G. That’s all he remembers of her name. G. with flying hair the color of ghee. Her red bra. L. B. Noland, aging DJ, builds present on past, dilates time and space, spinning old songs. But G.’s past what’s past. Out of the news with “Like a Rolling Stone”—a “lunar,” played once in a blue moon–here’s G. on her skateboard, image luminous as a holograph. Out of the blue. Why’s he mooning over G.? Don’t look back. He paces carpeted floor of the studio, taking in old Blind Boy Grunt’s withering, saga- like song, thinking G. Whatever happened to G.?
Noland, occluded by her memory, watches white wonder of snow falling across the yellow field out back where the radio towers rise like hypodermic needles into the sky’s dull glow above faint spires and banked mirrors of the Nashville skyline, thinking change of weather explains advent of G. Onset of winter of discontent? Bob Dylan, after all these years, still voices deep-felt hopes and fears, speaks to him. But he never sang for G.
When Dylan took the stage with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at the Newport Folk Festival and played a short, wailing set of his new electric music, L. B. was not yet eighteen and a first-term college student in northern Michigan, happy to be away from home in hilly country. He was attending the summer session, which he started just a week out of high school, because his parents were off on a trip to Germany; but he wished he could have been back in Newport, where tender memories of being a boy still lingered, to hear Dylan’s wizardry. At the time, he was wooing G., a sad-eyed girl in his comp class, who attended the festival. But not L. B.
Every morning he and G. skateboarded from Harding Hall (his dorm) and Wesley (hers) on “The Hill,” which overlooked the campus’ classrooms and administration buildings below. (He remembers dorm names but not G.’s.) Down they swooped to the student union on a winding sidewalk that curved like S-turns on an alpine road, then walked up terrace-like, cement steps and past a splashing fountain for coffee before class. (G. drank tea, he remembers now.) It was the summer of ‘65, August, days overcast and humid–testy–as the term drew to a close during exam week.
He read the news afternoons for the college radio station. GNP, fueled by Vietnam, was doubling. Japan and Germany were gaining economic power. “The Great Society” was flowering with new acts and programs (Medicare, civil rights, water quality, higher education). In their comp class, they were reading Silent Spring, talking about the environment. Walden. (And freedom and dignity of Walden II.) Girls were reading Feminine Mystique. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was hummed by guys in the dorm, or “I Want Candy.” That week, blacks were rioting in Watts. “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” was hot; “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops on everybody’s lips.
L. B. remembers her vividly; what was her name? Glenda? Way her yellow- white hair would fly, would linger blonde on blonde after her. (As a three-syllable name would? Genevieve?) Rail-thin and nasal-toned, she was long-legged with angular ears that poked out of her hair. Gretchen? Why did he always go for these wispy blondes? (Earthy redhead, Eileen, true-blue wife in otherwise touch-and-go life, his fate).
Along with her books, G. carried her skateboard under one arm, or hugged it to her breasts. At the time, the board was a flat, foot-long elliptical piece of thick, varnished wood with pink rubber wheels—no grip tape on the deck—a trusty means of transportation on the hilly campus, and he admired G.’s nimbleness on it. She was a nonstop talker, pink, peaked helix of her ears tense as a hare’s when she listened. She nibbled with the harmonica, liked Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary, and had a battered copy of String Along by The Kingston Trio. Amid rising expectations of the sixties, they were going to shock their semi-affluent parents and get a dingy apartment together near a supermarket and, in her words, “read and read and read and read” (and fuck, he hoped).
Whatever happened to G. and her skateboard with wheels the color of bubblegum, her ephemeral red bra likewise pink under white blouse she pressed the board to along with her books, a copy of The Act of Creation they were reading for comp class on top? Whatever happened to his girl of the lowlands with her sweet love of folk and salt-thatch of straw hair, and did she have the technical know-how girls have now? He and G. never got that far, only a few, hot make-out sessions behind the huge holly by entrance to her dorm, housemother calling like a British barmaid, “Girls, hurry up please, it’s time. HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.”
Although G.’s kisses and humid hop-o’-my-thumb body were enough to convince L. B. to get an apartment together, he and his Baby Blue, they never did. Or was it a small cottage on nearby White Cloud Lake they were going to get, where they would grow pole beans and tomatoes and peppers and eat honey sandwiches? At night, water lapping the shore, they’d talk about a line from a song for an hour.
He never saw G. after that summer session in ‘65 when Dylan stunned her and the folkies at the Newport Folk Festival with “Like a Rolling Stone,” and the Beatles were knighted, and the British Invasion kept coming and coming and coming (as he hoped G. would)–Kinks, Yardbirds, Animals, Searchers—everybody humming “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” and a whole sub-genre sprang up based on Farfisa and Vox compact electronic organs like “She’s about a Mover,” “Wooly Bully” and “Liar, Liar” (oh, how his pants were on fire); when the music set you free from the adult world and you felt bonded with “My Generation,” and your parents in the stolid suburbs were so willing to be snowballed.
Now L. B. remembers G.’s last name. Plum. Like Milt Plum, former quarterback for the Lions. Gretchen Plum? Genevieve Plum? Oh, Mrs. Plum, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, and G. and I Are Getting an Apartment, or Cottage on White Cloud Lake, and Fuck and Fuck and Fuck and Fuck (“and Read,” G. would say primly).
“I want you,” G. would say to him in her dorm lounge watching the Raiders perform on “Where the Action Is,” a Dick Clark-like daily music program, his arm around her slight shoulders as the group in their knickers and three-cornered hats ground out their garage-band rock, which in its way was America’s reaction to the Invaders, roots of which went back to the Raiders’ own prophetic “Like, Long Hair” in 1962 before anybody but girls had any, when grown-ups, men in burr cuts and women in beehives, started Twistin’ in High Society with Lester Lanin, favorite bandleader in JFK’s White House, or Joey Dee and the Starliters.
L.B. looked for G. all that following fall, before onset of winter, watched for G.’s rail-thin body and Marianne Faithful-like hair flying behind her as she skateboarded down the winding walkways from The Hill on campus. Her skimpy red bra. But she was gone like a passing song. By end of the semester, L. B. forgot all about G. and her folkie purity, had left school himself to drift in radio, as the world turned more serious in January, 1966; even the cheery and innocent Beatles got somber with Rubber Soul. Something happened. What was it, did he know?
He was left with only the vague scene of her festival report. At the tail end of that summer session, G. Plum cut classes for a week and bravely took the bus by herself to Newport (L. B. was expected to give his daily newscasts, plus had a job delivering pizzas, and was sorry he couldn’t go). G. visited her brother, “the war monger,” at the Naval War College while she was there. She told Noland all about her adventures with him, “uptight in his summer whites,” though she herself after the experience of the festival seemed cold–strict and severe, even stuffy—and all about Dylan’s short session, describing her shocked reaction. Something was blowin’ in the wind.
“He howled at us,” she told him. “And we howled back. In rage.”
G. trotted along in her ballet slippers and toreador pants telling Noland about folk music being the new art form for American youth (“after it was driven underground by those Eisenhower saps”), his lengthening body ranging above hers, lacy red bra she wore pink under her white blouse with that glowing selfsame cast of wheels of the skateboard she clutched along with her books to her slight chest.
“Dylan turned his back on us,” she protested. “How many songs did he play?”
“After three songs we booed him off the stage.” “Did he play ‘Desolation Row’?”
“Was so mad I don’t remember. Played that long one everybody likes. ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ What an affront to a woman.” G. gagged. “Makes my wings droop.”
“Oh, came back for an encore. On acoustic. Thanks, pal. Sang ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ in that braying voice.
“Still, must’ve been something there—”
“Fearfully appropriate, don’t you think?” she put in. “Singing ‘Baby Blue’!”
He swung open prison-like door to creaky Hobbes Hall and let her pass through into the dim corridor. She turned and leaned her cute bottom against jail-green of the cement-block wall, deep pools of sad eyes below blonde bangs, as he remembers them, like ice looking up into his—chill blue, expectant, waiting, kiss-proof lips set. He had no answer for her. They turned in opposite directions, each heading to opposing exams.
How does it feeel
To be without a hoome,
Like a complete unknoown,
Like a ROO-ollling STONE?
How did it feel? Bitter, “with no direction home,” but exhilarating. Double-edged. Felt freewheelin’, exactly like rock ’n’ roll. Oh, G., my Baby Blue, why was it all over? What happened to the babies we were going to have—Peter, Paul and Mary? What happened to you and your skateboard? And music? And me?
About Rob: Rob Schultz taught American literature at Western Michigan University and Virginia Commonwealth University before drifting into radio and voice work. He published a first novel, Styll in Love (Van Neste Books); another novel, On-Air and a book of stories, In Hart, seek a publisher. Stories and poems have appeared in over thirty publications and are forthcoming in eight others, including Blue Lake Review, Coe Review and Northwind.