His Izzyness

 Open the door, Homer
 I’ve heard it said before
 Open the door, Homer
 I’ve heard it said before
 But I ain’t gonna hear it said no more
— Bob Dylan, “Open The Door, Homer”

On the south side of town, there’s a small one-room office space that looks like a living room. It’s on the street level, in the corner of a big building, and with its big windows opening on two streets, it would be perfect for a small store. It’s not a store, though, it’s a folk music center. Or, rather, a Folklore Center. Or, even more accurately since we’re in Sweden, a Folklore Centrum.

It used to be called Folklore Center, way back in the 1950s when it was located in the Greenwich Village in New York, and when Bob Dylan used to hang out there. The founder, Izzy Young, produced Dylan’s first concert at the Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York in 1961 and when he moved to Sweden in the 1970s, he took the center with him and turned it into a centrum.

Basically, Izzy’s been a folk music legend for a good five decades, but up until last winter, I had never heard of him (and that says everything about me). Then I got a new colleague, Danny, who told me stories about Izzy – he helps Izzy run his small concerts in the small space – and we laughed, and then I forgot about Izzy and folk music again.

And then Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize in literature.


As you may remember, His Bobness didn’t even acknowledge the news at first, keeping everybody on their toes, guessing for his reasons for the silence. Even I did it. Since there’s nothing worse that not having anybody to quote, the media started to look elsewhere – and found Izzy. And they found him in Sweden where the Nobel Prize announcement is always made, no less.

He spoke with several newspapers and the ones he didn’t speak with quoted the ones that had gotten a comment from him. Izzy said it was about time Dylan got a Nobel Prize. The New York Times even sent a reporter to talk to Izzy, who unfortunately missed the meeting, and the reporter had to return to America emptyhanded.

See, the 88-year-old legend likes to keep to his neighborhood in Söder in Stockholm, and sometimes he loses track of time and sits in his favorite coffeeshop chatting with people. That’s what Danny says, anyway, and he knows Izzy pretty well. So, two weeks after the Nobel Prize announcement followed by just as long a period of silence from the Dylan camp, Danny took me and a half a dozen other colleagues of ours to the Folklore Centrum.

All were supposed to have dinner that night but Danny realized he’d have to work at the Centrum so we made a compromise: we had an early dinner and then met up with him there.

“I’ll be in the corner pouring wine,” he had told us.

While Danny had told us that the space looked like somebody’s living room, I still couldn’t picture it until we got there.

It did look like somebody’s living room with a big bookshelf – with several books on Dylan – covering the shorter of the two non-window walls while the other one was covered with posters that told the story of the folklore center. There were photos, concert posters, and notices everywhere.

img_5824In the corner, written on the wall were Izzy’s important phone numbers, Danny’s was among them. He looked proud when I asked him if the “Danny” on the wall was him.

In front of the bookshelf, there were rows of chairs for the few dozen people expected to show up for that night’s show. Twenty-five people showed up that night.

The shows vary in style and while theoretically there should be one every two weeks, they’re organized in a little more haphazard way. However, when there is a show, it’s done the only way the Folklore Centrum does anything: Izzy’s way.

“By the way, there’s no talking during the show,” Danny told us.

“Oh, and, do not be late. Izzy won’t let you in if you’re late,” he added.

That’s why I was curious to see what would happen to the man who arrived 25 minutes late and then asked Izzy if he “used Swish”, the mobile payment system everybody in Sweden uses instead of cash.

Izzy only uses cash.

(He was saved by a friend who both vouched for him and had cash.)

That’s why Elona Planman and Maria Lindström, the featured artists that night, put on a funny and touching show, alternating between their own songs and songs by Dylan and the Kinks.

“Izzy thinks it’s part of the tradition,” Danny explained, “so he doesn’t like it if an artist only plays his or her own songs. He’ll just swear and tell them to get off the stage.”

And that’s why I was nervous opening the door – two minutes past seven.

Izzy greeted us wearing a checkered shirt and a New York baseball cap covering his white hair. His back was a little hunched as if pressed down by the weight of time, but he had a big smile on his face. Danny quickly stepped up to to make sure there’d be no trouble.

“Izzy, these are my colleagues,” Danny told him.

The legend looked at us while taking the five 100-krona bills from my colleague.

I was giddy. I have always tried to imagine what it would have been like to be in New Jersey in the late 1960s when Bruce Springsteen went from bar to bar playing for anybody who would listen. I loved the idea of being in the presence of a true legend, somebody who had seen a young Bob Dylan and recognized his genius.

“I don’t give a shit,” Izzy said then, with a big smile.


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