June 11, 2011
Exhuming Bob XXX
A Review Of Bob Dylan’s Movie
Masked And Anonymous
I will now deal with the leading characters of Masked And Anonymous and what story line the movie has. It is clear that not many have seen this movie so I will try to relate the review of the movie to Dylan’s life as the film is clearly autobiographical.
The characters have their individual roles while being paired up in various combinations. The most obvious is that of Fate and the Promoter or Manager Uncle Sweetheart played by John Goodman. Uncle Sweetheart has a very large dose of Dylan’s real life manager Albert Grossman while being a composite of every promoter who ever existed. Uncle is also paired with Nina Veronica played by Jessica Lange as the exploited female Producer. She also does a very creditable job.
Later in the movie Bobby Cupid is introduced played by Luke Wilson. Cupid is obviously Bobby Neuwirth, Dylan’s sidekick of the early sixties, and who also shared the spotlight with him on the Rolling Thunder extravaganza. Cupid is a smart ass put down artist as Neuwirth was reputed to be. Cupid forms a pair with Uncle Sweetheart also as an antagonist which may have been the case in real life with manager Albert Grossman but one can’t be sure. At any rate Cupid merges his identity with that of Fate while acting as his enforcer.
The interest is not the movie but what Dylan reveals of himself.
A Run Through The Scenes
In many ways this movie is based on all the Rock n’ Roll movies of the fifties. All of them could have been written by the same hand, at least the American ones. The English Tommy Steele’s Doomsday Rock might have slightly different being from England but probably not. Cliff Richard’s movie that I’ve seen only recently was from the American mold. Dylan ‘s movie is on a par with all except for the greatest of them, the apotheosis of Rock n’ Roll films- The Girl Can’t Help It. That movie told the whole story of Rock n’ Roll while being a perfect summary of the fifties. Can’t recommend it too highly; had more stars than the Big Dipper.
The big drawback of Dylan’s movie is that once he gets out of jail Fate can’t stop droning on about his opinions about everything. He might have thought he was on a par with Phil Marlowe but he wasn’t. Dylan’s close with Greil Marcus and he and his crowd are big on Raymond Chandler, the creator of Philip Marlowe. Chandler is great but not transcendental, and I’ve read all his stuff short stories and novels but not the letters so his mystique for Marcus, Dylan and that crowd escapes me. Marlowe narrates with comment as Dylan does here so there may be a strong Chandler influence.
Enter The Characters
Scene 1 is the fireworks. Scenes 2 through seven introduce, in order, Uncle Sweetheart, Nina Veronica, Jack Fate, Prospero, Tom Friend and Pagan Lace. The scenes establish the main characters while providing the raison d’etre for the movie, or in other words, what passes for a plot.
Scene one is the violent opening. Scenes two and three present Uncle Sweetheart and Nina Veronica. The name Sweetheart is obviously ironic as Uncle is conniving and irresponsible. John Goodman who plays the role is a big fellow as was Albert Grossman. As the movie is autobiographical Uncle Sweetheart must refer to Grossman who came across to Dylan as doing something for him but who wound up taking more of the earnings than went to the singer and writer of the songs. Still he is a composite of every promoter than ever existed. Nina Veronica played by Jessica Lange is a smart talking long suffering legman for Uncle. Lange co-starred in a Presley movie thus establishing Dylan’s connection to Elvis without whom, as he says, he couldn’t have been doing what he is doing. I can’t really identify a specific model for her but she is blonde. Might be some connection to Edie Sedgwick and Echo Helstrom among others.
Scenes four, five and six introduce Jack Fate with an interlude with Cheech of Cheech and Chong as Prospero referring to A Midsummer Night’s Dream thus establishing Dylan’s connection to Shakespeare to whom some inexplicably compare him. Scene six brings Tom Friend into the stream.
As Uncle cannot find a ‘Star’ to perform solo at this benefit concert he is staging, he is forced to dip into the bottom of the bucket to spring Fate from prison where he is apparently doing life for being a bad singer without parole. Fate collects his guitar and moseys down to the bus stop where he finds his old friend Prospero waiting for him. Here Dylan begins his marvelous collection of clichés. ‘Where you goin’” asks Prospero. ‘That way.’ says Fate pointing to the right. ‘Oh yeah? That way’s pretty good too.’ Prospero says pointing to the left. Whew! Are you prepared? The use of Prospero for this downer film must be ironic.
Boarding the jalopy bus Fate asks the Black female bus driver: ‘This bus cross the border?’ ‘Oh no, you’re going the wrong way, mister.’ ‘Alright’ Fate replies resignedly. And this is only the beginning of the movie. Fates passes the Mexicans and chicken to find a seat at the back of the bus. I presume that this is a racial comment that it is now time for Whites to sit in back. After all as Dylan sings in his song: Them that are first shall be the last. To give credit when credit is due, Dylan with great economy lays out the direction down the midway of his view of Desolation Row that the movie will pursue. This is Dylan’s version of reality that even a hundred million dollars obviously can’t change.
The scene that introduces Friend takes place in the Editor’s office. Here we have a contrast between
the archetypical, cynical, hard drinking nineteenth century newspaper editor confronted by a wise ass current edition of Dylan in hoody and dark glasses. This is an interesting contrast in historical periods. Not only do Friend and the Editor come from different periods but the Editor has a copy of the statuette of the monkey reading Darwin’s Origin Of Species on the desk. As Friend is associated with both Dylan’s early New York period and his present this might be a time to note the influence on Dylan’s mind, which he acknowledges, caused by his study of Civil War era newspapers in the New York City library during ‘61-’62. Actually he studied the social scene North and South in the years just before the war. It would be interesting to know how many different papers he read. The old black-face minstrel Oscar Vogel who appears later in the movie refers to these studies as also does probably Dylan’s inexplicable inclusion of his version of the Southern anthem, Dixie. He might have done better to have performed Cowboy Copas’ Alabam‘. One might add his version isn’t very good. Nevertheless those studies color his mind.
Dylan And The Press
Friend also raises the question of Dylan’s relationship with the press. Now, Dylan had before him the example of the Beatles and their amazing exchange with the media upon touchdown at Idlewild airport, renamed JFK, in January of ‘64. We were fairly electrified at the aplomb of the Fab Four and their cheekiness. This was in contrast to the humble pie other musicians ate before the microphones. The Beatles established a superior distance to ‘all that thing’ that struck just the right tone with the generation. In that one brief exchange they changed the direction of the history of the world. Of course, scruffs like the Rolling Stones and Animals who followed them maintained the tone creating the right antagonism between the generation and their elders. This was the beginning of the generation gap. The old timers who had survived the Depression, WWII and the Korean War had developed a definite world outlook that we with different experiences couldn’t share but the cleavage between the two generations was so sharp that conflict was inevitable. This is where it began.
Dylan’s father in his interview with Walter Eldot of Duluth let the cat out of the bag when he said his son was a corporation and his whole persona was an act, a character that Dylan had assumed to make it. That being said then Dylan had plenty of time to assess the situation and prepare an act for the press when his turn came with good and correct examples before him. Since he couldn’t be flippant and amusing like Lennon and the others of the Fab Four he had to create an antagonism between himself and the press so we may assume his proto-Keith Richards act was a put on from the start. It seems impossible that a young man like Dylan wouldn’t have been flattered and awed by being interviewed by the international press while being broadcast on the evening news on two continents on a regular basis.
Nobody expected much from the unknown quality of the Beatles in ‘64 but Dylan in ‘65 was already ‘the spokesman for his generation’ whether he wishes to acknowledge it or not. His shucking and jiving and renunciation of his role did have a cooling effect. He was supposed to be supremely wise, ‘Something’s going on here but you don’t know what it is, do you?’, with answers for everything but he wasn’t and didn’t. He could say anything stupendous nor could anyone have. Knowing his incapacity he chose to pick a fight; probably the wisest thing he could have done. He didn’t answer any questions but asked more questions back than were given him. That way he didn’t have to take a position on anything.
It’s interesting that his alter ego, Friend, is full of sage and trite expressions of opinion, he spouts them non-stop a la Phil Marlowe. Friend who represents the Dylan of ‘61-’65 has Lace/Cruz as his live in. It follows then that Pagan Lace must represent Suze Rotolo.
Searching For The Vacant Couch
In his memoir Chronicles Vol I Dylan creates Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel who he says he stayed with for some time on the West Side, sort of the Bank Street crowd. There is no possible way to fit them into the time frame nor had anyone ever heard of them before Chronicles so they must be a composite of the MacKenzies, Dave Van Ronk and various other couches he slept on. He very quickly moved in with Suze Rotolo by late ‘61 down on Fourth Street. As near as I can tell he stayed there until perhaps ‘63 when they split up. By 1963 he would have been famous and prosperous enough so that he couldn’t go back to sleeping on other people’s couches so between then and the time he showed up at the Chelsea Hotel it isn’t too clear where he lived. That was before Warhol demolished what was left of the Chelsea’s reputation when he made his movie Chelsea Girls.
Friend’s really great Beatnik pad was probably a composite of locations Dylan knew. It’s terrific. Not a lot of books in it though as Dylan describes in his memoir.
Memories Of Suze
As I noted Pagan Lace was very fearful much as Dylan always described Suze. Suze was intellectually vital in introducing Dylan to art and the theatre while Pagan Lace being Mexican is reminiscent of the Ramona of Dylan’s song To Ramona. ‘I could forever talk to you by my words would soon become a meaningless hum…’ which is essentially the relationship between Friend and Lace. Friend and Lace go in search of the Benefit Concert to track down the elusive Jack Fate.
Scene eight is the totally irrelevant interlude with the paramilitary who has no idea which side he’s on. The movie could have done without it.
Dylan insists on talking over the scenes like some Philip Marlowe but more vapid. If he wouldn’t give the reporters his opinions in his prime he makes up for it here while amply demonstrating the wisdom of having kept his mouth shut previously.
In scene 9 Fate’s father lies dying. Why he’s Mexican isn’t clear to me unless Dylan is merely eliminating as many White faces as possible. Dylan relates the particulars of Fate’s mom and dad which obviously correspond to those of himself and his parents. In another long interlude he checks into a hotel in what is supposed to be a dead pan comedy routine with the desk clerk. Another very long stretch of clichés.
In scene 10 Fate makes a phone call to his old buddy Bobby Cupid who during Fate’s incarceration has been working as a bartender. A very dissatisfying scene takes place between Cupid and a customer. Wretched acting and even more miserable writing. If Warhol was right that amphetamines made Dylan’s lyrics sparkle in the sixties, he should have fortified himself with some while writing this script. Having received his summons from Fate Cupid throws down his towel leaving the cash drawer open and liquor on display and leaves the building.
In the meantime Fate has found his way to the studio cum bar. This scene may be dated back to
Dylan’s teen fantasy that he is living out today. Contrary to what he would have people believe Dylan’s oeuvre is singularly free of Blues or Negro influence. Dylan quite frankly is a pseudo-Hillbilly. Well, maybe not that pseudo. He has been since the first day he showed up in Greenwich Village disguised as Woody Guthrie. In fact one reason it took him two months after arriving in New York to reach the Village was that he was actually scoping it out, reading the scene to develop an act as he couldn’t play straight country and succeed. Not too confident he backed up his Woody Guthrie/James Dean act with a large dollop of the lovable Charlie Chaplin for comedic relief. Still, he knew all the great Country songs and acts of the fifties. He had probably seen all the greats and lesser lights come through Hibbing. Awe inspiring. They used to have these great package shows. Where I lived I remember one show headlined by Ernest Tubb backed up by lesser lights like Johnnie and Jack and others. Both the show and the audience was a trip. I’m sure Dylan on more than one occasion was outside the stage door to watch the performers troop in. A sight to see. They weren’t gods but they’ve never been replaced. The Rocker never even came close.
The whole benefit sequence is Country and Western probably what Dylan calls traditional music. Bearing in mind the country concerts, Dylan makes a marvelous entrance as the traveling country troubadour shot from the back. Wonderful. He has the shambling bowlegged gait, guitar case in hand in the oversized cowboy suit down pat. He even manages the bowlegged stiff back stoop so you might think it was I don’t know who rambling past. He does all kinds of imitations of the Country stars he knew and loved: Hank Snow, Webb Pierce, Slim Whitman, I don’t know who all. If you know country these scenes give away Dylan’s major influences. Heck, when he hired Mike Bloomfield for Highway 61 he told him he didn’t want any of that blues crap and he made Bloomfield play out of his genre. If he could have gotten Country picking out of him he probably would have been happier.
Back In The Country Mode
Once he got out of the miasma he’d fallen into from ‘61-’66 he went straight Western with John Wesley Harding and just in case you didn’t get the message on Nashville Skyline he comes out of the country closet tipping his hat to you as if to introduce himself in his real guise. Obviously that is the real Bob Dylan. My problem with that, as my jaw dropped, was that he’s a lousy country singer and writer. Merle Travis he’s not.
Now, the bar in the scene is a real old fashioned Country bar although this one is improbably populated by Negroes and Mexicans and the occasional old girl friend. The only thing the scene is missing is the chain link fencing around the band to keep the boys from catching a flying bottle with their teeth. I can tell you that those crowds were rowdy and I’m only alive to talk about it by the grace of god. In Dylan’s fantasy all those peaceable Negroes and Mexicans are so enthralled by Fate’s hillbilly music that they just keep smiling’ and boppin’ along. Heck even the Black Country singer Charlie Pride didn’t like the music that much, he only went to C&W when he realized he wasn’t going to make the major leagues as a ball player. So, during performance time here we’re in Fantasyland.
To put the scene into some kind of perspective it would appear that Dylan is combining the Rolling Thunder Revue and the We Are The World Benefit concert. The stage has a couple different backdrops here and they are quite reminiscent of the backdrops for the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1976 which in turn were based on the drop curtain of the movie, Children of Paradise.. Apparently that was a happy period of Dylan’s life.
In that light Fate’s confrontation with Vogel is interesting. One imagines Vogel was a pre-Civil War minstrel so that he refers back to Dylan’s Civil War studies undertaken in Dylan’s pre-Civil Rights period. Being in black-face could refer to Dylan’s Mississippi incursion with that twit Pete Seeger. Let us say then that the connection to Vogel is Mississippi.
Now, Dylan had been shooting off his mouth insulting Congressmen or whoever in songs like The Times They Are A’ Changin’, Blowin’ In The Wind and Masters Of War, callow, sophomoric songs all expressing high school essay sentiments. He was at the DC protest so the Mississippi trip and a song like Oxford Town might have been the last straw for the Feds, the tipping point.
Vogel delivers a monologue on his own murder while the doleful, long faced Dylan sits quietly listening. Vogel, played by Ed Harris in a particularly glossy black Shine, tells Fate that at one time he was a very famous minstrel but that a cause came up and as he had a podium as an entertainer he undertook to ‘speak truth to power.’ As he tells Fate it’s not what goes into your mouth that gets you in trouble it’s what comes out. Freedom of Speech didn’t save him from the swamp, so let’s say it was probably a combination of Freedom Of Speech and intervention by Albert Grossman to save his meal ticket that did it. I have read someone’s opinion that Grossman served that function for Dylan more than once.
Fate having heard the story began walking away. When he looks back Vogel is gone, proving he was merely a projection of Fate’s/Dylan’s psyche. In place of Vogel is a real Mississippi Negro with a baseball bat. The implication is- don’t come back. In this connection during 1976’s Rolling Thunder tour Dylan appeared not in black face but in white face perhaps referring back to his Mississippi blunder. Thank you Pete.
Trouble Begins For The Children Of Paradise
On Fate’s arrival at the bar Dylan begins to lose control of his movie as the story gets more complicated. His relationship with Uncle becomes tense as in real life his relationship with his manager Grossman begins to come apart. By 1970 Grossman and Dylan were in court. That tenseness is aggravated by the arrival of both Bobby Cupid and Tom Friend along with Pagan Lace. The key players in Dylan’s life are assembling. To top it the writing becomes even more execrable and the acting worse.
The best scene is the arrival of Cupid. Bobby is not a composite character but seems like a real life characterization of Dylan’s sidekick Bobby Neuwirth. Neuwirth was a fixture with Dylan in the mid-sixties when he served as sort of an enforcer. The two went their separate ways until the 1976 Rolling Thunder tour for which Neuwirth was summoned somewhat as here in Masked And Anonymous. In this scene he returns absurdly bearing Blind Lemon’s old beat up guitar, or reputedly Blind Lemon’s guitar. When Uncle asks where he got it Cupid replies in Houston from a friend of a friend of Blind Lemon’s who said he had been told the guitar had been Blind Lemon’s.
Uncle remarks that he can get a guitar just like that at any pawn shop in town. ‘Well, maybe you can,’ Cupid answers, ‘But it wouldn’t be this guitar.’ That is an unanswerable reply but lame logic. Cupid wanders off saying he is going to restring the guitar. Get it? Fate/Dylan is the new Blind Lemon.
While Cupid is diddling with the guitar Friend shows up asking for directions to Fate. Ha, ha. In the language of today Cupid serves as the Gatekeeper and won’t let Friend through. However Uncle wants the publicity and insists that Fate let himself be interviewed. This leads to the rather incongruous requisition by Friend of Fate. In this instance, as Vogel served as a sort of conscience for Fate so does Friend here. Not exactly what one expects given Dylan’s relationship with the press. Remember that Friend is wearing Dylan’s 1965 clothes while talking to the currently dressed Dylan. ‘Yonder come the vagabond in the clothes that you once wore.’ In that sense Fate or Dylan is talking to himself as though his conscience. Strange conversation.
Friend reprimands Fate for not having been at Woodstock. His absence must have bothered Dylan more than he lets on. Then Tom runs on about Jimi Hendrix being out in the rain with his guitar in that horrible rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. On and on about Hendrix being a native son. And then even more strangely Tom brings up Frank Zappa and his eight and a half hour movie Uncle Meat. Talk about out of the blue. There is no direct reference to Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara at four and a half hours except that Zappa was able to let it all hang out which took him another four hours apparently to get it all out. I must say whatever was going on in Dylan’s mind it did escape me.
And then comes another irrelevant interlude harking back to 1963 and possibly Mississippi of the genre ‘and a little child shall lead them.’ A White woman leads her little Negro daughter up to the assembled cast and orders her daughter to sing The Times They Are A’ Changin’ for Dylan. The mother says her daughter had memorized every song Fate/Dylan had written. Not exactly a feat like memorizing the Bible but daunting nevertheless. ‘Why did you do that darlin’?’ Fate coaxes. The mean, nasty White woman interjects: ‘Because I made her do it, that’s why.’ That’s one mom from hell.
So then as this little Negro girl begins singing the Master’s song a kind of a hush fell over the world. As the little Negro girl intoned the more than Shakespearian lyrics the screen goes silent except for the little Negro girl’s voice as the cast experiences an epiphany not unlike Paul when he fell down in the dust of Israel. I tell ya folks it was angelic, there was a lump in my throat. I was eating popcorn at the time.
Of course, the girl wouldn’t have given the kid Michael Jackson the tremors, nor Donny Osmond for that matter, but she got all the words right and knew when to quit. About this time Fate decides to walk out on the benefit, he borrows Cupid’s car which he wrecks and goes to visit his faithful old Negro prostitute spouting clichés all the way. This scene is apparently reminiscent of 1968 when Dylan’s dad died before Dylan could reconcile himself with him. Here also Fate’s dad dies as Fate sits quietly on the bed beside him shedding his last tear. It wasn’t as good as Little Nell.
Junior Jive, his putative brother played by Mickey Rourke, then takes over for pop. Once braceros they are now running the country he says. Rourke was unconvincing in the role.
There Must Be Some Way Outta Here
Well, this thing has to end sometime so Fate goes back to the bar to perform the Benefit. One has the feeling that this was some sort of apology for the We Are The World benefit when Dylan and Keith Richards took the stage before the world wide audience and showed how stellars make fools of themselves. In this replay Edmund (Rourke) begins a destruction of Desolation Row and the rest of the world which erases Fate from the television screen and hopefully We Are The World from Dylan’s memory. And then comes what we have all been fervently praying for- The Grande Finale. Probably the lamest scene in a movie of lame scenes.
Edmund has unleashed Armageddon on the world simultaneously eliminating Dylan’s Save The World embarrassment and fulfilling his need for universal destruction a la Hitler down on Desolation Row where everything was broken and is now disintegrating. While all the colored people of the world are off destroying themselves Dylan’s White elite are about to self-immolate a la The Twilight Of The Gods. Ragnarok, Hiroshima a hundred fold.
All the world’s a stage as that minor poet said and this scene appropriately takes place in front of the stage but not on it. It’s a major rumble. I hope I can describe it right. Fate, the fate of fates has arrived. This is the fate that no one can escape. Now you know why Jack’s last name is Fate.
Fat old corrupt Uncle Sweetheart makes a move on Pagan Lace trying to persuade her to have a drink on him. The girl was a teetotaler. She resists Uncle’s enticing. Uncle grabs the delicate thing making a move to pour the firewater down her throat will she, nil she. We hear a dog whistle off stage and its SuperFriend to the rescue. He has apparently always wanted to kill Uncle so he grabs the erratic microphone cord proceeding to throttle Uncle.
Everything might have worked out fine from Friend’s point of view but for the fearful little Pagan Lace who drags him off thereby leading to his death. Fate shows up challenging Friend. Dylan settles accounts with the press here. I don’t know how big Jeff Bridges is but if Dylan is 5’ 10” 150 Bridges is 6’ 5” and 250. Odds do not daunt Fate. They go into a clinch with Friend’s back to the camera. I don’t know what Dylan did to Friend, perhaps twisted his balls, but Friend recoils fifteen feet clutching either his stomach or his gonads- the picture gets fuzzy. In perhaps the hokiest bit ever devised for film a thoroughly unconvincing Fate breaks the fat end off a JD bottle steps coyly up to the prone Friend and wiggles the jagged end in front of his nose, then steps back. You really have to see it to believe it.
Well, Friend is lying down but he’s still not going to take it. He pulls out a flat gun, might be a .45, might be a 9mm., I’m not an expert on firearms, and instead of shooting, leers menacingly while waving the gun around like he intends to shoot it sometime in the future. Or, perhaps Dylan and Charles were expertly building suspense because Bobby Cupid is creeping up behind bearing the murder weapon which is, you guessed it, or maybe not, Blind Lemon’s old guitar. Or, quite possibly as Uncle suggested, it was just an old guitar from a pawn shop. No matter, sneaking up behind Cupid bashes Friend with the unstrung front side. The guitar flies to pieces, it was old and flimsy, leaving Cupid holding the neck stump.
Unlike Fate and his JD bottle neck Cupid plunges the guitar neck into Friend’s throat. Death by guitar, perhaps a Movieland first. Symbolically Blind Lemon and all Negro musicians have avenged themselves for the purloined royalties. But, Bobby is now a murderer although for a good cause. Someone shouts here cum de fuzz. The ever magnanimous Fate gives his own guitar to Bobby thus replacing the broken Blind Lemon and one assumes passing the baton of musical justice on to Cupid while he shows Bobby the door and tells him to run. Cupid does one of the lamest exits ever. You can see him stop running when he thinks he’s out of camera range. So, the faithful servant’s fate is reconciled.
Meanwhile the two Black loan enforcers from the first scene show up to seal Uncle Sweetheart’s fate. They give the sage but cliché’d advice: ‘Everybody pays Sweetheart. Some pay up front some pay at the end. Come with us.’ Uncle resignedly marches off to his fate.
The cops show up. Nina Veronica steps up, points to Fate and says he did it, I saw him do it. This may possibly connect Dylan to 1958 when he and Echo were caught burglarizing in Hibbing and possibly Echo laid it on Bob. Just a guess. Well, the concerts over and it’s back to the Black Hole Of Calcutta for Fate. A woman put him in jail to begin with and a woman returns him to jail. It is Fate’s fate.
Yoicks, can this movie be finished? No. Frank Zappa made an eight and a half hour movie, this one only feels like it. Dylan’s not finished philosophizing. The camera focuses steadily on Dylan full face for four and half minutes as Dylan drones on. I’d given up, I wasn’t listening anymore. I will say this though, consider these pictures of Bob and Dave Zimmerman. If they don’t have two different fathers I’d be amazed.
A Note On My Method
A note on my method: I do not compose at the computer. I write my essays out long hand first. I then transfer to the computer using a different site. I save and print a copy then copy and paste to WordPress so I always have backup copies in case the copy flies away from WordPress while all restore methods have been disabled.
So while disabling restore and removing the copy is an inconvenience I always have backup copies. I then enter the photos printing copies page by page so I can always reconstruct the work.
The education has been less than pleasant but I presume it has been worthwhile. Thank you.
A Note On Bob Dylan And His Privacy Lament
Dylan seems to be unaware that by offering his efforts for sale he has sacrificed his privacy. His music and songs are open for criticism whether he likes it or not. Masked And Anonymous and his other films are automatically subject to minute scrutiny and interpretation. If he doesn’t like that then he should not have taken up his pen.
Secondly: Dylan invaded the privacy of every listener by offering his efforts for public consumption. There was no escaping his songs broadcast over the radio so his listeners had their minds violated in that sense. He made a personal mental contact and if he doesn’t like the results of the message he gave out, that is just too bad.
Thirdly: He often says he never asked to be the spokesman of his generation. That shows either a lack of understanding or is an outright lie. The Times They Are A’ Changin’, Blowin’ In The Wind and Masters of War imply that he has answers of which his elders are unaware. Ballad Of A Thin Man positively states that he knows what’s happening and others don’t. Desolation Row is a Ship Of Fools put down song that claims that Dylan has a loftier and more accurate view.
His audience accepted him at his word and when the burden became too heavy for him he betrayed that audience and abandoned them. That was a criminal offence.
It is time Dylan accepts the responsibility of his actions.
Exhuming Bob XXX
A Review: Part II
Masked And Anonymous
When Dylan left home in the summer of ’59 for UMinnesota he would have been at the bottom of his despondency in its raw form. His subconscious would have been in possession of his mind. He manifested this condition at UMinnesota by a burst of degraded behavior, drunkeness and an inability to study. He did know his salvation lay in his music. He then practiced hard and assiduously. He apparently realized that he wasn’t rock n’ roll material while Folk Music was the rage, at the height of its popularity, although the slough of its despond could be seen from the heights. It was petering out even as Dylan rode it to fame and fortune. As he says in the revised Shelton he always knew that Folk Music was a shuck but he could do it and use it as a springboard.
Using his friends and acquaintances in Minneapolis to educate him he learned to sing and play quickly. Still deep in the throes of depression, ruled by his subconscious, he left for New York to try his luck there. It was two months after his arrival in New York before he turned up in Greenwich Village. He has said that during those two months he was hustling in Times Square. No one knows whether to take him seriously but given his state of mind he may have attempted to degrade himself beyond redemption to satisfy his father’s prophesy. He remained a heavy drinker in New York adding drugs to his repertoire. According to Andy Warhol who should have known an A Head when he saw
one Dylan was racing on amphetamines. It wouldn’t have been hard to do as nearly everyone in New York at the time was. The Village was a tough place and getting much tougher as Dylan went along.
He took up his station at a bar called the Kettle Of Fish which was a Mafia owned bar and undoubtedly tough enough. It may have been there that he and Andy Warhol first crossed paths as Andy frequented the place also. While it has not been recognized, they were actually competitors for the role of King of Bohemia. Although Warhol was much older they both began their rise at the same time coming to an apex simultaneously. A war of sorts ensued in which Dylan’s base was Downtown and Warhol’s base Midtown. Later Lennon and Ono would form an Uptown base but by that time Dylan had moved along although he continued to associate with Ono at least through the eighties. They may still meet but I haven’t come across any references.
Despondent people usually see the world as a Zoo, an insane asylum, a desert, a hole or in Dylan’s case as a state of desolation. In 1965 he wrote the song Desolation Row as he fought to free himself from his depression. He has retained this despondent state of mind from then to the present if his movie Masked And Anonymous is any indication. Thus the movie is a visualization of a tour of Desolation Row with ‘all the clowns and jugglers doing their tricks for you.’ The movie is a real side show if seen from that perspective. Indeed Dylan depicts a side show carnival act of The Man Eating Chicken which when you part the curtain shows a man eating chicken. My favorite memory of the midway was the Black Widow Spider Woman. Had a little chat with her too. At any rate Dylan hasn’t really advanced beyond 1959 when he left home.
There is nothing attractive in the movie. The lighting is usually dark and depressing. I don’t remember one scene in which the sun was out. The streets are vile, everything is a shambles or broken as he said in his song, Everything’s Broken. That means that he views himself as a broken man, beyond repair. One can see why Suze Rotolo was fearful. She had every right to be if one judges from the way Dylan treated his madonna, Sara. After psychologically abusing her for a decade she had no choice but to leave when she came down for breakfast one day and found her husband carousing with another woman. Dylan hasn’t been able to change his self-destructive behavior; if he weren’t able to make the money he does he himself would have been a bum on Desolation Row long ago.
Thus we are treated to a longish filmed tour down skid row to look into the blank despairing faces of derelicts as if they were the norm. Normal people do not exist to Dylan’s mind. The streets were dotted with burning oil drums, the streets look pockmarked and unkempt left by a society unable to care and incapable of maintaining its infrastructure. Echoes of Greil Marcus and David Lynch abound.
Dylan injects his religious fundamentalism into the story where the desk of the Editor bears a copy of the statue of the monkey reading Darwin’s Origin Of Species prominently displayed. Again, the building beside which the rundown bar cum TV studio is placed is the Masonic Hall on LA’s preeminent Whilshire Blvd, one of the great streets of the world. The Masons who once shaped the world and were the founders of the United States Of America, competitors with Judaism for rule of the world have fallen on hard times. Members have drifted away and no new ones recruited so the magnificent building stands empty. That old Masonic Lodge is vacant now with its grand ideals inscribed on its outside walls, as are Masonic Lodges across the country. Ours has been taken over by the museum.
Dylan in his Hibbing days was trained for the his Bar Mitzvah by an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi of the Lubavitcher sect brought in by his father who was powerful both among the Jews and Gentiles of Hibbing. Dylan has never lost his Lubavitcher or at least Orthodox sympathies so that the use of the Temple is a mockery of Freemasonry by Judaism in Dylan’s hands. Behold the winner, he says.
At the same time, for the duration of the movie Dylan was able to make a stink pit of the grand Wilshire Miracle Mile making it reflect his vision of reality. He was to project his psycological miasma on it to obliterate the beauty.
As I say, to him, everything is broken down. At one point he borrows his buddy , Bobby Cupid’s car which is a broken down old monster from Detroit’s golden era of the fifties and sixties. He is on the way to visit a Black prostitute. He crashes the car into a telphone pole walking away leaving it there smoking. Once again this is dark, even though night it is a duller dark than need be, a Halloween night before the demons are released from hell to reclaim the night for their annual visit.
The fallen woman, the Negro prostitute, lives in what once was a fine old mansion but now has fallen on hard times itself. What was once a grand approach is now a ruins blending in with the shadows that have no bottom. You can hear the earth groan as Dylan steps on it. The effect is so repulsive and unredeemable that one has no sympathy with the movie or Dylan and Larry Charles.
I could go on describing each degraded, broken scene but the record of that depressing aura would bring me down as well as yourself.
Let us take a look at the way Dylan uses his extras who populate the movie. If you thought the locations were depressing the cast is even more desolated.
The racial composition of the movie is of interest if this is how Dylan sees reality. There are no obvious Jews in the movie. Of course one knows that Dylan is Jewish but he is disguised as a goy cowboy, an incarnation of Rambling Jack Elliott. Perhaps Dylan has patterned this stage of his life after that of Jack Elliott after whom he patterned his early career also, actually studying and imitating him to the point where people said: ‘Look Jack, he’s stealing your act.’ As Elliott had priority in the persona Dylan might almost be perceived as Jack’s doppelganger although more successful. His character is named Jack. Elliott is also a Brooklyn Jewish cowboy.
The main actors are all White except for Penelope Cruz’ Pagan Lace who appears to be Mexican while apparently being a devout Catholic is no pagan. The bit players and extras are predominantly Mexican. They all have a bracero appearance, the kind of look that used to seen as typically Mexican. On Fate’s bus ride to the City the entire bus is filled with Mexicans which means, I suppose, the place was either Mexico or LA.
The Muzak of the background seems to always be a group singing Dylan’s songs in Spanish, rather puzzling. As mentioned, Fate’s father inexplicably seems to be Mexican while Fate’s mother also looks Mexican. The Micky Rourke character, who is apparently Fate’s half brother, is Mexican. Rourke muses that his people began as servants but own the big house now while they are taking over the country.
In the barroom scenes those enraptured by Dylan’s Country and Western tunes are improbably Mexicans and Negroes. To watch them bop out the rhythm rapturously to Dylan’s version of Dixie (I wish I was in the land of cotton…) is a sight to behold- defies all reason and experience. Who ever saw an African American at a Dylan concert? One wonders what Dylan was smoking, snorting, shooting, drinking or perhaps doing a combination of all four.
The manner in which our old Civil Rights activist portrays Blacks is also astounding. They are all thugs, criminals and prostitutes without exception. Well, except for the little mulatto girl who sings The Times They Are A Changin’. However she has a mean, nasty White mother in combat boots. The mother says that her daughter has memorized all of Fate’s songs. Fate asks: ‘Why did you do that, honey?’ The mean, nasty White mother interjects: ‘Because I made her, that’s why.’ Almost made me ashamed to be White. I had to brush up on my nasty act. The little girl launches into the song while everyone listens rapturously, enthralled at truth coming from the mouth of a babe. I know she is supposed to be a scene stealer but the kid was only passable. Not only was she no threat to the reputation of the young Michael Jackson, she wasn’t even a threat to Donnie Osmond. But, this is Dylan’s movie.
The first Negroes we see are two loan enforcers who are explaining the facts of life to Uncle Meat, excuse me, Uncle Sweetheart who owes more than he can pay. The Blacks give him a good beating informing him that they’ll be back.
The next Negroes we are introduced to improbably run the TV Network, possibly CBS, which also seems to be a stretcher. Not only do the Mexicans look like they missed high school but the Black Pres. of the Network acts like he left school after the sixth grade.
The head of the Network conducts business with a loaded .45 automatic on the conference table.
I don’t know what number this is in Dylan’s list of bad dreams but one does wonder what he ate before he climbed into bed. Dylan seems to search out freaks for his Desolation Row. He has a close up after the Animal Lover scene of a guy’s face that looks like a very bad case of scabies after being run over by a truck. I don’t know whether he was made up or Dylan found him somewhere and gave him scale and all the pot he could smoke.
If this movie is Dylan’s version of reality then the congressmen and senators should gather around and lend him a helping hand. Thank god Dylan doesn’t strive for verisimilitude, the whole movie is acted like Jr. High kids playing adults while filming it in the basement. It would help if they were mixing up some medicine. Since everything is fake you don’t have to run from the theatre screaming although I’m told that many did. I’m tough, I’ve sat through ten showings of this thing but, yes, I do believe I’ve had enough.
Part III follows in the next post.
October 30, 2010
Maid Of Constant Sorrow
Chaps 3,4 & 5
Time Is On My Side
A problem with the sixties is the concept of time. Einstein had gummed up the investigation of the concept considerably. Time is not a static thing but moves at various speeds. Strictly speaking time does not exist but is a human construct. The basis of the construction is the diurnal rotation of the earth and the earth’s revolution around the sun. There is no starting point for the revolution and no end. Man constructed a beginning based on earth’s greatest distance from the sun and because of the Plane Of The Ecliptic, the shortest day of the revolution. This was the most recognizable point to begin. Without the day and the year there is no basis for determining time; there is no other vantage point in the Universe.
Time has no existence in the universe; there is only space and matter and space cannot be defined without matter. No changes take place in the nature of space, only in matter, and time is no operative factor in those changes. Time does not exist outside the human mind.
Time as we usually think about it is a division of the earthly day into hours, minutes and seconds; of the year into seasons, months, weeks and days. As this is objective time keeping without reference to the passing of events or the perception of the individual subjective time is unaffected by objective time.
Now, let us say that the normal rate of perception and living is done in 4/4 time. To try to be specific let us say the standard is time as lived by 18-60 year olds adjusted to their societal needs. Let us just speculate that the mind in its normal state is comfortable with 4 bits of information per second and let us say that normally, whatever that means, bits of information are occuring at 20 bits per second. That means that 16 bits a second are normally over the subject’s head; he may perceive them but he can’t record them on the spot. Part of this is made up in sleep and dreams where removed from external stimulus the individual is able to subconsciously process additional bits that went by him while waking. The remainder then can only be captured and analyzed from a distance in time where what was happening can be seen but what is gained in distance is lost in immediacy. That is history, what I am attempting here. While the big picture can be seen, vast amounts of immediate detail are lost to memory or altered to conform to desires and prejudices. But, that is the way it is.
The period of ’64-’66 was one in which amphetamines and barbiturates altered or distorted 4/4 time. Under the influence of amphetamines subjects were living in, let us say, 16/4 time. They were so alert they couldn’t sleep. So long as they could control their obsessions and not be hung up on details they could turn out prodigious amounts of work. Thus to satisfy this amphetamine induced mania for work Warhol and his assistant, Gerard Malanga, could manually turn out fifty large Presley silk screen prints in an afternoon. In fact, in this period they turned out thousands and thousands of silk screens. There are a lot of Warhols out there.
Dylan is said to have literally and steadily turned out reams of material. He left a huge sheaf at Baez’s in Carmel in Spring of ’65 which he never reclaimed. As he said, songs just flowed through his amphetamine fueled mind. This sort of activity ceased or drew to a close when both Warhol and Dylan ceased using amphetamines- in other word their time races slowed down and their brains slid back toward 4/4 time.
Now, when the subject’s brain was racing at 16/4 it couldn’t slow down to allow him to sleep. Keith Richards says that in those days he slept only two nights out of seven. Warhol said he got two hours of sleep a night during this period and some said, perhaps with exaggeration, they didn’t sleep at all for one or two years.
So, while your brain is racing along 16/4 and you feel the need for rest you have to take barbiturates, downers, to slow your time down toward 8/4 or hopefully 4/4. This pits one drug against the other, one is speeding, one is dragging. Too much manipulation and of course one’s time slows to 0/4 and you’re dead.
Between events being clustered and racing so fast that no one can keep up, even at 16/4 and certainly at a speed to defy analysis no one had any idea of who or where they were and what was happening. No matter how fast the brain is racing one is still living in 4/4 time.
For those with 16/4 racing brains and no outlets such as art or writing, music, the result was chaos and self-destruction. In addition confusion was caused by making the 18-60 years old time race as an objective standard by which all normality is measured.
When someone says that time stood still, it literally did for the subject, the duration of that stillness cannot be measured by objective time.
What may seem like a few seconds to an outside observer is literally timeless to the subject. The earth still turns but the mind doesn’t move, but no time is lost because time doesn’t exist. Thus children and mature people live in 2/4 or 3/4 time in which 4/4 time is irrelevant. It takes eons for a day or two to pass as a child while objective time becomes irrelevant if you no longer have to watch the clock. For instance, at 72 I live in a mix between natural time and objective time. I only have to enter objective time when it’s necessary to keep an appointment and I try to eliminate those as much as possible. Otherwise it’s day or night, Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall. I frequently don’t pay attention to what day it is because I don’t need to know and I don’t care. It doesn’t make any difference; it is always my time.
Doctors try to evaluate your memory by applying the needs of 18-60 year olds who are living according to the demands of objective time. So, since we live at different time races those whose speeds differ have a difficult time understanding each other.
Speeding Down The Highway
Lest we associate amphetamines at this time with illegal drugs let’s look at the scene in NYC. Sometime in the early sixties Feel Good doctors were dispensing massive does of amhetamines and vitamins. the most notorious, or well known, of these doctors were Max Jacobson and a man referred to as Dr. Roberts.
Jacobson appears first on the scene with a patient roster of astounding celebrity which included then President John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson took a shot but perceived the situation for what it was and didn’t go back.
The Beatles mention a Dr. Robert in one of their songs and he’s the man we’re concerned with here in ’65 no to be confused with Dr. Roberts. Dr. Roberts administered to some of the Warhol crowd including Edie Sedgwick. There is an astonishing account of his practice in Stein and Plimpton’s Edie. Quite an extensive account. To excerpt it I’d probably have to have permission; I’ll check into it.
These doctors were carelessly giving incredibly huge injections that kept you speeding for a week or two. But needles, syringes and drug could be obtained easily and they were which brings us to a member of the Factory entourage, Brigid Berlin. She was not old money but came from a very affluent background.
She, obviously laboring under several mental disorders, was an indiscriminate and unsound dispenser of the drug. She ran around the Factory injecting all and sundry with the same dirty needle. Her forte was to inject herself straight through the seat of her jeans.
Andy, himself, used something call Obetrol which is described as a very high quality amphetamine producing a pleasant and stimulating high. While this drug kept Andy up with the exception of an hour or two of fitful sleep it also allowed him to work, work, work, industriously and with intense concentration for hours at a time. Fifty Presleys in an afternoon, think about it, assembly line pace.
Without a work outlet one had to find other ways to work off the excess energy. Non-stop talking is one but, hell, I can do that all day without the benefit of drugs. Since all these people at the Factory were living in 16/4 time they could communicate on that level with each other. There wasn’t an awful lot of intelligence being communicated. Warhol did us the service of recording 24 hours of what passed for communication and published the result as a book or novel he titled ‘a’. This book is virtually unreadable but as dedicated to my art as I am I am living proof that it can be done. Let’s hear from anyone else who had the patience. The gang was big on non-verbal communication. There are mostly a lot of incomplete sentences in the book but the conversation is forwarded in a pastiche manner each participant adding a phrase so that a sort of idea is parsed out.
As might be expected the group was low on conventional 4/4 morality, but at 16/4 they seem to have worked out a morality that all could accept but one I certainly would reject. Beatings, theft and random sex in view of others or not with anyone or anything seemed to be the moral basis. While Andy disavowed responsibility for anything that hapened at the Factory he was in fact the leader functioning as Magister Ludi. In the novel ‘a’ he is referred to as Drella, a combination of Dracula and Cinderella- a vampire and a fairy. He was in truth a bloodsucker.
He essentially took a whole group of Catholic homosexual Undermen and gave them a clubhouse and a certain immunity under the umbrella of his name and fame. Even then he and his Factory were a thorn in the side of legitimate society, the police visiting the place on a regular basis. And rightly so.
This was the scene, the environment that Chuck Wein brought Edie into. It seemed to suit her state of mind, she stayed.
Dylan also was an amphetamine freak at the same time while using alcohol, LSD, marijuana and heroin. Warhol who was a perceptive observer said that Dylan’s songs were the amphetamine speaking. According to Andy, Dylan took other people’s words (and tunes) and because of the amphetamine was able to make them sound as though his own. He also astutely divided Dylan’s output into two periods; the first, social protest and the second, personal protest. Pretty much half a side of Another Side, plus Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. Once again, he knew whereof he spoke. We’re concerned more with the personal protest here taking little or no interest in the social side.
Dylan’s personal protest by its very nature must be autobiographical. Indeed, Suze Rotolo identifies many of Dylan’s songs as referring to her. She should know. Dylan was quite taken with her. He obviously suffered a painful feeling of desertion whan at her mother’s insistence in 1962 she left NYC to study in Italy. This absention definitely changed the relationship although as Bob was never too constant a lover it is difficult to see how. Ego was hurt, I guess.
Although the relationship was reassumed on Suze’s return her sister, Carla, and her mother disapproved finally breaking the couple up. The break up produced the autobiographical Ballad In Plain D in which Dylan vented his emotions in a loud screaming complaint that was a direct predecessor to his magic mantra ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’
I Can’t Stand The Pain In Here
According to accounts Dylan began writing Like A Rolling Stone in June of ’65. It began as 20 pages of ‘vomit’ according to Dylan, cut down to 10 and then to its released form. The 45 was a successful disc reaching the Billboard Top 10. The song is quite obviously about Edie when one learns the background. Many New Yorkers who were aware of the scene expressed their opinion that it was about Edie, pointing out further their belief that Warhol was the Napoleon in rags.
If first written in June then Dylan had made a considerable psychological investment in Edie since the previous December of ’64. One wonders where he found the time to cultivate a relationship with her between the two dates. He wrote recorded and released ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ between the meeting with Edie and April. He had performance dates. He divided his time between NYC, Woodstock and Carmel. In the last mentioned place he was staying at the home of Joan Baez while keeping Sara in Woodstock and maintaining some sort of relationship with Suze.
The extent of the rage and hatred of ‘Stone’ seems to be out of all proportion. According to the song Dylan is in a jealous rage because the ‘She’ of the song has deserted him for this ‘Napoleon in rags.’ ‘He calls to you, go to him now.’ What exactly did Dylan intend to do with Edie that he should become so emotonal? There is no question but that he intended to marry Sara; also none that he would marry either Joan, Suze or Edie. Quite simply they weren’t Jewish and Sara was. Dylan had no intention of marrying outside his religion. He intended to obey the Biblical injunction, which he takes as the literal word of God, to be fruitful and he wanted his children raised Jewish.
So what, then? What did Edie represent to him? Apart from being an uptown girl, in Volume I of his autobiographical Chronicles he suggests that one looks for the model of ‘She’ in his mother. I found this puzzling. I couldn’t make it fit the lyrics. None of the ‘facts’ of the song seemed to fit what is known of his mother. Then I saw Dylan’s 2003 movie, Masked And Anonymous. This is a delicate subject of which I am only going to skirt the edges. But, if one reads between the lines of Jack Fate’s soliloquy at his father’s death bed about his mother and faher, the lyrics of Freight Train Blues and what I’m hinting at here the fog should thin out somewhat. Remember that Dylan said his mother was connected to ‘Stone’. Since the song is about Edie it follows that Dylan associated his mother and Edie in his mind; there was a situational similarity to him.
Now, from August ’65 to the recording of Blonde On Blonde nearly the whole of Dylan’s output is centered around Edie, Warhol and the Factory. One of Dylan’s more vicious songs was ‘Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat’ which is about Edie. When Edie dissipated her inheritance she bought a slew of fur coats and a lot of jewelry. She had the leopard skin pill box hat.
Dylan’s mother was also known for having a lot of jewelry and several fur coats. Dylan recorded his version of Freight Train Blues long after 1968 when his father died. Now, immediately after his death the business owned by his father and two uncles either went bankrupt or was forced to close. In other words there was no more money left in the business. While Hibbing was not a flush market there was no competition either. So Abe Zimmerman’s exit came at a propitious moment, or…. At any rate there was no more money.
Just as Edie went through her money so Dylan’s mother kept her husband hopping in all likelihood straining the finances of the appliance store that, after all, had to support three families. Dylan, then, may have conflated Edie with his mother’s extravagance and whatever he had planned for Edie would have been done to his mother surrogate. In fact he was quite brutal to Edie, destroying her in the end. Thus one avenges oneself on one’s mother, ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’ He is probably one of those people who reject but can’t tolerate rejection because of his mother’s rejection of him per Jack Fate. According to his soliloquy in Masked And Anonymous his mother essentially rejected him plnging him into a deep depression from which he has never recovered if the movie is any indicaton. The movie too is autobiographical. He felt: ‘Nobody leaves me, I leave them.’ ‘That’ll be the day when you leave me’ as Dylan’s hero Buddy Holly put it. This was possibly the cause for the eruption of Ballad In Plain D.
In March of ’65 Edie entered the corrupt, even criminal, world of Warhol’s Factory. One can only speculate why Chuck Wein took her there. Perhaps the empresario was having a difficult time getting Edie launched and thought he could get her into Warhol’s hideous movies. Having run through her inheritance Edie was getting desperate for money. Perhaps in her naivete she thought movies were movies and movie stars made big money. Certainly one cause for her break from Andy was his refusal to pay her.
Warhol, in his own delusions believed that Hollywood would come knocking on his door cash in hand. That that never happened was probably a major disappointment. At any rate when this vision of the respectable Overmen appeared in this dump of a studio Andy went ga-ga. In fact, Edie was his ticket, his entry into the Upper East Side crowd. Just as Fred Hughes was to show him how to make money, Edie opened society doors to him.
This King of Scurf was creating quite a scene at the Factory. At the same time he gave a clubhouse to the Undermen, as a leading figure of the art world which, after all, is an upper class affair of wealth, he had a foot in that camp. Led by the more louche of celebrities the Factory was becoming a party destination. So Edie added some instant uptown glamor. Old family, old money.
Whether it was the hope of money from movies that kept her there or whether this degrading atmosphere filled some psychological need Edie stayed on thereby sacrificing her reputation. I imagine there’s always the hope that once you get your face up there something will pop.
Sometime between March and June Dylan became enraged that Edie was at the Factory making some pretty lame Warhol movies with little or no commercial appeal. Thus his work from this time on reflected his tug of war over Edie with Warhol.
Edie says that she didn’t get into heavy drugs before she joined Warhol’s menagerie. This may be true but as Warhol said: How do you stop someone from doing what they want to do? I would imagine the effects of electro-shock are very long lasting and discombobulating. Lou Reed of Velvet Underground was certainly whacked out from electro-shock. As I write my mind keeps going back to the time I stuck my finger in the socket as a child. I mean, it is vivid, so I can’t imagine what Electro-shock does to you. Perhaps speed replicates what electro-shock does do to you. Perhaps speed replicates or complements the feeling of electro-shock in some way.
Of amphetamines Edie is quoted as saying:
The nearly unendurable torment of speed, buzzarama, that acrylic high, horrorous, yodeling, repetitious echoes of an infinity so brutally harrowing that words cannot explain the devastation nor the tone of such a vicious nightmare.
Could be close to the feeling of electro-shock. Kind of reminds me of my finger in the socket. Dylan’s seach for the ‘high mercury sound’ must also have been the result of speed. Cacophonous songs like ‘Highway 61′, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and ‘Rainy Day Women’ come to mind.
Perhaps also the amphetamine high reflected and complemented the deranged vicious goings on Warhol allowed at the Facatory. The sado-masochism. Brigid Berlin, or the Duchess as she was alternately known, roaming around with her needle and syringe ramming it into anyone will they, nil they, not much choice there. Beatings going on back in the shadows, is it any wonder that Dylan referred to Warhol as Dr. Filth in Desolation Row.
It is difficult to ascertain dates in existing sources but possibly between June and August Dylan invited Edie and Andy to a concert in upstate NY so, there was significant interaction between the three before Highway 61 Revisited. Side one of that record doesn’t reflect Factory activity as much as side two. I suspect all three songs on that side reflect Dylan’s sitation with Andy and Edie while Desolation Row definitely does. Now, while at the time there were few listeners who had any idea of what Dylan’s lyrics meant except for possibly a few, of which Warhol definitely was one. He must have recognized the reference to himself in ‘Stone’ and also in Positively Fourth Street. These songs were hits. ‘Fourth Street’ was pulled from airplay shortly after relaease but when I first heard it the sound just blew me away. I heard the put downs but too fleetingly to grasp them. Hank Williams on steroids.
Dylan, then, was making, on Warhol a blatant attack over the airwaves of all America plus reviling Edie in a hideous manner. What did Andy think, what was his reaction? Having vented his feelings even more violently than he had in Ballad In Plain D, Dylan’s next move was obvious. Having lost Edie in March he meant to reclaim her in October. And so this epic battle for the person of Edie Sedgwick began. She was only a pawn in their game.
Chaps. 6, 7 and 8 are up on the next post.
Chaps 9,10, 11 and 12 are now up on the post following 6,7 and 8.
Chaps 13, 14 and 15 are now up also. Chap. 16 and end is in contemplation
October 21, 2010
Edie Sedgwick: Maid Of Constant Sorrow
Edie Sedgwick, Bob Dylan And Andy Warhol
Some Enchanted Evening
A movie: Factory Girl
Sedgwick, John: In My Blood: Six Generations Of Madness And Desire In An American Family, Harper Perennial, 2007
Stein, Jean: Edie: An American Biography, Pimlico, First Published 1992, 2006 Paperback edition
www.warholstars.com A comprehensive Andy Warhol site.
The sixties was a period of broken lives. It was the heyday of the users and the used. It was as Donovan aptly put it: The Season Of The Witch. It was a period when all the hounds of hell were loosed. It may be a cliche but it was both the best and worst of times. It was during this period that Edie Sedgwick came of age. Edie’s tragedy was that she was used rather than a user. She was the cat’s paw of two of the greatest users of the period, Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan. It cost her her everything including her life.
Edie was one of the Sedgwicks of Massachusetts and they were old line Americans. If the Sedgwicks missed the Mayflower they were trolling in its wake. Therein lay part of Edie’s charm for the two immigrant lads, Bob and Andy. While from Massachusetts the Sedgwicks had a notable presence in New York City and Long Island. One might say they were venerable. J.P. Marquand who married into the family wrote his novel ‘The Late George Apley’ about them.
In Massachusetts the Sedgwick family was famous for their burial plot known as the Sedgwick Pie. As their legend is intimately connected with the Pie it might be proper to dwell on the Pie for its flavor. The founder of the family back then just after the first Thanksgiving was a gentleman named Theodore Sedgwick. He was a dynast by nature. Hence, he bought a section of the Stockbridge cemetery and had himself buried in the very middle. Subsequent Sedgwick burials were laid feet first toward the Patriarch in round rows emanating outward like the wedges of a pie, thus the name Sedgwick Pie. It was said that on judgment day when reveille was blown the Sedgwicks would all arise facing the founder, Theodore. Pretty story.
Over the centuries following Theodore’s death the Sedgwicks continued to prosper there always being enough money to maintain their position. There also arose the fantastic legend of the Sedgwick Curse, as indicated by John Sedgwick’s subtitle. The idea was that the Sedgwicks were a weak stock and that there was an abnormal amount of madness and suicide in the family. Considering the extent of the family I think this was a romanticized vision of themselves. Not that there wasn’t a sort of madness and a few suicides but hardly more than in any several hundred member family over a few centuries. Nevertheless in Edie’s generation this fatalistic notion took firm hold. It’s almost as if the generation rose to embrace the notion. Her biographers speak of it in awe as though the Curse of the Pharaohs had morphed into the Curse of the Sedgwicks. Jean Stein, the author of Edie, seems entranced with it and even John Sedgwick, Edie’s younger cousin, in his memoir seems possessed by it. Feels he’s got it. Slim chance for being true in my estimation.
For an inconsequential girl Edie’s life has been well examined. There are actually several books written about or featuring her while the legacy of movies she appeared in and movies about her is fairly extensive. Most of the early information on her life here is abstracted from Jean Stein’s biography. Stein, herself, is accused of writing the biography in a fit of sour grapes because Warhol wouldn’t make her one of his superstars. No matter, it is an exceptional book of its kind.
‘Edie’ is presented as an oral biography in the voice of many participants. However as all the voices are pretty uniform it would seem as though the editor, George Plimption, is pervasively evident. George Plimpton, otherwise a nobody, began his career as a celebrity in the sixties and the seventies by becoming a professional old line American, nearly the last of a vanishing breed.
He clowned around by trying out for various professional sports teams then writing books about the experience. Thus he became the American Man Of Letters touted on his website and a well known celebrity who could actually measure his press releases in inches. He and Stein put together an excellent more than readable book in their biography of Edie Sedgwick.
Edie was the daughter of Francis Sedgwick of Long Island, NY, he otherwise being known as Fuzzy. The family left New York for Santa Barbara, California just before Edie was born so she knew nothing of New York or the East Coast. In California she led what would seem to thave been an idyllic life. The family lived on a 3000 acre ranch which was exhanged after oil was found on it for a much larger ranch and finally an 18,000 acre ranch where she spent her teens. This was a functioning cattle ranch with ranch hands and the whole works.
The Sedgwicks did not attend either public or private schools being rather schooled by private teachers along with a few neighbor children. Thus unfamiliar with the world she may have had a very diffiuclt time adjusting to real life people. She probably did not have time to do so before she was thrown into the boiling cauldron of New York City. Francis, or Fuzzy, was a difficult father; his children blamed him for their shortcomings while Edie said he had sexual relations with her. She then was, or believed herself, mentally unbalanced by the time she arrived at Radcliffe to begin college.
She may very well have been unbalanced but where I grew up I didn’t know anyone who didn’t have mental problems, parents or children, and by the time of high school graduation I was literally a basket case, nearly immobile. Yet, so far as I know, everyone got on with their lives including myself. Seems to me everyone has to work themselves out of that hole as best they can.
Of course, drugs were becoming a definite problem by the time Edie showed up in Cambridge in the early sixties. It one reads Raymond Chandler novels, for instance, drugs were a problem in the thirties and forties and further reading will show that they had been a problem for decades. Most narcotics became regulated in 1910 in the US, still, new pharmaceuticals were being developed constantly and some of them including the psychedelics were not covered by narcotics laws at the time.
The first wonder drug I heard of was Miltown about 1950. I was too young to understand but Miltown was the Valium of its time, a panacea for all forms of stress, the stressed and housewives began to line up for prescriptions. By 1960 the list of users must have been stupendous.
Along with the barbituate downers came the uppers. First Bennies and then amphetamines. My first knowledge of the pervasiveness of drugs was 1956 when I wrote a high school essay on LSD. Of course glue sniffing was endemic in high school. Then in 1958 in the Navy was the first time I saw people ingesting bennies and heard of peyote, mescaline and the actual use of LSD. By the early sixties I knew a lot of people who were smoking pot and popping pills but I was never a user myself. I watched drugs put a lot of people over the edge. In most cases they weren’t aware that they were freefalling.
So, an unsettled socially naive Edie moved into a fast, loose society in Cambridge. While I can’t see much in her from the pictures apparently she was a sensation live, possibly influenced by her seemingly casual attitude toward sex. I don’t know about on the East Coast but on the West Coast girls were either more circumspect or I was out of it.
Edie was picked up by a homosexual crowd and attended many fetes in that milieu. At the same time the other folk scene, that of Boston was burgeoning with Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, Eric Von Schmidt and Mel Lyman being the standouts. Dylan came up to Boston at this time to meet them where, I believe, he first became acquainted with Bobby Neuwirth who was hanging out around the art and folk scene. Certainly Edie would have come to Neuwirth’s attention at this time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Dylan discussed the ‘hot chick’ from a distance at that time.
At some time Edie became erratic enough in her parents’ eyes that they decided to commit her to an insane asylum called Silverhill near Boston. This to me seems very extreme. Apart from Edie’s not doing things as they saw fit I can’t find anything in her behavior to have her committed. I mean, I’ve seen some pretty zany behavior and after drugs really got rolling in about ’67 half the population could have been put away with the other half waiting in line.
At some point you have to let your kid go while parents always have to take responsibility for their behavior at least for the first few years after they’ve left the nest until they work through those parental childhood traumas. The Sedgwicks had the money so as long as the offspring weren’t financially out of control they at least deserved their allowance. Edie was what would have been described as an airhead.
But then I’m sure that with the asylum experience the cure is worse than the disease. Edie was repeatedly given electro-shock ‘therapy.’ Electro-shock ranks right up there with the pre-frontal lobotomy as the most bizarre psychiatric treatments. Talk about Hitler and the Nazi doctors! If the Nazis had practiced frontal lobotomies and electro-shock you can imagine the Liberal howling from the West. It would have made the flap over Eugenics a mere whimper.
I can’t imagine what electro-shock does to the mind and nervous system. When I was four I was playing with an open socket. When I connected the jolt was such I lost consciousness. Fortunately I was repelled being thrown completely across the kitchen floor where I became alert again after a few seconds but still buzzing. Plus, I remember it as though yesterday. Imagine being strapped down and having those volts sent coursing through your existence. My god! For what purpose? That’s going to change your psychology? It doesn’t, so why they kept at it is beyond me.
Since Edie wasn’t insane when she checked in the good doctors of Silverhill checked her out as sane. Somewhere along the way she met some guy named Chuck Wein who believed himself to be an impresario of some sort who was going to take Edie to New York and make a star of some sort of her. Toward the end of 1964 then Edie and Chuck showed up in Manhattan.
Edie moved in with her grandmother on the Upper East Side. Good address. Enviable. She had come into an inheritance of 80,000 dollars which she proceeded to squander in six months. In 2010 dollars that might be the equivalent of from 300,000 to 500,000 dollars. One had to have a careless disregard for money.
In 1964 the sixties had started moving, approaching maximum velocity. The Beatles had splashed down in January of ’64 followed by the Rolling Stones, Animals, Dave Clark Five and a host of others including Freddie And The Dreamers which was the beginning of the hip explosion as rock and roll morphed into folk rock. It doesn’t matter who was the first with folk rock it was inevitable. The electric bass and guitars along with better and more powerful amplifiers ever evolving there was no other way to go. I mean, Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran were proto-heavy metal. And they were exciting bands. The music had been loosening up for several years. Tequila by The Champs was fairly revolutionary in its day. But then the recording companies and artists put a lot of effort into trying to astonish us with new styles and forms and frequently did, every week. Mule Skinner Blues by the Fendermen, a folk song was done in a folk rock style long before Bob Dylan went electric and set us all on our ear. That song has probably never been surpassed. Besides by 1964 the whole folk thing was passe and worn out, boring, apparently the word probably hadn’t reached Peter Seeger and that bunch in New york yet.
Each day was a new adventure where you had no idea what you would see or hear. Andy Warhol’s soup can is a case in point. The arrival of the Lovin’ Spoonful in Edie’s big year of ’65 was a revelation. As far as I’m concerned, the most influential band of the era. If Yanovsky hadn’t given up his dealer there’s no telling how far they could have gone. From there everything accelerated to super sonic speed. There was even a group called the Super Sonics. Songs like Telestar. Men even walked on the moon. So, while the external world was racing with the moon the internal, personal world ran along at the same slow pace unable to keep up with developments. No one knew what was going on except in their small mental space. Thus, even while Dylan and Warhol were succeeding spectacularly in their own spheres life was racing past them making them passe while there was no way they could keep up.
In that atmosphere Edie arrived in New York City and spent her money. And then the money was gone. As ’65 progresseed her parents became disenchanted with her life style so they cut her allowance way back, and then, off. But that’s getting ahead of our story. What Chuck Wein’s plan was for turning Edie into some sort of star or celebrity isn’t clear. She did get some modeling jobs for magazines, probably because of her name, but they were put off by her drug intake and her corresponding erratic behavior.
Then Bobby Neuwirth, the legend goes, noticed she was in town. by this time Neuwirth was playing Robin to Dylan’s Batman, his sidekick in other words, and he notified Dylan that ‘there was a hot new girl in town.’ In the movie Factory Girl, sometime in ’65 Neuwirth showed up at the Factory and said: Come with me. Someone wants to meet you.’ Edie leaves with this total stranger, who cons her into paying the fare, escorts her back stage at a Dylan performance to be introduced to the Star with whom she is dazzled.
That’s one version. According to Jean Stein in Edie in December of ’64 Neuwirth invited her down from the Upper East Side to the Mafia club, Kettle of Fish, to meet the folk singer himself. Edie had arrived in NYC driving a big grey Mercedes. Her flipped out driver crashed the car so she was using a limousine service to get about. Accordingly her limousine pulled up in front of the Kettle of Fish, Edie got out of the car, entered the bar and contact was made. The history of her life over the next eighteen months, the Dance of Death, began.
Dylan, then, laid claim to the dazzling girl before Andy Warhol. Edie met Andy at the film producer Lester Persky’s a few weeks later at a party in January of ’65. Dylan and his entourage were heterosexual while Warhol, Persky and that crowd were homosexuals. Thus Edie began to fulfill her destiny as a pawn in Dylan’s and Warhol’s games.
Never Felt More Like Singin’ The Blues
Who were these guys Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol and what interest could they take in this uninteresting and rather dull girl. Interestingly both men considered themselves revolutionists. Dylan forwarded the Jewish and Underman revolutions while Warhol spearheaded the homosexual and doubled up on the Underman. Both men came from immigrant backgrounds. Dylan from Jewish immigrants and Warhol from Ruthenians. Dylan was originally Robert Zimmerman and Andy Andrew Warhola. Dylan grew up in small town Hibbing, Minnesota, Warhol in the ‘melting pot’ of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both developed monster grudges against American society.
At the end of ’64 both men were on the way to being of the most influential people of the second half of the twentieth century.
Dylan at twenty had come to New york with the ambition of becoming a folk singer. Even though a not easily appreciated singer he was as close to an instantaneous success as it is possible to be. Arriving at the beginning of 1961, at the close of ’64 when he met Edie he was an international sensation, a prolific and successful song writer.
Strangely his success was built on resentment and hatred. The dominant characteristic of his songwriting was a rancorous bitter putting down of his society and associates. He fairly spews hatred in such songs as Hattie Carroll, Like A Rolling Stone and Positively Fourth Street to name only a few of his diatribes. His most prolific period would revolve around his desire for Edie Sedgwick and his detestation for his rival for her affections, Andy Warhol.
Dylan had a fixation on destroying the happiness of women. At the time he began his pursuit of Edie he had sequestered his future wife, Sara Lownds, who he would marry in November of ’65 and who he had purloined from another man. At the same time he was carrying on long time affairs with his first New York girl friend, Suze Rotolo and his fellow folk singer, Joan Baez. Why this need to injure the happiness of women?
Of course I’ve read most of the important works on Dylan if not all and many of secondary importance. Using that background, I’m going to concentrate on the movie Dylan wrote and starred in, Masked And Anonymous. This is a very autobiographical movie showing a Dylan who had progressed little from his heyday of the mid-sixties. Dylan believes that the journey is more important than the result so that in the various episodes he gives little symbolical vignettes of his life journey leading up to a contrived ending. Many of the most important eipisodes and people are represented. The promoter in the film, for instance, can be recognized as his manager Albert Grossman; the sidekick is Bobby Neuwirth etc. I’m not going to review the movie here but Dylan gives us some insight into when and how his world went wrong.
In the movie when Jack Fate’s, Dylan’s movie alter-ego, father, who is the dictator of ’this god-forsaken country’, lies dieing, Fate revisits him on his death bed. In fact that is where the ‘path’ of the movie actually leads. Fate reminisces about his relation with father and mother. To put it succinctly let me quote the lyrics of an old song, Freight Train Blues. Dylan would rewrite the lyrics to this song and claim it as his own:
I was born in Dixie
In a boomer’s shack,
Just a half a mile
From the railroad tracks.
My daddy was a fireman
And my mama dear,
She was the only daughter
Of an engineer.
She could spend the money
And that ain’t no joke,
It’s a shame the way
She kept a good man broke.
Well, Jack Fate’s daddy wasn’t much better and the movie couple had an unhappy marriage which probably reflects Dylan’s view of his own parents. As to his mother she just found Jack in the way and wished she never had him because it interfered with her happiness. I suspect that more or less sums up Dylan’s relationship with his mother. One can’t say for sure but I suspect that when his mother conveyed this attitude to the young Dylan it just shattered his mind and from that day forth he was one lost soul on the lost highway with the freight train blues. Now, it is impossible to avenge oneself on one’s mother directly as mother’s are sacred as the vessel of your life. Dylan never tried, even escorting his mother as a date to major events. You can take it out on yourself by becoming a derelict yourself which Dylan did thereby punishing your mother or you can take it out on surrogate women. Dylan did both. He himself was and has been a heavy drug user and a heavy drinker. He ruined the lives of several women including Rotolo, Baez and Edie; then, after making Sara a wife and mother, most importantly a mother, he completely shattered her life as his mother had his. That may have satisfied him, then again, maybe not. Since then he has been wandering aimlessly as a ‘modern troubadour.’ Ramblin’ Jack Fate.
The period of the sixties was Dylan’s time of most intense reaction. After that he waxed and waned but Andy Warhol was focused on an unwavering need for vengeance. He knew how to use people to obtain his goals without actually exposing himself. He arrived in New York in 1950 as a graphic artist where he too was an instantaneous success. He made his mark in shoe ads where his drawing, usually described as ‘fey’, but displaying real genius at the same time, brought the customers to Miller Shoes for whom he drew.
During the fifties he was a very highly paid commercial artist designing everything from his shoe ads to stationery to book and record covers. Usually very nice but not infrequently letting his sexual proclivities shine through. He was alwa;ys pushing the homosexual agenda preferring to associate his work with writers or musicians from either the Undermen or those writing on those themes.
About 1960 he decided to tackle the fine arts with the purpose of detroying them. He entered the world of painters at the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. He had always been a sort of pop artist with his shoe ads so he was an incrdible success as a pop artist when he painted Campbell’s soup cans. With the soup cans he effected one of the most instantaneous and successful revolutions or transitions from one style to another, ever. I don’t think it would be out of line to say the sixties were born in that moment. If there is one single symbol that characterizes the sixties, for me at least, it is Andy’s soup cans. Tomato soup can. It enraged and energized so many people. It has been an inspiration for me.
I can’t remember when I first saw it but I was simply stunned. Perhaps in the pages of Time Magazine. I don’t know whether the copying of a soup can is art but as I mused about it I came to the conclusion that the can was a sort of urban landscape. It was something one gazed at frequently while grocery shopping, so I said, what difference did it make whether one copied a mountain or curling wave or a soup can. I suppose the difference is that a soup can can only be done once before the joke is stale.
My favorite image of the soup can was a poster in which a soup can had a gaping hole from being blasted with a .45 automatic. That sort of settled the arguement for me but that was as late as 1968. Andy went on attempting to outrage us by painting duplicates of Brillo boxes and such like, Heinz Bean cans, but that fell flat. The joke had been made, there was only one Campbell soup image.
Painting all those soup cans, he did all the varieties, must have been a tedious way to while away the time. Then he discovered silk screening. What a good idea. Warhol, the child of industrial processes. I can only imagine that he thought Henry Ford and his assembly line turning out identical copies of cars was the ideal expression of art. After all you can make a million cars, same model and make, but in painting a picture, prior to Warhol, they all had been one offs and then you needed another idea. In that period of rapid change an idea became obsolete immediately. Coming up with new ideas was a tough business. Warhol could turn out an idea like the Presleys like Henry Ford turned out cars. Wow! Man! The future of art had arrived.
Perhaps he thought up silk screening or perhaps the idea was suggested to him by his assistant, Gerard Malanga. Malanga thinks that’s the way it was. At the time he was hired Malanga was already an accomplished silk screener. Malanga was the beginning of Warhol’s actual use, consumption and discarding of people. One might say Malanga was exploited.
Malanga took a job with Andy at the minimum wage above which Andy never raised him. Malanga insists that he was essentially a collaborator of Warhol’s. I am inclined to agree with him. In the first place Andy never drew his own pictures. He essentially had no ideas. He had his screens made up from photos of others he found attractive. His famous flower screen was from a purloined photo. HIs Elvis paintings, posters actually, were traced from a promotional still. To me that strengthens Malanga’s claim. The screens were mechanically produced and screening is a mechanical act. Both Malanga and Warhol manipulated the screens together. There are films showing them doing it.
Between the two of them they produced fifty Presley images in an afternoon. For a show at LA’s Ferus Gallery Andy shipped them a two
hundred foot roll of Presleys and told them to cut up the roll as they saw fit. Collaboration was just Andy’s way. Hence one has single, double, triple, quadruple and octuple Presleys. I saw one display where there were twenty or more strung out for a couple hundred feet in one immense string. Enough Elvis Presleys to go around the world three or four times were produced. (That’s a joke, son.)
It is a good image although Andy never asked Presley or his studio for permission to use it and as far as I know never gave them a dime. He just appropriated the image. I can’t imagine how Andy kept the Colonel cool. He didn’t keep the flower lady cool, once she recognized her image she sued him. Of course, she took her image from God but God didn’t sue her.
Now, all this silk screening takes up a bit of space, these Presleys kept getting bigger and bigger, life size and then some. Some were twenty-five feet by twenty-five. So Andy outgrew his home facility leaving it to seek much bigger spaces. If one thinks about it all this is very daring. There was no artist in New York even approaching the concept. Finally he rented an entire floor of a building on 47th Street that became known as the Factory. Dylan would characterize it as Desolation Row. When Edie made her appearance there in March of ’65 it was at that Factory. There were subsequent and even larger ones.
This is where Dylan and Warhol stood at the beginning of 1965 when Edie became a pawn in their game. Why did they want her? As noted, the two were immigrants or the sons of immigrants so they knew the discomforts of being strangers in a strange land. They knew the sense of inferiority among the ‘natives.’ They knew what being outsiders was especially as Dylan was a Jew and Warhol a homosexual.
Edie Sedgwick was a symbol of that envy and desire. In a way she was the acme of the old line American and she was accessible. She probably could have been half ugly and it wouldn’t have made much difference.
From, say, 1870 to 1940 there was native America and there was immigrant America and they were separate but equal size. While intelligent immigrants never had it rough there was still resentment and outright hatred for Anglo-America. All this anti-America stuff comes from the immigrants or at least was fostered by them. With those of the Undermen, those of low IQ, the hatret was worse. WWII gave the immigrants a feeling of equality. They fought too. By 1950 they were superior in numbers assaulting every Anglo tradition and trashing it while doing their best to lower Anglos. Of course, the Anglos were too stupid to see it or unwilling to acknowledge it. After all, this was the magic ‘melting pot’ in which all resentments disappeared. Americans had discovered the solution to world problems. Both Dylan and Warhol shared in this resentment.
Thus when this female symhol of the old Anglo aristocracy appeared who they held responsible for their humilaition, whether they acknowledged it or not, they wanted to possess her, humiliate and destroy her. Dylan today would deny it while Warhol’s excuse at the time was ‘How do you stop someone from doing what they want to do?’ Well, Andy, at least you don’t hand them the revolver cocked and loaded. That Edie was humiliated and destroyed by her association with the two is proof enough of their intent.
The problem is to piece together the events of that year and a half over ’65 and ’66 from less than adequate documentation. I think I can produce a reasonable facsimle.
Chaps. 3, 4 and 5 are posted
Chaps. 6, 7 and 8 are posted
Chaps. 9, 10, 11 and 12 are posted
January 27, 2010
Exhuming Bob 23b
Of a & b.
Bob, Andy, Edie
And Like A Rolling Stone
The System Of Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether
All the fags and dykes they boogien’ together
Leather freaks dressed in all kinds of leather
The greatest of the sadists and the masochists too
Screamin’ please hit me and I’ll hit you.
The FBI dancin’ with the junkies
All the straights are swingin with the funkies
Cross the floor and up the wall
Freakin’ at the Freakers ball,
Freakin’ at the Freakers ball.
Oh no! Must be the season of the witch.
It may be true that the answer was blowin’ in the wind but, if so, as Donovan said: You might as well try to catch the wind and nobody did. Nobody even had a clue as the inmates poured out their cells and seized the asylum. Even then it wasn’t so easy to tell the nuts from the Docs.
His parents brought a seventeen year old to the asylum to be cured of homosexual tendencies. The psychiatrists had an astonishing method for a cure. Strapping the kid to the torture rack they fixed a couple of electrodes to his body and sent some serious voltage coursing the through his existence rearranging a few brain cells on the way. As his body arched when the juice hit him one is reminded of the prisoner on death row when the steel cap was lowered on his shaved skull. As maximum voltage coursed through his body he too convulsed but when the skull cap was removed the temperature of his blood in his brain was 212 degrees. They’d boiled him to death.
The kids temperature didn’t rise that high but they still managed to scramble his brain. His memory was so blotted he got lost trying to walk around his own block. The cure was worse than the disease. The cure was in fact, no cure as he remained a homosexual. And they call that medicine.
As soon as the kids eyes uncrossed he picked up a guitar and began to wail. Then he formed a band and began to formulate what he would call Metal Machine Music. He hooked up with Doctor Filth who ran an asylum called The Factory that he filled with mental cases. Unlike the psychiatrists Dr. Filth intended to create mental cases.
The kid picked up a whip, donned his leathers and began to boogie. Those leather freaks. Uncomfortable in their own skins they wear the flayed skins of cows, a feminine skin not their own. A guitar and a spike all anyone needed. Jamming his spike in his arm the kid flew from the asylum Factory out to the Cuckoo’s Nest in Keseyland.
Now known as the Velvet Underground, the kid, going by the personal of Lou Reed landed in a disused bowling alley where he and his three bandmates gave a concert. there were perhaps a hundred fifty people in the audience of which a hundred had been let in free by one of the promoters. Imagine a promoter opening the back door for free.
The audience in the bleachers stepped up to the ceiling where the top row required them to stoop to seat themselves edged into their seats. Keep your eye on the right top corner, that’s where the action will be. This was the first concert the promoters had done. The band stood on the floor two thirds of the way down the alleys. The spotlight was on their right directed across the group rather than down on them. I thought it was an interesting effect. The Cuckoo’s Nest had never seen anyhthing like this. A girl drummer had what appeared to be a single snare drum with a mallet underslung so it hammered the bottom of the snare while she banged away at the top with the sticks. Not exactly a beat more like a steady unvarying rumble, an effect almost as interesting as the lights. The two guitars and the bass of the leather clad crew began to hammer out the sound which was just like what became Metal Machine Music although more articulated. Not exactly as continuous am MMM but close.
Then the singer began to chant something about heroin. This wasn’t The Factory this was the Cuckoo’s Nest. A disquieting murmur underscored the machine music. Then some local agitators had a guy stand up to shout out incitements to a riot. The light guy got uneasy. The Velvets twitched, a note of panic came into Reed’s voice. Without so much as a change of tone he incorporated ‘Turn off the light’ into the lyric as the crowd began to think of rushing the Velvets and they gave every indication of bolting.
Turn off the lights, hell. I knew who the agitators must be so I swung the light from the Velvets across the crowd to the right corner where I picked up the agitators. I left the spot on them steadily. Their anonymity stripped from them the crowd recognized them and quieted down. The Velvets hadn’t missed a beat but they did get a little wobbly.
I quickly picked out the ‘mastermind’ , who was who I thought he was and his stooge who had been loaded up with something. With the spot on him he thought he was the star continuing to orate as Reed intoned on while the band chugged along like an assembly line gone berserk.
The ‘mastermind’ now ordered me to turn the light off him. The noise was too loud for him to hear me laughing. At last he got his stooge to sit down and the light swung back to the Velvet Underground and they continued their chaunt to the glories of heroin as though nothing had happened. Nothing had, just a variation on the show down on Desolation Row. They left the Cuckoo’s Nest finding their way back to the Factory and Dr. Filth.
Back home in The Factory the fags and dikes were cracking their whips, blowing their whistles and banging their gongs while the necrophiliacs were looking for dead ones.
As we left them in part a, Dr. Filth had been castigated by the Man Of The Hour over the air for all to hear if not recognize in his musical rants, Like A Rolling Stone and Positively 4th Street.
I’m not prepared to say it’s so but others have suggested that a few lines in Desolation Row refer to the Factory and Andy Warhol. As Desolation Row was recorded on August 4th a few days after Stone and Street it is quite possible ill feeling lingered and found expression in Dylan’s lines.
The lyrics are purposely written in obscure language meant to imitate poetry and mystify. Without a key one can speculate all day ending up where you began. Dylan does give us a clue as to his imagery in Chronicles where he says Pound and Elliot were fighting it out in the Captains’s tower. The Captain’s Tower refers to Dylan’s brain and the discussion of the two poets.
There is a very large discussion of this stuff on the internet if anyone wants to go through it. Anyway the lines thought to refer to Warhol are these.
Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Locked inside his leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up.
Now, his nurse, some local loser,
She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
She also keeps the cards that read
“Have mercy on his soul.”
They all play on the pennywhistle
You can hear them blow
If you hang your head out far enough
From Desolation Row.
I think most commonly people take Dr. Filth to refer to Freud. Multiple meanings are possible while the cast of characters in Row appear to be well known historical figures or characters from literature. At the same time, as Warhol points out, the songs of this period are personal protests so the figures can stand in for people Dylan knows. He changed their faces and gave them brand new names.
On the other hand Dr. Filth could refer to Warhol whose reputation was suffering by mid-’65. The society people had begun to avoid the Factory leaving Andy only the derelicts.
As I said I can’t find anything totally convincing to pin Dr. Filth on Warhol but the next verse isn’t applicable to Freud and the verse after depending on how you interpet pennywhistle and blow might apply to the Factoryites.
And then there are these lines:
Now, at midnight all the agents
And the supernatural crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do.
Then they take them to the Factory…
Like I say, it’s up to you. What is clear is that there was serious competition between Dylan and Warhol and that Sedgwick was a bone of contention.
As the late fall and summer progressed then, Dylan worked hard to draw Edie from Warhol. This made Andy very, very jealous and he turned from Edie spurning her from him ‘with his foot.’ There is a possibility that in some weird homosexual way Warhol loved Edie. According to the movie Factory Girl Warhol took her home to meet his mom. It might mean that that was an actual declaration of love and that he considered her his girl.
By this time Edie was broke having gone thorugh her inheritance whnile even having her stipend from her parents suspended because of her association with Warhol and the Factory crowd. ‘In her prime when she dressed so fine’ she refused to use taxis having a white limo waiting at the curb for her use. Now that she could no longer afford one Dylan rented a black one for her use. Thus when she rode around town in Dylan’s limo she would be known as Dylan’s kept woman. This would also have been a direct insult to Warhol who was penniless in comparison being unable even to pay Sedgwick for her roles in his films or even, her rent. Thus as the Dylan figure in Factory Girl tells her: You’re just one of Warhol’s props.
Now, Dylan in his first English tour had Donn Pennebaker do a film verite that would be released in 1967 as Dont Look Back. Dylan and his entourage who all had parts in the film just like the Factory crew did in Warhol’s would have been talking up the film thus actually becoming direct competitiors of Warhol. As an enticement to Edie Albert Grossman threatened to become her manager while promises were made to her that she would be Dylan’s co-star in a planned movie and even be paid for her services. Remember she was stone broke at this time being desperately in need af an adequate income. Rather than being Dylan’s girl friend she was passed to his gofer, stooge, right hand man, Bobby Neuwirth who became her possessor while she was living at the Chelsea.
That November of ’65 Dylan married Sara Lowndes. According to Bob Spitz in his biography Dylan met Lowndes in 1963 installing her in Grossman’s apartment where he ‘lived’ with her which I suppose means visited her from time to time as among his other duties he was living with Suze Rotolo and heavy with Joan Baez.
Dylan attempted to keep his marriage secret, it was publicly revealed in April of ’66 but Warhol got word of it in December spitefully revealing the news to Edie. The news was devastating to Edie who was nurturing her fantasies of being Dylan’s woman and future co-star. Apparently at that time she was told that any movie role was in some very distant future. At any rate with her relationship with Andy broken Dylan no longer had any use for her. She was just a pawn in his game.
Perhaps in competition or emulation of Dylan’s recording career Warhol decided he wanted to manage a band thus recruiting the
Velvet Underground. To assist the Velvets he picked up on Nico who had just arrived from Europe. As fate would have it Dylan had already had a fling with her during his 1962 visit to England when he worte I’ll Keep It With Mine for her. Warhol now insisted she front the Velvet Underground, thus the Velvets first LP with Nico and the famous Banana cover.
Apparently forgetting Edie Dylan renewed his acquaintance with Nico showing up with songs to give her. Lou Reed of the Velvets is a great admirer of Dylan but I don’t believe any of his songs made it to the record. In any event Nico was gone by the time of the second Velvets LP. Possibly as part of the Dylan-Warhol feud.
Dylan wasn’t finished with Edie yet nor was Warhol finished with Dylan.
In the Spring of ’66 Dylan recorded his ultimate record Blonde On Blonde. the songs of personal protest as Warhol pointed out revolved around this period. There are two songs that are pointedly about Edie Sedgwick- Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat and Just Like A Woman while other references seem to be scattered about. The two songs were unnecessarily cruel.
In the Spring of ’66 Warhol began a film titled The Bob Dylan Story. This was a derogatory depiction of the Folk Singer that Warhol thought better of releasing. Giving Dylan’s reaction to Factory Girl, Warhol’s pockets weren’t deep enough to take Dylan on who by ’67 when the film first could have been released Dylan was worth millions while warhol was still essentially penniless.
Anent the Bob Dylan Story I quote from the web site http://www.warholstars.org/ :
Sterling Morrison speaking:
“Dylan was always around, giving Nico songs. there was one film Andy [Warhol] made with Paul Caruso called The Bob Dylan Story. I don’t think Andy has ever shown it. It was hysterical. they got Marlowe Dupont to play Al Grossman. Paul Caruso not only looks like Bob Dylan but as a super caricature he makes even Hendrix look pale by comparison. This was around 1966 when the film was made and his hair was way out here. When he was walking down the street you had to step out of his way. On the eve of filming, Paul had a change of heart and got his hair cut off- close to his head and he must have removed about a foot so everyone was upset about that. then Dylan had his accident and that’s why the film was never shown.”
Although sterling Morrison suggested that the Bob Dylan film was never shown because of Dylan’s motorcycle accident, the accident occured at the end of July 1966 and Susan Pile was filmed for the movie in October 1966.
Susan Pile speaking:
“Andy filmed The Bob Dylan Story, starring Paul Caruso…Ingrid Superstar and I were folkrock groupies who rushed in (to the studio), attacked his body and taped him to the motorcycle… Paul Morrisey suggested all of Paul Caruso’s lines be from songs, but Andy, knowing it was a good idea (this is a direct relay from Paul Morrissey) vetoes….My one line (which I wasn’t supposed to say; I was to remain mutely sinister) was: “You’re just like P.F. Sloane and all the rest- you want to become famous so you can get rid of those pimples.” (accompanied by quick slaps to P. Caruso’s acne-remnanted cheeks)…
The psychology is clear but noteworthy is the taping of Dylan to his ‘Chrome horse.’ When Dylan had his bike accident the rear wheel locked throwing him over the handle bars. Thus taping him to the bike would prevent that. Now, the animosity between the two was real and deep. It may have seemed to Dylan that he had trumped Warhol. While Warhol may have passively taken the humiliation it is also quite likely he would have retaliated. The wheel locking would seem to indicate someone tampering with the bike. Either Warhol had the bike tampered with and was gloating over Dylan here in his movie or else it is a cruel joke. Whether Warhol was responsible for the bike accident or not he was certainly gleeful about it as evidenced here. If the bike was tampered with then someone wanted to see him paralyzed.
Thus matters stood at the end of ’66. In 1971 Edie Sedgwick in circumstance of total degradation, shamefully abandoned by her parents and both Dylan and Warhol who both disclaimed any responsiblity died.
In closing I quote Andy Warhol from his Philosophy Of Andy Warhol From A To B:
“(Edie) drifted away from us after she started seeing a singer-musician who can only be described as the Definitive Pop Star- possibly of all time- who was then first gaining recognition on both sides of the Atlantic as the thinking man’s Elvis Presley. I missed having her around, but I told myself that it was probably a good thing that he was taking care of her now, because maybe he knew how to do it better than we had.
Snide, very snide.
There’s gonna be a Freaker’s Ball, tonight at the Freaker’s Hall
Ya know you’re invited one and all.
January 22, 2010
Exhuming Bob 23a of a and b
Bob, Andy, Edie And Like A Rolling Stone
As concerns the oeuvre of Bob Dylan through 1966 Andy Warhol astutely remarked that the first phase that established Dylan’s reputation was social protest while the latter half was personal protest. Warhol should have known. That’s what the Jews call kvetching and American’s whining. It was from this latter period that a pure kvetches like Positively Fourth Street and Like A Rolling Stone would be written.
There is absolutely nothing prophetic or profound in songs of this type by Dylan. They are simply complaints. In this early phase the finger pointing was directed at society; in the later at people. John Lennon, who was heavily influenced by Dylan analyzed his method, said the notion is to seem to say more than you are saying. So Dylan disguises his kvetches in obscure language while the subject remains simple.
Thus the subject of Like A Rolling Sone is Dylan’s relationship with the woman, Edie Sedgwick. Edie is a sore point with Dylan because
he has been blamed for her death in 1971 some six years later. Doesn’t seem likely but he’s sensitive to the accusation. So sensitive that he obscures whatever relationship he had. When questioned he doesn’t deny it saying instead that he couldn’t remember one. Well, Dylan’s always had a ready hand with the ladies so it is quite possible he’s forgotten a few of them.
But I think Edie would have been one of the Big Four and he remembers her quite well. Dylan then had four women on the string at one time. The first was Suze Rotolo, a long time girl friend and live in dating back to his arrival in NYC in 1961; the second was Joan Baez who he met a little later. The third was Sara Lownds who he was keeping at the Chelsea Hotel; the fourth was Edie Sedgwick, of whom he wrote at least three songs.
Of course there were many other women married and unmarried that he ‘comforted.’ One or more of these might have been ongoing relationships. Dylan married Sara Lownds in November of ’65 without mentioning the fact to any of his other women. His relationship with Suze Rotolo blew up in 1964 when Suze’s sister Carla and her mother grew tired of Dylan’s abuse of the relationship ordering him away. Dylan maintained a relationship with Suze even asking her to be his mistress after he married. He records the dispute with Carla in Ballad In Plain D when he heard Carla scream out the famous imprecation: Leave my sister alone. Goddamn you, get out. In his usual way Dylan makes himself the aggrieved party as though there were four Bob Dylan’s in town and he had nothing to do with the other three.
He must have known something of the other three because the Dylan of Bob and Sara offered Suze a role out on the side. Hep. Hep.
To Edie Sedgwick: I’ve read several versions about Dylan and Edie. In one both Dylan and Bobby Neuwirth knew Edie in Boston where she attended Radcliffe and whose eccentric behavior had already made her notorious. Both Dylan and Neuwirth were in Boston at
times so that is possible. It was in Boston Dylan met the folksinger Eric Von Schmidt who he admired greatly. Some say he met Edie only in December of ’65. Whether he first met Edie in December of ’65 or renewed the acquaintance it seems clear that Edie became involved with Dylan personally or with the Dylan organization.
Remember that Dylan arrived in NYC in 1961 with nothing, no money, no reputation. he was a hick from the sticks. It might have been deadly to admit that he was just another kid from Podunksville come to the big city, so, to give himself glamour and mystery he invented a preposterous past, claiming to have been an orphan, the babe in the bullrushes, just like Sargon or Moses, Romulus or Remus out in the woods feeding off a wolf. Undoubtedly a very wise move. He gained credibility and he was to a large extent granted his glamour and mystery.
Four years later he was a pinnacle in the NYC underground. As ’65 was ending he seems to have been in competition with Andy Warhol for the top spot. Warhol had been a successful commercial artist in the fifties. Beginning in 1960 almost as the same time as Dylan he made his move into fine art being one of the innovators in the move to Pop Art. Unlike Dylan’s career in Folk Warhol had had a diffiucult time breaking into the fine art world. Having succeeded he remained an outsider running an atelier he called The Factory populated by bums, drug addicts and losers. Like Dylan everything he touched he wanted to destroy. He wanted to destroy the concept of fine art and largely he did it. By 1965 he fancied himself a filmmaker. One of his stars was Edie Sedgwick.
Dylan himself takes credit for destroying Tin Pan Alley because they had no place for him. While he didn’t destroy folk music he transformed it along with others. Of course by 1964 folk artists had about exhausted the genre. The same songs were being sung while the artists had stylized the genre to boredom. Who wanted to go see trios in loden green Robin Hood outfits? If anything Dylan escaped a dying scene.
Dylan and Warhol were nearly identical while both were vying to be King of the Underground. Perhaps Edie Sedgwick became merely a pawn in their game. She became the prize that would determine the winner. That contest raged between December ’65 through February ’66.
The competition between the two- Dylan and Warhol- went back further. Perhaps Dylan’s screen test with Warhol in the summer of ’65
crystalized the conflict. Dylan went down to the Factory, Warhol’s atelier for the screen test claiming a copy of Warhol’s silk screen, the Silver Elvis, as his price. Warhol is reported to have been outraged by the appropriation.
While both men tried to maintain their cool the underlying hostility was apparent. On Warhol’s part he said that he heard that Dylan was using the painting as a dart board so maybe he, Warhol, should be worried. While Dylan may have been doing so he showed his contempt for Warhol by trading the Silver Elvis with his manager Albert Grossman for a sofa.
Now, as Warhol correctly said, after Another Side, Dylan edged into personal protest. That means that the songs of the personal trilogy- Home, ’61 and Blonde, were written about specific events or people. Both of Dylan’s two most irate kvetches were written back to back. One should compare them to Ballad In Plain D for intent. First was Like A Rolling Stone directed at Edie and then Positively Fourth Street directed at Warhol. Both obviously written around the Factory. Stone evinces a sexual scream of perhaps the rejected lover addressed to a woman while Street is a sneering putdown of a man.
It may be true that Stone began as a twenty page vomit of pain as Dylan says but the catalyst to distill the actual song from the kvetch was Sedgwick.
To take the second song, Positively Fourth Street, first. The sixth verse terminates with the line, what HE don’t know to begin with, so the song is directed at a single man, a he. This is not a generalized he, a philosphical rant but a putdown of one specific guy.
The first verse states the HE wasn’t around when Dylan could have used him, the second verse states the HE is merely an opportunist, the third verse addresses a kvetch by HIM that Dylan disappointed HIM, the fourth verse claims a loss of faith in Dylan that Dylan scoffs at, the fifth verse acknowledges that HE defames Dylan behind his back, the sixth verse derides him as a poseur who ‘tried to hide what he didn’t know to begin with’, the seventh verse accuses HIM of insincerity, while the eigth verse say that HE wishes Dylan ill luck.
Coming to the ninth verse we have this telling line: No, I do not feel that good when I see the heartbreaks you embrace. Warhol filled the Factory with drug addicts, losers and nutty street people of all kinds so that it actually sickens one to read about them much less see or mingle with them. Then Dylan adds, Perhaps if I were a master thief I’d rob them. Well, Dylan was a master thief and he did steal the only superstar Warhol had who was Edie Sedgwich so perhaps the struggle for her body and soul began that summer of ’65.
Next Dylan adds the verse:
And I know you’re dissatisfied
With your position and your place
Don’t you understand
It’s not my problem.
OK, that describes Warhol to a T and warns him not to use Dylan as a stepping stone. The last two verses describe how Dylan is revolted by Warhol
So, rather than being some allegorical complaint the song is a description of Dylan’s kvetch against Warhol. If one bears that in mind the song reads like a letter rather than an allegory.
Having solved that problem let us turn to Like A Rolling Stone. this song too reads like a letter if you bear in mind Deylan’s relationship to Warhol and Edie.
By mid-sixty-five Dylan had become a success. At this stage in his career Dylan’s success consisted of his publishing royalties brought about by the efforts of his manager, Albert Grossman. Grossman’s first effort was to create and establish his folk group, Peter Paul And Mary. As this was astonishingly quick and easy one believes that Grossman was well connected. As PPM were on Warner Bros. run by Jews his connections most probably originated in Chicago where he had established The Gate Of Horn as the premier folk club.
Once PPM was a big hit Grossman had them record Dylan’s songs which then allowed him to place Dylan’s songs elsewhere. Thus Dylan was known outside NYC as a songwriter while not so much as a performer. But he was a songwriting sensation thereby receiving substantial royalties making him the richest and most powerful folkie. The future promised to be even more golden once he got into touring.
Now his mind disoriented by success and even further disoriented by his massive intake of drugs Dylan and Grossman needed to flex their muscles lording it over the scene.
Dylan apparently wished to have a sexual relationship with Edie Sedgwick who was being billed and the next Marilyn or America’s ‘It’ girl because of her role in Warhol’s trashy films. She too was another drug abuser and unstable personality. Whether she and Dylan did get together is unclear. Edie is dead, of course, and can say nothing while Dylan neither denies or affirms. He says that he can’t remember having relations with Edie and you’d think he’d remember if he had, wouldn’t he? Given the drugs, who knows, but saying you can’t remember such a desired object as America’s new ‘It’ girl is the same as saying yhou didn’t, while saying you would remember if you had is expressing regret or resentment.
I will write on the assumption that at least by the time of writing he hadn’t and Like A Rolling Stone is a frustrated rant of rejection not too different than Ballad In Plain D. For the time Dylan ony vents his anger at both Sedgwick and Warhol while he begins plotting his revenge against both.
Edie had come from a wealthy California family but a difficult home environment. She was pampered, having a Mercedes to drive around campus in Cambridge so she went to the finest school and now would have to learn to live out on the NYC streets as the song says. She also had an 80,000 dollar inheritance in 1964, the equivalent of 300 to 500 K today that she went through in a few months leaving her only a stipend from her parents although living in her grandmother’s penthouse’ in NYC.
The first verse of Stone then describes Edie perfectly. There is nothing allegorical about it. No abstruse meaning, this is pure kvetch. It should be read only as a spiteful rant against Edie.
Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you.
Edie had spent a large part of her fortune on clothes, as Dylan asserts, dishing out the change to the bums as she went along.
People’d call, say, “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you.
Born to wealth she couldn’t conceive not having money.
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out.
Like, for instance, Bob Dylan.
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud,
About having to scrounge for your next meal,
Self explanatory, then comes the chorus:
How does it feel,
How does it feel,
To be without a home,
Like a complete unknown.
Like a Rolling Stone.
Here Dylan, the rejected lover, compares Edie’s fall to his own situation when he arrived in NYC. Like a Rolling Stone seems to be an inept comparison but my corespondent, Robin Mark, (see Conversations With Robin on I, Dynamo) points out that Stone was Dylan’s mother’s name. Robin, also Jewish, points out that descent is matriarchal in Judaism so that Dylan would consider himself more a Stone than a Zimmerman. Given his psychology then Bob Stone is a footloose rolling stone without a home. That makes the term make more sense than ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss.’ The latter meaning has no application to the song.
The second verse continues the description of Edie:
You’ve gone to the finest school (singular in the lyric) all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it.
The school was Harvard’s Ratcliffe and Dylan implies that that doesn’t make her any better than himself who didn’t attend any university as she only partied and never studied.
And nobody has taught you how to live on the street
And now you find you’re gonna have to get used to it.
The second line especially indicates that this is an immediate situation Dylan is referring to : you FIND you’re gonna have to get used to it. Edie is now out of her familiar environment no longer protected by her money into Dylan’s, who said he once hustled Times Square, where she had better make some rapid adjustments, beginning now.
You said you’d never compromise
With the mystgery tramp, but now you realize
He’s not selling any alibis
Mystery Tramp is Dylan’s romantic term for himself- Rolling Stone= Tramp- and he’s turning a deaf ear to any excuses she’s offering.
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask HIM do you want to make a deal?
The roles are now reversed, Dylan has a lot of money coming in the future while Edie is all but broke. Vacuum is the blank, unresponsive stare Dylan gives while listening to her try to make a deal.
Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exhangin’ all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you’d better lift your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it, babe
Here Edie is thought of as a princess among the Harvard types that Warhol noted drifting down from Cambridge to make the scene, the ‘Beautiful’ privileged class that Dylan has been excluded from both by his social background and lack of college education. It’s a party he can’t join. Worse still, they’ve been laughing every time they see him. Now the party is over, if Edie needs money she can pawn her jewelry.
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse.
This implies Dylan knew Edie before Warhol as she apparently used to tell him how Warhol’s language amused her. Napoleon in rags is Warhol who like Dylan has been trying to undermine the social order thus he has delusion of grandeur, of being a Napoleon. As Warhol and Dylan are twins in intent Dylan is also inadvertantly describing himself.
When you’ve got nothin’ you’ve got nothin’ to lose
You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal
Now that Edie has been reduced to street level, anything goes because from where Dylan was when he hit NYC it was all up from hustling Times Square. Being invisible means as the invisible man in the Ralph Ellison novel sense. One walks by negroes without acknowledging their existance hence they are invisible. Now broke, that is Edies case since she is now insignificant per Dylan she has nothing anyone wants to hear as per Ellison’s Invisible Man, hence no secrets to conceal.
So as of mid-summer Dylan has vented his frustrations on Warhol in Positively Fourth Street i.e. the bottom, and Edie in Like A Rolling Stone. More remarkably he has vented, blasted his privacy all over America on a thousand radio stations as well as in Europe and the world. The two songs are as searing as Ballad In Plain D although the subjects of his rants are not so obvious. For him to now say that he want’s to protect his privacy is preposterous.
The story does not end here. In Dylan’s war for the top spot of the NYC underground scene, the avant garde, he has to establish himself there for all to see and acknowledge. In a shameful display of callous disregard for the well being of Edie she will be the object of a tug-of-war between Dylan and Warhol. She will be the symbol of supremacy in the underground. That struggle will be the topic of Exhuming Bob 23b which follows.
December 17, 2009
Exhuming Bob 22:
Prophet, Mystic, Poet?
Back in the early sixties a film appeared under the title: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. It was a Jewish fable clothed in Western Americana not unlike Bob Dylan’s lyrics.
The story line is about how to deconstruct one legend and reconstruct it to suit one’s purposes. The gist is that once a falsehood is enshrined as legendary truth it is impossible to debunk it. This film and notion was obviously for goyish consumption. As we know from experience a whole culture with a long history can be ‘debunked’ with minimal trouble if you control the media. Thus in fifty short years Americans have gone from being the most benevolent and generous people on Earth to the most destructive self-centered Nazi types. Furthermore Americans were conditioned to believe it about themselves. ‘Why do they hate us?’
The secret was contained in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. One of the primary agents of that change was the prophet, mystic ans seer, the very Jewish Bob Dylan. I left off poet because at best Dylan is merely an effective lyricist.
A San Francisco Bay Area fellow, Seth Rogovoy, has written an essay on Dylan with the above title without the question mark. Stephen Hazan Arnoff who is the executive directory of New York’s 14th St. YMHA has written a review of Rogovoy which he subtitles ‘Jerimiah, Nostradamus and Allen Ginsberg all Rolled Up Into One.’ High praise indeed, if unwarranted. Just as Mr. Arnoff inflates Dylan’s significance he grossly inflates that of the pornographic so-called poet, Allen Ginsberg. Perhaps it is time to use techniques learned from ‘Liberty Valence to debunk the reputation of Dylan.
Dylan is no prophet, he is merely topical using enigmatic phrasing to give the appearance of depth. There is little actual difference between the topical material of Dylan and Phil Ochs. Mr. Arnoff improbably writes:
(Dylan’s) prophetic persona is particularly resonant in his first few albums where songs like “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” sets the gold standard for prophecy in popular music.
Prophecy in popular music? What’s that? Actually neither song is prophetic. ‘Blowin” actually refers to the past of Dylan’s youth in Hibbing although topically it has usually been extended to represent the then current civil rights activities in the South. ‘Times’ is merely a cocky know-it-all sneer at politicians who aren’t aware that the kids are alright, on the move, have a voracious apetite to eat them up. Both songs have borrowed tunes (no crime or even sin in my estimation) and, if Rogovoy is correct lyrics cribbed from the Bible.
As Mr. Arnoff notes, Rogovoy chooses a single critical lens- Judaism- for understanding Dylan and his work. No fault in an essay, pointing out the Jewish influence in Dylan’s work. Actually Mr. Rogovoy is no innovator or pathfinder, the same material has been adequately covered by numerous investigators including myself in a series of essays.
But Mr. Arnoff also notes there are other avenues to approach the songs that Mr. Arnoff believes are equally valid: Greil Marcus explains him as a mystic raconteur of the secret history of the United States, coded thorugh traditional music while Christopher Ricks describes a master interpreter of classical Western literature and thought.’ (cough, cough)
While Greil Marcus is another good Jewish boy I hardly think he is a responsible authority on anything. He takes roughly the same approach as Mr. A.J. Weberman while the latter is vastly more entertaining. I have to combine Mr. Marcus and Mr. Ricks. While I certainly respect Dylan’s intelligence and acumen I would have to question both the breadth and depth of his education.
Dylan attended high school in Hibbing, Minnesota which is a far cry from any of the leading cultural centers of either the Western or Eastern worlds. I grew up in a slightly larger town up North than Dylan although probably not much different than Hibbing intellectually. I keenly felt the lack of intellectual opportunites when I went out into the large world.
There is a question as to whether Dylan graduated from high school while he never attended college. Immediately immersing himself in folk music he left Minnesota for NYC. There he found people with libraries of which he availed himself while boarding with them. This was a very brief period during which he could only have picked up names and impressions such as he employed in his song Desolation Row. His girl friend Suze Rotolo introduced him to more culture than he could have imagined from 1961 to 1965. This could not have been much.
During that time Dylan spent a lot of time writing songs, drinking and drugging and touring. Not a lot of opportunity to become a ‘master interpreter of classical Western literature and thought.’ I have no idea what Mr. Arnoff means by ‘classical.’ I doubt seriously if Dylan is any authority on, say, the pre-Socratics. If Mr. Ricks believes as Mr. Arnoff represents him I would have to question Professor Ricks’ qualifications for his post. There’s something wrong there.
Now, as to Mr. Marcus and his mystic raconteur of the secret history of the US. What secret history? Dylan says he studied the ante-bellum South from newspaper accounts in the archives of the NYC library. This would have been over a couple of months only. As near as I can tell he did so with an enquiring and open mind and is fully capable of making cogent observations. This however is scarcely a secret history while being only one brief period and region.
What Dylan has done is immerse himself in the songs of the US. He says that when he visited Carl Sandburg it was with the itent to discuss Sandburg’s ‘American Song Bag.’ One certainly has to respect Dylan’s song knowledge and his excellent taste. This knowledge however is well beyond Mr. Marcus’ ability to understand. He, as far as I have been able to ascertain had nil knowledge of songs and music until he joined Rolling Stone Magazine in the late sixties.
Up in Hicksville Dylan immersed himself in every kind of music, without discrimination. He was fully conversant with Hillbilly as his native music. The Carter Family was a living entity to him and not an academic study. All those now obscure names were living legends to him and not mere footnotes at the bottom of a page. Thus while Dylan’s Jewish influences are prominent, uppermost and dominant he nevertheless has a foot in both cultures. His American culture is musical however, and what sounds like ‘a secret history’ to Mr. Marcus is merely the hillbilly interpretation of ‘revenuers’ ‘white lightning’ and such. I do not see Dylan as a ‘classically’ educated man.
Mr. Arnoff displays his Jewish bigotry when he says: Messianic Judaism (or Jews for Jesus) is the weakest form of interpretation for Dylan. So far as I know no one interprets Dylan’s work through the lens of Messianic Judaism. However it is equally apparent that Dylan was interested enough to study the topic carefully. That says more for Dylan’s open mindedness than Mr. Arnoff’s narrow minded bigotry. One must be ‘open minded’ n’est-ce pas?
As Mr. Arnoff notes, Dylan always said he was ‘a song and dance man’ and I think that says as much as need be said. Anyone who has been able to entertain a significant audience nearly fifty years now has to have a serious talent. One should bear in mind though that Dylan appeals to a relatively small and well-defined audience he himself defines as ‘the abused, misused, confused, strung out ones and worse.’ This is his core constituency to which he ‘kvetches.’ Apparently English isn’t good enough for Mr. Arnoff.
Dylan’s greatest song is Positively Fourth Street which is maximum kvetching. I considered myself abused and misused when I first heard the song. The lyrics had me slavering like one of Pavlov’s dogs when he heard the dinner bell ring. But, like Pavlov’s dog there wasn’t really anything on the plate. Once I passed through that phase of my psychology I lost interest in Dylan.
While Dylan has managed to retain, recruit and entertain his audience he is far from the man who shot Liberty Valence or Jeremiah, Nostrodamus and Allen Ginsberg all rolled up into one. I’m afraid that’s one legend that will be debunked before it’s formed.
Kvetcher or not I still can’t listen to him.
April 1, 2009
Exhuming Bob XIX: Bob And Karl
Hey man. Come on over here. I’ve got the Ruminatin’ Blues and I’m going to ruminate all over you. You’ll be able to take home a bucket or two. Now dig this, I’m sittin’ at my computer and up comes this site Karl Lagerfeld’s Guide To Life. It pops up on my computer. I thought it was a virus or somethin’ but it turns out to be a message to me from Bob.
This things turns out to be, if you can believe this, Bob Dylan’s 6548th Dream. Putting my Freudian training to immediate use I begin to study the number . Notice the 654 desecends by one unit that makes three then the last digit 4 is doubled to make an increase of four that adds up to seven. Pretty heavy huh? Next I added up 65 & 48 and the number was 113. Wow! I knew I was on to something.. Then I added up all four numbers seqentially and get this- 23. That’s right, 23! Twenty-three skiddoo. Get it? This was a personal message from Bob Dylan to me. Wow! That internet is somethin’ else, isn’t it?
I take a look at the picture of Lagerfeld showing me his ass and I can tell you I’m less then impressed. Moving down the page I notice the guy has turned around. Dig this, this can’t be a coincidence, he’s wearing the same dark glasses I do. Boy howdy, hey? And he looks like a guru from beyond the farthest star. So do I. Now I’m really getting excited. The only thing separating me from this new reality is the darn computer screen. I can’t get through it. I try but I can’t figure it out. Doesn’t matter which key or combination of keys I press.
Aw, shoot, I’m forgetting the most important part, Bob Dylan’s dream. Mr. Cool is going to relate directly to me.
The thing is written in some kind of mysterious code, some kind of hip patois, New Yorkese or whatever. Dylan has been commanded apparently by his guru Lagerfeld to commit his thoughts to this blog. Wow, I said to myself, this Lagerfeld has the force behind him. Imagine telling Bob Dylan what to do!
Now, we all know that Dylan says that what he writes has no objective meaning. He says he writes meaningless stuff that is understood differently by whoever reads it. That must be why I think his stuff is heavy, because I’m a really, really heavy guy. I don’t have the look down yet, like this Lagerfeld guru, but I ‘m working on it.
Dig this quote:
And here’s a song I wrote, uh, some time ago back when I was raking in these blondes, man. Could say I was raking in the pennies. (Pennies. Get it. Pennies are heavy. Bob was heavy.) I was doing more than raking these chicks though. If you dig.
Do I dig? I’ll say I dig. A super sleuth am I actually so I really dig, raking in the blondes has several covert meanings. Bob’s a poet, but, hey, that’s one of the things I do best, too. So Blonde on Blonde was released in ’66 so he wrote the poem that follows in ’66. Sharp deduction don’t you think? Blonde on Blonde means one blonde after another, heaps of ‘em. Bob’s probably the cocksman of the century. So Bob’s got his dick out and he’s not wavin’ it to the empty air…if you dig. No sir, Bob is planking those blondes. He was actually known for his generosity with his dick. One time Liam Clancy was out touring so as a friendly gesture Bob went over and planked Liam’s wife so she she wouldn’t be so lonely. That’s the kind of guy Bob is. Yeah. Now that’s friendship, isn’t it?
Back when he was young he did more than rake blondes chicks he says. I don’t know what ‘more than rake’ means. Maybe S&M or something really exciting like that.
Further along Bob get deep into the dark meat. See what I mean about me bein’ a poet too? He wouldn’t touch anything else. Did the whole darn chorus line. Get real heavy with one of the back up singers, married her and had a little ebon baby. Nobody’s seen him though. He didn’t even grow up to be a soul singer as far as I know. Lived in Tarzana- yeah.
I’m going to tell you though I don’t think I woulda published Dream #6548. 23 skiddoo, indeed. I’d a been outta there before the door hit me on the ass. Back in those days of blondes Bob was heavy, well he was heavy in a lot of ways but he was heavy into drugs, too.
Check this quote out:
…I spotted some kids…and I walked right over to them.
I said kids, “could I interest you in some visions?”
Some visions of Johanna, someone’s gonna get stoned;
They asked me if it tasted kinda like a milkshake
I said yes, and took out some pills
Then a policeman came most hurriedly
And arrested me on account of free love…
What is one to think? I know this Lagerfeld guru is a way out guy. I used to buy his soap and boy was it slippery. It was the slickest soap I ever used, almost couldn’t hold onto the bar and it was huge too. Lagerfeld is suspected to be completely sexually liberated too, as well as everything else. I mean, man, this guy is free, free as the breeze, free as the Fourth Of July, like, look up free in the dictionary and his picture is the definition. So, I guess that means he won’t stop at nothin’ and he’s Bob Dylan’s guru.
Don’t know what he’s tellin’ Bob but I wouldn’t even make bad jokes about corrupting innocent little kids as a candyman. Speaking of candy, here’s another quote:
“Oh” said the boy, as I gave him a lolly
And offered him a ride in my Cadillac car…
Now at this point the boy’s mother comes in,
And she’s waving and wailing at me like I done something wrong.
I don’t know who Bob’s been fraternizing with, other than Soapy Lagerfeld, and I know there is no meaning to anything Bob writes except what I think it means but then if the only meaning is what I think then that meaning must be true, Freud again, and since it means what I think it means I wouldn’t have published it lest someone think I’m serious.
Probably just some unconscious posturing but a position I wouldn’t want to assume.
July 6, 2008
Exhuming Bob IX, Pensees 7:
Into The Lost Land
Dylan, Bob, Chronicles Vol. I, Simon And Schuster, 2004
Prindle, R.E. Exhuming Bob, VIII The Walls Of Red Wing, idynamo,wordpress.com 2008
Thompson, Toby, Positively Main Street, U. Minnesota, 2008, reprint from 1971
http://www.hibbing.org/dylan1/story.html Life In Hibbing: Hibbing Chamber Of Commerce
http://www.interferenza.com/bcs/interw/85-dec.htm Bob Dylan Is Not Like A Rolling Stone Interview, Spin Magazine, Volume One, Number Eight, December 1985
http://www.interferenza.com/bcs/interw/play78.htm Playboy Interview: Bob Dylan 1978
http://www.interferenza.com/bcs/interw/66-jan.htm Playboy Interview: Bob Dylan February 1966
In attempting to put together a reasonable facsimile of Bob’s life in Hibbing and Minneapolis, Minnesota and New York City as he mythologized it in his chapter of Chronicles, The Lost Land, I have come to the following tentative conclusions.
Bob was born in Duluth, Minnesota on 5/24/41. In 1943 he was taken to Hibbing where he lived from then until graduation from high school in the Spring of 1959.
Within the concept of normal Bob had a fairly advantaged childhood. His parents were indulgent buying him anything he wanted while providing adequate pocket cash. Bob’s family was one of the more important in town both within the Jewish community and the town at large. In what appears to have been a tight small town social scene Bob either excluded himself or was excluded from the dominant social groups within which he had a right to be included.
Perhaps Bob’s conception of the Hibbing period could be best interpreted from his favorite movie, Rebel Without A Cause, starring James Dean. Bob is said to have seen the movie several times. This was unusual as few people ever saw a movie more than once. He would have been a very impressionable fifteen at the time. Most of us didn’t have the money while quite frankly few movies, if any, were worth watching twice including Rebel Without A Cause. I was seventeen when I saw it and while I was in awe I wasn’t submerged. Of course Bob’s relatives owned the theatres so he got in for free.
As he set up a Dean shrine in his basement which greatly offended Father Abe we may be justified in assuming that Dean was a controlling influence in his life from the time he saw the movie. It is of interest that Abe was to remove the Dean shrine from the basement after Bob left replacing it with a shrine to his own son Bob Dylan ne Zimmerman.
Abe Zimmerman (1911-1968) worked for Standard Oil in Duluth when Bob was born. According to the C of C he lost his job in 1943 moving to Hibbing where his wife’s family, the Stones, could help the young couple. Why Standard Oil should lay Abe off in the middle of the war during a manpower shortage seems to pose a question. As can be seen from the photograph of Abe and Beattie above borrowed from the Flickr photostream of <drineevar> he was a well set up handsome man. He appears to be exceptionally self-possessed, sound in the eyes. Beattie appears to be a haughty high fashion queen which would accord with later facts.
Abram Zimmerman, for such was his name. Usually called Abraham, the name on his tombstone is Abram, and his two brothers Maurice and Paul bought the Micka Electric Company in 1943 changing the name to Zimmerman Appliance. In 1968 Paul Zimmerman told Thompson that they had been in business for twenty-five years which would mean 1943 although the date seems odd.
According to the C of C Abe came down with polio in 1946 requiring a lengthy convalescence. The C of C says that the Zimmermans bought Micka’s after his convalescence but if Paul Zimmerman is accurate it would have to have been 1943. There would be no record of what Abe did for a living then from 1943 to 1946. As Bob says both his uncles served in the Army it would seem that they bought Micka’s going into the Army shortly thereafter leaving Abe to tend the business.
Maurice and Paul became President and Vice-President of the corporation while Abe siginficantly assumed the controlling post of Secretary-Treasurer. Managed the money, paid the bills.
During the fifties at least Abe spent a fair amount of money on both Bob and Beattie. Angel Marolt whose family bought the Zimmerman residence after Abe’s death was trying to tell him of Beattie’s several fur coats, diamonds and Cadillac but Thompson says he wasn’t paying attention.
Thompson quotes Echo Helstrom as saying that the Zimmermans had stores in both Hibbing and Duluth. Having a customer base of approx. 250,000 makes more sense when one considers the amounts of Abe’s expenditures and the fact that the profits had to be split three ways.
The C of C describes Abe as a ‘big man’ in town partial to those big thick long cigars.
The couple had enough money on arrival to buy the large nine room house that Bob grew up in so Abe must have been well paid at Standard Oil before he was laid off. Both he and Beattie are well dressed in the picture while Beattie is actually overdressed.
Bob was entrolled at Alice School for his kindergarten year in 1946 at five years of age. The status of Alice School is unclear. Perhaps it was closed the following year or consolidated with the Hibbing High complex as Bob was transferred. Hibbing High housed kindergarten through twelve as well as the Jr. College. Thompson describes it as a huge and rambling building.
So from first grade to graduation Bob was with the same group of students. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to move into town in tenth grade and try to break into that one. While he wouldn’t have known them all well he must have known the entire student population on sight. This presents the problem then of why Bob, who was the son of the Big Man in town, wasn’t included in the top social cliques. Those cliques undoubtedly formed early persisting through graduation. If Bob was in one he was either forced out early or found it uncongenial to remain for whatever reason. Perhaps he thought his Jewishness excluded him. So if something happened we don’t know what it was and won’t; unless Bob tells it’s going to be difficult to trace.
Growing up in a small town anyone with any ambition looks around and sees very limited opportunities. Working for his father wasn’t a viable option. Not everyone wants to be a doctor or lawyer either. Nuclear Science is OK but a lot of those guys are out of a job now too. My next door neighbor when I was a kid for one.
Bob’s mind turned early to music and then to Rock and Roll. While Rn’R went on to conquer the world and become as respectable as such a spectacle could it was definitely considered discreditible and low class almost volunteer outlawry in the fifties. At the very least it was ‘pimple’ music. It took a certain amount of courage to say you liked Elvis Presley. Pat Boone was set up as his rival and you had better say you liked ol’ White Bucks. If you don’t think Elvis was considered a social criminal check out a couple of his movie roles like King Creole or Jailhouse Rock. What was the Colonel thinking? Clown roles, that’s all Elvis ever got.
And then Bob chose as his hero and model Little Richard. People looked at you funny if you said you
liked Little Richard! I mean, Bill Doggett was a respectable Negro with music you could understand, Fats Domino was as lovable as a chubby ten year old but Little Richard! They hadn’t even created the ghetto he could come out of. His band might have passed but then he opened his mouth. If there was ever a direct challenge to middle class sensibilities Tutti-Frutti was it. Not only was the song incomprehensible it was about queers. Nobody ever quoted the lyrics correctly, while I’m walking around saying ‘Tutti Frutti, I want Rudy?’ What does that mean? I hope no one overheard me. So when Bob gets up, ignoring Pat Boone entirely, and launches into some screaming vision like Rip It Up or She’s Got It or God only knows what, was the crowd taken aback? Chuckle, chuckle.
So Bob having opted for the lifestyle was forced to associate with the hoody crowd or have become a loner. Besides Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider had appeared in 1956 that began a cult of The Loner that peopled the early sixties. These guys, who were by no means rebels but deep thoughtful guys who had a line on the truth denied anyone else and that penetrated sham and hypocrisy sat alone ever ready to resolve a situation setting things right were highly romanticized fellows. There were as many Loners in those days as there were Hawkeyes a couple generations later. So Bob wouldn’t necessarily have been thought of as weird, strange but a Loner. A Loner was next door to weird and strange. Thin line if you get my meaning.
On the other hand the C of C describes the L&B Cafe as a regular jumping Bop Street right there in the heart of Hibbing, Minnesota. Bands set up and played continuously. They knew how to party in Hibbing. The C of C even says there was a radio station in town playing Bob’s kind of music thereby contradicting every other source even Bob. He says he had to go to Shreveport on the radio waves to get his kind of music. In this case I’m betting on Bob.
The C of C tells of Bob’s musical debut like this putting the best possible face on it:
Described by fellow students as polite, easy to talk with, and somewhat introspective, it was a total shock when he pushed back the piano bench and stood up to pound the first notes of a song into the auditorium, electrifying the student body. Kids jumped up, stared at each other open mouthed not knowing what the reaction would be.
Well, yes, they were electried but did they like it?
According to the C of C, looking back fondly, Bob went over real well with his fellow students. If you like this version don’t check the other sources as this is at variance with every other known account but then this is the Chamber Of Commerce speaking. Up to this point in the C of C account there is no reason for Bob to be as bitter as he is about Hibbing at all.
A note of interest is the reoccurence of Fourth Street in Hibbing, Minneapolis and New York City. Quite a coincidence, I knew there had to be some association with Fourth St. in Hibbing. So far we learn that Bob attended Jewish shule there. Whether the synagogue was also located there isn’t clear. The synagogue Bob attended is no longer anywhere at any rate. Tore it down. It was in the way. Had to go. Even though Bob’s father was the most prominent Jew in town, the President of B’nai B’rith and ADL as well as his business interests, and even though Bob had a mega Bar Mitzvah with four hundred people in attendance some say at the most prominent spot in town, the Androy Hotel, some say at the synagogue, he wished to conceal he was Jewish. This attitude may have contributed to his renouncing the Jewish fraternity house to which he pledged at UM while also hiding his religion in New York. The attitude was strange since he seemed to prefer Jewish musicians around him to the exclusion of goys.
Bob’s father Abe, was quite frankly a marvelous provider, spending very large sums of money on son Bob, wife Beattie and his second son, David. When he died in 1968 the house on 7th Ave., now Bob Dylan Ave. was sold. The owners at the time of Thompson’s visit were the Marolts. Angel Marolt who was at home when Thompson called offered to show him around. One thing he learned was that Bob had a clause in the sale’s contract that allowed him to stay in his old room in the Marolt’s house whenever he was in town. Too weird.
What quirk in Bob’s mind compelled him to live in other people’s houses? Perhaps Rebbe Maier back in 1954 impressed on Bob that Biblical scripture presribes that Jews would live in houses they never built. As an article of religion that injuction is a mind boggler. One can’t predict how anyone’s mind will interpret instruction. Bob who functions out of his subconscious very heavily must have accepted such teachings in literal ways. Rebbe Maier was a definite turning point in Bob’s life. Imagine getting out of school, going upstairs at a Rn’R cafe to sit before the only bearded man you may ever have seen, dressed completely in black with a black yarmulke perched on the back of his crown intoning things like: The Jews shall live in houses they never built and then go downstairs to boogie. Pretty spooky, don’t you think? And then as Bob says, he disappeared like a ghost. Let that roll around your brain for little while and see what you come up with.
Mrs. Marolt was trying to tell Thompson something about Mrs. Zimmerman’s multiple furs, heaps of diamonds, I’m sure all the latest fashions and her own Cadillac.
Bob was indulged to the extent of apparently more than one motorcycle, a car, lots of amplifiers and electronic gear for his bands, whatever he wanted plus free movie admissions and plenty of pocket cash. He must have had a large record collection for a kid as he spent his spare time at Crippas record store ordering the odd title. You can bet Crippas didn’t discount either, charging full bore. At the time (after 1958) stereo was 5.98 and mono was 4.98.
As the profits from a sole Hibbing store divided three ways could not have supported this sort of expenditure, having a store in Duluth could account for it. It is significant also tha Abram died in June 1968 and the store closed a few months later. Was the store a losing proposition for the last few years? Did Bob provide the difference so Abe wouldn’t be embarrassed by going banko? Then with his father gone there was no reason to support Uncles Maurice and Paul?
There really is something happening here, isn’t there?
Also as a petty expenditure for Bob (it would have been huge in my life) according to the C of C:
Almost every day Bob came in after school for his regular snack: cherry pie a la mode and coffee (or Coke.)
And then to dinner? No wonder the young Bob had all that baby fat.
If Echo bought those hot dogs for Bob and bought his story that his dad didn’t give him an allowance she was had in more ways than one.
So, Abe was nothing if not a generous father and husband. Beattie as President of Hadassah as well as a Stone must have made the Zimmermans the most powerful Jews in the syngogue while actually giving she and her husband the means to be petty dictators of the town, I saw something like this in Eugene, Oregon in the sixties and seventies, or, as the C of C says a Big Man and big people.
Bob must have a quirk in his mind to misrepresent his childhood so. He was the Fortunate Son John Fogerty only sings about.
In Thompson’s interview with Beattie he quotes her:
How can you know you have a genius in your house, when all my time is spent trying to feed him and keeping his clothes pressed.
In Bob’s story, The Lost Land, Chloe Kiel is shown ironing Bob’s shirts and at the end of the chapter she ‘slaps’ a plate of steak and fried onions in front of him just before he darts out the door to begin the next chapter, A New Morning, just as in the old days when he returned home from school for lunch and was fed by his mother he darted back to school.
Ironing his shirts and providing free steaks was a signal service for bare acquaintances like Ray and Chloe.
Chloe comes across as cold and indifferent and indeed there is a tinge of resentment and anger beneath Beattie’s statement. Motherly, of course, but there. Still, she doesn’t impress me as any Yiddishe Mama of the Mrs. Goldberg variety. Whether Bob was a good boy or not he does have an ambivalent attitude toward his parents. But then he claims that he was really raised by his grandmother, whether Stone or Zimmerman isn’t clear.
I believe the big change came over Bob with his Bar Mitzvah and I’m not talking puberty alone. According to the C of C Bob attended Jewish shule during his young years. This was done after public school hours. Then in 1953-54 when his Bar Mitzvah was approaching Father Abe sent to Brooklyn, New York to have an ultra-orthodox, almost certainly a Lubavitcher Rebbe, sent to Hibbing to indoctrinate Bob in untra-orthodox teachings. It can’t be any surprise that when Bob exhibited his Jewish reverence after his Jesus indoctrination with the Vineyard Fellowship he chose to show himslef as a Lubavitcher. Welcome home, Bob. The C of C tells it this way:
According to a 1985 Spin Magazine interview by Dave Engel, Bob said it was above the (L&B) Cafe that Rabbi Reuben Maier stayed while giving Bob Hebrew lessons in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. The Rabbi and his wife showed up one day and stayed for a year while Bob got ready for his big event . The article quotes Bob as saying he would learn Hebrew after school or in the evening for an hour, then go downstairs and boogie at the L&B. After completing his Bar Mitzvah the Rabbi just disappeared.
In the interview Bob tells it this way:
There weren’t many Jews in Hibbing, Minnesota. Most of them I was related to. The town didn’t have a rabbi, and it was time for me to be bar mitzvahed. Suddenly a rabbi showed up under strange circumstances for only a year. He and his wife got off the bus in the middle of the winter. He showed up just in time for me to learn this stuff. He was an old man from Brooklyn who had a white beard and wore a black hat and black clothes. They put him upstairs in the cafe, which was the local hangout. It was a rock n’ roll cafe where I used to hang out, too. I used to go there everyday to learn this stuff either after school or after dinner. After studying with him an hour, or so, I’d come down and boogie. The rabbi taught me what I had to learn, and after conducting the bar mitzvah, he just disappeared. The people didn’t want him. He didn’t look like anybody’s idea of a rabbi. He was an embarrassment. All the Jews there shaved their heads and, I think, worked on Saturdays. And I never saw him again. It’s like he came and went like a ghost. Later I found out he was Orthodox. Jews separate themselves like that. Christians, too. Baptists, Assembly of God, Methodists, Calvinists. God has no respect for a person’s title. He don’t care what you call yourself.
The C of C knows the Rebbe’s name was Reuben Maier and Bob Dylan doesn’t? There were enough people in Hibbing to have a temple and shule but they didn’t have a Rabbi? The Rebbe Maier showed up in time for Bobby Zimmerman’s Bar Mitzvah but what? it was the first Bar Mitzvah in Hibbing’s Rabbiless history? No wonder four hundred people showed up. The Jews in Hibbing shaved their heads and worked on Saturday’s? I presume Bob means they didn’t wear beards but shaved their faces unlike the Lubavitcher in white beard and one of those funny round hats. I serously doubt there were three hundred or more Jews walking around Hibbing with shaved heads in 1954.
They took one look at Rebbe Reuben’s weird beard and outre attire and told him to get out of town? Now that I can believe. Beards in ’54 were a sign of great eccentricity or a psychotic desire to draw attention to oneself. But why in ’85 the mysterioso act? He just showed up to teach Bobby Zimmerman, a complete unknown with no direction home Lubavitcher tales like this: (actually this is pretty standard esoteric doctrine adapted for Jewish needs)
The messianic thing has to do with the world of mankind, like it is. This world is scheduled to go for 7,000 years. Six thousand years of this where man has his way and 1,000 years when God has his way. Just like the week. Six days work, one day rest. The last thousand years is called the Messianic Age, Messiah will rule.
Essentially what we have here is a variant of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy along with a little Hebrew Theology. If one looks real closely one can see the outline of Sigmund Freud’s notion of the unconscious.
According to Beattie Bob knew, oh, two hundred words of Hebrew. So much for several years of shule and a year of intensive training by Rebbe Reuben.
Whether Bob knows or admits it, it must be true that Father Abram sent for Reuben to instruct Bob in mysteries that Abe thought were essential to his vision of Jewish religion while they were not part of the services of the Hibbing congregation.
It is possible that Abram brought the Rebbe in on the approval of the congregation who rejected him. The comment by Bob of working Saturdays may be signficant here. The Jewish sabbath begins on Friday sundown and continues to Saturday sundown.
As a Lubavitcher, Rebbe Reuben could not have tolerated working during the sabbath while the congregation found it essential amidst a gentile population. Likewise beards are an integral part of the orthodox religion so that the congregation also refused to stop shaving. The only thing mysterious is why it took Reuben so long to catch on. Or maybe he had a contract for one year and the year was up. Of course Bob did need help on those two hundred words.
So Bob’s upstairs memorizing his two hundred words while the throbbing beat pounds insistently through the floor. The super patient Reuben and his wife never object. Bob shortly joins the revelers with his two hundred Hebrew words rattling round his skull, steps up to the mike and begins screaming: I’ve got a girl and her name is Echo. Hmmm. Quite an image out there in the Lost Land of Bob.
Now indoctrinated in quaint antiquarian rites Bob is bundled off to Webster, Wisconsin and Camp Herzl to steep himself in Israeli style Jewish living. Camp Herzl was conducted as Israel in America so those two hundred Hebrew words came in handy in that surrogate for summer in a kibbutz in the Holy Land.
The summer sojourns must have set Abram back a handsome fee for the times. Six to eight weeks of essentially summer boarding school does have expenses. Abe apparently was deeply religious: in Protestant circles he would have been known as a Fundamentalist nut. He and Mike Huckabee would have gotten along fine. One wonders if younger son David was given the same treatment.
So Bob from 1954 on is definitely the product of two nations. The world of the Three Hanks as the C of C puts it and this world of Adam, Moses and the Messiah. Bob was named after Sabbatai Zevi the last acknowledged Jewish messiah in the seventeenth century, his Jewish name is Sabtai.
As kids we all have a lot to reconcile, begin working out at graduation. Bob had a double load; he had two Bobs to reconcile. Personalities wander and widen in those years, Bob made a clean split. On the one hand he was the twerp Bobby Zimmerman of whom it may be said: There’s no success like failure while on the other he was struggling to be the super successful Bob Dylan in which he failed to assume the mantle so that failure is no success at all. At least he made this split off persona’s name mean something. As a note, it was not generally known Dylan was Jewish until after Blonde On Blonde.
Thus in his movie Renaldo and Clara he is not Bob Dylan. Anybody can be Bob Dylan he says, you can be Bob Dylan. Toby Thompson thought he could be and did a pretty good job of it walking a mile or so in Bob’s shoes. Sounded just like him.
As remarkable as it is that Bob realized his fantasy beyond anything he could have dreamed and became the hugely successful Bob Dylan he created an entire new set of problems whose solution eluded him. Well, you know, there’s something lost and something gained while it’s hard to know whether the gain was worth the loss. However the money has disappeared from the table.
The result then is Bob looking backward from 2004 to create a fantasy of how it was in Ray and Chloe’s place on Vestry Street in NYC. The chapter is approriately titled The Lost Land or possibly Never-Never Land might have been better. The chapter isn’t a complete fabrication but it is fiction. Something like the various incidents might have happened but not exactly the way Bob tells it. The framing story of Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel is pure fiction however. They could not possibly have existed.
Bob tells the whole story of the Lost Land within the reference of Ray and Chloe and their fabulous apartment near Vestry below Canal near the Hudson across the street fromt he Cathedral with its bell tower. Thompson got it right.
A troubling aspect of Bob for me is his insistance on bumming other people’s apartments. This seems to be compulsive behavior.
Bob was actually voluntarily homeless from January of ’61 to October or November of the same year when he and ‘roommate’ Suze Rotolo took up digs on Fourth St. I suspect that Father Abe would have been only too happy to supply Bob with funds to live on Vestry Street if he had asked. Bob is simply untrustworthy in any of his stories. As he said of what he learned from folk music: If you told the truth, well and good; if you told the untruth, well and good also, so in Bob’s mind there are no lies, there is only the truth or untruth both having the same value and whichever is more serviceable at the moment. You can’t believe him.
A troubling aspect of Bob’s behavior is his habit of bumming couches in other people’s nests; gaining meaning, as it were, from other people’s lives. Perhaps that was the way he felt of his life in his mother and father’s house. Or perhaps as a Jewish outsider in a goyish land it was his attempt to insinuate himself in the main stream much as he appropriated Woody Guthrie’s persona. Of the houses I have traced they have all been those of goys; he didn’t choose to insinuate himself into the houses of his fellow Jews. His imaginary hosts Gooch and Kiel are obviously goys.
The Lost Land then is a mythologized version of his childhood and first few months in New York City. To my mind Ray Gooch is a combination of Dave Van Ronk, Paul Clayton, Matt Helstrom and his father. Chloe seems simply to be an idealized notion of his mother. (Study her picture for a few moments again.)
As the Gooch frame brackets the period from Bob’s encounter with Gorgeous George to the apartment with Suze Rotolo it must represent a time frame from sometime in ’58 to October ’61. In October Bob Dylan ceased sponging off others to take up his own apartment.
The only one in this time frame he knew who had a large gun collection was Matt Helstrom. The Helmstroms also had a large record collection that Bob listened to. The couch and apartment undoubtedly belonged to Van Ronk while certain exoticisms of Gooch are characteristic of Clayton. The library of Gooch may simply be the New York City Library of which the long narrow room would merely describe the stacks.
The Southern character of Gooch must represent a time after Bob studied the South in the library since there are several references to his Civil War studies. Gooch himself is a Southerner from Virginia gone North which is a symbol in itself. This can be symbolically described as Father Abe being a Jew in Gentile America.
Here then Bob creates or accentuates the more pleasant aspects of his memories in contrast to the very bitter unpleasant memories of the songs. He tells us a great deal about his dream life but little of its realities. At this point I am of the opinion that the party of Camilla ( who Bob says he gets to know quite intimately) is another fabrication of the based on a true story variety.
As Bob would say, folk music taught him that if what you said was true,well and good; if what you said was untrue well and good also. We may probably construe the Lost Land as both true and untrue while a good folk tale. Even the title has a fictive quality a la Edgar Rice Burroughs.
To round off the period back in the C of C milieu of Hibbing: Bob spent his last summer at Camp Herzl in 1957. In the summer of ’58 he was running back and forth between Hibbing and Minneapolis. At that time he would have become familiar with Highway 61.
In his Junior year of ’57-’58 he took up his relationship with Echo Helstrom. They were going steady hence were not supposed to be dating others. As he was in Minneapolis most of the summer he left Echo sitting home alone. She resented this. As the Senior year began she told Thompson, she took a revenge on Bobby returning his token in public in the hall at school. Boy, that hurts.
The feelings must have been much harder than either Bob or Echo portray them. A key problem area is did Bob spend time in Red Wing Reformatory on Highway 61 below Minneapolis and if he did what did he do to receive his sentence: I examine this more fully in Exhuming Bob VIII: The Walls Of Redwing.
He says in Chronicles that he was absent from school from some time at the beginning of April of ’59. He was back at least by the June 5th graduation. His birthday is May 24th. After that date he would have been eighteen and subject to adult sentencing. For what It’s worth he says in his song that no inmate was over seventeen. I’m suggesting that he spent a month of two at Red Wing returning in time for graduation. Certainly a Big Man in town like Abe could have arranged the graduation if he couldn’t get Bob off that time.
The question is what did Bob do? By the middle of this Senior year it appears that he had been in enough scrapes to be known as a troublesome boy; perhaps living out a Rebel Without A Cause persona. Father Abe used his influence up to that time to avoid unpleasant consequences for the lad.
I believe Bob’s song The Chimes Of Freedom tells the story of his crime. Quite simply Echo set him up. She obviously was not quite as complacent as she tells it. See Exhuming Bob VIII: Walls Of Red Wing.
Returning home from Red Wing his parents threw a graduation party for him. Bob was reluctant to attend the party, perhaps with good reason but was persuaded to do so.
This then leaves a very sketchy account of the three or four months of the summer of ’59 for which Bob provides little information. In Walls Of Red Wing I place his stint at Red Wing in August but that is probably wrong. In any event the period from April of ’59 to September of ’59 needs to be explained more fully.
Bob gives some brief details of his stay at Dinkytown but not much. A little bit of the John Pankake episode while avoiding the important details of his theft of Pankake’s records.
Thompson has some good information from Ellen Baker whose father’s folk song collection Bob used extensively.
Then to NYC and his account of The Lost Land segues into his New Morning.