One early summer evening in 1975, I was walking down the street in Greenwich Village, scribbling down some lyrics on an envelope, when I bumped into Bob Dylan. He asked me what I was writing and I told him a song to a boxer. He seemed taken aback and said he had just written one too. Afraid that he might be annoyed, I said yours is probably better, and he laughed. At the time he was writing the songs for the album Desire and was on his way to a loft to play some of them and asked me to come along. I can still picture him with his acoustic guitar in that dimly lit place with only a handful of people at his feet. That night he played many of the songs he was soon to record; my favorite being One more cup of coffee for the road. He also sang Hurricane about the boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was serving time in a New Jersey prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Bob’s song was long and articulate. Mine, for Carter as well, was short and incomprehensible.
Today is Rubin Carter’s birthday, which brought to mind this little piece of personal history. I found this performance of Pumping (my heart) at Rockpalast in Essen, Germany in 1979. I remember that tour, one of my last before I left public life. I was battling bronchitis and as you can see, was sort of at the end of my rope. But I imagine it’s like the trials of the boxer, losing a round yet having to keep on going, fists pumping. Here is the song I was scribbling that evening in 1975 on the street, a spiral of energy, with the refrain “Baby come, baby go, and free the hurricane.”