Exhuming Bob IX: Chronicles I Pensees3

April 27, 2008


Exhuming Bob IX

Chronicles Vol. I

Pensees 3


R.E. Prindle


     …I needed to get my own place, one with my own bed, stove and tables.  It was about time.  I guess it could have happened earlier, but I liked staying with others.  It was a less of a hassle, easier, with little responsibility- places where i could freely come and go, sometimes even with a key, rooms with plenty of hardback books on shelves and stacks of phonograph records.  When I wasn’t doing anything else, I’d thumb through the books and listen to records.

     Not having a place of my own was beginning to affect my super-sensitive nature, so after being in town close to a year I rented a third floor walkup apartent…

Bob Dylan, Chronicles Vol. I

     Yes. Bob’s super-sensitive nature needed his own bed.  He and Suze Rotolo were an item soon after he met her in July of ’61.  He had to give up the the comfort of other people’s books and records in other people’s digs.  He needed his own privacy now.

     Suze would be an important influence in his life.  She came from a long line of Communist agitators.  She was not only Red to the- but was working for- CORE there in New York City.  Bob wasn’t writing much as yet since his major influences hadn’t come together.  While Bob doesn’t mention all those old C&W records as a songwriting influence he nevertheless has always written within a Country and Western context.  Guthrie, his first attested major influence rose from a C&W milieu.

     From being an apparent pauper, one reason Suze’s mother didn’t like him, Bob suddenly had the affluence to rent an apartment while being able to furnish it, even buying a used TV.  He and Suze moved in.  Suze is putting out an autobiography this month (May, 2008) so we’ll see if we can see what Bob saw in the girl.

     As a Communist lass working for CORE Suze must have talked up Civil Rights and other Reconstruction views a bit so we may probably accurately assume that she influenced Bob’s songwriting direction when he gets his songwriting attitude organized here in a paragraph or two.

     Bob came from small town Mid-West Hibbing.  I do know where that’s at.  While he was interested in records there was no indication he was ever interested in any other cultural areas.  He doesn’t seem to have evidenced any interest in the varied cultural life of New York City before he met Suze.  He was no habitue of museums although he does tell us he haunted the library where he read newspapers- those from 1855 to 1865.  No news like old news.

     His mind had been little prepared for what Suze had to show him.  Mid-West small towns can be stifling and that’s no joke.

     As Bob says:  I began to braoden my horizons, see a lot of what the world was like, especially the off-Broadway scene.  Then he mentions Le Roi Jones’ (Amiri Baraka) and the Living Theatre play, The Brig.  Bob may have seeen those plays with Suze but he didn’t see them within the time limits of his story so they could have had no influence on his songwriting development at this time.  Dutchman and The Baptism of Jones that he mentions were first performed in 1964 as was the Living Theatre’s, The Brig.  It is interesting that Jones’ The Bapstism is described as anti-religious when Jones turned Moslem and became Baraka shortly thereafter.  Baptism must have been more anti-White.

     Jack Gelber’s The Connection was made into a movie in  ’62 so he could have seen the play within this time period.  I couldn’t find any time period for the play but it ran for over two years.  I didn’t come up with anything for the Comedia Del Arte.

     The Brecht-Weil show drew a blank but as he seems to have been knocked out by the song Pirate Jenny that may have influenced his song When The Ship Comes In,  while he gives it prime importance as an influence that formed his skills  he must have seen that sometime in the Fall of ”61 or the Spring of ’62.

     He and Suze did visit the artist hangouts she was familiar with while broadening Bob’s horizons by trips to MOMA and the Metropolitan.    Bob probably saw Picasso’s Guernica at MOMA where it was on display at the time.  Bob developed a real interest in painting during this period.

     So, we have the book thumbings from his freeloading days, the records, Suze and her art influences and then when John Hammond signed him he gave Bob an acetate of the first Robert Johnson album, which didn’t sell for beans I might add.  The first Robert Johnson LP was released in 1960 so I don’t understand why Bob was given an acetate unless it was just lying around and Hammond picked it up or else acetates were a sop to new signees who had just been contractually screwed.  You think managers are bad, try record companies.

     Johnson was a revelation for Bob.  He saw something in the LP which only a few people ever have.  I’ve listened to it a couple of times and I’m with Dave Van Ronk.  So What?  There’s nothing to the vocals and he’s obviously a beginner on guitar.  It’s not that he’s inventive he just doesn’t know how to play.

     The story Bob tells is that a teenage Johnson is hanging around some Blues heavies and they shoo him off.  Johnson then meets a supposed guitar wizard nobody’s ever heard of who teaches this very receptive student mega volumes of guitar lore so that Johnson returns to the Blues heavies a year later to knock their socks off with his virtuosity.  As Van Ronk says:  ‘…oh that lick’s from here, this one’s from there; that song is a reworking of another and so on.  Greil Marcus quotes Johnson’s lyrics extensively in his Mystery Train.  Wow!  I guess too much of nothing can be a good thing.

     But anyway Bob learned three or four times as fast from Johnson as Johnson learned from the old coot who taught him.  Bob was up and running within three months.

     However Superbob the Songwriter wasn’t ready to step forth from the phone booth yet, there was something else lacking, what was it, something or other.  That’s it, in French, l’ autre.  Bob had discovered that he was someone else.  I know where that’s at too; I’ve been called somethin’ else a couple times I can remember.  So Bob was somewhere between Bob1 and Bob2.  The transition from Bobby Zimmerman to Bob Dylan had to be completed.  Bob picked up a copy of Arthur Rimbaud.  The book fell open in his hands and the words ‘Je suis un autre’ floated up before his eyes and were sucked into his soul.  Bob too realized that he had or was un autre.  Now Bob was ready to rock and roll.

     This is a pretty story and I like it.  I like it a lot.  It might even be true, I’m sure I don’t know and maybe Bob isn’t real positive.  Anyway the songs began to roll out.  John Hammond who had seen only a couple when he suspicioned there might be more in Bob’s head so  he sent the underaged lad to be signed by Lou Levy.  Songs were in the air I guess and Albert Grossman had his radio tuned to Bob’s brain and must have heard them.  Like a vulture spotting a dying man from several thousand feet in the air the eagle eyed Albert, and that is not meant as an insult, descended on Bob and scooped him up.  Wish I’d been there with the gift of gab, a shovelful of chutzpah.   A dream of a life time and Albert split it in two to come up with Bob and Peter, Paul And Mary.  The Fearsome Foursome.

     Although Bob was to have difficulties with Albert in later years when Albert’s cut was growing larger than Bob’s he seemed to have been welcome at this time.  Peter Yarrow says that without Albert Grossman there wouldn’t have been a Bob Dylan and this may be God’s own truth.  So how much did Bob really owe Albert?  But like The Colonel and Elvis a manager seems to inevitably believe the whole belongs to him.  The manager’s cut just seems to get larger and larger while the artist he’s working over gets to lick the plate.  But, those problems were in the future and as Bob’s songwriting skills matured Albert got him much more money than he could have gotten otherwise.

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