June 23, 2011
Edie Sedgwick, Maid Of Constant Sorrow
In the interest of keeping things in perspective and since a huge part of the readership obviously didn’t experience the sixties, I’d like, if I may, to give a little additional background to understand what happened here. I hope I don’t offend by mixing in some of my own background, not merely from vanity, but so the reader will have some understanding of both my limitations and strengths in interpreting Edie, Andy and Dylan.
Nearly everything you read about the sixties today is written by former activists, usually Jewish, or dopers of one stripe or another. Shall we say they skew the period in the direction of their beliefs. Theirs was only the point of view of small minority. In fact, they seized the leadership playing a much different game than the majority who were busy getting on with their lives.
The period now coming under discussion is 1966-’68 which changed the direction of the sixties. In mid-’66 Dylan had his motorcycle accident and was effectively removed from the scene for the duration. When he resurfaced in the seventies it was in a much diminished role. The first Bob Dylan was dead and the second was busy being born. No matter what he’s done since then, compared to his mid-sixties trilogy it has had minimal impact.
Warhol reached his apogee in this period while he was shot by Vallerie Solanas in 1968 which changed the direction of his career when like Dylan he became a corporation while business affairs were managed by other men, most notably Fred Hughes.
Edie was heartbreakingly dragged through the mud in these years until her evil genius, Chuck Wein, connected her to the movie Ciao, Manhattan which was the most degrading, humiliating experience possible. It eventually killed her. All three of our participants then suffered life threatening experiences within two or three years of each other. Edie was the only one not to survive.
The sixties were tumultuous times; it was like walking around with a perpetual thunderstorm over your head. I was on the West Coast in the San Francisco Bay area till 1966 and at grad school at UOregon in Eugene from ‘66 to ‘68 and then in the record business for the rest of the period. I got my degree from California State College At Hayward now Cal State U. East Bay in 1966. It’s a long and irrelevant story but I entered Cal State in ‘64 taking enormous credit loads of up to 24 hours a quarter. You can do things like that when you’re young and not too bright. Hayward is just South of UC Berkeley. Cal State was a new school with a very small library so we were allowed library privileges at Berkeley of which I availed myself so I was around the Free Speech Movement scene but not of it. I was a first hand observer.
Once in Eugene in the fall of ‘66 things were getting in full swing in our own cultural revolution that would be joined to that of Chairman Mao in ‘68. I was entranced by the poster art work coming out of San Francisco eventually dropping out of grad school to sell posters and then phonograph records at which I was successful. Thus I was involved in the scene on an intimate basis from 1967 on.
While other generations were characterized by their literature our, the, generation was depicted by songwriters on phonograph records, thus records were central to the scene, don’t look for it in novels. The first efflorescence occurred in the US during the mid-fifties while going into an incubation period in England from then until the early sixties when in 1964 the Beatles, Stones and Animals among others provided the transition from fifties Rock n’ Roll to sixties rock. I don’t know how true it is but for me the revolution really got underway with the breathtaking first Doors LP in ‘66. The blues bands and the next wave of British bands provided the impetus to move things into the seventies where the creative impulse ended by 1974 although inertia carried things through until sometime in ‘78. Disco doesn’t count that was the beginning of an entire new ethic based in the homosexual revolution.
When Andy, then in his quest for money, moved into records by managing the Velvet Underground, probably in imitation of Dylan, he did so just before the music scene broke. New York bands were never that popular on the West Coast and the Velvets were no exception. Andy, however, was an innovative guy. Light shows were already news on the West Coast but Andy came up with a new multi-media formulation that blew our minds, as we used to say, while having a very lasting cultural effect.
In the Spring of ‘66 he rented a hall called the Dom in NYC. Using the Velvets as his house band and his light show he managed to overwhelm the hipsters of the Big Apple. He would have had a major success had he continued on but he was fixated on movies, wanting to do his Western put down, so the Factory crowd decamped for Tucson, Arizona, thinking to pick up the strand on their return.
While away Albert Grossman and Dylan leased the Dom from under Warhol and opened it as The Balloon Farm. Between taking Edie from Andy and then the ballroom I’m convinced that Dylan sealed his doom. I hope there aren’t too many people who think the rear wheel of his motorcycle locking was an accident. Once again, conclusive proof is lacking, but there are indications that Andy and the Factory crowd did it.
By late ‘66 Andy’s brief period in the spotlight was over. His creative burst had run its course and while afloat financially, there was not any great income in sight. Paul Morrissey had come on board as a filmmaker and his vision was more commercial than Andy’s but Andy was in charge so Paul had to bide his time waiting for his opportunity. At the same time a man from Houston by the name of Fred Hughes came on board who knew how to monetize Andy’s reputation and art skills and then, Bang! Andy was writhing on the floor in pain. One of those little zig-zags fate has in store for us sometimes. The sixties were over for Andy but the change in direction made his future in the seventies and eighties.
Now, let’s go back to ‘64 and take a look at one of the defining members of the decade I’ve slighted till now, Prof. Tim Leary. I’m convinced Leary was not in his right mind or, if he was, he shouldn’t have been there. By the time Timmy latched onto psychedelics they were pretty well established. LSD, discovered in 1938 by Hoffman and brought to prominence in 1943 was almost passe when Leary was turned on. Aldous Huxley had published his Doors Of Perception in 1954 and Heaven And Hell in ‘56, that celebrated the joys of mescaline.
When I was in high school maybe ‘54 the kids of Scarsdale were notorious for using marijuana, written up in Time if I remember right. Those were rich kids and by ‘56 our elite were very covertly using it. In the Navy aboard ship from ‘57 to ‘59 Bennies and other pills were prominent while the occasional heroin addict passed through. The Marines of Camp Pendleton were heavy into everything, barbiturates, mescaline, peyote buttons, LSD, you name it. For cryin’ out loud, Hollywood had been the drug capitol of the US for decades. One only has to read Raymond Chandler. There wasn’t anything they didn’t know. Cary Grant had been an old LSD hand for years before Leary, the apostle of acid, made it to town bearing the good news in 1960. He was received with some amusement.
A very amusing story Leary tells in his autobiography is that Marilyn Monroe fell to his lot at a party. They were actually in bed together. As you may know Marilyn knew more about drugs than any pharmacologist. Probably disgusted by Timmy’s ranting about LSD she handed him a pill and said take this. Timmy did then decided to get up to go the dresser for something. ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’ Marilyn asked. Timmy was. He took about two steps and seemed to sink through the carpet until only his nose was above the rug. He lay there inert all night while Marilyn laughed softly from the bed.
From his position on the faculty of Harvard Timmy was a very visible advocate of LSD hogging headlines in Time and other mags that were the envy of Andy. Tim was to amuse us with his antics all through the sixties. Now, all this stuff was happening very fast. It was impossible almost to keep up with the headlines let alone any indepth reporting or analysis. Besides there was no internet so all news was comparatively old news, perhaps weeks after the occurrence if you heard of it at all. Also it was impossible to be where it was happening unless it was happening where you were and then you didn’t know it was happening because you were in the middle of it. I happened on the Free Speech Movement because I was in school but I missed the SF scene going on at the same time because I couldn’t be in two places at once and keep up grades in the third place at the same time. New York was out of the question, London was across a wide, deep ocean, and LA hadn’t caught on yet. Thus, I was invited to the Kesey/Dead Trips Festival but passed on it. For various reasons I only caught the end of the Fillmore/Family Dog scene and then only fleetingly.
Even Morrison and the Doors who can claim to have been in the center could only have caught their small share however central it was. Nobody got it all. How could you be in Swinging London, New York, San Francisco and LA at the same time? Couldn’t be done although there were many who tried spending their time criss crossing the country from West to East and reversed and for all I know popping into London too trying to be jetsetters but they were merely vagrants peripheral to everything.
So marijuana, acid, speed and barbiturates or downers as they were called then made up the pharmacopeia. Amphetamines were obviously big in NYC from the early sixties and must have been in the West too but my first acquaintance with that was the Speed Kills buttons. Heroin was a danger drug for the addict type only. Cocaine came along in the seventies. At the time little or none of the marijuana crop was home grown. It came from Mexico and there are smuggling and pot running stories galore. At first the dealers were amateurs, boys and girls next door, but that slowly turned into the criminal professionals.
Andy’s crew were all what he called A-heads, but you may be sure they smoked and did booze too. It must have been uproarious in the early years but by ‘66 psychotic and physical reactions were beginning to slow the troops down. It was hard to keep up that pace.
Now, Edie when she came to New York in late ‘64 was a naif. Not many of us knew much better but she was a true naif, fresh from the farm, so to speak, while having had her brains addled by electro-shock treatment at Silver Hill Sanitarium. At Radcliffe-Harvard she had hung out with homosexual men gaining the reputation as a fag hag. Alright, I suppose, as she didn’t know how to handle herself around boys anyway. She came down to New York with the group of homosexuals that Andy called the Harvard kids with some distaste. She associated herself with her evil genius, Chuck Wein, who, as a homosexual, sought her destruction.
The Factory of Andy Warhol she entered was created in Andy’s image. In reading of it, I was never there, it comes across as a hell hole from which any reasonable person would have fled at first glance. Many did. Andy hurt a lot of people being of a sado-masochistic frame of mind. Outside his circle he was universally referred to as ‘that Warhol creep’ and yet events conspired with him to realize his perverted dreams and triumph over all.
Andy considered himself ugly and descriptions of him by others are unpleasant but whatever everyone and himself saw doesn’t show up so clearly in his pictures. He may not be the handsomest fellow around but he has a cherubic, pleasant look that I don’t find unattractive. But, because of this feeling he surrounded himself with beautiful people. Fred Hughes his business manager was quite handsome. Morrissey was OK, Malanga had his moments, Edie was considered a knockout, although I can’t see it, and the other women he associated with were quite attractive.
And then, as a little immigrant boy who wasn’t acceptable to mainliners of Pittsburgh Andy was especially pleased to have society women attached to him and especially the titled or rich English girls. Edie fit in as a beauty, as Andy called her then, and as an old line New York society girl. The combination was almost too tantalizing for this lifetime homosexual. Andy said Edie was as close to love with a woman that he ever got. He even took her home to meet mom. Edie apparently missed the import of that.
Andy has been blamed for making an A-head out of Edie. Once she tasted amphetamines it is clear that there was no stopping her. In truth the Factory was no place for her and Chuck Wein who introduced her into it must have known that. Still, as Dylan sang, there’s something going on here and you don’t know what it is, do you? Most people didn’t including Dylan, and I certainly was out of my depth. It was disconcerting metaphorically to step on what was once solid ground to feel it giving beneath your feet.
Actually there were several revolutions going on which would result in massive social changes. Those of us firmly grounded could only see the so-called change as a rising tide of insanity. Aided by drugs these revolutionists became totally dissociated from reality. Drugs alone cause a withdrawal into an inner fantasy world of wishful thinking. The external world appears as something that wishful thinking can manipulate to one’s desires in some magical way. When the two got really out of sync as they inevitably must you ended up in Bellevue psychiatric wards as happened to a heavy user like Edie many times while most of Warhol’s crew checked in at least once.
Andy, who used these people for entertainment and self-aggrandizement, provided a hospitable retreat or club house where the cognitive dissociation wasn’t quite so apparent or, at least, normal. The scene must have been incoherent. A reading of Warhol’s so-called novel, ‘a’, shows that by 1966 his crew was indeed incoherent. Ostensibly a tape recording of Ondine’s conversation over twenty-four hours, whose conversation Andy found engaging, the tapes show Ondine unable to complete a sentence along with Rotten Rita and the rest of the crew including Edie.
Further the whole bunch were absolute thieves. In Edie’s decline through sixty-six they walked into her apartment and chose their favorites from her collection of fur coats along with anything else of value. In her demented state all she could say is that everyone was wearing her coats. One wonders how much internal anguish there was as she knew there was nothing she could do about it.
At the same time Andy was a leader of the Homosexual and Underman revolutions. Perhaps nobody knew what was going on but Warhol, Rotten and others were working for homosexual liberation which they achieved with the Stonewall Riot of 1969.
New York was unique in that for decades homosexuals from the South and Midwest flowed into New York each year in a great internal migration. The chief destination was the Village. Christopher Street was the main fag drag. The Stonewall Tavern was on Christopher. Why the cops would disturb the lads in their own colony is beyond me, but they did and then gave up without a fight.
Perhaps the most astounding revolution of all was that of the Undermen. Untermensch in German. While Warhol’s crew was a prime example of the Other Half rising to control the direction of society, the main impetus seems to have been the West Coast, San Francisco and Haight-Ashbury, specifically the Hippies. It was really there that the poverty look took hold, torn, faded jeans and whatever. LA never really went for it but it spread up the coast to Eugene, Portland and Seattle. The Sorority and Fraternity look went out the window with millionaire’s kids posing as the down and out.
I would imagine a naïve thing like Edie got caught up in the so-called sexual revolution too. We’re not talking Feminist Movement here but the sexual aspect of the Communist Revolution in which women are common property to be had anytime or anyplace by whoever. The Pill that came along in 1960 really facilitated the change in sexual mores. Nothing exemplified that more than the mini-skirt. So you’ve got drugs, the Pill, the Mini Skirt and the Ideology. The world was not so slowly turning upside down.
All these revolutions might have gotten not too far but they were all collected and subsumed under the directing force of the Communist Revolution under the leadership of Chairman Mao and the Chinese Party. The money really flowed in after 1968. Driving the whole thing and what made the turmoil possible was the Viet Nam War. It served the Communist cause more than the American as while taking a beating in Viet Nam the Communists subverted the United States. Strangely Viet Nam had no effect on Warhol at all. His disaster paintings ignored Viet Nam while a couple napalm drops would have made a terrific topic.
In the early days of the war it was filmed like a reality TV show with the daily haps relayed on TV to the US. The reality of napalm drops while our soldiers cheered and howled while a couple dozen Vietnamese where incinerated was too much for the entertainment starved public to take. I sure couldn’t handle it. The films were quickly removed. The reality of war is a private thing between the armies, not quite like the Super Bowl.
I don’t recall a single mention of Viet Nam in Andy’s Diaries, Philosophy From A To B or ‘a’. The war appears in none of the biographies or auto-biographies or even novels written by various denizens of the Factory. Rather strange, but then I can recall no references to it in Dylan’s songs either.
The Communist Revolution connection developed when John and Yoko arrived in NYC in 1971. The two of them were clearly involved in revolutionary activities linking various art and entertainment figures with them including, Dylan, Warhol, David Bowie and others. What exactly they were doing isn’t clear to me yet. Yoko was and is on some Feminist rag.
So, in 1966 while an apparent apex for Warhol, his world was actually coming apart while Edie’s was descending like a Stuka dive bomber.
The period from December ‘65 to Easter of ‘66 must have been traumatic for a crazed and confused A-head like Edie. She sacrificed her position with Andy, seduced by the fallacious promises of Dylan and Grossman who certainly had no plans to make a movie, and if they did, to put Edie in it.
Warhol had all the sadistic cruelty characteristic of homosexuals that he turned on to the distraught girl. Edie must have been thoroughly crushed when Dylan rejected her love while passing her on to Neuwirth. Edie was not at her wit’s end with no money, cut off by her parents who objected to this life style, while having no means to make money to support the station in life she had seemingly attained. Both Dylan and Warhol abandoned her after accepting her largesse for several months. Warhol is especially reprehensible. Dylan sure is a close second.
Her heavy dependence on amphetamines was literally eating away her brain, her body and her personality.
I really can’t believe that Edie loved Neuwirth as she claimed. I don’t think either was capable of love. Yet, she abandoned her body to him claiming she could make love for forty-eight hours straight but crashed whenever he left her. That is a sign of despair and fear. I can only imagine the horror she felt when she looked into the future and saw only a blank wall. As Dylan was to sing of her: Time will tell just who has fell and who’s been left behind.
Perhaps the cruelest trick of all was played on Edie by Dylan, Grossman and Neuwirth at the Easter Parade of 1966 when Neuwirth filmed the promised movie.
In a November issue of Life Magazine in 1965 Edie had been photographed standing on top of a toy leather rhinoceros about two feet high and three feet long, popular at the time. Whether the three of them, Grossman, Dylan and Neuwirth, put their heads together to come up with this or Dylan brainstormed it by himself, Neuwirth persuaded Edie to pull the rhino down Fifth Avenue as the parade progressed, filming as they went. Then Bobby tied the rhino to a parking meter and persuaded a passing cop to write Edie a ticket. Thus Grossman and Dylan fulfilled their obligation to put Edie in a movie while mocking her cruelly. Those guys had a reputation for cruel put downs. They live up to it here.
It was just after Easter that Warhol opened the Dom to stage his Exploding Plastic Inevitable. The reports we got of it on the West Coast made it sound absolutely astounding. If any one thing characterized the sixties I would have to say it was the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. It brought everything the era valued together. As usual with Warhol he couldn’t resist turning it into a sado-masochistic experience. The chaos must have been extraordinary. One can imagine the scene with dope peddlers trying to push their drugs on you, the lights flashing, strobing and pulsing, the howling music, the bodies bumping against each other, Malanga doing his whip dance, Edie bopping around the stage with her odd skip and step. They talk about the Velvet Underground being loud but they must mean for the times. Blue Cheer with its wall of Marshalls was just around the corner while the electronics improved almost daily until the sound passed the limits of endurance. Created a whole generation of deaf Beethovens. Musicians literally without ears.
I actually promoted the Underground once in either ‘68 ot ‘69, might have been pre-Blue Cheer. BC’s main claim to fame was that they were the first mega blasters, loudest band alive for their brief moment. Sort of a Great Divide in Rock music.
Things were still building but it wasn’t that the Velvets were that loud; they were just super strange. Reed was the original one-note man, he played it over and over fast. Sterling was there but he must have been background noise because I don’t remember much of an effect there. Whatever Cale was doing passed over my head but it must have been some kind of La Monte Young dynamo hum, all the songs were. I was most fascinated by Mo on drum. Yeah, right, drum, in the singular. She had a six inch deep tom with an under slung mallet. The mallet hammered away at the bottom skin while Mo pounded the upper skin with the sticks. In keeping with the dynamo hum she never varied the beat once but she was right on time just in case time was important. Quite an experience. You shoulda been there, and paid at the door. I wouldn’t have lost as much money.
Andy made a bundle in the month long run and then he made what would have been the mistake of his life in leaving for Arizona, or would have been if he hadn’t been shot. While he was out of it Hughes and Morrissey put together the means to put Andy over the top.
Chaper 15 follows.
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.
February 11, 2010
Exhuming Bob 24: Bob And Expecting Rain
…or else they’re expecting rain.
My recent essay Exhuming Bob 23a: Bob, Andy, Edie And Like A Rolling Stone posted on the Expecting Rain site drew a few comments. As I’ve been excluded from the site I was very surprised to find the site published the essay. I’m not going to sign up for the discussion board so I’ll respond in this way. If it gets posted, fine.
I consider Exhuming Bob 23a a pretty good piece of scholarship so I’m pleased to have elicited a response that wasn’t all that negative.
The chief criticism came from CL Floyd so I’ll concentrate on his. Some of Floyd’s objections I consider worth answereing but some I find curious.
Floyd began his criticism: this is an incredible piece of reductionism… Yeah? What’s the problem? One has to begin somewhere. Dylan has said that he had this 20 pages of ”vomit’ tentatively titled Like A Rolling Stone. Right on. So he’s got twenty pages of inchoate kvetching that Edie Sedgwick catalyzed into several verses that while it applied directly to her as a symbol, what it symbolized was ‘this pain in here’ that centered around Dylan’s childhood. Thus as Warren Peace perceived, even though the central kvetch precedes Sedgwick the context centers directly on her person.
Floyd relates the whole to the title: ‘I especially enjoyed the in depth analysis of where the use of the phrase “rolling stone” came from.’ Muddy Waters had nothing to do with it. I doubt if Dylan had even heard of Waters’ song before he came to NYC if he did then.
The meaning of the phrase ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ is obvious while its use must go back very, very far. Apparently Dylan thinks being a rolling stone is a curse too hard to bear. His own understanding of the term goes back to Hank Williams’ not Muddy Waters’ song ‘Lost Highway.’
I’m just a rolling stone
All alone and lost
For a life of sin
I have paid the cost…
I’m just a rolling stone
On the lost highway.
I don’t mean to be rude but there were millions of us who related to Williams’ lyric in exactly the same way as Dylan.
But Floyd seems especially offended by the twist given to the meaning by my correspondent, Robin Mark. She has thought about the problem for some time. She realized that Stone was his mother’s maiden name so that there was a double entendre in Beattie Stone and a rolling (Bob) stone. Now, Mr. Floyd (or Miss, perhaps, CL is indeterminate) is apparently unaware that one can only be considered Jewish through the female side. If your father is Jewish and your mother isn’t then you are not a Jew, thus Jewishness is matrilineal not patrilineal even though your Jewish name may be Moishe Ben Avram- that is Moses the son of Abram. So, Dylan can claim the Stone name also. I thought it was a clever application and a neat double entendre.
Now, a major concern of my writing is to place Dylan within a context of his place and time. Shelton, Heylin, Sounes and others have done an excellent job of organizing the details of Dylan’s career to the exclusion of the other participants such as, for instance, Albert Grossman.
As Peter Yarrow says, without Grossman there would be no PPM and no Dylan. I have always been mystified as to who Grossman’s connections were that allowed him to finance the organization of PPM and get them a WB contract without a single performance.
I broached this subject in my essay, Exhuming Bob XVII My Son The Corporation. Since then I have learned that Grossman was aligned with Mo Ostin of WB and that the financing came from that quarter. That the group was immediately successful must have been gratifying. With the success of PPM the promotiuon of Dylan became possible. http://idynamo.wordpress.com/2008/12/10/exhuming-bob-xviii-bob-dylan-my-son-the-corporation/
That’s a start.
Mr. Floyd finds it coincidental that the key participants are Jewish. He apparently does not recognize a Jewish cultural and political influence directed to the realization of Jewish ends. If he’s complicit, so be it, but as an historian I have an obligation to note motivations from whatever quarter they come from. You don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows. I have no sacred cows and that is as it should be.
And finally, I believe that I have uncovered or illuminated, take your choice, a signficant and important sub-text of Dylan’s history. I dig the term ‘NY gossip’ that Mr. Floyd uses to discredit the facts. In point fact, David Bourdon who was there gives an almost gang like division of NYC. As he saw it Dylan was ‘pope’ of Downtown, Warhol ‘pope’ of mid-town and something vague uptown.
After BOnB in mid ’66 Dylan hadn’t abandoned Manhattan. The motorcycle accident with concussion and three cracked vertebrae changed his plans. After he had healed he in fact moved back to MacDougal St. to begin having his garbage searched by Weberman. By then the sixties were essentially over. Warhol was shot in ’69 changing the direction of his career, while Altamont put the period to the whole sixties fantasy. Shortly Dylan would be releasing an album called New Morning. Optimistic.
So, I certainly appreciate the kind attention of those who commented. If Matchlighter’s ‘mouth popped’ from 23a I hope he finds 23b just as entertaining. It has been posted.
Thank you and you’re invited one and all.http://idynamo.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/exhuming-bob-23b-of-a-b-bob-andy-edie-and-like-a-rolling-stone/
December 10, 2008
…Bobby stems from a middle class background in which much emphasis is placed on education and conformity and plans for a respectable career.Bobby didn’t quite fit into that framework and preferred a more bohemian type of life. His parents say he frowns on being called a beatnik, and they don’t like that designation for him either. But he was in fact adopting some of the manners associated with beatniks- or folkniks- in an area where that makes a person stand out as a strange character.
People who knew him before he set out to become a folknik chuckle at his back country twang and attire and at the imaginative biographies they’ve been reading about him. They remember him as a fairly ordinary youth from a respectable family, perhaps a bit peculiar in his ways, but bearing little resemblance to the sham show business character he is today.
“He wanted to have a free rein.” says Zimmerman. “He wanted to be a folk singer, an entertainer. We couldn’t see it, but we felt he was entitled to the choice. It’s his life, after all, and we didn’t want to stand in the way. So we made an agreement that he could have one year to do as he pleased, and if at the end of that year we were not satisfied with his progress he’d go back to school.”
“It was eight months after that, says (Abe) Zimmerman, that Bobby received a glowing ‘two column’ review in the New York Times. So we figured that anybody who can get his picture and two columns in the New York Times is doing pretty good. Anyway it was a start.”
His rise in barely three years has been almost as impressive as the fortune he has already amassed…
My son is a corporation and his public image is strictly an act…
Albert Grossman was born in Chicago on May 21, 1926, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who worked as tailors. He attended Lane Technical School and graduated from Roosevelt University, Chicago with a degree in economics.After university he worked for the Chicago Housing Authority, leaving in the late 1950s to go into the club business. Seeing folk star Bob Gibson perform at the Off Beat Room in 1956 prompted Grossman’s idea of a ‘listening room’ to showcase Gibson and other talent, as the folk movement grew. The result was The Gate Of Horn in the basement of the Rice Hotel, where Jim (Roger) McGuinn began his career as a 12 string guitarist. Grossman moved into managing some of the acts who appeared at his club and in 1959, he joined forces with George Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival, to start up the Newport Folk Festival. At the first Newport Folk Festival, Grossman told New York Times critic, Robert Shelton: “The American public is like Sleeping Beauty, waiting to be kissed awake by the Prince of Folk Music.
In the decades prior to the 60s, through the work of such avatars as Woody Guthrie, the Weavers and Pete Seeger, folk music had become identified with sociopolitical commentary, but the notion had been forced underground in the Senator Joe McCarthy witch-hunting era… Peter Paul and Mary came together to juxtapose these cross currents and thus to reclaim folk’s potency as a social, cultural and political force.
“We have absolutely no part in his affairs. Those are his own operation. He’s a corporation and he has a manager.”
November 30, 2007
For some reason the notion has grown that Folk music erupted in 1958 with the Kingston Trio’s version of Tom Dooley. I don’t understand this. We sang Folk and Old Timey all the way through grade school. Grade school ended for me in 1950. Folk music was always a conscious part of my life. I grew so tired of singing Go Tell Aunt Rhody and She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain that I shouted for joy upon hearing The Weaver’s sing On Top Of Old Smokey and Goodnight Irene.
That was in the days of ‘Your Hit Parade’. That show was a key program before TV wiped programmed radio off the Networks. They thought radio was dead. Didn’t think anyone would listen to music twenty-four hours a day. We not only did that but we listened to the same four songs over and over in fifteen minute segments. They called it Top Forty but I remember it more like the Top Four. When one song wore out they plugged in another one and kept going. Of course that was only temporary; things evolved fast.
Folk and Folk related music was a strong stream all through the fifties. Burl Ives was the rage for a while but you can only get so far on Jimmie Crack Corn And I Don’t Care and The Blue Tail Fly. Tennessee Ernie Ford and his Sixteen Tons was as close as you could get to Folk without actually stepping over the line. Harry Belafonte occupied the mid-fifties as a Folksinger, academic quality, with his stupid Mark Twain. In a more pop vein Mitch Miller churned out stuff like She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and The Bowery Grenadiers. I didn’t care for it at the time but his sing along stuff is pretty good.
Who can forget the greatest of them all with his fabulous hit tune The Rock Island Line in 1955. The Great
Lonnie Donegan. The song was played once every fifteen minutes around the clock on every station for a couple of weeks. I once artfully shifted stations so that I got to hear the song seven times in a row. Lonnie Donegan could sing circles around the entire Greenwich Village crowd including any number of Dylans. He was very successful in combining a listenable approach to a trad style. All the trad stuff done trad style was OK for the enthusiasts but had no commercial potential. None of the Greenwich Village crowd had a future except Dylan. Even the best of them, Fred Neil, fell flat.
Fred Hellerman of the Weavers was musical advisor to the Kingstons who merely continued the Weavers’ tradition. The music that Bob Dylan tuned into in 1959 had been an established fact for ten years or better. His future manager Albert Grossman had established the premier folk venue, The Gate Of Horn in Chicago the year before while helping to establish the Newport Folk Festival in 1959
The trad folk types were running the Village by the time Dylan got there. Some people liked the traditional style, they usually smoked pipes. I can handle it but I don’t like those precious antiquarian stylists; I much prefer the pop styles of the Kingstons and the Chad Mitchell Trio. Did you ever listen to Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders? Pozo Seco Singers?
It didn’t take Dylan long to understand that the way to success was through the pop style rather than the trad. Thus Dylan as a folk act can be classed with the Kingstons, the Mitchell Trio and The New Christy Minstrels.
His muse, however, spoke with a purer voice; the muse belonged to him, he said, or at least she shacked with him for a couple years before moving on. As talented as Dylan was in those years he did not make it alone. As he said, he wanted to sing to people on his own wavelength. That was a small audience.
While he was shifting the dial to the high numbers at the right hand side of the band he passed through the broad band. In order to get to his own audience he had to appeal to a broader cross section; so he wrote stuff like Blowin’ In The Wind.
As someone who was there at the time I had to roll my eyes at the song’s obviousness while Bob’s vocals drove me up the wall. The sales figures for the first three or four albums bear me out.
So how did Bob get from there to superstar? Two words- Albert Grossman. This article might be subtitled: The Genius And The Promoter. For that brief one or two year period Bob turned out generalized songs that caught the spirit of the g-g-generation. It is questionable how far the songs would have gone had not the promotional genius of Albert Grossman seized the main chance.
Grossman would be as fascinating a study as Bobby. While Dylan has gotten all the credit his early career was in fact a fifty-fifty partnership with Albert.
Bob had no business sense, still doesn’t; nor should any artist be expected to. Everyone would have
stolen him blind. It’s the music business. The performers about him either professed to reject financial success because they couldn’t find the handle or may have been so purist that they actually despised the money. Sorta hard to believe but that’s the way they talked.
Now, Albert not only saw the financial potential of the caterwauling Dylan but more importantly he foresaw that phonographs records would be the medium of expression for the entire generation. Records were how the generation would communicate. Rather than looking back at what the recording industry had been he looked foward to what it would be.
Noting the song writing potential of the 1962-63 Dylan he determined to make Bob the keystone of his grab for the golden ring. He succeeded in capturing Bob. He had his keystone but he lacked the supports. He’d already thought that out working at it from the time he founded the Gate of Horn. Having gotten himself a fecund folk style songwriter he now needed a sweet singing Top 40 folk style group a la the Kingston Trio. The latter was perhaps the easiest part of the equation.
Secure in his source of material Albert organized the commercial sounding folk group called Peter, Paul and Mary, three former purists who opted for the cash. Packaging a sound for his group was relatively easy. Taking the songs of his keystone he had them set to pretty three part harmonies. Presto! Albert had dumped the harsh cacophony of Dylan and the songs shone.
Parts one and two of his plan were complete. He had partnered himself with Dylan and he owned Peter, Paul and Mary. The rest fell into place. The public was entranced by the songs of Bob Dylan; now they wanted to know who the writer was. Essentially the singer-songwriter was called into existence by demand. Albert put his publicity act in motion. It is doubtful that he knew how Dylan would respond but Dylan’s mysterioso act was perfect for the times while being executed to perfection. Albert’s keystone captured the imagination of the world.
As a genius promoter Albert understood his contribution to the equation. Albert engineered Bobby’s success while with an artist’s ego Dylan totally underestimated Albert’s contribution. Nevertheless Albert Grossman wanted his fair share which he calculated as much higher than the established ten percent for perfunctuory management while probably going over the line of fair which a promoter’s ego will.
The structure of the contemporary music business was in its formative stages. Albert was a presage of the future. He formed groups with an identity in which he took only fifty percent, but the groups were his creation he was entitled to it. Later the artists would simply be put on salary. By the end of the century when the music industry had evolved, his successors concceived a group concept from start to finish providing concept and songs while merely hiring some musical working stiffs, probably not all that musical, just stiffs. The performers were interchangeable like members of a sports team. Heck they didn’t even play or sing they just danced to records. It didn’t matter whether one or more or the whole group was replaced. The performers had no talent merely acrobatic skills. Promotion had evolved since Albert.
Albert understood the artistic ego but too well. Two colossal ambitions came into collision.
One of the first things Albert did when he captured Bobby was to buy back the publishing from M. Witmark. He then set up a new publishing company, Dwarf Music, in which he gave himself a fifty percent interest. At first glance fifty percent looks like he really took advantage of Bobby.
Certainly he was underhanded. Remember, this is only the record business and Albert was relatively honest. He never explained himself to Bobby. He did go to lengths to conceal the fifty-fifty split from Dylan. Albert Grossman was after all a promoter. The record industry itself will never get high marks for probity. The equation for theft is when one group controls the money and the other group provides the product.
The question here is not whether Albert stole from Bobby in the sense of juggling the accounting, you can be sure Albert took advantage of his position, but whether he cheated Bobby by taking a fifty percent interest in Dwarf is open to qestion.
I don’t think so.
It is hard to believe that Bob Dylan would have amounted to much if Albert Grossman hadn’t been a promotional genius who recognized the potential which no one else, in fact, could see.
Of course, today, long after the fact, Dylan’s genius seems to have ensured success. At the time that genius wasn’t quite so obvious, indeed, I’m not so sure it ever existed.
I wasn’t Johnny on the Spot when it came to recognizing Dylan’s talent. I didn’t hear of him until 1964 when my brother-in-law played the first couple records for me. All I could hear was a guy thwacking away noisily on guitar punctuating his horrid screeching with cacophonous bursts on an harmonica. It might as well have been an air raid.
I was thoroughly repelled. I wouldn’t have listened to Dylan again but my brother-in-law who had a curious ability to scent out the next big thing insisted I listen to what he was saying. ‘The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.’ To be sure. Well, I’m from the midwest too. I recognized the catch phrases; Dylan uses a lot of midwest catch phrases. I still wasn’t impressed.
To me Dylan sounded illiterate. I ask you, what does ‘How many times can a man look up until he sees the sky?’ mean? What does ‘How many seas must a white duck cross before it can sleep in the sand?’ mean? Is there such a thing as a migrating white duck and do they ever sleep in the sand? Am I supposed to let my heart bleed for white ducks who can’t sleep in the sand tonight? The anwer to those questions, my friend, aren’t blowing in the wind.
The guy just said whatever came into his head. After his mind broke in 1966 and his muse left him he came up with ‘Shut the light, Shut the shade, you don’t have to be afraid.’ I mean, shade and fraid do rhyme. I had problems understanding where the talent was.
Protest singer? What’s that to me? I never did march anyway.
If you listen to the 1963 Newport Folk Festival album Dylan’s singing of Blowin’ In The Wind is sandwiched between Joan Baez and the Freedom Singers. Both back Bobby with a religious fervor the song doesn’t bear before launching into an even more religious shouting of We Shall Overcome…Someday.
Masters of War? You’ve got to be kidding? This is a really puerile song. Dylan just said what no one else wanted to put into words, although once said all those Sing Out types seemed to love it. But, does anyone really believe that wars are promoted by a bunch of professional warriors sitting in a room trying to come up with ideas? Before Bush I mean. Is that a valid explanation of how politics work? What happened to Bobby’s notions of ‘fixtures and forces.’
I really couldn’t go with stuff like this.
Impressed more by my brother-in-law’s unerring ability to spot the next big thing than Bobby I went out and bought the records but I didn’t listen to them although I was increasingly impressed by the number of cover versions that were appearing. Albert Grossman was doing that work, not Bobby.
And then Bringing It All Back Home with its vicious sounding title tuned into my wavelength down around 1600. I was one of those confused, accused, misused, abused, strung out ones and worse. I placed myself in the accused, abused and misused categories; A.J. Weberman obviously placed himself with the strung out ones and worse sorting through garbage cans. But, here we have the spectrum of Bobby’s wavelength.
It just keeps right on a hurtin’.
By the time of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde Bobby was like strong drink to me. I became a bobaholic as he backed deeper and deeper into the inner recesses of his mind where a different logic prevailed in an attempt to narrow his audience as much as possible. Strangely the more he found his own audience the greater his reputation grew.
Even though I became absorbed in Bob Dylan’s ‘genius’ I always remembered those lovely cover versions of his early songs. Don’t you think those Byrds’ covers are too beautiful? I asked myself would I have stuck with Bobby if it hadn’t been for those. I can’t say, but they homogenized Bobby’s quirky personality into a palatable product. When you couldn’t handle Bobby’s Mr. Tambourine Man you could switch to that of the Byrds.
Those cover versions Albert obtained are what made Bob Dylan successful.
Bob wrote them but he had nothing to do with either their placement or production. Bobby’s self appointed ‘partner’ Albert did.
First he created Peter, Paul and Mary. Grossman’s group was the key to Bob’s success. It must be credited
to Grossman that he seized the moment. This was his one chance for success and he caught the Golden Ring as it came around. The rest of Grossman’s career was trying to replicate this golden moment and that he could not do although he did have a ‘critical’ success in establishing Bearsville Records. The label turned out some nice stuff including the very lovely catalog of Jesse Winchester.
However Grossman’s success was based on PP&M. Albert cleverly recognized the quasi-religious spirt of the times. While the catchword at the time was ‘God Is Dead’ Albert chose to name his group after three Christian saints. This was mildly off-putting to those of us of the time. Grossman, himself a Jew, had his private joke as these three ‘Christian’ saints were all Jews.
His group started out singing stupid quasi-religious songs like If I Had A Hammer and This Land Is Your Land. Guthrie Stuff. Grossman was actually mired in the tastes of the fifties. This material in itself was off-putting, even though popular, as being too overtly political. PP&M really caught fire when Bobby, Albert’s ace in the hole, came up with Blowin’ In The Wind. The song was still quasi-religious in tone but cleaner and more modern sounding while being, from my point of view, completely apolitical.
After a couple successful covers by PP&M the Byrds came in with really stunning contemporary versions of Bobby’s songs. Within a year or two of that whole albums were issued trying to cash in on Bobby as a songwriter. Barry McGuire ex of the New Christy Minstrels for Chrissakes. Even that embarrassing Sinatra clone, Trini Lopez.
So Albert had turned Bobby’s catalog gold. Not a trick to be despised.
Bobby’s star rose as his reputation as a songwriter rose.
Albert pushed the envelope to secure as large a portion of the revenues for himself and Bobby as he could. Columbia had conned Dylan into a disadvantageous contract so Albert forced a change. He secured twenty-five percent of the revenues from Bobby’s records for himself which was far in advance of practice. However Albert had been right. Pop album sales which had been miniscule in 1960 burgeoned into a mult-billion dollar segment by the end of the decade. Albert had positioned Bobby to benefit from this huge market.
Albert had bullied Columbia Records, Bobby’s label, into giving him producers who would make the most of his talents. His unusual terroristic tactics threw the fear of god into Columbia’s executives. If Bobby hadn’t signed a new contract, a fairly generous contract, behind Albert’s back Albert probably would have secured an even richer contract. Remember Albert had the incentive of twenty-five percent of Dylan’s record revenues.
One must accept the fact that Albert Grossman managed Bob Dylan’s career to perfection. One must accept the fact tht Dylan would have been worth much less financially, perhaps, worthless without the aid and support of Albert Grossman.
But then, Bob discovered that Albert had, and this is improtant, given himself fifty percent of Dwarf Music not only without telling Bobby but actively preventing his knowing.
Bobby saw only his own genius while ignoring Albert’s. Without thinking it out he chose to feel betrayed. Albert traded on Bobby’s trust but I do not believe Albert betrayed him. I think Albert was the best friend Bobby ever had.
I believe that Albert was entitled to fifty percent of Bobby’s earnings in perpetuity. I’d have to say that Bobby played the churl in not recognizing Albert’s contribution to his success.
Still, Bobby is the artist, Bob Dylan, while Albert is only the promoter, Albert Grossman. Which is the tail and which is the dog? Did you ever see a dog run round and round chasing its tail?