Lipstick Traces The Beginning Of A Review: She Belonged To Him

July 27, 2007

The Beginning Of A Review Of

Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces

She Belonged To Him:

Me And Bob Dylan

by R.E. Prindle


     I was bouncing around the internet the other day and I came across a guy who wondered why Dylan since his sales were so poor had become such an overriding influence.  And then I was working my way through Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces for the third time trying to figure out where he was coming from, where he wanted to go and how he proposed to get there when he posed the problem of where were the roots of Punk.

     And then, I’ve been thinking about Dylan lately wondering where he went after Blonde On Blonde and I think I may be able to answer all three questions.  I don’t listen to Dylan anymore, can’t, whatever charm he had for me went South and I mean South Of The Borders, I mean South of the Equator, I mean…South.

     Can’t listen to him but Bob’s overriding influence remains.  I still buy every book about him that comes out.  Bought one today.  I even bought and read and reread Chronicles Vol. I.  Disappointing.  Wish he hadn’t written it.  But if Volume II comes out you can bet I’ll buy that too.  So, Yes, Dylan was a major influence on my life but only three records- Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde.  God, what great titles.  The mystique was built in.

     I was at grad school at the University Of Oregon in 1967-’68.  My mental state was such that I began each day, right after getting up, with a side from one of those three albums.  Everyday for a year and a half.  You’d think I’d have those records memorized but, you know, I couldn’t quote one complete verse but I remember the tones of his voice and the moods of the songs quite well.

     I don’t know what my wife thought of those records.  Never said anything to me about them, never complained but she’s never put a Dylan record on the turntable and she still has never mentioned those records.

     So, the influence came from those moods, those seeming articulations of the 60s angst.  The lack of sales came from that godawful voice he used.

     I was out in California in ’64.  Had no idea what was going on in Greenwich Village in the Big Apple.  I’d never heard of Bob Dylan but one day I dropped in on my brother-in-law.  The guy had an impeccable ear for the next big thing at the time.  He took off the Righteous Brothers and said listen to this.  I don’t know what record it was of Dylan’s but one of the first three.  What godawful noise, the guy couldn’t sing and he couldn’t play.  Sounded like he’d just picked up a guitar and blew harmonica like a six year old.  I was shocked beyond description.  Well, listen to the words my brother-in-law said.  Well, they still weren’t much but the guy seemed offended at everything going on in the world and was sincere.  Boy, there’s a recommendation. 

     That’s where the Punk came in.  You can interchange early Dylan with Johnny Rotten and you’ve got Punk.  Dylan was an eye opener for younger kids with no talent and a lot of angst.  Check out the Chocolate Watch Band and their ‘I’m Not Like Anybody Else’  Post Dylan-pre Rotten.  I don’t understand why the Sex Pistols didn’t do this, uh, song.

     Actually I’m grateful to Bob; he saved me from myself.  In 1964 I was on my way to being a mental eighty year old man.  Following Dylan I’m younger than that now.  He pulled me back from the mental graveyard and restored my youth.  Of course Bob would have been in the musical graveyard except for a little good luck.

     I wasn’t there so what I’m going to say now comes from reading all those books.  Dylan started out as a complete snit.  I don’t care if he changed his name or not.  Tiny Tim had the right idea.  If one name isn’t working try another.  Well, Dylan worked perfectly for Bob so he only needed one name change.  Tiny Tim went through several.  Probably looking for a new one right now if he’s still alive.

     Bob’s early adventures in Minnesota may be interesting but they don’t concern me now.  Somewhere along the way he developed a fixation on Woody Guthrie.  God, I wouldn’t give you a quarter for any record Guthrie made unless I could turn a quick profit on it. 

     So, Bob shows up in New York City as a Guthrie clone.  Didn’t do him any good.  Dressed funny too.  Like a Hollywood vision of the Dust Bowl.  People said things to him about it.  Dylan realized he was peddling his bicycle as fast as could down a dead end street.  He decided to give it up.  Had to search around for a new persona.  Took him a while but he found one.  Plundered all his friends of their styles but, a boy’s got to learn somewhere.  What’s plagiarism to some is education to others.

     He was bright and he could mangle words and images.  If you really parse ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ it doesn’t hang together, makes no sense.  But the MOOD, god, the mood is terrific.  The lyrics don’t have to mean anything.  Of course with his raucus voice and guitar banging and harp blowing the song would have just lain there.  But as Bob would later sing- She belonged to him.  And she planted a kiss on him the likes of which very few ever experience.  Don’t want to get over confident though.  Like Jesse Winchester later sang- First She’s yours and then She’s his and that’s the way it is and always will be.  In ’63 and ’64 She was just toying with him.  Albert Grossman was on the other end of the line.   Enough to scare anybody.  He formed Peter, Paul And Mary, kind of a sweet singing Kingston Trio and they picked up on Blowin’ In The Wind and coming from their sweet harmonies Bob became established as a songwriter.  That’s where the mega influence came in.  Pretty soon all the good singers were doing his songs.  Songs that no one would listen to on his own albums.  The Byrds called it Folk Rock.  The generation loved it.

     So people began to reverence Bob Dylan as a songwriter.  Then in ’64 or so She really entered his life.  Both Sides Of Dylan was a record groping for the future and in the next Bringing It All Back Home he really began to do that.  We went into the future and the future sold.

     Bringin’ It All Back Home was supposed to be a radical departure for Dylan; he threw over Folk for Rock n’ Roll.  Smart move.  He may have sounded terrible but he wasn’t dumb besides with a sharp rock band behind him you couldn’t hear him as well.  Look what Frank Zappa did for Wild Man Fischer.  Folk had worn out its ethic; there was no future for it; all past tense.  Now, when Johnny Rotten sang no future, no future in 1975 Rock had also worn out its ethic.  It was on the verge of becoming stale or already over the line, so sounding as rotten as early Dylan the Sex Pistols pulled the plug on Rock.  Had to happen.  Everything gets old.

     Well, anyway Bringin’ It Back opened the eyes of all us doubters while Highway ’61 Revisited made us sit up and pay attention.   There was something happening there wasn’t there?  Not much in retrospect but it was a revelation at the time.  That was when She came to live with Bob for a year or so.  It was bliss, you ask him.  Words just spilled out of his mouth.  Highway ’61 was such an advance on rock n’ roll you just didn’t know what to think.  Everyone stood around breathlessly waiting for the next one.  That came out in the summer of ’66.  I had just graduated from Cal State At Hayward attending summer school at UC Berkeley.  Boy, was I a strange one in a state of transition from squarish to hippish.  Bob’s Blonde On Blonde lay there next to Procol Harum and Canned Heat.  Man, the rock revolution was really on.

     She and Bob were really making it.  Blonde On Blonde was such a peak no one could see how it could ever be topped.  It couldn’t.  That was when She and Bob split.  She went one way and Bob went another.  We heard about his accident.  Reports came he was alive but had broken his neck.  I stopped worrying about what Bob would do next; I knew it wouldn’t top Blonde.  I wasn’t sure about Her but I knew his mind had stopped.  I knew because I saw Her walking down the street.  I tried to catch up but She was too fleet for me.

     Bob recovered and came back with the insipid John Wesley Harding- Lay Lady Lay- for Chrissakes, give me a break.  For Bob a kiss was just a kiss but what a kiss.  The kind you never forget.

     I tried to follow his career but the stuff was just, well, ordinary.  Blood On The Tracks was so-so.  Tangled Up In Blue was a good song but that’s just it, it was a good song.  A simple narrative with a beginning, middle and end, certainly no Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands or Desolation Row.  I’m not big on depression, at least not anymore, but I sure loved those songs.  Stuck Inside Of Mobile Again?  She was cooing in his ear during that sweet moment of bliss.  Lay, lady, lay?

     So Johnny Rotten did MacDougal And Bleecker Revisited and went over like the proverbial lead.  Nobody liked Rotten’s crap; nobody listened to it.  Don’t know what Greil Marcus is talking about; who does he think he’s kidding?

      Anyway, kid, you wanted to know why Dylan is so important and sold so few records.  This is the crux of the matter.  Might be a little more to it.  I’m still working on Greil Marcus and what he is trying to say in Lipstick Traces.  I’ll get back to you on it.  This is only a beginning.

2 Responses to “Lipstick Traces The Beginning Of A Review: She Belonged To Him”

  1. Bill Marcus Says:

    I found your comments about Dylan through a google alert i have for Greil, my older brother. You’re a little older than I (I’m 58), but Dylan had a similar, overwhelming impact on me. I first saw and heard him the first time he appeared at the Berkeley Community Theatre. I went with Greil, who had seen him perform with Joan Baez back East and said “you have to hear him.” And for years, until he went into his post-Elvis, white spangled buckskin, born again phase, I never missed a concert. But i always bought his albums, including the bootlegs, and, like you, just about everything written about him.

    The single most remarkable moment in any concert I’ve ever been to (and that includes standing in front of the stage apron, 3 feet from Jimi Hendrix, while he played at Winterland) was Dylan and The Hawks playing a rock instrumental interlude of “It Ain’t Me, Babe”. So stunning that when Greil and I met up after, we were still agape.

    Much to our great amazement, years later he was given an audience tape of that same performance, and it was still just as shockingly amazing.

    Thanks for your very interesting Lipstick Traces, Part I and II, comments. By the way, what really got me into lipstick Traces, which i think is a brilliant, but intensely difficult book to access, was Greil use of Cohn’s “Pursuit of the Millenium.” By sheer coincidence I had read it for a course on Medievalism and it was one of those books I highlighted, underlined, marked notes in the margins, and so on…and i reread it as i read Greil’s book.

  2. reprindle Says:

    Yeah, Pursuit Of The Millennium is a very interesting book. Sort of a ‘secret history’ also. The undercurrents that can’t be seen from the surface we are given in college. Not that I denigrate college requirements. At best college is just a good start for the serious inquirer. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver’s book on the millennial pursuit is good too.

    I agree that the Band behind Dylan was unequaled. I like the video tapes still as crummy as most of them are. Very exciting music. Of course the instrumentalists backing Dylan up on the big three can’t be topped. One of those rare momets in time when things just can’t seem to miss. I’m real glad I was there but then I say that about every moment of my life. If you don’t like your life, man, you’re in trouble. That’s what I think, anyway.

    Thanks for your remininscences on Dylan. I just love to hear them. What a blow those days were.

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