Bob Dylan sounded like he really meant it. “Baby, please stop crying. Stop crying. Stop crying. Baby please stop crying,” Dylan sang his plea with great force. It’s a fine performance but “Baby, Stop Crying” is hardly a Dylan classic. Street Legal, the album on which it appeared, is one that still gets mixed reviews forty-one years after its release. But my friend Bob Woodland got swept up in the song one evening as we drove to dinner. As it played on the radio, Bob sang along viscerally, hitting the wheel with his hand. After the song was over, we talked about Street Legal and other albums released in that Summer of 1978, Some Girls by the Rolling Stones, Darkness On The Edge Of Town by Bruce Springsteen and a few more.
A common interest in music inspired our friendship. The first conversation we ever had was at Peaches Records and Tapes, where I worked, as he was purchasing an album by The Beach Boys. I liked the album and had to chat the guy up about it. During the conversation we remembered playing in a pick-up football game in front of Grady High School a year or so before. We also discussed a shared love for baseball and our woeful Atlanta Braves. Within a few days, a lifetime friendship began.
There were many nights at a mostly empty Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where we watched the Braves fall to Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds, Mike Schmidt and the Philadelphia Phillies, Lee Mazzilli and the New York Mets and on and on. It seemed any team was formidable opposition to the Braves in the mid to late ’70s. But Bob and I enjoyed our time at the stadium, just like we enjoyed the concerts at The Omni, The Fox Theatre, The Great Southeast Music Hall and other Atlanta venues.
One evening in the Summer of ’77, we went to a Supertramp concert at The Fox. Neither one of us were fans of the group but enduring the show was thought to be worth it. The reason for that was the swell party for record industry types afterward in the Fox’s Egyptian Ballroom. It was quite the soiree. We had a nice time milling about. But a pleasant conversation with a Supertramp roadie suddenly went bad. The roadie was a big guy. Think about the guys who made up the Los Angeles Rams’ Fearsome Foursome. The roadie looked bigger. This was a conversation that didn’t need to turn sour, but it couldn’t be helped. The roadie criticized the fans who paid their way in to see the concert. In fact, he noted that except for San Francisco, all the shows in the U.S. were a drag. And the roadie disliked the South. That really stuck in Bob’s craw. He had spent most of his growing- up days in the North but since moving to Atlanta a few years before, he had become very sensitive to snide comments about the South.
The conversation I was trying to tune out became too loud to ignore. The roadie said something negative about the South again. Bob asked the roadie if he could quote him on that. The roadie became indignant. He asked, “Why? Are you a reporter?” Bob said no but that I was. That was true. I had done some writing for alternative papers in Atlanta over the previous few years. So I mumbled out the name of one of the papers. The paper didn’t strike the roadie as important and he got angrier. He lifted Bob by the collar and led him out the door. I followed close behind as I did not want the roadie dragging me out also.
So there we were outside The Egyptian Ballroom. We figured it was probably time to go home anyway. As we walked back to our apartments just a mile or so from The Fox, Bob didn’t seem angry about the roadie being such a bully. Instead he was bothered by the guy’s attitude toward the South, the USA and the fans that made his job possible. We did decide, however, that we would not go to a concert by a band we really didn’t care for again, no matter what kind of party was planned after the show. All in all, it was just another day in a rather happy life.
The fun continued. There were more concerts. We saw the American debut of The Sex Pistols at The Great Southeast Music Hall in January ’78. That was a sensational event. Reporters and camera crews from all over the country were there to learn what it all meant. For us, it meant a fun night. Bob enjoyed the fun aspect of rock and roll. When I wrote about Larry Williams’ songs for Like The Dew, he sent me a note, recalling how his band in Virginia had played “Slow Down” and “Bony Maronie.” He said not many bands played that kind of rock and roll in the early seventies but that didn’t stop him and his mates. They were great, timeless pieces of music.
There would also be great baseball in our town. The Atlanta Braves won their division in 1982, but that was a fleeting moment of success. They became a dominant team in the ’90s, however, eventually winning fourteen straight division titles. Three Braves pitchers won a combined six Cy Young awards between 1991 and 1998. We had a terrific baseball team to support. Watching and discussing a successful team was a new experience. It was no longer about waiting for next year. It was about waiting for the next game.
Even with the adult responsibilities of careers and children, Bob and I continued to keep up with each other. Our passions for baseball, Dylan, The Beatles, San Francisco, and politics (we disagreed there sometimes) continued. It was always terrific when we were on the same wavelength. In the summer of 2004, between innings at an Oakland Athletics — Texas Rangers game at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, The Beatles’ “Come Together” was played over the sound system. Instantly he and I were in gear, talking not only of what a great song it was, but also the splendid sounds of Paul McCartney’s bass lines. We noted the same went for “Something,” the flip side of “Come Together.” It was agreed that even though McCartney had not written either of those songs, his lovely bass playing made them partly his. There were always great things to discuss and be happy about. Such enthusiasm reminds one of legendary tavern owner Manuel Maloof’s claim, “Anybody that don’t like this life is crazy.”
The life that Bob Woodland loved so much ended on October 25, 2009 after a sudden but serious illness. He would have turned 60 in less than two weeks. He left behind family and friends with loads of great memories. Many of those memories are held here in Atlanta, where he and his family made their home, where so many friends can point to countless places and say, “I went there with Bob.”
Some of the places are gone, like the Great Southeast Music Hall and Atlanta Stadium. One key destination, Turner Field, was retrofitted and became Georgia State Stadium after our Braves moved to a suburban shopping district. I can imagine much wailing and gnashing of teeth between the two of us at Manuel’s. The Cumberland Mall Braves? The Braves leave over a half-century of history in a bustling international city to be another attraction in Mall-Land? Even our roadie friend with Supertramp would commiserate with us on that.