Exhuming Bob 31a: A Review Of Victor Maymudes Another Side Of Bob Dylan

October 18, 2014

Exhuming Bob 31a

A Review

Another Side Of Bob Dylan

by

Victor Maymudes

Review by

R.E. Prindle

It Ain't Dark Yet

It Ain’t Dark Yet

31a will concern itself with Chapter 1 only. Victor Maymudes while closely connected with Dylan has always been written of as a shadowy slightly malevolent character.  My impression has been that he was an enforcer of some sort for Dylan.

In this his own memoir he is a friend, advisor and confidante. Maymudes, born in 1935, was six years older than Dylan who he met in 1961.  Maymudes was already in a career in show business.  In 1955 near the heart of the Beatnik era he had opened a folk club coffee house on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles called The Unicorn.  He was subsequently advised by Jack Elliot who he was managing at that time to go to New York to take in a new performer who turned out to be Bob Dylan.

Elliot explained that Dylan was copying his act but doing it better. Ramblin’ Jack himself introduced Victor to Bob giving the latter a run down on Victor’s achievements.  According to Victor he and the twenty year old Dylan hit it off immediately.  They began to pal around.

Maymudes gives a slightly different view of this period than has yet been around. The first chapter covers the period from the Spring of ’61 to Dylan’s Carnegie Hall performance in the Fall of ’61.

According to Maymudes shortly after meeting Dylan they went on a long drive and walks around the perimeter of New York City.

To quote Victor:

Bob mentioned going to Juvenile Hall and how he quickly realized there was a social structure inside and either you are going to get along or you really shouldn’t be there.

Hopefully this should settle the issue of whether Dylan was incarcerated in Red Wing Reformatory of Minnesota. While the paper trail has always indicated he did yet his term has been denied by all.  In what amounts to a self-admission this should settle the issue.

There is also a piece on the internet by someone who had been in Red Wing at an earlier time but said he knew someone who was in Red Wing at the same time as Bob. Dylan says according to Victor that in order to get along you had to go along.  I take that as a reflection after the fact, while Bob probably held himself aloof from the other boys as his possible fellow prisoner as above said he did.  No one has believed the article but there may be something to it.

At any rate it seems clear that Bob did serve a sentence which was very unpleasant for him as why wouldn’t it be. The stay had a devastating effect on his personality, as why not?  Bob’s song The Walls Of Red Wing thus seems to be a personal reminiscence.

Some of Bob’s stories such as touring with a carnival while false as told seem to be based on actual facts while being definitely embroidered. In the same paragraph Victor says:  He talked about going with the carnival when they came to town.  I would take that to mean that perhaps he volunteered to help in setting up the carnival as an extra hand as was common.  There were temporary jobs when the circus came to town.  You could drive stakes for instance and maybe get a free ticket.

2.

It also seems clear that Bob’s family life was far from harmonious. The Zimmerman’s seemed to have covered up a lot.  Maymudes, same paragraph, p.4:

He told me deeply personal stuff like his dad leaving town and how he would have to stay at his dad’s mother in Minneapolis, how she would tell him his mother was a whore, sleeping around with other men. It was the kind of thing that probably wasn’t true about his mother, but his grandmother was sticking up for his father and trying to use her power to distance Bob from his own mother.  Terrible thing to do to a child.

Bob’s grandmother may have been telling tales about Bob’s mother but I think not. My impression at looking at her picture was that she was a goodtime girl.  She certainly kept Abe broke buying her furs, jewels and Cadillacs.

In Dylan’s portrayal of his putative father and his mother in his movie Masked And Anonymous his alter ego Jack Fate’s father is portrayed on his death bed while his mother with a red dress on appears to be gallivanting about.

I find it hard to believe Dylan’s grandmother would say those things about his mother if she didn’t mean them. It is also the first time I’ve heard that Dylan’s mother and father separated from time to time.  As such behavior is common knowledge in a small town like Hibbing Dylan’s life may have been made miserable partly from that cause.  He certainly has no love lost for that period in his life.

3.

One major question everyone asks is why Robert Shelton wrote such a glowing review about a performance of Bob’s and why John Hammond gave a nondescript Bob a recording contract. Maymudes may shed some light on that.  He says on p. 46:

Over the next week Bob and I ended up hanging out non-stop. We were together all the time.  We would depart and arrange to meet the following day.  Eventually we even exchanged numbers.  We had extensive conversations about everything.  During the day we would go see Fellini’s movies and stop by the happening clubs and cafes like the Bitter End.  We would stay up till dawn each morning.  I would introduce him to everyone I knew, like Richard Alderson, the guy you hear announcing bands at Woodstock.  We went to Dave Von Ronk’s house and played our guitars.  John Hammond Sr. had a house on lower MacDougal St. and we would go there too.

All this has to fit into a time frame of about six months but the interesting thing here is that Victor and Bob visited John Hammond Sr. apparently several times before Shelton’s New York Times article of 9/29/61 and Dylan signing a Columbia Records Contract with Hammond on 9/30/61. Did Hammond really have time to read the article and say to himself, I’ve got to find this boy and sign him by the next day?  Astonishing on the face of it.  It would seem to have been a plan.

No other writer, no biographer places Dylan at Hammond Sr.’s house before 9/30/61. But according to Maymudes, and why should he lie although he might misremember, Hammond and Dylan were familiar with each other as early as the summer of ’61.  Hammond must have heard Dylan play and sing before Shelton’s article.  Thus his behavior in the studio where he had Bob just play and sing into the microphone while he read the newspaper is more understandable.

While every other folk label in NYC had rejected Bob evidently Hammond saw and heard something they didn’t. It would seem highly improbable he could sign Bob’s nearly indiscernible talent on his own hook.  It may be then that he conspired with Shelton who he surely would have known to write an extremely favorable review to be published in the premier newspaper in the country and then sign Dylan on the strength of that.  As it was his prescience was not immediately justified as the record bombed.

At any rate the above scenario would make the article and signing plausible.

On the other hand Hammond may just have had the golden ears with which he is attributed. In that context my brother-in-law played me all four of Dylan’s first LPs in 1964 that I found excruciatingly painful to listen to.  I thought Dylan was going nowhere but my brother-in-law said, you watch, this guy is going to be big.  That goes to prove whatever Bob had could be heard but only apparently by the elect.

4.

The Winter and Spring of 1961-62 Victor was touring with his act Wavy Gravy who he managed. He then returned to New York where Dylan was now living with Suze Rotolo.   They continued their friendship.

Dylan had returned to Minnesota that Winter and had just returned as Victor hit town. Bob was now looking for management.  He discussed this with Victor, pp. 51-52

During our walks on this second trip to New York, Bob and I talked about the future. He asked me about Manny Greenhill and Albert Grossman; he was wondering who he should sign with.  Manny Greenhill was managing Joan Baez and her commercial success was increasing every day.  At the same time Dave Von Ronk’s wife was managing Bob, but he was ready for the next step.  Flat out he asked me which one he should sign with.  I asked him how traditional he wanted to be and how far he wanted to reach.  Those questions appealed to him and he expressed he wanted to go the distance, more commercial than Greenhill was doing.  His day-to-day routine didn’t point to someone who wanted to go mainstream; he was more folky and traditional at this point.  But he knew what he wanted and where he wanted to go from the start.  So I said Albert was the logical choice.  He was much more aggressive and much more commercial.  Bob signed with Grossman a few days later.

——-

Bob’s ability to bend and refashion words was like magic; he was the one that could break into the mainstream while still playing socially conscientious music. Bob believed in himself and so did I, and that’s why Albert entering the picture made sense.  Albert had commercial connections and wouldn’t ask Bob to change his tune to fit in.  With Albert’s help Bob could force his style in front of the broader public and ultimately make everyone else fit into what he was doing.

That’s a pretty good insider’s synopsis. Grossman who would soon launch Peter Paul and Mary on the back of Dylan’s songs certainly had recording connections although Warner Bros. at the time was fairly low down the list of successful, maybe unsuccessful, record companies.  Anyway Bob was already signed to CBS, the actual premier recording company at the time.

Victor goes on to give an interesting thumbnail of Albert Grossman that is immediate and accurate.

Always handy with the advice Victor tells Albert how to go about handling Bob while at his own expense he was setting up Dylan’s first Carnegie Hall appearance, not the main stage but a side stage.

Victor says Albert took the concert away from him while it is usually attributed to Izzy Young. In the event nobody came and the show was a total financial loss.  Victor had a falling out with Albert deciding for ‘spiritual’ reasons to depart for Yelapa Mexico.  Apparently Victor had been inhaling too much from The Teaching Of Don Juan.

His last words to Bob at this time were that if he ever needed him to say to whoever he was standing next to, Get Victor, and he would come.

It was the Sixties you know.

That is the end of the revelations of Tape 1. A remarkable and interesting account.  We do know that Victor and Bob were friends so barring any embroidery or misremembering the account should be accurate.  If so, all biographies are now askew.  The period has to be reexamined and reevaluated to include Victor’s account.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s