happened here.

We live with a lot of bad people for a host of reasons, many (most?) of which we discuss at VFR daily. I am merely taking the stand that it is wrong that we allow bad people to roam free and then subject free civilized men to living in a police state as a result of refusing to “discriminate” against criminals. Thus, the police are militarized and the Fourth Amendment gets tossed aside. The Dylan episode is just another example of what Samuel Francis so aptly called “Anarcho-Tyranny.” Dylan, a free law-abiding citizen, is arrested and taken to his hotel to prove himself. Meanwhile, the streets of Newark, Camden, and Jersey City (places where policemen could really get hurt) run red with blood as the courts routinely put offenders right back onto the street to rape and pillage with impunity.

LA replies:

He was not arrested. The police drove him to his hotel so that his people could vouch for his identity.

Now, did the police have to do that? I suppose not. I suppose that after speaking with him they could have said, “Well, this guy has no ID, and he has no business in the neighborhood, and he says he’s a pop music performer, thought we don’t recognize him or his name; but he’s not doing anything dangerous, so we’ll let him go on his way.”

But the reality is that Dylan probably did look odd, and the totality of facts just described made it reasonable for the police to drive him to his hotel to ID him. If he had had ID, they would not have done that.

Which takes us back to my original point to which you objected: he should have been carrying ID. If he had, there would have been no problem.

Where you go wrong is in saying that he had no need to carry ID, and that after the police questioned him and he had no ID to prove that he was who he said he was, they should have just let him go on his way. That’s not a reasonable expectation to place on police officers.

Mark A. writes:

Was he not arrested when they placed him into the police car and drove him to his hotel?

Why is this an unreasonable expectation to place onto police officers? Policing an Anglo-Saxon common law country is a difficult job and always has been. I have no doubt that if the police in the U.S. had the power of the East German Stasi, there would be far less crime. But is that worth the trade-off?

LA replies:

Of course he wasn’t arrested. What would he be arrested for? It’s not a crime not to carry ID, though maybe you think it already is and that’s why you’re upset.

When someone is arrestd, he’s charged with a crime and taken to the police station for booking.

James N. writes:

If the police ask you to go with them, the question of whether or not you are under arrest does not hinge on the destination.

The definition of arrest is the policeman’s answer to the question, “Am I free to go?”

if the answer is “no,” then you’ve been arrested.

LA replies:

I’ve looked up a couple of definitions of arrest and it seems to fit what James says. But to me, arrest means you’re being officially taken in for something. If the police say, “Would you come with us to your hotel so that we can check out your identity?”, yes, you have no choice but to go with them, but that still doesn’t seem to me like an arrest. Police may require you to go with them, and thus they are exerting authority over you, without its rising to the level of an arrest. That’s the way it seems to me, but I know I could be wrong.

LA writes:

I just want to point out that Mark changed his position in the course of our exchange. Earlier he said:

“what reasonable suspicion did the police have to stop and ask him for government ID?”

But after my subsequent comment Mark wrote:

“My problem is neither the investigation of the call, nor the stop. My problem is with the arrest.”

Ferg writes:

This brings to mind a comment by G. K. Chesterton many years ago, that in the age of the vehicle (or automobile) the pedestrian will become suspect. Also, if Bob told them his name was Dylan, wouldn’t his ID say Zimmerman? Or has he made a legal name change?

LA replies:

He changed his name legally to Bob Dylan at the beginning of his career, in 1961.

Ferg replies:

Thank you for the personal reply, I did not know he had legally changed his name. Here in the Twin Cities we still refer to him as Bobby Z, probably out of a sense of ownership since he got his start here.

Some interesting trivia you may not know is that when first starting out playing in coffee houses and clubs around here he went by the name of Die-lin. After he gained some local notoriety he was interviewed by a local DJ in 1959-60 who introduce him as Bob Dylan. I thought no that isn’t right, it is Die-lin. However the DJ asked him about that and he said he had pronounced it Die-lin at first because he had named himself after Dylan Thomas and didn’t know how Thomas had pronounced his name. I was astounded that someone my own age and from Minnesota didn’t know how to pronounce Dylan Thomas, particularly someone who named themselves after him. Dylan was very casual and unembarrassed about it, and though surprised I thought he handled it well and was very self confident. However, looking back on it now with all that has transpired in the intervening years, I wonder if this was just the first time I heard someone who thought it was perfectly all right to be culturally illiterate. I kind of think so now.

Dylan used to hang out at a coffee shop called the Scholar in Dinky Town on the University of Minnesota campus, during 1959-60 and as I frequented that place at the time I ran across him a couple of times. Thought he was just another make believe Beatnik trying to seem cool. He would sit there all day and night drinking coffee and pretending (I thought) to write music. Never thought he would amount to anything then.

LA replies:

Interesting that you lived there then, and saw him.

VFR reader Mike Berman was involved in the Village folk scene in the early ’60s, saw Dylan many times, and has many interesting stories.

However, I don’t find it surprising, or something to criticize as an example of cultural illiteracy, that Robert Zimmerman didn’t know the correct pronunciation of Dylan.

For one thing, in 1960, Americans didn’t know how to pronounce a lot of Anglo-Celtic names with their (to us) irregular spellings. The first time people saw the name Sean Connery they thought it was pronounced as “Seen,” not “Shawn.”

Second, before Dylan Thomas, no one in America had seen the name Dylan before.

Third, Bob Dylan was an autodidact, he may have been reading Dylan Thomas, but never heard Thomas’s first name pronounced by anyone who knew better.

August 18

Ferg replies:

You are probably right as Bobby Z was from Hibbing, not exactly the cultural capital of the state. I flew for a company based in Hibbing for a while and lived there for over a year. I was located about three blocks from his family house but refrained from going and staring like a tourist. I did take the tour of the local high school where they had many pictures and stories about him.

The high school by the way is quite famous and they give tours year round or at least did back in the early eighties. It is kind of a monument to how much money you can wring out of mining companies before you drive them out of business. The first high school in the state and one of the first in the nation to have an indoor swimming pool.

Many other fancy firsts too, and still looked expensive although it was quite old. They were very proud of Bob Dylan even though he didn’t actually graduate from there.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 15, 2009 07:13 AM | Send

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