Richard‘s voice thundered from inside Big Pink. We looked around at each other as if feeling for something in our pockets.
“Come and turn this off, Garth! The fucking tape‘s jammed!”
In the quiet that followed, a silent gesture from Garth left me in charge of the fire while he went into the house.
“What was that?” asked a dusty voice.
It was the man with the out-of-place hat. He was afforded no reply - instead everyone rushed to fill their glasses- until Garth and Richard reappeared and, shoulder to shoulder, from the doorway, offered their respective versions of the incident:
“Just one of those tapes we‘ve been recording in the basement, the system can get temperamental at times…” explained Garth in a conciliatory voice.
“It‘s just my way of saying hi, you assholes! I‘m saying 'hello' through someone else, it‘s the best way I can think of to let you know you chose the very worst day to come and hang out, for fuck‘s sake!”
No-one reacted to Richard‘s increasingly cracked voice, until a girl who was standing by me, next to the fire, broke the silence with a question as naive as she looked:
“OK, but who the hell is that Tiny Montgomery anyway?”
Stifled laughter and lukewarm toasts of lukewarm drinks ensued until Rick got up and holding a freshly-lit torch approached the girl who’d asked the question and offered it to her with a smile, adding a promising clue:
“You’ll have to stay a while longer, Julie, if you really want to find out.”
As Julie took the torch into her hand, trying not to burn herself, an almost sergeant-like voice, amplified by microphone, was broadcast from one of the open windows of the living room:
“Hey, guys, I don’t think it’s such a great idea to be airing in public what we’re privately plotting down in the basement. Not so soon anyway. How about we let the speakers create a more suitable ambience for this meeting of friends?…Thank you everyone for coming. Rick! Put something quality on to fit the mood!”
It was Robbie. And following this welcome speech, he waltzed out of the house through the living room door -his arm around the fabulous Dominique- and with hardly a word to anyone, grabbed the best bottle of champagne and headed straight over to sit by a tree. Luckily, the music Rick had chosen -evocative, luminous- began at once to be heard from the speakers that Richard -with so different a purpose- had placed on the sill and by then, the light was sufficiently scarce and the ethereal inputs sufficiently strong to allow conversation to flow without anyone feeling they had to perform for anyone else. Some people even started to dance.
Garth had returned to his place in front of the fire and just then Simone and Ash appeared, saying hi from the door of my caravan and pointing into it. Without saying a word, Garth gave me leave to go greet them.
“Hi Nar! Thanks for calling us, the party’s looking good… I’m getting bored lately in Zena, you know? You two aren’t really coming much, are you, so it’s cool to get together tonight with so many… 'beautiful' people. Dylan is coming too, right? Well, we’ve put some beers in the fridge and the rest of the provisions are in the backpack under the table, and…”
“Hey, stop already Ash!” interrupted Simone with a crooked grin. “It’s great to see you again, Nar, and this caravan always gives off a good vibe... Give me a hug!”
“Thanks for coming, and for the victuals. Dylan hasn’t turned up yet, Ash, we‘ll have to wait and see if he does…” -that annoyed look made me smile-. “If you like, let‘s get something ready and go and hang out with folks. I’ve been looking after the fire so far and have hardly spoken to anyone…”
“Done!” said Ash. “You go, I’ll follow in a minute.”
Simone and I grabbed some beers from the fridge and went up to the circle closest to the caravan. It had formed around a red-bearded man sitting on the floor and singing with an almost too-sweet voice. He played a beautiful Martin. Some guy asked in a low voice who it was and Simone shot him an ignoramus look, without deigning to reply. A group of girls looked on in fascination. It was too embarrassing to stay so we moved to the next group from which raucous, contagious laughter could be heard. A quirky-looking guy was telling what appeared to be a very amusing story. When were close enough, we saw it was Tiny Tim, who liked to drop by Big Pink now and then. He was making everybody laugh, except a very young girl who looked terribly sad. When he'd finished his story, Tiny sang a song for her, something about Memphis. His falsetto and the ukulele ended up making her smile.
Ash joined us bringing provisions. We moved around, thinking we’d share them with a group where two friends of Dylan -Neuwirth and Alk- were holding court on the topic of cinema whilst ten or twelve people listened in awe around them. Bad vibe, except from Richard, who was happy to see us.
“I can’t bear those two when they get talking so crazy. Let’s go somewhere else to try this supper you got here!” -his giggling made him cough for a while and he didn‘t even notice.
We walked a little way into a less well-lit area, gesturing Rick to come over. He joined us bringing one of the best-looking girls at the party. Sally she said her name was. We spread out a couple of blankets under some trees and there we stayed, sharing the best moment yet of the evening: an intense feeling of closeness.
After a long and snug silence, Sally shot out with a question which caught us quite off-guard:
“Do you think this 'summer of love' stuff includes people like us on the East Coast having parties like this?”
“Like this? What? Hmm. This ain’t exactly a party, is it baby, well, not yet anyway...” was Rick’s answer as he lay down next to her and started to kiss her.
“Ooh, baby, ooh-ee!” Richard briefly sang. “We can work on having a cool bash!”
We toasted as the laughter rose and just then I felt very lucky to be there, in that place at that moment in time. And I still feel that tonight, 49 years on, as I look at my face reflected in the mirror of a brown hatbox which once belonged to Dylan.