Exhuming Bob 25: Bob And Sam
June 5, 2010
Exhuming Bob 25:
Bob And Sam
Shepard, Sam: The Rolling Thunder Logbook, 1977, Sanctuary Publishing.
Sometime in the mid-seventies, possibly in 1976 Paul Simon wrote in one of his lyrics: I don’t think this stuff is funny anymore. Coincidentally at the same time as I surveyed my record store of a Saturday morning the same thought occurred to me. Things had been overdone. In one bat of an eyelash the whole thing got old.
This was not case with Bob Dylan who in the waning months of 1975 put the greatest clown act New England had ever seen on the road. The Rolling Thunder Revue; or as it might alternatively have been named: The New Bob Dylan Minstrels. One purpose of the Revue seems to have been to spring the convicted triple murderer and ex-boxer Hurricane Carter from jail. That didn’t come until the very end.
Along the way Dylan wanted to film a sort of existential movie that would later be released as Renaldo and Clara. Working from some strange chaos theory Dylan had no actors, no script, no-nothing. Needing some sort of guiding hand he commanded the actor, cowboy, playwright Sam Shepard to attend to his writing needs. Sam then wrote what he called a log of the experience called the Rolling Thunder Logbook.
On the first reading I didn’t think Sam put much into it but the pictures were good. Still there was the nagging feeling that I might have missed something. On the second reading the logbook assumed more significance. It’s kind of impressionistic. It’s not a narrative; like the title says its sort of like a ship’s logbook. The impressions sort of pile up until you have a definite impression. I don’t know if that’s what Sam intended but that’s the way it worked with me.
Bob being the kind of powerful show biz personality he is didn’t bother to negotiate terms with Sam; he didn’t even bother to call himself; his agent or stooge or whatever interrupted the life of Shepard to tell him Dylan wanted him in New England. Sam doesn’t mention any terms, or indeed any payment. He just dropped everything, literally, and drove East. Did I mention he was in California? Well, he was; he was in the process of moving.
Bob tries pretty hard to cultivate that elusive, mysterious image and he succeeded with Sam who couldn’t locate him for a few days after he got there. Bob probably wanted to accustom him to the menagerie before he showed his face. Even then Sam didn’t have any guidelines he just expected Sam to free lance a few lines of dialogue if at any time he saw the cameras running. The film crew was more disorganized than Dylan if that were possible.
What was it all about anyway?
As we should be aware 1976 was the two hundreth anniversary celebration of the American Revolution. But there were a number of conflicting revolutions running simultaneously. There was the revolt of the Matriarchy, what Eric Foner calls the Unfinished Revolution which was the replacement of Whites by Negroes and of course the perpetual revolution of the Jews against mankind, not to mention the revolution of the gay crowd. Bob as we all know is Jewish so one may reasonably ask why he chose New England for his chaotic Marx Brothers routine on the occasion of the Yankee Revolution around the new England sites such as Bunker Hill? Could he have been thumbing his nose at America? Well, it does look suspicious.
As Sam notes the crew made it a point to visit Plymouth Rock and the replica of the Mayflower which sacred symbols of pre-immigration America they reviled all but pissing on the Rock. The faux American cowboy, Elliott Adnopoz was swinging from the yardarm of the Mayflower. Y’all know Elliott as the yodelin’ cowboy Ramblin’ Jack Elliott o’ course. For the rest they pissed and farted their way across New England carousing and corrupting as they went. Of course it might just have been New England exercising the gang’s Rock n’ Roll genes, no more than that. Sam kept his discontent sotto voce by which I mean between the lines. Bob, with his need for conflict invited not only his old flame Joan Baez and his new flame Joni Mitchell but his wife Sarah playing each against each. Baez who grows more Mexican with each passing year seems willing to put up with whatever Bob does. Shortly after the tour Sara came downstairs one morning to find Bob dandling a strange beauty on his knee for breakfast. Well, you know, she threw in the tower after that, as, who wouldn’t? Bob seemed to be perfectly dismayed by this untoward turn of events. ‘Women in my family just don’t divorce.’ He whined uncomprehendingly. Well, at least, not without due provocation.
That leaves Joni Mitchell. She’s apparently been stewing about her treatment for thirty-five years. She just recently expressed herself by saying in effect that Dylan is just a god-damned phony. Well, Bob can always go join Joanie in that bomb shelter in Viet Nam. They can exchange rings made of the fuselages of American fighter planes, if they haven’t already. So, how sincere is their devotion to this great land of the once free and no longer brave? It would seem their loyalties lie elsewhere.
In my own obtuseness, quivering in my own psychological bomb shelter, I never saw Bob as a revolutionary in those far off days but then I was just listening to records, I didn’t know anything about him; boy, I sure have remedied that situation.
Back in those palmy days of the early sixties before racial and religious animosities had reached their present prominence I don’t know that anyhbody really thought of Dylan as a Jew. Certainly the name Dylan is not Jewish and I’m not sure how many people would have known Zimmerman was. Or, that they would have cared. In those days everyone cheered when Israel won one of those too frequent wars. Now, though, one has to put Bob’s religious affiliation up front. Make no mistake, he’s a fundamentalist, believes the Bible is the literal word of god. Orthodox. Chabad Lubavitcher even. Thinks the universe is fifty-seven hundred years old like his deceased mentor Rabbi Schneerson. Swear to g-d.
Must have picked it all up from Rebbe Rueben who came West from Brooklyn to Hibbing to indoctrinate him in Lubavitcher lore for his Bar Mitzvah. Like Bob said, he learned what he was supposed to learn. He very cleverly inserted the stuff into all those songs too.
Bob broke his mind in the excesses of the sixties, that high mercury sound he was seeking was the result of all those amphetamines he was shooting back then. Andy Warhol had his boy pegged.
In the late sixties and early seventies Bob had to rebuild his personality and he rebuilt it around his religion. His Mom was real proud of the way he had his Bible open on a stand in his living room so he could jump up and check it as the occasion arose.
Then as he got back on his feet he aligned himself with Meyer Kahane’s violent extremist revolutionary Jewish Defense League carrying a couple of JDL thugs around with him as bodyguards. Maybe his Jewish revolutionary mode was getting too obvious so in ’77 he began hanging out with Jews For Jesus and the Christian Vinyard Fellowship organization. Once that clouded the picture he reverted back to his Lubavitchers where he has been since.
So on the Rolling thunder tour one may be excused for thinking that he was in his revolutionary phase. Sam Shepard doesn’t mention it but his experience left a very bad taste in his mouth which he expresses with as much force as Joni Mitchell really has.
On the tour Bob did the strange thing of wearing white makeup which has remained a mystery. It shouldn’t be really. Remember the tour was to end in a successful attempt to free a Black man while the Black boxer Muhammed Ali was unstage at the Garden. A Garden party a la Ricky Nelson, get it? The Revue was actually a parody of the Minstrel show of what Greil Marcus would call the old weird America. In the old Minstrel shows the White actor wore black face in imitation of Black people. This may sound strange to you but Jews don’t consider themselves White notwithstanding their pale complexions they consider themselves Jews and goys as White. So, in disguising himself in White Face he was parodying the old Black Minstrel shows while mocking his ultra-White New England audience.
Bob Dylan was having the time of his life. The joke was on the Honkies. Funny, huh?
As noted, the keynote of the tour was the final concert at Madison Square Garden at Christmas where he took on America over the issue of the Black Hurricane Carter and won. Now, compare that Christmas show with the 2009 release of Bob’s Christmas album. Seemingly done straight it also mocks Whites. In Bob’s video for the song It Must Be Santa Claus you may have noticed that the audience showed minimal diversity. The airheads were all White. Bob comes prancing through wearing a lank blonde White girl’s wig, climbs into a balcony and stands looking down his nose in his wig at us all. It’s great. Nobody gets it. There is something happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jo-o-o-nes.
Jewish power vs. American power, make no mistake.
Sam jumped ship before the end of the tour, he’d had enough, but he was there for the Garden party. He can’t even force himself to dissimulate a complimentary attitude as he did at the beginning of the Minstrel show. And then the final confrontation between the playwright and the singer.
At this point is is clear that the Rolling Thunder tour is something Sam wished he hadn’t gone on and an experience he preferred to forget.
Shepard closes with a chapter concerning the opening of his play The Geography Of A Horse Dreamer. I don’t know the play but it may have been based on Rolling Thunder. In the play Sam names the horse Sara D. Dylan is in New York at the time wanting to see the play. He wants to make his entrance in company with Sam. Sam writes:
..so I’m in the hotel lobby waiting for the Cadillac convertible to haul us over to the theatre. The big boxcar camper pulls up outside and Dylan hops out. My stomach does a full gainer as I see him approaching the hotel. The idea of him sitting in the audience is more like a nightmare than a blessing…He pauses at one of these signs (reading signs in the lobby) long enough for me to scuttle past him out into the street and hail a cab. It’s bad enough knowing that he’ll be there without having to ride there with him in the same car.
So not only was the tour distasteful to Sam’s sensibilities but the experience of first hand acquaintance with Bob has also left a bitter taste. Well he isn’t the only one. The evening of the opening of Sam’s show is not going to improve relations.
…the so-called curtain is being held up for Dylan’s late arrival. He shows up plastered, along with Neuwirth, Kemp, Sara and Gary Shafner. They take up a whole row.
So whatever the cause of the conflict Dylan is reciprocating his disrespect fully. He means to sabotage Sam’s show and then leave early too.
At intermission Sam doesn’t see Bob so he hopes he’s left the theatre. No such luck. Dylan comes out of the toilet.
He sees me standing there and pauses as though trying to bring certain thoughts into focus. “Hey, Sam, what happens to this guy in the play anyway?’ I’m dumbfounded for a reply but come out with something like, “That’s the reason for seeing the second act.” He stares at the floor, his knees shifting slightly as though he’s about to go into a nose dive.
“Hey, how come you named that horse in the play Sara D?”
“That’s the name of a racing dog in England.” It suddenly cuts through me that it’s also the name of his wife.
“I mean it’s the name of a greyhound. A real greyhound. You know the kind that race around the track.”
He smiles and shuffles through the door, almost making a left turn into the light booth.
Apparently Dylan didn’t find that answer any more satisfactory than I would have. Something is going on here, isn’t it?
As the play draws to its end Dylan makes his move. Shameless. Pure chutzpah immersed in chocolate sauce.
Dylan stands in the back row. “Wait a minute!” Who’s he yelling to? The actors? “Wait a second! why’s he get the shot? He shouldn’t get that shot! The other guy should get it!” Lou Kemp is trying to haul him back down in his seat….
Dylan is struggling to free himself from Kemp’s hammerlock grip. Neuwirth is telling him to shut up…Finally the Sam Peckinpah sequence begins, with shotguns and catsup all over the stage. Dylan leaps up again. “I DON’T HAVE TO WATCH THIS! I DIDN’T COME HERE TO WATCH THIS!
Apparently the Rolling Thunder tour didn’t end until Sam had written this play and run it by Bob. Dylan didn’t like the play any better than Shepard liked the tour. Hard feelings everywhere.
Apparently Bob used people much too roughly. He managed to either blow off a number of people immediately following such as Shepard, Jack Elliott, Neuwirth, the maligned Larry Sloman and probably the whole film crew while Joni Mitchell has weighed in thirty-five years on. We have yet to hear from a number of other people, most notably Roger McGuinn.
Bob managed to trash everybody including the USA with his Minstrel show for the 200th anniversary year. Which revolutions was he leading? I don’t think this stuff is funny anymore, do you?