A Review: Dylan And Me, 50 Years Of Adventure by Louis Kemp

September 7, 2022

A Review:  Dylan And Me, 50 Years of Adventure by Louis Kemp

Review by R.E. Prindle

In Dylan and Me, Louis has faithfully and unconsciously written nothing less than a historical work, a modern day version of Tom Sawyer’s adventures with Huckleberry Finn….These uniquely American escapades, both before and after, Bobby became Bob, make fun, entertaining and very enlightening reading.

Kinky Friedman

From the forward.

To understand Louis Kemp’s memoir Dylan And Me  I think it necessary to put the immigrant generation of Bobby Zimmerman into the context of immigration.  Robert Zimmerman is of course Bob Dylan’s family name that he changed to Bob Dylan to make it in the entertainment world.

Bob Dylan is third generation immigrant, his grandparents arriving in the US near the turn of the twentieth century.  They chose to settle in the Great North of Minnesota for some peculiar reason; Bob’s mother and father were born in Duluth, second generation.  The family is of course Jewish.

Immigration is usually told from the point of view of the immigrants, the natives being shoved aside as bigots.  A key text of the twentieth century was Gustavus Myers, ‘The History of Bigotry In The United States’ that portrayed natives as bigots persecuting immigrants, especially Jewish immigrants.  Myers book was published in 1943 just as the Jewish holocaust was beginning although unknown in the US at the time.  The consequences of both the book and the extermination begin in the 1950s just as Bob was passing through puberty.

The Jews wherever they were have always considered themselves  a separate people living among strangers, hence their manners and customs bear little resemblance to those of their neighbors.  Oppressed in their home countries they celebrated America as the land of freedom which they immediately set about to subvert.  In the US, certainly up to the twentieth century there had been few Jews so there was no tradition of inter-group relations but the power of the native culture was overwhelming. Thus all immigrant groups seeking the ‘freedom’ they cherished were expected to meld into American culture leaving their oppressive past and customs behind on Ellis Island.

That was the expectation, but the reality was that it takes more than one generation to become acclimatized.  Bob’s second generation parents began the process.  They, their generation, as Myer’s book demonstrates, believed themselves to be discriminated against.  They sort of cowered, especially in the years following the end of the Jewish-German War in Europe.

Then, when the news of the extermination camps became known they were terrified seeking to hide their identity as Jews because they believed that the holocaust would soon begin in the US.  This was a quite serious reaction to European events.  William Paley of CBS- Columbia Broadcasting System-  and his associates, in a panic set up, a plan to ensure that Jewish entertainers might survive the imagined coming holocaust.

Now, television  became a commercial reality after the war.  The radio networks, CBS and NBC were Jewish owned so that the industry belonged to the Jews simply adding TV.  They began to systematically give shows to prominent Jewish entertainers such as Milton Berle, Red Buttons, Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny and many others.  That is why all these Jewish showbiz types, mostly vaudeville performers owned the airwaves for a couple decades.

The post war Jewish generation then entered more closely into American manners and customs but the distance remained to the point that the Jewish kids appeared to be imitating Americans while retaining their Jewish identity.   In you follow this evolution from immigration to imitation and observe the third generation Jews attentively you can readily see the gap between the two cultures.

This gap and its consequences is readily apparent in Louis Kemp’s memoir.  Hibbing was a mélange in immigrant cultures.  The town had a population of about sixteen thousand of which about three or four hundred were Jewish.  They maintained a separate identity within the community.  Whether Bob was excluded from mingling or whether he excluded himself the exclusion is clear causing him serious social problems.  His hatred of Hibbing may now have been somewhat blunted but it was very strong in his younger days.

At the same time Bob to some extent became assimilated through country and western music which he knows thoroughly.  Hence he adopted a false country persona for his stage presence.  This was altered a great deal when he arrived in NYC and had to familiarize himself with Negro Culture, but that is later.

The Jews in Hibbing attended the Theodor Herzl Summer Camp in Wisconsin and it was at the summer camp that Dylan and Kemp cemented their friendship along with that of Larry Kegan.  The Herzl camp kept the area’s Jews within the Jewish atmosphere emphasizing the separaton.

Bob was enraptured by the actor James Dean and his performance in ‘Rebel Without A Cause which forms much of his pesona; in addition he was swept up in the rock and roll craze that was a universal American experience with a small Jewish presence at first.  Bob himself was swept up by the astonishing music of the great Little Richard, a Negro entertainer whose career at the time changed the direction of the universe.  He, along with Elvis epitomized the decade and Bob was enamored of both.  He wanted to be a rock and roll star, imitating Little Richard in his high school bands.  Little Richard was a little beyond his reach so he turned to folk music adopting Woody Guthrie as his musical role model.  However he never lost the desire to be a rock star.  His 1961 song ‘Mixed Up Confusion’  was an attempt to blend folk and Little Richard that failed.

Bob never did find a rock and roll groove.  He was able to create contemporary sound that was neither rock nor folk, something almost unique for the times.  It didn’t conquer American but became essential to a particular sub-culture.  A Bohemian culture.  Bohemia became Beat and then Hippie with a strong Negro influence.  Bob was home.

To some extent Bob maintained a relationship with Kemp and Kegan.  Busy with his own affairs in New York he slowly became a phenomenon.

At the same time Louis was busy working on his own success that was quite remarkable, he developed a major fish business.  Two boys from Hibbing making it big.  Having made it the relationship was renewed.  The third member of triumvirate, Larry Kegan’s life took a tragic turn.  While in Florida  during high school he was in Florida and made the mistake of diving into shallow water thereby breaking his neck and becoming a quadriplegic.  But Bob drew him back into the relationship even taking him on stage a time or two to sing along.

Time passes, Bob’s career has some ups and downs but he remains the voice of his generation or part of it and they stick with him whether they buy his records or not.  Then in 1976, Bob having become a  legend in his own time, during a low point in his career, he came up with a rather strange idea, that of the Rolling Thunder Review.  Here we come back to the immigrant integration theme.

Notice that Kinky Friedman in the introduction to ‘Dylan And Me’ attempts to pre-empt the ultimate American Tom Sawyer and replace him with Dylan and Kemp thus blending the two cultures.  Bob and Kemp were dressed in the clothes that Tom Sawyer once wore; he had to change their faces and give them brand new names, to paraphrase Bob.

.2.

Because of the Jewish holocaust by White people the Jews were given incredible moral power which was transformed into hatred for the United States.  The US went from the being the world saving moral arbiter to the most bigoted society the world had ever seen within the space of fifteen years according to the Jews. White was equated with Fascist.  Israel was established in 1948 and the 1956 Arab-Israeli war blew Jewish confidence up. 

In 1976 the US celebrated its two hundredth anniversary as the Viet Nam war was ending.  The Rolling Thunder revue was named after the last major US campaign in Viet Nam.  Rolling Thunder referred to the incessant bombing of that campaign.  Thus, the Revue was a negative criticism of the US by The Conscience of the Generation, Bob Dylan.

From another angle it was Bob and Louie’s revenge on Hibbing Minnesota.  The Revue, or possibly campaign, began at the site of the landing of the Puritans in Massachusetts, Plymouth Rock.  There with much mocking of the landing, Jack Eliot climbed the mast of the Mayflower replica, the campaign began.  It represented a new beginning.

The target audience of the Revue was the hippie counter-culture.  I suppose the Revue might be considered the harbinger of a second American Revolution.  That is corny but the answer might be found blowing in the wind.

The Revue was stellar.  Major talent in the persons of Bob, Joan Baez, Joanie Mitchell, Roger McGuinn and quite a few others.  The notion was that it was a band of wandering minstrels doing impromptu shows across New England and into Canada.  There was no real itinerary, the Revue drifted into town, put up some posters announcing the date and location.  There were no advance tickets, fans just showed up at the gate.  According to reports the concerts sold out as fans dropped everything and paid their fare.

I wasn’t there, I can only report impressions from video clips.  It was noisy and unprofessional.   Mocking the Pilgrims Bob often donned White Face, referencing the Black Face minstrel shows of the nineteenth century. They used burnt cork, Bob used white grease paint.

As might be expected the shows employed a disorganized, chaotic approach attempting to appear impromptu.  Just a bunch of wild and crazy boys and girls spreading joy throughout the land at a price.  Nothing is free.

Bob reinforced his reputation as the conscience of his generation by injecting racial politics into the mix when he began campaigning to have Hurricane Carter released from jail.  Carter was a Black boxer arrested and convicted on a murder charge.  On slim, if any, evidence Bob claimed that Carter was innocent.  Innocent or not, the hoopla Bob created secured Carter’s release.  With that the Revue ended on a successful note.

A Southern tour was scheduled for the next year, 1977, but it didn’t come off.  Enthusiasm faded, one hopes, when the ridiculousness of the venture became apparent.

The Revue was the highlight of Louie’s memoir.  There isn’t really much more than that.  Still, a contribution to the Dylan saga.  Unless you’re a real, a devoted fan, save your money.

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