Analysis, Critical Theory And Greil Marcus


R.E. Prindle


     Through the moral and political rhetoric of John Winthrop, the Declaration Of Independence and the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, America explained itself to itself as a field of promises so vast they could only be betrayed.  The attempt to keep the promises- of community, liberty, jutice, and equality for all, because once let loose the genie could never be put back in the bottle- in face of the betrayal became the engine of American history and the template for our national story.

-Greil Marcus


     The problem I have with Mr. Marcus’ writing is that it is all skewed.  His vision is distorted by his ideologies.  Mr. Marcus purports to write about the US using terms like ‘our’ when he is in fact an Israeli citizen and places the interests of Israel above those of the United States.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that he is an adherent of the Jewish Critical Theory or Frankfurt School while being a leader of the Situationist Internation.  Both organizations are subversiive of the ideals and goals of the United States seeking to supplant those goals with those of Israel or, in another word, Judaism.

     Mr Marcus is not clear and honest in his intentions, seeking to mislead his readers into believing that he is objectively analyzing America rather than denouncing it in favor of the Israeli point of view.  He refuses to admit that his intent is the supremacy of Israeli/Jewish interests.  I find this both dishonest and offensive.

     Further in his zeal to demonstrate that the United States is a failed society he refuses to take into account any social or scientific developments since, essentially, John Winthrop of the seventeenth century.

     Winthrop is essentially a religious bigot who because of his historical era was necessarily devoid of any scientific knowledge.  His spoutings originate in the ignorance of the Jewish Bible written some two thousand or so years before his present which he takes as the literal truth and the word of ‘God.’

     While his views may be of interest to explain his times and while his views were influential in forming New England with its inherent bigotry they in no way reflect the views of Jefferson and others who were responsible for the formulations of the DOI and Constitution.  There were worlds of difference between the East Anglian Puritans and Cavaliers of both the South of England and the US.  Further Jefferson was a Revolutionary and Freemason learning his Freemasonry in the France of the Revolution.  Whether he was a Jacobin I can’t say but he has been so accused.

     While the Framers of the founding documents used the same words such as equality that we use today they undoubtedly did not undersand them as we do today.  To refuse to understand and take that into account is willful obtuseness on Mr. Marcus’ part.  The phrase ‘all men are created equal’ was gainsaid by their counting Negroes as only three-fifths of a man.  Quite obviously they did not actually believe that all men were created equal.  Whether ‘all men’ is meant to include women is also conjectural as women were denied the attributes of citizenship being considered appendages of men as per the Biblical creation myth.  So clearly the Founders understanding of equality is quite different from that of, at least, Mr. Marcus.  On that basis his views can’t help but be skewed.

     The African in America was an insoluble problem to the society then as it is to society today.  While counting Negro men as three-fifths of a human certainly sounds ridiculous yet modern evolutionary science has proven what was evident to observation then that the Africans as the first Homo Sapiens to evolve from the Last Hominid Predecessor was necessarily left behind by future evolutionary species of Homo Sapiens or sub-species if you prefer.  Mr. Marcus and his fellow Liberals insist that equality of Blacks and Whites is denied solely on the basis of skin color.  This is nonsense.

     If Africans were equal or superior to Whites, Semites and Mongolids there could be and would be no denying the status of the African.  Furthermore such superiority would be self-evident as it must.  Instead of the so-called White Skin Privilege there would be Black Skin Privilege and then black skin would indicate superiority and be desirable.  There isn’t and the reason why is because that while equality is a fine sounding ideal it does not exist in fact in either the macro or micro example.  It cannot be made to exist by legislattion so long as differences between the five human species exist.

     So, I would object to Mr. Marcus’ characterization of ideals as promises, they are two different things, that have been betrayed.  There has been no betrayal.  Mr. Marcus misleads us with his approach of Critical Theory.  The Founding Fathers set high ideals to live up to, perhaps impossibly high ideals but ideals worth striving to realize nevertheless.  The problem now has been complicated by the scientific reallization of the incompatible differences between the species so that the original meaning of equal of the DOI seems to be the correct one.

     The Negro problem, bedeviling America from its origins, was the rock on which those ideals first foundered resulting in the Civil War between Whites, Reconstruction and the current New Abolitionist Movement proclaiming the need to exterminate Whites by any means necessary.  So, over the hundred fifty years since the Civil War Africans and their Liberal and Israeli/Jewish handlers are in a position to realize the goals of post-war Radical Reconstruction which was the elimination of Southern Whites by Africans in a larger version of the San Domingo Moment.

     As the Whites struggled to come to some resolution of the Negro Problem that has always bedeviled American history large, even huge, numbers of Southern and East European immigrants flooded the country.  It is useless to use racial arguments and say that antipathy to these peoples was somehow racial when there was no difference in color which is the only thing Liberals recognize as a barrier to assimiltion.

     Rather these peoples were culturally unable to understand the ideals that underlay the American attitude, disdained them and sought to replace them with their own.  Thus we have a tremendous criminal underworld led by Sicilians and Israelis while the Israelis seek to subvert the ideals Mr. Marcus notes as ‘promises’ to replace them with a State resembling that of Israel in which the Israelis are paramount while all others are denied humanity much as Mr. Marcus accuses the Europeans of the US in relation to the Blacks.

     One therefore has to believe that as an Israel citizen Mr. Marcus is hypocritical in his criticism of American ‘racism’ and the ‘betrayal’ of the the ideal of equality.

     Unless Mr. Marcus can reconcile his ostensible beilief with actual Israeli actions I, for one, find it impossible to take him seriously.  Critical Theory and the SI are antipathetic to the ideals he seems to be espousing.

     I too believe that we have fallen short of the ideals expressed in the Founding Documents but for different reasons than those mentioned by Mr. Marcus.  I find no betrayal of those ideals but rather the sabotage of them by competing social systems such as the Sicilian, the Israeli and the African.

     Mr. Marcus may be an expert in Critical Theory but he is no analyst.  Analysis is Science; Critical Theory is religion.  Oil and water and the two don’t mix while Science trumps Critical Theory every time.

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.


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.

Exhuming Bob

Part IX

Chronicles Vol. I:

Pensees 2


R.E. Prindle


     I rather admire Bob’s method of integrating his life into history.  He makes himself part of the unfolding plan of historical development.  As some very ancient fellow once said:  The unexamined life is not worth living.  Having posted the rather narrow parameters of his story- that of his signing by Lou Levy and his subsequent redemption of the contract- he fits in most of his intellectual development to the time of the redemption of the contract.

     He does this in an interesting way.  In Chaper 2, The Lost Land, an interesting title in itself, gives the feel of prehistory, he begins by describing how like some insect he burrowed into the nest of Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel where he lived in parasitic comfort.

     The path to Ray and Chloe’s door is interesting.  First he met Dave Van Ronk, through Van Ronk he met Paul Clayton and through Clayton Gooch and Kiel.  Bob is going to suck off Van Ronk and Clayton to a very large extent also.  Bob describes his hosts as quite eccentric, one might almost say, weird.  As a foreign body in the cocoon he even studies them dispassionately, clinically, one might say.  As one species of another.

     As with the other people he attached himself to they had a terrific record collection and what appears to be a large very eclectic library.  While Bob appreciates the library one feels that he believes the selection of books as odd and weird his hosts.  The library apparently formed the basis of his adult education as he thumbed the books.  This is really the first step in how Bobby Zimmerman became Bob Dylan the songwriter.  Remember he has only a year or so before his career is fairly launched and he no longer has any use for people like Ray and Chloe.  Both appear to have been queintessential Bohemians- or Bohos in brief.

     In this environment Bob provides us with this biographical sketch.  P. 28

     I was born in the spring (5/24) of 1941.  The Second World War was alreadey raging in Europe, and America would soon be in it.  The world was being blown apart and chaos was already driving its fist into the face of all new visitors.  If you were born around this time or were living and alive, you could feel the old world go and the new one beginning.  It was like putting the clock back to when B.C. became A.D.  Everybody born around my time was a part of both.  Hitler, Churchill, Mussolini, Stalin, Roosevelt- towering figures that the world would never see the likes of again, men who relied on their own resolve, for better or worse, every one of them prepared to act alone, indifferent to approval, indifferent to wealth or love, all presiding over the destiny of mankind and reducing the world to rubble.  Coming from a long line of Alexanders and Julius Caesars, Ghengis Khans, Charlemagnes and Naopleons, they carved up the world like a really dainty dinner.  Whether they parted their hair in the middle or wore a Viking helmet, they would not be denied and were impossible to reckon with- rude barbarians stampeding cross the earth and hammering out their own ideas of geography.

     I don’t necessarily agree with the interpretation but one might ask what its intellectual background is.   As bob was writing at the age of 53 of a period he didn’t remember and probably hadn’t formulated his opinions by 1959 he is projecting subsequently obtained knowledge back on his birth as falsified Persistence of Memory.  I admire that.  One has to have order in one’s life.

     Actually if one has read more than somewhat in certain areas the intellectual foundations are more than apparent.  Bob was born Jewish and for four years after his Bar Mitzvah- turning 13- he attended a Zionist summer camp for a month or month and a half in those summers.

     There was a synagogue in Hibbing but it isn’t clear that Bob regularly attended services or was very observant.  As an illustration of what being Jewish means let me cite an ad for the new cable channel called Shalom.  This is the first all Jewish channel.  In the ad or blurb a man is discussing his Jewish education.  He says that they tell you that you will attend a goi school where you will learn to be an educated man.  And then you will also attend this other school where you will learn what it means to be a Jew.  The man says that he already knows what it means to be a Jew-  You suffer.  You suffer.

     Thus at Camp Herzl- the Zionist Camp- Bob spent four summers learning to suffer as a Jew.  Bob didn’t mention Camp Herzl in his book.

     Now, Jewish teaching is that only Jews can rule a just world.  Only Jews are cultured and learned, all others are like ignorant bulls in a china shop- mere barbarians.  The last phrase In the quote from Bob is that the goi leaders were- rude barbarians stampeding across the  earth and hammering out thier own ideas of geography.  This is the exact opposite of how Jews imagine that they would be managing things.

     the notion is that only Jews are capable of creating a just sane society.  This notion hasn’t proven out well in post-WWI Russia, Hungary, and Central Europe or today’s Palestine but facts don’t disturb the notions of ideologues.  We know that Bob is an Israeli citizen and it appears he follows the Party line.  Can’t help himself, really, that was the way he was educated on the Jewish side.

     Then, on pages 27 and 28 bob finds it important to mention Adolf Eichmann.  Now, Bob only has 300 pages to work with here so we may assume he has selected only very key items to discuss.  One could easily write 300 pages without mentioning Eichmann.  I’ve written close to 3000 pages of autobiographical fiction and I don’t believe Eichmann has come up once.  Nevertheless Bob writing of the time at the age of 53 has this to say:

     (Ray worked) also an Omaha slaughterhouse on the kill floor.  Once I asked him what it was like.  “You ever heard of Auschwitz?”  Sure I had, who hadn’t?  It was one of the Nazi death camps in Europe and Adolf Eichmann, the chief Nazi Gestapo organizer who’d managed this, had been put on  trial recently, in Jerusalem….His trial was a big deal.  On the witness stand Eichmann  declared he was merely following orders, but his prosecutors had no problem proving that he had carried out his mission with monstrous zeal and relish.  Eichmann had been convicted and his fate was now being decided on….The State of Israel claimed the right to act as heir and executor of all who perished in the final solution.  the trial reminds the whole world of what led to the formation of the Israeli State.

     Spoken like a true Israeli patriot.  There is no need to defend Eichamnn, the disposal of the conquered belongs to the conqueror without the legal hocus pocus of a trial.  Did anyone believe that the Nuremburg Trial wouldn’t find the defendants guilty?  Why the charade?  There was no exonerting evidence that was going to be considered.  The Israeli State was not even in existence during the Second Wrold War so by what right does the State of Israel act.  None.  Their own will.  Be honest, they wanted to kill this guy, that’s all.  They weren’t even one of the conquerors.  They had nothing to do with the defeat of the Axis.

     So what does the trial of Eichmann mean?  The Israelis violated all international law by abducting an Argentine citizen without authority or extradition.  If Eichmann was a thug the Israelis were no less so.  Did they feel they had an overriding grievance?  Bully for them.  If they’re interested I’ll send a list of mine which I feel no less passionately.

     And then the State of Israel has appointed itself to act as heir and executor of all who perished.  That’s a convenient right to assign oneself.  I, The Jury as Mickey Spillane said.  What a convenient right.  It doesn’t square with justice but then who among them are objecting.  The Jews were self-righteously against capital punishment in all the other barbaric countries of the world.  But…they would make an exception in Eichmann’s case.  As time would show they would make a lot of exceptions.  Assassination became there mode of operations.

     As I say there is no need to defend Eichmann, if you want to kill him, kill him.  No one will object, but to set aside all the rules, all the laws that separate civilization from barbarism seems a bit extreme.  It does make one question one’s sincerity.

     The trial does fit within the time frame of the novel though, so Bravo! Bob.

      After that little moriaistic lesson for us all Bob brings us up to date on some of his musical influences, which were all excellent and then acquaints us with the foundation of his literary and intellectual education as provided by Ray and Chloe.

     He says he did little reading as a kid.  He also says he was not much of a student.  One gathers then that the talk of the biographers about Bob being on the honor roll was a figment of Mother Beatttie’s imagination.  She was apparently telling them of the Bob she wished Bob had been instead of the Bob that was.  Primarily his own reading considted of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Luke Short and H.G. Wells.

     Good influences all.  Luke Short was also my favorite Western writer, him and Ernest Haycox.  Of course I remember not a shred.  The choice of H.G. Wells is probably represented by Seven Science Fiction Novels  of H.G. Wells.  His reading or Wells probably consisted of The War Of The Worlds, The Island Of Dr. Moreau and The Invisible Man.  The other four didn’t get read very often but I have come to really appreciate The Food Of The Gods and In The Days Of The Comet.  I’m a big Wells fancier myself having read about 90% of a very large corpus, some of it two or three times.  At Bob’s age however I was only familiar with the volume Seven Science Fiction Novels Of H.G. Wells.

     Edgar Rice Burroughs is my forte as my essays on I, Dynamo and ERBzine will attest.  So both Bob’s and my own influences closely mesh.  It is of interest to note that having read Tarzan Bob married a Black woman and installed her in Tarzana.  Burroughs of course founded Tarzana naming it after Tarzan.  Cute.

     Bob goes on to discuss items he read in Ray’s library.  Ray was a pretty interesting reader.  Bob really fell through the rabbit hole when he moved in with Ray and Chloe.

     I don’t feel the need to run through what he read, the reader can check it out himself if he wishes, but Ray provided Bob with a nagnificent foundation in a very short time.  I am impressed that Bob found Honore de Balzac a great writer.  Damn, that Bob does have an unerring nose for the best in both records and literature.  Balzac is one of my favorites too although I’ve only read about twenty volumes of the immense corpus Balzac called the Human Comedy.  If you want to read a really stunning story, a novelette, get The Girl With The Golden Eyes and have your life changed.  Too bad Bob got confused by being forced to try to combine a liberal education with a Jewish one.  I’ve got a Jewish one too, acquired late however, but I scrapped it as useless.























Exhuming Bob

Part IX

Chronicles I: Pensees


R.E. Prindle

     It has been four years since Chronicles appeared.  Plenty of time to think about it.  I reread it recently and may read it again while I’m writing this.

     If you listen to the bitter denunciatory songs and read the various biographers of Bob’s life as it appeared from the outside one is astonished at the Happy Talk quality of the auto.  We don’t even have an auto-biography here or even a memoir actually: what we have is a series of autobiographical essays that are more or less centered on the theme of how Bobby Zimmerman became Bob Dylan.

     Bobby Zimmerman is telling the story but he’s not really mentioned by name.  Bob was impressed by Rimbaud’s ‘Je suis an autre’ which translates I am someone else.  In that sense it seems as if the ‘autre’ is talking about Bob.  So the ‘autre’ is sort of an unnamed narrator.   Bob carefully details the experiences that led to the transition from Bobby to Bob.

     The key points are not those of either the songs or the biography.  For instance no biography has mentioned Bobby Zimmerman’s close encounter with Gorgeous George.  The experience seems to have centered Bobby’s life.  I’m sure most people are too young to have even heard of Gorgeous George.  Gorgeous flamed across the skies during the fifties.

      Bob may have seen him on TV as early as 1951 when his family got their TV.  Only ten at the time it would have been a major experience.  According to Steve Slagle writing at:

     In a very real sense, Gorgeous George single handedly established the unproven new technology of television as a viable entertaining new medium that could reach literally millions (of) homes all across the country.  Pro wrestling was TV;s fisrt real “hit” with the public- the first programs that ever drew any real numbers for the new technology, and Gorgeous George was directly responsible for all the commotion.  It was a turning point for Wagner (Gorgeous George Wagner), wrestling, and the country itself.  Gorgeous George was probably responsible for selling more television sets in the early days of TV than any other factor.


     He influenced…even Muhammed Ali, Little Richard, Liberace, and numerous other figures in both sports and entertainment.


     He grew his hair out so it was long, could be curled and pinned back with gold plated bobby pins, and dyed it platinum blond.  He wore elegant robes, dubbed himself “The Human Orchid” and was always escorted by one of his male ring valets (Geoffrey or Thomas Ross) who would spray his corner of the ring, as well as George’s opponents, with disinfectant and perfume.

      No kidding, George was something else.  That spraying bit brought a vocal response from the couches of America.  He didn’t necessarily make you want to be like him but what he’d done was so phenomenal you wanted to do something to get that effect.  Other phenoms like Mickey Mantle, Liberace and Little Richard captured that supernatural something, that aura, that charisma without being much themselves as was the case with Gorgeous George.

     So you can imagine the effect on Bobby Zimmerman when George entered the arena as Bobby was playing and virtually acknowledged the kid’s existence.  I mean, you could live a lifetime and never have that happen to you.  And out of a lifetime of happenings the event was so fixating Bob chose to give it a central part in his essay.

     The book begins and ends with Lou Levy, a song plugger, appropriately enough.  Bob had been sent to Levy by John Hammond, his record producer, to be signed and sent to Lou Levy again by Albert Grossman, his manager to be unsigned.  So the story Bob tells in his novel  fits into a space between his signing and unsigning.  By novel’s end, did I say novel, Bob Dylan is poised to step onto the world stage, Folk Music’s version of Gorgeous George.

     In between he gives the details of the formation of Bob Dylan the songwriter.  But it’s all Happy Talk; nothing bad happening .  In contrast to Ballad In Plain D lamenting his breakup with Suze Rotolo which is almost too bitter why, all that happened was they came to an intersection, Suze turned left and Bob kept on going.  That’s all there was to it, the inevitable going of different ways.  Well, OK.  Maybe at this stage in his life Bob wants to do the gallant thing.  So, if these are just a series of impressionistic essays no problem.  I thought Barefoot In The Park was good movie too.  Bob’s got an OK story.  Nice novelistic touch, but if this is supposed to be a memoir or autobiography the rendering is fully inadequate.  Given the songs and the versions of the biographers I can’t believe it.  The tale is woefully inadequate.  Bob does call these chronicles although they aren’t that either.  I thought I was buying an auto-biography; I really wanted more.  Where’s the beef? as the saying went.

     However Suze did have an infuence on Our Man.  Bob doesn’t mention the political influence apparent in the songs and dwelt on by the biographers though.  Suze introuduced him to the art world, the avant garde theatre.  One of what he considers his major influences, Brecht-Weil, came through her.  Bob makes it sound like this was an exotic world and one to which he didn’t return when he and Suze, not so much as broke up but, went their separate ways.  He gives the impression that he was an outsider looking in to Suze’s world.  Nice, but not that nice.  Maybe his lack of appreciation had something to do with the drawing apart.

     But, hey, life was blissful.  He moved in on Fred Neil at the Cafe Wha; much as he tells it in Talking New York, who was useful but Bob had eyes on the Gaslight and Dave Van Ronk.  He met Van Ronk, the story is worth dwelling on, moved in on him, gained access to the Gaslight through Van Ronk and never entered the Cafe Wha’ or one assumes spoke to Fred Neil, again.  Bob doesn’t look back.

     Bob also moved in with Van Ronk and his wife Terri.  He moved in with several people but first he made sure they had large record collections and libraries.  Bob made good use of both so that he became conversant with books and authors, recording artists.  Happy talk, life was good.  So, one has to ask, where does Positively Fourth Street and its bitter taunting tone enter in?  Not in this novel.

     His apartment  on Fourth Street where he lived with Suze was blissful too. It was all great, except for maybe Suze’s mother.  Then John Hammond discovered him, signed him to Lou Levy.  That brought the attention of Albert Grossman, exit Lou Levy, end of story.

     But by then Bobby Zimmerman was the eseential Bob Dylan and the great adventure was about to begin.

      I enjoyed the book.  It was a good novel.  I even learned some things about Bob Dylan.  Bob clarified the provenance of his born again last name.  Came from Dylan Thomas just like we knew all along.  There was an awful lot of stuff left out and a lot just skimmed over.  For instance it seems that Bob left high school in early Spring which would mean that he didn’t graduate.  He talks of playing with Bobby Vee in the Summer of ’59 yet he also says that he went down to Minneapolis in early June and hung around Dinkytown and U. Minnesota for the whole Summer.  So, there is some mixed up confusion from, say, April to August that is very vague.

     These were medium good essays but far short of having any real auto-biographical substance.  Didn’t really tell us too much of nothin’.

     I will certainly buy Vol II when it comes out but I suspect it will be about 300 pages of Happy Talk about his most productive period possible edging into his ‘Middle Period’ and the Rolling Thunder Revue.  Or perhaps it will mainly concentrate on his ‘protest’ years with forays elsewhere.  If the volume is as superficial as this one however I’ll not only abandon the happy talk but be a little disgruntled.


Exhuming Bob


The Walls Of Red Wing



Bob And The Radio


Haunted By Old Memories

     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, 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.

Immie Rodgers

     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

Railing’s froze

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

break these…


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.



I Thought I Was Alone But The Past Was Just Behind

I Thought I Was Alone But The Past Was Just Behind


Exhuming Bob VII:  Blowin’ In The Wind


R.E. Prindle

     It is commonly believed that Bob’s protest catalogue of the early sixties is related to the Civil Rights Movement.  It is further believed that Bob changed his direction or emphasis beginning with Another Side.  I’m going to suggest that there is only one side of Bob and that that is continous from 1961 through 1966 after which a discontinuity did occur.

     I recently viewed a video of Bob performing with Joan Baez.  The video was undated and did not identify the performance but was of the period when Bob wore the napkin on his head.  The video is a performance of Blowin’ In The Wind at the beginning of which Bob dedicates the song to Hibbing, Minnesota.  He couldn’t or wouldn’t have done that unless the song applied.  It follows then that Blowin’ In The Wind has nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement but to Bob himself.  I never understood at the time how people could relate the song to Negroes but they did.

     The character may have been projected on it by the expectations  of the time perhaps even taking Bob by surprise.  Then perhaps encouraged by Suze Rotolo he was able to convert his resentments against Hibbing and U. Minnesota into Civil Rights ‘anthems.’ 

     Even such songs as Masters Of War and Only A Pawn In The Game can be converted into reflections of Hibbing.  The masters of war would be enemies in Hibbing while his being arrested and sent to Red Wing would make him only a pawn in their game.

     Even James Meredith at U. Mississippi can be converted to the experience of Bobby Zimmerman attempting to morph into Bob Dylan at U. Minnesota.

     In an exchange on Lipstick Traces IX correspondent RM and I have worked out an interlocking set of songs relating to Echo Helstrom’s betrayal of Bob and the subsequent term spent at Red Wing Reformatory.  I will try to write this up soon.

     While Bob first puts his complaints in song from 1961-66 he merely shifted the emphasis from John Wesley Harding on when he added his current complaints to his repertoir.

     In any event it is now possible to interpret his catalogue from 1961-66 as one unit addressing one set of problems.  Of course William Zanzinger does pose a problem but one may be able to find his counterpart in Hibbing if one can find the necessary information.

     If Bob ever gets around to Vols. II and III of his autobiography I rather imagine he isn’t going to go into much detail on this matter.  We would rather find the answer on the pages of his autobiography than blowin’ in the wind.

A Critique

Exhuming Bob 2-2

Detourning The Folks

     Greil Marcus has written of detournment extensively especially in his Lipstick Traces.  The French word means hijacking, rerouting or diversion, or in other words changing the direction of the flow or meaning.  Thus one strips an object of its familiar values and replaces them with others but leaves the object intact.  In a conflict of cultures the question becomes who will assign the values or meanings to objects and words.

     I will use as a starting point for my purposes here H.L. Mencken of the twenties.  The values into which immigrants migrated were those of the Anglo-Saxons.  From the immigrant viewpoint the Anglo-Saxons detourned their languages and cultures attempting to replace them with English and Anglo-Saxon values.  The inevitable result was that immigrants felt that they had been devalued and demeaned.  So it is no wonder that having recovered some balance by the end of WWII they fought back by attempting to detourne Anglo-Saxon culture in their favor.

     This is nowhere more apparent than between the Jews and Angl0-Saxons.  No matter whether you place the conflict between the Old Dispensation or the New Dispensation the Jews always view themselves as a separate, independant and potentially dominant culture.  Hence the drive is always first for autonomy and then detourning the host culture to reflect Jewish laws and customs, hopefully making Hebrew the official language.  To Jews, like Greil Marcus and Bob Dylan then ‘freedom’ means the replacement of the Anglo-Saxon law and culture with Jewish law and culture with the Jews as arbiters of the fate of what become essentially subject peoples.  The Jews can never be ‘free’ no matter how unrestrained they may be so long as they are subject to others legal and social systems.  This is the central problem the United States and the West refuse to face.  The same is true of the Semitic Moslems.  It is the purpose of Moslems to detourne Western culture for a Moslem Culture.  It is quite simple.

     By the time H.L. Mencken was making his rise Anglo-Saxon pride was at its maximum.  I haven’t been able to determine whether Mencken was Jewish but he allied himself with the Jews making common cause with them.  The approach naturally was to defame Anglo-Saxonism.    Mencken naturally chose the least sophisticated  Anglo-Saxons to represent the whole.  Thus he went to the mountain folk of Appalachia and the hill country all along the Line.  He began to ridicule these people as representative of all Anglo-Saxons.  I mean, he was mean; he was vicious; his Jews caused a huge fuss for much less criticism or in their terms- defamation.

     Expanding the arena, using these rural folk as their model the Communists then picked up on these people with the least possibility of education as the example of Anglo-Saxonism.  In 1932 and 1933 following Mencken’s example Erskine Caldwell, a Communist writer, published two mammoth best sellers, Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre.  These books were especially mean and vicious making Mencken look laudatory in comparison.  Perhaps using Mencken and Caldwell as inspirations a Jewish cartoonist by the name of Al Capp created the L’il Abner comic strip in 1934.  This strip also ridiculed Anglo-Saxons but in a less demeaning manner that not only didn’t offend the majority but actually pleased them.  There were some few of us who saw through the sham but there was nothing obvious enough that the majority could see.

     Capp would be convicted on a morals charge late in his career that effectively ended his influence.  The motif was carried forward on television in the series Archie Bunker.

     Now, the Anglo-Saxons used to represent the whole were the custodians of the Folk music that was so revered by the New York City Jews of the late fifties and early sixties.  So you actually have Jews imitating Hillbillies.

      The vilification the Mountain Folk endured actually shamed the city Anglo-Saxons causing a dichotomy in their character.  They rejected the Mountain Folk as representing all Anglo-Saxons.  This is made quite clear in Caldwell’s novel when his urban relative throws his rural cousins out of his house and tells them to never come back.  Something like a son testifying against his father.  The Liberal-Conservative split was given a difinitive form.

     The Mountain Folk formed what Greil Marcus calls the Weird Old America.  After the Roosevelt administration was elected and the New Deal was established as a continuation of the Wilsonian New Democracy Jews flooded back into Washington as under Wilson.

     During the twenties as radio became a reality and recording technology became more widespread and available a number of Mountain Folk and/or White Trash as they were alternately known, recorded their distinctive music in their own voice.  Nor was this music ill received, many of the recordings were huge sellers according to the standards of the times while some like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family became very successful recording acts.  Thus what was known as Hillbilly music until 1954 came into existence.  For whatever reason whoever controls these things thought the term Hillbilly was insulting so the various rural flavored musics were grouped under the term, Country and Western.  Hicks are hicks to me whatever you call them,  Hillbilly or Country, I’ve been called worse.  Having ancestors that came down from the Kentucky hills I have no objection to my Hillbilly ancestry.

     The Anglo-Saxon dichotomy was such that those who were shamed by Communist efforts had an extreme aversion to Hillbilly or Country music that they considered ignorant while professing to admire the Blues simply because it was performed by Blacks even though the intellectual content was well below that of Hillbilly music.

     Nevertheless the Hill Folk were the custodians of the old English folk traditions.  Folk music was then separated from Hillbilly music and approved on that basis.  Thus after the Roosevelt administration was installed in an effort to counter the Depression certain cultural programs were developed.  One involved the attempt to preserve the quaint customs and music of the Hill Folk and the rural Blacks.  These two peoples were treated as anthropological specimens on the same level as Tobriand Islanders and others.

     The New Deal of the Roosevelt administration was a direct continuation of Wilsonian New Democracy.  It was as though they’d never been gone.  With the creation of a huge new bureaucracy Jews came flooding back into Washington as they had in the two Wilson administrations.  In many if not most cases these people were the ones sent out to deal with our homegrown anthropological specimens as Superior to Inferior.  Sort of a domestic Peace Corps.  Yes, they did profess to revere the music of these simple folks.

     So Folk Music always had an honored place in Anglo-Saxon cultivated circles perhaps spurred to some extent by the ‘field’ recordings of the New Dealers.  Folk played a prominent part in popular music from the end of WWII on.  Foremost practioners of the genre were the Almanac Singers and their successors The Weavers.

     A key member of both groups was Pete Seeger.  Pete was both Jewish and Red.  This was a bad combination during the post-war anti-Communist reaction.  While making hits of a number of Leadbelly songs under Seeger’s guidance The Weavers had a major success with the Jewish melody Hava Nagila.  It was a catchy tune.  I liked it.

     Capitalizing on this success The Weaver’s under Seeger’s guidance concocted a ‘folk’ tune called Song of the Sabra celebrating Jewish ‘pioneer’ efforts in Israel.  Apparently the Sabras were some kind of hobo outfit that sat around campfires and ate stew a lot.  Thus the effort to detourne American Folk Music began.  The Song of the Sabras was so egregiously promotive of Israeli/Jewish interests that the song caused a big reaction.  If I remember correctly it was staged at least once on a TV version of the Lucky Strike Hit Parade.  That’s where I got the camp fire bit as Pete roasted his weeny and sang.  Whether it was an extra or supposedly in the Top Ten I can’t remember.

     Somewhere about then Seeger and The Weavers were found to be subservice giving a bad name to Folk Music as long as the genre lasted in 1966  or ’67.  The Weavers disappeared from the air waves.  However at least one member would be instrumental in guiding the musical direction of the Kingston Trio.

     Folk music continued strong between the demise of The Weavers and the emergence of the Kingston Trio both as popular music and ‘purist’ Folk.  The greatest of them all was Lonnie Donegan who had a successful career in the US and a tremendous impact on the British scene from England to Australia as Skiffle Music.  Josh White, Odetta, Harry Belafonte, Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders among others, one might add Mitch Miller, had many memorable folk tunes competing equally with Rock and Roll if not its superior.  If one considers the Presley Sun recordings objectively they also can be seen as Folk or highly influenced by Folk.  After all Elvis was known as the Hillbilly Cat.

     The Kingston Trio with their Tom Dooley that was an actual sensation in 1958 sort of broke the taboo against Folk music although the Kingstons were plenty subversive.  The great Chad Mitchell Trio emerged at this time also as an even more politically subversive group but also with a popular sound and enough bite to defuse Dylan’s claim to have introduced serious lyrics into popular music.  The Chad Mitchell Trio is probably running neck and neck with the Kingstons as my favorite folk groups although Terry Gilkyson along with the Pozo-Seco Singers are right behind them.  The old Seekers from Australia are hot stuff too.

     So that brings us up to Grossman’s Gate of Horn in Chicago of ’58 and the founding of the Newport Folk Festival in ’59 as well as Dylan’s entry into the New York Folk Scene in ’61.


     After WWII the Jews had introduced the raw form of multi-culturalism designed to replace the Anglo-Saxon model of society with the Jewish.  With the election of the Irish Catholic John F. Kennedy it appeared that the Anglos had been defeated. 

     The next phase of the Jewish program was put in place.  The thing was to detourne or hijack American culture. 

     Detourning Folk music was part of it.  The study of Dylan concentrates on the New York City East Village group that was virtually Jewish with its specific outlook.  Actually the Folk scene was very diverse and different in its emphasis in each locale.  Bob would focus the entire Folk movement in himself.

     Boston with the Mel Lyman family and Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Geoff and Maria Muldaur was quite different from NYC.  The strictly commercial LA scene with Randy Sparks’ New Christy Minstrels had its own flavor.  In San Francisco Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and others had credentials that easily matched those of Dylan.  The whole San Francisco Sound was Folk based.

     The top bands like Kingston Trio, Chad Mitchell Trio and semi-pop groups like the Brothers Four and the Christy Minstrels really carried the banner for folk.

     And then there was the Country or Hillbilly faction that was considerable.  Great old tunes like Jimmy Brown The News Boy were Country smashes.  Hank Snow recorded a passel of old Folk songs like Nobody’s Child.  New murder ballads appeared for people who like that sort of thing that were fabulous like Snow’s Miller’s Cave  and Lefty Frizzell’s dazzling The Long Black Veil.  It would be years before it was known that Veil was newly written and not an old Hillbilly song.  If you compare the Kingston’s  Tom Dooley with Frizzell’s Long Black Veil you can’t tell the difference.

     A word about Harry Smith’s  Anthology Of American Folk Music that Greil Marcus and Bob Dylan revere so much.  The collection is a very small selection of songs culled from a huge mass of material that just happened to fit Harry Smith’s personal psychosis.  Anyone going over the same mass of material could select an entirely different selection of songs that reflected their own personal outlook and would be just as ‘authentic.’  I mean, I heard The Cuckoo and I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground over the radio decades ago as a kid.  I was signally unimpressed.  I never called in to hear either again.  So as far as being some authentic voice of America I rather think the collection reflects Jewish and Communist ideals. 

     What is the message exactly of ‘I wish I were a mole in the ground, I would burrow until I brought that mountain down.’

     It that isn’t a call to detournement I don’t know what is.  So Harry Smith is Harry Smith and welcome to him but I have my own agenda.

     So Dylan left his old life behind to begin a new life in New york City but with an old agenda.  His secret agenda was to detourne American culture.  Of course the word ‘detourne’ was unknown in America at that time.  I have to thank Greil Marcus for adding that very useful word to my vocabulary.

     Bob started out detourning Woody Guthrie.  Within a couple months he had hijacked Woody’s life.  Clinton Heylin believes that even the Guthrie persona was second hand having been detourned from Jack Elliot who had of course detourned it from Guthrie.  Boy, there was another stone bore I never could listen to, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.

     Dylan more or less confirms this in his Chronicles Vol. I.  I’m copying a quote from Chronicles as noted by Jim Kunstler in his excellent review of Bob’s memoir:


     “You’re trying hard, but you’ll never turn into Woody Guthrie,’ (John) Pankake says to me as if he’s looking down from some high hill, like something has violated his instincts.  It was no fun being around Pankake.  He made me nervous.  He breathed fire through his nose.  ‘You’d better think of something else.  You’re doing it for nothing.  Jack Elliot’s already been where you are and gone.  Ever heard of him?’  No, I ‘d never heard of Jack Elliot.  When Pankake said his name it was the first time I’d heard it.  ‘Never heard of him, no….’ Pankake lived in an apartment over McCosh’s bookstore, a place that specialized in eclectic, ancient texts, philosophical political pamphlets from the 1800s on up.  It was a neighborhood hangout for intellectuals and Beat types, on the main floor of an old Victorian house only a few blocks away.  I went there with Pankake and saw it was true, he had all the incredible records, ones you never saw and wouldn’t know where to get.  For somone who didn’t sing and play it was amazing he had so many….Pankake was right.  Elliot was far beyond me….I sheepishly left the apartment and went back out in the cold street, aimlessly walked around, I felt like I had nowhere to go, felt like one of the deadmen walking through the catacombs.  It would be hard not to be influenced by the guy….He was overseas in Europe, anyway, in a self-imposed exile.  The US hadn’t been ready for him.  Good.  I was hoping he’d stay gone, and I kept hunting for Guthrie songs.”


     Of course the US hadn’t been ready for Elliot.  One Guthrie was one too many.  Who needed a Guthrie detourned by another Jew?  Let the English have Elliot.  But that didn’t stop Bob from detourning both Guthrie and Elliot when he got to the Big Apple.  He followed Elliot around studying and copying his mannerisms.  Elliot should have painted on his guitar the slogan:  This machine kills copycats.

     Well, no matter Bob learned his error when he learned another Guthrie copycat wasn’t needed in NYC but Bob had mastered a style, a persona on which he could build.  That was more than he had had before.

     Pete Seeger and the Jewish busybodies were busy fomenting discord in the South.  Already knee deep in the Big Muddy Seeger was encourging others to write political diatribe songs.  The path was clear and Bob met a girl named Suze Rotolo.  Rotolo worked at CORE.  She then encouraged Bob to write ‘politically relevant’ songs.  Well, what are you going to do but go with the flow, swim with the current? Bob didn’t like the topical songs though.  You have to give him credit for good sense there.  He wrote literary style lyrics that talked around the political issues without dealing with them directly.

     Now there were songs that other voices could sing.

     As a lyricist Bob was not a tunesmith so he merely borrowed tunes from old ballads and other people.  In other words he detourned Anglo-Saxon folk tunes grafting on Jewish sensibilities.  Heylin gives a perfect example in an exchange Dylan had with Martin Carthy in England.  Carthy showed him the old English ballad Greensleeves.  Bob dutifully learned the song.  Then he went away for a few weeks.  When he came back he collared Carthy and played him Greensleeves.  Here’s your Greensleeves he said.  Then he played the tune set to the words of Girl From The North Country.  Thus he detourned tune after tune to his own Jewish sensibilities.

     Now things were heating up on the Jewish revolutionary front.  The so-called Free Speech Movement was being launched at UC Berkeley.

     As I mentioned Jews could never be ‘free’ so long as they were merely part of a dominant other culture.  So ‘Freedom’ meant to them detourning the dominant culture so that their own law and culture was supreme.  Freedom for the Jews meant slavery for everyone else.  Thus we have Greil Marcus in the bleachers cheering his heart out at Free Speech rallies for ‘freedom.’  There were many of us in the bleachers much less enthusiastic.  But then we weren’t Jewish and we weren’t clear as to what was going on.

     Dylan as a Jew came to Berkeley to play where he was received as a hero by his fellow Jews.  Both must have been aware of what they were doing.  Jerry Rubin was the sparkplug whether Greil Marcus slyly disagrees with him or not.

     The revolt at Berkeley soon spread to Columbia and the rest of the Ivy League and across the country where it meshed with Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

     Dylan himself progressed from his political associations to Another Side of Bob Dylan in which he worked out his own personal problems in a Jewish social context in highly symbolic language.  The lyrics are complex, poetical and not easily understood.  the concept of ‘Freedom’ plays a prominent role.


     Freedom as the idea of a complete lack of constraints developed in the latter half of the twentieth century.  Prior to this ‘freedom’ meant to be free so long as your own freedom didn’t conflict with the freedom of others.  Latterly it has taken the meaning that others be damned so long as one can do what one wants.  This entails the related notion:  consequences be damned.  Consequences won’t be damned so if one does the crime one must do the time.  I suppose the notion is that if you can run fast enough you can avoid the consequences.  I don’t know if one can but some have done a very presentable job of it.  Mao was one, Dylan is another.  Of course there was that one little incident at Redwing that didn’t work out too well but since then it has been fairly smooth sailing for Bob and he may leave the building without suffering too many serious consequences. 

     Now, in order to be free one has to dominate everyone else.  If one is obligated to an other then one isn’t free according to this latter day interpretation of ‘freedom.’  In that sense in the entertainment industry Frank Sinatra was as free as anyone has ever been.  The man need only place a call to anyone elses wife and she would leave her husband’s bed and run over and give Frank a blow job and there was nothing the husband could do about it.  This is no joke.  Sinatra could have anyone beaten up with impunity.  When he was offended by President Kennedy, Kennedy was shot.  There are those who maintain Frank had a hand in it.  Never been proven but there are reasons to so believe.  Frank Sinatra had ‘freedom’ while he escaped the most serious consquences dying in bed a very old man.  Alone and despised perhaps but then one can’t escape all the consequences.

     So while limiting himself to a field in which he could be successful Bob has perhaps been the most ‘free’ of the Rock ‘n Rollers.  He never took on Frank however and if he had he would have discovered the limits of his ‘freedom.’  Although Albert Grossman may have limited Bob’s ‘freedom’ somewhat I find it interesting that Bob came out at least even in his brush with the current Hollywood hard-on, David Geffen. 

     Now, Bob wasn’t so free that he could achieve his goals without leaning on or being dependent on others.  However to compensate himself he destroyed, trashed whoever and whatever he had used as stepping stones to achieve his ‘freedom.’  In the pursuit of his freedom he became a very vicious and nasty man.

     There is no reason to believe that at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival he wasn’t trashing the whole Folk scene that he had used to get him to the launching pad of his Rock ‘n Roll dream.

     The arguments about how or who brought Folk Rock into existence may well be interminable.  The fact is that both Folk and Rock at the time were stagnant.  Whether the music died in that corn field in Iowa in 1959 or not the big labels had pretty well tamed the music of the fifties.  Columbia had separated Dion from the Belmonts and had him singing standards to syrupy instrumentals.  Ruby Baby was his last great effort before Columbia detourned him.  Safe teen acts and emasculated falsettos dominated the airwaves .  By late 1963 and early 1964 the Folk ethic had worn out as Folk groups dressed in loden green pull overs and sang like the Brothers Four.  Even the emasculated and detourned version of   Michael Row The Boat Ashore couldn’t prop up Folk for long.

     So musicians had to be searching for something different if not new.  Folk Rock was as new as anything while the electric blues served as different.  Thus as the middle sixties came in one had Folk Rock, the electric blues and rough sounding garage bands like the Seeds.  Oh yes, that was another development temper tantrum teenagers screaming ‘I don’t want to be like anybody else.’  Not to worry. 

     Folk rock would have or did develop without any real help from Bob.  He already had electric recordings out so that if he didn’t want to stick it in their ear he could have done an acoustic set at Newport and let his electric side take its natural course.

     I’m not so sure even then that electricity was the problem.  Personally I welcomed the electric Bob.  I was glad to see him leave the Folk stuff behind.  I was on the West Coast but I didn’t run into many or any people who were emotionally involved.  Even Greil Marcus doesn’t seem to be put out by the change.

     I think you had to be emotionally invested in Bob the protest singer.  When that fellow in Manchester cried out Judas I would have to think that his problem wasn’t an electric guitar but the fact that Bob seemingly betrayed the political stuff he had been singing.  He had pandered to the protest crowd and now he wasn’t letting them down easy.  He was turning his back on them.  Rathr than being the standard bearer of spokesman for the generation that he had let them believe he was he now trashed everything they believed in.  They had given him his and now he didn’t need them anymore.

     His whole career was based on trashing his believers.  Not that I understood any of this at the time.  I didn’t even know about it and if I had I wouldn’t have cared.

     Positively Fourth Street was his ‘kiss my ass’ song to all those Folkies he had used and abused and now abandoned.

     An interesting aside that could use closer examination was his visit to Carl Sandburg in 1964.  All the biographers assume that Carl Sandburg snubbed Bob because he hadn’t heard of him.  Maybe, I can’t say but it is significant that Sandburg was a folksinger himself or, at least, he sang folk songs.  While Bob and Greil are enthusiastic about Harry Smith Sandburg himself had published his American Songbag in 1928 and then followed it up in 1950 with a new collection.  Unless he was brain dead in ’64 there is little reason to believe he hadn’t maintained his interest in folk into the sixties and kept up with it.

     After all the Christies were doing a number of songs from the 1928 Songbag so Sandburg must have experienced great satisfaction that everything he had been hoping for had come to pass.  I don’t know his singing style, and he did publicly perform the songs, but I suspect it was more Christy style than the cacophony of Bob.

     I don’t think it improbable that he in fact knew exactly who Bob Dylan was, had probably heard him on record and/or the radio and fully detested him,  so that when he opened his door and found Bob Dylan, let us say the folk devil himself, standing there he just froze.  It would be nice to know exactly what was said.  I think it unlikely that he would have been familiar with Paul Clayton but as Clinton Heylin suggests if he had dropped the needle into the groove there is little doubt which record would have been played through.

     If Sandburg had shown any preference for Clayton at all for any reason, manners for instance, there is little doubt that that sealed Clayton’s fate with Bob.

     If It’s All Over Now Baby Blue was a put down of Clayton which seems likely then the odds are that it was resentment over something that was said or done at Sandburg’s is the reason.

    That would have been added to the fact that Bob had stolen a couple tunes from Clayton that required the trashing of the man in ’64 to cover up the evidence.  One can’t hold it against Bob that Clayton committed suicide, after all, we’re all big boys here, but he must certainly have contributed to a deteriorating mental state.

      The trashing of Joan Baez also at this time doesn’t require further comment in this place.  Suffice it to say that Bob had taken hers to keep with his and now it was her turn for the circular file.  It is hard to believe Bob didn’t enjoy what he was doing amidst the flashing gongs on the road to ‘freedom.’

     In ’66 Bob’s mind broke.  He had what used to be called a nervous breakdown.  In his terms a motorcycle accident.  There was a long recovery period of several years.  I certainly  don’t hold the nervous breakdown against him.  He was pushing too hard.  Even if he had been straight he would have become distraught, but under the influence of what all his biographers agree were monumental amounts of drugs washed down with quantities of alcohol it is a wonder if not a miracle that he lasted as long as he did.  Apparently he was driven to complete the sound in his head and vomit out all his rage accumulated up there in the North country before he cracked.

     When he went down he went down hard but in pleasant enough circumstances.

     Why he came out isn’t clear unless it was to trash his fans.  It didn’t take much for me to catch on back then but then on the first hearing of Blonde on Blonde I realized he’d ridden his board all the way to shore.  From there he would have to start all over again while he would never catch a wave like that again. 

     Bob still had a lot of past to bury though.

     He achieved this in spectacular fashion in 1975 on his Rolling Thunder tour as an overseer on his very own Maggie’s Farm.  The tour mayby be considered as a vision of Plantation Bob.  And he was a sadistic overseer too.

     As Heylin points out the shows were over four hours long while Bob may have been on stage only a few minutes to a half hour or possibly a little more.  Thus his cast of characters were slaving on Maggie’s Farm while Maggie or Bob showed up from time to time to make sure his darkies were singing as they slaved.  A very good joke.  If you step back and look at it the gig is pretty transparent.

     Now, Dylan asked people if they were for it.  As the only ‘free’ man in the group Bob had no trouble in getting his victims to come on board his ship that had just come in.  The performers couldn’t have been paid much if at all.  The payroll and expenses of such an extravaganza couldn’t have been recouped at all.  If there was any money left over it went into Bob’s pocket.

     Bob reached way back in the past to bring Ramblin’ Jack Elliot aboard.  Bob owed Elliot a lot so the old man had to be trashed.  McGuinn was brought along because he had traded on Bob’s talent or else had done such sparkling versions of Bob’s songs that he had made Bob look bad.

     Phil Ochs wasn’t allowed to come along not because Bob had pity on his fragile mental state but simply because Bob didn’t owe him anything.  If he had had reason to trash Ochs you may be sure he would have.

     One may guess that he was already finished with Sara, his wife, as he not only allowed her to come along to witness his degenerate behavior but actually cast her as a prositute in his movie Reynaldo and Clara.  One just doesn’t allow the mother of one’s children much less a woman one respects to play a prostitute.  I find it unforgiveable while Sara took him for much much more than thirty-five million if Heylin and Sounes are correct which is pretty good wages of sin.

     As if that wasn’t enough Bob brought along his old inamorata Joan Baez to confront his wife, Sara.  Gratuitously cruel and unnecessary so I suppose Bob was attempting to trash his entire pre-1975 past.  Like a snake shedding his skin he was attempting to begin a new existence.

     Here his Frankist upbringing rose up to bite him because you can’t pour out that quart and half of evil.  As Bob said you can change your name but you can’t run from yourself.  Bob wasn’t released and one can never be released, only the truth can set you free.  You have to come to terms with yourself and acept things as they were and are.  Even then your freedom is conditional; at best you are only out on parole.  You can’t trash reality.

End of Exhuming Bob 2-2




Exhuming Bob:

The Jewel In The Forehead Of The Toad


R.E. Prindle


I ride on a mail train; can’t buy a thrill.

-Bob Dylan


Bob Dylan. How did this guy get into my life? As someone said of Hank Williams: Bob Dylan sang my life. Up to a point. How he could know so much about me is totally unbelievable. I’m three years older than Bob which is not all that much, especially at this age. Our mental states were quite similar while we were working out our mental problems in somewhat the same way, not that Bob had ever heard of me but one of the hazards of exposing yourself on records or in print is that kindred spirits recognize each other. One of the occupational hazards, I suppose.

I’m going to use as a starting point Dylan’s record of Mixed Up Confusion. I must confess that I had never heard the song until a couple years ago. I had bought three copies of Biograph when it came out but never opened one. I bought all three copies as an investment and that turned out to be one lousy investment. So after twenty years these sealed copies weren’t listed for much more than I paid for them so I didn’t think I’d be losing much by opening one. It was then I first heard Mixed Up Confusion. Was it a revelation you ask? Hell no. It was just a noisy song. But as I was sitting watching the river flow and reading Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces it occurred to me that the book needed some constructive criticism so I gave it. You may have read that criticism right here on this blog. Then having the kind of mind I do I had to read the rest of Marcus so as to make knowing and intelligent comments on the guy. Marcus reopened the subject of Dylan in my mind. I dismissed the guy a few years ago, right after hearing Mixed Up Confusion. I had to start thinking about the Bob again because I couldn’t figure out exactly what I used to see in him.

Bob and I first made extra-sensory contact back in ‘64 and as you are well aware this is ‘08. A lot of water had flowed by in the river and under the bridge while I was sitting and watching it since way back when.

In the interval I had worked out my mental problems even integrating my personality according to the tenets of C.G. Jung. I’ve got the same old face, and getting older, but I’m a different guy.

Here’s the rub. I lived by Dylan for maybe five years from Blonde On Blonde until my life began running so fast I had too many other things to think about. Greil Marcus raised some irritating points about Dylan that made me regret my former adulation. Now, this created a small problem because I love my life and I have the notion that I have perfect taste and that whatever I have ever liked I must still like or I don’t really have perfect taste. You can see how Marcus put me up against the wall. Another one of those extrasensory contacts. And there was Bob getting more ambiguous by the moment as Marcus plodded on.

Damn near threw me into a panic.

So now I had to develop a new perspective for my infatuation of the toad with the jewel in his forehead. That’s how I look at Bob now. Well, you know, I’ve read most of the books on Bob, not so much reviews or interviews so that I have the means to analyze this prime influence on my young manhood.

I’m standing in my library when my hand fell on a Dylan book I bought some time ago. It occurred to me that maybe I hadn’t read this one yet. The book was the Rough Guide To Bob Dylan by Nigel Williamson. English fellow, obviously never been to America. Nigel had a pretty good handle on Bob so my mind focused on the jewel in Bob’s forehead. Mixed Up Confusion. This was where Bob was at in 1962. The rest of his career is the working out of this song. Trying to clear up the confusion. Get Straight. Walk like a man and the words of that tune..

Not enough attention has been devoted to Bob’s boyhood in Hibbing although guys like Howard Sounes in Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan have made a stab at it. Nobody has touched on the real source of Bob’s malaise though. I mean why was he living in mixed up confusion? His songs give off hints that could be investigated by someone in the right frame of mind but it’s not going to be me. I’ve got other things to think about. I’ve got my own life to live. Bob does generously provide the lyrics on his web site however for anyone interested.

Obviously the early years were not so happy as they could have been. Bob had difficulties with his mother and father; nothing too egregious but one gets the notion that perhaps Bob thought parents and child were mismatched. Should have been born to someone else. I live with that feeling too. Bob and I both knelt at the same altar praying: There must be some way out of here… But just through that door over there and when it closes behind you you can’t get back in. I didn’t design this place I just live here.

How well he got along at school isn’t absolutely clear but it seems that no one felt any compunction to take Bob at his word which should be the finger on the sign pointing: This Way.

That Bob had time on his hands is obvious by his listening habits on the radio and his reading habits. Bob took it all in as did I. Country, Rock, Swing, Folk, Easy Listening. He doesn’t seem to remember the Folk very much but he must have heard those Harry Smith songs before if he crawled all those late night country stations beaming up on a million watts or so from Del Rio, Texas. He must have got Waterloo real clear. One of the great country stations of the Midwest. I don’t know if he could get WCKY in Cincinatti O-ha-o, as the announcer always pronounced it up there in Hibbing or Wheeling West Virginia. Boy Wheeling used to play some unusual items. Came in pretty clear in Michigan where I lived. Carter’s and all that? Old hat.

So I don’t know what blew his mind so much when he got to Dinkytown down at U. Minnesota. Atmosphere I guess. The hip thing was pretty heady. Tickled my fancy.

I’m totally amazed he was blown away by Woody Guthrie. Never had much use for Guthrie myself. This machine kills fascists! Who the hell ever saw a Fascist in America? I never did and I looked. I was curious. I wanted to find one.

Read Bound For Glory too. Left me cold but then that’s a matter of taste or perhaps temperament. Anyway Bob’s got all these musical influences rolling around in his mind and he meant to do something with them. He took off hitchhiking for NYC in the middle of a Minnesota winter. God, what balls. If anything got him into the Hall of Fame that must have been it.

I’ve done it. Not Minnesota but over on the Illinois, Indiana, Michigan side. Must have been out of my mind. Well, just young and dumb, but even that’s no excuse. I bet Bob feels the same way. There I was in three feet of snow with trucks going by at fifty miles an hour. Rearranged my own personal snow bank every time it happened. But this isn’t about me, well, actually it is but only in relation to Bob.

This hitchhike through the winter wonderland must have left an indelible stamp on Bob’s mind. Did mine. Made him cold. Bitter. Put bite into some of his songs. Tears of rage. Hello New York City sayonara Chitown. Boy, there’s two places that’ll give you a vivid impression of mankind. Did me.

Bob was there at the creation of Rock and Roll and it was a life changing experience for him. Some guys like Eddie Cochran and Ricky Nelson could settle into quick and easy imitations but Bob had trouble sorting our his influences and making a sound that was his own. Landing in Greenwich Village and its vibrant Folk scene, if some of those guys can be called vibrant. I’ve got a whole collection of their records and some of ‘em are so dull they make Bobby shine.

So Bob settled in doing things like Talking New York and other folkie stuff as he put his musical roots down coming up with Hank Williams influenced Folk stuff. He was doin’ all right too but he couldn’t forget those Rock and Roll rhythms.

So just as he was drolling out Folk anthems in ‘62 he went into the studio and did this strange Rock and Roll record called Mixed Up Confusion. Tryin’ to be Elvis Presley. Sun years. Hot licks and all that jazz.

So Mixed Up Confusion is not good but it’s not bad either. All his miserable past is focused into that song and all his magnificent rise emanates from it. The song is a knot. It’s like when I first started writing. I could tell my whole life story in three Ernest Hemingway style sentences. Brief and pithy but there couldn’t possibly be that big a demand for a haiku on my life. I’d have to kind of elaborate, get loquacious, a little. That’s what Bob did after Mixed Up Confusion. He began to elaborate. Stretch it out. Separate those musical strands. Mercerize it whatever mercerize means. Seen the world somewhere. Memorized it. This might be the appropriate time to use it; might not.



Now, I only heard the song in 2005 but in the way memory works I was able to shift it from here to there so that me and Bob was in two places at the same time together. You know, we went to the same school together at different times. It was a lot easier to do than explain.

Bob and I began to work out our problem in the same way, he singing, me listening. See, I told you it was easy. First though Bob had to dump those Folkies. He was made of stiff stuff though. It was a lot easier for him to do it than it would have been for me. But he was gonna climb that mountain no matter how high. When you get to the top you’ve left everyone behind anyway. I’ll say I know but that wouldn’t be 100% true. Wouldn’t be a 100% lie either though. Kinda half way between the pillar and the post. You could kinda reach out and touch each one with your hands. Have to be kind of a contortionist though. I saw a guy once who could fit himself into a shoe box, big shoes, cowboy boots, size nineteens, but I never wanted to emulate him.

So Bob had been laying this folk stuff on the people pretty thick. They believed in him. They thought he was sincere, didn’t bother to ask. But he got himself a hot electric band and showed ‘em what boogie folk was. That’s when the sh.., uh stuff, hit the fan. It was messy. Got all over everybody. But Bob was kind of a Magic Man. He survived it. Prospered. Took more balls than I got to do it though.

They booed him. Loud. Shouted things at him. Like, Judas and Traitor and Go Home. He said he didn’t believe them but that must have been sheer bravado. They had their point. Well, don’t look back as Farragut said in Mobile Bay. Full speed ahead boys. Let ‘em deal with this.

Bob knew a thing or two about himself, if you know what I mean. He was beginning to sort his Rock and Roll ideas out. Tears of Rage. All the anger and frustration of his youth was finding a vent. The mood was terrific, who in the hell cared what it meant. If you wanted your songs to sound heavy but mean something plain you could borrow the Sound of Silence from Simon and Garfunkle.

He was beginning to be able to project his vision of Rock and Roll. It would appear that he wanted to create an entirely new paradigm as he does manage to sound different but retains similarities to both Presley and Little Richard, two of his major influences. The tentative gropings of Bringing It All Back Home progressed through Highway 61 Revisited to full realization in Blonde On Blonde. Rainy Day Women is a weird and raucous vision of Rock music but in reality is neither fish nor fowl. The general reaction to Blonde On Blonde was one of puzzlement. The music of Rainy Day Women was repellent to most while the lyrics of that summer of ‘66 were impenetrable. Nobody and I mean nobody had any idea of what Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands was about. Still Dylan’s vision of Rock was loose and exciting.

Bob Dylan had also reached a plateau with the release of this his major opus. He had realized or perfected the style. No farther development was possible. The rage and resentment that had fueled the music even perhaps psychotic had reached a culmination.

Thus in the summer of ‘66 Dylan had no place to go. I presume he was out of ideas hence his accident and retirement.

The summer of ‘66 was traumatic for the Dylan, myself and the country. While Bob’s new record lay on the counter waiting to be bought on July 13th Richard Speck committed a horrific crime in Chicago. He ritually murdered a passel of nursing students. At the time the memory of Kennedy’s assassination was still strong. At the time he was shot there were people who thought and said that the assassination would release an epidemic of murder. I don’t know that Speck had any relationship to Kennedy, perhaps his killing was merely a harbinger of the murderous unrest stalking the land.

I had just graduated from Cal State at Hayward that June of ’66. I was taking graduate courses at UC Berkeley. Twenty-eight years old at the time. The Dylan record had hit the stores at the end of June. Now, the record was psychologically disturbing and unsettling by itself. Records were the generation’s means of expressing itself, replacing the movies of the previous generation and books of still earlier generations, so Blonde On Blonde had earth shaking qualities not present in CD s today. Not only did Blonde On Blonde erupt in that memorable summer but Procol Harum, Cream and Canned Heat first emerged. All exhibited a new form of craziness what with Cream’s I Feel Free and Canned Heat being named after a drug substitute. The following June, The Summer Of Love would see the release of the even crazier record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles.

So we were reeling from Speck’s astounding crime under the influences of the psychotic or near psychotic Blonde On Blonde when two weeks after Speck Charlie Whitman barricaded himself in his tower and opened fire on the world or at least as much of it as he could reach on the University of Texas campus. Whitman killed or wounded dozens.

At the time I was cracking my brain trying to learn a year’s worth of Latin in an intensive six week course while trying to prepare for a move to graduate school at the University of Oregon.

At the same time Bob was working out his rage and hatred in full view of the world with what were actually night thoughts I was privately doing the same under the influence of his lunacy as he exposed himself on records. I was still hurtin’ every single day searching for my own release and the way out of from where I was at. I was strange enough, hair parted in the middle getting longer by the day, to feel some affinity to Speck and Whitman as well as Dylan. Whatever I saw in Dylan I saw aspects of in Speck and Whitman. Dylan did too; at least he said so at an awards ceremony setting his audience on their ears. I know what he was talking about and everyone in that audience should have too. No man is an island, send not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.



In the summer of ‘66 the so-called Free Speech Movement at Berkeley was in the mopping up stage. The new paradigm of ‘Freedom’ was in place at the home of the Golden Bears. The obscene rag The Berkeley Barb was being hawked on the street corners and wherever. The homeless and runaways were throwing down their sleeping bags in doorways creating the new street sitcom of the Brave New America.

The man who dubbed what went before as The Old Weird America had graduated from US Berkeley that very same June of ‘66. He was on his way over to San Francisco to become the reviews editor of the new journalism espoused by The Rolling Stone, the most successful of the generations publishing ventures. The San Francisco Oracle published for a year then disappeared.

I gathered my things together and headed North to the land of perpetual overcast, Oregon.

While I was familiar with Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 with the addition of Blonde On Blonde I began to immerse myself in the three records for about three years. I listened to a side a day every morning when I got up. I know that when Bob talks about his hour of darkness he really means his whole life. That’s what I would mean by it. That’s what I meant by it. It wasn’t a question of not dark yet it was a question of when is the sun going to shine. I was trying to stay on the sunny side of the street but I just couldn’t figure out which side was it. It was going to be dark for a while yet.

Those Dylan years were dark years for me. Probably as dark as it has ever been. Let’s hope so because I don’t want to go there again. But I suppose I have to thank Bob for steadying me through the dark period. Apart from the stray line popping up in my memory from time to time I cannot remember the lyrics of a single song or could I quote a whole verse. The titles were terrific though and I remember a lot of them. Whole novels were in those titles. Whole novels were in many of the lines. I responded to the title It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry. How great. I didn’t need the song that rumbled and loped in the background of the thoughts it released. The tone and mood were the perfect background to the darkness swirling in my mind. Occasionally a line that was another novel in itself would break in like ‘I ride on a mail train, baby, can’t buy a thrill.’ One more line and I would have had a trilogy. Possibly I could have named the trilogy The Weird Old Greil Marcus. I might yet.



Here’s Greil Marcus forming this weird extrasensory relationship with Bobby. Marcus gets himself all wrapped up in the lyrics of Like A Rolling Stone; begins to live his life like it’s the fifth gospel right after John. I mean, Dylan’s good, but…

Dylan had an effect on a lot of people not least Greil Marcus. Marcus had seen Dylan in ‘63 in Philly and was blown away. He attended several concerts between ‘63 and ‘66 each apparently a religious epiphany. As just a spectator in the audience he could do nothing but adore his idol. Beginning with his job at Rolling Stone in ‘66 he had an entrée backstage at anyone’s concert including his idol Bob’s. Thus he could get up close and personal with his hero. Ask almost any question; form a relationship. Shape Bob’s thinking and attitude a little even in time display his SI credentials.

Apparently Marcus got as involved with Bobby’s lyrics as much as I did, heck, as much as a multitude did. Marcus has followed Bobby down seemingly owning all the records and CD s having heard all the songs at least once, as indeed has Nigel Williamson who wrote the Rough Guide. I can’t really go much further than John Wesley Harding. I gave up on Bob after that, not necessarily because his stuff wasn’t that good, but wherever he was going I wasn’t following. Our minds and problems slipped out of sync. Most likely he went his way and I went mine.

But Greil Marcus became obsessed with one Dylan song: Like A Rolling Stone. He went so far as to write a long essay on the song published as a single volume. A song has to be in your gene’s to devote that much effort to it.

From this point on I’m going to refer to Marcus as Greil for convenience and because I’m going to get more personal. I hope there are no objections.

Speaking from the ‘bully pulpit’ that Greil has created for himself he has declared Like A Rolling Stone not only the best of Bobby’s extensive canon but the greatest song of all time. As an influential critic he has got the ball rolling in the direction he wants it to go. But, there are dissenters.

Nigel Williamson, who may be considered an authority on Dylan’s entire oeuvre equal to Greil, in his Rough Guide to Dylan lists what he considers Bobby’s Top 50. He lists Like A Rolling Stone no higher than eighteen of Dylan’s best not even considering the whole song corpus of the world. Williamson’s top 18 all come from Bobby’s albums before John Wesley Harding. Further of those songs which I know well I would agree with Williamson with the exceptions of #4 Girl From The North Country, #5 Mixed Up Confusion and #8 Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll. I would move To Ramona closer to the top. The Flying Burrito Bros. Version of the song is as good as it gets.

The extravagance of Greil is alarming in a critic. The excess can only be explained by Greil’s relation of the song to some intense personal problem. Now, Greil has not only written several books that almost repeat the same thematic material, John Winthrop- Abraham Lincoln-Mike King Jr., but he has written numerous reviews, essays and been interviewed many times. A great many are available for downloading from the internet so that Greil’s psyche can be searched. In searching through his essays one comes to a remarkably irrelevant and revealing essay. Irrelevant because it has nothing to do with any subject anyone would go to here him lecture about.

On Oct. 13, 2006 Greil read a piece for an audience at the Richard Hugo House. In it he revealed his central childhood fixation.. Because of the death of the inseminator of his mother, a father he never knew by the name of Greil Gerstley, Greil Marcus apparently considers himself an orphan which he is in a manner of speaking in fact.

The incident that catalyzed his feeling he tells thusly: 


It was 1955; I was 10. We had just moved into a new

house in Menlo Park, California. There was a big radio set up, and I’d play with it at night, trying to pull in the drifting signals from across the country; Chicago, Cleveland, Omaha, even New Jersey. One night a few lines came out. I don’t remember the exact words, but the gist is clear: “When American GI s left Korea, they also left behind countless fatherless babies. Once everyone talked about this. Now nobody cares.”


As I got older I realized it was an echo of something other than what the words from the radio described. I know it was an echo of an absent memory of my own father, whose name was Greil Gerstley, who was lost in a typhoon in the Pacific when his destroyer went down.


So in times of teenage unhappiness, the fantasy that I might have lived a different life, been a different person with a different name, was more a fact than a fantasy. If my father had lived, both my mother and I would have lived very different lives. But it was the kind of fact that, when you try to hold onto it, slips through your fingers like water.


Alright. Bobby’s song is addressed to a woman while Greil dwells on, delights in the line ‘How does it feel.’ So, what woman does Dylan’s song call to mind in Greil’s experience. I’m afraid it must be his mother. I won’t speculate on whatever lingering fears Greil may have. Suffice it to say that his mother and father in the pressures of war were a dockside romance and marriage. Virtually as the marriage was consummated Greil Gerstner was shipped to his death in a Pacific typhoon.

Greil tells us that he was born six months and a day after his father’s ship went down. Thus as his father sank into the waters of the Pacific Greil was a mass of stem cells evolving into hands, fingers, ears, eyes, nose and…a memory. It is almost eerie the way he dates his memories from this period when he was scarcely recognizable as a human being..

I suspect he considers his mother’s remarriage in 1948 some sort of betrayal of the memory of Greil Gerstner. One wonders if Greil is a Junior. One has the feeling that he was never really comfortable with his adoptive father, Mr. Marcus. I can understand this. There was no genetic affinity to the man. When my mother remarried also in 1948 when I was ten I could never consider my step-father as other than a stranger and an interloper in my mother’s bed. I was furious that he was sleeping with her when my inseminator, my own genetic material, wasn’t.

Both Greil’s reaction and my own were irrational but fully natural and understandable. It matters little that the Gerstners would have undoubtedly been divorced within two years of his father’s return while he would have ended up with a step-father anyway. He can thank his lucky stars his mother remarried as well as she did.

At least his half brother Bill is looking out for him. Thank the Lord for what few favors he bestows.

Greil’s mother is his problem and the source of his admiration for his favorite song and he has become obsessed with his dead father. Then things began to happen. Someone was doing a documentary on the death of the Hull, his father’s ship. Certain stories were told Greil in the course of the documentary that don’t make sense to my experience.

I was in the Navy on a Destroyer Escort, a hundred feet or so shorter than a Destroyer. We were sent through the heart of a typhoon also. I know what the term ‘towering seas’ means. The ship came close to dying several times but we made it through. If the ship had rolled there would have been no survivors. I can’t understand how there were any survivors of the Hull, Gerstner’s ship. In seas like that the ship is tightly sealed to prevent flooding and consequent sinking. The only exit is on the bridge to allow changes of the watch and whatever. When that sucker rolls it is a floating coffin. Nobody gets out. If you happened to be on watch on the bridge you would be thrown into frigid waters with a life expectancy of two minutes at most. To protect myself from the numbing cold I had on so many clothes that they would have saturated and pulled me down before I could come up for air the first time.

I do not understand that there could be survivors of the Hull.

Greil should check his facts more closely, the ship rolls over it doesn’t pitch over. The ship will not right itself at something like a thirty degree roll. Anything more than that and it’s Hello, Davy Jones, goodbye San Francisco.

All that baloney about breaking out of a trough is sheer nonsense. Only a fool would cut the engines. There are so many things happening with the water that survival is sheer luck. At one time the seas were flowing beneath us faster than our headway. That makes the rudders useless. If you don’t have control of the ship you’re sunk. I don’t know how we made it. I really don’t.

So Greil should research his father’s situation more fully and stop blaming everyone. It was just one of those things. Could have happened to anyone. Ask me.

At any rate Greil made the connection of those abandoned Korean children with his own and his father’s. Greil obviously believes that he is as one of those abandoned kids.

The problem then gets back to the woman of Like A Rolling Stone. Only Greil’s mom situation makes Like A Rolling Stone the greatest song ever written. He has to come to terms with his feelings about his mother. That’s all I’ll say. If he rereads Obsessive Memories closely she should be able to find his way out and maybe find another world’s greatest song.

Greil’s obsessions with Like A Rolling Stone soured Bobby beyond redemption for me. However in forcing me to reexamine my own fixation on Bob’s three greatest LP s he has compelled me to come to a truer understanding of what I found in those songs. The use I made of them.

Unfortunately as one door closes another opens. Memories come flooding back of that memorable summer of ‘66. I ride on a mail train, baby, can’t buy a thrill while it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry. Blonde On Blonde, Richard Speck, Charlie Whitman, there’s a novel or two or a trilogy in there somewhere. Can it be found before I die?


A Review

Lipstick Traces:

Greil Marcus

Part IX

Into The Abyss

It sounded like a lot of fun wrecking the world.

It felt like freedom.

Greil Marcus: Lipstick Traces


     It is probably time to look a little into Mr. Marcus’ antecedents.  He was born in the summer of 1945 between VE and VJ day as he tells us.  He was ten, then, in 1954-55 when Rock and Roll came into existence.  He doesn’t seem to imply that he was particularly interested in records in the next decade that would have made him twenty in 1964-65.  He would have been 15 to 20  from 1960-65 during which time he would have listened to the radio.  He also seems to have been in Philadelphia at some time during that period when he attended a Bob Dylan concert. I haven’t read yet where he mentioned that he had a record collection during that period.  He doesn’t seem to recall much from memory before 1965 with the possible exception of Bob Dylan.

     One is forced to conclude then that most if not all his record lore was acquired between his twentieth and thirtieth years from 1965 to 1974-75.  He began his career as a critic in 1966 when he went to work for Rolling Stone.  He left that post a year later to write for Creem Magazine. His first book Mystery Train was published in 1975 so he should have acquired his lore over maybe eight years.

     He should have been a sophomore in ’64 which means he should have graduated in’66 so his real record education would have been from ’66 to ’74.  Not much time  for someone posing as an expert in ’75. 

     He says he was born in San Francisco moving into Menlo Park in 1955 so that he went to Menlo Park-Atherton High.  The area is one of the ritziest in the Bay Area.  Atherton is top of the line for the Bay so his step-father must have been doing pretty well.  In other words Mr. Marcus is a rich kid.  I haven’t read exactly where he lived between 1948 when his mother remarried and 1955.

     At any rate he comes from a very well to do background.  After graduating from MPA he went over to Berkeley to attend UC.  He was there for the whole Free Speech brouhaha.  At some time after graduation from UC he returned to Berkeley to live which is his home base at the present time.

     At the time he wrote Mystery Train I would question the depth and breadth of his knowledge.

     He published Mystery Train at the last possible moment such a book could be published.  From ’66 to ’75 those of us concerned with records were convinced that something monumental and earth shaking was happening.  Wonderful theories of the music’s importance were spun of which Mystery Train is one.  I think it probable that Mr. Marcus saw a string of such books rolling off his pen.  A funny thing happened on the way to the forum however.  Disco and Punk blew up the Rock monolith about the same year destroying the grandiose notions we were all believing in.  All of a sudden as Mr. Marcus points out confidence was destroyed and survival became the issue.  Mr. Marcus and his plans were thrown for a loop.

     Not until 1989 did he find another tack to try to get back on track.  In that year he published Lipstick Traces.  Feeling that his first career had been blown out of the water by Punk he paid homage to it by concentrating on Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols.  Broadening out some he incorporated the history of what he considered various Dada movements.  His concern with Dada had found expression in Mystery Train so it was only necessary to relate Dada to Punk with which he had no trouble.

     Since ’89 he has published a continuous series of books, the most recent being The Shape Of Things To Come.


     I hesitate to do this but I feel the reader should know something of my credentials to give some basis for judging my criticism and analysis.

     I’m about seven years older than Mr. Marcus having been born in 1938.  I was therefore sixteen in 1954 which is more or less the cut off date for the beginning of Rock and Roll.

     I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan.  We were apparently out of the mainstream of Rock development.  Even though we had a fairly large Black population there was no Rhythm And Blues or Black music on the local radio.  There were only traditional music shows on radio in 1954 when Top Forty was in embryo.  By ’55 and ’56 we had full fledged Top 40 and what a blast it was.

     With Top 40 came Black artists like Bill Doggett, Fats Domino and Little Richard but they were a Top 40 sound whether they called it Rhythm And Blues or not.  One could tune into Detroit for Black records but I didn’t know anyone who did.  I tuned in a couple times but Black music per se repelled me.

     I was in the class of ’56.  The class of ’55 knew nothing of Rock and Roll at the time and very little of Top 40 radio.  I was in a distinct minority in the class of ’56 who listened to Rock at all.  The class of ’57 was the first class attuned to the music.

     As to first R & R records, who knows?  The early and mid-fifties were a blend of musics so I heard a fair amount of Swing.  Anyone who traces Rock and Roll directly to Swing is dreaming.  I know Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and the Swing drummers.  None of them had the R&R feel.  Swing rhythm sections were miniscule compared to Rock which to my mind is a singer, lead guitar and a two or three piece rhythm section.  Very faint resemblance to Swing.

     When it became financially impossible for Big Band to survive I suppose the instrumental quartet was the next logical step which led to the Big Beat.  Neither Elvis nor Sun had a Big Beat.  He had rhythm but no beat;  he was essentially a hillbilly singer doing fast songs which is how everyone thought of him.  That’s what I heard and none of the people I knew would listen to him because he was a hillbilly.  As far as I’m concerned the Big Beat was developed by Lonnie Donegan and that is where the English Beat groups come from.  Lonnie’s early stuff was as much Rock as anything else although he was primarily a terrific Folk and Blues singers.  Unparalleled.  He was as good as Elvis but somewhat more traditional sounding than Presley.  Elvis could really move you.

     Elvis was virtually unknown in Saginaw before Heartbreak Hotel.  I missed out on the Sun records by a day.  The record store had returned them the day before I got there so I have all RCAs.  I never knew anyone else who had heard of Elvis between the time I bought my 45s and Heartbreak Hotel.

     I never thought of Elvis as a Rock and Roller on those early records.  There really was no Rock and Roll except for Bill Haley And The Comets and that stuff was really leadfooted.  I didn’t really enjoy Rock Around The Clock and I never bought it. Elvis was just a hillbilly cat who could really sing a song.  I knew from reading the labels that Arthur Crudup wrote That’s All Right Mama but that meant nothing to me.  Who ever heard of Arthur Crudup? 

     I don’t understand why I don’t have Sun Presleys as I bought every Sun record as it came out.  I had to have them special ordered as nobody wanted them but I was very familiar with the Sun sound.  Not impossibly Sam Phillips had as much to do with Rock and Roll as anyone because all the records he produced had that forward leaning scudding way.  You could have substituted Elvis for Johnny Cash on Get Rhythm and there wouldn’t have been much difference.

     When Elvis left Sun his production values changed with the sound becoming flat footed and vertical rather than forward leaning.  Elvis was always Elvis for me but I never had the incentive to buy his RCA produced 45s.

     Some may say the music died with Buddy Holly’s plane crash but that is a gross exaggeration.  Holly’s career was virtually over by February ’59.  He was singing solo and fading fast.  The Big Bopper was a no one who had one trash talking record while Richie Valens was as close to a zero as you can get.

     Elvis was kept alive by RCA during his Army years but Little Richard was finished after Heebie Jeebies and Jerry Lee’s Rock career was stalled.  High School Confidential was so-so.  Jerry Lee’s marriage to his cousin may have put him in bad odor in some quarters but that was a fishing expedition to discredit him.  Might have hurt his personal appearances but not his record sales, they were already down.  To my mind Duane Eddy came out with Rebel Rouser on the heel of the plane crash and Rock and Roll bounced right along without missing a beat.  Apparently not too many people remember the effect of Eddy and Rebel Rouser but it was the second kick in the pants after Presley.  Kept us all going.

     The big problem for Rock and Roll was Organized Crime.  The Mafia and Chicago Outfit controlled Juke boxes.  Those idiots determined that only their acts got on the Juke boxes.  If you want a good representation of what the record industry was like check out the best Rock and Roll movie ever made- The Girl Can’t Help It.  If you watch closely and pay attention you are being told exactly how it was.

     An Outfit figure greatly resembling Al Capone, although the time period was long after Capone, controls the Juke boxes for the Outfit.  That means the Juke boxes at least West of the Appalachians to the Coast.  The Juke boxes in Saginaw were stocked by the Outfit that for all practical purposes controlled the town.  All towns.

     Girl Can’t Help It stars Jayne Mansfield and Tommy Ewell.  Mansfield is the Mafia figure’s moll.  He wants to make her a record star which he figures he can do because he controls the Juke boxes.  All of ’em.  But the Girl Can’t Sing.  The producers are at their wits ends because they have to do something with her.  They accidentally discover that she has this high pitched squeal.  So, a la Tequila in which periodically the instrumental music stops and someone announces ‘Tequila’, at certain points in the record the music stops and Mansfield squeals.  This is so captivating the record does become a hit.

     Now, the movie highlights several Mafia acts like Teddy Randazzo and the Gum Drops that would never draw anyone into the theatres.  Teddy didn’t even have an attractive high pitched squeal to go along with his great accordion playing.  But as is usual with non-record types the belief is that if you can expose non-talent acts to enough people they will sell.  So the Outfit did understand they needed some draws to get people in to expose the non-talent.  Who are you going to go to?  Well, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard for starters.  I went because of Gene Vincent.

     The movie was released in ’58 so not many of us had ever actually seen any of these guys.  The Mob had their draws but they wanted to showcase the Italian acts which they did.  Gene Vincent was shot through the window of a recording studio for about half of Be Bop A Lula; Eddie Cochran did his Twenty Flight Rock shot off a TV set and Little Richard was shot through a crowd in a club about fifty feet away.

     As I say if you pay attention you can get a very good idea of what was going on.  Mansfield and Ewell were great but they were at the terminal point of their careers.

     The early sixties were pretty duddy as far as I was concerned, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I was right,  so I went back to my true love, Country and Western.  As I noted in Part One I was drawn back into pop by my brother-in -law.  As I said I then graduated from college in ’66 going up to Oregon from the Bay Area.  It was there in ’67 that I opened a record store.  From ’67 to ’80 I was a decent sized player in the record business.  I thought I heard everything but I am always amazed at the records for which I have no recollection even seeing. 

     I was there when the first Rolling Stone came out.  I don’t know where the magazine sold but it wasn’t Oregon.  Pretty boring actually.  Got worse as time went on and then it got Political. 

     I quit listening to records in 1980 when I closed my record store.  Punk was too ridiculous to waste your time on although I do have two or three Disco records I value.  Well, Rock and Roll was great while it lasted but it really did die in ’75.  Not only Punk and Disco but the untalented Epigone came along.  The splitting out of Heavy Metal as a genre didn’t help either.  God!  I know how Marcus felt.  Everything just crashed to the ground.


     Mr. Marcus’ themes and direction remain the same from Mystery Train to The Shape Of Things To Come.  His attitudes are controlled by his dual Israeli and American passports: his Semitism and anti-Semitism.  These two citizenships coincide in his psyche with his twin racial concerns.  The Israeli citizenship as Semitism and his American citizenship with anti-Semitism. Naturally his Israeli Semitism takes precedence in his loyalty over his American anti-Semitism.  Americans are Nazis in his mind.  As with Adam in the Garden of Paradise and God, the twin concepts exist side by side in his mind with Adam representing Semitism and God anti-Semitism.  Thus his Jewish/Adamic/Israeli identity represents his absolute purity in his mind while America/God represent his foul or Devil side.  He and his fellow Jews think that by trashing the Garden, Europe, Palestine, America or wherever they happen to reside that their ‘purity’ will triumph and they will be as they represent themselves: a Holy People suited to govern mankind, Judge-Penitents.  That is what the eighteenth century messiah, Jacob Frank, meant by saying that if the Jews commited all the evil in their minds then this ‘purity’ will shine to light the way for the peoples.  You don’t have to be Freud to know it ain’t going to work.  Thus Mr. Marcus’ subliminal message is all good comes from Jewish musicians and all evil from American musicians.  The Jewish Bob Dylan becomes his ultimate hero taking precedence over the American anti-hero, Elvis Presley.

     That’s why in Lipstick Traces he juxtaposes the anti-hero Presley and the Jewish hero Isidore Isou.

     Mr. Marcus scatters several clues throughout his work to hint at what he’s attempting.  He mentions John Ford’s movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and one of its morals a couple times concentrating on the movie’s stated notion that once an event becomes legendary even though the received version may be untrue people prefer the myth to the fact.  There may be some truth to the notion although as Mr. Marcus explores the counter notion of detournement he gives us the means to strip such an ingrained notion from the story and turn it in any direction we want.  Thus in the twenties the Judaeo-Communists on the one hand debunked American heroes and myths while at the same time detourning them so that Jefferson and Lincoln become founding members of Communism as Communism in turn becomes Twentieth Century Americanism.  A neat trick that didn’t quite work.

     Actually the two practices denote the transition from one religion to another which also lays bare Mr. Marcus’ intent.  Thus in the first few centuries of the Piscean Age the Catholic Church detourned ancient Taurian and Arien religious sites by stripping them of their pagan connotations replacing the meaning with little balloons containing Christian messages.  Eventually they replaced Arien temples with Piscean churches.

      Jack Finney’s 1950’s novel The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers describes the same thing in which aliens while maintaining exact replicas of the bodies they take over inform the minds with entirely different content.  Finney understood detournement completely long before Guy Debord had it figured out.

     That is exactly what the Jews, who are attempting to replace Christianity are doing.  Mr. Marcus mentions Philip Roth’s The Plot To Destroy America approvingly.  Of course Mr. Marcus and Roth are both Jewish.  In Roth’s detournement of American history he portrays the Jewish rescue of the true America, which the Jews in their wisdom created, from the Weird Old Americans who are trying to twist the Promised Land into some Nazi hate filled paranoid perversion of what one is led to believe was the American paradise Jews had created.

      Roth chooses to recklessly defame Charles Lindhberg, a great and true American, but that is what detournement is all about.  Thus on the one hand Roth detournes ‘Weird Old American’ heroes into villains while at the same time creating the myth of the Jewish saviors a la Liberty Valence.

     The Jews then become the men who shot Liberty Valence thus destroying the Weird Old America while bringing into existence this Jewish paradise we enjoy today.  Shut your mouth, you anti-Semite.

     Why Liberty Valence?

     Well, Liberty is the opposite of collectivity or the Jewish Law.  He represents the sort of ‘rugged individualism’ that threatened Jewish collectivity or subordination to the Mosaic Law.  Valence means valour, courage or valiance.  That is, a man who has what it takes to stand out against the crowd or Mosaic Law.  I’m sure it was an unintended compliment.  No one of the collectivity has what it takes to stand up against him, not even the hero of the collectivity, John Wayne.

     The legend that is so hard to kill is that Jimmie Stewart shot Liberty Valance down in a fair and square man to man fight.  Actually Wayne is the agent of the collectivity who bushwhacked Liberty from a dark alley,  Wayne and his Negro servitor and alter ego who tossed his rifle to him.

     So this is the secret message of Lipstick Traces creating a legend and detourning existing beliefs that run counter to those of the collectivity.  For that reason the branch of academic history known as American Studies has been captured by Jews who stand up laughingly epatering the Americans, debunking and detourning as they go.  

     I see where Mr. Marcus and a yoyo by the name of Todd Gitlin are joining forces to epater the Americans together.  Ought to be funny if you’ve got the right sense of humor.


     All the seeds of Mr. Marcus later work are apparent in his 1975 Mystery Train.  One should examine Mr. Marcus construction of Train carefully.

     He examines six recording stars.  Two of which he calls ancestors and four ‘Inheritors.’  The six are Harmonica Frank, Robert Johnson, Dylan/The Band, Sly Stone, Randy Newman and Elvis Presley.

     Out of the period of 1950-75 Mr. Marcus chooses a very personal list of bands.  One would call the list debateable but there’s not much to debate.  Whether they are supposed to be important or influential isn’t clear.  Apart from Presley none of them were overwhelming important  or influential.  Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, the Doors?  No, they aren’t on board Mr. Marcus’ Mystery Train.  So, what do we have? 

     The list is bracketed by two White performers, Harmonica Frank and Elvis Presley.  Robert Johnson and Sly Stone are Black.  Dylan/The Band are Jewish and Canadian while Robbie Robertson is mentioned as having a Jewish father.  Thus Dylan/The Band and Randy Newman are two Jewish outfits.  Two Whites, two Blacks, two Jews.  Obviously we have an agenda here.

     The two ancestors are questionable.  I may have a vague memory of having heard the name Harmonica Frank but the man influenced absolutely no one.  Technically he is no ancestor.  His only connection with, say, Elvis, is that both were produced by Sam Phillips at Sun records.  In that sense Harmonica Frank may be representative of what Phillips as a producer was trying to do but that represents Phillips and not Harmonica Frank.

     Thus when Phillips decided to produce Presley he used the same musical tenets or ‘ear.’ Elvis was very fortunate to have Phillips to hear his talent and draw him out.  Without Phillips there would never have been an Elvis Presley other than this guy driving a truck.

     As far as ‘White’ ancestors go Phillips would have been more appropriate than Frank.  I suppose what I am saying is that I find Mr. Marcus either too shallow or too tendentious.

     Mr. Marcus doesn’t use a Jewish ancestor but as a Black ancestor he chooses Robert Johnson.  As he states there were no Robert Johnson recordings available for anyone to hear before the 1960 Columbia release.  Huddie ‘Leadbelly’ Ledbettor would have been a much more influential ancestor.  Not only had his recordings been continuously available but his songs formed a staple for Folk artists from the post-war years on.  His Good Night Irene and Midnight Special were ten times more influential than anything Robert Johnson ever wrote, a hundred times…heck, a thousand times, more.  Johnson’s songs began to appear by other artists only in late sixties.

     Mr. Marcus’ enthusiasm for Johnson’s lyrics is absolutely inexplicable.  He quotes the following as an example of Johnson’s genius:


Me and the devil, was walking side by side

Oooo, me and the devil was walking side by side.

I’m going to beat my woman until I get satisfied.


     Pretty choice stuff, huh?  I’m surprised the ladies haven’t boycotted both Johnson and Mr. Marcus’ Mystery Train.

     Nevertheless his choice of Johnson seems arbitrary at the best and tendentious at the worst.

     I presume he chose the Band because of their association with Bob Dylan.  Mr. Marcus definitely sets Dylan up as the greatest of the era replacing Presley.  This is patently ridiculous.

     His final paragraph detournes Elvis in favor of Dylan.  Bear in mind that in 1975 Elvis still had two years to live so Mr. Marcus may be understood to be addressing Presley indirectly:


     All in all there is one remaining moment I want to see;  One epiphany that would somehow bring his (Elvis’) story home.  Elvis would take the stage as he always has; the roar of the audience would surround him, as it always will.  After a time, he would begin a song by Bob Dylan, singing slowly.  Elvis would give it everything he has.  “I must have been mad,” he would cry,  “I didn’t know what I had- until I threw it all away.”

     And then with love in his heart, he would laugh.


     That’s a pretty tale.  As a detournement the kingof rock n’ roll passes the scepter to Dylan.  While as a hypnotic suggestion to the living Elvis Mr. Marcus is attempting to bring his dream to come to pass.  We’ll never know if it would have worked but it was the traditional Judaeo-Freudian method.

     Thus the two sections on Harmonica Frank and Elvis are slurs on Mr. Marcus’ concept of The Weird Old America.  That title of another of his books is itself a detournement of America.

     For the last few years I have been wavering but after reading Mr. Marcus’ ideas on Dylan I have probably irrevocably turned against him.  To write of the Band is to write of Dylan.  Dylan would always have been Dylan but the Band would never have been anything without Dylan.  The Band probably stands to Dylan as Presley does to Sam Phillips.

     The first two Band LPs are the result of direct contact with Dylan in the sessions that resulted in the basement tapes.  With the separation from Dylan the effect wore off with the Band returning to their R & R roots.  At their peak they were no Doors or Led Zeppelin.  Like Dylan I find them unlistenable today.

     Mr. Marcus wrote a two or three hundred page essay on Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone which he seems to consider the greatest song ever written.  He perversely refuses to accept the song for what it is- a hymn to ingratitude.  In the song Dylan clearly resents his dependence on Joan Baez for his early success.  He, in fact, used her but now in his pride of success he spurns her from him- with his foot so to speak.  A real ingrate as a matter of fact.

     Mr. Marcus reproduces the lyrics in their entirety as a preface to the book.  I’m not going to do the same here but Like A Rolling Stone is in a genre of Dylan songs that can be defined only as mocking or ‘hate songs.’  Along with Rolling Stone one can include Positively Fourth Street, Please, Crawl Out Your Window, Ballad Of A Thin Man, Desolation Row and any number of others.  Sooner Or Later, One Of Us Must Know.

     Again with Dylan the tone of his voice is more important than the words.  For me I responded to the pain and anger in his voice that seemed to reflect my own experiences and which I interpreted in my own way.  The same attitude would be reflected differently by the baby boomers born in the early fifties.  As noted they came along at the time of Mystery Train’s writing to shatter Mr. Marcus immediate dream of a Rock And Roll Czardom.

     One presumes that the song Mr. Marcus wanted Presley to sing in order to detourne himself in favor of Bob Dylan ‘with love in his heart and a laugh’ thus allowing one religious idol to replace another was ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’

     Unfortunately due to Mr. Marcus’ interpretation I now see ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ as an actual hymn of hate scorning and mocking Joan Baez.  Throughout Bob Dylan’s career he had the habit of purloining things of others…said the Joker to the Thief.  In Minneapolis and Colorado he actually stole records from other people.  His excuse was that he really needed them.  In New york he lifted the arrangement of a song of Dave Von Ronk’s and recorded it without permission.  He had a ‘good excuse’ for that too.  He needed it.

     Perhaps his greatest theft was of the career of Joan Baez.  Baez out of a generous heart used her influence and reputation to gain acceptance for the caterwauling Dylan.  He couldn’t admit this theft without exposing himself as an ingrate subject to the scorn of the Folk community of Greenwich Village.  This may possibly be the secret meaning of Positively Fourth Street in which he seems to heap scorn on the whole Folk community.

      Mr. Marcus is especially impressed with the disgustingly hateful lines:

Ain’t it hard

When you discover that

He really wasn’t

Where It’s at

After he took from you everything

He could steal?


How does it feel?

How does it feel to be on your own

No direction home

Like a complete unknown

Like a rolling stone.

     Dylan has identified the person he is speaking to as ‘Miss Lowly’ who went to a fine school and here he says that he has stolen everything from her that he can steal and then he taunts her as though he had reduced her to his condition when he first arrived in New York City.  ‘How does it feel to be on your own with no direction home like a complete unknown?’

     Yes.  It must have been terrifying for Dylan to arrive in New York City as a complete unknown with no understanding of how to get started, homeless and starving.  Dylan solved his problem by scrounging lodging and his next meal.  He just moved in on people, ate their food, read their books, listened to their records, picked their minds, stole from them everything he could steal and then turned his back on them.  Cut them cold.  Scorned them as in Positively Fourth St.  Well, all right. OK.  But I don’t find it as admirable as Mr. Marcus does.  As I say I never really thought of Like A Rolling Stone deeply before reading Bob Dylan At The Crossroads.  (Robert Johnson again.  Is Mr. Marcus suggesting that Dylan sold his soul to the Devil?) but now that I have I am appalled at the coarseness of actually composing a song about your perfidy and advertising it to the world.

     If Mr. Marcus had handed Presley the song saying this is going to be what you’ll sing next, Presley who had perfect musical sense would have said:  ‘Not on your life, Baby Blue.’

     No laugh and a shrug from the King.

     After Dylan/The Band Mr. Marcus moves on to Sly Stone.  Sly was not a major talent.  He had a couple fair R&B songs bordering on open racism.  Sinking rapidly beneath drugs Sly Stone rapidly sunk his career.

     Moving next to Randy Newman I must confess that Mr. Marcus has lost me.  Perhaps he is trying to help the career of a fellow Semite along.  Got me.  Newman’s songs were always repulsive to me and Mr. Marcus’ quotes merely make them more repellent.  Gee, I wonder why Elvis never sang ‘Short People?’

     And then of course we come to what Mr. Marcus intends as his piece de resistance of criticism, Elvis himself.  This piece is a regular tear down job.

     Mr. Marcus was a trifle too young during the late forties and first half of the fifties to understand the situation.  During those years the musical culture was in the hands of Jews and Italians.  New York’s Tin Pan Alley from the twenties on had controlled American popular music.  The clubs in which artists performed were all mobbed up as all the artists were mobbed up will they nil they.  Thus nobody got through who wasn’t thoroughly vetted.

     On the fringes one had areas of Black musicians who were outside the scope of popular music hence not worried about.  At the same time one had Hillbilly music that was so despised that proper Whites retched at the mere mention of it and that is no exaggeration.  Concomitant with Hillbilly although culturally acceptable was Folk music.  Postwar from 1946 to 1964 in my estimation Folk was the only listenable pop musical expression.  Unfortunately Folk music was in the hands of the Reds making it culturally suspect.

     During the twenties and thirties Tin Pan Alley songs were vital enough to satisfy the nation’s listening ear although there were those who complained about it.  Whatever had worked for Tin Pan Alley between the wars the ethic had worn too thin between ’46 and ’54.  The music was so godawful and stiff that few could listen to it especially the young.  Into the Jewish vacuum stepped the Black and Hillbilly songwriters and performers.  While Hank Williams may have slipped slightly over the line of pop his songs were welcomed with open arms by pop cover artists.  At that time there was no shame in covering a song made popular by another artist, even as the original version was still moving up the charts.

     A golden time was created for unvetted performers and songwriters to step into the vacuum.  While Eddie Fisher, Ezio Pinza and Mario Lanza  and a stable of Italian pop singers attempted to hold the Tin Pan Alley fort Black street singers were emerging as Doo Wop groups while in Memphis Sam Phillips was developing the distinctive Sun Sound of which Elvis was the cornerstone.  Elvis and his songs were completely unvetted by Tin Pan Alley and the Mob.  As far as I’m concerned Presley’s breakthrough was such a fortunate concatenation of circumstances as to be miraculous.  There are few times when things work out so perfectly for all concerned from Sam Phillips to Elvis to Colonel Parker and RCA.  While Elvis was the transcendant talent he was only a component in the Elvis Presley success story.  He had the good sense to stick to singing while he had the good fortune to be associated with managers of talent, circumspection, genius and above average integrity.  So rare as to be almost unbelievable.

      Phillips brought the talent to the surface that anyone else would have overlooked.  A shy retiring Elvis given the opportunity dug deep to release the inner singer to become a polished singer almost immediately- in fact immediately.  All of his Sun singles are absolutely stunning.  There was no reason not to be swept off your feet from the first note of That’s All Right Mama.

     Elvis’ genius was that he handled songs in a perfect blend of hillbilly and pop.  He may have used some songs written by Blacks but there was no Black singer that could possibly have made of those songs what Elvis did.

     Greil Marcus, Guralnick and others seem to be of the opinion that something went wrong with Elvis.  Nothing went wrong with Elvis; he had the perfect career from his first single to his death in 1977.  He was unable to withstand the pressures of his unparalled success.  Unable to move in public because of his fans he was virtually under house arrest.  For crying out loud, the guy couldn’t even go to McDonald’s.  On top of that he aroused the anger and enmity of the ‘greatest generation’, the Mob and if Mr. Marcus is any example, the Jews.  I’m sure he had difficulty just staying alive.

     His goal was the movies.  Thus his singing style changed to fit the venue.  As much as I loved the Sun Elvis there is no possible way he could have continued in the same vein and sustained popularity  for twenty some odd years.  The new Elvis of Heartbreak Hotel and the early RCA years lost me as a record buyer.  Still, as Dr. Hook sang:  Elvis, he’s a hero, he’s a superstar…. as a hero Elvis always retained my loyalty.

     While the Army seemed a disaster, his tour of duty may have been fortuitous for his career.  The Army allowed the excitement to abate even as anticipation increased but when he returned it was as a return with a different feel.  His style once again changed from the early RCA years.  Listening to those old Mario Lanza and Ezio Pinza records inspired him to sing operatic C&W.  Rather startling to my ear but with sure musical sensibility it worked for Elvis.

     And then his popularity was so immense that he was able to star in two to three movies a year with all of them being money makers.  The songs may have been less than memorable but he had to reach a mass audience for which popular music allowed of no vocal eccentricities.  His fan base was strong enough and his talent great enough to sustain his popularity through a couple dozen movies that were frequently scorned and mocked but as Mr. Marcus generously points out they offered something that set them apart. 

     As all things must his movie career passed its ethic and cannily realizing it Elvis moved on.  Thus in 1968 he produced a special that catapulted him back to the top of the musical scene.  Even Mr. Marcus was overwhelmed by the ’68 transition from movie star back to recording master.

     Nor did Elvis stop there but went on to a musical triumph that dwarfed anything that had gone before it including Frank Sinatra’s whole career- that was the satellite transmission form Hawaii to the whole world, the entire planet, simultaneously.  The whole world tuned in to Elvis at one time.  The equivalent of several hundred Woodstocks and something that has never been equaled by any other performer or groups of performers.

     So, what did go wrong?  Elvis had an unimaginably perfect career.  The tragedy is that the enormous pressures were too great for this amazingly centered performer.  It took a lot to beat him down.

     Now, Elvis had a popularity that Bob Dylan couldn’t even dream about.  Dylan could sing cranky little songs of hatred and viciousness such as Like A Rolling Stone to the ‘abused, confused, misused strung out ones and worse’ but Elvis couldn’t sing such viciousness to a worldwide audience.  Imagine Elvis Live from Hawaii singing to a mob of adoring women lines like this:

Aw, you’ve

Gone to the finest school alright Miss Lowly but you know you only used to get

Juiced in it.

Nobody’s ever taught you to live out on the street

And now you’re gonna

Have to get

Used to it.

You say you never


With the mystery tramp but now you


He’s not selling any


As you stare into the vacuum

Of his eyes

And say:

Do you want to

Make a deal?

How  does it feel?

How does it feel?

To be on your own

With no direction home

A complete unknown…

      Pardon me, I’m laughing so hard at the image I’m falling out of my chair.  Oops, there I go.


     I’m back.  Didn’t hurt myself.

     So, anyway I consider Mr. Marcus’ whole critique so skewed as to be vitiated.  It would take a whole lot of love in Elvis heart to make such a musical gaffe, blowing his career in one misguided song and then say:  ‘I didn’t know what I had until I till I threw it all away.’  Sorry Greil, Bob Dylan is actually a minor talent.  Let us not forget that he once opened a show for the Rolling Stones.


     There was a long hiatus of fourteen years between Mystery Train and the appearance of Lipstick Traces in 1989.  During that period one assumes that Mr. Marcus had ‘no direction home.’  How the elements that make up Lipstick Traces formed is open to conjecture.  He attributes his direction to one John Rockwell on the dedication page.  His style was also apparently heavily influenced by the Firesign Theatre hence the herky jerky, jumpy non-sequitur style.  The Firesign Theatre was one of the great recording acts of the late 60s and the 70s, still going too.  They have continued to release CDs on into their old age, such as it is, but, as I say, I stopped listening to anything after 1980.

     As the Firesign is essential to Mr. Marcus I suspect there is loads of humor in Traces that I’m not getting.  Hard enough to make those difficult jumps.  Juxtaposing Presley and Isou wasn’t even a jump, it was a gap.

      John Rockwell was some sort of music critic at the NYT so not exactly the sort of influence one would want.  As Mr. Marcus would have been already familiar with the Frankfurt School of which he is a continuator and mentions Dada in Mystery Train one imagines that critic Rockwell pushed him in the direction of the Presley lookalike Isidore Isou and incidents like the rather obscure Invasion of Notre Dame.  Mr. Marcus was five at the time of the Invasion; one doubts he remembers it.  Thus, perhaps Mr. Rockwell directed his eyes to the morgue of intriguing but all but forgotten news clippings with which he would have been familiar.  Thus Mr. Marcus found the Lettrist/Situationist International.

     The Paris disturbance following on the heels of the Free Speech brouhaha  would then have given him a focal point.  It appears that at some point Mr. Marcus met Debord becoming very well acquainted with the old drunk and pervert, as it were, a disciple.  When Debord shot himself through the heart in 1994 as with Drs. Mabuse and Baum Debord’s soul apparently entered Mr. Marcus’ body so that he appears to have assumed leadership of the SI.

     Traumatized by the Punkers who he gives credit for bringing down Rock he also became fascinated with Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols as well as several other Punk units.  Personally I have always thought Punk was absolutely useless hence I find Mr. Marcus’ fascination with this sub-marginal trash actually objectionable.  While his subjects knew that they were nothing and sought to be everything the means they chose to raise their chances of becoming something were ill advised.

     However as Mr. Marcus integrates them into the Dada/Lettrist/Situationist program it may be worth considering at least Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols who according to Mr. Marcus are an outgrowth of the SI.

     After the failure of the 1968 disturbance in Paris Debord’s SI seems to have become truly international what with Greil Marcus in the US and people like Malcom McLaren and Jamie Reid in England.  God only knows how many covert cells there were and what looneys they were allied with.

     McLaren and Reid were casting about for some way to epater the bourgeois when McLaren had an interview with the New York Dolls.  From them he conceived the notion  that no talent was needed at all to become a rock band.  One only needed the ability to make noise.  Fortunately for Reid and McLaren there were myriads of young losers who felt the same way.  One only had to pick and choose the most likely candidates on a cosmetic basis and give their repertoire a Situationist slant.  You know, create a situation.

     Mr. Marcus wonders from where the musical infuences for the Punkers came.  I have to say that their inspiration was largely Bob Dylan.  Johnny Rotten (ne Lydon) was born in 1956 so in 1975 he was twenty years old.  The Punks then would have been eighteen to twenty-five.  A primary influence on them would have been Bob Dylan.  Dylan’s first records give the impression of an untutored musician.  The stuff was just noisy.  He could neither sing nor play.

     The mean streak that Mr. Marcus finds so attractive in Like A Rolling Stone runs throughout the corpus.  As much as I hate to admit it that hateful mocking derisive attitude is the essence of Dylan’s style.  After having Mr. Marcus point this out to me so unmistakably I’m having to rearrange my memories of Bob to change their faces and give them all brand new names.  I’m having to become a revisionist of my own history.

     While Dylan is a real cultural name dropper so that he gives the impression of being learned, he isn’t.  Chronicles proved that.  His criticisms of society are merely emotional rants rather than informed or intellectual critiques.  That he could wing tripe like Masters of War past what must have been a fairly sophisticated Folk crowd is truly phenomenal.  Or, maybe I was wrong about them too.

     At any rate the Punkers were merely unhappy with their teenage angst.  I can assure you that I and my age cohort were too.  If the right social environment had been provided perhaps we would have responded in the same way.

     Johnny Rotten could not have had many of the thoughts Mr. Marcus attributes to him, the kid was only nineteen, so one must believe that McLaren and Reid filled in the blanks with Situationese and Rotten rearranged the words.  While McLaren and Reid may have turned a few dollars from the act it is difficult to see what else they accomplished.

     Society was developing rapidly without their help.  The band Devo released their significant LP Are We Not Men? A. We Are Devo that quite clearly reflected the direction in which society was headed.

     The amazing thing is that Mr. Marcus can discuss these insignificant nits at such length and with such seriousness.  His long discussion of Johnathon Richman’s ‘Roadrunner’ was entirely uncalled for.  Neither Richman nor his song had any influence in record circles.  The record wasn’t even available for sale.

     As Mr. Marcus neither owns up to being in the SI or gives any idea of the direction of the SI and ‘revolutionary’ groups I find that his book while full of interesting details is pointless.  I have read the thing five or six times for this review.  I have given the book more thought than it deserves.  If the intent is a sly joke I don’t find it very funny.  If the intent is to recruit members for the SI I find nothing agreable in the organization.  I remain unrecruited.  As a collection of non-sequiturs I find the book actually unreadable.

     If Mr. Marcus modeled himself on the Firesign Theatre his choice was admirable but his execution was execrable.  As a historian I’m afraid I would have to grade him below a C.  Perhaps the quality of the book is best expressed by the cover.

Why is he nothing when he should be everything?

End Of Review