Exhuming Bob IX: Chronicles I: Pensees 5

May 12, 2008

Exhuming Bob IX

Chronicles I

Pensee 5


R.E. Prindle

Younger Pete Seeger

Younger Pete Seeger

     Larry Sloman has an interesting interview with Mike Bloomfield in his On The Road With Bob Dylan of 1978.  It takes up twelve pages- 286-297- of the 2002 Revised Edition.

     Mike Bloomfield was, or course, the White Southside Chicago Blues guitarist who rose to fame as the lead guitarist of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  Butterfield’s LP East-West was one of the seminal records of the sixties.  If you’re hip and don’t know the record, you should take care of that as soon as possible.

     The interview is interesting in a number of ways.  Bloomfield who was a Jew ‘hanging out with ‘the niggers’ on the Southside as he puts it, has a rather surprising attitude toward Blacks and opinions on Dylan.

     Born in ’43 Bloomfield was two years younger than Dylan thus his mind was more malleable to the propaganda of the fifties as he turned fifteen only in ’58, graduating, if he did, in ’61.  The tremendous persecution indoctrination and conditioning of the mid to late fifties in the Jewish community would likely have influenced his mental state more profoundly than Dylan’s.

     The Jewish community has always been affected by the Negro mental situation.  A low down Jew in his own community was frequently designated a ‘nigger’ often carrying the nickname of Nig or Big Nig.  Sloman, also a Jew, repeatedly refers to himself as the ‘nigger’ of the tour while designating Ronee Blaklee as his female nigger counterpart.

     While not having enough information to diagnose Bloomfield’s mental state nevertheless since he abjured the White world for the Black world of the Blues it would seem that he interpreted the intense Jewish indoctrination as meaning that since the world hated the Jews only because they were Jews that the Jews were no better than the ‘niggers’ and that he should go live with them.  The psychological conditioning young Jews went through in the fifties was just horrid in the effects on their psyches.  Really crazy stuff.

     So, while feeling no better than the Blacks Bloomfield at the same time recognized his separateness, difference and apparent inferiority.

     This was certainly different than the image being projected to the equally impressionable youth of America who through musicians like Bloomfield reverenced the Negro.  In fact Bloomfield was a perfect catalogue of prejudices if one looks at it that way.  Another way of looking at it is that having had close contact with the various cultures he had a clear idea of their characteristics as compared to the Jews and Whites.

Mike Bloomfield

Mike Bloomfield

     Still, at Newport he was scandalized by Peter Seeger’s behavior.  Quite clearly Bloomfield was not your typical White Liberal.  p. 291-292:

     To play with anyone at a folk festival, I would have plugged my guitar into Pete Seeger’s tuchus, really man, and put a fuzz tone on his peter.  You know what fucking Pete Seeger was doing?  He brought a whole bunch of schwartzes from a chain gain to beat on a log and sing schwartze songs, chain gang songs, and he was doing that, can you believe this guy?  Here’s a white guy, got money, married to a Japanese woman, beating on a log with schwartzes singing ‘All I hate about lining track, whack, this old chain gang gwine break my back,  actually saying ‘gwine’, whack and Seeger’s doing this and he’s pissed off at us for bringing electric guitars to the fucking folk festival!  He brings murderers from a schwartze prison to beat on a log!  Oh, I couldn’t believer how fucking crazy it was!

     Schwartze italicized in the original, of course, is Yiddish for nigger.  The above is terrific scene painting that represents  about how probably 90% of America at the time would have perceived the scene.  Seeger was a Liberal Commie Red American living this incredible fantasy life in which he was the star of his own movie in which there were no consequences while the plot is perpetually arranged  to suit his convenience.

     This was the beginning of the period when White Americans believed themselves in control of the destinies of the people of the world.  Kennedy had just created the Peace Corps under whose auspices raw youths with no worldly experience were sent out into the world to supposedly tell forty and fifty year old men and women that they were doing everything wrong and these mere kids were going to tell them how to do it right.  I can’t tell you how the concept boggled my mind.  Seeger married to a Japanese while calling these Negros cons to Newport to play chain gang songs is actually treating these people as though they were his toys.  The arrogance of this Liberal so-called peace-loving, people-loving creep is amazing.

     As Bloomfield says, Seeger came unglued over the violation of his fantasy when electricity was introduced into his rural pre-Civil War fantasy while idolizing Negro murderers that he had had released from prison for the weekend.  Imagine, for his convenience without any regard for the feelings of the prisoners he had done that.  Then he has them perform a scenario where they are beating on a hollow log as caricatures of themselves of a century earlier singing railroad songs that hadn’t had any relevance for at least fifty years.

     Obviously Bloomfield while he had some fantasy that he was a psychological nigger who was at home on the Southside still longed to be Uptown with the White folks.  Hence he is so scandalized that Seeger, a man with money, in other words, while Seeger didn’t have to play with schwartzes was actually, and here Mike’s incredulity is palpable, singing Negro dialect like ‘gwine’ and going whack.

     I mean, in Seeger’s incredible movie life he’s got a Japanese wife and everything, bank account.  If he tires of that fantasy he dumps her and marries a – whatever, whoever the film running through the sprockets of his mind fancies.  I mean, the guy’s got a long lead between second and third out on the grass and nobody’s even running him down.  Bloomfield is completely flabbergasted.

     And then Dylan is toying with him and he does know that.  Dylan comes to Chicago right after the first album, Bloomfield grabs his guitar, just like in Crossroads, intending to cut Dylan down which he can do with ease and cutting is done everyday in Chicago so it is legit.  Dylan must have blanched with fear knowing Mike could do it.  Now, remember this is an intra-Jewish thing.  Rather than risk embarrassment Bob abases himself and charms Mike into believing they are friends.  Deceived, Mike lets Bob off.

Dylan At Peak

Dylan At Peak

     Now safely back in New York Dylan calls Bloomfield to ask him if he wants to play on Highway 61, the most vengeful record ever recorded.  Bloomfield accepts showing up in the enemy’s camp at Woodstock.  Now Dylan insults Bloomfield and strips him of his dangerous skills.  Bob says:  ‘I don’t want you to play any of that B.B. King shit, none of that fucking blues I want you to play something else.’  so we fooled around and finally played something he liked, it was very weird…’

     So Bob makes himself superior by taking away Bloomfield’s identity (I had to change their faces and give them all brand new names) but he takes the trouble to actually teach Bloomfield the songs because he is going to need him.

     I have to give Bob credit for being an improvisational genius.  At the Highway 61 session he and Mike are the only guys who know what they’re doing while the other musicians are keying to them.  The result in my estimation is sensational.  As a musician Bloomfield didn’t think much of it but as a listener without those kinds of professional prejudices the result is astonishing.  To be sure the sound is not as tight as a Johnny Rivers record but that is its genius.

     Bob assumes that Bloomfield knows he is now Bob’s shadow or guitar player.  When Mike goes with Butterfield Bob feels rejected.  When Bob’s feelings are hurt Bob gets revenge.  A number of years later Bob asks Mike to play on Blood On The Tracks This time he doesn’t need Mike so harking back to their first encounter in Chicago he roars through the songs in one tuning so fast Bloomfield can’t keep up.  Bob has cut Bloomfield as Mike had meant to cut him.  Bob walks out, king of the Crossroads.  Bob has ‘proved’ himself the better musician.  End of that story.  Bloomfield ODed a few years later.

     At one point Sloman asks Mike ‘What was he like?’  pp. 286-287:

     “There was this frozen guy there,” Bloomfield says.  “It was very disconcerting.  It leads you to think, if I hadn’t spent some time in the last ten or eleven years with Bob that were extremely pleasant, where I got the hippie intuition that this was a very, very special and, in some ways, an extremely warm and perceptive human being, I would now say that this dude is a stone prick.’

     Bloomfield then describes Dylan in conjunction with Neuwirth and Albert Grossman holding themselves aloof from others while indulging in savage put downs of anyone and everyone.  Bob in fact was a stone prick.  The question is why?

     After this introduction to the problem , in Pensee 6 I will return to the root of the problem built around Bob’s reverence for Mike Seeger.

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