September 11, 2015
Bob Dylan: Livin’ Life On The Fly
Bob Dylan created the character of Bob the Drifter back at the beginning of the Sixties. He has since done his best to live the life of the ultimate drifter. Early influences on the persona were probably Hank Williams musical alter ego Luke the Drifter and possibly Simon Crumb the alter ego the country singer Ferlin Husky. His immediate role model was definitely Ramblin’ Jack Elliot who was born Elliot Adnopos making his adopted goyish name a cover for his Jewish identity much as Bob Dylan was doing. Thus these two very Jewish guys have lived out their lives under assumed goyish identities.
Like Ramblin’ Jack Bob Dylan further patterned his life on the life of the goy drifter Woody Guthrie.
Bob learned Jack’s style when both men lived in the early sixties folk environment of Greenwich Village in New York City. When that particular bubble burst in the mid-sixties partly through the machinations of Dylan himself who introduced electricity into the Greenwich Village folk scene a dispersion took place.
I say partly because seemingly unnoticed by everyone while being completely overlooked today The Lovin’ Spoonful with the really legendary John Sebastian and Sol Yanovsky had used an electric guitar since early 1965 while also writing their own songs.
After leaving recording for a year or two after 1966 Dylan led a sedentary life in Woodstock New York with his wife Sara and a growing family. The call of his destiny on the road was too strong with Dylan gradually edging back to the role of the roving hobo.
Mentally adrift for most of the seventies and eighties Bob then devised the perfect drifter life. He became a drifting troubadour. He not only roved but he made it pay to the tune of a billion dollars or more. He got himself a couple buses and phased through several identity crises. He styled his drifting as The Never Ending Tour.
While living his early years in Hibbing Negro music appears to have made no impression on him. He does say that he listened to Black music over the radio on stations blasting up over the central plain from locations such as Shreveport but I don’t detect that influence in his music too much. Of course, once in New York he saw the necessity for Negro roots and reacted socially.
Dylan does however know all the great C&W tunes and artists. His first great plagiarism was from Hank Snow one of the absolute greats. C&W was however not mainstream. In the peculiar White mentality C&W was rejected as ignorant White hillbilly music and I mean rejected. You had to cover up your liking of C&W as though it was the original sin. On the other hand with that peculiar mentality of Whites they were able to embrace equally ignorant Negro ghetto music as their own. I could never figure it out.
Dylan didn’t try. Sometime before he got to UMinnesota in the Fall of ’59 he realized he wasn’t he wasn’t going to make it as a rocker so he switched to Folk from Fall ’59 to January of ’61 when he left for NYC. At UMinnesota he had listened to a few Folk records while someone gave him Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound For Glory so that in some mad burst of teen infatuation he came to the conclusion that he was the reincarnation of Woody Guthrie. He adopted the persona to the best of his ability beginning to create a hokey Oklahoma drifter’s accent and vocal style.
One gets the impression that his folk act in Minnesota was raw enough that he was merely tolerated. Bob, himself, knew he was a genius so he took his half-digested act East to New York City in that January of ’61. But he was wary. Cagey then as now he decided to scope the scene before he burst upon it.
While arriving in NYC in January he didn’t make his official appearance on the Village scene until late February. Dylan himself explains that missing period by claiming to have been hustling his buns in Times Square. People have refused to take him at his word but why would he say it if it wasn’t true? Why would he say it even if it were? Dylan had very low self-esteem at the time while being a very serious drunkard. At UMinnesota he had blottoed out and spread out on the ground at full noon in the main crossroads at the U. You have to glory in your shame to do that.
We don’t know how much money Dylan had when he stepped out of the car in NYC although he was never really broke when he buskered on the street; his Ace In The Hole was the folks back home. They did send him money.
Perhaps though Dylan was so down so low that he needed to debase himself in the worst possible way. He probably did stroll 42nd St. looking to be picked up. Perhaps receiving money picked him up a little; gave him value.
As he scoped the Folk scene and picked up the odd dollar he was devising a persona to splash into the scene. His persona was totally absurd and his Ten Weeks With The Circus story would be, or should have been, seen through before he got it out of his mouth. This was sophisticated NYC for Christ’s save, New Yorkers have seen and heard every hustle ever devised. You couldn’t fool them so they must have been humoring Dylan.
Nobody could have done all the things he said he’d done and graduated from high school two years or less earlier. He also tried to conceal that he was Jewish which seems ridiculous to me, but then Dylan didn’t see the obvious Jewishness of Jack Elliot so maybe it’s just me. Anyway it took these sharp New Yorkers a year or more to figure Dylan was a little Jewish kid.
Dylan had analyzed the scene well. He realized he couldn’t go in and do what everyone else was doing. Besides there were a lot of good guitarists in the Village and Dylan wasn’t one of them. He had to shake the scene up a little. At the time the Village Folk scene was a bore. Folk was on the down trend. The New Lost City Ramblers, one of the more formidable Village folk groups were so trite they were unlistenable. While not on the Village scene I was aware of the phonograph records made by the artists and quite frankly I was amazed that anyone would record those people. I mean, like Dylan, I was a hillbilly. There were many amazing records being made by real folk artists like the Carter Family. These pale Village imitations by middle class Jews aping the mountain people were far less than authentic.
So Dylan practiced this garish voice, blew harmonica in an incomprehensible way and banged the guitar in an equally noisy and unmusical way. Bud and Travis couldn’t play guitar either. It boggles your mind to watch them flail the instrument.
People that say they liked his first couple records may very well be telling the truth but the truth is virtually no one bought them. Fortunately Dylan soon learned to write songs. They too made little impression as sung by him; sung by others, such as Peter Paul and Mary they sounded good enough to become hits. Of course, Peter Paul and Mary had that religious sounding name and earnest style that opened a lot of doors for them.
Nevertheless by 1964 Dylan was beginning to make a name for himself as a songwriter so that people were more willing to accept his bizarre performances. Andy Warhol said that Dylan began by singing political protest songs then shifted to singing personal protest songs. That change began about 1964 with his Another Side Of Bob Dylan LP.
His friend and sometime road manager Victor Maymudes said that all Dylan’s songs were about his girl friends. If you read his lyics with that in mind they will make more sense. You still have to work at it though. The language he uses really obscures the content.
It was at this point that Dylan went electric and moved out from his folk cover (Dylan said that his folk music years were just a shuck.) and began his conversion to rock and roll. Dylan began performing in high school as a Little Richard clone so the move should come as no surprise knowing what we do today. When his rock and roll phase ended in 1966 Dylan then returned to his basal influence C&W.
As he shifted to personal protest on a rock and roll frame he made his impact as ‘a spokesman for his generation.’
Dylan was never a spokesman for the generation but he was a spokesman for people with the same psychosis as his. Dylan was unbalanced as were all the people who took his message. I was one of those who Dylan characterized as ‘abused, misused, strung out ones or worse.’ Dylan converted his angst into sexual frustration and his sexual frustration into lyrics. We weren’t able to understand the lyrics because we were looking in the wrong place but we understood the songs perfectly on the subliminal level. Dylan’s psychology matched ours.
Dylan’s last album as a New York folk singer, Blonde On Blonde, also expanded his audience while also confusing those who weren’t on his wavelength. That is, people who hated him, and largely for psychological reasons, were forced to acknowledge him. At the time the LP was so far outside our musical experience that we literally had heard nothing like it before. Little Richard redux.
On the other hand I realized that he had peaked in that style and would no longer be able to continue in the same vein. At the same time the pressures of the previous five years on Dylan were such that his mind was at the breaking point and actually broke. He probably had what was called a nervous breakdown. Shortly we heard that Dylan had been in a motorcycle accident and might be dead. He wasn’t, of course, and it has never been reliably determined that there ever had been an accident. His brother David just laughs it off while many others reduce it to the equivalent of a mere scratch. Dylan himself says that his manager Albert Grossman was driving him so hard that it was killing him. He had to stop and catch his breath or die.
Dylan hadn’t yet learned to live on the road; he would master that later.
At any rate he had married his Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, Sara in 1965 and needed time out to raise a family. He did do that.
Regardless of whether he had been hurt or not he was not musically idle. About a year and a half later in December of 1967 he released the awaited new LP John Wesley Harding. The LP was a total rejection of his first incarnation. He used a crooning voice backed by a C&W band. He returned, as they used to say, to his roots. He was no longer a trailblazer, just a C&W singer. While I knew he would not follow up in the same style I was stunned by the reversion to a conventional country style. At that time no one knew that his roots were C&W.
I loved the instrumental backing of his three big albums but had no interest in what seemed to be pseudo-country with rather ordinary lyrics. (Let Me Be Your Baby Tonight.) I abandoned him completely and never have gone back. This was 1967. The next wave of the British Invasion was in progress and it was astonishing. The music was all fresh and picked up where Dylan had left off. The sounds were all new like you’d never heard before. The lyrics were nearly as inscrutable as Dylan’s. Dylan was not missed by me nor a lot of his former fans.
As I said Dylan was not idle; he was busy. The evidence of that appeared six months after John Wesley Harding. Music From Big Pink by the Band. This was relatively sensational music and lyrics. Of course The Band was Dylan’s back up and his association with Big Pink buttressed his reputation a lot. And then the legend of the Basement Tapes appeared that was even more tantalizing than the actual music although the songs from it that appeared by other artists were remarkably good.
So while Dylan left the Sixties with a much diminished reputation it was on a positive note.
The Never Ending Tour
While talent such as Dylan’s was is important, talent will not out without good luck and a helping hand. Dylan undoubtedly had both. There has always been some mystery about how a half skilled musician could show up in Greenwich Village in March 1961 and be signed to a record contract with Columbia Records seven months later in October.
People who had been around the Village were just blown away when the news got out. Dylan’s talent was not that obvious to everyone. Many could not see it at all. He couldn’t play guitar and he couldn’t blow the harp. His voice, at the time, was so raw it grated, and still does for me. He hadn’t written a song in those seven months so his much vaunted songwriting skills weren’t in evidence. Yet Robert Shelton, the music reviewer for the ultra-prestigious New York Times gave him a rave review that amazed everyone. John Hammond of CBS signed him virtually without hearing him. Other CBS staffers had such a low opinion of Dylan’s talent that they called him Hammond’s Folly. Was there something going on behind the scenes, was something happening here that the Village couldn’t understand? Listen to Positively Fourth Street and Something Happening again closely.
Well, you know, I’ve thought about this and studied this and I’ve put together the following scenarios for your delectation. Granted it is highly conjectural yet based on facts.
Remember that Dylan is Jewish and New York City including the Village was and is a Jewish colony. Being Jewish in the Village did and does count.
Back in Hibbing Minnesota the Jewish community was three or four hundred strong while Dylan’s, or Bobby Zimmerman’s, as he then was, family was chief among them.
Both Dylan’s father, Abram Zimmerman, and his mother, Beatty Zimmerman were of the Frankish sect of Judaism. Dylan’s Jewish name, Sabtai, was derived from the last acknowledged human Jewish messiah. This undoubtedly indicated the high hopes Abram had for his son as a deliverer of the Jews; in other words, a messiah.
Father Abe was the Anti-Defamation League representative in Hibbing. That may have caused some friction between himself and the goy townsmen. There seems to be an undercurrent of resentment both to Abe and Bobby Zimmerman in Hibbing. As an Orthodox Jew Abram had connections back in New York probably with the Chabad Lubavitcher sect led by its chief rabbi, Menachem Schneerson. Abram traveled frequently on religious business including to NYC.
Abram wanted son Bobby to also embrace the Lubavitcher sect. Thus, as Bobby approached thirteen and his Bar Mitzvah Abram sent back to New York for a Lubavitcher Rabbi to come to Hibbing specifically to educate Bobby in the Lubavitcher belief system. This was the rabbi Reuben Meier. In full Lubavitcher gear he was an anomaly in Hibbing where according to Dylan he embarrassed the Jewish community.
As Dylan tells it he got off the bus one day, spent a year teaching Bobby ‘what he had to learn’ then got back on the bus presumably returning to NYC his mission accomplished.
Dylan has or had a messiah complex. Still, as he observed the fate of Jesus (look what they done to him, he said) he was unwilling to pick up the cross thus never declaring himself. Still Abe had connections in NYC that could be and probably were useful bumping Dylan’s career along.
I haven’t found any evidence that Dylan ever contacted the Lubavitchers once in NYC but then it can’t be ruled out and he didn’t have to. His father could have worked with them unknown to Dylan. Still, Dylan later in life did associate himself with the Lubavitchers. Could be coincidence, of course.
Shelton who wrote his glowing review of Dylan worked for the New York Times which was and is owned by the Jewish Sulzberger family. Thus in all probability Abram called in some favors from the Lubavitchers to forward Dylan’s career. Among them Abram had some position, and asked them to make sure that Dylan wasn’t overlooked. Thus within the synagogue, so to speak, Shelton wrote his actually preposterous review of Dylan.
Now, Shelton came to New York from Chicago in the late fifties. Dylan’s future Jewish manager Albert Grossman also came from Chicago where he had owned the seminal folk club The Gate Of Horn. Shelton knew Grossman in Chicago where he wrote reviews of the folk acts.
When Grossman went East for whatever reasons in 1959 he helped found the Newport Folk Festival with the Jew George Wein. Thus the Newport Folk Festival was a Jewish organization giving them the control over who could and could not make it. Grossman hung around the Village analyzing the talent as he had plans. He didn’t necessarily let the acts come to him but he went out and created them as in Peter Paul and Mary which was his total conception. Sensing the direction of things he realized that a trio of two men and a woman with the right lineup would succeed and spread the message. His final choices were two male Jews, Noel Stookey who became Paul and Peter Yarrow and a woman Mary Travers. He chose well.
Prodded by Shelton Grossman took a look at Dylan but could see no use for him until Dylan began to write. At that point he fit into Grossman’s plans who then created Bob Dylan as a commercial entity. Dylan justified the confidence in himself when he scored with the puerile Blowin’ In The Wind. Dylan was still unlistenable to most people but with the voices of the more musical Peter Paul And Mary he began to establish his reputation as a song writer.
The Synagogue was behind him so that coupled with his talent he was given maximum and incredible exposure. Now, Peter Yarrow who was very close to Grossman, one might say almost a collaborator, said that without Grossman there would have been no Peter Paul And Mary and more importantly no Bob Dylan. Yarrow believed that Dylan’s success was due to Grossman. Luck was with Dylan then when Grossman came to town a couple years before he did while Shelton was there at the Times. You must have that luck. Grossman definitely nurtured Dylan as a songwriter and put his career on track. Whether Grossman was connected to the Lubavitchers isn’t clear but I’m sure the religious connection was there. It was all within the Synagogue; strictly a Jewish affair.
Those who closely analyze Dylan’s songs love to point out the Biblical references with which his songs have always been replete. Indeed, when Dylan was writing John Wesley Harding his mother who was visiting him during the period says that he kept a large Bible open in his living room that he would jump up to consult it from time to time. Obviously the Bible informed his lyrics as he dealt with his injunction to be the new messiah, if I am correct in my analysis.
His religious training would surface in the seventies when he explored Jesus’ relationship to the Jews. Contrary to what people believe Dylan never turned to Christianity, he was interested in the Jewish Jesus cult. At the same time he was getting the Christian take on Jesus through the Vinyard Fellowship he was studying with the Jews For Jesus cult. Indeed, when he came out as a Jesus freak at the Warwick Theatre in San Francisco Jews For Jesus people were used to proselytize outside the theatre but not the Vinyard Fellowship.
Having satisfied his curiosity about Jesus he next showed up in full Lubavitcher gear in Jerusalem. The Christians were stunned at the seeming turnabout. Rabbi Reuben Meier had not failed the Lubavitchers back in the fifties in Hibbing. Dylan came home.
On The Barricades
Jewish self-confidence was ruined in the wake of WWII but began to resume with the establishment of Israel in 1948. A feeling of power began to revive after the 1956 war; then after the Six Day War of 1967 a feeling of invincibility seized the Jewish mind. Born in 1941 Dylan was 26 in 1967. In 1968 the aborted Paris insurrection took place.
As a result of the Six Day War the New York Rabbi Meir Kahane organized the Jewish Defense League (JDC) as a terrorist organization from which came the JDO or Jewish Defense Organization. The JDO was murderous. Both were terrorist groups who engaged in serious bomb attacks in NYC and assassinations. It was pretty nutty.
At roughly the same time the Weatherman group was formed that was a combined Goy and Jewish affair designed to bring down the US government. That group was headed by the Chicago terrorist nutcake Bomber Billy Ayers. The JDL, JDO and Weathermen traced their origins back to Dylan while including Dylan as one of them. Dylan had JDL members as bodyguards and possibly JDO so at one time he seems to have been a member. More regular Jews warned him to dissociate himself publicly from the JDL and JDO so that he did disassociate them from himself at least as far as one can see.
Dylan’s association with the Weathermen if it existed was more tenuous. It would be interesting to know if through Greil Marcus Dylan knew Ayers. All groups considered Dylan a revolutionary. This could easily be inferred from songs like Subterranean Homesick Blues and Ain’t Going To Work On Maggie’s Farm No More plus many of his Negro protest songs.
Now, when Dylan was awarded the French decoration, The Legion Of Honor, in 2015 he was commended for his contributions to the Paris insurrection of ’68. What those contribution were weren’t specified; it may only have been the moral support of his songs that the revolutionaries heard as a call to arms. Or perhaps Dylan functioned as a courier during his tours throughout the world. It wouldn’t be the first time entertainers were used as covers.
In 2007 when Sarkozy had been elected President of France one of the first things he did was to call a number of people to Paris to receive awards. Three relevant Americans made the trip, Dylan, Greil Marcus and David Lynch the filmmaker.
As it turns out Dylan and Greil Marcus are or were fairly closely associated. Marcus was ostensibly a music critic for Rolling Stone Magazine, another Jewish set up, but he was also a member of the French Jewish revolutionary group, the Situationist International led by Guy Debord. Debord and his SI claim to have been the moving force behind the Paris revolt thus tightening the connection between Marcus, Dylan, the SI and the Paris insurrection. Dylan was also associated with the revolutionary group centered around John Lennon and his widow Yoko Ono.
Now, in 2001 Dylan, Marcus and future president of the United States Barack Obama were in Chicago as associates at the time of 9/11. Dylan’s LP Love And Theft was released on that date that has references that seem applicable to the destruction while Marcus published an article shortly thereafter that seemed to celebrate the attack. So Dylan’s actions seem to point to revolutionary ends.
Now, as Dylan was touring the world from the Sixties through the present he may have been a courier connecting global revolutionary activity. It would not have been wise to communicate by phone or internet in later years as phones and electronics are easily tapped so it would be necessary to communicate by hand delivered messages. Such services would have been invaluable while coded messages in songs or interviews on radio and television appearances are possible. Eric Burdon formerly of the Animals was arrested by the German authorities on that suspicion.
You don’t get awards just for being cute.