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.
October 14, 2008
Exhuming Bob 13
Bob As Messiah
The most difficult thing on earth is to believe in something that is palpably untrue. “We must respect the other fellow’s religion but only in the sense and to the extent that we do his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”
– H.L. Mencken
I become my own enemy the moment that I preach.
– Bob Dylan
Religion is palpably untrue whether it be Christianity, Judaism or Moslemism. The fundamentalist religious attitude is the enemy of reason and hence the mental development of mankind. Such an attitude no longer has any place in society. Nevertheless its influence lingers on like some spectre from the crypt of human consciousness.
Part and parcel of religious fundamentalism is the notion of an external redeemer or messiah. As the Piscean Age began society fixed itself on the notion that since individuals could not alter their behavior a redeemer or messiah would arise who would redeem their errant behavior. While the notion was endemic in the ancient world at this change from the Arien to Piscean ages it found its purest expression among the Jews.
While the Jews did not fix on any one exemplar as the Messiah the Western world did. Thus Jesus became the sole exemplar of a Messiah for them as they expectantly awaited his second coming.
Christianity is at its bottom an offshoot of Judaism as is the later Arab edition of the Semitic religious group, Moslemism. Both Judaism and Moslemism have a rather fluid notion of messianism. Anyone may declare himself a messiah in Judaism as in Moslemism. In Moslemism the messiah goes by the name of the Mahdi or Expected One.
Over the centuries innumerable messiahs and mahdis have appeared, failed and disappeared while the Christian world of the West patiently awaited the return of its Jesus. It’s been a long wait and it probably won’t end too soon.
The appeal of messianism is very strong for the individual. I would imagine that every boy with a Christian or Jewish upbringing has wondered whether he might be the embodiment of Jesus as the second coming or the Messiah to redeem the people. As always Jewish claimants proliferate. If he is not disabused of the notion by adolescence he could probably be found wandering around the insane asylum with the many other imitations of Christ.
In the Eastern world such is not the case. While weak personalities go under strong personalities may very well impress their fantasy on society although invariably with disastrous results. Bob’s Jewish namesake, Sabbatai Zevi, was one of these who flourished in the seventeenth century. Sigmund Freud was one in the last century.
Naturally in the conflict between imagined anointment and actual realities a dual personality must come into existence, thus we have, for instance, Bobby Zimmerman and his alter ego Bob Dylan. Beginning in the nineteenth century when science began to challenge societal religious fantasies dual personalities became more common or, at least, became more prominent in literature.
Literature is full of dual personalities from the Dupin and the narrator of Poe through the Scarlet Pimpernel, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and a much longer list. One of the more amazing examples is Bobby Zimmerman/Bob Dylan the little Jewish kid and the quasi-Cowboy pop star. Throughout his career Bob has wavered between the two, now one, now the other. In the late seventies and early eighties he appeared to embrace Christianity for a few years and then abruptly returned to that of the Orthodox Lubavitcher Jew. Just recently he passed through a Cowboy phase and now, as per this recent picture he has re-emerged as a Hebrew prophet complete with peyos and a vaguely demented look like some ancient Ezekiel or Jeremiah. (go to touchingtheelephant.wordpress.com Bob Dylan Marchin’ To The City)
Disquisitions such as this will disturb the equanimity of religious fundamentalists.
Will Bob now regale us with Jeremiads as he preached to us in 1980? To find that answer one must go back to the now ancient past in the little Minnesota town of Hibbing up on the Iron Range.
Bob’s memories of the North Country are as dualistic as his personality. He speaks of bittler cold winters, so cold that one slept in multiple layers of clothes and summers so swelteringly hot and humid as to be in the Great Dismal Swamp.
And then he was Jewish in what has been characterized as a predominantly Catholic town. A small Jewish island in a sea of foreign culture. In those postwar days when his Jews lived in trembling fear of an impossible American Nazi holocaust. Jews hid their origins and culture as much as possible denying their religion and seeking to blend in as seamlessly as chameleons. Thus it was as young Bobby Zimmerman entered high school. Then in 1956 as he approached the massive front doors of his high school the Jews of the eight year old State of Israel fought a lightning war with the surrounding Arabs. Instead of being driven into the sea sas the Arabs propesied they themselves were humiliated and driven back. How now? The Jews became assertive in their identity emerging to challenge the dominant culture for supremacy. They ceased to be humble, hence, the sixties.
Already masters of Hibbing’s retail district one imagines they began to flex their muscles without fear of gas chambers. Foremost among them, the President of the local chapter of B’nai B’rith and the ADL, was little Bobby Zimmerman’s own father, Abram. Abram took to smoking huge black cigars, a sure sign of aggressive manhood.
Years later when Bob Dylan had immured Bobby Zimmerman behind walls like in Poe’s Cask of Amontillado, Bob Dylan would return to Hibbing and combine the two images of his childhood of the two Zimmermans as he sat on a motorcycle on a corner smoking an immense black cigar. What vision of vengeance was this? As one of his cowboy heroes, Hank Snow, sang: I’ve got a troubled mind.
Bob’s father Abram viewed himself as something of a Jewish scholar. He had a bent toward the Orthodox even toward the Lubavitcher. In 1954 as his son’s Bar Mitzvah approached he sent for a Lubavitcher Rabbi to instruct his son in the puerilities of the Lubavitcher approach to Judaism. The Rabbi, one Reuben Maier, was undoubtedly brought to Hibbing on a one year trial contract. When the year was up and the congregation had rejected him he left.
In telling of his Bar Mitzvah indoctrination Bob dramtizes Rabbi Maier’s arrival as a mystery with himself as the messianic center of the mystery. As he tells it one day a Greyhound bus ground to a stop at the Hibbing terminal; the Rabbi stepped off and said: Where’s Bobby Zimmerman, I’m here to indoctrinate him into the Lubavitcher mysteries. I exaggerate for effect of course but true to the spirit. Then having taught Bobby what he was supposed to learn he reboarded the bus and disappeared down Highway 61 as mysteriously as he arrived. It could have seemed that way to a thirteen year old. The key point is that Bobby learned what the Rabbi had to teach. As Bob said he taught him what he had to know.
If the accounts are correct Bobby Zimmerman’s was the first Bar Mitzvah in town for several years and it was huge. Four hundred or more people were in attendance. One assumes that the loot collected was beyond the avarice of the average thirteen year old. Bob boasted of the Bar Mitzvah for years.
But of more importance for us is what information Rabbi Reuben imparted to Bob. I have pointed out in Fit 2 that Rabbi Maier was associated with Rabbi Schneerson in Brooklyn, New York. Schneerson had strong notions of the superiority of the Jew to all other peoples while having a strong notion of the messianic nature of Judaism in bringing the word of the Jewish god to the peoples. This is absolutely undeniable and calling someone who tells the truth to you an anti-Semite will not change the truth. Such an accusation only makes the accuser look an ignoramus.
It would seem to follow then that Rabbi Maier could teach his young disciple nothing other than the prevailing Lubavitcher doctrines of Rabbi Schneerson.
Indeed in later life Bob Dylan would write the symbolical song Quinn The Eskimo while after his Christian stint say words to the effect: ‘You know what? Things are going to fall apart and all peoples are going to run to the Jews to save them. But, guess what, the Jews won’t be able to do it because they haven’t lived according to the Law.’ Sounds just like the Protocols, doesn’t it, Sean?
Now, where do you suppose Bob would pick up an idea like that?
Enduring heavy Jewish indoctrination during his high school years Bob was also conflicted by his immersion in the dominant culture thus contributing to his dual personality. Thus we have Cowboy Bob who listened to endless hours of Country and Western and we have Rabbi Bob using his pulpit to preach Jewish tenets, whether in Christian form or not, to what passed for his faithful.
Starting from a low base Bob was actually to gather a following of millions as of this date. Many if not most of them see him as either a Christian savior or a Jewish messiah.
Young Bobby Zimmerman left Hibbing in a state of Mixed Up Confusion that it would take him decades to order as much as he ever has.
I hope I haven’t unduly offended anyone but the fanatics to this point. They will always scream anti-Semite at anyone who challenges their cherished fantasies. They are religious fundamentalists and are to be scorned by any intelligent people. Disrgard them. Laugh at them. If the reader will find the story anti-Semitic then all I can say is that he or she find the truth anti-Semitic.
Owls- they whinny down the night;
Bats go zigzag by.
Ambushed in shadow beyond sight
The outlaws lie.
Old gods, tamed to silence, there
In the wet woods they lurk,
Greedy of human stuff to snare
in nets of murk.
Look up, else your eye will drown
In a moving sea of black;
Between the tree-tops, upside down,
Goes the sky-track.
Look up, else your feet will stray
Into that ambuscade
Where spider-like they trap their prey
With webs of shade.
For though creeds whirl away in dust,
Faith dies and men forget,
These aged gods of power and lust
Cling to life yet-
Old gods almost dead, malign,
Starving for unpaid dues;
Incense and fire, salt, blood and wine
And a drumming muse,
Banished to woods and a sickly moon,
Shrunk to mere bogey things,
Who spoke with thunder once at noon
To prostrate kings:
With thunder from an open sky
To warrior, virgin, priest,
Bowing in fear with a dazzled eye
Toward the dreaded East-
Proud gods, humbled, sunk so low,
Living with ghosts, and ghouls,
And ghosts of ghosts, and last year’s snow
And Dead Toadstools.
Outlaws by Robert Graves.
Fit 5 follows in another post.
July 6, 2008
Exhuming Bob IX, Pensees 7:
Into The Lost Land
Dylan, Bob, Chronicles Vol. I, Simon And Schuster, 2004
Prindle, R.E. Exhuming Bob, VIII The Walls Of Red Wing, idynamo,wordpress.com 2008
Thompson, Toby, Positively Main Street, U. Minnesota, 2008, reprint from 1971
http://www.hibbing.org/dylan1/story.html Life In Hibbing: Hibbing Chamber Of Commerce
http://www.interferenza.com/bcs/interw/85-dec.htm Bob Dylan Is Not Like A Rolling Stone Interview, Spin Magazine, Volume One, Number Eight, December 1985
http://www.interferenza.com/bcs/interw/play78.htm Playboy Interview: Bob Dylan 1978
http://www.interferenza.com/bcs/interw/66-jan.htm Playboy Interview: Bob Dylan February 1966
In attempting to put together a reasonable facsimile of Bob’s life in Hibbing and Minneapolis, Minnesota and New York City as he mythologized it in his chapter of Chronicles, The Lost Land, I have come to the following tentative conclusions.
Bob was born in Duluth, Minnesota on 5/24/41. In 1943 he was taken to Hibbing where he lived from then until graduation from high school in the Spring of 1959.
Within the concept of normal Bob had a fairly advantaged childhood. His parents were indulgent buying him anything he wanted while providing adequate pocket cash. Bob’s family was one of the more important in town both within the Jewish community and the town at large. In what appears to have been a tight small town social scene Bob either excluded himself or was excluded from the dominant social groups within which he had a right to be included.
Perhaps Bob’s conception of the Hibbing period could be best interpreted from his favorite movie, Rebel Without A Cause, starring James Dean. Bob is said to have seen the movie several times. This was unusual as few people ever saw a movie more than once. He would have been a very impressionable fifteen at the time. Most of us didn’t have the money while quite frankly few movies, if any, were worth watching twice including Rebel Without A Cause. I was seventeen when I saw it and while I was in awe I wasn’t submerged. Of course Bob’s relatives owned the theatres so he got in for free.
As he set up a Dean shrine in his basement which greatly offended Father Abe we may be justified in assuming that Dean was a controlling influence in his life from the time he saw the movie. It is of interest that Abe was to remove the Dean shrine from the basement after Bob left replacing it with a shrine to his own son Bob Dylan ne Zimmerman.
Abe Zimmerman (1911-1968) worked for Standard Oil in Duluth when Bob was born. According to the C of C he lost his job in 1943 moving to Hibbing where his wife’s family, the Stones, could help the young couple. Why Standard Oil should lay Abe off in the middle of the war during a manpower shortage seems to pose a question. As can be seen from the photograph of Abe and Beattie above borrowed from the Flickr photostream of <drineevar> he was a well set up handsome man. He appears to be exceptionally self-possessed, sound in the eyes. Beattie appears to be a haughty high fashion queen which would accord with later facts.
Abram Zimmerman, for such was his name. Usually called Abraham, the name on his tombstone is Abram, and his two brothers Maurice and Paul bought the Micka Electric Company in 1943 changing the name to Zimmerman Appliance. In 1968 Paul Zimmerman told Thompson that they had been in business for twenty-five years which would mean 1943 although the date seems odd.
According to the C of C Abe came down with polio in 1946 requiring a lengthy convalescence. The C of C says that the Zimmermans bought Micka’s after his convalescence but if Paul Zimmerman is accurate it would have to have been 1943. There would be no record of what Abe did for a living then from 1943 to 1946. As Bob says both his uncles served in the Army it would seem that they bought Micka’s going into the Army shortly thereafter leaving Abe to tend the business.
Maurice and Paul became President and Vice-President of the corporation while Abe siginficantly assumed the controlling post of Secretary-Treasurer. Managed the money, paid the bills.
During the fifties at least Abe spent a fair amount of money on both Bob and Beattie. Angel Marolt whose family bought the Zimmerman residence after Abe’s death was trying to tell him of Beattie’s several fur coats, diamonds and Cadillac but Thompson says he wasn’t paying attention.
Thompson quotes Echo Helstrom as saying that the Zimmermans had stores in both Hibbing and Duluth. Having a customer base of approx. 250,000 makes more sense when one considers the amounts of Abe’s expenditures and the fact that the profits had to be split three ways.
The C of C describes Abe as a ‘big man’ in town partial to those big thick long cigars.
The couple had enough money on arrival to buy the large nine room house that Bob grew up in so Abe must have been well paid at Standard Oil before he was laid off. Both he and Beattie are well dressed in the picture while Beattie is actually overdressed.
Bob was entrolled at Alice School for his kindergarten year in 1946 at five years of age. The status of Alice School is unclear. Perhaps it was closed the following year or consolidated with the Hibbing High complex as Bob was transferred. Hibbing High housed kindergarten through twelve as well as the Jr. College. Thompson describes it as a huge and rambling building.
So from first grade to graduation Bob was with the same group of students. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to move into town in tenth grade and try to break into that one. While he wouldn’t have known them all well he must have known the entire student population on sight. This presents the problem then of why Bob, who was the son of the Big Man in town, wasn’t included in the top social cliques. Those cliques undoubtedly formed early persisting through graduation. If Bob was in one he was either forced out early or found it uncongenial to remain for whatever reason. Perhaps he thought his Jewishness excluded him. So if something happened we don’t know what it was and won’t; unless Bob tells it’s going to be difficult to trace.
Growing up in a small town anyone with any ambition looks around and sees very limited opportunities. Working for his father wasn’t a viable option. Not everyone wants to be a doctor or lawyer either. Nuclear Science is OK but a lot of those guys are out of a job now too. My next door neighbor when I was a kid for one.
Bob’s mind turned early to music and then to Rock and Roll. While Rn’R went on to conquer the world and become as respectable as such a spectacle could it was definitely considered discreditible and low class almost volunteer outlawry in the fifties. At the very least it was ‘pimple’ music. It took a certain amount of courage to say you liked Elvis Presley. Pat Boone was set up as his rival and you had better say you liked ol’ White Bucks. If you don’t think Elvis was considered a social criminal check out a couple of his movie roles like King Creole or Jailhouse Rock. What was the Colonel thinking? Clown roles, that’s all Elvis ever got.
And then Bob chose as his hero and model Little Richard. People looked at you funny if you said you
liked Little Richard! I mean, Bill Doggett was a respectable Negro with music you could understand, Fats Domino was as lovable as a chubby ten year old but Little Richard! They hadn’t even created the ghetto he could come out of. His band might have passed but then he opened his mouth. If there was ever a direct challenge to middle class sensibilities Tutti-Frutti was it. Not only was the song incomprehensible it was about queers. Nobody ever quoted the lyrics correctly, while I’m walking around saying ‘Tutti Frutti, I want Rudy?’ What does that mean? I hope no one overheard me. So when Bob gets up, ignoring Pat Boone entirely, and launches into some screaming vision like Rip It Up or She’s Got It or God only knows what, was the crowd taken aback? Chuckle, chuckle.
So Bob having opted for the lifestyle was forced to associate with the hoody crowd or have become a loner. Besides Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider had appeared in 1956 that began a cult of The Loner that peopled the early sixties. These guys, who were by no means rebels but deep thoughtful guys who had a line on the truth denied anyone else and that penetrated sham and hypocrisy sat alone ever ready to resolve a situation setting things right were highly romanticized fellows. There were as many Loners in those days as there were Hawkeyes a couple generations later. So Bob wouldn’t necessarily have been thought of as weird, strange but a Loner. A Loner was next door to weird and strange. Thin line if you get my meaning.
On the other hand the C of C describes the L&B Cafe as a regular jumping Bop Street right there in the heart of Hibbing, Minnesota. Bands set up and played continuously. They knew how to party in Hibbing. The C of C even says there was a radio station in town playing Bob’s kind of music thereby contradicting every other source even Bob. He says he had to go to Shreveport on the radio waves to get his kind of music. In this case I’m betting on Bob.
The C of C tells of Bob’s musical debut like this putting the best possible face on it:
Described by fellow students as polite, easy to talk with, and somewhat introspective, it was a total shock when he pushed back the piano bench and stood up to pound the first notes of a song into the auditorium, electrifying the student body. Kids jumped up, stared at each other open mouthed not knowing what the reaction would be.
Well, yes, they were electried but did they like it?
According to the C of C, looking back fondly, Bob went over real well with his fellow students. If you like this version don’t check the other sources as this is at variance with every other known account but then this is the Chamber Of Commerce speaking. Up to this point in the C of C account there is no reason for Bob to be as bitter as he is about Hibbing at all.
A note of interest is the reoccurence of Fourth Street in Hibbing, Minneapolis and New York City. Quite a coincidence, I knew there had to be some association with Fourth St. in Hibbing. So far we learn that Bob attended Jewish shule there. Whether the synagogue was also located there isn’t clear. The synagogue Bob attended is no longer anywhere at any rate. Tore it down. It was in the way. Had to go. Even though Bob’s father was the most prominent Jew in town, the President of B’nai B’rith and ADL as well as his business interests, and even though Bob had a mega Bar Mitzvah with four hundred people in attendance some say at the most prominent spot in town, the Androy Hotel, some say at the synagogue, he wished to conceal he was Jewish. This attitude may have contributed to his renouncing the Jewish fraternity house to which he pledged at UM while also hiding his religion in New York. The attitude was strange since he seemed to prefer Jewish musicians around him to the exclusion of goys.
Bob’s father Abe, was quite frankly a marvelous provider, spending very large sums of money on son Bob, wife Beattie and his second son, David. When he died in 1968 the house on 7th Ave., now Bob Dylan Ave. was sold. The owners at the time of Thompson’s visit were the Marolts. Angel Marolt who was at home when Thompson called offered to show him around. One thing he learned was that Bob had a clause in the sale’s contract that allowed him to stay in his old room in the Marolt’s house whenever he was in town. Too weird.
What quirk in Bob’s mind compelled him to live in other people’s houses? Perhaps Rebbe Maier back in 1954 impressed on Bob that Biblical scripture presribes that Jews would live in houses they never built. As an article of religion that injuction is a mind boggler. One can’t predict how anyone’s mind will interpret instruction. Bob who functions out of his subconscious very heavily must have accepted such teachings in literal ways. Rebbe Maier was a definite turning point in Bob’s life. Imagine getting out of school, going upstairs at a Rn’R cafe to sit before the only bearded man you may ever have seen, dressed completely in black with a black yarmulke perched on the back of his crown intoning things like: The Jews shall live in houses they never built and then go downstairs to boogie. Pretty spooky, don’t you think? And then as Bob says, he disappeared like a ghost. Let that roll around your brain for little while and see what you come up with.
Mrs. Marolt was trying to tell Thompson something about Mrs. Zimmerman’s multiple furs, heaps of diamonds, I’m sure all the latest fashions and her own Cadillac.
Bob was indulged to the extent of apparently more than one motorcycle, a car, lots of amplifiers and electronic gear for his bands, whatever he wanted plus free movie admissions and plenty of pocket cash. He must have had a large record collection for a kid as he spent his spare time at Crippas record store ordering the odd title. You can bet Crippas didn’t discount either, charging full bore. At the time (after 1958) stereo was 5.98 and mono was 4.98.
As the profits from a sole Hibbing store divided three ways could not have supported this sort of expenditure, having a store in Duluth could account for it. It is significant also tha Abram died in June 1968 and the store closed a few months later. Was the store a losing proposition for the last few years? Did Bob provide the difference so Abe wouldn’t be embarrassed by going banko? Then with his father gone there was no reason to support Uncles Maurice and Paul?
There really is something happening here, isn’t there?
Also as a petty expenditure for Bob (it would have been huge in my life) according to the C of C:
Almost every day Bob came in after school for his regular snack: cherry pie a la mode and coffee (or Coke.)
And then to dinner? No wonder the young Bob had all that baby fat.
If Echo bought those hot dogs for Bob and bought his story that his dad didn’t give him an allowance she was had in more ways than one.
So, Abe was nothing if not a generous father and husband. Beattie as President of Hadassah as well as a Stone must have made the Zimmermans the most powerful Jews in the syngogue while actually giving she and her husband the means to be petty dictators of the town, I saw something like this in Eugene, Oregon in the sixties and seventies, or, as the C of C says a Big Man and big people.
Bob must have a quirk in his mind to misrepresent his childhood so. He was the Fortunate Son John Fogerty only sings about.
In Thompson’s interview with Beattie he quotes her:
How can you know you have a genius in your house, when all my time is spent trying to feed him and keeping his clothes pressed.
In Bob’s story, The Lost Land, Chloe Kiel is shown ironing Bob’s shirts and at the end of the chapter she ‘slaps’ a plate of steak and fried onions in front of him just before he darts out the door to begin the next chapter, A New Morning, just as in the old days when he returned home from school for lunch and was fed by his mother he darted back to school.
Ironing his shirts and providing free steaks was a signal service for bare acquaintances like Ray and Chloe.
Chloe comes across as cold and indifferent and indeed there is a tinge of resentment and anger beneath Beattie’s statement. Motherly, of course, but there. Still, she doesn’t impress me as any Yiddishe Mama of the Mrs. Goldberg variety. Whether Bob was a good boy or not he does have an ambivalent attitude toward his parents. But then he claims that he was really raised by his grandmother, whether Stone or Zimmerman isn’t clear.
I believe the big change came over Bob with his Bar Mitzvah and I’m not talking puberty alone. According to the C of C Bob attended Jewish shule during his young years. This was done after public school hours. Then in 1953-54 when his Bar Mitzvah was approaching Father Abe sent to Brooklyn, New York to have an ultra-orthodox, almost certainly a Lubavitcher Rebbe, sent to Hibbing to indoctrinate Bob in untra-orthodox teachings. It can’t be any surprise that when Bob exhibited his Jewish reverence after his Jesus indoctrination with the Vineyard Fellowship he chose to show himslef as a Lubavitcher. Welcome home, Bob. The C of C tells it this way:
According to a 1985 Spin Magazine interview by Dave Engel, Bob said it was above the (L&B) Cafe that Rabbi Reuben Maier stayed while giving Bob Hebrew lessons in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. The Rabbi and his wife showed up one day and stayed for a year while Bob got ready for his big event . The article quotes Bob as saying he would learn Hebrew after school or in the evening for an hour, then go downstairs and boogie at the L&B. After completing his Bar Mitzvah the Rabbi just disappeared.
In the interview Bob tells it this way:
There weren’t many Jews in Hibbing, Minnesota. Most of them I was related to. The town didn’t have a rabbi, and it was time for me to be bar mitzvahed. Suddenly a rabbi showed up under strange circumstances for only a year. He and his wife got off the bus in the middle of the winter. He showed up just in time for me to learn this stuff. He was an old man from Brooklyn who had a white beard and wore a black hat and black clothes. They put him upstairs in the cafe, which was the local hangout. It was a rock n’ roll cafe where I used to hang out, too. I used to go there everyday to learn this stuff either after school or after dinner. After studying with him an hour, or so, I’d come down and boogie. The rabbi taught me what I had to learn, and after conducting the bar mitzvah, he just disappeared. The people didn’t want him. He didn’t look like anybody’s idea of a rabbi. He was an embarrassment. All the Jews there shaved their heads and, I think, worked on Saturdays. And I never saw him again. It’s like he came and went like a ghost. Later I found out he was Orthodox. Jews separate themselves like that. Christians, too. Baptists, Assembly of God, Methodists, Calvinists. God has no respect for a person’s title. He don’t care what you call yourself.
The C of C knows the Rebbe’s name was Reuben Maier and Bob Dylan doesn’t? There were enough people in Hibbing to have a temple and shule but they didn’t have a Rabbi? The Rebbe Maier showed up in time for Bobby Zimmerman’s Bar Mitzvah but what? it was the first Bar Mitzvah in Hibbing’s Rabbiless history? No wonder four hundred people showed up. The Jews in Hibbing shaved their heads and worked on Saturday’s? I presume Bob means they didn’t wear beards but shaved their faces unlike the Lubavitcher in white beard and one of those funny round hats. I serously doubt there were three hundred or more Jews walking around Hibbing with shaved heads in 1954.
They took one look at Rebbe Reuben’s weird beard and outre attire and told him to get out of town? Now that I can believe. Beards in ’54 were a sign of great eccentricity or a psychotic desire to draw attention to oneself. But why in ’85 the mysterioso act? He just showed up to teach Bobby Zimmerman, a complete unknown with no direction home Lubavitcher tales like this: (actually this is pretty standard esoteric doctrine adapted for Jewish needs)
The messianic thing has to do with the world of mankind, like it is. This world is scheduled to go for 7,000 years. Six thousand years of this where man has his way and 1,000 years when God has his way. Just like the week. Six days work, one day rest. The last thousand years is called the Messianic Age, Messiah will rule.
Essentially what we have here is a variant of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy along with a little Hebrew Theology. If one looks real closely one can see the outline of Sigmund Freud’s notion of the unconscious.
According to Beattie Bob knew, oh, two hundred words of Hebrew. So much for several years of shule and a year of intensive training by Rebbe Reuben.
Whether Bob knows or admits it, it must be true that Father Abram sent for Reuben to instruct Bob in mysteries that Abe thought were essential to his vision of Jewish religion while they were not part of the services of the Hibbing congregation.
It is possible that Abram brought the Rebbe in on the approval of the congregation who rejected him. The comment by Bob of working Saturdays may be signficant here. The Jewish sabbath begins on Friday sundown and continues to Saturday sundown.
As a Lubavitcher, Rebbe Reuben could not have tolerated working during the sabbath while the congregation found it essential amidst a gentile population. Likewise beards are an integral part of the orthodox religion so that the congregation also refused to stop shaving. The only thing mysterious is why it took Reuben so long to catch on. Or maybe he had a contract for one year and the year was up. Of course Bob did need help on those two hundred words.
So Bob’s upstairs memorizing his two hundred words while the throbbing beat pounds insistently through the floor. The super patient Reuben and his wife never object. Bob shortly joins the revelers with his two hundred Hebrew words rattling round his skull, steps up to the mike and begins screaming: I’ve got a girl and her name is Echo. Hmmm. Quite an image out there in the Lost Land of Bob.
Now indoctrinated in quaint antiquarian rites Bob is bundled off to Webster, Wisconsin and Camp Herzl to steep himself in Israeli style Jewish living. Camp Herzl was conducted as Israel in America so those two hundred Hebrew words came in handy in that surrogate for summer in a kibbutz in the Holy Land.
The summer sojourns must have set Abram back a handsome fee for the times. Six to eight weeks of essentially summer boarding school does have expenses. Abe apparently was deeply religious: in Protestant circles he would have been known as a Fundamentalist nut. He and Mike Huckabee would have gotten along fine. One wonders if younger son David was given the same treatment.
So Bob from 1954 on is definitely the product of two nations. The world of the Three Hanks as the C of C puts it and this world of Adam, Moses and the Messiah. Bob was named after Sabbatai Zevi the last acknowledged Jewish messiah in the seventeenth century, his Jewish name is Sabtai.
As kids we all have a lot to reconcile, begin working out at graduation. Bob had a double load; he had two Bobs to reconcile. Personalities wander and widen in those years, Bob made a clean split. On the one hand he was the twerp Bobby Zimmerman of whom it may be said: There’s no success like failure while on the other he was struggling to be the super successful Bob Dylan in which he failed to assume the mantle so that failure is no success at all. At least he made this split off persona’s name mean something. As a note, it was not generally known Dylan was Jewish until after Blonde On Blonde.
Thus in his movie Renaldo and Clara he is not Bob Dylan. Anybody can be Bob Dylan he says, you can be Bob Dylan. Toby Thompson thought he could be and did a pretty good job of it walking a mile or so in Bob’s shoes. Sounded just like him.
As remarkable as it is that Bob realized his fantasy beyond anything he could have dreamed and became the hugely successful Bob Dylan he created an entire new set of problems whose solution eluded him. Well, you know, there’s something lost and something gained while it’s hard to know whether the gain was worth the loss. However the money has disappeared from the table.
The result then is Bob looking backward from 2004 to create a fantasy of how it was in Ray and Chloe’s place on Vestry Street in NYC. The chapter is approriately titled The Lost Land or possibly Never-Never Land might have been better. The chapter isn’t a complete fabrication but it is fiction. Something like the various incidents might have happened but not exactly the way Bob tells it. The framing story of Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel is pure fiction however. They could not possibly have existed.
Bob tells the whole story of the Lost Land within the reference of Ray and Chloe and their fabulous apartment near Vestry below Canal near the Hudson across the street fromt he Cathedral with its bell tower. Thompson got it right.
A troubling aspect of Bob for me is his insistance on bumming other people’s apartments. This seems to be compulsive behavior.
Bob was actually voluntarily homeless from January of ’61 to October or November of the same year when he and ‘roommate’ Suze Rotolo took up digs on Fourth St. I suspect that Father Abe would have been only too happy to supply Bob with funds to live on Vestry Street if he had asked. Bob is simply untrustworthy in any of his stories. As he said of what he learned from folk music: If you told the truth, well and good; if you told the untruth, well and good also, so in Bob’s mind there are no lies, there is only the truth or untruth both having the same value and whichever is more serviceable at the moment. You can’t believe him.
A troubling aspect of Bob’s behavior is his habit of bumming couches in other people’s nests; gaining meaning, as it were, from other people’s lives. Perhaps that was the way he felt of his life in his mother and father’s house. Or perhaps as a Jewish outsider in a goyish land it was his attempt to insinuate himself in the main stream much as he appropriated Woody Guthrie’s persona. Of the houses I have traced they have all been those of goys; he didn’t choose to insinuate himself into the houses of his fellow Jews. His imaginary hosts Gooch and Kiel are obviously goys.
The Lost Land then is a mythologized version of his childhood and first few months in New York City. To my mind Ray Gooch is a combination of Dave Van Ronk, Paul Clayton, Matt Helstrom and his father. Chloe seems simply to be an idealized notion of his mother. (Study her picture for a few moments again.)
As the Gooch frame brackets the period from Bob’s encounter with Gorgeous George to the apartment with Suze Rotolo it must represent a time frame from sometime in ’58 to October ’61. In October Bob Dylan ceased sponging off others to take up his own apartment.
The only one in this time frame he knew who had a large gun collection was Matt Helstrom. The Helmstroms also had a large record collection that Bob listened to. The couch and apartment undoubtedly belonged to Van Ronk while certain exoticisms of Gooch are characteristic of Clayton. The library of Gooch may simply be the New York City Library of which the long narrow room would merely describe the stacks.
The Southern character of Gooch must represent a time after Bob studied the South in the library since there are several references to his Civil War studies. Gooch himself is a Southerner from Virginia gone North which is a symbol in itself. This can be symbolically described as Father Abe being a Jew in Gentile America.
Here then Bob creates or accentuates the more pleasant aspects of his memories in contrast to the very bitter unpleasant memories of the songs. He tells us a great deal about his dream life but little of its realities. At this point I am of the opinion that the party of Camilla ( who Bob says he gets to know quite intimately) is another fabrication of the based on a true story variety.
As Bob would say, folk music taught him that if what you said was true,well and good; if what you said was untrue well and good also. We may probably construe the Lost Land as both true and untrue while a good folk tale. Even the title has a fictive quality a la Edgar Rice Burroughs.
To round off the period back in the C of C milieu of Hibbing: Bob spent his last summer at Camp Herzl in 1957. In the summer of ’58 he was running back and forth between Hibbing and Minneapolis. At that time he would have become familiar with Highway 61.
In his Junior year of ’57-’58 he took up his relationship with Echo Helstrom. They were going steady hence were not supposed to be dating others. As he was in Minneapolis most of the summer he left Echo sitting home alone. She resented this. As the Senior year began she told Thompson, she took a revenge on Bobby returning his token in public in the hall at school. Boy, that hurts.
The feelings must have been much harder than either Bob or Echo portray them. A key problem area is did Bob spend time in Red Wing Reformatory on Highway 61 below Minneapolis and if he did what did he do to receive his sentence: I examine this more fully in Exhuming Bob VIII: The Walls Of Redwing.
He says in Chronicles that he was absent from school from some time at the beginning of April of ’59. He was back at least by the June 5th graduation. His birthday is May 24th. After that date he would have been eighteen and subject to adult sentencing. For what It’s worth he says in his song that no inmate was over seventeen. I’m suggesting that he spent a month of two at Red Wing returning in time for graduation. Certainly a Big Man in town like Abe could have arranged the graduation if he couldn’t get Bob off that time.
The question is what did Bob do? By the middle of this Senior year it appears that he had been in enough scrapes to be known as a troublesome boy; perhaps living out a Rebel Without A Cause persona. Father Abe used his influence up to that time to avoid unpleasant consequences for the lad.
I believe Bob’s song The Chimes Of Freedom tells the story of his crime. Quite simply Echo set him up. She obviously was not quite as complacent as she tells it. See Exhuming Bob VIII: Walls Of Red Wing.
Returning home from Red Wing his parents threw a graduation party for him. Bob was reluctant to attend the party, perhaps with good reason but was persuaded to do so.
This then leaves a very sketchy account of the three or four months of the summer of ’59 for which Bob provides little information. In Walls Of Red Wing I place his stint at Red Wing in August but that is probably wrong. In any event the period from April of ’59 to September of ’59 needs to be explained more fully.
Bob gives some brief details of his stay at Dinkytown but not much. A little bit of the John Pankake episode while avoiding the important details of his theft of Pankake’s records.
Thompson has some good information from Ellen Baker whose father’s folk song collection Bob used extensively.
Then to NYC and his account of The Lost Land segues into his New Morning.
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.
April 10, 2008
The Walls Of Red Wing
Bob And The Radio
It seems like most of Bob’s biographers are English. This poses certain problems as they try to write about things that they are not familiar with. Radio and music are two of them.
As regards the two it is very important to fix Bob’s age in the years of the fifties. He graduated high school in the last year of the fifties- 1959- at the age of eighteen. That means he began high school in 1957. That also means he attended Junior High from 1953 to 1956. Born in 1941 that means he was twelve in 1953.
There was no Rock and Roll in 1953 especially in Hibbing. It takes a lot of years for modern times to penetrate such outposts. I am three years older than Bob. My birthdate is two days after Bob’s so when he had just urned 12 I had just turned 15. My brother is the same age as Bob. The first true Rock and Roll song I remember was Bill Haley And The Comets. Shake, Rattle And Roll was OK but Rock Around The Clock was thin for me. Haley was pioneering but unsatisfying.
Things stayed that way pretty much until 1955 when RnR broke loose. Now, I was probably as much into records as Bob was. The town in mid-State Michigan that I grew up in was probably not too different from Hibbing although larger. Like Bob I went to an all White high school.
The only records I heard before Rock that were interesting were Hillbilly records after 1954 called Country and Western. They became ashamed of Hillbilly and wanted to dignify the genre. Country which is apparently thought to have a great deal more dignity than Hillbilly became the first half and Cowboy songs where dignified by Western becoming the second half. Wolfman Jack speaking of his station in the area around Shreveport said that they played both kinds of music- Country and Western. There is a rather sharp division there for those who have the eyes to see it.
Things stayed that way for me pretty much until 1955 when RnR broke loose. That was probably Elvis doing Heartbreak Hotel which played John to the Jesus of Be-bop-a-lula by Gene Vincent. Vincent faded quickly but Be-bop-a-lula strikes me as the actual birth of teenage rock and roll. It was backed by Woman Love which was even as great as the A side. Actually I think it was intended as the A side but the B side became the hit.
I didn’t really get into records until about 1955, mainly because there weren’t any records that merited getting into. I was then a Junior which put Bob in the eighth grade. If he says he was listening to all those downstream radio stations in eighth grade maybe he was but I tend to doubt it. That seems a little early but, may be.
Now the early to mid-fifties was a time of real diversity in pop music. Not only diverse but the hostility of not only old people but half of my class toward rock and roll was quite pronounced. Everything was done so suppress ‘moron’ or ‘pimple’ music. Ministers proclaimed it the devil’s music and a Communist plot. Might have been something to both charges but if there was it made no difference to me. And there really wasn’t much of rock and roll until late ’55 early ’56.
Big Band was still tailing off. The Dorseys had a big hit with the swing song So Rare as Rock took off. The male quartet, Four Lads, Crew Cuts, Hi Los were very popular, lots of big hits. Mitch Miller produced many excellent folk flavored records- The Bowery Grenadiers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Hank Williams songs were crossing over into pop performed by guys like Guy Mitchell. Even Marty Robbins, country itself, scored with A White Sport Coat And A Pink Carnation. Heylin may make fun of ‘Poor People Of Paris’ and songs of that ilk but they were at least equally as popular as RnR. Jim Lowe’s Green Door. Couldn’t be better. After all Pat Boone ran neck and neck with Elvis for a number of years. No kid at the time would have turned up his nose at such songs. Napoleon XIV They’re Taking Me Away, Ha Ha. Leroy Anderson has always been a favorite of mine- Syncopated Clock and others.
Of course in late ’55 and into ’56 Black ‘pop’ acts like Bill Doggett, Little Richard and Fats Domino -Chuch Berry- began to score. I recently bought a book by Cousin Brucie the New York Jock of the era; I never even heard of half his so-called classics. Where I was and where Bob was we never heard any real Black music nor would I , for instance, have listened to it. I tuned into Detroit Black stations a couple times and tuned out just as quickly. To put it politely, it was foreign sounding. Chicago was another country. So whatever Brucie and Alan Freed thought they were doing they were doing it in a major metropolitan area. It never reached the hinterlands. There was stuff that never even reached New York City. I’ve heard it and know why.
Bob and his family got a TV in 1951. That was kind of early but then his dad ran an appliance store. We only got our TV in 1954 so TV made an impact on me but more negligibly than on Bob. I was surprised that Bob doesn’t ever mention Dick Clark and his American Bandstand which should have been very influential in the life of Junior high kids in ’55 and ’56. High schoolers in ’57, ’58.
It should also be pointed out that there was little programming for TV in those years and fewer channels. For instance in Oakland, California where I was in 1958 there were only two of the three major networks on TV and there was barely enough advertising to support them.
If more than two channels could be pulled in in Hibbing I would be surprised. One of them carried Ed Sullivan because Bob saw Johnnie Ray on the Ed Sullivan show in ’53 or ’54. Heylin is mistaken in calling Bob on that one thinking Dylan could possibly confuse Johnnie Ray with Johnnie Ace.
Johnny Ray’s act was as outre as they come. It was so astonishing one could only gawk. All the other singers at the time tried to be sophisticated, cool, or whatever you want to call it. Ray was so emotionally unrestrained that he was psychotic. His song was ‘Cry.’ ‘When you sweetheart sends you a letter of goodbye, you’ll feel better if you let your hair down and cry-y-y.’ And Ray did just that right there on Ed Sullivan’s stage. He sobbed and moaned, leant over backwards until he doubled up then fell on the stage floor and sobbed from there. J. Geils went even crazier but by that time it was old hat. When Ray did it the first time your eyes just popped, you stopped breathing, looked around the room in wonder and pointed silently at the screen. That’s what Bob remembers. It was not Johnny Ace.
So that’s an approximation of the musical background we grew up with. Bob was picking this up three years before me at the same time. As a punk kid I can’t gauge his reactions accurately. If I’d known him at the time I would have thought he was a little moron. That was what I thought of my brother, a totally out of it kid, it didn’t matter what he liked or didn’t like.
We were all, those of us record literate, dissatisfied with our local radio stations. I don’t know if I was really dissatisfied but I knew or heard that there was more out there. Duluth was about the same size as my town so there would have been several local stations for Bob including Hibbing’s sole radio station. But, they would have been nothing compared to the down river mega blasters.
For the benefit of English readers the area between the Rockies and the Appalachians called the Mississippi Valley is an enormous flat area fifteen hundred miles wide by fifteen hundred miles long, give or take a mile. That means that a radio signal can travel unimpeded if it is non-direction over the whole expanse. After six o’ clock in the evening in those days a lot of stations shut down so there was less interference for the 24 hour stations. There was only one non-directional mega blaster tha I know of and that was XERB in Del Rio, Texas. The studio was in Del Rio but the transmitter was across the Rio Grande in Mexico. Mexico didn’t regulate it’s stations so their wattage was unbelievable. At the time Wolfman Jack began his career they were blasting 250,000 non directional watts from across the river from Del Rio. Since I presume any readers are interested in this sort of thing Wolfman Jack does a fabulous telling of the history of XERB from ‘Goat Glands’ Brinkley to the present in his no less fabulous autobiography. The Wolfman’s slipped by unnoticed but it is well worth seeking out.
Strangely to my ear Bob is never mentioned in the same breath as Del Rio. XERB must have come in clear as a bell straight up river to Hibbing.
Bob merely talks about Shreveport, the home of the Louisiana Hayride. This is also the area that the Wolfman got his start. I believe he talks about Gatemouth and that he patterned his act on his. I could get Shreveport but I didn’t like it as well. Besides I was probably off to the side of the signal and it didn’t come in as well. I listened mainly to Del Rio, Wheeling, West Virginia, Waterloo, Iowa and WCKY Cincinatti, Ohio. C for Cincinatti and KY for Kentucky just across that particular river. Those were all pure country stations especially Wheeling. If Bob didn’t get them they may have been directional off his band.
At any rate for all his talk of listening to Black music when people mention items in his record collection they’re usually country. Webb Pierce was of course tops. Bob also listened to a fair amount of Hank Snow. He owned Hank Snow Sings Jimmie Rodgers but he doesn’t seem to have had any of Rodgers records themselves. He apparently listened to those over at Echo’s. Rodgers requires a certain taste but if you have it he can’t be beat.
My impression from listening to Bob is that he had a lot stronger country background than Rhythm and Blues. I can’t believe there was too much R&B up there on the Iron Range.
And then he got those Leadbelly records for his graduation. Heylin may think it was spelled Lead Belly but I never heard that anywhere but in Heylin’s biography of Bob. Bob and I must have heard Leadbelly together for the first time in different places. Just for background I was in San Francisco in ’59 in the Navy. There was a record store down on Market St. specializing in Folk, Blues and Jazz. Some really obscure stuff. Don’t know how he sold enough to stay in business. Didn’t actually, when I went back the store was gone.
That was where I was introduced to groups like the New Lost City Ramblers and Bob Gibson and people like that and of course Leadbelly. Leadbelly was already legendary to me perhaps from Seeger and the Weavers. Huddie Ledbetter, his real name, was the most godawful stuff I ever heard up until that time. Since then, of course,…but why go into it. The songs were transcribed from worn out 78s onto a 10″ LP and not only was there nothing but noise but even with sound quality it would have been just hideous moaning. Bucklen was right; it wasn’t great, it was only OK. It always amazed me that people who wouldn’t listen to Hillbilly because it was ignorant would go gaga over stuff like Leadbelly.
So, anyway, that was pretty much Bob’s musical background until he showed up at U. Minnesota.
Bob’s Social Status
It is necessary to reconstruct to some extent Bob’s social status and his relationship to Echo Helstrom. Bob has a very deep seated psychotic reaction to his childhood in Hibbing. It is something that almost seems to grow with time. He had a real sense of rejection. This is not an uncommon situation of course but Bob had the uncommon talent to impose his psychosis on the world, a psychosis he has never been able to resolve.
This pyschosis is a difficult thing to work out. I have to combine my thinking here with an email correspondent whose initials are RM. The complete file of correspondence which is more than two hundred pages long can be found on the Lipstick Traces Part IX post on I, Dynamo if you want to read through it. RM has a real stream of consciousness writing style but she is extremely well read in the area of Dylan and Presley while having very good ideas.
The work is a matching of known details as reported by the biographers and an analysis of the lyrics of Dylan’s songs. The biographers seldom agree on the exact details while Heylin and Sounes seem to borrow extensively from Scaduto and Shelton. The general outline seems to be clear.
Bob”s early childhood seems to have been relatively happy but then the turning point in his life seems to have been his Bar Mitzvah. Rather this is so or not by the age of fifteen his sense of rejection and resentment had been firmly established in his mind.
Much is made of the so-called ‘anti-Semitism’ in Hibbing and its few Jews. Actually Hibbing had a fairly large Jewish population for its size and they were very influential. Nadine Epstein and Rebecca Frankel wrote an article for Moment Magazine, August 2005, titled: Bob Dylan; The Unauthorized Spiritual Biography. Moment is a Jewish magazine that doesn’t publish online so you’ll have to go to the library to download a copy of the article if you want it.
The two authors describe Hibbing thusly:
Hibbing’s downtown stands as a monument to its once vibrant Jewish community. “Every single store except for the J.C. Penney’s was owned by Jews,” recalls Neil Scwartz, 53, who grew up in Hibbing and is now a cantor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A glance at the 1942 Hibbing City Directory confirms this observation: Hyman Bloom owned the Boston Department Store, Jacob Jowolsky operated Hibbing Auto Wrecking, Nathan Nides owned Nides Fashion Shop, sold insurance and lent money. The first Avenue Market was owned by David M. Shapiro, Jack and Israel Sher ran the Insurance Service Agency and Louis Stein was the proprietor of Stein’s Drug Store. The Edelstein- Stones owned a string of movie palaces, including the local drive-in and the Lybba Theater on Howard Street, named after Bob Dylan’s maternal great-grandmother Lybba Edelstein, who came to the United States from Lituania in 1902.
By the 1970s, most of these businesses were gone. “When the mine closed and the miners lost their jobs, people were forced to move, and so the Jews who owned the stores lost their customers,” says Steve Jowolsky, 45. One of the handful of Jews remaining in Hibbing. Jowolsky runs his family’s scrap yard.
So Bob grew up in a town perhaps divided by a religious and social barrier. The Jews who owned the businesses and the goys who patronized them may have been resentful. There must have been inevitable conflicts which is probably why Bob didn’t like to be identified as a Jew.
The critical point is that after his Bar Mitzvah at thirteen for the next four years he attended a Zionist summer camp- Camp Herzl in Webster, Wisconsin. The Camp was and is a large 120 acre summer camp. There it seems that the Jewish youth of Minnesota and, actually from around the country and world, met and became acquainted so that Bob had extensive Jewish connections in Minneapolis-St. Paul the home of U. Minnesota.
There is some mystery concerning Bob’s Bar Mitzvah. For non-Jews, a Bar Mitzvah is a coming of age ceremony for men. If you’ve read your Golden Bough by J.G. Frazer you’ll know that when a boy was young he passed his time with his mother and the girls but when passing into puberty he was taken from the women by the men and underwent a born again ceremony to become a man going to live with the men. An example Frazer uses is that of passing through a rolled up cowhide symbolizing rebirth as a man. The story of Achilles in the women’s quarters is a coming of age of ‘Bar Mitzvah’ story.
In Bob’s case it is said that as there was no Rabbi on the Iron Range a Rabbi was brought in from Brooklyn specifically to give Bob a crash course in Judaism for his Bar Mitzvah. The mission having been accomplished the Rabbi was put back on the bus for Brooklyn.
This is a strange story. Shelton tells us that there was a synogogue and Rabbi in Hibbing while Duluth with a fairly large Jewish population had four. Certainly the several dozen Jewish families in Hibbing educated their sons for Bar Mitzvahs without resorting to each individual parent bringing in a Rabbi from Brooklyn, New York.
If the Rabbi was actually brought in then something else was going on.
Now, Bob’s Jewish name is Sabtai, that is he was named after Sabatai Zevi the last great Jewish Messiah. This says something about Abraham Zimmerman’s state of mind. A sect was founded on Zevi’s death in the seventeenth century that flourished as a signficant portion of Judaism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and continues to this day. Freud was of this particular Jewish persuasion. So must have been Abe Zimmerman.
If the story is true then the reason for rejecting the local and Duluth Rabbis must have been the the Sabbatian or Frankist Rabbi was essential to Abe Zimmerman’s conception of the religious education he wanted his boy Bob to have. The sect was centered in Brooklyn. Thus Bob’s adolescent and pubertal mind was clouded at thirteen with a concentrated infusion of Sabbatian-Frankist, possibly Lubavitcher, lore. Bob was now well on his way to his fabled ‘mixed up confusion.’ He had to reconcile extreme fundamentalist Jewish religion with a Country and Western goi outlook. This is what makes the guy really interesting.
Then on top of his Frankist crap he began to spend several weeks at the Zionist Camp Herzl. I interpret several to mean four to six, so that would be a large chunk of the summer separating him from the social life of Hibbing. Obviously his father wanted to immerse him in some fairly intense Jewish nationalism and religion. Theodore Herzl is of course the originator of Zionism which is a nationalist Jewish movement.
Bob attended four consecutive summers beginning in 1953. No person is independent of their environment. The Jews had become very distraught as a people after WWII. For some reason they projected Nazism on Americans and were very fearful that Americans were going to create an Auschwitz for them here. When McCarran built camps in 1953 for a possible Communist roundup the Jews felt sure it was for them. By coincidence Bob began attending Camp Herzl in that year.
As an example of the Jewish paranoia William Paley who owned CBS was so fearful that an attempt at extermination was near that he devised a plan to ‘save’ as many Jewish performers as he could. Thus he incorporated a number of Jewish musical and comedy stars as businesses and sold shares in their careers to prominent gois. TV emerged shortly after the war thus for ten years or so there was a long parade of Jewish performers down to Red Buttons who were given TV shows to provide a return for their investors thus ‘securing the lives’ of the performers. Jack Benny was a difficult act for them to program but once they did he amply rewarded his investors who had bought into him. I believe Benny was the last of the packages. So for all those years the performers were merely on salary when they could have been raking in the coin less the paranoia.
So that is the Jewish environment Bob was living in I am not Jewish but my wife is. Growing up in the fifties she was indoctrinated in the notion that everyone hated the Jews and were out to kill them. This affected her psychology profoundly but her reasoning was why woud anyone want to be something everyone hated when you didn’t have to be. She consequently rejected religion entirely, so there was no religious incompatibility between us as I from my side also rejected religion.
So Bob began his several week visit to Camp every summer in this environment. They don’t show extermination camp movies on TV like they used to but you may be sure Bob was given a steady diet of them every summer. Boy, they used to piss me off.
Before his Bar Mitzvah it is said that he was a friendly outgoing guy but became withdrawn and solitary in his high school years. I have little doubt that his religious training was responsible for it. If his father considered himself somewhat of a Jewish scholar as represented by this Hasidic or whatever Rabbi from Brooklyn then this added to Bob’s feeling of separation from what is described as almost wholly a Catholic environment. I would have felt stranger than he did.
Thus, while Red Wing may have precipitated a crisis in his psychology it was merely the icing on the cake, the straw that broke the camel’s back, etc.
Bob And Echo
Bob entered high school in 1956 at tge age if 15, At 15 he would have been fully aware. Little Richard would have burst on him in ’55 when he was either 14 or 15. Apparently Little Richard’s seeming lack of inhibitions made a tremendous impression on the already inhibited Bob. Richard hit at about the same time as the movie Rebel Without A Cause. The movie and its star, James Dean also blew Bob away. He saw it several times. He saw it at 14 I saw it at 17. I loved the movie but I was unimpressed by Dean. I saw the movie with a bunch of friends and while I was in awe they appeared to be in shock. This was serious stuff. Of course I fell in love with Natalie Wood while I was repelled by the bug-eyed Sal Mineo.
What spoiled the movie for me was Dean himself. It didn’t take me long to realize that he was an adult playing a ‘juvenile’ role. In his most famous scene, rolling the milk bottle over his forehead and actually drinking out of the bottle offended my so much I can’t explain it. He looked old there, at least 28, and he actually looked ancient in the scene in the police station. I may be the only one that ever thought that though.
Now, Heylin misunderstands the chicken or emasculation contest at the end of the movie. To set the scene properly America was just emerging from the Depression. Parents were still virtually paralyzed by their memories of the pre-war years. Teenagers were just beginning to be able to afford cars. The gut was full on Saturday nights but most were driving the family car.
For those that had cars the exhilaration was fantastic. That was the golden age of customization. Cars were lowered in the back, dual exhausts were put in, cars were souped up so that for a few years kids had cars that could outrun the stock models of the cops. Wow! Hey! John Dillinger never had it so good. Pretty Boy Floyd would have thought he was in heaven.
So, you’ve got the hot wheels and all that power so what do you do with it? You invent the game of Chicken. That Hollywood thing on the Pacific Palisades if it ever happened in real life was only possible because of the location on the Palisades.
The idea everywhere else was for two cars, two drivers to face each other from maybe three or four blocks away then floor the beast, accelerating all the way head on at each other. The first guy to swerve lost and was the chicken. Thoroughly emasculated. Some guys chickened out early some didn’t. I watched a few of these and thought I’d never seen such craziness. I hadn’t up to that time, but since…
So the idea in Rebel on the Palisades was not to jump out as close to the edge as possible which was so crazy some movie guy would have had to have invented it but to drive as close to the last stopping point as possible before hitting the brakes. I mean, this was so stupid. So the winner went well behond the stopping point and his car went over the cliff with him in it. Who’s going to get into a chicken contest and try to jump out of a car going sixty or seventy miles an hour? Kids are crazy but I hope there’s a limit. Although, I don’t know, I once played Russian Roulette with a loaded gun. Three rounds. I don’t like to admit it but you can’t change history.
So at this point Bob and Abe came into direct conflict. If Abe couldn’t understand Dean you can imagine Little Richard’s effect on him. So here his wonderful Hasidic Jewish kid is entering high school and flushing himself down the goi toilet. The conflict must have been intense. Apropos of parental conflict that was so intense it led to his disowning him. I read somewhere that his mother Beattie was the model for Visions Of Johanna. Bob’s own words but I can’t remember where I read it.
So Bob began what appears to be the three most action packed years of his life. Leaving the tenth grade shortly shortly after his sixteenth birthday Bob pestered his dad for a motorcycle now that he could get a license. Not a scooter either but a big machine. Harley. No Hondas. So at the incredibly young age of sixteen Bob got himself a big bike. Bob’s dad must have been a very indulgent father. You can ride a bike up on the Iron Range for only a few months a year. Bob went to summer camp between 10th and 11th too so he really didn’t have much time to ride it. But somewhere in there he met Echo Star Helstrom.
Echo impresses me as a tough chickie from the other side of the tracks. she apparently impressed others that way too.
Scaduto quotes one Linda Fuller:
Bob was considered one of the tough motorcycle crowd. Always with the black leather jacket, the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, rather hoody. And Echo with her bleached hair and vacant look; That’s mostly how I first noticed him, running around with this freaky girl hanging on the back of his motorcycle, with her frizzy white hair flying and her false eyelashes. It was shocking to me. I tried not to be narrow minded, but I thought that crowd was a bunch of creeps. We used to laugh at the sight of them on the motorcycles. They used to zip through town and it was funny to see them.
The thing is motorcycles were taboo because motorcycle guys were automatically bad. I had to stay away from them. They were terrifying, Bob with his big boots and his tight pants.
Then Echo chips in:
(Bob) didn’t fit in with the bums. I knew the real bums. All my friends were the wrong-side-of-the-tracks people, the dropouts, and Bob didn’t fit in with them. He didn’t fit in with anyone in town, really.
So here we have the portrait of a Nowhere Man posing as a Bad Motorcycle, acting a screamer on stage but quiet and withdrawn in the classroom and school. Almost a manic depressive.
Without meaning to cast aspersions on Echo she was what we would have called ‘cheap’. She knew the real bums, they were all her friends. The Fugs could have written their song ‘Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side’ about her.
When she first met Bob she said she thought he was a ‘goody goody.’ Must not have been on his bad motorcycle with those boots and tight fitting pants; one of those directly opposite of ‘cheap’ or hoody, not one of the bums. Echo would have seen Bob as ‘upper class’. Echo was probably going to put Bob on. That he went for her must have seemed too good to be true.
Probably Bob moved in on her and meant to pick her up for a cheap thrill or whatever then found to his delight that the girl knew every rock, R&B and Country song in the catalog. Bob wanted to impress her with his own musical chops so on their ‘first date’ they break and enter the Moose Lodge so Bob can cavort on the piano. Didn’t even have to think about it, he flipped out a knife forced the lock and they were inside. Easy as pie. Must have done it a time or two before somewhere, don’t you think? The story comes out in different variations in the biographers. Either Bob or Echo sprung the lock with either his knife or her knife or she with her own knife. In any case they both appear to be experienced housebreakers. This is important.
And now we have a minor problem. Bob told Echo that he didn’t have an allowance so she ponied up for the hotdogs and cokes. Yet at the same time Abe bought Bob a motorcycle that would have been expensive while requiring gas and lots of maintenance. Bikes never run right. Abe seemed to to give Bob enough money for that. So through October or whenever the snow began flying Bob is driving Echo around with her frizzy bleached blonde hair blowing in the wind.
None of the biographers handle the details of these years carefully so I am reconstructing and attempting to arrange the chronology to fit with the details in the time frame.
Now, Abe and Beattie are watching the apple of their eye get wormy right before their eyes. Neither Beattie nor Abe had any use for Echo. Being respectable middle class people they were horrified that Bob was running around with such a cheap trick. Abe was horrified to see his son ‘defiling’ himself. At some point in Bob’s young life Abe told him that it was possible for a son to become so defiled his parents would reject him but possibly God would lead him back to the path of righteousness. These are very strong words and Bob must have strayed from the path for Dad to have expressed himself to strongly. But I don’t think he mentioned this fact to Bob just yet, although Bob’s behavior would get worse. So bad that it is not impossible that his dad may have essentially had him committed for psychiatric attention.
According to Heylin Beattie did let out that Bob was ‘away’ for a couple months in the summer of ’59 that was a cause of intense embarrassment to her. One report says that he was sent to a reform school or clinic in Philadelphia while another says that he spent the summer in the house of detention of Red Wing Reform school down on Highway ’61. Highway ’61 revisited, you see. As there are no references to psychiatric treatment in the songs I am going to pursue the Red Wing side of it of which there are many references and a clear paper trail in the songs.
As Bob entered the eleventh grade he and Echo were evidently quite serious or at least Echo thought they were. At some point they committed themselves to going steady and Bob gave her his ID bracelet to wear. ID bracelets were popular at this time. I wore one for several months in my senior year, maybe even to the end, I can’t remember. They were a little silver plaque with your name on it. Kind of like a wrist watch without the watch.
For what it was worth they talked of marriage even choosing babynames. Given Bob’s later fecundity they should have chosen several.
In the eleventh grade Bob also launched himself as a band with a somewhat mixed reception. Well, it wasn’t really mixed, it was more a form of rejection. He not only got booed for the first time, but laughed at.
The question here is how did it affect his reputation in Hibbing. If your fellow students laugh and boo your act that has to result in a certain amount of contempt in the halls. People have to make snide comments. So Bob really had to develop a thick skin. This would have set him in good stead for his world tour a few years later.
I smiled when in his autobiography he tells of how Ricky Nelson was booed when he tried to change his style. He wryly commented that he and Ricky had something in common. Hurt like hell though.
And then comments must have been made to his parents. Already sensitive about his relationship with Echo Abe and Beattie must have begun consulting friends for psychiatric recommendations. People don’t understand; they didn’t understand me either but like Bob I ignored them and kep on bopping along. Of course Abe and Beattie belonged to the sub-societal Jewish set also. So they must have taken redoubled abuse from that quarter. Synagogue must have been unbearable in those trying days.
Nevertheless Bob was calling unfavorable attention to himself. Not only was he ‘getting’ it from Echo through the eleventh grade but we are led to believe that he was succeeding quite well with numerous maidens with shelf like breasts.
Always indiscreet Bob couldn’t conceal his activities from Echo. Echo claims that she was faithful to Bob over this year long romance. I can’t quite believe that of a girl who knew all the bad boys in town but she may actually have given Bob her heart. Faithful or not this is a very serious situation for when you have given your heart to someone they have it with them and it’s not always that easy to get it back.
That Echo was hurt to the quick is evident by the manner in which she broke off the engagement. She chose to do it publicly by handing Bob back his bracelet in the halls at school. Makes a boy shudder just to think of the ignominy.
May have hurt Bob as much as anything in his life.
However, and this is serious, Echo felt like a woman scorned. Scorning women is serious business which I know from experience. I wouldn’t recommend it to boy or man, young or old. They don’t leave the matter where you think they should and Echo was not going to be satisfied with merely humiliating Bob in school. She didn’t get adequate satisfaction from that.
Now we’re at the end of the eleventh grade. According to the biographers Bob had been after Abe to get him a car. Abe couldn’t resist his son. Really, now, Bob had an affluent boyhood in addition to getting laid enough to be the envy of the school. This guy did a lot better than I ever did on both counts. If Bob expects sympathy from me for having a tough childhood he can forget it.
Between eleventh and twelfth grades Bob had a car that he used to drive down to Minneapolis several times that summer. In one account it was a ’50 Ford with the metal showing through the paint and according to Sounes it was a pink convertible. No ’50 Ford was ever pink while anyone living in the Minnesota winters would have to be crazy to buy a convertible but I merely report what the biogrpahers say.
Cars are even more expensive than motorcycles. Even if mileage was low and gas was cheap dollars were less plentiful back then. Since Bob hasn’t done a lick of work yet Abe must have had an open handed attitude. Wait a minute, it is said that Abe sent Bob out to repossess TVs which must have been about this time. Tough job.
In fact Bob was costing Abe a lot of money. The report is that Bob was riding down the street on his motorcycle and a kid ran into the street and bounced off the bike. Must have given Bob the idea for his ‘accident’ a few years later. Did he really have that famous fall from his bike? I can’t say but I’m waiting for further developements before I make up my mind.
If Bob was dangerous on a bike that was nothing compared to Bob in an automobile. There are reports of more than one accident but the worst one cost Abe four thousand dollars to make good. That one tested Abe’s notions of defilement.
Four thousand dollars in 1958 was a chunk of money. You could still buy paper back books for from twenty-five to fifty cents each that now cost 7.95 and 8.95. Calculate four thousand dollars to that ratio. In the Navy in the same year I was making two thousand dollars a year. I was twenty-five years old before I topped four thousand dollars a year.
So Abe forked over a sum. Besides which Bob would definitely have been cited perhaps arraigned in court. He may have been facing a jail sentence if Abe hadn’t bought the plaintiffs off. Bob was becoming known at least as a wild man in the rather small Hibbing legal environment.
The Chimes Of Freedom
But it’s hard lookin’ in and you can’t see out.
Dylan- Cold Irons Bound
During the summer of ’58 when Bob was spending so much time down in Minneapolis doing god only knows what Echo was stewing home alone. That was equivalent to being ignored and when you’re going steady. Naturally a girl wants vengeance but the question was how to get it. Echo would have known a lot more about Bob’s reputation in Hibbing than he did. Bob may have been oblivious to the outside world paying attention only to what was going on inside his head. The appearances are that he was probably thought of as a troublesome lad. Proabably a lot of people would have liked to have seen him take a fall, go to jail. I think it probable that Echo arranged that fall.
It probably didn’t take much to get Bob to go around with her a bit in the Fall of ’58 so he would have thought that everything was alright and he’d gotten away with things. The evidence from his songs that we’ll get to here in a bit is that Echo lured him into breaking and entering. My surmise is that she had arranged for them to be caught and caught they were.
As we know from the Moose Lodge Bob was an adept at breaking and entering. One can’t say that he was suspected of other such breakins for sure but his reputation was such that he had to be taught a lesson.
From appearances I would say that he was caught, tried and sentenced sometime in the late Winter of ’58-’59. The question is when did he serve his sentence?
My original thought as expressed here was in the Summer of ’59 but as he would then have been an adult of eighteen he would have been too old for Red Wing where the top age was seventeen.
In Chronicles I Bob says he left home in early Spring of ’59. Based on that slender hint I’m going to suggest that he was in Red Wing from Possibly March 25th 1959, released on his birthday of May 24th or the day before.
Thus he was back in Hibbing in time for graduation. His reluctance to attend the large party his parents got up may have been from shame just as the party may have been to welcome him back to acceptance. His reluctance was overcome and he is said to have had a great time at the party. So, awaiting further information I am inclined toward the last two months of his senior year.
As we have seen Abram Zimmerman and his fellow Jews were powerful in the city so that it is possible that In order to let Bob finish school his father may have pleaded with the Judge and he was allowed to serve perhaps a two month sentence in July and August of ’59 just before he began U. Minnesota. His senior year was when he fell off the honor roll according to his mother. It was probably at this time that a mortified Abe advised him that he could defile himself to the point that his parents would renounce him.
After having extricated Bob from all previous difficulties so that Bob may have thought he was Bobby Teflon Bob may have held his father responsible for his having to do time at Red Wing.
At any rate Bob graduated in June of ’59 collected his Leadbelly records, spent a couple two or three weeks as a busboy in Fargo then returned to do his time out on Highway 61. This esay will stop at his possible release from Red Wing. And now for the evidence from Bob’s songs to give credibility to the above scenario.
The actual breaking and entering for which he was arrested and sentenced is recorded in his song The Chimes Of Freedom. Bob had a way of clothing things in words that made common place events ethereal. Chimes of Freedom is one of those. The song seems to record the breakin in a stream of high flown metaphors.
The first line: Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll, means literally well after sundown that in Winter in Hibbing would probably be 3:30 in the afternoon and between midnight something happened late during that interval. That’s pretty clear just confused by language.
What happened was: We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing. In other words the ‘we’, who I asume to be Bob and Echo slipped the knife into the lock and sprung the door. The excitement of the moment made each noise sound like thunder crashing. In other words Bob is describing his psychological state of mind.
Then he has the nonsense phrase ‘As majestic bells of bolts…’ That is literally meaningless but gives a sense of his heightened sensibilities. ‘…struck shadows in the sounds seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing.’ more emotional tension and atmosphere. This was a key moment in Bob’s life and he’s making the most of it. Bob wrote this in ’63 or ’64 some four or five years after the incident.
And then he goes into a flight of self-pity comparing himself and Echo to loners against the world.
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each and every underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.
There you go. That sounds heavy and coming from the speakers backed by the emotional wailing voice, howling harmonica and flailing driving guitar rhythm it sounded then and sounds now like there’s meaning there that isn’t transparent but in fact there isn’t any deep meaning. Bob has just generalized his break in emotions. One hears the tone of voice and listen to the music and gropes for what isn’t there.
Bob goes on like this through six long verses as he milks the tale for all it’s worth. Actually the first four lines of the second verse if you know the story are quite well done:
In the city’s melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden while the walls were tightening
As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin’ rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
In so many words he’s saying that the authorities are closing in and that he and Echo are about to be caught as the ‘walls close in.’ If he and she were attempting a reconciliation that ended as the wedding bells dissolved as the authorities arrested them- in other words, the lightning.
And then four more lines of self-pity:
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned and forsaked
Tolling for the outcast burnin’ constantly at the stake
There’s a neat little description of Bob’s situation in Hibbing as he sees it. Jim Stark the Rebel Without a Cause. Bob obviously considered himself a rake. Luckless is obvious and writing four years later he realized that he was abandoned and forsaken by Echo. He ignores his own actions that led her to forsake him. And then the eternal outcast burning at the stake.
Another couple verses follow that go on in the same vein; then Bob comes to the climax of his story.
Starry eyed and laughing as I recall when we were caught
Here Star reflects the Echo of the first verse and indentifies his companion as Echo Star Helstrom so that she would know he was talking to and about her. This is for world wide consumption. This is unimagined success, laying your complaint before the whole world. But, Bob doesn’t explain that he and Echo were caught in the act of breaking and entering.
So now he and Echo are apprehended by the authorities; caught in the act:
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
So they became so involved in their crime- starry eyed and laughing- that they lost track of time. Remember Charlie Starkweather and Carol had just committed their crimes a little to the West so the authorities would have been on edge.
As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look
Spellbound an’ swallowed ’til the tolling ended.
Yes, now like Jim Stark of Rebel Without A Cause Bob is down at the jailhouse coming down. He’s been busted and busted good. His dad can’t get him off and the Judge gives him his time in Red Wing. I imagine that his father may have negotiated terms that let Bob down as easy as possible such as allowing him to graduate and do his time in the summer or possibly an easier task of negotiating with the school to allow Bob to graduate.
Echo apparently skated out of there but Bob for the rest of the year was a convicted criminal as the whole school sneered at him. I don’t think there was any question that Bob was set up. Echo was the agent but there must have been others involved or else they probably wouldn’t have been caught, unless Bob turned all the lights on.
The crime created what seems to be an undissolvable bond between Bob and Echo. R.M. has followed Bob’s career whereas I signed off at John Wesley Harding so she pointed out the 1997 song from Time Out Of Mind called Cold Irons Bound. This song appears to be an ode to Echo and Hibbing.
I would guiess that for the remainder of the school year she snubbed Bob refusing to acknowledge his existence. Bob expreses this snubbing as a metaphor in Cold Irons Bound:
I went to church on Sunday and she passed me by
My love for her is taking such a long time to die
And then Bob records his feelings fresh as green grass nearly forty years after as the cops drove him down Highway 61 to Red Wing.
In waist deep, waist deep in the mist
It’s almost like, almost like I don’t exist
I’m twenty miles out of town, in cold irons bound.
Yep. Echo got him good. You can be sure she was standing out of sight when they put Bob into the car for the long drive down to Red Wing and relishing every moment of it. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. She might not be finished yet. They wait and wait and plot and plot.
My own corroborating experience that I have recorded in my novelette, The Angeline Constellation on reprindle.wordpress.com, check it out if you’re interested, it’s a good story, 100 pages, confirms Bob’s. I got off light at the time although I’m not anxious to give Ange a second chance.
Briefly the romance took place when I was in the tenth grade. Ange other than making my life miserable in the background could find no opportunity, or if she did I’m unaware of it. There is one incident in my life sort of like Bob’s that I’m not sure of but if she planned it it misfired and didn’t come off satisfactorily.
But I went into the Navy in ’56 returning on leave in the summer of ’57. Ange was, if not waiting for me, quick on her feet. I ran into a girl I had known right after Ange who Ange turned against me. I saw her on leave and asked her out being haughtily, coldly and, dare I say, insultingly refused. Well OK, no problem. Then she must have mentioned that she saw me to Ange. Ange came up with a plan immediately. This girl then asked me to go to a party. Well, after having been told what I could do with myself one would have thought I would have said: No thanks. I’ll never be that dumb again.
I went to this party. She insisted I wear my Navy uniform. I don’t get that. I was not allowed to escort her to the party but was to meet her there. Yeah, well, I’m not so easy now. Of course, I’m not so young either.
At the party I was plied with booze. I didn’t drink at the time. I had never even had a bottle of beer. So I got schnockered pretty quick. I mean stumbling drunk. The hostess kept pouring. So Ange went to this woman who hosted the party and a number of her girl friends, I don’t remember any guys at this party, to set me up and be done. Ange stayed out of sight until I was pretty drunk then she came out of the back of the house to gloat at my back. She doesn’t know to this day that I knew she was there and I saw her. But I did.
Now drunk and sick it was time to leave. I asked for a ride but was refused. I asked for my hat but was again refused. So there I was stumbling down the street a sailor without a hat, in undress. You can be sure Ange was following my progress and laughing bitterly. Bad enough but the next day it gave my stepfather, a drunk, with who I was on bad terms a chance to scorn me. So four years later a scorned woman wreaked some revenge. And that is the way it works. Watch your step.
You can bet that Echo stood gloating out of sight as they put Bob in the car and drove down the side of the gaping pit toward Highway 61 and Red Wing. I believe that’s how Bob’s little drama may have worked out.
He’s In The Jailhouse Now
I used to know a guy named Rambiin’ Bob,
Who used to steal, gamble and rob,
He thought he was the smartest guy around.
Well, I found out last Monday,
They arrested Bob last Sunday,
They got him down (on Highway 61) in the can.
He’s in the jailhouse now.
The question is was Robert A. Zimmerman ever at Red Wing Reformatory for Boys? On the one hand we have the evidence of his songs and his actual statement to the NYC journalist Al Aronowitz that he did time at the prison. On the other hand we have the claim of the Minnesota Department of Corrections that Bob Dylan never served time at Red Wing. Of course Bob Dylan didn’t. There was no Bob Dylan in existence in the Spring or Summer of ’59.
The DOC however declines to say whether a Robert Allen Zimmerman did time. And then there is the competing claim that Bob was under psychiatric care in Phildelphia at the same time. Still no records. There seem to be no references to this latter option in the songs so I do not consider it a viable option.
Certainly the key piece of evidence is the song The Walls Of Redwing. The song was first copyright in 1963 so it was possibly written in 1962 which would be roughly three years after the event. Unlike the very heavy metaphors Bob uses elsewhere Walls was written in plain English as though the terror was still on him.
There are those that say the song didn’t require direct experience to write, that it is just generalized stuff that could be filched from movies or whatever but both R.M. and I agree that the allusions are too personal, reflect actual experiences, than to be just a story.
I’ll reproduce the lines here. These are taken from the Bob Dylan website:
The Walls Of Red Wing
Oh, the age of the inmates
I remember quite freely,
No younger than twelve,
No older than seventeen.
Thrown in like bandits
And cast off like criminals
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
From the dirty old mess hall
You march to the brick wall,
Too weary to talk
And too tired to sing.
Oh, it’s all afternoon
You remember your hometown
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
Oh, the gates are cast iron
And the walls are barbed wire.
Stay far from the fence
With the ‘lectrified sting.
And It’s keep down your head
And stay in your number,
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red wing.
Oh, it’s fare thee well
To deep hollow dungeon,
Farewell to the boardwalk
That takes you to the screen.
And farewell to the minutes
They threaten you with it,
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
It’s many a guard
That stands around smilin’,
Holding his club
Like he was a king.
Hopin’ to get you
Behind a wood pilin’
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
The night aimed shadows
Through the cross bar windows,
And the wind punched hard
To make the wall siding sing.
It’s many a night I pretended to be sleepin’,
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
As the rain rattled heavy
On the bunk house shingles
And the sounds in the night,
They made my ears ring.
‘Til the keys of the guards
Clicked the tune of the morning,
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
Oh, some of us’ll end up
In St. Cloud Prison
And some of us’ll wind up
To be lawyers and things,
And some of us’ll stand up
To meet you on your crossroads,
From inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.
Bob at eighteen would have been the oldest boy there so he could watch them more or less as an outsider. Bob is obviously the one who is going to meet us at our crossroads where he intends to take his pound of flesh. His whole career is one of wreaking vengeance on somebody.
I’ve never been in prison but I have been in the Orphange and the Navy. While not jails or prisons they are similar enough so that I have some understanding of the experience. Altogether I spent five years out of my first twenty behind fences under the control of men and women but little different than prison guards.
I know many of the things Bob is talking about and my understanding of the lyrics is that Bob was there and knows what he is talking about from first hand experience.
I would never lie to a journalist about being in prison whose very job is to broadcast tidbits about celebrities. Or maybe Bob would claim that it was only ‘hophead’ talk and not to be taken seriously. If it were me I wouldn’t even let it be known I knew what hophead talk was. Bob told so many tall stories he could compulsively slip in an occasional truth without expecting to be believed. The difference is that none of the rest of the tall stories found their way into his songs.
The song was so painful and personal that he never released it at the time. It was eventually released in the Bootleg Series. R.M. who has followed the playlists says that Bob only sang it in public one time. That one time was in New York when had flown his parents out to a Carnegie Hall concert. However Mike Bloomfield who saw Bob in Chicago says he was singing the song that time.
Remember that, if Abe had disowned him, Bob had disowned his parents. He claimed in New York to be an orphan maintaining that dodge. People were very surprised to learn that his parents were still alive. So, with his parents in the audience, singing, one imagines directly to them, he recited the Walls Of Red Wing. I don’t understand exactly why he held them responsible. There are some things even a father in a small town can’t fix. In looking over his career I don’t think Bob even knew the meaning of restraint. He seems to have believed that whatever he wanted or wanted to do should never be denied.
The effect of his being restrained and constrained in Red Wing was devastating to Bob’s mind. And Red Wing was forever linked in Bob’s mind with Echo. R.M. points to You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere written at Woodstock, copyrighted in 1967, as an example. Two verses, the first and the second, are relatively clear:
Clouds so swift
Rain won’t lift
Gate won’t close
Get your mind off wintertime
You ain’t going nowhere.
Whooee ride me high
Tomorrow’s the day
My bride’s gonna come
Oh,oh are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chair.
Incarcerated in July and August Bob’s thoughts turn to wintertime when he will be free, in the meantime R.M. thinks he believes that Echo is going to relieve the tedium of his imprisonment by visiting him- his bride, but she’s punishing Bob like Bob punished her. He put her in a psychological prison and now as a prelude to a psychological prison she has him in a real prison and she is going to let him rot there.
The feeling was translated into words in the song Steel Bars copyrighted in 1991:
In the night I hear you speak
Turn around, you’re in my sleep
Feel your hands inside your soul
You’re holding on and won’t let go.
I’ve tried running but there’s no escape
Can’t bend them, and (I know) I just can’t
Steel bars wrapped all around me
I’ve been your prisoner since the day you found me
I’m bound forever, till the end of time
Steel bars wrapped around this heart of mine.
So Bob is learning the hard way inside the walls, the walls of Red Wing.
I don’t care
How many letters they sent
Morning came and morning went
Pick up your money
And pack your tent
You ain’t goin’ nowhere.
So apparently Mom and Dad sent letters but nobody would pay the visit Bob so desperately needed.
As R.M. points out visiting hours were in the morning so that the morning came and the morning went and Bob’s hope of a friendly face went on being frustrated. As for those letters they could have stuffed them.
And then in 1968 in a show of bravado Bob wrote a demand letter to Echo, possibly, in the song Nothing Was Delivered:
Nothing was delivered
And I tell this truth to you,
Not out of spite or in anger
But simply because it’s true.
Now, I hope you won’t object to this,
Giving back all of what you owe,
The fewer words you have to waste on this,
The sooner you can go.
Perhaps Bob thought he could bully his way to freedom. but he couldn’t. Echo didn’t have to listen.
And so Bob left Red Wing at the end of his term, the die was cast for the rest of his life. He ‘tried running but there was no escape.’ ‘He thought he was alone but the past was just behind.’
Echo had trapped him behind the walls of a psychological Red Wing.