Meeting Bob Dylan and My Forrest Gump Life
by Wendy Gell
Last revised November 18 , 2018
I was living near the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal street in 1975, at the center of the West Village. My songwriting days were over, and I had started my jewelry business. Dot and Dora two black sisters worked for me making barrettes.
Dora would set them up with the hot glue gun following my designs and Dot would then glue them with epoxy. My apartment was 3 flights upstairs a railroad flat. The rooms were all in a row. My bedroom looked over Bleecker street, the bathroom at the other end. The bath tub in the kitchen had a table top that came down and became the kitchen counter. I loved it. I would be fast asleep when the sisters came in to work.
I went out some nights to a bar on MacDougal street, called Kettle of Fish to relax with a glass of vodka and my journal, a big black book filled with drawings and clippings pasted in. I settled in for a night of juke box music with my book and colored pencils.
A tall handsome man with piercing blue eyes and a cap asked if he could sit down with me. My heart stopped beating in my chest and I lost my breath.
Oh My God. It was the man who had written the sound track to my entire life. Bob Dylan.
My first boyfriend, Bill Steigerwaldt, and I fell in love to Dylan’s music. I was the new girl in school having moved to the outskirts of Portland from NYC when I was fifteen. Someone tugged on my hair, I turned around to see the bluest eyes I had ever seen. Bill was 6 feet 5 ½ inches. One half inch more and they would not have sent him to Viet Nam. They didn’t make the uniforms that big.
We fell in love. I had the star of David around my neck. I didn’t know then I was the only Jewish person in school. My mother said not only did you bring home a giant but a German!
And his song– She Belongs to Me, was My Song, Bill said.
“She has everything she needs, she’s an artist she don’t look back. She can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black.”
I could not believe my eyes. I mumbled, “of course.” And motioned for him to sit down.
“She never stumbles, she’s got no place to fall, she’s nobody child, the law can’t touch her at all.”
I heard he frequented the neighborhood but never saw him before this night.
I was dumbstruck and couldn’t say a word. I stared at him like a moron. He looked at the bright elaborate rhinestone bracelets on both my wrists and asked about them. I said I made them. He said liked them and they looked like they were from under the sea. He asked about my book if he could look at it. I said sure. He glanced at the pages of drawings, pages cut from magazines collages, some of my favorite poems and there were pop up 3 D- pages I had glued in from kid’s books. Also, a language I discovered or invented where I see words in impossible places, I call Wenglish.
I wanted to tell him that his music meant the world to me.
“If today was not an empty highway. If tonight was not a crooked trail if tomorrow was not a long time, then lonesome would mean nothing to me at all.” Bill had gone to Viet Nam. Bob’s music, Masters of War, The times they are a Changing’, were Everything to us.
I looked at him while he looked at my book as I tried to gather myself together.
He might as well have been the Pope or the President. I was numb. He was the coolest, most important person I had ever met, and I could not say a word.
Half a magical hour flew by and many questions later as he did all the talking. He smiled a big grin said good bye and left, and I was too numb to even ask for his phone number. I was so mad at myself. We could have been friends forever if the damn cat didn’t get my tongue.
I had a whole gallery on my previous website called Wendyland. It is all artwork inspired by the songs of Bob Dylan. There is a lot of word play in Wendyland, Dylan is always in the middle of Wendyland.
Once when I went to a Dylan concert with some friends and my doll Beast was with us, we were fooling around. Someone from Bob’s group came to us and said, “Bob doesn’t mind that you brought her but don’t forget whose concert it is.”
So, I put Beast on the floor quietly and watched. Thankfully she didn’t act up and bite me.
“Shut Up!” growled Beast!
I went to every Dylan concert within 100 miles all my life and went to more then I can count. All us Dylanophiles would recognize each other after so many years. We knew each other and had a ball. I had a jewel and icon decorated video camera I sometimes brought with me Painting of Beast and my dolls to film the crowd. I used to carry a purse made of a stuffed animal and jeweled.
So, I was especially recognizable. It was before the days of AIDS and Fear and everyone was happy and playful. I would publish my concert review on the pages of Bob Links for years, they are still online there. I saw him with Paul Simon, Jewel, The Dead, Tom Petty, so many people in New York, Oregon, Jersey, Connecticut, all over. I made and sold art out of the Concert posters.
One of my friends told me my life was like Forrest Gump. I always seem to be in the right place at the right time to meet the right people. Well I wasn’t at Woodstock, but I was kind of everywhere else.
In the giant earthquake in Guatemala City in the 1970’s I was there. Got so shook up my boyfriend and I broke up then and there after he shit in his pants. He threw my passport at me and I never saw him again.
When the tanks rolled down Michigan Ave at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968, I got tear gassed and terrified and met my next boyfriend in a doorway hiding from the cops. I went to live with him in Cambridge Mass where he was going to Harvard to be an architect. I learned to make the best apple pies from the New York Times Cook Book and they would bring their professors home for my pies. It was my only year of domestic life, my boyfriend Howie Konick was a bear of a sweet guy, a Taurus. But I left him to go study scientology in LA with one of his roommates. I wish him well. I never saw him or scientology again.
I was on Oprah’s show in 1986 as her favorite Jewelry designer. She was going to go national the following week. I had just come back from a tour of California for Nordstroms and was exhausted, I didn’t know who Oprah was back then she was only local in Chicago and I said no. They called back. Please, you are her favorite jewelry designer! She wears your earrings on her show 3-4 times a week. Her best friend Gail doesn’t like them thinks they are too flashy for daytime, but Oprah just LOVES you. Please come! So, I did. She was super nice to me. She gave me two segments and even had me do a demonstration. When I did, she said, “it’s just like vacation Bible school.” When I showed my crystal wristies she said,” You must be in a high spiritual plane from working with these crystals,” and I said, “I sure am.”
She asked if I knew what I was doing, and I said, “No, I just say a prayer, take a breath and do my best.”
When asked about the prices of my things, she said, “if you can’t afford $120 for a pair of earrings don’t buy Wendy’s.” She also stated she loved me so much that she was sharing me with all her viewers and had a fashion show with models of all races and ages. I was totally charmed by her. I had no idea she would become the icon celebrity and world leader who she is now. At that time, I was ironically more famous than she was. It was the year of the Statue of Liberty’s Birthday and that was part of the tour I was doing.
I had my Statue of Liberty Crown and Torch with me and she held it up and said “there’s a liberty celebration in my neighborhood. This is what to wear!”
She was just phenomenal. And hilarious. I loved her.
When I was a songwriter in the 1970’s I rode alone in an elevator with Clive Davis at Columbia Records going 31 floors down and got up the nerve to introduce myself and tell him we had a song coming out on his label with Jackie de Shannon.
We made it to bubbling under on the Billboard charts but no hit. It was the follow up to Put a Little Love in Your Heart.
I also rode in an elevator alone with Jesse Jackson once going to a fundraiser for him held by my friend Princess Lilly Lawrence who I made jeweled tiaras for. It was in a hotel in New York where she lives.
I even met Mohammed Ali waiting for our baggage alone in an airport and we got to talk for 20 minutes. I could see it was hard for him to find words, so we talked about simple things and sat silently as well.
I also spent a few sublime hours with the writer of Roots, Alex Haley, before I ever saw the show because he saw me typing in my computer Maurice in an airport lounge. He asked if we could have dinner together.
I said of course. He told me he became a writer in the army when his friends would have him write love letters to their girl friends because he had such a good way with words. The reason he wanted to sit down with me was because of my computer named Maurice.
I had painted a Buddha’s face on Maurice and when it was open I guess people across the room could see it. I was in airports often. I traveled all the time doing truck shows for my business. I worked on my writing in my computer on the road.
In this case Play.
A picture of my jewelry with two wristies, Statue of Liberty Crown worn backwards and ring, and earrings.
I loved this editorial shot. It was in a book about costume jewelry, All that Glitters, The Glory of Costume Jewelry, by Jody Sheilds, Max Vadukul Photographas, published by Rizzoli New York.
I love her eating Chinese food, and the tin foil wand. I always thought it was a joke for me.
I have the opposite of paranoia. I made it up. I call it pronoia. When you think people are doing nice things for you behind your back. It’s not a mental illness, it’s a mental wellness.
I guess I was born on a lucky day. It was in the giant snow storm of 1948; the same year Israel was also born, on the first day of spring. The night before I was born my Mom and Dad watched a 5-alarm fire sitting on pickle barrels, in downtown Manhattan. My Dad was kind of a fire buff and loved to watch them put out fires.
He was a true artist and took me to the Museum of Modern Art when I was only 3 for classes because I was so precocious. My mom was mentally ill and very abusive. She called me Garbage and Ox, Miss Pimples of 1966. But my Dad would take me to the museums in New York all the time and saved this little girls creative spirit by buying me anything I wanted at the gift store there. I clearly remember when I saw the tall twisted forms of Giacometti’s figures, I understood at that young age of three how the artist sees something with new eyes in a way that creates a reality of their own. At the gift store there was a painting of a tree with hidden figures of children in it I remember so well finding the children in it counting them and delighting in finding more each time with my father. It’s the only thing I remember that he bought from from the museum. I remember being older and hearing a fire had partially destroyed it at the Museum of Modern Art and later it was restored. I never remember the real name. We called it the Tree of Life.
I was always obsessed with the Mona Lisa and have done many versions with her likeness. In this version-American Mona Lisa. The reason she is smiling is because she is covering her wrist, her bejeweled bracelet cuff, that I make and wear, with her hand. You can see the jewels pouring out behind her fingers. It is our little secret. La Dee Da Vinci.