You Don’t Say Bob Dylan Can’t Sing

One evening in the mid 1990s, I was sitting around the living room at X’s parents’ old place in Ladner, BC. We were listening to Bob Dylan on X’s dad’s awesome stereo system.

X’s dad, Pete, exclaimed, “Bob Dylan is the best harmonica player! Eh? Ya know? Man, he’s good. Ya gotta love him!”

I said, “Oh, he’s OK. About average. Naomi’s been doing pretty good on her harmonica and she’s only three,” I said, gesturing toward my little girl.

Pete got ultra-ruffled and he defended his musical hero in a long tirade. X and I kinda rolled our eyes at each other in amusement.

OK, that is the part of the story that starts the song, but there are two other tales to tell.

The earliest bit hearkens back to 1986, when X and I were in the back seat of his parents’ Toyota Camry, driving down a road in Point Roberts, Washington, having just left his Nana’s place – that is, his mom’s mom. X’s mom was in the passenger seat, and Pete was driving.

X and I each had a can of soda pop. After I drank the last sip of mine, I tossed the empty can out the window. X’s dad slammed on the brakes, screeched to a halt, zoomed the car backwards, and angrily ordered me to get out and pick up that can.

Hey, I was 19 and stupid, but he didn’t need to freak. Fine, I got out, picked it up, and never littered again.

Then there’s story number three, which was the day after the harmonica incident. All it entails is that X told me his dad really hates it when people spit in the sink. I’d just spat in the kitchen sink but washed it down the drain with running water immediately. Still, X said, “You’d better not let my dad see you doing that.”

“Ya don’t spit into the sink,” I said.

That got me thinking of Jim Croce’s song “Don’t Mess Around With Jim”, the chorus of which says,

“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape,

You don’t spit into the wind,

You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger,

And you don’t mess around with Jim,

Ba doot dooda-da deet deet’n dee-dee dee…”

Long being a fan of putting my own silly words to sections of songs, I started playing with it. X, who rarely laughed at anything I did, actually got in on the humour and was cracking up right along with me.

“You don’t say Bob Dylan can’t play harmonica,” I began.

“You don’t spit into the sink,

You don’t throw pop cans out an open window,

And you don’t mess around with Pete.”

That didn’t have the correct amount of beats, so we changed the first line to “You don’t say Bob Dylan can’t sing”, which isn’t historically accurate, but now you know…

(And read this part in the voice of Paul Harvey)…

The rest of the story.

Written upon peer pressure by my buddy, Shakira B. O’Neil (not her real name), who not only taught this song to her son who is now a history professor, but has also been peer-pressuring me into going to the Bob Dylan concert in Kelowna, BC, this coming summer. Maybe I’ll go, and tell Bob about the song.