Exhuming Bob 22:

Prophet, Mystic, Poet?

by

R.E. Prindle

http://www.forward.com/articles/120548/

Looking for a direction hom.

 

    Back in the early sixties a film appeared under the title: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.  It was a Jewish fable clothed in Western Americana not unlike Bob Dylan’s lyrics.

     The story line is about how to deconstruct one legend and reconstruct it to suit one’s purposes.  The gist is that once a falsehood is enshrined  as legendary truth it is impossible to debunk it.  This film and notion was obviously for goyish consumption.  As we know from experience a whole culture with a long history can be ‘debunked’ with minimal trouble if you control the media.  Thus in fifty short years Americans have gone from  being the most benevolent and generous people on Earth to the most destructive self-centered Nazi types.  Furthermore Americans were conditioned to believe it about themselves.  ‘Why do they hate us?’

     The secret was contained in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.  One of the primary agents of that change was the prophet, mystic ans seer, the very Jewish Bob Dylan.  I left off poet because at best Dylan is merely an effective lyricist.

     A San Francisco Bay Area fellow, Seth Rogovoy, has written an essay on Dylan with the above title without the question mark.  Stephen Hazan Arnoff who is the executive directory of New York’s 14th St. YMHA has written a review of Rogovoy which he subtitles ‘Jerimiah, Nostradamus and Allen Ginsberg all Rolled Up Into One.’  High praise indeed, if unwarranted.  Just as Mr. Arnoff inflates Dylan’s significance he grossly inflates that of the pornographic so-called poet, Allen Ginsberg.  Perhaps it is time to use techniques learned from ‘Liberty Valence to debunk the reputation of Dylan.

     Dylan is no prophet, he is merely topical using enigmatic phrasing to give the appearance of depth.  There is little actual difference between the topical material of Dylan and Phil Ochs.  Mr. Arnoff improbably writes:

(Dylan’s) prophetic persona is particularly resonant in his first few albums where songs like “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” sets the gold standard for prophecy in popular music.

     Prophecy in popular music?  What’s that?  Actually neither song is prophetic.  ‘Blowin” actually refers to the past of Dylan’s youth in Hibbing although topically it has usually been extended to represent the then current civil rights activities in the South.  ‘Times’ is merely a cocky know-it-all sneer at politicians who aren’t aware that the kids are alright, on the move, have a voracious apetite to eat them up.  Both songs have borrowed tunes (no crime or even sin in my estimation) and, if Rogovoy is correct lyrics cribbed from the Bible.

     As Mr. Arnoff notes, Rogovoy chooses a single critical lens- Judaism- for understanding Dylan and his work.  No fault in an essay, pointing out the Jewish influence in Dylan’s work.  Actually Mr. Rogovoy is no innovator or pathfinder, the same material has been adequately covered by numerous investigators including myself in a series of essays.

     But Mr. Arnoff  also notes there are other avenues to approach the songs that Mr. Arnoff believes are equally valid:  Greil Marcus explains him as a mystic raconteur of the secret history of the United States, coded thorugh traditional music while Christopher Ricks describes a master interpreter of classical Western literature and thought.’  (cough, cough)

     While Greil Marcus is another good Jewish boy I hardly think he is a responsible authority on anything.  He takes roughly the same approach as Mr. A.J. Weberman while the latter is vastly more entertaining.  I have to combine Mr. Marcus and Mr. Ricks.  While I certainly respect Dylan’s intelligence and acumen I would have to question both the breadth and depth of his education.

     Dylan attended high school in Hibbing, Minnesota which is a far cry from any of the leading cultural centers of either the Western or Eastern worlds.  I grew up in a slightly larger town up North than Dylan although probably not much different than Hibbing intellectually.  I keenly felt the lack of intellectual opportunites when I went out into the large world.

     There is a question as to whether Dylan graduated from high school while he never attended college.  Immediately immersing himself in folk music he left Minnesota for NYC.  There he found people with libraries of which he availed himself while boarding with them.  This was a very brief period during which he could only have picked up names and impressions such as he employed in his song Desolation Row.  His girl friend Suze Rotolo introduced him to more culture than he could have imagined from 1961 to 1965.  This could not have been much.

     During that time Dylan spent a lot of time writing songs, drinking and drugging and touring.  Not a lot of opportunity to become a ‘master interpreter of classical Western literature and thought.’  I have no idea what Mr. Arnoff means by ‘classical.’  I doubt seriously if Dylan is any authority on, say, the pre-Socratics.  If Mr. Ricks believes as Mr. Arnoff represents him I would have to question Professor Ricks’ qualifications for his post.  There’s something wrong there.

     Now, as to Mr. Marcus and his mystic raconteur of the secret history of the US.  What secret history?  Dylan says he studied the ante-bellum South from newspaper accounts in the archives of the NYC library.  This would have been over a couple of months only.  As near as I can tell he did so with an enquiring and open mind and is fully capable of making cogent observations.  This however is scarcely a secret history while being only one brief period and region.

     What Dylan has done is immerse himself in the songs of the US.  He says that when he visited Carl Sandburg it was with the itent to discuss Sandburg’s ‘American Song Bag.’  One certainly has to respect Dylan’s song knowledge and his excellent taste.  This knowledge however is well beyond Mr. Marcus’ ability to understand.   He, as far as I have been able to ascertain had nil knowledge of songs and music until he joined Rolling Stone Magazine in the late sixties.

     Up in Hicksville Dylan immersed himself in every kind of music, without discrimination.  He was fully conversant with Hillbilly as his native music.  The Carter Family was a living entity to him and not an academic study.  All those now obscure names were living legends to him and not mere footnotes at the bottom of a page.  Thus while Dylan’s Jewish influences are prominent, uppermost and dominant he nevertheless has a foot in both cultures.  His American culture is musical however, and what sounds like ‘a secret history’  to Mr. Marcus is merely the hillbilly interpretation of  ‘revenuers’ ‘white lightning’ and such.  I do not see Dylan as a ‘classically’ educated man.

     Mr. Arnoff displays his Jewish bigotry when he says:  Messianic Judaism (or Jews for Jesus) is the weakest form of interpretation for Dylan.  So far as I know no one interprets Dylan’s work through the lens of Messianic Judaism.  However it is equally apparent that Dylan was interested enough to study the topic carefully.  That says more for Dylan’s open mindedness than Mr. Arnoff’s narrow minded bigotry.  One must be ‘open minded’ n’est-ce pas?

     As Mr. Arnoff notes, Dylan always said he was ‘a song and dance man’ and I think that says as much as need be said.  Anyone who has been able to entertain a significant audience nearly fifty years now has to have a serious talent.  One should bear in mind though that Dylan appeals to a relatively small and well-defined audience he himself defines as ‘the abused, misused, confused, strung out ones and worse.’  This is his core constituency to which he ‘kvetches.’  Apparently English isn’t good enough for Mr. Arnoff.

     Dylan’s greatest song is Positively Fourth Street which is maximum kvetching.  I considered myself abused and misused when I first heard the song.  The lyrics had me slavering like one of Pavlov’s dogs when he heard the dinner bell ring.  But, like Pavlov’s dog there wasn’t really anything on the plate.  Once I passed through that phase of my psychology I lost interest in Dylan.

     While Dylan has managed to retain, recruit and entertain his audience he is far from the man who shot Liberty Valence or Jeremiah, Nostrodamus and Allen Ginsberg all rolled up into one.  I’m afraid that’s one legend that will be debunked before it’s formed.

     Kvetcher or not I still can’t listen to him.

    

 

A Review

Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side

Some Thoughts On The Autobiography Of Suze Rotolo:

A Freewheelin’ Time

by

R.E. Prindle

 

1.

Sandoz The Great

Hoffman Holding LSD Model
Hofman Holding LSD Model

     In 1938 Albert Hofman, a Swiss chemist working for Sandoz isolated LSD-25.  In 1938 young Tim Leary was 18 years old.  It was in 1943 that Albert Hofman discovered the effects of LSD.  Seventeen years after that LSD burt onto the world through the agency of the now, Dr., Timothy Leary, a psychologist with Harvard University.

     LSD was adopted by the Bohemian society and all its offshoots as the appearance of the new chemical Messiah:  Better living through chemistry as the slogan was.  Its use quickly spread through the folk music community of Greenwich Village in New York City.

Timothy Leary Is Dead

Timothy Leary Is Dead

Goodbye Tuli. Died 7/12/10

     In 1923 a fellow by the name of Tuli Kupferberg was born and his partner Ed Sanders came along in 1939 a year after I did.  Kupferberg and Sanders were poets who became influenced by the folk scene forming a band sometime in 1964 originally called the Village Fugs, later the Village was dropped and they became simply the Fugs.  In 1965 they released their first LP on Folkways.  Now, cut one, side one was little number entitled Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side.  Sort of OK as a song, funny, as were a lot of Fugs songs.  Like Dylan they searched for social significance rather than write trite love songs.  Unlike Dylan you could easily understand the meaning of the lyrics.  Slum Goddess was one and then there was a song that many of us thought significant in the social sense back in those days entitled:  Boobs A Lot.  ‘Do you like boobs a lot?  Gotta like boobs a lot.’  As I said deep and intense meaning.  This was followed by a song eulogizing jock straps.  ‘Do you wear your jock strap?  Gotta wear your jock strap.’  So the Fugs were with it.

     At some point after 1965 the Village Voice decided to run a feature depicting some East Village lovely as the Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side.  Suze Rotolo had the dubious honor of being selected as the very first Slum Goddess.

     To what did she owe this honor?  Well, she was famous on the Lower East Side for being featured on the album cover of Bob Dylan’s second LP, The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan.  She was at that time, 1962, I believe, Bob’s girl friend or, at least, one of them, perhaps the principle one but one can’t be sure as Bob had others as ‘part time’ girl friends.

     Thus one has to go back to the summer of 1961 to discover how Suze Rotolo began her odyssey to become the very first Slum Goddess.  Suze tells her story in her autobiography issued in May of 2008 called A Freewheelin’ Time.  It is a bitter sweet story not lacking in charm.  Bob was born in 1941 while Suze was born three years later.  All the disparate elements in our story born at separate times were slowly moving to a central focal point in New York City from 1961 to 1965 or so.

     Suze and Bob were of that age when freewheelin’ seemed possible while the psychological social moment was about to congeal and then vanish before it could be realized as psychological moments do.  Some catch the golden ring as it come around, some don’t.  Bob did, Suze didn’t.

     Suze was born in Queens, over there on Long Island, as a red diaper baby.  In other words in the romanticized Communist parlance her parents were Communists when she was born.  She was brought up in the faith.

     Bob described her as a libertine dream or some such epithet.  I’m not sure Suze saw herself in the same way.  I think she expected a little more of Bob than to be his sex toy.  As a Communist she should have had a more freewheelin’ attitude.

     Suze seems to have been brought up completely within the Red religion much as a Christian might be a Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran or as Jew in whatever stripe of Judaism it might be.

     She edged into race agitation at a young age.  She met Bob when she was seventeen while she had been working for CORE  (Congress Of Racial Equality) for  a couple years before that.  She would have been fifteen or sixteen.  Whether she had sexual experiences with the Africans she doesn’t tell us.  In her search for a raison d’ etre for her life she found herself in Greenwich Village in the Summer of ’61 where she met the twenty year old Bob Dylan just in from the Iron Range of Minnesota.  They were mutually attracted, quickly forming a sexual relationship.

     Bob as everyone knows was and is Jewish.  He came not only from a Jewish background but from an orthodox background.  Hibbing, Minnesota, his hometown, had a Jewish population of about three hundred families with their own Jewish establishment and synagogue.

     According to Beattie Zimmerman, Bob’s mother, Bob was a good boy who attended services regularly while investigating the nature of the various Christian churches.  As a mother Beattie’s version of things must be interpreted through the eyes of mother love.

     Father Abe was not only a practising Jew but the President of the Hibbing chapter of B’nai B’rith and its terrorist arm the Anti-Defamation League.  In addition Beattie, Bob’s mother, was the President of the Women’s auxiliary, Hadassah.  So Bob isn’t just Jewish but comes from a very committed Jewish background.

     As the President of the Hibbing chapter, Father Abe would have attended statewide gatherings in Minneapolis, regional meetings wherever they were held and possibly if not probably national meetings in NYC and elsewhere.  Now, within the international Jewish organizations heavy hitters attend various levels of meetings where they meet and learn something of the various local and regional people.  Thus, it may be assumed that Abe Zimmerman as a name at least was known on the national Jewish level.  Kind of the Jewish Who’s Who, you know.  Bob says that he had contacts to help him when he got to New York.  Those contacts would have come through Father Abe while being part of B’nai B’rith and ADL.  Bob wasn’t entirely alone out there.

     Bob’s Jewish name is Sabtai after the last acknowledged Jewish Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.  There have been many that filled a Messianic role since Zevi not least of which was Sigmund Freud and possibly Albert Einstein.  Bob may have been encouraged to take the role for himself.

     At any rate when Bob approached thirteen and Bar Mitzvah time Abe brought in a special Rabbi from Brooklyn to instruct Bob.  Now this is really signficant.  He was probably a Lubavitcher or ultra-orthodox Jew.  When Bob publicly expressed his Judaism after his Christian stint he chose to do so as a Lubavitcher.  Very likely that was no coincidence.  Having received his crash course in orthodoz Judaism Father Abe next sent his son to a Zionist summer camp for ‘several ‘ weeks for each of four successive summers ending at the age of seventeen.  This would have the effect of introducing him to young Jews not only of the region but from around the world while at the same time estranging him from his fellow Hibbingites giving him his strange cast of character.

     Camp Herzl was named after the originator of Zionism, Theodore Herzl.  the camp with a spacious hundred and twenty acres is located on a lake near Webster, Wisconsin.  Herzl is not your basic summer church camp but a national and international gathering place where young Jews from around the US and the world can meet and get known to each other somewhat.

     The camp is conducted exclusively for Jews along Jewish lines eliminating as many goyish influences as is possible.  At least when he was seventeen Bob was playing the Wild One showing up in a mini biker cavalcade.  One may assume that many national and international Jewish figures made appearances over the four years to both instruct, encourage and look over the upcoming generation.

     The post-war years were very traumatic for the Jewish people.  The death camps of the Nazis dominated their minds.  They were psychologically devastated and unbalanced looking for Nazis under their beds before they went to sleep at night.  One may safely assume that Bob and his fellow campers had to watch extermination movies over and over lest they forget.

     The State of Israel was founded in 1948 while the first of Israel’s successful wars occurred in 1956.  The ’56 war was a seminal event bolstering the spirits of the Jews turning them aggressive as they now believed they could fight.  After ’56 they began to come out of themselves.

     For whatever reasons as Bob entered high school his personality began to disintegrate.  Perhaps he had to cease being Bobby Zimmerman to become what his people expected of him which was a probable religious leader who then became Bob Dylan.  As always Bob would combine two cultures, Jewish and Goyish.

     After an extremely rocky year in Minneapolis where Bob shed the remnants of his goody goody image of Hibbing he became the dirty unkempt Bob Dylan of his rush to fame of the Folk years.

     Thus as Bob and Suze met in the Summer of ’61 they were both searching for something to be.

Part 2.

Why Do Fools Fall In Love?

Just We Two

Just We Two

     The question now that Suze and Bob have gotten together is to sort out the various accounts of what happened.  Bob says everyone has gotten it wrong.  However his own account in Chronicles I is no more factual than the accounts of his biographers and commentators.  Suze doesn’t provide us with much more clarity.  While Bob tells it like he wanted it to have been Suze on the the one hand protects her memory of what she wants to keep as a beautiful memory while glossing over her own actions at the time to keep it so.

     Bob goes through the romantic notion of constructing their bed with saw, hammer and nails.  This is a charming story and I’m embarrassed to say I took him at his word.  You simply can’t.  Chronicles came out four years ago so Suze has had plenty of time to read it and mull over Bob’s ruminations.  Thus she must be aware of Bob’s story of the bed.  She says it was an old bed the landlord left from another tenant.  Another beautiful tale of Bob’s down the tubes.

     Suze rather unflatteringly depicts Bob as a rouster and fairly heavy drinker.  She was offended that Bob, who was posing as Bob Dylan, not yet having officially changed his name, didn’t level with her and confide that Dylan was a pseudonym that looked better on a marquee while his real name was Zimmerman and that he came from Minnesota rather than being an orphan from New Mexico.  Coming home one night, as Suze tells it, Bob, stumblingly drunk, dropped his ID and she discovered the truth as she picked it up.  Even then she had to drag the truth out of Bob.

     These problems mounted up.  There was immediate hostility between Bob, Suze’s mother and her sister Carla.  The mother seems to have instinctively seen through Bob, while I’m sure Carla soon learned that Bob was doing her sister wrong.

      As we know from Chronicles Bob had other ‘part-time’ girl friends, pick ups and whatever.  As the folk crowd was a fairly tight knit group even if Suze didn’t want to hear the obvious Carla who was employed by the Folklorist, Alan Lomax, could hardly have been unaware that Bob had a laissez faire attitude toward romancing the girls.

     Indeed, Bob’s understanding of Suze was that she was his Libertine belle.  As a libertine therefore he could hardly have believed fidelity was a necessary condition.  I don’t know if Suze considered herself a Libertine but as a Communist both fidelity and jealousy were forbidden by the dogma so speaking consistently with the belief system neither mother, Suze nor Carla had grounds for complaint.   Nevertheless both mother and Carla wished to separate Bob and Suze.

     Bob records his side of the conflict in his song Ballad in Plain D.  In his usual high flown language Bob says in his song:

“The tragic figure!” her sister did shout,

“Leave her alone, goddamn you, get out.”

All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight.

I gagged twice, doubled, tears blinding my sight.

My mind it was mangled, I ran into the night

Leaving all of love’s ashes behind me.

     Within a few months he was married to Sara who he kept waiting in the wings.  Subsequently he tried to keep Sara and his growing family in Woodstock and the Slum Goddess Of The Lower East Side out on the side.  Suze, apparently not quite as Libertine as Bob supposed, declined the honor.

     Just as Bob blithely romanticizes his early NY years in some sappy Happy Talk that belies his songs and what nearly everyone has written about him so Suze adopts a near virginal girlish pose.  Her story of how she left for Italy and her true blue yearning for the perfect love of Bob who sent those charming letters purloined from old country songs is also belied by the various biographers.  To hear Suze talk she never looked at a boy in Italy and certainly never dated one let alone kissed or petted.  Yet by her religious Communist ideology that would have been no sin, even would have been a virtue.  In fact she did have an Italian boyfriend who was apparently dropped down the memory hole at autobiography time.

     When she did return the road of romance was much more rocky than she lets on.  Carla who stayed home where she could watch Bob was privy to his doings which were much more libertine than anything he accused Suze of.  He had to have slept with Liam Clancy’s live in somewhere in there.  He’s accused of being a womanizer and you can’t be a womanizer without a lot of women.  So whatever Carla knew it was somewhat more than an earful and I’m sure that between Carla and her mother Suze heard it all.

     Suze out of respect for this young love which, after all, must still occupy a sacred spot in her life never expresses but the mildest resentment of Bob but letting her sister speak for her she says that ‘she (Carla) felt I was better off without the lyin’ cheatin’ manipulative bastard.’  Right on all counts I’m sure except for the last although as Bob claimed to have no parents Carla could justly so surmise.

     At any rate if Suze couldn’t make up her mind her mother and Carla could.

     Ballad In Plain D again:

Beneath a bare light bulb the plaster did pound

Her sister and I in a screaming battleground,

And she in between, the victim of sound,

Soon shattered the child ‘neath her shadows.

—–

The wind knocks my window, the room it is is wet.

The words to say I’m sorry, I haven’t found yet.

I think of her often and hope whoever she’s met

Will be fully aware of how precious she is.

     And then Bob married Sara and ruined her life.

     While Suze and Bob talked marriage there is no reason to take that seriously; he talked marriage with Echo too.  I don’t think Bob had any notion of marrying aouside his faith.  The mother is the culture carrier; Bob is firmly within the Jewish culture so there could have been no chance that he would have taken other than a Jewish wife.  Even then he may have married only to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.  Once he had fulfilled that duty he broke the marriage apart.

3.

The Slum Goddess

I'm Leaving Town Tommorow

I'm Leaving Town Tommorow

     Suze was now a young woman of twenty or twenty-one alone adrift in New York City.  While she and Bob were having their tempestuous romance the times they were a changin’.

     Tim Leary, up in harvard, had embraced psychedelics.  Once in love with LSD he wanted to share his love with everyone.  He became the High Priest of his psychedelic religion.  I can recommend both his autobiography and his volume of reminiscences: High Priest.  The latter is a spectacularly well written book if tending toward tediousness.

     Leary’s experiments attracted the dark angel of the Hippie years, Allen Ginsberg.  Ginsberg also attached himself to Dylan tying the Beat and Hippie decades together.  Vile man.

     Bob had introduced Suze to Marijuana and what else I don’t know, perhaps LSD.  He himself was into the pharmacopeia also undoubtedly dabbling in heroin although if he did he is still an addict or was successful in kicking the habit after his retreat from fame in ’66.  That whole thing about the motorcycle accident may have been just rehab.  He sure needed it.

     As Bob notes the effect of LSD on the Greenwich Village folk scene was to turn people inward destroying any sense of community.  Suze then was attempting to navigate this terra nova.  Along with turning people inward, LSD, the drug scene, turned the scene sexually rasty in ways even the Communists couldn’t have imagined.  The Pill coming along at this time certainly was as influential as LSD in changing sexual mores.

     Suze, if aware of this, makes no mention of it in her auto.  The Fugs released Slum Goddess in 1965 although they may possibly have been playing it around the Village for a year or two earlier.  The Slum Goddess is not a savory woman.

     That Suze was selected as the first Slum Goddess strikes my sensibilities as a negative compliment.  Her presentation of it implies a souring experience.  Shortly after her selection she chose to withdraw from Village life.  She gives as the reason that her earlier relations with Bob caused upleasant curiosity and that was certainly true.

     The scene turned absolutely rotten after 1968 when between drugs, profound negativity and the progressing degradation of the Hippie movement anyone with any sense of dignity was driven out.

     Suze must have been one of us for she left the scene behind.  There are few today who choose to remember it.  As for me, life is life, there it was and there was I.  I was who I was; je ne regret rien.  I hope Suze doesn’t either.  Bob?  He just stays on the bus and doesn’t get off.  Reality can be such a drag.

Forget About Yesterday

Forget About Yesterday