April 30, 2008
Foner, Du Bois, Bowers
Bowers, Claude: The Tragic Era, 1929
Du Bois: Black Reconstruction In America: 1860-1880, 1935
Foner, Eric: Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1988
While race, or species, is the cental problem of Reconstruction none of the above writers bothers to really examine the issue.
On the one hand the United States was settled by the highest exemplars of human development at that time. The evolutionary nature of the European settlers was unfolding at a rapid rate that was to blossom in the nineteenth century although still at a relatively low stage of development.
Added to his species of Homo Sapiens was the infusion of diverse African populations fresh from the jungles of Africa. The African peoples are believed to be the first Homo Sapiens to evolve. they had been in Africa for 150,000 years and had attained no indigenous level of civilization.
Not all African peoples are the same age. For instance, the Bantu peoples who came into existence in the Sahel near Ubang-Chari are an obvious Negro-Arab hybrid. The hybrid developed about 1000AD spreading South and East across the continent. The Bantus drove the indigenous Bushmen before them eventually forcing the remnant into the Kalihari.
The West Africans may be tha stock on which the Arab was grafted. Now, the anthropologists tell us that at some point the hominid strain evolved into Homo Sapiens I, which is to say the Black African. But, they don’t tell us, nor are they capable of it, exactly what separates the Last Hominid Predecessor from Homo Sapiens. We don’t know what those indicators are. Either the Last Hominid Predecessor has disappeared without a trace or the Bushmen may be the LHP or even the West African. Certainly there are marked differences between the African and the Semite, Caucasian and Mongolid. The difference is of an intellectual character as well as a number of physical ones, which is to say, genetic.
No one will deny the physical differences, they are maintained as merely cosmetic. It is in the intellectual field we encounter resistance.
Science has given ample proof that there is a difference in mental capacity between Africans and Caucasians, Mongolids and Semites. There is an emotional problem with the Biblically oriented because the bible says God created man and The Declaration Of Independence of the United States says that: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…’
So we have the statements of men against the scientific evidence of nature. I opt for science.
The European discovered Ameica and invaded it or settled it depending on how you choose to see it. Following the scientific approach of Darwin I understand that the Europeans invaded the continent driving the earlier settlers before it in the exact same way that one species of bird, for insance, supplants another.
The Europeans had not yet developed the notion of free labor the way they would in the nineteenth century so they brought indentured White ‘servants’ over who were in fact, slaves. Shortly thereafter a sea captain unloaded a cargo of Africans as laborers who also became slaves. Over a period of decades the Africans displaced the Europeans as slaves but not before extensive interbreeding as both species were used as field hands.
In Darwinian terns then, as a competing human species Europeans displaced the Native Americans, or Indians, while at the same time introducing the African species which by the time of Reconstruction would enter into competition with the Caucasians for possession of the the continent. The difference in species was an irreconcilable difference, an either-or situation. This is the tragedy of the United States of America and the Western Hemisphere.
Africans were always a signficant portion of the population of the United States, moreso in the South but they were not inknown in the North where they were treated little differently than in the South. Edgar Allan Poe recors an instance of Negro slavery in Pennsylvania that was not all that unusual.
Prior to 1793 the ratio of Black to White was much smaller but in that year Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. This invention opened the black lands across the South from the coast through Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas to Texas to cotton cultivation. Black lands does not refer to Negroes but to the soil.
Thus from 1793 to 1860 the importation of Africans increased greatly. The African population skyrocketed. At the time of the Civil War Du Bois estimates that 10% were African born. That is one in ten. The percentage born to mothers from from Africa and first Generation Africans must therefore represent a full 25% of the African population. Thus, at the time of Emancipation at least one in four can be said to be African in culture.
Indeed, Mark Sullivan (1874-1952) in his wonderful multi-volume popular American history, Our Times, recalls the charm of the Africanisms of the Negro that had disappeared by the turn of the century.
Contrary to common belief the number of slaveholders in the South was relatively small. Non-slaveholders outnumbered slaveholder by a considerable margin. Also contrary to common belief Whites, Blacks and Indians all owned slaves. As one progressed from East to West conditions became more barbarous. Relatively benign in the East by the time one reached Louisiana where the majority of Black slave owners domiciled according to Du Bois slaves were actually worked to death, the owners then buying replacements. Although it was denied and covered up Kentucky bred Africans for sale to the Deep South.
There are those who say that slavery was a dying institution that would have disappeared on its own. Whether it would have or not I see little to indicate such a development.
The plantations could huge affairs of a hundred thousand acres or more; self-contained cotton growing duchies. Having the economic power the Planters controlled politics. The much larger non-slave owning White majority was despised by both Planters aand Blacks while being bent to the will of the Planters. It is interesting to watch Du Bois twist and turn trying to explain why it was right for the slaves to despise the ‘po’ white trash.’
The Planters built up a very pleasant situation for themselves on the backs of both Blacks and Whites. ‘Oh, Darkies, how my heart grows weary’, Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox and that sort of thing. Disney’s Song Of The South really cranked out the Blacks. The Planter-Black alliance against the Southern Whites has evolved today into the Liberal-Black alliance against ‘Whiteness.’
At the time the Planters had abundant opportunity to study the Blacks. They came to the conclusion, without using the term, that the Africans were a different species, since corroborated by science.
Thus, when Reconstruction began we had a two species competing for the same territory. The species were inherently unequal. Equality of intellect could only be obtained by education, if at all. In addition, as I noted, fully 25^ or, one in four, had but recently been removed from the African jungles. The remaining three quarters had been in the state of slavery for generations. They were thoroughly cowed. Any hope of freedom they had was hundreds of years old. They were in a body illiterate. Indeed, it was against the law to school them.
As Du Bois points out because of its hitorical relation to the French Caribbean Louisiana had the largest group of educated and cultured Blacks. Indeed, the early cultural history of New Orleans is worth of study. There were things going on there that weren’t going on in other places.
At one stroke then in 1863 the bonds of the community were broken apart and this Black population nearly equal in size to the Whites, in some places exceeding it, was placed on a political parity by Northern bayonets. Truly a secon Civil War in the South between Blacks and Whites was the only possible result. The first result as Eric Foner says was the Unifinished American Revolution.
The argument of Du Bois depends on the character of the Negro. That it is both wrong to enslave another and that the introduction of the Negro into the Americas as the greatest error of all goes without saying. The point is that we have two Homo Sapiens species competing for the same land. The dirrerences are irreconciable and can only be solved by the elimination of one or the other. The problem as an evolutionary one is beyond reason. No amount of good will can resolve it. Tor those who haven’t thought this situation through the statement may sound strong but the current New Abolitionist movement is dedicated to the genocide of Whites. That simple fact cannot be denied.
Du Bois, who writes as a Black apologist and not an historian, has , or ast least displays absolutely no psychological understanding of the participants. He believes he is an excellent historian but I’m not prepared to allow him that without a grasp of psychology.
In his view which he shares with Liberals the Negro is by nature an inoffensive, happy-go-lucky fellow who wouldn’t harm a fly. Why, during the war didn’t he stand by the Missus and the kids while the menfolk were off shooting the Negroes who had joined the Yankee war machine and made it work? According to Du Bois the war couldn’t have been won if those Negro soldiers hadn’t joined up.
Supposing that Blacks in the heart of the South did remain quiescent? Does that mean it was because they were happy and contented or does it mean they were waiting for the results before stirring? Actually the Southern states were the only place Africans in the world were so quiescent so we have to look for other reasons than good natured loyalty.
Earlier in the century when a majority population of Africans revolted against a small minority of Whites in Haiti the Africans slaughtered the White males while retaining the White females as sex slaves.
In Jamaica where the small minority of Whites couldn’t control the large majority of Africans, Africans escaped to the hinterlands where they formed their own district and carried on guerilla warfare from there.
Their earlier African heritage had been no different than the Africans of the South. Tribal wars of extermination were the sole constant of African life. Tribal centers rose and fell. Livingstone and others discovered burnt over ruin after burnt over ruin, formerly populous lands entirely deserted.
In today’s Africa Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has completely demolished the civilization Whites had built up. One of his first acts upon taking office was to attempt the extermination of the Matabele Zulu over a hundred and fifty year old grievance.
Now that the Africans in South Africa have been granted power over the Whites they are committing genocide against them while dismantling the civilization the Whites built up. They simply cannot sustain it.
In the United States today the Blacks of New Abolitionism are calling for the disappearance of Whiteness now that the United States’ unfinished revolution, as Foner expresses it, is rushing to its conclusion. Unless the Whites of America wake up Whiteness will disappear and the unfinished revolution conclude in their destruction. In other words, in the Darwinian sense the African species of Homo Sapiens in competition with the White Homo Sapiens species will eliminate them completely. Human abilities to speak and reason mean nothing compared to the forces of nature, especially when those forces go unrecognized.
Thus the major weakness of Du Bois’ thesis is that he fails to understand, at least state, the causes of irreconcilable differences. African people are not as he discribes them. Nor are Whites.
Bowers makes it more clear that from the White point of view the battle between Whites was the great tragedy. From that point of view the whole purpose of Reconstruction was to reconcile the Whites without any reference to Africans. The Africans were an unpleasant reality that cvould be disposed of in only one way and extermination was too horrible for the Whites to contemplate while, as we have seen, it wasn’t for the Africans of Haiti and isn’t for the Africans of today not only in Zimbabwe and South africa but in the United States of America. New Abolitionism means the genocide of Whites.
Bowers wrote in 1929 with popular success so that Du Bois’ volume seems to have been conceived in answer to Bowers. Bowers takes a pessimistic view of the capabilities of Africans while Du Bois stoutly defends their abilities. One is led to believe that there was no public edcuation in the South before the war while the bulk of the Whites were as illiterate as the Africans by Du Bois. The Africans in their desire for learning then organized the entire public school system generously including Whites who promptly segregated the schools.
A.W. Tourgee in his novel Bricks Without Straw that Du Bois refers to constantly has an interesting passage in which this notion apparently began and persists to this day. Bricks Without Straw p. 127:
As they rode away the two representatives of antipodal thought discussed the scenes they had witnessed that day, which were equally new to them both, and naturally enough drew from them entirely different conclusions. The Northern man enthusiastically prophesied the rapid rise and miraculous development of the colored race under the impetus of free schools and free thought. The Southern man only saw in it a prospect of more ”sassy niggers,” like Nimbus, who was ”a good enough nigger, but mighty aggravating to the white folks.”
With regard to the teachers, he ventured only this comment: “Captain, it’s a mighty pity them gals are teaching a nigger school. They’re too likely for such work- too likely by half.”
The man whom he addressed only gave a low, quiet laugh at this remark, which the other found it difficult to interpret.
Over the succeeding century and a half the Africans seem to have lost their zeal for education while being less cpable of it than the Northern man thought. No miraculous development of Africans has ocurred. The facts seem to be that the average intelligence as measured by IQ testing of the African species is fifteen or twenty points below that of the Whites while being even higher in Africa where the Africans have not come into direct contact with Western Civilization.
That this fact is true can be seen by the institution of Affirmative Action. Blacks have access to equal education but in order to get ‘equalization of results’ the Liberal reactionaries have essentially given Africans a fifteen to twenty point handicap and the declared results equal.
I wonder what Tiger Wood would thing about Affirmative Action in golf where his oppoents where given a ten or fifteen point handicap?
The Liberals tacitly acknowledge the unbridgable gap in intellectual capabilites between the two species by the institution of Affirmative Action.
Thus following the defeat of the South, Northern troops were garrisoned in the South to establish equality on the point of a bayonet which was the only way it could be done.
Both Bowers and Du Bois point out the hyprocrisy of the North forcing recial equality on the South when they denied such equality to Africans in the North. The hypocrisy was stifling. While the North insisted on the enfranchisement of the Africans in the South there were very, very few places in the North where Africans were allowed to vote.
Du Bois repeatedly refers to Tourgee’s (with a soft G) Bricks Without Straw in corroboration of his view. I have since read Bricks Without Straw which I found a good novel and historically valuable but my reading of the story doesn’t produce the same results as does that of Du Bois. It seems that there is more than one way to approach the story.
Tourgee was a carpetbagger who went South to make his fortune. While I have faith that his representation is accurate he still describes two different species, as in the above quote, competing for the same space within the framework of the recent past. If he is speaking his own thoughts through the mouth of the Captain then if he were alive today he would have to admit his error.
The Africans were still a freed people with a two hundred year history of subjection. There was no way they could function in a free society. The situation was impossible. Ante-bellum laws had made it a crime to school slaves so that according to Tourgee not one African in a thousand could read or write. Du Bois in his depiction of the African’s eagerness for education places the figure much higher. It is difficult in the circumstances to understand how the millions of African in the black belt of the Cotton Kingdom could have gotten even a smidgeon of education. It was against the law. Laws are wonderful things, watch out for them.
Even freed it is impossible to believe that many adults could learn to read or write. Education requires the pliable minds of the yung. It takes real determination to learn to read and write as an adult which very few have. To be law abiding can be criminal under certain laws. Witness the lawful Naze society.
Bowers gives a feel for the conflict between the species with atrocities on either side. Du Bois takes theposition of the poor suffering amiable negro who was harassed and brutalized by the Whjites while patiently relying on the courts for justice. Remember he believes this the Negro nature.
Bowers is closer to the truth but that is irrelevant. As Foner says this was the beginning of America’s unfinished revolution. Reconstruction was the first phase followed by the counter revolution of the Jim Crow period. That period ended, to use a convenient date in 1954 with the Supreme Court decision in Brown Vs. The Board Of Education.
Thus the African revolt began into the present time. The candadicy of Barry Dunham-Obama signifies the completion of Foner’s unfinished revolution. If elected the Liberal-African combine will begin in earnest to eliminate Whiteness in America. The genocide of Whites which has already commenced and is fairly well advanced will be prosecuted in earnest.
Open your eyes and actually see what is happening.
April 27, 2008
Exhuming Bob IX
Chronicles Vol. I
…I needed to get my own place, one with my own bed, stove and tables. It was about time. I guess it could have happened earlier, but I liked staying with others. It was a less of a hassle, easier, with little responsibility- places where i could freely come and go, sometimes even with a key, rooms with plenty of hardback books on shelves and stacks of phonograph records. When I wasn’t doing anything else, I’d thumb through the books and listen to records.
Not having a place of my own was beginning to affect my super-sensitive nature, so after being in town close to a year I rented a third floor walkup apartent…
Bob Dylan, Chronicles Vol. I
Yes. Bob’s super-sensitive nature needed his own bed. He and Suze Rotolo were an item soon after he met her in July of ’61. He had to give up the the comfort of other people’s books and records in other people’s digs. He needed his own privacy now.
Suze would be an important influence in his life. She came from a long line of Communist agitators. She was not only Red to the- but was working for- CORE there in New York City. Bob wasn’t writing much as yet since his major influences hadn’t come together. While Bob doesn’t mention all those old C&W records as a songwriting influence he nevertheless has always written within a Country and Western context. Guthrie, his first attested major influence rose from a C&W milieu.
From being an apparent pauper, one reason Suze’s mother didn’t like him, Bob suddenly had the affluence to rent an apartment while being able to furnish it, even buying a used TV. He and Suze moved in. Suze is putting out an autobiography this month (May, 2008) so we’ll see if we can see what Bob saw in the girl.
As a Communist lass working for CORE Suze must have talked up Civil Rights and other Reconstruction views a bit so we may probably accurately assume that she influenced Bob’s songwriting direction when he gets his songwriting attitude organized here in a paragraph or two.
Bob came from small town Mid-West Hibbing. I do know where that’s at. While he was interested in records there was no indication he was ever interested in any other cultural areas. He doesn’t seem to have evidenced any interest in the varied cultural life of New York City before he met Suze. He was no habitue of museums although he does tell us he haunted the library where he read newspapers- those from 1855 to 1865. No news like old news.
His mind had been little prepared for what Suze had to show him. Mid-West small towns can be stifling and that’s no joke.
As Bob says: I began to braoden my horizons, see a lot of what the world was like, especially the off-Broadway scene. Then he mentions Le Roi Jones’ (Amiri Baraka) and the Living Theatre play, The Brig. Bob may have seeen those plays with Suze but he didn’t see them within the time limits of his story so they could have had no influence on his songwriting development at this time. Dutchman and The Baptism of Jones that he mentions were first performed in 1964 as was the Living Theatre’s, The Brig. It is interesting that Jones’ The Bapstism is described as anti-religious when Jones turned Moslem and became Baraka shortly thereafter. Baptism must have been more anti-White.
Jack Gelber’s The Connection was made into a movie in ’62 so he could have seen the play within this time period. I couldn’t find any time period for the play but it ran for over two years. I didn’t come up with anything for the Comedia Del Arte.
The Brecht-Weil show drew a blank but as he seems to have been knocked out by the song Pirate Jenny that may have influenced his song When The Ship Comes In, while he gives it prime importance as an influence that formed his skills he must have seen that sometime in the Fall of ”61 or the Spring of ’62.
He and Suze did visit the artist hangouts she was familiar with while broadening Bob’s horizons by trips to MOMA and the Metropolitan. Bob probably saw Picasso’s Guernica at MOMA where it was on display at the time. Bob developed a real interest in painting during this period.
So, we have the book thumbings from his freeloading days, the records, Suze and her art influences and then when John Hammond signed him he gave Bob an acetate of the first Robert Johnson album, which didn’t sell for beans I might add. The first Robert Johnson LP was released in 1960 so I don’t understand why Bob was given an acetate unless it was just lying around and Hammond picked it up or else acetates were a sop to new signees who had just been contractually screwed. You think managers are bad, try record companies.
Johnson was a revelation for Bob. He saw something in the LP which only a few people ever have. I’ve listened to it a couple of times and I’m with Dave Van Ronk. So What? There’s nothing to the vocals and he’s obviously a beginner on guitar. It’s not that he’s inventive he just doesn’t know how to play.
The story Bob tells is that a teenage Johnson is hanging around some Blues heavies and they shoo him off. Johnson then meets a supposed guitar wizard nobody’s ever heard of who teaches this very receptive student mega volumes of guitar lore so that Johnson returns to the Blues heavies a year later to knock their socks off with his virtuosity. As Van Ronk says: ‘…oh that lick’s from here, this one’s from there; that song is a reworking of another and so on. Greil Marcus quotes Johnson’s lyrics extensively in his Mystery Train. Wow! I guess too much of nothing can be a good thing.
But anyway Bob learned three or four times as fast from Johnson as Johnson learned from the old coot who taught him. Bob was up and running within three months.
However Superbob the Songwriter wasn’t ready to step forth from the phone booth yet, there was something else lacking, what was it, something or other. That’s it, in French, l’ autre. Bob had discovered that he was someone else. I know where that’s at too; I’ve been called somethin’ else a couple times I can remember. So Bob was somewhere between Bob1 and Bob2. The transition from Bobby Zimmerman to Bob Dylan had to be completed. Bob picked up a copy of Arthur Rimbaud. The book fell open in his hands and the words ‘Je suis un autre’ floated up before his eyes and were sucked into his soul. Bob too realized that he had or was un autre. Now Bob was ready to rock and roll.
This is a pretty story and I like it. I like it a lot. It might even be true, I’m sure I don’t know and maybe Bob isn’t real positive. Anyway the songs began to roll out. John Hammond who had seen only a couple when he suspicioned there might be more in Bob’s head so he sent the underaged lad to be signed by Lou Levy. Songs were in the air I guess and Albert Grossman had his radio tuned to Bob’s brain and must have heard them. Like a vulture spotting a dying man from several thousand feet in the air the eagle eyed Albert, and that is not meant as an insult, descended on Bob and scooped him up. Wish I’d been there with the gift of gab, a shovelful of chutzpah. A dream of a life time and Albert split it in two to come up with Bob and Peter, Paul And Mary. The Fearsome Foursome.
Although Bob was to have difficulties with Albert in later years when Albert’s cut was growing larger than Bob’s he seemed to have been welcome at this time. Peter Yarrow says that without Albert Grossman there wouldn’t have been a Bob Dylan and this may be God’s own truth. So how much did Bob really owe Albert? But like The Colonel and Elvis a manager seems to inevitably believe the whole belongs to him. The manager’s cut just seems to get larger and larger while the artist he’s working over gets to lick the plate. But, those problems were in the future and as Bob’s songwriting skills matured Albert got him much more money than he could have gotten otherwise.
April 26, 2008
Chronicles Vol. I:
I rather admire Bob’s method of integrating his life into history. He makes himself part of the unfolding plan of historical development. As some very ancient fellow once said: The unexamined life is not worth living. Having posted the rather narrow parameters of his story- that of his signing by Lou Levy and his subsequent redemption of the contract- he fits in most of his intellectual development to the time of the redemption of the contract.
He does this in an interesting way. In Chaper 2, The Lost Land, an interesting title in itself, gives the feel of prehistory, he begins by describing how like some insect he burrowed into the nest of Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel where he lived in parasitic comfort.
The path to Ray and Chloe’s door is interesting. First he met Dave Van Ronk, through Van Ronk he met Paul Clayton and through Clayton Gooch and Kiel. Bob is going to suck off Van Ronk and Clayton to a very large extent also. Bob describes his hosts as quite eccentric, one might almost say, weird. As a foreign body in the cocoon he even studies them dispassionately, clinically, one might say. As one species of another.
As with the other people he attached himself to they had a terrific record collection and what appears to be a large very eclectic library. While Bob appreciates the library one feels that he believes the selection of books as odd and weird his hosts. The library apparently formed the basis of his adult education as he thumbed the books. This is really the first step in how Bobby Zimmerman became Bob Dylan the songwriter. Remember he has only a year or so before his career is fairly launched and he no longer has any use for people like Ray and Chloe. Both appear to have been queintessential Bohemians- or Bohos in brief.
In this environment Bob provides us with this biographical sketch. P. 28
I was born in the spring (5/24) of 1941. The Second World War was alreadey raging in Europe, and America would soon be in it. The world was being blown apart and chaos was already driving its fist into the face of all new visitors. If you were born around this time or were living and alive, you could feel the old world go and the new one beginning. It was like putting the clock back to when B.C. became A.D. Everybody born around my time was a part of both. Hitler, Churchill, Mussolini, Stalin, Roosevelt- towering figures that the world would never see the likes of again, men who relied on their own resolve, for better or worse, every one of them prepared to act alone, indifferent to approval, indifferent to wealth or love, all presiding over the destiny of mankind and reducing the world to rubble. Coming from a long line of Alexanders and Julius Caesars, Ghengis Khans, Charlemagnes and Naopleons, they carved up the world like a really dainty dinner. Whether they parted their hair in the middle or wore a Viking helmet, they would not be denied and were impossible to reckon with- rude barbarians stampeding cross the earth and hammering out their own ideas of geography.
I don’t necessarily agree with the interpretation but one might ask what its intellectual background is. As bob was writing at the age of 53 of a period he didn’t remember and probably hadn’t formulated his opinions by 1959 he is projecting subsequently obtained knowledge back on his birth as falsified Persistence of Memory. I admire that. One has to have order in one’s life.
Actually if one has read more than somewhat in certain areas the intellectual foundations are more than apparent. Bob was born Jewish and for four years after his Bar Mitzvah- turning 13- he attended a Zionist summer camp for a month or month and a half in those summers.
There was a synagogue in Hibbing but it isn’t clear that Bob regularly attended services or was very observant. As an illustration of what being Jewish means let me cite an ad for the new cable channel called Shalom. This is the first all Jewish channel. In the ad or blurb a man is discussing his Jewish education. He says that they tell you that you will attend a goi school where you will learn to be an educated man. And then you will also attend this other school where you will learn what it means to be a Jew. The man says that he already knows what it means to be a Jew- You suffer. You suffer.
Thus at Camp Herzl- the Zionist Camp- Bob spent four summers learning to suffer as a Jew. Bob didn’t mention Camp Herzl in his book.
Now, Jewish teaching is that only Jews can rule a just world. Only Jews are cultured and learned, all others are like ignorant bulls in a china shop- mere barbarians. The last phrase In the quote from Bob is that the goi leaders were- rude barbarians stampeding across the earth and hammering out thier own ideas of geography. This is the exact opposite of how Jews imagine that they would be managing things.
the notion is that only Jews are capable of creating a just sane society. This notion hasn’t proven out well in post-WWI Russia, Hungary, and Central Europe or today’s Palestine but facts don’t disturb the notions of ideologues. We know that Bob is an Israeli citizen and it appears he follows the Party line. Can’t help himself, really, that was the way he was educated on the Jewish side.
Then, on pages 27 and 28 bob finds it important to mention Adolf Eichmann. Now, Bob only has 300 pages to work with here so we may assume he has selected only very key items to discuss. One could easily write 300 pages without mentioning Eichmann. I’ve written close to 3000 pages of autobiographical fiction and I don’t believe Eichmann has come up once. Nevertheless Bob writing of the time at the age of 53 has this to say:
(Ray worked) also an Omaha slaughterhouse on the kill floor. Once I asked him what it was like. “You ever heard of Auschwitz?” Sure I had, who hadn’t? It was one of the Nazi death camps in Europe and Adolf Eichmann, the chief Nazi Gestapo organizer who’d managed this, had been put on trial recently, in Jerusalem….His trial was a big deal. On the witness stand Eichmann declared he was merely following orders, but his prosecutors had no problem proving that he had carried out his mission with monstrous zeal and relish. Eichmann had been convicted and his fate was now being decided on….The State of Israel claimed the right to act as heir and executor of all who perished in the final solution. the trial reminds the whole world of what led to the formation of the Israeli State.
Spoken like a true Israeli patriot. There is no need to defend Eichamnn, the disposal of the conquered belongs to the conqueror without the legal hocus pocus of a trial. Did anyone believe that the Nuremburg Trial wouldn’t find the defendants guilty? Why the charade? There was no exonerting evidence that was going to be considered. The Israeli State was not even in existence during the Second Wrold War so by what right does the State of Israel act. None. Their own will. Be honest, they wanted to kill this guy, that’s all. They weren’t even one of the conquerors. They had nothing to do with the defeat of the Axis.
So what does the trial of Eichmann mean? The Israelis violated all international law by abducting an Argentine citizen without authority or extradition. If Eichmann was a thug the Israelis were no less so. Did they feel they had an overriding grievance? Bully for them. If they’re interested I’ll send a list of mine which I feel no less passionately.
And then the State of Israel has appointed itself to act as heir and executor of all who perished. That’s a convenient right to assign oneself. I, The Jury as Mickey Spillane said. What a convenient right. It doesn’t square with justice but then who among them are objecting. The Jews were self-righteously against capital punishment in all the other barbaric countries of the world. But…they would make an exception in Eichmann’s case. As time would show they would make a lot of exceptions. Assassination became there mode of operations.
As I say there is no need to defend Eichmann, if you want to kill him, kill him. No one will object, but to set aside all the rules, all the laws that separate civilization from barbarism seems a bit extreme. It does make one question one’s sincerity.
The trial does fit within the time frame of the novel though, so Bravo! Bob.
After that little moriaistic lesson for us all Bob brings us up to date on some of his musical influences, which were all excellent and then acquaints us with the foundation of his literary and intellectual education as provided by Ray and Chloe.
He says he did little reading as a kid. He also says he was not much of a student. One gathers then that the talk of the biographers about Bob being on the honor roll was a figment of Mother Beatttie’s imagination. She was apparently telling them of the Bob she wished Bob had been instead of the Bob that was. Primarily his own reading considted of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Luke Short and H.G. Wells.
Good influences all. Luke Short was also my favorite Western writer, him and Ernest Haycox. Of course I remember not a shred. The choice of H.G. Wells is probably represented by Seven Science Fiction Novels of H.G. Wells. His reading or Wells probably consisted of The War Of The Worlds, The Island Of Dr. Moreau and The Invisible Man. The other four didn’t get read very often but I have come to really appreciate The Food Of The Gods and In The Days Of The Comet. I’m a big Wells fancier myself having read about 90% of a very large corpus, some of it two or three times. At Bob’s age however I was only familiar with the volume Seven Science Fiction Novels Of H.G. Wells.
Edgar Rice Burroughs is my forte as my essays on I, Dynamo and ERBzine will attest. So both Bob’s and my own influences closely mesh. It is of interest to note that having read Tarzan Bob married a Black woman and installed her in Tarzana. Burroughs of course founded Tarzana naming it after Tarzan. Cute.
Bob goes on to discuss items he read in Ray’s library. Ray was a pretty interesting reader. Bob really fell through the rabbit hole when he moved in with Ray and Chloe.
I don’t feel the need to run through what he read, the reader can check it out himself if he wishes, but Ray provided Bob with a nagnificent foundation in a very short time. I am impressed that Bob found Honore de Balzac a great writer. Damn, that Bob does have an unerring nose for the best in both records and literature. Balzac is one of my favorites too although I’ve only read about twenty volumes of the immense corpus Balzac called the Human Comedy. If you want to read a really stunning story, a novelette, get The Girl With The Golden Eyes and have your life changed. Too bad Bob got confused by being forced to try to combine a liberal education with a Jewish one. I’ve got a Jewish one too, acquired late however, but I scrapped it as useless.
April 25, 2008
Chronicles I: Pensees
It has been four years since Chronicles appeared. Plenty of time to think about it. I reread it recently and may read it again while I’m writing this.
If you listen to the bitter denunciatory songs and read the various biographers of Bob’s life as it appeared from the outside one is astonished at the Happy Talk quality of the auto. We don’t even have an auto-biography here or even a memoir actually: what we have is a series of autobiographical essays that are more or less centered on the theme of how Bobby Zimmerman became Bob Dylan.
Bobby Zimmerman is telling the story but he’s not really mentioned by name. Bob was impressed by Rimbaud’s ‘Je suis an autre’ which translates I am someone else. In that sense it seems as if the ‘autre’ is talking about Bob. So the ‘autre’ is sort of an unnamed narrator. Bob carefully details the experiences that led to the transition from Bobby to Bob.
The key points are not those of either the songs or the biography. For instance no biography has mentioned Bobby Zimmerman’s close encounter with Gorgeous George. The experience seems to have centered Bobby’s life. I’m sure most people are too young to have even heard of Gorgeous George. Gorgeous flamed across the skies during the fifties.
Bob may have seen him on TV as early as 1951 when his family got their TV. Only ten at the time it would have been a major experience. According to Steve Slagle writing at:
In a very real sense, Gorgeous George single handedly established the unproven new technology of television as a viable entertaining new medium that could reach literally millions (of) homes all across the country. Pro wrestling was TV;s fisrt real “hit” with the public- the first programs that ever drew any real numbers for the new technology, and Gorgeous George was directly responsible for all the commotion. It was a turning point for Wagner (Gorgeous George Wagner), wrestling, and the country itself. Gorgeous George was probably responsible for selling more television sets in the early days of TV than any other factor.
He influenced…even Muhammed Ali, Little Richard, Liberace, and numerous other figures in both sports and entertainment.
He grew his hair out so it was long, could be curled and pinned back with gold plated bobby pins, and dyed it platinum blond. He wore elegant robes, dubbed himself “The Human Orchid” and was always escorted by one of his male ring valets (Geoffrey or Thomas Ross) who would spray his corner of the ring, as well as George’s opponents, with disinfectant and perfume.
No kidding, George was something else. That spraying bit brought a vocal response from the couches of America. He didn’t necessarily make you want to be like him but what he’d done was so phenomenal you wanted to do something to get that effect. Other phenoms like Mickey Mantle, Liberace and Little Richard captured that supernatural something, that aura, that charisma without being much themselves as was the case with Gorgeous George.
So you can imagine the effect on Bobby Zimmerman when George entered the arena as Bobby was playing and virtually acknowledged the kid’s existence. I mean, you could live a lifetime and never have that happen to you. And out of a lifetime of happenings the event was so fixating Bob chose to give it a central part in his essay.
The book begins and ends with Lou Levy, a song plugger, appropriately enough. Bob had been sent to Levy by John Hammond, his record producer, to be signed and sent to Lou Levy again by Albert Grossman, his manager to be unsigned. So the story Bob tells in his novel fits into a space between his signing and unsigning. By novel’s end, did I say novel, Bob Dylan is poised to step onto the world stage, Folk Music’s version of Gorgeous George.
In between he gives the details of the formation of Bob Dylan the songwriter. But it’s all Happy Talk; nothing bad happening . In contrast to Ballad In Plain D lamenting his breakup with Suze Rotolo which is almost too bitter why, all that happened was they came to an intersection, Suze turned left and Bob kept on going. That’s all there was to it, the inevitable going of different ways. Well, OK. Maybe at this stage in his life Bob wants to do the gallant thing. So, if these are just a series of impressionistic essays no problem. I thought Barefoot In The Park was good movie too. Bob’s got an OK story. Nice novelistic touch, but if this is supposed to be a memoir or autobiography the rendering is fully inadequate. Given the songs and the versions of the biographers I can’t believe it. The tale is woefully inadequate. Bob does call these chronicles although they aren’t that either. I thought I was buying an auto-biography; I really wanted more. Where’s the beef? as the saying went.
However Suze did have an infuence on Our Man. Bob doesn’t mention the political influence apparent in the songs and dwelt on by the biographers though. Suze introuduced him to the art world, the avant garde theatre. One of what he considers his major influences, Brecht-Weil, came through her. Bob makes it sound like this was an exotic world and one to which he didn’t return when he and Suze, not so much as broke up but, went their separate ways. He gives the impression that he was an outsider looking in to Suze’s world. Nice, but not that nice. Maybe his lack of appreciation had something to do with the drawing apart.
But, hey, life was blissful. He moved in on Fred Neil at the Cafe Wha; much as he tells it in Talking New York, who was useful but Bob had eyes on the Gaslight and Dave Van Ronk. He met Van Ronk, the story is worth dwelling on, moved in on him, gained access to the Gaslight through Van Ronk and never entered the Cafe Wha’ or one assumes spoke to Fred Neil, again. Bob doesn’t look back.
Bob also moved in with Van Ronk and his wife Terri. He moved in with several people but first he made sure they had large record collections and libraries. Bob made good use of both so that he became conversant with books and authors, recording artists. Happy talk, life was good. So, one has to ask, where does Positively Fourth Street and its bitter taunting tone enter in? Not in this novel.
His apartment on Fourth Street where he lived with Suze was blissful too. It was all great, except for maybe Suze’s mother. Then John Hammond discovered him, signed him to Lou Levy. That brought the attention of Albert Grossman, exit Lou Levy, end of story.
But by then Bobby Zimmerman was the eseential Bob Dylan and the great adventure was about to begin.
I enjoyed the book. It was a good novel. I even learned some things about Bob Dylan. Bob clarified the provenance of his born again last name. Came from Dylan Thomas just like we knew all along. There was an awful lot of stuff left out and a lot just skimmed over. For instance it seems that Bob left high school in early Spring which would mean that he didn’t graduate. He talks of playing with Bobby Vee in the Summer of ’59 yet he also says that he went down to Minneapolis in early June and hung around Dinkytown and U. Minnesota for the whole Summer. So, there is some mixed up confusion from, say, April to August that is very vague.
These were medium good essays but far short of having any real auto-biographical substance. Didn’t really tell us too much of nothin’.
I will certainly buy Vol II when it comes out but I suspect it will be about 300 pages of Happy Talk about his most productive period possible edging into his ‘Middle Period’ and the Rolling Thunder Revue. Or perhaps it will mainly concentrate on his ‘protest’ years with forays elsewhere. If the volume is as superficial as this one however I’ll not only abandon the happy talk but be a little disgruntled.
April 10, 2008
The Walls Of Red Wing
Bob And The Radio
It seems like most of Bob’s biographers are English. This poses certain problems as they try to write about things that they are not familiar with. Radio and music are two of them.
As regards the two it is very important to fix Bob’s age in the years of the fifties. He graduated high school in the last year of the fifties- 1959- at the age of eighteen. That means he began high school in 1957. That also means he attended Junior High from 1953 to 1956. Born in 1941 that means he was twelve in 1953.
There was no Rock and Roll in 1953 especially in Hibbing. It takes a lot of years for modern times to penetrate such outposts. I am three years older than Bob. My birthdate is two days after Bob’s so when he had just urned 12 I had just turned 15. My brother is the same age as Bob. The first true Rock and Roll song I remember was Bill Haley And The Comets. Shake, Rattle And Roll was OK but Rock Around The Clock was thin for me. Haley was pioneering but unsatisfying.
Things stayed that way pretty much until 1955 when RnR broke loose. Now, I was probably as much into records as Bob was. The town in mid-State Michigan that I grew up in was probably not too different from Hibbing although larger. Like Bob I went to an all White high school.
The only records I heard before Rock that were interesting were Hillbilly records after 1954 called Country and Western. They became ashamed of Hillbilly and wanted to dignify the genre. Country which is apparently thought to have a great deal more dignity than Hillbilly became the first half and Cowboy songs where dignified by Western becoming the second half. Wolfman Jack speaking of his station in the area around Shreveport said that they played both kinds of music- Country and Western. There is a rather sharp division there for those who have the eyes to see it.
Things stayed that way for me pretty much until 1955 when RnR broke loose. That was probably Elvis doing Heartbreak Hotel which played John to the Jesus of Be-bop-a-lula by Gene Vincent. Vincent faded quickly but Be-bop-a-lula strikes me as the actual birth of teenage rock and roll. It was backed by Woman Love which was even as great as the A side. Actually I think it was intended as the A side but the B side became the hit.
I didn’t really get into records until about 1955, mainly because there weren’t any records that merited getting into. I was then a Junior which put Bob in the eighth grade. If he says he was listening to all those downstream radio stations in eighth grade maybe he was but I tend to doubt it. That seems a little early but, may be.
Now the early to mid-fifties was a time of real diversity in pop music. Not only diverse but the hostility of not only old people but half of my class toward rock and roll was quite pronounced. Everything was done so suppress ‘moron’ or ‘pimple’ music. Ministers proclaimed it the devil’s music and a Communist plot. Might have been something to both charges but if there was it made no difference to me. And there really wasn’t much of rock and roll until late ’55 early ’56.
Big Band was still tailing off. The Dorseys had a big hit with the swing song So Rare as Rock took off. The male quartet, Four Lads, Crew Cuts, Hi Los were very popular, lots of big hits. Mitch Miller produced many excellent folk flavored records- The Bowery Grenadiers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Hank Williams songs were crossing over into pop performed by guys like Guy Mitchell. Even Marty Robbins, country itself, scored with A White Sport Coat And A Pink Carnation. Heylin may make fun of ‘Poor People Of Paris’ and songs of that ilk but they were at least equally as popular as RnR. Jim Lowe’s Green Door. Couldn’t be better. After all Pat Boone ran neck and neck with Elvis for a number of years. No kid at the time would have turned up his nose at such songs. Napoleon XIV They’re Taking Me Away, Ha Ha. Leroy Anderson has always been a favorite of mine- Syncopated Clock and others.
Of course in late ’55 and into ’56 Black ‘pop’ acts like Bill Doggett, Little Richard and Fats Domino -Chuch Berry- began to score. I recently bought a book by Cousin Brucie the New York Jock of the era; I never even heard of half his so-called classics. Where I was and where Bob was we never heard any real Black music nor would I , for instance, have listened to it. I tuned into Detroit Black stations a couple times and tuned out just as quickly. To put it politely, it was foreign sounding. Chicago was another country. So whatever Brucie and Alan Freed thought they were doing they were doing it in a major metropolitan area. It never reached the hinterlands. There was stuff that never even reached New York City. I’ve heard it and know why.
Bob and his family got a TV in 1951. That was kind of early but then his dad ran an appliance store. We only got our TV in 1954 so TV made an impact on me but more negligibly than on Bob. I was surprised that Bob doesn’t ever mention Dick Clark and his American Bandstand which should have been very influential in the life of Junior high kids in ’55 and ’56. High schoolers in ’57, ’58.
It should also be pointed out that there was little programming for TV in those years and fewer channels. For instance in Oakland, California where I was in 1958 there were only two of the three major networks on TV and there was barely enough advertising to support them.
If more than two channels could be pulled in in Hibbing I would be surprised. One of them carried Ed Sullivan because Bob saw Johnnie Ray on the Ed Sullivan show in ’53 or ’54. Heylin is mistaken in calling Bob on that one thinking Dylan could possibly confuse Johnnie Ray with Johnnie Ace.
Johnny Ray’s act was as outre as they come. It was so astonishing one could only gawk. All the other singers at the time tried to be sophisticated, cool, or whatever you want to call it. Ray was so emotionally unrestrained that he was psychotic. His song was ‘Cry.’ ‘When you sweetheart sends you a letter of goodbye, you’ll feel better if you let your hair down and cry-y-y.’ And Ray did just that right there on Ed Sullivan’s stage. He sobbed and moaned, leant over backwards until he doubled up then fell on the stage floor and sobbed from there. J. Geils went even crazier but by that time it was old hat. When Ray did it the first time your eyes just popped, you stopped breathing, looked around the room in wonder and pointed silently at the screen. That’s what Bob remembers. It was not Johnny Ace.
So that’s an approximation of the musical background we grew up with. Bob was picking this up three years before me at the same time. As a punk kid I can’t gauge his reactions accurately. If I’d known him at the time I would have thought he was a little moron. That was what I thought of my brother, a totally out of it kid, it didn’t matter what he liked or didn’t like.
We were all, those of us record literate, dissatisfied with our local radio stations. I don’t know if I was really dissatisfied but I knew or heard that there was more out there. Duluth was about the same size as my town so there would have been several local stations for Bob including Hibbing’s sole radio station. But, they would have been nothing compared to the down river mega blasters.
For the benefit of English readers the area between the Rockies and the Appalachians called the Mississippi Valley is an enormous flat area fifteen hundred miles wide by fifteen hundred miles long, give or take a mile. That means that a radio signal can travel unimpeded if it is non-direction over the whole expanse. After six o’ clock in the evening in those days a lot of stations shut down so there was less interference for the 24 hour stations. There was only one non-directional mega blaster tha I know of and that was XERB in Del Rio, Texas. The studio was in Del Rio but the transmitter was across the Rio Grande in Mexico. Mexico didn’t regulate it’s stations so their wattage was unbelievable. At the time Wolfman Jack began his career they were blasting 250,000 non directional watts from across the river from Del Rio. Since I presume any readers are interested in this sort of thing Wolfman Jack does a fabulous telling of the history of XERB from ‘Goat Glands’ Brinkley to the present in his no less fabulous autobiography. The Wolfman’s slipped by unnoticed but it is well worth seeking out.
Strangely to my ear Bob is never mentioned in the same breath as Del Rio. XERB must have come in clear as a bell straight up river to Hibbing.
Bob merely talks about Shreveport, the home of the Louisiana Hayride. This is also the area that the Wolfman got his start. I believe he talks about Gatemouth and that he patterned his act on his. I could get Shreveport but I didn’t like it as well. Besides I was probably off to the side of the signal and it didn’t come in as well. I listened mainly to Del Rio, Wheeling, West Virginia, Waterloo, Iowa and WCKY Cincinatti, Ohio. C for Cincinatti and KY for Kentucky just across that particular river. Those were all pure country stations especially Wheeling. If Bob didn’t get them they may have been directional off his band.
At any rate for all his talk of listening to Black music when people mention items in his record collection they’re usually country. Webb Pierce was of course tops. Bob also listened to a fair amount of Hank Snow. He owned Hank Snow Sings Jimmie Rodgers but he doesn’t seem to have had any of Rodgers records themselves. He apparently listened to those over at Echo’s. Rodgers requires a certain taste but if you have it he can’t be beat.
My impression from listening to Bob is that he had a lot stronger country background than Rhythm and Blues. I can’t believe there was too much R&B up there on the Iron Range.
And then he got those Leadbelly records for his graduation. Heylin may think it was spelled Lead Belly but I never heard that anywhere but in Heylin’s biography of Bob. Bob and I must have heard Leadbelly together for the first time in different places. Just for background I was in San Francisco in ’59 in the Navy. There was a record store down on Market St. specializing in Folk, Blues and Jazz. Some really obscure stuff. Don’t know how he sold enough to stay in business. Didn’t actually, when I went back the store was gone.
That was where I was introduced to groups like the New Lost City Ramblers and Bob Gibson and people like that and of course Leadbelly. Leadbelly was already legendary to me perhaps from Seeger and the Weavers. Huddie Ledbetter, his real name, was the most godawful stuff I ever heard up until that time. Since then, of course,…but why go into it. The songs were transcribed from worn out 78s onto a 10″ LP and not only was there nothing but noise but even with sound quality it would have been just hideous moaning. Bucklen was right; it wasn’t great, it was only OK. It always amazed me that people who wouldn’t listen to Hillbilly because it was ignorant would go gaga over stuff like Leadbelly.
So, anyway, that was pretty much Bob’s musical background until he showed up at U. Minnesota.
Bob’s Social Status
It is necessary to reconstruct to some extent Bob’s social status and his relationship to Echo Helstrom. Bob has a very deep seated psychotic reaction to his childhood in Hibbing. It is something that almost seems to grow with time. He had a real sense of rejection. This is not an uncommon situation of course but Bob had the uncommon talent to impose his psychosis on the world, a psychosis he has never been able to resolve.
This pyschosis is a difficult thing to work out. I have to combine my thinking here with an email correspondent whose initials are RM. The complete file of correspondence which is more than two hundred pages long can be found on the Lipstick Traces Part IX post on I, Dynamo if you want to read through it. RM has a real stream of consciousness writing style but she is extremely well read in the area of Dylan and Presley while having very good ideas.
The work is a matching of known details as reported by the biographers and an analysis of the lyrics of Dylan’s songs. The biographers seldom agree on the exact details while Heylin and Sounes seem to borrow extensively from Scaduto and Shelton. The general outline seems to be clear.
Bob”s early childhood seems to have been relatively happy but then the turning point in his life seems to have been his Bar Mitzvah. Rather this is so or not by the age of fifteen his sense of rejection and resentment had been firmly established in his mind.
Much is made of the so-called ‘anti-Semitism’ in Hibbing and its few Jews. Actually Hibbing had a fairly large Jewish population for its size and they were very influential. Nadine Epstein and Rebecca Frankel wrote an article for Moment Magazine, August 2005, titled: Bob Dylan; The Unauthorized Spiritual Biography. Moment is a Jewish magazine that doesn’t publish online so you’ll have to go to the library to download a copy of the article if you want it.
The two authors describe Hibbing thusly:
Hibbing’s downtown stands as a monument to its once vibrant Jewish community. “Every single store except for the J.C. Penney’s was owned by Jews,” recalls Neil Scwartz, 53, who grew up in Hibbing and is now a cantor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A glance at the 1942 Hibbing City Directory confirms this observation: Hyman Bloom owned the Boston Department Store, Jacob Jowolsky operated Hibbing Auto Wrecking, Nathan Nides owned Nides Fashion Shop, sold insurance and lent money. The first Avenue Market was owned by David M. Shapiro, Jack and Israel Sher ran the Insurance Service Agency and Louis Stein was the proprietor of Stein’s Drug Store. The Edelstein- Stones owned a string of movie palaces, including the local drive-in and the Lybba Theater on Howard Street, named after Bob Dylan’s maternal great-grandmother Lybba Edelstein, who came to the United States from Lituania in 1902.
By the 1970s, most of these businesses were gone. “When the mine closed and the miners lost their jobs, people were forced to move, and so the Jews who owned the stores lost their customers,” says Steve Jowolsky, 45. One of the handful of Jews remaining in Hibbing. Jowolsky runs his family’s scrap yard.
So Bob grew up in a town perhaps divided by a religious and social barrier. The Jews who owned the businesses and the goys who patronized them may have been resentful. There must have been inevitable conflicts which is probably why Bob didn’t like to be identified as a Jew.
The critical point is that after his Bar Mitzvah at thirteen for the next four years he attended a Zionist summer camp- Camp Herzl in Webster, Wisconsin. The Camp was and is a large 120 acre summer camp. There it seems that the Jewish youth of Minnesota and, actually from around the country and world, met and became acquainted so that Bob had extensive Jewish connections in Minneapolis-St. Paul the home of U. Minnesota.
There is some mystery concerning Bob’s Bar Mitzvah. For non-Jews, a Bar Mitzvah is a coming of age ceremony for men. If you’ve read your Golden Bough by J.G. Frazer you’ll know that when a boy was young he passed his time with his mother and the girls but when passing into puberty he was taken from the women by the men and underwent a born again ceremony to become a man going to live with the men. An example Frazer uses is that of passing through a rolled up cowhide symbolizing rebirth as a man. The story of Achilles in the women’s quarters is a coming of age of ‘Bar Mitzvah’ story.
In Bob’s case it is said that as there was no Rabbi on the Iron Range a Rabbi was brought in from Brooklyn specifically to give Bob a crash course in Judaism for his Bar Mitzvah. The mission having been accomplished the Rabbi was put back on the bus for Brooklyn.
This is a strange story. Shelton tells us that there was a synogogue and Rabbi in Hibbing while Duluth with a fairly large Jewish population had four. Certainly the several dozen Jewish families in Hibbing educated their sons for Bar Mitzvahs without resorting to each individual parent bringing in a Rabbi from Brooklyn, New York.
If the Rabbi was actually brought in then something else was going on.
Now, Bob’s Jewish name is Sabtai, that is he was named after Sabatai Zevi the last great Jewish Messiah. This says something about Abraham Zimmerman’s state of mind. A sect was founded on Zevi’s death in the seventeenth century that flourished as a signficant portion of Judaism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and continues to this day. Freud was of this particular Jewish persuasion. So must have been Abe Zimmerman.
If the story is true then the reason for rejecting the local and Duluth Rabbis must have been the the Sabbatian or Frankist Rabbi was essential to Abe Zimmerman’s conception of the religious education he wanted his boy Bob to have. The sect was centered in Brooklyn. Thus Bob’s adolescent and pubertal mind was clouded at thirteen with a concentrated infusion of Sabbatian-Frankist, possibly Lubavitcher, lore. Bob was now well on his way to his fabled ‘mixed up confusion.’ He had to reconcile extreme fundamentalist Jewish religion with a Country and Western goi outlook. This is what makes the guy really interesting.
Then on top of his Frankist crap he began to spend several weeks at the Zionist Camp Herzl. I interpret several to mean four to six, so that would be a large chunk of the summer separating him from the social life of Hibbing. Obviously his father wanted to immerse him in some fairly intense Jewish nationalism and religion. Theodore Herzl is of course the originator of Zionism which is a nationalist Jewish movement.
Bob attended four consecutive summers beginning in 1953. No person is independent of their environment. The Jews had become very distraught as a people after WWII. For some reason they projected Nazism on Americans and were very fearful that Americans were going to create an Auschwitz for them here. When McCarran built camps in 1953 for a possible Communist roundup the Jews felt sure it was for them. By coincidence Bob began attending Camp Herzl in that year.
As an example of the Jewish paranoia William Paley who owned CBS was so fearful that an attempt at extermination was near that he devised a plan to ‘save’ as many Jewish performers as he could. Thus he incorporated a number of Jewish musical and comedy stars as businesses and sold shares in their careers to prominent gois. TV emerged shortly after the war thus for ten years or so there was a long parade of Jewish performers down to Red Buttons who were given TV shows to provide a return for their investors thus ‘securing the lives’ of the performers. Jack Benny was a difficult act for them to program but once they did he amply rewarded his investors who had bought into him. I believe Benny was the last of the packages. So for all those years the performers were merely on salary when they could have been raking in the coin less the paranoia.
So that is the Jewish environment Bob was living in I am not Jewish but my wife is. Growing up in the fifties she was indoctrinated in the notion that everyone hated the Jews and were out to kill them. This affected her psychology profoundly but her reasoning was why woud anyone want to be something everyone hated when you didn’t have to be. She consequently rejected religion entirely, so there was no religious incompatibility between us as I from my side also rejected religion.
So Bob began his several week visit to Camp every summer in this environment. They don’t show extermination camp movies on TV like they used to but you may be sure Bob was given a steady diet of them every summer. Boy, they used to piss me off.
Before his Bar Mitzvah it is said that he was a friendly outgoing guy but became withdrawn and solitary in his high school years. I have little doubt that his religious training was responsible for it. If his father considered himself somewhat of a Jewish scholar as represented by this Hasidic or whatever Rabbi from Brooklyn then this added to Bob’s feeling of separation from what is described as almost wholly a Catholic environment. I would have felt stranger than he did.
Thus, while Red Wing may have precipitated a crisis in his psychology it was merely the icing on the cake, the straw that broke the camel’s back, etc.
Bob And Echo
Bob entered high school in 1956 at tge age if 15, At 15 he would have been fully aware. Little Richard would have burst on him in ’55 when he was either 14 or 15. Apparently Little Richard’s seeming lack of inhibitions made a tremendous impression on the already inhibited Bob. Richard hit at about the same time as the movie Rebel Without A Cause. The movie and its star, James Dean also blew Bob away. He saw it several times. He saw it at 14 I saw it at 17. I loved the movie but I was unimpressed by Dean. I saw the movie with a bunch of friends and while I was in awe they appeared to be in shock. This was serious stuff. Of course I fell in love with Natalie Wood while I was repelled by the bug-eyed Sal Mineo.
What spoiled the movie for me was Dean himself. It didn’t take me long to realize that he was an adult playing a ‘juvenile’ role. In his most famous scene, rolling the milk bottle over his forehead and actually drinking out of the bottle offended my so much I can’t explain it. He looked old there, at least 28, and he actually looked ancient in the scene in the police station. I may be the only one that ever thought that though.
Now, Heylin misunderstands the chicken or emasculation contest at the end of the movie. To set the scene properly America was just emerging from the Depression. Parents were still virtually paralyzed by their memories of the pre-war years. Teenagers were just beginning to be able to afford cars. The gut was full on Saturday nights but most were driving the family car.
For those that had cars the exhilaration was fantastic. That was the golden age of customization. Cars were lowered in the back, dual exhausts were put in, cars were souped up so that for a few years kids had cars that could outrun the stock models of the cops. Wow! Hey! John Dillinger never had it so good. Pretty Boy Floyd would have thought he was in heaven.
So, you’ve got the hot wheels and all that power so what do you do with it? You invent the game of Chicken. That Hollywood thing on the Pacific Palisades if it ever happened in real life was only possible because of the location on the Palisades.
The idea everywhere else was for two cars, two drivers to face each other from maybe three or four blocks away then floor the beast, accelerating all the way head on at each other. The first guy to swerve lost and was the chicken. Thoroughly emasculated. Some guys chickened out early some didn’t. I watched a few of these and thought I’d never seen such craziness. I hadn’t up to that time, but since…
So the idea in Rebel on the Palisades was not to jump out as close to the edge as possible which was so crazy some movie guy would have had to have invented it but to drive as close to the last stopping point as possible before hitting the brakes. I mean, this was so stupid. So the winner went well behond the stopping point and his car went over the cliff with him in it. Who’s going to get into a chicken contest and try to jump out of a car going sixty or seventy miles an hour? Kids are crazy but I hope there’s a limit. Although, I don’t know, I once played Russian Roulette with a loaded gun. Three rounds. I don’t like to admit it but you can’t change history.
So at this point Bob and Abe came into direct conflict. If Abe couldn’t understand Dean you can imagine Little Richard’s effect on him. So here his wonderful Hasidic Jewish kid is entering high school and flushing himself down the goi toilet. The conflict must have been intense. Apropos of parental conflict that was so intense it led to his disowning him. I read somewhere that his mother Beattie was the model for Visions Of Johanna. Bob’s own words but I can’t remember where I read it.
So Bob began what appears to be the three most action packed years of his life. Leaving the tenth grade shortly shortly after his sixteenth birthday Bob pestered his dad for a motorcycle now that he could get a license. Not a scooter either but a big machine. Harley. No Hondas. So at the incredibly young age of sixteen Bob got himself a big bike. Bob’s dad must have been a very indulgent father. You can ride a bike up on the Iron Range for only a few months a year. Bob went to summer camp between 10th and 11th too so he really didn’t have much time to ride it. But somewhere in there he met Echo Star Helstrom.
Echo impresses me as a tough chickie from the other side of the tracks. she apparently impressed others that way too.
Scaduto quotes one Linda Fuller:
Bob was considered one of the tough motorcycle crowd. Always with the black leather jacket, the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, rather hoody. And Echo with her bleached hair and vacant look; That’s mostly how I first noticed him, running around with this freaky girl hanging on the back of his motorcycle, with her frizzy white hair flying and her false eyelashes. It was shocking to me. I tried not to be narrow minded, but I thought that crowd was a bunch of creeps. We used to laugh at the sight of them on the motorcycles. They used to zip through town and it was funny to see them.
The thing is motorcycles were taboo because motorcycle guys were automatically bad. I had to stay away from them. They were terrifying, Bob with his big boots and his tight pants.
Then Echo chips in:
(Bob) didn’t fit in with the bums. I knew the real bums. All my friends were the wrong-side-of-the-tracks people, the dropouts, and Bob didn’t fit in with them. He didn’t fit in with anyone in town, really.
So here we have the portrait of a Nowhere Man posing as a Bad Motorcycle, acting a screamer on stage but quiet and withdrawn in the classroom and school. Almost a manic depressive.
Without meaning to cast aspersions on Echo she was what we would have called ‘cheap’. She knew the real bums, they were all her friends. The Fugs could have written their song ‘Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side’ about her.
When she first met Bob she said she thought he was a ‘goody goody.’ Must not have been on his bad motorcycle with those boots and tight fitting pants; one of those directly opposite of ‘cheap’ or hoody, not one of the bums. Echo would have seen Bob as ‘upper class’. Echo was probably going to put Bob on. That he went for her must have seemed too good to be true.
Probably Bob moved in on her and meant to pick her up for a cheap thrill or whatever then found to his delight that the girl knew every rock, R&B and Country song in the catalog. Bob wanted to impress her with his own musical chops so on their ‘first date’ they break and enter the Moose Lodge so Bob can cavort on the piano. Didn’t even have to think about it, he flipped out a knife forced the lock and they were inside. Easy as pie. Must have done it a time or two before somewhere, don’t you think? The story comes out in different variations in the biographers. Either Bob or Echo sprung the lock with either his knife or her knife or she with her own knife. In any case they both appear to be experienced housebreakers. This is important.
And now we have a minor problem. Bob told Echo that he didn’t have an allowance so she ponied up for the hotdogs and cokes. Yet at the same time Abe bought Bob a motorcycle that would have been expensive while requiring gas and lots of maintenance. Bikes never run right. Abe seemed to to give Bob enough money for that. So through October or whenever the snow began flying Bob is driving Echo around with her frizzy bleached blonde hair blowing in the wind.
None of the biographers handle the details of these years carefully so I am reconstructing and attempting to arrange the chronology to fit with the details in the time frame.
Now, Abe and Beattie are watching the apple of their eye get wormy right before their eyes. Neither Beattie nor Abe had any use for Echo. Being respectable middle class people they were horrified that Bob was running around with such a cheap trick. Abe was horrified to see his son ‘defiling’ himself. At some point in Bob’s young life Abe told him that it was possible for a son to become so defiled his parents would reject him but possibly God would lead him back to the path of righteousness. These are very strong words and Bob must have strayed from the path for Dad to have expressed himself to strongly. But I don’t think he mentioned this fact to Bob just yet, although Bob’s behavior would get worse. So bad that it is not impossible that his dad may have essentially had him committed for psychiatric attention.
According to Heylin Beattie did let out that Bob was ‘away’ for a couple months in the summer of ’59 that was a cause of intense embarrassment to her. One report says that he was sent to a reform school or clinic in Philadelphia while another says that he spent the summer in the house of detention of Red Wing Reform school down on Highway ’61. Highway ’61 revisited, you see. As there are no references to psychiatric treatment in the songs I am going to pursue the Red Wing side of it of which there are many references and a clear paper trail in the songs.
As Bob entered the eleventh grade he and Echo were evidently quite serious or at least Echo thought they were. At some point they committed themselves to going steady and Bob gave her his ID bracelet to wear. ID bracelets were popular at this time. I wore one for several months in my senior year, maybe even to the end, I can’t remember. They were a little silver plaque with your name on it. Kind of like a wrist watch without the watch.
For what it was worth they talked of marriage even choosing babynames. Given Bob’s later fecundity they should have chosen several.
In the eleventh grade Bob also launched himself as a band with a somewhat mixed reception. Well, it wasn’t really mixed, it was more a form of rejection. He not only got booed for the first time, but laughed at.
The question here is how did it affect his reputation in Hibbing. If your fellow students laugh and boo your act that has to result in a certain amount of contempt in the halls. People have to make snide comments. So Bob really had to develop a thick skin. This would have set him in good stead for his world tour a few years later.
I smiled when in his autobiography he tells of how Ricky Nelson was booed when he tried to change his style. He wryly commented that he and Ricky had something in common. Hurt like hell though.
And then comments must have been made to his parents. Already sensitive about his relationship with Echo Abe and Beattie must have begun consulting friends for psychiatric recommendations. People don’t understand; they didn’t understand me either but like Bob I ignored them and kep on bopping along. Of course Abe and Beattie belonged to the sub-societal Jewish set also. So they must have taken redoubled abuse from that quarter. Synagogue must have been unbearable in those trying days.
Nevertheless Bob was calling unfavorable attention to himself. Not only was he ‘getting’ it from Echo through the eleventh grade but we are led to believe that he was succeeding quite well with numerous maidens with shelf like breasts.
Always indiscreet Bob couldn’t conceal his activities from Echo. Echo claims that she was faithful to Bob over this year long romance. I can’t quite believe that of a girl who knew all the bad boys in town but she may actually have given Bob her heart. Faithful or not this is a very serious situation for when you have given your heart to someone they have it with them and it’s not always that easy to get it back.
That Echo was hurt to the quick is evident by the manner in which she broke off the engagement. She chose to do it publicly by handing Bob back his bracelet in the halls at school. Makes a boy shudder just to think of the ignominy.
May have hurt Bob as much as anything in his life.
However, and this is serious, Echo felt like a woman scorned. Scorning women is serious business which I know from experience. I wouldn’t recommend it to boy or man, young or old. They don’t leave the matter where you think they should and Echo was not going to be satisfied with merely humiliating Bob in school. She didn’t get adequate satisfaction from that.
Now we’re at the end of the eleventh grade. According to the biographers Bob had been after Abe to get him a car. Abe couldn’t resist his son. Really, now, Bob had an affluent boyhood in addition to getting laid enough to be the envy of the school. This guy did a lot better than I ever did on both counts. If Bob expects sympathy from me for having a tough childhood he can forget it.
Between eleventh and twelfth grades Bob had a car that he used to drive down to Minneapolis several times that summer. In one account it was a ’50 Ford with the metal showing through the paint and according to Sounes it was a pink convertible. No ’50 Ford was ever pink while anyone living in the Minnesota winters would have to be crazy to buy a convertible but I merely report what the biogrpahers say.
Cars are even more expensive than motorcycles. Even if mileage was low and gas was cheap dollars were less plentiful back then. Since Bob hasn’t done a lick of work yet Abe must have had an open handed attitude. Wait a minute, it is said that Abe sent Bob out to repossess TVs which must have been about this time. Tough job.
In fact Bob was costing Abe a lot of money. The report is that Bob was riding down the street on his motorcycle and a kid ran into the street and bounced off the bike. Must have given Bob the idea for his ‘accident’ a few years later. Did he really have that famous fall from his bike? I can’t say but I’m waiting for further developements before I make up my mind.
If Bob was dangerous on a bike that was nothing compared to Bob in an automobile. There are reports of more than one accident but the worst one cost Abe four thousand dollars to make good. That one tested Abe’s notions of defilement.
Four thousand dollars in 1958 was a chunk of money. You could still buy paper back books for from twenty-five to fifty cents each that now cost 7.95 and 8.95. Calculate four thousand dollars to that ratio. In the Navy in the same year I was making two thousand dollars a year. I was twenty-five years old before I topped four thousand dollars a year.
So Abe forked over a sum. Besides which Bob would definitely have been cited perhaps arraigned in court. He may have been facing a jail sentence if Abe hadn’t bought the plaintiffs off. Bob was becoming known at least as a wild man in the rather small Hibbing legal environment.
The Chimes Of Freedom
But it’s hard lookin’ in and you can’t see out.
Dylan- Cold Irons Bound
During the summer of ’58 when Bob was spending so much time down in Minneapolis doing god only knows what Echo was stewing home alone. That was equivalent to being ignored and when you’re going steady. Naturally a girl wants vengeance but the question was how to get it. Echo would have known a lot more about Bob’s reputation in Hibbing than he did. Bob may have been oblivious to the outside world paying attention only to what was going on inside his head. The appearances are that he was probably thought of as a troublesome lad. Proabably a lot of people would have liked to have seen him take a fall, go to jail. I think it probable that Echo arranged that fall.
It probably didn’t take much to get Bob to go around with her a bit in the Fall of ’58 so he would have thought that everything was alright and he’d gotten away with things. The evidence from his songs that we’ll get to here in a bit is that Echo lured him into breaking and entering. My surmise is that she had arranged for them to be caught and caught they were.
As we know from the Moose Lodge Bob was an adept at breaking and entering. One can’t say that he was suspected of other such breakins for sure but his reputation was such that he had to be taught a lesson.
From appearances I would say that he was caught, tried and sentenced sometime in the late Winter of ’58-’59. The question is when did he serve his sentence?
My original thought as expressed here was in the Summer of ’59 but as he would then have been an adult of eighteen he would have been too old for Red Wing where the top age was seventeen.
In Chronicles I Bob says he left home in early Spring of ’59. Based on that slender hint I’m going to suggest that he was in Red Wing from Possibly March 25th 1959, released on his birthday of May 24th or the day before.
Thus he was back in Hibbing in time for graduation. His reluctance to attend the large party his parents got up may have been from shame just as the party may have been to welcome him back to acceptance. His reluctance was overcome and he is said to have had a great time at the party. So, awaiting further information I am inclined toward the last two months of his senior year.
As we have seen Abram Zimmerman and his fellow Jews were powerful in the city so that it is possible that In order to let Bob finish school his father may have pleaded with the Judge and he was allowed to serve perhaps a two month sentence in July and August of ’59 just before he began U. Minnesota. His senior year was when he fell off the honor roll according to his mother. It was probably at this time that a mortified Abe advised him that he could defile himself to the point that his parents would renounce him.
After having extricated Bob from all previous difficulties so that Bob may have thought he was Bobby Teflon Bob may have held his father responsible for his having to do time at Red Wing.
At any rate Bob graduated in June of ’59 collected his Leadbelly records, spent a couple two or three weeks as a busboy in Fargo then returned to do his time out on Highway 61. This esay will stop at his possible release from Red Wing. And now for the evidence from Bob’s songs to give credibility to the above scenario.
The actual breaking and entering for which he was arrested and sentenced is recorded in his song The Chimes Of Freedom. Bob had a way of clothing things in words that made common place events ethereal. Chimes of Freedom is one of those. The song seems to record the breakin in a stream of high flown metaphors.
The first line: Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll, means literally well after sundown that in Winter in Hibbing would probably be 3:30 in the afternoon and between midnight something happened late during that interval. That’s pretty clear just confused by language.
What happened was: We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing. In other words the ‘we’, who I asume to be Bob and Echo slipped the knife into the lock and sprung the door. The excitement of the moment made each noise sound like thunder crashing. In other words Bob is describing his psychological state of mind.
Then he has the nonsense phrase ‘As majestic bells of bolts…’ That is literally meaningless but gives a sense of his heightened sensibilities. ‘…struck shadows in the sounds seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing.’ more emotional tension and atmosphere. This was a key moment in Bob’s life and he’s making the most of it. Bob wrote this in ’63 or ’64 some four or five years after the incident.
And then he goes into a flight of self-pity comparing himself and Echo to loners against the world.
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each and every underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.
There you go. That sounds heavy and coming from the speakers backed by the emotional wailing voice, howling harmonica and flailing driving guitar rhythm it sounded then and sounds now like there’s meaning there that isn’t transparent but in fact there isn’t any deep meaning. Bob has just generalized his break in emotions. One hears the tone of voice and listen to the music and gropes for what isn’t there.
Bob goes on like this through six long verses as he milks the tale for all it’s worth. Actually the first four lines of the second verse if you know the story are quite well done:
In the city’s melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden while the walls were tightening
As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin’ rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
In so many words he’s saying that the authorities are closing in and that he and Echo are about to be caught as the ‘walls close in.’ If he and she were attempting a reconciliation that ended as the wedding bells dissolved as the authorities arrested them- in other words, the lightning.
And then four more lines of self-pity:
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned and forsaked
Tolling for the outcast burnin’ constantly at the stake
There’s a neat little description of Bob’s situation in Hibbing as he sees it. Jim Stark the Rebel Without a Cause. Bob obviously considered himself a rake. Luckless is obvious and writing four years later he realized that he was abandoned and forsaken by Echo. He ignores his own actions that led her to forsake him. And then the eternal outcast burning at the stake.
Another couple verses follow that go on in the same vein; then Bob comes to the climax of his story.
Starry eyed and laughing as I recall when we were caught
Here Star reflects the Echo of the first verse and indentifies his companion as Echo Star Helstrom so that she would know he was talking to and about her. This is for world wide consumption. This is unimagined success, laying your complaint before the whole world. But, Bob doesn’t explain that he and Echo were caught in the act of breaking and entering.
So now he and Echo are apprehended by the authorities; caught in the act:
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
So they became so involved in their crime- starry eyed and laughing- that they lost track of time. Remember Charlie Starkweather and Carol had just committed their crimes a little to the West so the authorities would have been on edge.
As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look
Spellbound an’ swallowed ’til the tolling ended.
Yes, now like Jim Stark of Rebel Without A Cause Bob is down at the jailhouse coming down. He’s been busted and busted good. His dad can’t get him off and the Judge gives him his time in Red Wing. I imagine that his father may have negotiated terms that let Bob down as easy as possible such as allowing him to graduate and do his time in the summer or possibly an easier task of negotiating with the school to allow Bob to graduate.
Echo apparently skated out of there but Bob for the rest of the year was a convicted criminal as the whole school sneered at him. I don’t think there was any question that Bob was set up. Echo was the agent but there must have been others involved or else they probably wouldn’t have been caught, unless Bob turned all the lights on.
The crime created what seems to be an undissolvable bond between Bob and Echo. R.M. has followed Bob’s career whereas I signed off at John Wesley Harding so she pointed out the 1997 song from Time Out Of Mind called Cold Irons Bound. This song appears to be an ode to Echo and Hibbing.
I would guiess that for the remainder of the school year she snubbed Bob refusing to acknowledge his existence. Bob expreses this snubbing as a metaphor in Cold Irons Bound:
I went to church on Sunday and she passed me by
My love for her is taking such a long time to die
And then Bob records his feelings fresh as green grass nearly forty years after as the cops drove him down Highway 61 to Red Wing.
In waist deep, waist deep in the mist
It’s almost like, almost like I don’t exist
I’m twenty miles out of town, in cold irons bound.
Yep. Echo got him good. You can be sure she was standing out of sight when they put Bob into the car for the long drive down to Red Wing and relishing every moment of it. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. She might not be finished yet. They wait and wait and plot and plot.
My own corroborating experience that I have recorded in my novelette, The Angeline Constellation on reprindle.wordpress.com, check it out if you’re interested, it’s a good story, 100 pages, confirms Bob’s. I got off light at the time although I’m not anxious to give Ange a second chance.
Briefly the romance took place when I was in the tenth grade. Ange other than making my life miserable in the background could find no opportunity, or if she did I’m unaware of it. There is one incident in my life sort of like Bob’s that I’m not sure of but if she planned it it misfired and didn’t come off satisfactorily.
But I went into the Navy in ’56 returning on leave in the summer of ’57. Ange was, if not waiting for me, quick on her feet. I ran into a girl I had known right after Ange who Ange turned against me. I saw her on leave and asked her out being haughtily, coldly and, dare I say, insultingly refused. Well OK, no problem. Then she must have mentioned that she saw me to Ange. Ange came up with a plan immediately. This girl then asked me to go to a party. Well, after having been told what I could do with myself one would have thought I would have said: No thanks. I’ll never be that dumb again.
I went to this party. She insisted I wear my Navy uniform. I don’t get that. I was not allowed to escort her to the party but was to meet her there. Yeah, well, I’m not so easy now. Of course, I’m not so young either.
At the party I was plied with booze. I didn’t drink at the time. I had never even had a bottle of beer. So I got schnockered pretty quick. I mean stumbling drunk. The hostess kept pouring. So Ange went to this woman who hosted the party and a number of her girl friends, I don’t remember any guys at this party, to set me up and be done. Ange stayed out of sight until I was pretty drunk then she came out of the back of the house to gloat at my back. She doesn’t know to this day that I knew she was there and I saw her. But I did.
Now drunk and sick it was time to leave. I asked for a ride but was refused. I asked for my hat but was again refused. So there I was stumbling down the street a sailor without a hat, in undress. You can be sure Ange was following my progress and laughing bitterly. Bad enough but the next day it gave my stepfather, a drunk, with who I was on bad terms a chance to scorn me. So four years later a scorned woman wreaked some revenge. And that is the way it works. Watch your step.
You can bet that Echo stood gloating out of sight as they put Bob in the car and drove down the side of the gaping pit toward Highway 61 and Red Wing. I believe that’s how Bob’s little drama may have worked out.
He’s In The Jailhouse Now
I used to know a guy named Rambiin’ Bob,
Who used to steal, gamble and rob,
He thought he was the smartest guy around.
Well, I found out last Monday,
They arrested Bob last Sunday,
They got him down (on Highway 61) in the can.
He’s in the jailhouse now.
The question is was Robert A. Zimmerman ever at Red Wing Reformatory for Boys? On the one hand we have the evidence of his songs and his actual statement to the NYC journalist Al Aronowitz that he did time at the prison. On the other hand we have the claim of the Minnesota Department of Corrections that Bob Dylan never served time at Red Wing. Of course Bob Dylan didn’t. There was no Bob Dylan in existence in the Spring or Summer of ’59.
The DOC however declines to say whether a Robert Allen Zimmerman did time. And then there is the competing claim that Bob was under psychiatric care in Phildelphia at the same time. Still no records. There seem to be no references to this latter option in the songs so I do not consider it a viable option.
Certainly the key piece of evidence is the song The Walls Of Redwing. The song was first copyright in 1963 so it was possibly written in 1962 which would be roughly three years after the event. Unlike the very heavy metaphors Bob uses elsewhere Walls was written in plain English as though the terror was still on him.
There are those that say the song didn’t require direct experience to write, that it is just generalized stuff that could be filched from movies or whatever but both R.M. and I agree that the allusions are too personal, reflect actual experiences, than to be just a story.
I’ll reproduce the lines here. These are taken from the Bob Dylan website:
The Walls Of Red Wing
Oh, the age of the inmates
I remember quite freely,
No younger than twelve,
No older than seventeen.
Thrown in like bandits
And cast off like criminals
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
From the dirty old mess hall
You march to the brick wall,
Too weary to talk
And too tired to sing.
Oh, it’s all afternoon
You remember your hometown
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
Oh, the gates are cast iron
And the walls are barbed wire.
Stay far from the fence
With the ‘lectrified sting.
And It’s keep down your head
And stay in your number,
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red wing.
Oh, it’s fare thee well
To deep hollow dungeon,
Farewell to the boardwalk
That takes you to the screen.
And farewell to the minutes
They threaten you with it,
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
It’s many a guard
That stands around smilin’,
Holding his club
Like he was a king.
Hopin’ to get you
Behind a wood pilin’
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
The night aimed shadows
Through the cross bar windows,
And the wind punched hard
To make the wall siding sing.
It’s many a night I pretended to be sleepin’,
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
As the rain rattled heavy
On the bunk house shingles
And the sounds in the night,
They made my ears ring.
‘Til the keys of the guards
Clicked the tune of the morning,
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
Oh, some of us’ll end up
In St. Cloud Prison
And some of us’ll wind up
To be lawyers and things,
And some of us’ll stand up
To meet you on your crossroads,
From inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
Bob at eighteen would have been the oldest boy there so he could watch them more or less as an outsider. Bob is obviously the one who is going to meet us at our crossroads where he intends to take his pound of flesh. His whole career is one of wreaking vengeance on somebody.
I’ve never been in prison but I have been in the Orphange and the Navy. While not jails or prisons they are similar enough so that I have some understanding of the experience. Altogether I spent five years out of my first twenty behind fences under the control of men and women but little different than prison guards.
I know many of the things Bob is talking about and my understanding of the lyrics is that Bob was there and knows what he is talking about from first hand experience.
I would never lie to a journalist about being in prison whose very job is to broadcast tidbits about celebrities. Or maybe Bob would claim that it was only ‘hophead’ talk and not to be taken seriously. If it were me I wouldn’t even let it be known I knew what hophead talk was. Bob told so many tall stories he could compulsively slip in an occasional truth without expecting to be believed. The difference is that none of the rest of the tall stories found their way into his songs.
The song was so painful and personal that he never released it at the time. It was eventually released in the Bootleg Series. R.M. who has followed the playlists says that Bob only sang it in public one time. That one time was in New York when had flown his parents out to a Carnegie Hall concert. However Mike Bloomfield who saw Bob in Chicago says he was singing the song that time.
Remember that, if Abe had disowned him, Bob had disowned his parents. He claimed in New York to be an orphan maintaining that dodge. People were very surprised to learn that his parents were still alive. So, with his parents in the audience, singing, one imagines directly to them, he recited the Walls Of Red Wing. I don’t understand exactly why he held them responsible. There are some things even a father in a small town can’t fix. In looking over his career I don’t think Bob even knew the meaning of restraint. He seems to have believed that whatever he wanted or wanted to do should never be denied.
The effect of his being restrained and constrained in Red Wing was devastating to Bob’s mind. And Red Wing was forever linked in Bob’s mind with Echo. R.M. points to You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere written at Woodstock, copyrighted in 1967, as an example. Two verses, the first and the second, are relatively clear:
Clouds so swift
Rain won’t lift
Gate won’t close
Get your mind off wintertime
You ain’t going nowhere.
Whooee ride me high
Tomorrow’s the day
My bride’s gonna come
Oh,oh are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chair.
Incarcerated in July and August Bob’s thoughts turn to wintertime when he will be free, in the meantime R.M. thinks he believes that Echo is going to relieve the tedium of his imprisonment by visiting him- his bride, but she’s punishing Bob like Bob punished her. He put her in a psychological prison and now as a prelude to a psychological prison she has him in a real prison and she is going to let him rot there.
The feeling was translated into words in the song Steel Bars copyrighted in 1991:
In the night I hear you speak
Turn around, you’re in my sleep
Feel your hands inside your soul
You’re holding on and won’t let go.
I’ve tried running but there’s no escape
Can’t bend them, and (I know) I just can’t
Steel bars wrapped all around me
I’ve been your prisoner since the day you found me
I’m bound forever, till the end of time
Steel bars wrapped around this heart of mine.
So Bob is learning the hard way inside the walls, the walls of Red Wing.
I don’t care
How many letters they sent
Morning came and morning went
Pick up your money
And pack your tent
You ain’t goin’ nowhere.
So apparently Mom and Dad sent letters but nobody would pay the visit Bob so desperately needed.
As R.M. points out visiting hours were in the morning so that the morning came and the morning went and Bob’s hope of a friendly face went on being frustrated. As for those letters they could have stuffed them.
And then in 1968 in a show of bravado Bob wrote a demand letter to Echo, possibly, in the song Nothing Was Delivered:
Nothing was delivered
And I tell this truth to you,
Not out of spite or in anger
But simply because it’s true.
Now, I hope you won’t object to this,
Giving back all of what you owe,
The fewer words you have to waste on this,
The sooner you can go.
Perhaps Bob thought he could bully his way to freedom. but he couldn’t. Echo didn’t have to listen.
And so Bob left Red Wing at the end of his term, the die was cast for the rest of his life. He ‘tried running but there was no escape.’ ‘He thought he was alone but the past was just behind.’
Echo had trapped him behind the walls of a psychological Red Wing.