Thanks a million to Ronnie Keohane, who follows Dylan’s career appreciatively and generously and has shared many sharp insights on him and his music with the world over the years, for sharing this angle with me via e-mail:
When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterwards; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:21)
What may have caused Dylan to walk through a depressed New Jersey neighborhood looking at private homes for sale? We may never know but:
Dylan has been known to follow the directive above in Deuteronomy 24:21. When he is on tour he does not just skip town with the money from the shows.
We have seen the following:
His staff have a standing order to provide him with local newspapers of the towns he plays. (He built a playground for handicapped children after reading about the prohibitive insurance costs that were keeping a school for the disabled from construction of the playground. Dylan built it – the school covers the insurance)
His office researches worthy charities in the tour towns for the purpose of leaving profits behind. (An investigation into the donors of the Mother Hale House [in Harlem] revealed one year that Bob Dylan was a chief donor. This was because Dylan performed 5 shows at the Theatre in Madison Square Garden that year. Before the shows the Hale House received a phone call in which Dylan’s office specifically said he was looking for worthy organizations to support because he would be performing in NYC later that year.)
During overseas tours he has frequently been known to visit hospitals and meet not only with patients (children) but with hospital administrators and clergy. (RWB – I know that you have documented some anecdotes that support this.)
So why was the instigator of “Farm Aid” wondering through a minority neighborhood looking at “Houses for sale” – we may never know. But it is not a far reach to think he may have been doing his own charitable research this time or at very least acquainting himself with the struggles of his fellow Americans.
Indeed. Even if this has nothing to do with Dylan’s little walk in the rain on July 23rd, it’s an aspect of Dylan that is not well known but says a lot about who he is, and who he tries to be. It also says a lot about him that he tries to keep it quiet (and usually succeeds). I hope he wouldn’t resent this small reference to his habits of kindness. One time that one of his acts of kindness hit the news, albeit briefly, was when he visited Northern Ireland’s Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in 2004, entertained the kids and handed out harmonicas. He didn’t want it publicized, but a small story leaked out locally. At this point the only reference to it you’ll find, I think, are these tiny thumbnail photos buried in the database at web.archive.org: Click here to see.
(I remember someone from the hospital remarking in the original story that although many of the kids didn’t know who Bob Dylan was, they knew he must be somebody really famous because he was wearing a cowboy hat.)