Exhuming Bob XVIII: Bob Dylan, My Son, The Corporation

December 10, 2008

Exhuming Bob XVIII:
My Son, The Corporation
by
R.E. Prindle
Texts:
Goodman, Fred: The Mansion On The Hill, 1997
Russo, Gus: The Outfit, 2001
Russo, Gus:  Supermob, 2006

Electrified Dylan

1.
Andrew Krueger from Duluth unearthed an interesting article from the archives of the Duluth News-Tribune dated October 20, 1963.  ( http://www.areavoices.com/attic/?blog-35238 )  The article is entitled ‘My Son, The Folknik’  by one Walter Eldot.
Mr. Eldot was apparently a longtime reporter for the newspaper.  He as well as the Zimmermans was Jewish.  For whatever reason he writes derisively of Dylan even belittling to some extent his parents.   Robert Shelton notes and quotes Eldot in his own No Direction Home as one who habitually wrote sarcastically of Dylan.
This may have been because he perceived Dylan as a ‘folknik’ or Bohemian, both derogatory terms in his lexicon.  Especially in 1963 Beatniks, Folkniks and oddities in general were well outside the pale of  ‘polite’ society.  People like Eldot would have had no use for them.  Maynard G. Krebs of Dobie Gillis would be a good example of what they saw.
Quoted by Shelton in No Direction Home Eldot says that the Iron Range had produced some strange characters over the years including Bob Dylan and Gus Hall.  Hall was the leader of the Communist Party.
Eldot in his short article does answer a few questions while raising a few more.  His tone is prejudicial so that one has to take his opinions with a grain of salt.  Still, I think they reflect generally accurately the impression Dylan made at the time of this outrageous oddball who had somehow, against all expectations, made it big.
…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.
That may explain some of the apparent hostility between Dylan and his hometowners.  The town geek had become more successful than they.  Hibbing would have been no place for him.  Most people of his temperament, like myself, have found it preferable to move to the coasts.
Once in New York Dylan invented his persona attempting to assume it completely.  Eldot obviously thinks this is living a lie.

Zimmerman as Dylan

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.
Obviously Eldot expected Dylan to present himself as a well scrubbed, middle class lad the Range could be proud of instead he essentially disowned Hibbing claiming a fanciful pedigree that bore no relation to Hibbing or the facts as they knew them.  There is no reason Dylan shouldn’t have adopted a show biz name and perhaps a stage persona.  After all short punchy names work better than the polysyllabic ones that may confuse the audience.  Even Ethel Merman changed her name from Ethel Zimmerman and to good effect.
Dylan took it a step further.  He tried to hide the fact that he was Jewish.  He didn’t just invent a stage persona for himself but he tried to invent a whole new persona for himself based on false information that could be seen as actual deceit that he tried to pass off as true.  (Abe said it was all an act.)  Dylan went so far as to deceive his girl friend, Suze Rotolo, who only found out the truth when Dylan came home stumbling drunk and the  secret fell out of his pocket.
That seems a bit extreme and perhaps psychotic.  Indeed the psychological stresses were so great that Dylan’s personality seemed to split.  He began to live two different lives.  While apparently on the closest terms with his parents, in constant contact, he let on that he was an orphan and his parents dead.
In itself the latter is fairly common.  Jim Morrison of the doors let on his parents were dead but then he had nothing to do with them.  He rejected them completely.  Dylan being at the same time dependent and estranged makes him a special case.
Abram Zimmerman is quoted by Eldot:
“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.”
That’s sort of possessive.  Obviously there were heated discussions between son and parents.  Dylan obviously didn’t want to make a clean break or he, perhaps, wanted financial support and could only get it that way.  I mean, at eighteen you’re on your own.  At any rate while claiming his parents were dead Dylan was in close phone contact all the while.  Now, this is a betrayal of who we were led to believe he was at the time.
“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.”
So Robert Shelton’s article had the effect of buying Dylan’s parents off.  Indeed, who wouldn’t be impressed?
The question is why Eldot chose this moment to write about the Folknik.  I think that can be explained by “his Carnegie Hall debut next Saturday.”
In the Midwest, at least, we were raised to reverence both New York and Carnegie Hall.  We were led to believe that only the greatest of the great and then only as a reward for lifetime achievement were granted the privilege of playing SRO at Carnegie Hall.  Our teachers were adamant about this.
I was shocked when relative nobodies began playing Carnegie.  It required a major adjustment in my attitude.  Eldot is apparently stunned that Dylan, not only from small town Hibbing on the Iron Range but a Folknik to boot, I mean, you know, a Bohemian, a mere boho, was playing the Hall.  One can also understand better the effect on Abe and Beattie Zimmerman sitting in the audience in Carnegie Hall, the proud parents of the Star.
Eldot also says:
His rise in barely three years has been almost as impressive as the fortune he has already amassed…
As Dylan had done very little in the way of touring and had few record sales as of 1963, while he hadn’t received any royalties from PPM recordings yet, the mention of a considerable fortune raises eyebrows as does this quote from Father Abe:
My son is a corporation and his public image is strictly an act…

Hard to follow this act.

Yeah.  He’s more middle class and respectable than he looks.  Well, the public image wasn’t strictly an act but I found the information that Dylan had incorporated himself very interesting.  That means he was two separate legal entities while being an employee of his corporation and therefore on salary.  That brings to mind the movie ‘Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Terrible Things About Me.’  The movie was loosely based on Dylan.  It opens in the penthouse of the skyscraper that hero, Georgie Solloway, owns.
2.
Dylan was obviously getting advice from his manager, Albert Grossman.  Let’s think about Grossman for a minute.  There hasn’t been a lot written about Grossman.  Here are the bare facts as recorded by wikipedia:
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.
Grossman obviously considered himself that Prince while being unaware of the obvious fact that the Kingston Trio had already kissed the American public awake and were the Princes of Folk Music.  Now let us flesh out the facts with what must have been.
Grossman was a Chicago native born and bred.  Chicago is a tumultuous  city; the criminal ethic rules both the underground and the overground.  They are joined at the hip.  The underground is known as The Outfit being ruled by Sicilians in conjunction with Jews who act as semi-legit facilitators.  Grossman was Jewish.  The location in Chicago where he was born isn’t available to me but I would guess the Jewish areas of Maxwell Street or Lawndale.
Born in 1926 Grossman was able to evade World War II, although Robert Shelton born in the same year did serve, while Grossman was also the too old for the Korean War.  Missed both.  A fortunate child.
He graduated College possibly in 1949 or ’50 taking a job in the public sector at the Chicago Housing Authority.  Whether he used his degree in economics isn’t clear but in 1956 at the age of thirty he saw Bob Gibson perform and realized that he could cash in on Folk Music while pursuing social and political objectives.  He immediately opened what became the premier Folk club in the US,  The Gate Of Horn.  Legendary.  I always regret never having been able to attend.
Contrary to what seems to be the prevailing opinion today Folk music throve throughout the fifties from beginning to end.  Grossman could open a club because there was a thriving Folk scene.  The Gateway Singers, Bud and Travis, Gibson, Odetta, Josh White and many, many others  Black and White toured and performed.  So when the Kingston Trio scored on the pop scene in 1958 they didn’t come out of the blue but Folk music began to explode.  The Brothers Four appeared at about the same time.
When Grossman went into the club business he must have inevitably been drawn into contact with the Chicago Outfit as the Chicago version of the Mafia is known.  All the suppliers and unions he had to deal with were mobbed up.  As a Jew he would have had an entree to what Gus Russo calls the Supermob.  The Jewish lawyers and politicians who acted as facilitators.  Thus Grossman must have established connections.  Not because he necessarily wished to but because it was necessary to survive, let alone prosper.
As lawyers and politicians the Jews always played by their own rules bending and distorting the rules everyone else was taught to play by.  Grossman would learn his lessons well changing the rules dramatically when he hit New York.
It would seem likely that Grossman would have learned the attitude from these very monied, devious and powerful men.  The word scrupulous had a very different meaning for them.  Chutzpah was more useful.  It would be interesting to know exactly who Grossman came into contact with.
As Wikipedia notes he managed ‘socially conscious’ performers like Odetta but none of the people he handled were capable of breaking out of or changing the folk format into pop stardom.  Where the money and influence was.  The money and the influence to move society in the directed he wanted it to go.
Taking his lesson from the more pop oriented groups like Belafonte, the Kingstons and Chad Mitchell Trios, The Brothers Four and The Highwaymen, in 1961 Grossman assembled a folk trio of two men and a woman.  A slight variation on the proven formula.  Grossman was no innovator.  But he had his social and political agenda.  He called the group Peter Paul And Mary giving it a subliminal Judaeo-Christian religious tinge.
His key member was Peter Yarrow, a Jew with a degree in psychology.  Apparently both he and Grossman were simpatico.  The other male was another Jew named Noel Stookey who performed as Paul.  The female was a shiksa named Mary Travers.
The group as well as Grossman was political and subversive from the start.  As the PPM website says: ( http://peterpaulandmary.com/history/bio/htm )
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.
In other words Grossman and PPM would renew and reinvigorate the Communist offensive providing a foundation and incentive to the Boys of ’64.  Of course the Communists were the witches McCarthy was hunting.
‘If I Had A Hammer’ and all that Communist junk was alright for one time around but when Dylan made the scene with a fresh departure on traditional political folk Grossman saw the future.  PPM’s third LP in 1963 had three songs by Dylan.
Dylan’s career was effectively launched by Robert Shelton’s astonishing writeup of Dylan in 1961.  As Wikipedia notes Grossman had known Robert Shelton since at least the ’59 Newport Folk Festival.  It is possible that Grossman knew Shelton from Chicago in ’57 or ’58.  Robert Shelton himself, was from Chicago, graduated from the Northwestern School of Journalism.  He left Chicago for NYC in 1958 to become the music critic of the paper of record, the New York Times.  How lucky can you get.  Of course, the Times itself was and is owned by Jews.  As he was a folk critic in New York, practically living in the folk clubs, there seems little reason to doubt he was a habitue of the Gate Of Horn in Chicago.  As a  journalist it would be probable that he introduced himself to its owner, Albert Grossman.  There may be articles filed by him in Chicago.  So when Shelton interviewed Grossman in 1959 it is likely that he already knew him.
Why Shelton gave Dylan the incredible boost isn’t clear.  The entire folk community was astonished.  It may be that Grossman had already fixed on Dylan and he may have begun a buildup before he even signed him.  Shelton’s review of Dylan in the New York Times seems to be too incredible to be true, not that things like that don’t happen, but they don’t happen often and seldom without cause.
Still I find it difficult to believe those people thought Dylan was that talented a performer.  After all every folk label in the Village rejected Dylan from Vanguard and Elektra to Folkways.  They didn’t hear it, and those labels had some pretty lousy singers on them.
Perhaps the review in the Times was a signal to John Hammond at Columbia.  Imagine being refused by Folkways and being signed by Columbia.  Think about it.  One has to suspect the reason Hammond signed Dylan.  I don’t have tin ears and I can’t see why the LPs, Bob Dylan and Freewheelin’  are anything to shout about.  I can sure see why they didn’t sell.
Dylan began to really demonstrate his song writing prowess in early ’62 when Blowin’ In The Wind was first performed.  The song caught on quickly while Grossman who had been watching him decided to make his move.  He became Dylan’s manager in August of ’62.  Possibly he had asked his Chicago pal Shelton to write Dylan up earlier.  At any rate sometime between August ’62 and September ’63 Dylan incorporated himself most likely on his manager’s advice.
PPM had been a hit out of the box.  Both their first two albums without Dylan songs were mega hits as was their third with Blowin’ In The Wind  and two other Dylan songs.  In November ’63 all three albums were in the Top Ten so that Grossman’s two money machines were working in synch.
If Dylan hadn’t amassed the fortune Eldot mentions he soon would.  Eldot published his Duluth article on October 20, 1963.  It is difficult to believe Eldot’s statement that Dylan ‘had amassed a considerable fortune’ at that time.  Perhaps Papa Abe was gilding the lily to justify his son being a corporation.
I have never seen the fact mentioned before.  If Dylan did incorporate himself there should be a public record.  This is all the more remarkable as Dylan is universally portrayed as having been naive to the point of simplicity in business matters.  Can’t be quite true.
As the corporation has never been subsequently mentioned to my knowledge one wonders for how long it existed or if it still exists.  One wonders what the assets were and if dissolved in what manner the assets were distributed.  One thinks of Georgie Solloway of  Who Is Harry Kellerman.
Dylan’s father died in 1968 ending that influence on his life.  But Dylan had already been granted his own head by his parents.  Abe is quoted by Eldot:
“We have absolutely no part in his affairs.  Those are his own operation.  He’s a corporation and he has a manager.”
Being a corporation and having a manager…what more is there to life?

The Burden Of Being Cowboy Bob Dylan

One Response to “Exhuming Bob XVIII: Bob Dylan, My Son, The Corporation”


  1. […]      I broached this subject in my essay, Exhuming Bob  XVII   My Son The Corporation.  Since then I have learned that Grossman was aligned with Mo Ostin of WB and that the financing came from that quarter.  That the group was immediately successful must have been gratifying.  With the success of PPM the promotiuon of Dylan became possible.  https://idynamo.wordpress.com/2008/12/10/exhuming-bob-xviii-bob-dylan-my-son-the-corporation/ […]

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