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.

    

 

Exhuming Bob 13

Fit 4:

Bob As Messiah

by

R.E. Prindle

 

The most difficult thing on earth is to believe in something that is palpably untrue.  “We must respect the other fellow’s religion but only in the sense and to the extent that we do his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

– H.L. Mencken

I become my own enemy the moment that I preach.

– Bob Dylan

dylan-gospel1 

     Religion is palpably untrue whether it be Christianity, Judaism or Moslemism.  The fundamentalist religious attitude is the enemy of reason and hence the mental development of mankind.  Such an attitude no longer has any place in society.  Nevertheless its influence lingers on like some spectre from the crypt of human consciousness.

     Part and parcel of religious fundamentalism is the notion of an external redeemer or messiah.  As the Piscean Age began society fixed itself on the notion that since individuals could not alter their behavior a redeemer or messiah would arise who would redeem their errant behavior.  While the notion was endemic in the ancient world at this change from the Arien to Piscean ages it found its purest expression among the Jews.

     While the Jews did not fix on any one exemplar as the Messiah the Western world did.  Thus Jesus became the  sole exemplar of a Messiah for them as they expectantly awaited his second coming.

     Christianity is at its bottom an offshoot of Judaism as is the later Arab edition of the Semitic religious group, Moslemism.  Both Judaism and Moslemism have a rather fluid notion of messianism.  Anyone may declare himself a messiah in Judaism as in Moslemism.  In Moslemism the messiah goes by the name of the Mahdi or Expected One.

     Over the centuries innumerable messiahs and mahdis have appeared, failed and disappeared while the Christian world of the West patiently awaited the return of its Jesus.  It’s been a long wait and it probably won’t end too soon.

     The appeal of messianism is very strong for the individual.  I would imagine that every boy with a Christian or Jewish upbringing has wondered whether he might be the embodiment of Jesus as the second coming or the Messiah to redeem the people.  As always Jewish claimants proliferate.  If he is not disabused of the notion by adolescence he could probably be found wandering around the insane asylum with the many other imitations of Christ.

     In the Eastern world such is not the case.   While weak personalities go under strong personalities may very well impress their fantasy on society although invariably with disastrous results.  Bob’s Jewish namesake, Sabbatai Zevi, was one of these who flourished in the seventeenth century.  Sigmund Freud was one in the last century.

     Naturally in the conflict between imagined anointment and actual realities a dual personality must come into existence, thus we have, for instance, Bobby Zimmerman and his alter ego Bob Dylan.  Beginning in the nineteenth century when science began to challenge societal religious fantasies dual personalities became more common or, at least, became more prominent in literature.

     Literature is full of dual personalities from the Dupin and the narrator of Poe through the Scarlet Pimpernel, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and a much longer list.  One of the more amazing examples is Bobby Zimmerman/Bob Dylan the little Jewish kid and the quasi-Cowboy pop star.  Throughout his career Bob has wavered between the two, now one, now the other.  In the late seventies and early eighties he appeared to embrace Christianity for a few years and then abruptly returned to that of the Orthodox Lubavitcher Jew.  Just recently he passed through a Cowboy phase and now, as per this recent picture he has re-emerged as a Hebrew prophet complete with peyos and a vaguely demented look like some ancient Ezekiel or Jeremiah. (go to touchingtheelephant.wordpress.com Bob Dylan Marchin’ To The City)

     Disquisitions such as this will disturb the equanimity of religious fundamentalists.

     Will Bob now regale us with Jeremiads as he preached to us in 1980?  To find that answer one must go back to the now ancient past in the little Minnesota town of Hibbing up on the Iron Range.

     Bob’s memories of the North Country are as dualistic as his personality.  He speaks of bittler cold winters, so cold that one slept in multiple layers of clothes and summers so swelteringly hot and humid as to be in the Great Dismal Swamp.

     And then he was Jewish in what has been characterized as a predominantly Catholic town.  A small Jewish island in a sea of foreign culture.  In those postwar days when his Jews lived in trembling fear of an impossible American Nazi holocaust.   Jews hid their origins and culture as much as possible denying their religion and seeking to blend in as seamlessly as chameleons.  Thus it was as young Bobby Zimmerman entered high school.  Then in 1956 as he approached the massive front doors of his high school the Jews of the eight year old State of Israel fought a lightning war with the surrounding Arabs.  Instead of being driven into the sea sas the Arabs propesied they themselves were humiliated and driven back.  How now?  The Jews became assertive in their identity emerging to challenge the dominant culture for supremacy.  They ceased to be humble, hence, the sixties.

     Already masters of Hibbing’s retail district one imagines they began to flex their muscles without fear of gas chambers.  Foremost among them, the President of the local chapter of B’nai B’rith and the ADL, was little Bobby Zimmerman’s own father, Abram.  Abram took to smoking huge black cigars, a sure sign of aggressive manhood.

     Years later when Bob Dylan had immured Bobby Zimmerman behind walls like in Poe’s Cask of Amontillado, Bob Dylan would return to Hibbing and combine the two images of his childhood of the two Zimmermans as he sat on a motorcycle on a corner smoking an immense black cigar.  What vision of vengeance was this?  As one of his cowboy heroes, Hank Snow, sang:  I’ve got a troubled mind.

     Bob’s father Abram viewed himself as something of a Jewish scholar.  He had a bent toward the Orthodox even toward the Lubavitcher.  In 1954 as his son’s Bar Mitzvah approached he sent for a Lubavitcher Rabbi to instruct his son in the puerilities of the Lubavitcher approach to Judaism.  The Rabbi, one Reuben Maier, was undoubtedly brought to Hibbing on a one year trial contract.  When the year was up and the congregation had rejected him he left.

     In telling of his Bar Mitzvah indoctrination Bob dramtizes Rabbi Maier’s arrival as a mystery with himself as the messianic center of the mystery.  As he tells it one day a Greyhound bus ground to a stop at the Hibbing terminal; the Rabbi stepped off and said:  Where’s Bobby Zimmerman, I’m here to indoctrinate him into the Lubavitcher mysteries.  I exaggerate for effect of course but true to the spirit.  Then having taught Bobby what he was supposed to learn he reboarded the bus and disappeared down Highway 61 as mysteriously as he arrived.  It could have seemed that way to a thirteen year old.  The key point is that Bobby learned what the Rabbi had to teach.  As Bob said he taught him what he had to know.

     If the accounts are correct Bobby Zimmerman’s was the first Bar Mitzvah in town for several years and it was huge.  Four hundred or more people were in attendance.  One assumes that the loot collected was beyond the avarice of the average thirteen year old.  Bob boasted of the Bar Mitzvah for years.

     But of more importance for us is what information Rabbi Reuben imparted to Bob.  I have pointed out in Fit 2 that Rabbi Maier was associated with Rabbi Schneerson in Brooklyn, New York.  Schneerson had strong notions of the superiority of the Jew to all other peoples while having a strong notion of the messianic nature of Judaism in bringing the word of the Jewish god to the peoples.  This is absolutely undeniable and calling someone who tells the truth to you an anti-Semite will not change the truth.  Such an accusation only makes the accuser look an ignoramus.

     It would seem to follow then that Rabbi Maier could teach his young disciple nothing other than the prevailing Lubavitcher doctrines of Rabbi Schneerson.

     Indeed in later life Bob Dylan would write the symbolical song Quinn The Eskimo while after his Christian stint say words to the effect:  ‘You know what?  Things are going to fall apart and all peoples are going to run to the Jews to save them.  But, guess what,  the Jews won’t be able to do it because they haven’t lived according to the Law.’   Sounds just like the Protocols, doesn’t it, Sean?

     Now, where do you suppose Bob would pick up an idea like that?

     Enduring heavy Jewish indoctrination during his high school years Bob was also conflicted by his immersion in the dominant culture thus contributing to his dual personality.  Thus we have Cowboy Bob who listened to endless hours of Country and Western and we have Rabbi Bob using his pulpit to preach Jewish tenets, whether in Christian form or not, to what passed for his faithful.

     Starting from a low base Bob was actually to gather a following of millions as of this date.  Many if not most of them see him as either a Christian savior or a Jewish messiah.

     Young Bobby Zimmerman left Hibbing in a state of Mixed Up Confusion that it would take him decades to order as much as he ever has.

     I hope I haven’t unduly offended anyone but the fanatics to this point.  They will always scream anti-Semite at anyone who challenges their cherished fantasies.  They are religious fundamentalists and are to be scorned by any intelligent people.  Disrgard them.  Laugh at them.  If the reader will find the story anti-Semitic then all I can say is that he or she find the truth anti-Semitic.

Owls- they whinny down the night;

Bats go zigzag by.

Ambushed in shadow beyond sight

The outlaws lie.

 

Old gods, tamed to silence, there

In the wet woods they lurk,

Greedy of human stuff to snare

in nets of murk.

 

Look up, else your eye will drown

In a moving sea of black;

Between the tree-tops, upside down,

Goes the sky-track.

 

Look up, else your feet will stray

Into that ambuscade

Where spider-like they trap their prey

With webs of shade.

 

For though creeds whirl away in dust,

Faith dies and men forget,

These aged gods of power and lust

Cling to life yet-

 

Old gods almost dead, malign,

Starving for unpaid dues;

Incense and fire, salt, blood and wine

And a drumming muse,

 

Banished to woods and a sickly moon,

Shrunk to mere bogey things,

Who spoke with thunder once at noon

To prostrate kings:

 

With thunder from an open sky

To warrior, virgin, priest,

Bowing in fear with a dazzled eye

Toward the dreaded East-

 

Proud gods, humbled, sunk so low,

Living with ghosts, and ghouls,

And ghosts of ghosts, and last year’s snow

And Dead Toadstools.

Outlaws by Robert Graves.

Fit 5 follows in another post.

     Bob

 

Exhuming Bob 11:

Bob Dylan And Toby Thompson

A Review

Positively Main Street

Text:

Thompson, Toby: Positively Main Street, U Minnesota Press, 2008 reprint of the 1971 edition.

Forty Miles Of Bad Road Later

Forty Miles Of Bad Road Later

     Toby Thompson’s self identification with Bob Dylan is an interesting situation.  In a way he predated the Elvis impersonators; blazing a new trail.  That he recorded his infatuation on the spot and got it into print is even more fascinating.

     I suppose people have always identified with important people as the insane asylums full of Napoleon Bonapartes indicate, but when the movies came into existence things changed.  Movie actors were designed to appeal to certain character traits making identification with the actors more accessible.  That the actors came from social strata much like one’s own with no apparent effort or skills made identification easier.  (See the novel Merton Of The Movies by Harry Leon Wilson)  When sound was matched to image one could act like and even talk like these heroes.

     Older people being formed already were more immune than younger people so that the John Wayne imitators, Bogarts, Jimmie Stewarts or what have you began to surface in numbers beginning in the fifties.  Still there was a psychological distance between the people on the screen and oneself while a direct imitation brought ridicule on oneself.

     Then in the mid-fifties Presley burst on the scene.  Here was a guy who drove truck, we were told, one day and was a major recording star the next.  Then, as immediately as it seemed to all of us, more to some of us than others, he parlayed that into becoming a movie star.  That was just about every teenagers dream.  Now that was something we all could do and a great many of the most venturesome did get at least to the level of recording stars but they all wanted the movies.

     Presley was the first who created a legion of impersonators.  The movies formed a cadre of amateur impersonators but Presley spawned a full frontal impersonation for a profit; People who became Elvis Presley as a surrogate for themselves.  This began fairly early in the Presley career too.

     Then as the sixties hit young people were conditioned by phonograph records.  Records were the way the generation communicated with each other; They took the place of movies and literature.  One could still write books or rarely, like Presley, make it into the movies but anyone with enough ambition, little training during the sixties and none in the seventies, could make a record.

     This was no more evident than in the case of Bob Dylan.  Quite frankly my own first impression was that here is a talentless guy putting out records.  If Dylan could do it, if I wanted to, I could.  It then became easy to identify with Dylan.  Plus he was a nobody, had never even been to college.

     After I and many others had written his early records off he surfaced in a way to seize your attention, however his appeal was limited to a certain psychology.  But, now, in the twentieth century via records and radio if there were only a million of any certain type those million could make an artist very, very successful, viz. Janis Joplin.

      When Big Brother And The Holding Company with Janis Joplin released its first CBS disc the record went to the top of the charts on the strength of a small minority of the public.  The vast, and I mean vast, majority of the public had never heard of the band or Joplin.  I was in the record business at that time and was astounded that a relatively few hippies made a group and singer unkown to 9 1/2 out of ten, at the minimum, could send a record to the top.  Hippies were not known to take care of their possessions.  They trashed that record in a week or two playing it perhaps a hundred times or more then coming back to buy another one after another.  Each one of those sales contributed to the accumulation of a million so the entire course of American music was swayed by the success of a record purchased by a very small percentage of the population, and the lunatic fringe at that.

     So with Dylan.  Dylan provoked a violent split in society.  Just as Pat Boone was opposed to Elvis as a role model so Simon and Garfunkle were opposed to Bob Dylan.  In 1966-67 the S & G faction was much larger than Dylan’s.  Bob got more TV attention however.  His cult was as the misunderstood, oppressed genius, the Outsider who was shucking the world.  You can see where his fan base came from.  So, all of us who were in that category became devoted, almost obsessed, advocates of Bob Dylan.  I was one, I’m merely analyzing not being superior.  I never went as far as Toby Thompson in my obsession but then I didn’t think of what he did either and I was six years older.  I already had a life of my own, such as it was.

     The younger people took to the pop stars with ease.  We had Jim Morrisons, various Beatles and Stones or whatever as well as Dylans walking around campus, people completely immersed in the various identies.  I don’t even have to p[oint out the Deadheads and they were truly legion.

     So Thompson’s notion of reliving Bob’s youth in his own person while extreme was not completely imcomprehensible.  Still psychotic but borderline as he never completely lost contact with reality.  Really interesting because unlike Freud’s Schreiber he was able to write a book about it even as it happened.

     Thompson was born in 1944 being  three years younger than Bob thus being able to look up to him as a role model.  Being three years older than Bob I always looked down on him as a younger sibling who was somehow outshining me.  The identification was there nonetheless.

     Through 1966 Bob befogged us all.  Blonde On Blonde was such a towering effort both musically and lyrically that it was incomprehensible.  No one could understand it.  Some of it you couldn’t even listen to but you were convinced it was a work of genius.  The people who called it mere noise weren’t entirely wrong either.  Philistines nonetheless.

     I knew that Bob had peaked along those musical lines and there would have to be a model change.  But then the word came out that Bob was dead, close to it or paralyzed from the eyes down.  He disappeared from the stage for a while but as he wasn’t dead or paralyzed we all stood with out faces turned to Woodstock waiting for news from the East.  We all, being those of like psychology.

     Then Bob dressed like Billy the Kid or some other Western desperado released John Wesley Harding.  the psychology was changed.  What had drawn us in for ’64 to ’66 was the muse using Bob Dylan as an instrument and he now had been discarded.  I dropped him as did many others.

     A year later Toby Thompson conceived the idea of searching out Dylan’s roots in Minnesota.  He didn’t go as a mere reporter though.  He went as a Bob Dylan impersonator.  There was Toby Thompson standing in Bob Dylan’s shoes.

     The Thompson that emerges from his telling is a very disturbed young man of twenty-four.  His intake of alcohol and marijuana was prodigious.   Of course, he’s telling a story, but I can’t recall one day that he wasn’t stone drunk.  He keeps a pint in his glove compartment.  He gets so drunk he stands on his head in the middle of a dance floor and can’t remember it the next day.  The guy must have smelled like a brewery all the time.  I’m sure the fumes coming from him when he interviewed Dylan’s mother in the daytime gave her a very negative opinion of him.  Robert Shelton, Dylan’s biographer, future biographer at this time, had been out to Minnesota the year before.  He was a professional Journalistic persona older than Dylan’s friends.  Thompson was three years younger and appears to have been accepted on a personal rather than professional basis.  After all he had no journalistic history, he was only going to write.

     On that basis he formed an intimate relationship with Dylan’s high school sweetheart, Echo Helstrom.  I’m going to concentrate on that aspect of the book for this review.  Bear in mind that she is three years older than Thompson.

     Thompson’s visit to Hibbing must have had the locals’ heads spinning.  Thompson, in his book, doesn’t seem to be aware of the impression he was creating.  From his description it seems that he appeared among them as a Bob Dylan impersonator.  Bobby Zimmerman left Hibbing ten years earlier, became Bob Dylan, and now ten years later this guy shows up impersonating him.  Doing a good job of it too.

     One can only imagine what Hibbingites thought. 

The idea of this guy pictured below going forth to conquer the world  of popular music appears to be absurd.  We all have known kids who wanted to do the same.  We may even be one of those kids but the odd

Look Out Little Richard

       Look Out Little Richard

of succeeding were about a million and a half to one.  How could anyone even suspect that Bobby Zimmerman, the kid above, from the virtually uninhabited North Country would be the ONE.  Everyone in town must have been laughing up their sleeve, like the guy on the right above, when Bobby Zimmerman sallied forth to ‘join Little Richard’ and conquer the world.

     Now, this guy Thompson using his own name came posing as a journalist but impersonating Bob shows up.  Thompson seems surprised at the reaction of Maurice and Paul Zimmerman, Bob’s uncles, but can you imagine being interviewed by a guy talking and acting like your nephew Bob.  It’s kind of crazy.  Imagine what Beattie Zimmerman, Bob’s mother, thought sitting across from Toby doing Bob.  Maybe that’s what Bob meant when he said ‘This guy Toby Thompson has got some things to learn.’

     Nobody knew what was going on there, did they?

     When Bob and John Bucklen and Echo Helstrom were kids, like many another group of Musketeers, they swore that if one of them made it he or she would help the others along.  Well, Bob made it but he forgot John and Echo.  No big deal.  Teenage vows even spoken in earnest have no meaning after the fact but the promise lives on in the innocent hearts of those who aren’t pulled through by the successful one.  There is a sense of betrayal.  Added to that there was romantic ill will on Echo’s part because of Bob’s eleventh and twelfth grade betrayal.

     Bob is making it big while Echo just has a job.  A young woman trying to make her way has a tougher  row to hoe than a guy.  But, if she knows how to work it she does have a story that’s worth at least a couple three or four years worth of wages.  She doesn’t know how to market it though.  Robert Shelton came out to Minneapolis a year before Thompson and paid her a hundred dollars for an interview.  She held the hundred up to Toby as hint but he wasn’t thinking that way.  She was only going to get screwed by Toby, literally.

     If Toby hadn’t been in an alcholic haze he might have realized that the story Positively Main Street was only subsidiary to Absolutely Sweet Echo.  The money was with Echo.

Echo When She Knew Bob

Echo When She Knew Bob

          As they’re driving up Highway 61 Echo pulls out a hundred dollar bill and says ‘See what Robert Shelton gave me for an interview.’  The light still didn’t go off in Thompson’s head.  He reached into the glove compartment for his pint.

     I am astonished at the amount of alcohol Thompson consumed on these trips.  If he isn’t novelizing the guy was in a virtual stupor the whole time.  When he and Echo arrive in Hibbing they go to a bar where Toby becomes blotto on beer, no less.  He has no memory of the moment but Echo tells him that he stood on his head in the middle of the dance floor as coins and keys showered out of his pockets.

     Echo must have been one tolerant girl or else she was hoping for something to happen.  Perhaps a large part of the charm of Positively Main Street is the stunning unconciousness of Thompson.  The guy was twenty-four years old at the time, not a kid- exactly.  He had been telling Echo he was going to write a book.  When he gets the first trip written up he sends her sixty pages.  Echo writes back:  ‘Sixty pages isn’t enough for a book is it?’  She has reasons to be disappointed.  Heck, Toby is using her to attempt to make his fortune and he hasn’t even promised to cut Echo in for a dime.  Think about this.  The self centered naivete shines through with startling clarity.  For that reason it is one of the most interesting books in the the Dylan canon.

Echo When She Knew Toby

Echo When She Knew Toby

     Now, in these sixty pages Toby has misunderstood what Echo told him about the time Bob called her on the phone and played Bobby Freeman’s Do You Want To Dance claiming to be singing the song.

     In his sixty pages he projects a better story where Bob shows up on Echo’s front porch playing guitar and sings Do You Want To Dance then strutting all through the house singing and playing somewhat like Elvis in the dime store in King Creole.

     Echo points out this error.  Toby liked his version so much he left it in the way he first wrote it.  Then when Echo introduces this Bob Dylan impersonator into his parents home Toby whips out his quitar and reenacts his version of the incident strutting around the house as he plays and sings.  The guy was absolutely out of his mind in his alcohol haze.  He must have smelled like a brewery the whole time.

     One is astonished that he was so well tolerated.  Of course maybe everyone was thinking:  ‘This is amazing, but it won’t last long’ and let it pass.  Waved his car goodbe as he sped away.

     One wonders what Echo’s emotional rection to the Bob Dylan impersonator was.  Toby must have reactivated dormant affections for Bobby Zimmerman as he came on to her strongly in Bob’s persona.  Echo had ten year old memories of Bob and now here he was, his double, coming onto her again.  Frightening actually.

     Toby left again and never returned.  In the book he seems oblivious to the havoc he created in Echo’s life.  In the interview at the end of Main Street given many years later he doesn’t seem to be any more aware.  In fact he seems to be still posing as Dylan’s double.  He mentions that he still contacts Echo, who has moved to LA, occasionally as does Bob but Bob seems to have better success in finding her. 

     Hurt and mystified that Thompson had no more use for her she wrote a poem for him that she mailed to him in far off Washington D.C.

Hey! Toby!

Where can you be?

Somebody told me

That you went back to

Washing Machine D.C.

How can that be?

 

You came to town in your Volkswagen

And I’ll tell you we sure had fun!

And now you’re gone!

 

You played for me on your old guitar,

Took me for a ride in your little car,

Drove me near and drove me far,

We looked at the moon,

And stared at the stars,

You stood on your head in my hometown bar…

How could it be you’ve gone so far?

 

Hey Toby?  Where are you?

– Echo Helstrom

     Toby hadn’t gone anywhere.  Like Bob he’d just never been there.  His fantasy like Bob’s didn’t include anyone else, they were just bit players in his own movie.  Toby was no longer thinking of Echo.  He was married to the bottle.  He was touring bars across the country to get material for his next book.  Echo could just consider herself as one of those bars.  Once Toby had visited it there was no reason to return.

     The tragedy for Echo was that she was betrayed once by Bob in 1958 and then again by a Bob impersonator in 1968.  Perhaps a wound was created in her heart that could never heal.  One wonders what her later history was after she left Minneapolis and drifted West.

I wonder where you are tonight.

I wonder if you are alright.

I wonder if you think of me

In my lonely misery.

There stands the glass,

Fill it up to the brim,

Till it flows o’er the rim,

It’s my first one today.

-Webb Pierce.

     Here’s to old memories.  Bottoms up.