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.
Exhuming Bob XXVI
Bob And Edie
(Sooner Or Later All Of Us Must Know)
On the New York Bohemian scene 1965 and 1966 were the pivotal years. Near the beginning of 1965 Edie Sedgwick came down from Boston to become the catalyst in the struggle for dominance of the Bohemian scene between Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan.
Both men began their rise almost simultaneously in 1960-61. Both camps were drug fueled primarily by amphetamines.
While Edie, who as I perceive it was a psychotic nothing chick, entered Warhol’s world about March of ’65 it seems probable that Dylan was eyeing her from earlier in the year through the offices of his advance man, Bobby Neuwirth. While the early period is poorly documented as the battle for the soul of Edie Sedgwick reached fever heat in the summer of ’65 when Dylan recorded his diatribes Like A Rolling Stone and Positively Fourth Street concerning Edie and Andy the origins must reach further back into the first half of the year. It is interesting that in Dylan’s song Desolation Row he cast Edie in the role of Hamlet’s Ophelia.
Thus the key to understanding Dylan’s albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde is primarily Edie Sedgwick. I haven’t analyzed the data thoroughly but the meaning of One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) became transparent while studying Warhol. One of my favorite Dylan’s songs its meaning has always troubled me.
In November of ’65 Dylan married Sara Lownds while still carrying on an affair with Edie, among others. Warhol told Edie that Dylan was married shortly thereafter. Edie was as a pawn in their game torn between leaving with Dylan and staying with Warhol. In their effort to steal Edie away Dylan and his manager Albert Grossman were promising her stardom and money in both recording and movies.
Finally in a December 6th meeting with Edie, Warhol and Dylan Edie was forced to choose between the one or the other. Dylan commemorated this scene in his song One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later). The ‘poem’ of this ‘great poet’ is in three stanzas and reads like a letter to Edie when you have the key. The first four lines are a mocking apology for using Edie as a pawn:
I didn’t mean to treat you so bad
You shouldn’t take it so personal
I didn’t mean to make you so sad
You just happened to be there, that’s all.
So Dylan admits he was using Edie who just happened to be Warhol’s chick, nothing personal, Dylan was after Warhol. But he didn’t mean to hurt her ‘so bad’ or make her ‘so sad’. Hey, it just happened. The second and fourth lines are so insulting, callous and sadistic as to pass the bounds of good judgment to write. They shouldn’t have been written and if written they shouldn’t have been shouted to the world to hear. It must have been obvious to Dylan that both Edie and Warhol would know he was talking about them. The Ballad Of Plain D was just mean but this is almost too hateful to bear. Ah well, the love and peace crowd.
The fifth line:
When I saw you say “goodbye” to your friend and smile…
The scene is The Kettle Of Fish and the friend is Andy Warhol.
I thought it was understood
That you’d be comin’ back in a little while
I didn’t know that you were sayin’ “goodbye” for good.
This is an outright lie else why put goodbye in parentheses. Dylan’s attempt to disavow his and Grossman’s promises making it seem like a trivial boy-girl thing is too coarse. This whole verse is definitely meant to hurt while both Edie and Warhol will understand the full import.
And then the chorus which will be used three times for maximum pain:
But sooner or later, one of us must know
You just did what you were supposed to do
Sooner or later one of us must know
That I really did try to get close to you.
The key line here is that ‘I really did try to get close to you.’ At The Kettle Of Fish Edie murmured to Dylan that no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t get close to him. ‘Who?’ asked Dylan. ‘Andy.’ Edie replied. Dylan apparently took that as a rebuff although he was already married to Sara and would soon spawn a host of children on her.
I quote the second verse in its entirety:
I couldn’t see what you could show me
Your scarf had kept your mouth well hid
I couldn’t see how you could know me
But you said you knew me and I believed you did.
When you whispered in my ear
And asked me if I was leavin’ with you or her
I didn’t realize just what I did hear
I didn’t realize how young you were.
Apparently Edie didn’t realize that she was just a rainy day woman. While it’s a matter of interpretation I assume that Edie confronted Dylan with the fact of his marriage to Sara and naively asked if he were going to dump Sara for herself. Dylan was incredulous, astonished by her request, he thought she was more sophisticated than that, after all, a rainy day woman….
Rainy Day Woman is a very mocking put down of women as the lead off song and theme setter of the album titled Blonde On Blonde. Perhaps the title might be interpreted as Woman On or After Woman with Rainy Day Women establishing the theme. The song limits the range of women to two- numbers 12 and 35. Why 12, why 35? Who are they? One has to be Edie. If one does a little number manipulation a la Freud, in sequence the numbers add up to 11 which in turn adds up to 2. Two women. Seven come eleven? Three and eight, twelve and thirty-five added separately- three for male, eight for female. Twelve subtracted from thirty-five is twenty-three, Edie’s age. Just guessing.
As Sara is the only other identifiable woman in the lyrics the two women must be Edie and Sara. Let me venture the guess that all women are rainy day women for Dylan. Thus once Sara had borne his offspring fullfilling a religious obligation Dylan took seriously he drove her away oblivious to the pain and suffering he was causing or perhaps he was continuing to punish mother surrogates.
Dylan was drugged and crazed while he was writing this so this is a reflection of deep subconscious drives.
The final lyric begins:
I couldn’t see when it started snowin’
Your voice was all I heard
Snowin’ either refers to a snow job by Edie so he was blinded by light hearing only her words or drugs of some sort, either amphetamines or cocaine.
I couldn’t see where you were goin’
But you said you knew an’ I took your word.
Once again Dylan shifts the full responsibility from himself and Grossman to Edie. He implies that she was leading him on rather than vice versa. This when it was clear to everyone that he and Grossman were promising her the moon in the attempt to pry her loose from Warhol.
And then you told me later, as I apologized
That you were just kiddin’ me, you weren’t really from the farm
An’ I told you as you clawed out my eyes
That I never really meant t’ do you any harm
Well, Dylan’s intents were pure, he says, but the results were deplorable; Edie was done harm by Dylan’s actions and the harm was deep and lasting, well beyond any hypocritical apologies. If the lines are to be believed Edie’s reaction was quite violent. As she was a total amphetamine addict her reaction would be quite plausible.
And then Dylan mockingly closes with his ‘whadaya goin’ to do about it line’- I really did try to get close to you.
As this period clears up for me I suspect that the whole of Blonde On Blonde is concerned with this Edie, Andy/Dylan duel. Blonde On Blonde itself then may refer to the silver hair of both Edie and Andy.
It should be clear that Dylan’s motorcycle fall was no accident. In Exhuming Bob 23b: Bob, Andy and Edie I hypothesize that Dylan’s bike was rigged by the Factory crowd. Dylan survived with minimal damage. For his own sins Warhol was shot a couple years later but he survived that one too. Edie died a physical wreck in 1971.
What goes around comes around as they used to say.
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.
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 10, 2008
Let’s Spend The Night Together
Pamela Des Barres
Review by R.E. Prindle
Des Barres, Pamela, Let’s Spend The Night Together, 2008 Chicago Review Press
You make my heart sing.
You make everything,
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
For tomorrow brings but sorrow,
The girls that are so sweet today
Will be mothers-in-law tomorrow.
Pamela Des Barres having apparently exhausted what appeared to be an inexhaustible fund of rock n’ roll memories returns to the publishing fold with a whole book full of other groupies’ memories. She introduces some twenty-four supergroupies to tell their back stage secrets of rock gods.
If you’re into titillating sexual stuff you’ve just found the Dutchman’s lost gold mne. For those into this stuff Cynthia Plaster Caster is pictured fondling the immortalized member of Jimi Hendrix. At least we know that one’s true. However some of the memories recorded seem to be sort of stretchers to me. Making a good story better is OK but pure invention is something else.
I did catch one of the girls, women, mothers-in-law, almost all grandmothers, in a fabrication or, shall I say, a delusion. I don’t want to be unkind because the lady in question, Catherine James, did time in the orphanage while having one of those mothers from hell. I can sympathize, a double whammy like that can do things to you. I had a number of issues with my mother, who has now gone to her greater reward wherever that may be, while she too put me in the orphanage. So, as I say, I can sympathize.
Well, Miss James says she quit the groupie game in 1971 at the age of nineteen while she began at age thirteen. That would have made her beginning in 1965. As she tells it those six years were eventful enough for any busload of wayward girls.
As I read my eyebrows kept going up. This was too amazing, it seemed, to be true. After reading her chapter I put the book down while my eyes were spinning around in my head. Then I began going over the details looking for that fatal flaw. As there was no way I could contradict her stories based on her revelatory details, I would have to examine dates and when I did I found that flaw. Not gentlemanly, but I do have that inquisitive mind that just won’t be satisfied. As it happened the flaw involved the ‘spokesman of his generation’ Bob Dylan.
Miss James says that she met Bob, as I gather he was the first, at thirteen. As she tells it Bob gave her some good soul saving advice about her mother; otherwise she might have been driven mad. I can dig that, too.
But there was a problem with that. Miss James lived in the LA area. She says she met Bob in California between the recording of Bob Dylan and The Free Wheelin’. That would probably have been about the time Bob was heavy with Suze Rotolo in NYC. At any rate in ’62 Miss James would have been about ten years old not thirteen.
Miss James who has extraordinary faith in the art of cosmetology believes that at thirteen she could make herself up successfully enough to fool a guy into thinking she was minimally legal. That alone seems like a mega stretcher to me. But what are cosmetics going to do for a ten year old?
Quite clearly Miss James could not have met Bob when she was thirteen in LA. She would like to have met Bob and gotten that good advice but she couldn’t have.
Making a good story better she compounds the delusion by saying that still at thirteen she made the pilgrimage to Greenwich Village to be with Bob. In an interesting dream sequence she describes arriving in NYC broke, not unlike Bob, with no place to stay. Talking to some young people in the Village she told them she was there to visit Bob. Naturally this admission was greeted with snickers. But, lo and behold, who should drive up to the street corner at that instant but Bob himself. She ran over to greet him. He rolled down the window to say he was off to a concert and drove away.
As I say I don’t wish to cause Miss James distress and I’m sure she ins’t any less truthful than any of these girls, women, mothers-in-law, but much of this stuff requires that extra grain of salt.
The opening chapter concerning the adventures of someone called Tura Satana and Elvis requires some documentation. But, why go into it. As Samuel Johnson said who but a blockhead wouldn’t write for money. I presume that Miss Pamela would like to see a nice fat royalty check. Lord knows Frank Zappa left Miss Pamela short when she was a member of the GTOs, so buy a copy if you like this stort of thing and make that ageing Wild Thing’s heart sing. She’s got it coming, believe me.
October 19, 2008
Exhuming Bob 13
Bob As Messiah
Are you that Man Of Constant Sorrow
Of whom the authors write-
Grief comes with every morrow
And wretchedness at night?
Source of quotes: Scott Marshall, Bob Dylan’s Unshakeable Monotheism- downloaded from Jewseek.com but no longer available. The site is no longer functioning. Roughly the same material can be found in Scott M. Marshall with Marion Ford, Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey Of Bob Dylan, Relevant Media, 2004. No longer in print new copies may still be obtained for under three dollars at Alibris.com for any who are interested.
In the dead of winter in 1961 Bob Dylan, ne Bobby Zimmerman, left Minnesota to try his chances in New York City. At this point he must have realized that his better chances lay with Folk Music than Rock n’ Roll. Indeed, upon his arrival in New York he realized that Tin Pan Alley had the recording world sewn up except for the ‘race’ musics of Country And Western and R&B, and the Alley was already fairly tight with R&B. He quickly and astutely realized that whatever he intended to do would find no home on the Great White Way.
While Bob traveled light as far as material possessions went he brought a lot of psychological and religious baggage with him. The kind of stuff you can’t leave in a locker at the bus station. As his whole career has been an unfolding of this religious impulse it would behoove us to examine it somewhat closely.
Bob received intense religious indoctrination in his youth until the time he left home in the Summer of 1959. This religious education was of an intense Orthodox Jewish kind. He recieved this from his family, both parents were deeply religious in the Orthodox mode, although the Hibbing syngogue was more often without a Rabbi of any kind than not. Perhaps of premier importance was his Bar Mitzvah indoctrination in 1954 from a Lubavitcher Orthodox Rabbi direct from Brooklyn. That combined with four years of extended stays at the Zionist summer camp, Camp Herzl in Webster, Wisconsin.
In speaking to Paul Vitello of the Kansas City Times after announcing his call to Jesus/God, Bob told him:
I believe in the Bible, literally. Everything in it, I believe, was written by the hand of God.
That is the statement of a religious fundamentalist and one without much sense or discernment. If Bob doesn’t know the the ‘hand of God’ has written nothing then he can be written off as a rational human being. Bob in the same interview went further:
Everything that’s happening in the news today is prophesied in the scriptures. It’s all in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelations.
For myself, I begin to run when I hear some Christian fundamentalist bring up the Book of Revelations. It has the same effect on me as anti-Semite has for the Jew.
We can assume therefore that upon his arrival in New York in 1961 Bob was a card carrying Biblical devotee. This religious baggage for the time being took a back seat to Bob’s psychological baggage but was absorbed into it. Hence the Biblical sounding ranting of Like A Rolling Stone.
At the same time as with most young people Bob was in rebellion against his upbringing. That is to say he was trying to find his own place in life while reconciling his upbringing to the emerging realities presented to him by life. As his line from his song My Back Pages would seem to indicate: I become my own enemy when I begin to preach. he realized that his religious beliefs would alienate any listeners and abort the possibility of establishing his career and reaching them later.
Indeed, the sixties, and expecially the New york fold crowd was intensely anti-religious. It was about this time that Bob read a headline on a Time Magazine cover asking the rhetorical quesiton: ‘Is God dead?’ Bob was extremely offended by it dating the decline of Western Civilization from that headline.
From 1961 to 1966 then Bob wrote mainly of his psychological problems and frustrations. His dream life, which is to say, subconscious, received a lot of attention during this period as well as later in his career.
It was precisely the speaking from his subconscious to the subconscious of his audience that drew this specific type of person to him.
Phil Ochs, a contemporary Folkie of Dylan, recognized what he was doing in stirring up deeply held resentment and thought he was brewing trouble for himself. However Dylan, while hating, did not necessarily stir up emotions that would lead to violent actions. Instead his hate was characterized by self-pity and resentment that would be satisfied by showing people how wrong people were in their judgement of him. Thus he would accentuate his God as a god of judgement. He left the actual judgemental punishment of them up to his god. Thus those of us in his audience who linked up were also characterized by self-pity and resentment but not violent.
For instance, in a 1983 interview with Martin keller he was quoted:
My so-called Jewish roots are in Egypt. They went down there with Joseph, and they came back out with Moses- you know, the guy that killed the Egyptian, married an Ethiopian girl, and brought the Law down from the mountain. The same Moses whose staff turned into a serpent. The same person who killed 3,000 Hebrews for getting down, stripping off their clothes, and dancing around a golden calf. These are my roots. (My italics.) Jacob had four wives and thirteen children, who fathered thirteen chiidren, who fathered an entire people. These are my roots, too. Gideon with a small army, defeating an army of thousands. Deborah, the prophetess; Esther the Queen, and many Canaanite women, Reuben slipping into his father’s bed when his father wasn’t home. These are my roots.
Delilah tempting Samson, killing him softly with her song. The mighty King David was an outlaw before he was king, you know. He had to hide in caves and get his meals at back doors. The wonderful King Saul had a warrant out on him- a ‘no knock’ search warrant. They wanted to cut his head off. John the Baptist could tell you more about it. [That's a joke in this standup routine, Son.] Roots, man- we’re talking Jewish roots, you want to know more? Check up on Elijah the prophet. He could make rain. Isaiah the prophet, even Jeremiah, see if their brethren didn’t want to bust their brains for telling it right like it is. Yeah, these are my roots, I suppose.
Now, those are extremely violent, murderous roots but they form the staples of Bob’s conscious and unconscious minds. The selected examples, all from the Old Testament, are revealing in the Freudian sense. Vengeance dominates.
Nor are these ‘Jewish’ roots in any exlusive sense. These actors were Hebrews and not Jews. I know all this bullroar from Christian (Methodist) services. I was repelled at once and rejected this crap when I escaped the stultifying influence of my childhood. This crap is unworthy stuffing for human minds.
This mean spirit is felt throughout the whole of Bob’s corpus from 1961 to 1966, more especially in that most puerile of all his songs: Masters Of War.
Significantly Bob mentions nothing about Jesus or the New Testament; his roots are all Old Testament. This raises the question of whether his embracing of Jesus in 1979 was calculated or not. There is in fact little differentiation between his conception of jesus and the Jewish Yahweh. Indeed the idiot church I attended as a youth seemed to accentuate the Old Testament Yahweh over the New Testament Jesus. I have a much stronger conception of Yahwey over Jesus so one might say I share ‘Jewish roots’ as much as Bob does. I am as much a dual citizen as Bob is except more American/Ancient Hebrew rather than Israeli/American.
As of 1964 Bob Dylan wasn’t really going anywhere. True, his manager Albert Grossman was busy promoting his songs to others whose recordings then inflated Bob’s reputation but that didn’t necessarily translate into big sales for his own albums.
Then in 1964 Bob had a stroke of luck, the Beatles came to America. There had been a massive promotion along the lines- The Beatles Are Coming, The Beatles Are Coming. No one had ever heard of them but when they appeared on Ed Sullivan everyone was tuned in to see what the fuss was about. After it was over, other than the screaming girls in the audience, that, I might add, was a new phenomenon, few of us still knew what the fuss was about.
Nevertheless it seemed that from that point on the Beatles were on the news nearly every night. This was unprecedented attention for a mere ‘pimple’ music pop group which is all the Beatles were at that time.
Why the Beatles received this attention has never been clear to me. However these were four goi musicians although their manager Brian Epstein was Jewish. In the inter-cultural competition a Jewish super-star was now required. After all the first of the superstars Elvis Presley was an all-American hillbilly. Fabian the last before the Beatles was Italian. These four English kids then came up and so a Jewish kid was required to keep up the Jewish image. The only real alternative was Bob Dylan although few or any of us knew, or even suspected he was Jewish. Bob had sure worked hard to keep that a secret. Even his girlfriend Suze Rotolo was slow to find out.
Bob then was given the big media buildup also being on the news frequently, also being given the star treatment in the big national magazines. While the Beatles handled their fame with chipper aplomb Bob approached it with negative depression. But, it worked just as well. The pressure was enormous, plus Albert Grossman was pushing him too hard, working the kid to death. Literally according to Bob.
Whether there really was a motorcycle accident or Bob had a nervous breakdown from contemplating the next killer tour his manager had arranged may never be known for sure. After completing Blonde On Blonde that filled out his core oeuvre Bob went into seclusion for a period.
He put this seclusion to good use. Although his premier creative period was over, his golden age so to speak, he succeeded in a magnificent Silver Age. He and the members of his backup band, later known simply as The Band, created a huge and significant body of work. Dozens of songs, some of them really good while most of them were good. It was here that Bob perfected the technique of clothing his religious thoughts in Amerian indigenous Folk forms. This ability was exhibited on his next LP, John Wesley Harding, that was released not that long after Blonde On Blonde.
In one of this period’s songs, You Ain’t Going Nowhere, Bob had this to say: ‘Find ourself a tree with roots.’ Thus the cover of the Harding album showed Bob standing next to a tree with roots dressed in Jesse James era Western foul weather gear. Now, Bob had also sung: ‘I may look like Robert Ford, but I feel just like Jesse James.’ This guy looked like the Minnesota Northfield raid while the tree with roots reprsented his Jewish affiliation.
Now Bob was on track for his Jewish liaison and subsequent demonstration of his Jewish Lubavitcher roots. Those who follow Bob’s religious odyssey, and there have been several books written on this topic, all call attention to the close relation of Biblical topics to his lyrics from 1961 to the present. If you have the backgound and take both a broad and narrow approach to looking for them you will find that they abound. The method becomes second nature for Bob so that he may not ever be aware of many of the references himself until they’re pointed out to him; or he may be conscious of them all.
What is clear is that Bob views his career as a religious calling; that is to say a messianic mission to bring the word of God to as many people as he can. In May 1980 he told interviewer Karen Hughes:
He was disarmingly honest with Hughes about his sense of God’s call: “I guess He’s always been calling me. Of course, how would I have ever known that, that it was Jesus calling me….
So now we have the anomaly of God calling to a Jew through Jesus. While both Christians and Jews who now view Jesus as a Western and not a Jewish figure had trouble accepting the fact that a Jew could accept Jesus and remain a Jew nothing is more reasonable. That Bob, a Jew living in a Christian country, could amalgamate Judaism and Jesus wasn’t even all that odd.
Jesus himself was a Jew while the early Christians were all Jews who accepted every Jewish rite including circumcision and the dietary laws. It was only when Saint Paul separated Christianity from these Judaic laws that Christianity succeeded.
As Marshall’s interviewees point out, the New Testament is a Jewish novel in which 25 out 27 books were written by Jews. John and Revelations being the exceptions. Even as Bob embraced Jesus, the Jews for Jesus, based in San Francisco, who themselves did not convert to Christianity were active. Just as the Jews persecuted the early Jewish Christians even to death so they put the screws to Jews For Jesus and have at least destroyed their effectiveness.
Thus in 1983 the Lubavitchers re-entered Bob’s life when as they thought they attempted ot reconvert him. As Bob had never left the faith, he has said in effect, I am a Jew of the Jews, I suppose he played along until they were satisfied then went along his way as a Jewish Christian. Makes perfect sense to me, I don’t have a problem with the manner in which Bob expresses his religiosity.
I have a problem in that he expresses it at all. I find it incredible in this this day and age of scientific reallty that anyone can make the statement that the Bible is the actual word of Yahweh or any other god.
Goodness gracious, Bob, shape up before it’s too late. We’re almost down to that last grain of sand. The lights are beginning to dim. It is getting dark.
June 28, 2008
Exhuming Bob IX
Pensees 6: Bob And Dave
Dave Van Ronk: The Mayor Of MacDougal Street
Dylan, Bob Chronicles Volume One Simon And Schuster 2004
Thompson, Toby Positively Main Street U. Minnesota 2008, reprint of 1971 text.
Van Ronk, Dave The Mayor Of MacDougal Street: A Memoir Da Capo Press 2006
Van Ronk’s memoir published in 2006 becomes part of the ongoing Bob Dylan debate. A part of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early sixties Van Ronk little knew how his life would be affected, destroyed, by the arrival of Bob Dylan from out of the West in 1961.
At the time of Dylan’s arrival Van Ronk was one of the most important, if not the most important, folk singer in the Village. Thus Bob set his sights to suck out Dave’s substance and cast the empty husk aside.
On page 211 of the paperback Dylan is quoted at the beginning of Chaper 15:
I once thought the biggest I could ever hope to get was like Van Ronk. And it’s bigger than that now, ain’t it? Yeah, man, it’s bigger than that.
-Bob Dylan c. 1964
Once Dylan learned of Van Ronk on his arrival, it is doubtful that he had heard of him in Minneapolis, he made it his goal to insinuate himself into Van Ronk’s life. Dylan tells how he began his assault on page 21 of his Chronicles. The scene takes place in the Folklore Center:
One winter day a big burly guy stepped in off the street. He looked like he’d come from the Russian Embassy, shook the snow off his sleeves, took off his gloves and put them on the counter, asked to see a Gibson guitar that was hanging up on the brick wall. It was Dave Van Ronk. He was gruff, a mass of bristling hair, don’t give a damn attitude, a confident hunter. My mind went into a rush. (My italics.) There was nothing between him and me. Izzy took the guitar down and gave it to him. Dave fingered the strings and played some kind of jazzy waltz, put the guitar back on the counter. As he put the guitar down, I stepped over and put my hands on it and asked him at the same time how does someone get to work down at the gaslight, who do you have to know? It’s not like I was trying to get buddy-buddy with him, I just wanted to know.
Van Ronk looked at me curiously, was snippy and surly, asked if I did janitor work.
I told him, no, I didn’t and he could perish the thought, but could I play something for him? He said, “Sure.”
I played him “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.” Dave then said I could come down about eight or nine in the evening and play a couple songs in his set. That was how I met Dave Van Ronk.
Possibly. But one learns to take Dylan’s stories with a shaker full of salt. Bob has a difficult time separating fact from fancy. The way Van Ronk tells it he was hanging around with a bunch of the boys when someone burst in and said ‘New guy, come on, you got to hear this.’ and it was Bob. So Van Ronk would have had an idea who Bob was not that he necessarily would have acknowledged him. There are some interesting points in Dylan’s narrative which I believe is Bob at his most fanciful. That he marked Van Ronk for destruction is apparent when he says he looked like he came from the Russian Embassy. Maybe. But Bob was a Jew and the Russians were the enemies of the Jews throughout the last two hundred years so Bob was casting him in the role of the enemy. Then he identifies Van Ronk as a ‘confident hunter.’ Jews usually associate hunting with goys while traditionally despising the practice so Bob is saying that the hunter didn’t know he was being hunted. And then Bob placed his hands on the guitar as he spoke to Van Ronk indicating that he was appropriating the man’s tool or emasculating him. Very significant action.
Bob says Van Ronk was snippy and surly. Well, maybe but since I think he’s making this up he is casting a character on Van Ronk to make you dislike him. Besides who wouldn’t appear surly if you placed your hands on the musician’s guitar. The exchange after that when Dave asked if Bob did janitor’s work was a particular Jewish insult that gave Bob his excuse for hurting Van Ronk.
Then like a parasite or lamphrey eel Bob latches onto Van Ronk slowly ‘stealing everything that he could steal.’
When the process was complete and Bob was way bigger than Dave could hope to be Bob then disses Van Ronk off. As Van Ronk tells it p. 217: Van Ronk:
For myself I consider it fortunate that Bobby and I reached our parting of the ways fairly early. Shortly after his third or fourth record had come out had gone diamond or whatever, he was holding court in the Kettle of Fish and he got on my case and started giving me all of this advice about how to manage my career, how to go about becoming a star. It was complete garbage, but by that point he had gotten used to everybody hanging on his every word and applauding any idea that came into his head. So I sat and listened for a while, and while I was polite and even asked him a couple of questions, but it became obvious that he was simply prodding and testing me. He was saying things like “Why don’t you give up the blues? You do that, and I”ll produce an album on you, you can make a fortune.” He wasn’t making a lick of sense, and I finally pushed back my chair and said, “Dylan, if you’re so rich, how come you ain’t smart?’ And I walked out.
So within three years Bob met and surpassed his mentor then trashed him like he trashed everyone and everything else in his life. Beware of Bob. To a very large extent MacDougal Street is the story of Bob Dylan within the folk scene of Greenwich Village although within that context Van Ronk tells a rich and rewarding story of the emergence of Folk from 1940 to c. 1970. A fabulous book with a generous dollop of belly laughs. I loved the book.
Van Ronk himself never made it. I first heard of him in 1967 and listened to the Prestige Folksinger album. There was nothing there. Van Ronk rasped out all his vocals in a monotonous fashion in that same gargling hoarse voice with nary a variation from song to song. At that age and time I found the songs uninteresting. The arrangments didn’t grab me. The music was about as exciting as the New Lost City Ramblers which is to say a stone bore.
Van Ronk may have prided himself on his musicianship and it may have been pretty good, I couldn’t care less. I know few people who listen to records for musicianship and I don’t care to listen to records with those who do. So Dave was concentrating on all the wrong things.
There were people running around saying how great he was but I was in the record business and nobody bought his records. you can foget the Hudson Dusters. Over the years his legend grew with that of the vanished Folk Scene and I guess twenty-five years or so after the fact he was able to cash in on that basis.
There is one really great song Van Ronk did though called Don’t Leave Me Here. I have it on The Folk Box, Elektra EKL 9001. That’s a really fine four record collection compiled and annotated by the Robert Shelton. It has selections from nearly all the folkies of the Greenwich Village scene excluding Dylan. A terrific collection and a perfect representation of the scene. Hard to find though; I couldn’t find any copies on a quick search of the internet.
However the story of Dave’s learning process is vastly interesting. His history of the folk era, especially the late fifties and the people and personalities make the book a best buy. But then we get back to Dylan.
Bob not only wheedled his way onto Van Ronk’s stage but he wheedled his way into his very household appropriating Dave’s couch for his living quarters. Now comes an interesting conjecture. In Chronicles Bob says that he met a Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel with whom he stayed for some time. Now, Bob arrived in New York in January of ’61 and he rented his apartment with Suze Rotolo in the Fall of that year becoming financially independent thereafter never going back to anyone’s couch.
So that gives him a maximum of nine months to sleep on all those peoples’s couches. He says in Chronicles that he first met Van Ronk and through Van Ronk Paul Clayton. These are two colorful characters. He then says that through Clayton he met Ray Gooch. So far, so good. But then he gives a fairly minute description of the street the Gooches lived on, the building, the apartment and significantly the church across the street.
Before w go on let us consider an incident from Van Ronk on page 4:
…Bob Dylan heard me fooling around with one of my grandmother’s favorites, “The Chimes Of Trinity,” a sentimental ballad about Trinity Church that went something like:
Tolling for the outcast, tolling for the gay,
Tolling for the (something, something), long passed away,
As we whiled away the hours, down on old Broadway,
And we listened to the chimes of Trinity.
He made me sing it for him a few times until he had the gist of it, then reworked it into the “Chimes Of Freedom.” Her version was better.
Now let’s check into a passage from Toby Thompson’s ‘Positively Main Street’ pp. 210-211:
But the larger portraits of Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel are complex and layered with mystery. Why haven’t we seen them before? Correct me if I’m wrong, but their names appear in no biography of Bob. Could they be projectionsof his own divided psyche. Ray, the competent man of the world, the toolsmith, the gun collector, the would be warrior, and Chloe, the dreamy, slightly stoned performance oriented homebody? Bob’s not certain whether they are siblings or lovers. I’m not certain they are real. Chloe was the heroine of Longus’s second century novel Daphnis and Chloe. She was an orphan, nurtured by sheep, and is described as ‘a naive lily-white girl” who falls for the youth, Daphnis. Echo is mentioned in the story. In my case the apartment Ray and Chloe inhabit on Vestry is a boho Eden, Every hipster’s wettest dream of Manhattan digs.
The Sunday after reading Chronicles, a blustery afternoon in New York I took a subway to Franklin Street and walked north then west along Vestry, looking for the building that might have housed it. Bob describes it precisely, Federal style, facing a Roman Catholic church with a bell tower, on the same block as the Bull’s Head Tavern, below Canal Street, not far from the Hudson River. The neighborhood hasn’t changed much since the early sixties, but I could find no building that resembled it. Not the church, not the Bull’s Head Tavern. Houses disappear, but churches aren’t often torn down. I wanted to locate that apartment, only because he described it so beautifully.
So I think it safe to say the whole dozen pages or so in Chronicles is a fabrication. Bob dreamed it a few times and wrote it down as fact. A clue lies in the progression Van Ronk>Clayton>Gooch. Gooch has a made up quality to it so Gooch is probably a conflation of the personalities of Van Ronk and Clayton. And possibly the pair are also a sentimental portrait of Abe and Beattie, the mother and father. Not as they were but wouldn’t it have been loverly if they had been. Ray’s background also coincides with Bob’s studies of the pre-Civil War era in the South in the New York Library.
The church across the street reflects Trinity Cathedral in Dublin as in Dave’s song the Bells Of Trinity so that places the story after his stay with Van Ronk. Note the specified bell tower on the church. Bob’s not there and neither is most of his early reported life. I’ll say again anything he says is untrustworthy. As they say in Hollywood: Based on a true story.
The last couple chapters of MacDougal tell of the changes in the Village and performance after 1960 to 1967 when drugs took the scene down. These are relevant and important chapters as he describes how Dylan’s success caused the failure of the scene. ‘There’s no success like failure and failure is no success at all.’
Altogether I give Van Ronk’s Mayor Of MacDougal Street exceptionally high marks, worth a second reading and retention as a reference work. Positively Fourth Street by Toby Thompson has a place on your shelf also. I’ll review that after a second reading. It is well worthy of study, picking up the stray hint and fact here and there.
Chronicles of course is important to understand what Dave called the convoluted workings of Bob’s mind. Bob’s an interesting study because he has managed to fool a lot of people all the time and another pack of us for a time. I tell ya folks if I could live my life over I’d do some serious homework before I began but then even that probably wouldn’t help.
June 20, 2008
Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side
Some Thoughts On The Autobiography Of Suze Rotolo:
A Freewheelin’ Time
Sandoz The Great
In 1938 Albert Hofman, a Swiss chemist working for Sandoz isolated LSD-25. In 1938 young Tim Leary was 18 years old. It was in 1943 that Albert Hofman discovered the effects of LSD. Seventeen years after that LSD burt onto the world through the agency of the now, Dr., Timothy Leary, a psychologist with Harvard University.
LSD was adopted by the Bohemian society and all its offshoots as the appearance of the new chemical Messiah: Better living through chemistry as the slogan was. Its use quickly spread through the folk music community of Greenwich Village in New York City.
In 1923 a fellow by the name of Tuli Kupferberg was born and his partner Ed Sanders came along in 1939 a year after I did. Kupferberg and Sanders were poets who became influenced by the folk scene forming a band sometime in 1964 originally called the Village Fugs, later the Village was dropped and they became simply the Fugs. In 1965 they released their first LP on Folkways. Now, cut one, side one was little number entitled Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side. Sort of OK as a song, funny, as were a lot of Fugs songs. Like Dylan they searched for social significance rather than write trite love songs. Unlike Dylan you could easily understand the meaning of the lyrics. Slum Goddess was one and then there was a song that many of us thought significant in the social sense back in those days entitled: Boobs A Lot. ‘Do you like boobs a lot? Gotta like boobs a lot.’ As I said deep and intense meaning. This was followed by a song eulogizing jock straps. ‘Do you wear your jock strap? Gotta wear your jock strap.’ So the Fugs were with it.
At some point after 1965 the Village Voice decided to run a feature depicting some East Village lovely as the Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side. Suze Rotolo had the dubious honor of being selected as the very first Slum Goddess.
To what did she owe this honor? Well, she was famous on the Lower East Side for being featured on the album cover of Bob Dylan’s second LP, The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan. She was at that time, 1962, I believe, Bob’s girl friend or, at least, one of them, perhaps the principle one but one can’t be sure as Bob had others as ‘part time’ girl friends.
Thus one has to go back to the summer of 1961 to discover how Suze Rotolo began her odyssey to become the very first Slum Goddess. Suze tells her story in her autobiography issued in May of 2008 called A Freewheelin’ Time. It is a bitter sweet story not lacking in charm. Bob was born in 1941 while Suze was born three years later. All the disparate elements in our story born at separate times were slowly moving to a central focal point in New York City from 1961 to 1965 or so.
Suze and Bob were of that age when freewheelin’ seemed possible while the psychological social moment was about to congeal and then vanish before it could be realized as psychological moments do. Some catch the golden ring as it come around, some don’t. Bob did, Suze didn’t.
Suze was born in Queens, over there on Long Island, as a red diaper baby. In other words in the romanticized Communist parlance her parents were Communists when she was born. She was brought up in the faith.
Bob described her as a libertine dream or some such epithet. I’m not sure Suze saw herself in the same way. I think she expected a little more of Bob than to be his sex toy. As a Communist she should have had a more freewheelin’ attitude.
Suze seems to have been brought up completely within the Red religion much as a Christian might be a Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran or as Jew in whatever stripe of Judaism it might be.
She edged into race agitation at a young age. She met Bob when she was seventeen while she had been working for CORE (Congress Of Racial Equality) for a couple years before that. She would have been fifteen or sixteen. Whether she had sexual experiences with the Africans she doesn’t tell us. In her search for a raison d’ etre for her life she found herself in Greenwich Village in the Summer of ’61 where she met the twenty year old Bob Dylan just in from the Iron Range of Minnesota. They were mutually attracted, quickly forming a sexual relationship.
Bob as everyone knows was and is Jewish. He came not only from a Jewish background but from an orthodox background. Hibbing, Minnesota, his hometown, had a Jewish population of about three hundred families with their own Jewish establishment and synagogue.
According to Beattie Zimmerman, Bob’s mother, Bob was a good boy who attended services regularly while investigating the nature of the various Christian churches. As a mother Beattie’s version of things must be interpreted through the eyes of mother love.
Father Abe was not only a practising Jew but the President of the Hibbing chapter of B’nai B’rith and its terrorist arm the Anti-Defamation League. In addition Beattie, Bob’s mother, was the President of the Women’s auxiliary, Hadassah. So Bob isn’t just Jewish but comes from a very committed Jewish background.
As the President of the Hibbing chapter, Father Abe would have attended statewide gatherings in Minneapolis, regional meetings wherever they were held and possibly if not probably national meetings in NYC and elsewhere. Now, within the international Jewish organizations heavy hitters attend various levels of meetings where they meet and learn something of the various local and regional people. Thus, it may be assumed that Abe Zimmerman as a name at least was known on the national Jewish level. Kind of the Jewish Who’s Who, you know. Bob says that he had contacts to help him when he got to New York. Those contacts would have come through Father Abe while being part of B’nai B’rith and ADL. Bob wasn’t entirely alone out there.
Bob’s Jewish name is Sabtai after the last acknowledged Jewish Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi. There have been many that filled a Messianic role since Zevi not least of which was Sigmund Freud and possibly Albert Einstein. Bob may have been encouraged to take the role for himself.
At any rate when Bob approached thirteen and Bar Mitzvah time Abe brought in a special Rabbi from Brooklyn to instruct Bob. Now this is really signficant. He was probably a Lubavitcher or ultra-orthodox Jew. When Bob publicly expressed his Judaism after his Christian stint he chose to do so as a Lubavitcher. Very likely that was no coincidence. Having received his crash course in orthodoz Judaism Father Abe next sent his son to a Zionist summer camp for ‘several ‘ weeks for each of four successive summers ending at the age of seventeen. This would have the effect of introducing him to young Jews not only of the region but from around the world while at the same time estranging him from his fellow Hibbingites giving him his strange cast of character.
Camp Herzl was named after the originator of Zionism, Theodore Herzl. the camp with a spacious hundred and twenty acres is located on a lake near Webster, Wisconsin. Herzl is not your basic summer church camp but a national and international gathering place where young Jews from around the US and the world can meet and get known to each other somewhat.
The camp is conducted exclusively for Jews along Jewish lines eliminating as many goyish influences as is possible. At least when he was seventeen Bob was playing the Wild One showing up in a mini biker cavalcade. One may assume that many national and international Jewish figures made appearances over the four years to both instruct, encourage and look over the upcoming generation.
The post-war years were very traumatic for the Jewish people. The death camps of the Nazis dominated their minds. They were psychologically devastated and unbalanced looking for Nazis under their beds before they went to sleep at night. One may safely assume that Bob and his fellow campers had to watch extermination movies over and over lest they forget.
The State of Israel was founded in 1948 while the first of Israel’s successful wars occurred in 1956. The ’56 war was a seminal event bolstering the spirits of the Jews turning them aggressive as they now believed they could fight. After ’56 they began to come out of themselves.
For whatever reasons as Bob entered high school his personality began to disintegrate. Perhaps he had to cease being Bobby Zimmerman to become what his people expected of him which was a probable religious leader who then became Bob Dylan. As always Bob would combine two cultures, Jewish and Goyish.
After an extremely rocky year in Minneapolis where Bob shed the remnants of his goody goody image of Hibbing he became the dirty unkempt Bob Dylan of his rush to fame of the Folk years.
Thus as Bob and Suze met in the Summer of ’61 they were both searching for something to be.
Why Do Fools Fall In Love?
The question now that Suze and Bob have gotten together is to sort out the various accounts of what happened. Bob says everyone has gotten it wrong. However his own account in Chronicles I is no more factual than the accounts of his biographers and commentators. Suze doesn’t provide us with much more clarity. While Bob tells it like he wanted it to have been Suze on the the one hand protects her memory of what she wants to keep as a beautiful memory while glossing over her own actions at the time to keep it so.
Bob goes through the romantic notion of constructing their bed with saw, hammer and nails. This is a charming story and I’m embarrassed to say I took him at his word. You simply can’t. Chronicles came out four years ago so Suze has had plenty of time to read it and mull over Bob’s ruminations. Thus she must be aware of Bob’s story of the bed. She says it was an old bed the landlord left from another tenant. Another beautiful tale of Bob’s down the tubes.
Suze rather unflatteringly depicts Bob as a rouster and fairly heavy drinker. She was offended that Bob, who was posing as Bob Dylan, not yet having officially changed his name, didn’t level with her and confide that Dylan was a pseudonym that looked better on a marquee while his real name was Zimmerman and that he came from Minnesota rather than being an orphan from New Mexico. Coming home one night, as Suze tells it, Bob, stumblingly drunk, dropped his ID and she discovered the truth as she picked it up. Even then she had to drag the truth out of Bob.
These problems mounted up. There was immediate hostility between Bob, Suze’s mother and her sister Carla. The mother seems to have instinctively seen through Bob, while I’m sure Carla soon learned that Bob was doing her sister wrong.
As we know from Chronicles Bob had other ‘part-time’ girl friends, pick ups and whatever. As the folk crowd was a fairly tight knit group even if Suze didn’t want to hear the obvious Carla who was employed by the Folklorist, Alan Lomax, could hardly have been unaware that Bob had a laissez faire attitude toward romancing the girls.
Indeed, Bob’s understanding of Suze was that she was his Libertine belle. As a libertine therefore he could hardly have believed fidelity was a necessary condition. I don’t know if Suze considered herself a Libertine but as a Communist both fidelity and jealousy were forbidden by the dogma so speaking consistently with the belief system neither mother, Suze nor Carla had grounds for complaint. Nevertheless both mother and Carla wished to separate Bob and Suze.
Bob records his side of the conflict in his song Ballad in Plain D. In his usual high flown language Bob says in his song:
“The tragic figure!” her sister did shout,
“Leave her alone, goddamn you, get out.”
All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight.
I gagged twice, doubled, tears blinding my sight.
My mind it was mangled, I ran into the night
Leaving all of love’s ashes behind me.
Within a few months he was married to Sara who he kept waiting in the wings. Subsequently he tried to keep Sara and his growing family in Woodstock and the Slum Goddess Of The Lower East Side out on the side. Suze, apparently not quite as Libertine as Bob supposed, declined the honor.
Just as Bob blithely romanticizes his early NY years in some sappy Happy Talk that belies his songs and what nearly everyone has written about him so Suze adopts a near virginal girlish pose. Her story of how she left for Italy and her true blue yearning for the perfect love of Bob who sent those charming letters purloined from old country songs is also belied by the various biographers. To hear Suze talk she never looked at a boy in Italy and certainly never dated one let alone kissed or petted. Yet by her religious Communist ideology that would have been no sin, even would have been a virtue. In fact she did have an Italian boyfriend who was apparently dropped down the memory hole at autobiography time.
When she did return the road of romance was much more rocky than she lets on. Carla who stayed home where she could watch Bob was privy to his doings which were much more libertine than anything he accused Suze of. He had to have slept with Liam Clancy’s live in somewhere in there. He’s accused of being a womanizer and you can’t be a womanizer without a lot of women. So whatever Carla knew it was somewhat more than an earful and I’m sure that between Carla and her mother Suze heard it all.
Suze out of respect for this young love which, after all, must still occupy a sacred spot in her life never expresses but the mildest resentment of Bob but letting her sister speak for her she says that ‘she (Carla) felt I was better off without the lyin’ cheatin’ manipulative bastard.’ Right on all counts I’m sure except for the last although as Bob claimed to have no parents Carla could justly so surmise.
At any rate if Suze couldn’t make up her mind her mother and Carla could.
Ballad In Plain D again:
Beneath a bare light bulb the plaster did pound
Her sister and I in a screaming battleground,
And she in between, the victim of sound,
Soon shattered the child ‘neath her shadows.
The wind knocks my window, the room it is is wet.
The words to say I’m sorry, I haven’t found yet.
I think of her often and hope whoever she’s met
Will be fully aware of how precious she is.
And then Bob married Sara and ruined her life.
While Suze and Bob talked marriage there is no reason to take that seriously; he talked marriage with Echo too. I don’t think Bob had any notion of marrying aouside his faith. The mother is the culture carrier; Bob is firmly within the Jewish culture so there could have been no chance that he would have taken other than a Jewish wife. Even then he may have married only to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. Once he had fulfilled that duty he broke the marriage apart.
The Slum Goddess
Suze was now a young woman of twenty or twenty-one alone adrift in New York City. While she and Bob were having their tempestuous romance the times they were a changin’.
Tim Leary, up in harvard, had embraced psychedelics. Once in love with LSD he wanted to share his love with everyone. He became the High Priest of his psychedelic religion. I can recommend both his autobiography and his volume of reminiscences: High Priest. The latter is a spectacularly well written book if tending toward tediousness.
Leary’s experiments attracted the dark angel of the Hippie years, Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg also attached himself to Dylan tying the Beat and Hippie decades together. Vile man.
Bob had introduced Suze to Marijuana and what else I don’t know, perhaps LSD. He himself was into the pharmacopeia also undoubtedly dabbling in heroin although if he did he is still an addict or was successful in kicking the habit after his retreat from fame in ’66. That whole thing about the motorcycle accident may have been just rehab. He sure needed it.
As Bob notes the effect of LSD on the Greenwich Village folk scene was to turn people inward destroying any sense of community. Suze then was attempting to navigate this terra nova. Along with turning people inward, LSD, the drug scene, turned the scene sexually rasty in ways even the Communists couldn’t have imagined. The Pill coming along at this time certainly was as influential as LSD in changing sexual mores.
Suze, if aware of this, makes no mention of it in her auto. The Fugs released Slum Goddess in 1965 although they may possibly have been playing it around the Village for a year or two earlier. The Slum Goddess is not a savory woman.
That Suze was selected as the first Slum Goddess strikes my sensibilities as a negative compliment. Her presentation of it implies a souring experience. Shortly after her selection she chose to withdraw from Village life. She gives as the reason that her earlier relations with Bob caused upleasant curiosity and that was certainly true.
The scene turned absolutely rotten after 1968 when between drugs, profound negativity and the progressing degradation of the Hippie movement anyone with any sense of dignity was driven out.
Suze must have been one of us for she left the scene behind. There are few today who choose to remember it. As for me, life is life, there it was and there was I. I was who I was; je ne regret rien. I hope Suze doesn’t either. Bob? He just stays on the bus and doesn’t get off. Reality can be such a drag.