Bob Dylan:  Livin’ Life On The Fly

by

R.E. Prindle

-I-

Bob Dylan created the character of Bob the Drifter back at the beginning of the Sixties.  He has since done his best to live the life of the ultimate drifter.  Early influences on the persona were probably Hank Williams musical alter ego Luke the Drifter and possibly Simon Crumb the alter ego the country singer Ferlin Husky.  His immediate role model was definitely Ramblin’ Jack Elliot who was born Elliot Adnopos making his adopted goyish name a cover for his Jewish identity much as Bob Dylan was doing.  Thus these two very Jewish guys have lived out their lives under assumed goyish identities.

Like Ramblin’ Jack Bob Dylan further patterned his life on the life  of the goy drifter Woody Guthrie.

Bob learned Jack’s style when both men lived in the early sixties folk environment of Greenwich Village in New York City.  When that particular bubble burst in the mid-sixties partly through the machinations of Dylan himself who introduced electricity into the Greenwich Village folk scene a dispersion took place.

I say partly because seemingly unnoticed by everyone while being completely overlooked today The Lovin’ Spoonful with the really legendary John Sebastian and Sol Yanovsky had used an electric guitar since early 1965 while also writing their own songs.

After leaving recording for a year or two after 1966 Dylan led a sedentary life in Woodstock New York with his wife Sara and a growing family.  The call of his destiny on the road was too strong with Dylan gradually edging back to the role of the roving hobo.

Mentally adrift for most of the seventies and eighties Bob then devised the perfect drifter life.  He became a drifting troubadour.  He not only roved but he made it pay to the tune of a billion dollars or more.  He got himself a couple buses and phased through several identity crises. He styled his drifting as The Never Ending Tour.

While living his early years in Hibbing Negro music appears to have made no impression on him.  He does say that he listened to Black music over the radio on stations blasting up over the central plain from locations such as Shreveport but I don’t detect that influence in his music too much.  Of course, once in New York he saw the necessity for Negro roots and reacted socially.

Dylan does however know all the great C&W tunes and artists.  His first great plagiarism was from Hank Snow one of the absolute greats.  C&W was however not mainstream.  In the peculiar White mentality C&W was rejected as ignorant White hillbilly music and I mean rejected.  You had to cover up your liking of C&W as though it was the original sin.  On the other hand with that peculiar mentality of Whites they were able to embrace equally ignorant Negro ghetto music as their own.  I could never figure it out.

Dylan didn’t try.  Sometime before he got to UMinnesota in the Fall of ’59 he realized he wasn’t he wasn’t going to make it as a rocker so he switched to Folk from Fall ’59 to January of ’61 when he left for NYC.  At UMinnesota he had listened to a few Folk records while someone gave him Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound For Glory so that in some mad burst of teen infatuation he came to the conclusion that he was the reincarnation of Woody Guthrie.  He adopted the persona to the best of his ability beginning to create a hokey Oklahoma drifter’s accent and vocal style.

One gets the impression that his folk act in Minnesota was raw enough that he was merely tolerated.  Bob, himself, knew he was a genius so he took his half-digested act East to New York City in that January of ’61.  But he was wary.  Cagey then as now he decided to scope the scene before he burst upon it.

While arriving in NYC in January he didn’t make his official appearance on the Village scene until late February.  Dylan himself explains that missing period by claiming to have been hustling his buns in Times Square.  People have refused to take him at his word but why would he say it if it wasn’t true?  Why would he say it even if it were?  Dylan had very low self-esteem at the time while being a very serious drunkard.  At UMinnesota he had blottoed out and spread out on the ground at full noon in the main crossroads at the U.  You have to glory in your shame to do that.

We don’t know how much money Dylan had when he stepped out of the car in NYC although he was never really broke when he buskered on the street; his Ace In The Hole was the folks back home.  They did send him money.

Perhaps though Dylan was so down so low that he needed to debase himself in the worst possible way.  He probably did stroll 42nd St. looking to be picked up.  Perhaps receiving money picked him up a little; gave him value.

As he scoped the Folk scene and picked up the odd dollar he was devising a persona to splash into the scene.  His persona was totally absurd and his Ten Weeks With The Circus story would be, or should have been, seen through before he got it out of his mouth.  This was sophisticated NYC for Christ’s save, New Yorkers have seen and heard every hustle ever devised.  You couldn’t fool them so they must have been humoring Dylan.

Nobody could have done all the things he said he’d done and graduated from high school two years or less earlier.  He also tried to conceal that he was Jewish which seems ridiculous to me, but then Dylan didn’t see the obvious Jewishness of Jack Elliot so maybe it’s just me.  Anyway it took these sharp New Yorkers a year or more to figure Dylan was a little Jewish kid.

Dylan had analyzed the scene well.  He realized he couldn’t go in and do what everyone else was doing.  Besides there were a lot of good guitarists in the Village and Dylan wasn’t one of them.  He had to shake the scene up a little.  At the time the Village Folk scene was a bore.  Folk was on the down trend.  The New Lost City Ramblers, one of the more formidable Village folk groups were so trite they were unlistenable.  While not on the Village scene I was aware of the phonograph records made by the artists and quite frankly I was amazed that anyone would record those people.  I mean, like Dylan, I was a hillbilly.  There were many amazing records being made by real folk artists like the Carter Family.  These pale Village imitations by middle class Jews aping the mountain people were far less than authentic.

So Dylan practiced this garish voice, blew harmonica in an incomprehensible way and banged the guitar in an equally noisy and unmusical way.  Bud and Travis couldn’t play guitar either.  It boggles your mind to watch them flail the instrument.

People that say they liked his first couple records may very well be telling the truth but the truth is virtually no one bought them.  Fortunately Dylan soon learned to write songs.  They too made little impression as sung by him; sung by others, such as Peter Paul and Mary they sounded good enough to become hits.  Of course, Peter Paul and Mary had that religious sounding name and earnest style that opened a lot of doors for them.

Nevertheless by 1964 Dylan was beginning to make a name for himself as a songwriter so that people were more willing to accept his bizarre performances.  Andy Warhol said that Dylan began by singing political protest songs then shifted to singing personal protest songs.  That change began about 1964 with his Another Side Of Bob Dylan LP.

His friend and sometime road manager Victor Maymudes said that all Dylan’s songs were about his girl friends.  If you read his lyics with that in mind they will make more sense.  You still have to work at it though.  The language he uses really obscures the content.

It was at this point that Dylan went electric and moved out from his folk cover  (Dylan said that his folk music years were just a shuck.) and began his conversion to rock and roll.  Dylan began performing in high school as a Little Richard clone so the move should come as no surprise knowing what we do today.  When his rock and roll phase ended in 1966 Dylan then returned to his basal influence C&W.

As he shifted to personal protest on a rock and roll frame he made his impact as ‘a spokesman for his generation.’

Dylan was never a spokesman for the generation but he was a spokesman for people with the same psychosis as his.  Dylan was unbalanced as were all the people who took his message.  I was one of those who Dylan characterized as ‘abused, misused, strung out ones or worse.’  Dylan converted his angst into sexual frustration and his sexual frustration into lyrics.  We weren’t able to understand the lyrics because we were looking in the wrong place but we understood the songs perfectly on the subliminal level.  Dylan’s psychology matched ours.

Dylan’s last album as a New York folk singer, Blonde On Blonde, also expanded his audience while also confusing those who weren’t on his wavelength.  That is, people who hated him, and largely for psychological reasons, were forced to acknowledge him.  At the time the LP was so far outside our musical experience that we literally had heard nothing like it before.  Little Richard redux.

On the other hand I realized that he had peaked in that style and would no longer be able to continue in the same vein.  At the same time the pressures of the previous five years on Dylan were such that his mind was at the breaking point and actually broke.  He probably had what was called a nervous breakdown. Shortly we heard that Dylan had been in a motorcycle accident and might be dead.  He wasn’t, of course, and it has never been reliably determined that there ever had been an accident.  His brother David just laughs it off while many others reduce it to the equivalent of a mere scratch.  Dylan himself says that his manager Albert Grossman was driving him so hard that it was killing him.  He had to stop and catch his breath or die.

Dylan hadn’t yet learned to live on the road; he would master that later.

At any rate he had married his Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, Sara in 1965 and needed time out to raise a family.  He did do that.

Regardless of whether he had been hurt or not he was not musically idle.  About a year and a half later in December of 1967 he released the awaited new LP John Wesley Harding.  The LP was a total rejection of his first incarnation.  He used a crooning voice backed by a C&W band.  He returned, as they used to say, to his roots.  He was no longer a trailblazer, just a C&W singer.  While I knew he would not follow up in the same style I was stunned by the reversion to a conventional country style.  At that time no one knew that his roots were C&W.

I loved the instrumental backing of his three big albums but had no interest in what seemed to be pseudo-country with rather ordinary lyrics.  (Let Me Be Your Baby Tonight.)  I abandoned him completely and never have gone back.  This was 1967.  The next wave of the British Invasion was in progress and it was astonishing.  The music was all fresh and picked up where Dylan had left off.  The sounds were all new like you’d never heard before.  The lyrics were nearly as inscrutable as Dylan’s.  Dylan was not missed by me nor a lot of his former fans.

As I said Dylan was not idle; he was busy.  The evidence of that appeared six months after John Wesley Harding.  Music From Big Pink by the Band.  This was relatively sensational music and lyrics.  Of course The Band was Dylan’s back up and his association with Big Pink buttressed his reputation a lot.  And then the legend of the Basement Tapes appeared that was even more tantalizing than the actual music although the songs from it that appeared by other artists were remarkably good.

So while Dylan left the Sixties with a much diminished reputation it was on a positive note.

-II-

The Never Ending Tour

While talent such as Dylan’s was is important, talent will not out without good luck and a helping hand.  Dylan undoubtedly had both.  There has always been some mystery about how a half skilled musician could show up in Greenwich Village in March 1961 and be signed to a record contract with Columbia Records seven months later in October.

People who had been around the Village were just blown away when the news got out.  Dylan’s talent was not that obvious to everyone.  Many could not see it at all.  He couldn’t play guitar and he couldn’t blow the harp.  His voice, at the time, was so raw it grated, and still does for me.  He hadn’t written a song in those seven months so his much vaunted songwriting skills weren’t in evidence.  Yet Robert Shelton, the music reviewer for the ultra-prestigious New York Times gave him a rave review that amazed everyone.  John Hammond of CBS signed him virtually without hearing him.  Other CBS staffers had such a low opinion of Dylan’s talent that they called him Hammond’s Folly.  Was there something going on behind the scenes, was something happening here that the Village couldn’t understand?   Listen to Positively Fourth Street and Something Happening again closely.

Well, you know, I’ve thought about this and studied this and I’ve put together the following scenarios for your delectation.  Granted it is highly conjectural yet based on facts.

Remember that Dylan is Jewish and New York City including the Village was and is a Jewish colony.  Being Jewish in the Village did and does count.

Back in Hibbing Minnesota the Jewish community was three or four hundred strong while Dylan’s, or Bobby Zimmerman’s, as he then was, family was chief among them.

Both Dylan’s father, Abram Zimmerman, and his mother, Beatty Zimmerman were of the Frankish sect of Judaism.  Dylan’s Jewish name, Sabtai, was derived from the last acknowledged human Jewish messiah.  This undoubtedly indicated the high hopes Abram had for his son as a deliverer of the Jews; in other words, a messiah.

Father Abe was the Anti-Defamation League representative in Hibbing.  That may have caused some friction between himself and the goy townsmen.  There seems to be an undercurrent of resentment both to Abe and Bobby Zimmerman in Hibbing.  As an Orthodox Jew Abram had connections back in New York probably with the Chabad Lubavitcher sect led by its chief rabbi, Menachem Schneerson.  Abram traveled frequently on religious business including to NYC.

Abram wanted son Bobby to also embrace the Lubavitcher sect.  Thus, as Bobby approached thirteen and his Bar Mitzvah Abram sent back to New York for a Lubavitcher Rabbi to come to Hibbing specifically to educate Bobby in the Lubavitcher belief system.  This was the rabbi Reuben Meier.  In full Lubavitcher gear he was an anomaly  in Hibbing where according to Dylan he embarrassed the Jewish community.

As Dylan tells it he got off the bus one day, spent a year teaching Bobby ‘what he had to learn’ then got back on the bus presumably returning to NYC his mission accomplished.

Dylan has or had a messiah complex.  Still, as he observed the fate of Jesus (look what they done to him, he said) he was unwilling to pick up the cross thus never declaring himself.  Still Abe had connections in NYC that could be and probably were useful bumping Dylan’s career along.

I haven’t found any evidence that Dylan ever contacted the Lubavitchers once in NYC but then it can’t be ruled out and he didn’t have to.  His father could have worked with them unknown to Dylan.  Still, Dylan later in life did associate himself with the Lubavitchers.  Could be coincidence, of course.

Shelton who wrote his glowing review of Dylan worked for the New York Times which was and is owned by the Jewish Sulzberger family.  Thus in all probability Abram called in some favors from the Lubavitchers to forward Dylan’s career.  Among them Abram had some position, and asked them to make sure that Dylan wasn’t overlooked.  Thus within the synagogue, so to speak, Shelton wrote his actually preposterous review of Dylan.

Now, Shelton came to New York from Chicago in the late fifties.  Dylan’s future Jewish manager Albert Grossman also came from Chicago where he had owned the seminal folk club The Gate Of Horn.  Shelton knew Grossman in Chicago where he wrote reviews of the folk acts.

When Grossman went East for whatever reasons in 1959 he helped found the Newport Folk Festival with the Jew George Wein.  Thus the Newport Folk Festival was a Jewish organization giving them the control over who could and could not make it.  Grossman hung around the Village analyzing the talent as he had plans.  He didn’t necessarily let the acts come to him but he went out and created them as in Peter Paul and Mary which was his total conception.  Sensing the direction of things he realized that a trio of two men and a woman with the right lineup would succeed and spread the message.  His final choices were two male Jews, Noel Stookey who became Paul and Peter Yarrow and a woman Mary Travers.  He chose well.

Prodded by Shelton Grossman took a look at Dylan but could see no use for him until Dylan began to write.  At that point he fit into Grossman’s plans who then created Bob Dylan as a commercial entity.  Dylan justified the confidence in himself when he scored with the puerile Blowin’ In The Wind.  Dylan was still unlistenable to most people but with the voices of the more musical Peter Paul And Mary he began to establish his reputation as a song writer.

The Synagogue was behind him so that coupled with his talent he was given maximum and incredible exposure.    Now, Peter Yarrow who was very close to Grossman, one might say almost a collaborator, said that without Grossman there would have been no Peter Paul And Mary and more importantly no Bob Dylan.  Yarrow believed that Dylan’s success was due to Grossman.  Luck was with Dylan then when Grossman came to town a couple years before he did while Shelton was there at the Times.  You must have that luck.  Grossman definitely nurtured Dylan as a songwriter and put his career on track.  Whether Grossman was connected to the Lubavitchers isn’t clear but I’m sure the religious connection was there.  It was all within the Synagogue; strictly a Jewish affair.

Those who closely analyze Dylan’s songs love to point out the Biblical references with which his songs have always been replete.  Indeed, when Dylan was writing John Wesley Harding his mother who was visiting him during the period says that he kept a large Bible open in his living room that he would jump up to consult it from time to time.  Obviously the Bible informed his lyrics as he dealt with his injunction to be the new messiah, if I am correct in my analysis.

His religious training would surface in the seventies when he explored Jesus’ relationship to the Jews.  Contrary to what people believe Dylan never turned to Christianity, he was interested in the Jewish Jesus cult.  At the same time he was getting the Christian take on Jesus through the Vinyard Fellowship he was studying with the Jews For Jesus cult.  Indeed, when he came out as a Jesus freak at the Warwick Theatre in San Francisco Jews For Jesus people were used to proselytize  outside the theatre but not the Vinyard Fellowship.

Having satisfied his curiosity about Jesus he next showed up in full Lubavitcher gear in Jerusalem.  The Christians were stunned at the seeming turnabout.  Rabbi Reuben Meier had not failed the Lubavitchers back in the fifties in Hibbing.  Dylan came home.

-III-

On The Barricades

Jewish self-confidence was ruined in the wake of WWII but began to resume with the establishment of Israel in 1948.  A feeling of power began to revive after the 1956 war; then after the Six Day War of 1967 a feeling of invincibility seized the Jewish mind.  Born in 1941 Dylan was 26 in 1967.  In 1968 the aborted Paris insurrection took place.

As a result of the Six Day War the New York Rabbi Meir Kahane organized the Jewish Defense League (JDC) as a terrorist organization from which came the JDO or Jewish Defense Organization.  The JDO was murderous.  Both were terrorist groups who engaged in serious bomb attacks in NYC and assassinations.  It was pretty nutty.

At roughly the same time the Weatherman group was formed that was a combined Goy and Jewish affair designed to bring down the US government.  That group was headed by the Chicago terrorist nutcake Bomber Billy Ayers.  The JDL, JDO and Weathermen traced their origins back to Dylan while including Dylan as one of them.  Dylan had JDL members as bodyguards and possibly JDO so at one time he seems to have been a member.  More regular Jews warned him to dissociate himself publicly from the JDL and JDO so that he did disassociate them from himself at least as far as one can see.

Dylan’s association with the Weathermen if it existed was more tenuous.  It would be interesting to know if through Greil Marcus Dylan knew Ayers.   All groups considered Dylan a revolutionary.  This could easily be inferred from songs like Subterranean Homesick Blues and Ain’t Going To Work On Maggie’s Farm No More plus many of his Negro protest songs.

Now, when Dylan was awarded the French decoration, The Legion Of Honor, in 2015  he was commended for his contributions to the Paris insurrection of ’68.  What those contribution were weren’t specified; it may only have been the moral support of his songs that the revolutionaries heard as a call to arms.  Or perhaps Dylan functioned as a courier during his tours throughout the world.  It wouldn’t be the first time entertainers were used as covers.

In 2007 when Sarkozy had been elected President of France one of the first things he did was to call a number of people to Paris to receive awards.  Three relevant Americans made the trip, Dylan, Greil Marcus and David Lynch the filmmaker.

As it turns out Dylan and Greil Marcus are or were fairly closely associated.  Marcus was ostensibly a music critic for Rolling Stone Magazine, another Jewish set up, but he was also a member of the French Jewish revolutionary group, the Situationist International led by Guy Debord.  Debord and his SI claim to have been the moving force behind the Paris revolt thus tightening the connection between Marcus, Dylan, the SI and the Paris insurrection.  Dylan was also associated with the revolutionary group centered around John Lennon and his widow Yoko Ono.

Now, in 2001 Dylan, Marcus and future president of the United States Barack Obama were in Chicago as associates at the time of 9/11.  Dylan’s LP Love And Theft was released on that date that has references that seem applicable to the destruction while Marcus published an article shortly thereafter that seemed to celebrate the attack.  So Dylan’s actions seem to point to revolutionary ends.

Now, as Dylan was touring the world from the Sixties through the present he may have been a courier connecting global revolutionary activity.  It would not have been wise to communicate by phone or internet in later years as phones and electronics are easily tapped so it would be necessary to communicate by hand delivered messages.  Such services would have been invaluable while coded messages in songs or interviews on radio and television appearances are possible.  Eric Burdon formerly of the Animals was arrested by the German authorities on that suspicion.

You don’t get awards just for being cute.

Exhuming Bob XVIII:
My Son, The Corporation
by
R.E. Prindle
Texts:
Goodman, Fred: The Mansion On The Hill, 1997
Russo, Gus: The Outfit, 2001
Russo, Gus:  Supermob, 2006

Electrified Dylan

1.
Andrew Krueger from Duluth unearthed an interesting article from the archives of the Duluth News-Tribune dated October 20, 1963.  ( http://www.areavoices.com/attic/?blog-35238 )  The article is entitled ‘My Son, The Folknik’  by one Walter Eldot.
Mr. Eldot was apparently a longtime reporter for the newspaper.  He as well as the Zimmermans was Jewish.  For whatever reason he writes derisively of Dylan even belittling to some extent his parents.   Robert Shelton notes and quotes Eldot in his own No Direction Home as one who habitually wrote sarcastically of Dylan.
This may have been because he perceived Dylan as a ‘folknik’ or Bohemian, both derogatory terms in his lexicon.  Especially in 1963 Beatniks, Folkniks and oddities in general were well outside the pale of  ‘polite’ society.  People like Eldot would have had no use for them.  Maynard G. Krebs of Dobie Gillis would be a good example of what they saw.
Quoted by Shelton in No Direction Home Eldot says that the Iron Range had produced some strange characters over the years including Bob Dylan and Gus Hall.  Hall was the leader of the Communist Party.
Eldot in his short article does answer a few questions while raising a few more.  His tone is prejudicial so that one has to take his opinions with a grain of salt.  Still, I think they reflect generally accurately the impression Dylan made at the time of this outrageous oddball who had somehow, against all expectations, made it big.
…Bobby stems from a middle class background in which much emphasis is placed on education and conformity and plans for a respectable career.
Bobby didn’t quite fit into that framework and preferred a more bohemian type of life.  His parents say he frowns on being called a beatnik, and they don’t like that designation for him either.  But he was in fact adopting some of the manners associated with beatniks- or folkniks- in an area where that makes a person stand out as a strange character.
That may explain some of the apparent hostility between Dylan and his hometowners.  The town geek had become more successful than they.  Hibbing would have been no place for him.  Most people of his temperament, like myself, have found it preferable to move to the coasts.
Once in New York Dylan invented his persona attempting to assume it completely.  Eldot obviously thinks this is living a lie.

Zimmerman as Dylan

People who knew him before he set out to become a folknik chuckle at his back country twang and attire and at the imaginative biographies they’ve been reading about him.  They remember him as a fairly ordinary youth from a respectable family, perhaps a bit peculiar in his ways, but bearing little resemblance to the sham show business character he is today.
Obviously Eldot expected Dylan to present himself as a well scrubbed, middle class lad the Range could be proud of instead he essentially disowned Hibbing claiming a fanciful pedigree that bore no relation to Hibbing or the facts as they knew them.  There is no reason Dylan shouldn’t have adopted a show biz name and perhaps a stage persona.  After all short punchy names work better than the polysyllabic ones that may confuse the audience.  Even Ethel Merman changed her name from Ethel Zimmerman and to good effect.
Dylan took it a step further.  He tried to hide the fact that he was Jewish.  He didn’t just invent a stage persona for himself but he tried to invent a whole new persona for himself based on false information that could be seen as actual deceit that he tried to pass off as true.  (Abe said it was all an act.)  Dylan went so far as to deceive his girl friend, Suze Rotolo, who only found out the truth when Dylan came home stumbling drunk and the  secret fell out of his pocket.
That seems a bit extreme and perhaps psychotic.  Indeed the psychological stresses were so great that Dylan’s personality seemed to split.  He began to live two different lives.  While apparently on the closest terms with his parents, in constant contact, he let on that he was an orphan and his parents dead.
In itself the latter is fairly common.  Jim Morrison of the doors let on his parents were dead but then he had nothing to do with them.  He rejected them completely.  Dylan being at the same time dependent and estranged makes him a special case.
Abram Zimmerman is quoted by Eldot:
“He wanted to have a free rein.” says Zimmerman.  “He wanted to be a folk singer, an entertainer.  We couldn’t see it, but we felt he was entitled to the choice.  It’s his life, after all, and we didn’t want to stand in the way.  So we made an agreement that he could have one year to do as he pleased, and if at the end of that year we were not satisfied with his progress he’d go back to school.”
That’s sort of possessive.  Obviously there were heated discussions between son and parents.  Dylan obviously didn’t want to make a clean break or he, perhaps, wanted financial support and could only get it that way.  I mean, at eighteen you’re on your own.  At any rate while claiming his parents were dead Dylan was in close phone contact all the while.  Now, this is a betrayal of who we were led to believe he was at the time.
“It was eight months after that, says (Abe)  Zimmerman, that Bobby received a glowing ‘two column’ review in the New York Times.  So we figured that anybody who can get his picture and two columns in the New York Times is doing pretty good.  Anyway it was a start.”
So Robert Shelton’s article had the effect of buying Dylan’s parents off.  Indeed, who wouldn’t be impressed?
The question is why Eldot chose this moment to write about the Folknik.  I think that can be explained by “his Carnegie Hall debut next Saturday.”
In the Midwest, at least, we were raised to reverence both New York and Carnegie Hall.  We were led to believe that only the greatest of the great and then only as a reward for lifetime achievement were granted the privilege of playing SRO at Carnegie Hall.  Our teachers were adamant about this.
I was shocked when relative nobodies began playing Carnegie.  It required a major adjustment in my attitude.  Eldot is apparently stunned that Dylan, not only from small town Hibbing on the Iron Range but a Folknik to boot, I mean, you know, a Bohemian, a mere boho, was playing the Hall.  One can also understand better the effect on Abe and Beattie Zimmerman sitting in the audience in Carnegie Hall, the proud parents of the Star.
Eldot also says:
His rise in barely three years has been almost as impressive as the fortune he has already amassed…
As Dylan had done very little in the way of touring and had few record sales as of 1963, while he hadn’t received any royalties from PPM recordings yet, the mention of a considerable fortune raises eyebrows as does this quote from Father Abe:
My son is a corporation and his public image is strictly an act…

Hard to follow this act.

Yeah.  He’s more middle class and respectable than he looks.  Well, the public image wasn’t strictly an act but I found the information that Dylan had incorporated himself very interesting.  That means he was two separate legal entities while being an employee of his corporation and therefore on salary.  That brings to mind the movie ‘Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Terrible Things About Me.’  The movie was loosely based on Dylan.  It opens in the penthouse of the skyscraper that hero, Georgie Solloway, owns.
2.
Dylan was obviously getting advice from his manager, Albert Grossman.  Let’s think about Grossman for a minute.  There hasn’t been a lot written about Grossman.  Here are the bare facts as recorded by wikipedia:
Albert Grossman was born in Chicago on May 21, 1926, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who worked as tailors.  He attended Lane Technical School and graduated from Roosevelt University, Chicago with a degree in economics.
After university he worked for the Chicago Housing Authority, leaving in the late 1950s to go into the club business.  Seeing folk star Bob Gibson perform at the Off Beat Room in 1956 prompted Grossman’s idea of a ‘listening room’ to showcase Gibson and other talent, as the folk movement grew.  The result was The Gate Of Horn in the basement of the Rice Hotel, where Jim (Roger) McGuinn began his career as a 12 string guitarist.  Grossman moved into managing some of the acts who appeared at his club and in 1959, he joined forces with George Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival, to start up the Newport Folk Festival.  At the first Newport Folk Festival, Grossman told New York Times critic, Robert Shelton:  “The American public is like Sleeping Beauty, waiting to be kissed awake by the Prince of Folk Music.
Grossman obviously considered himself that Prince while being unaware of the obvious fact that the Kingston Trio had already kissed the American public awake and were the Princes of Folk Music.  Now let us flesh out the facts with what must have been.
Grossman was a Chicago native born and bred.  Chicago is a tumultuous  city; the criminal ethic rules both the underground and the overground.  They are joined at the hip.  The underground is known as The Outfit being ruled by Sicilians in conjunction with Jews who act as semi-legit facilitators.  Grossman was Jewish.  The location in Chicago where he was born isn’t available to me but I would guess the Jewish areas of Maxwell Street or Lawndale.
Born in 1926 Grossman was able to evade World War II, although Robert Shelton born in the same year did serve, while Grossman was also the too old for the Korean War.  Missed both.  A fortunate child.
He graduated College possibly in 1949 or ’50 taking a job in the public sector at the Chicago Housing Authority.  Whether he used his degree in economics isn’t clear but in 1956 at the age of thirty he saw Bob Gibson perform and realized that he could cash in on Folk Music while pursuing social and political objectives.  He immediately opened what became the premier Folk club in the US,  The Gate Of Horn.  Legendary.  I always regret never having been able to attend.
Contrary to what seems to be the prevailing opinion today Folk music throve throughout the fifties from beginning to end.  Grossman could open a club because there was a thriving Folk scene.  The Gateway Singers, Bud and Travis, Gibson, Odetta, Josh White and many, many others  Black and White toured and performed.  So when the Kingston Trio scored on the pop scene in 1958 they didn’t come out of the blue but Folk music began to explode.  The Brothers Four appeared at about the same time.
When Grossman went into the club business he must have inevitably been drawn into contact with the Chicago Outfit as the Chicago version of the Mafia is known.  All the suppliers and unions he had to deal with were mobbed up.  As a Jew he would have had an entree to what Gus Russo calls the Supermob.  The Jewish lawyers and politicians who acted as facilitators.  Thus Grossman must have established connections.  Not because he necessarily wished to but because it was necessary to survive, let alone prosper.
As lawyers and politicians the Jews always played by their own rules bending and distorting the rules everyone else was taught to play by.  Grossman would learn his lessons well changing the rules dramatically when he hit New York.
It would seem likely that Grossman would have learned the attitude from these very monied, devious and powerful men.  The word scrupulous had a very different meaning for them.  Chutzpah was more useful.  It would be interesting to know exactly who Grossman came into contact with.
As Wikipedia notes he managed ‘socially conscious’ performers like Odetta but none of the people he handled were capable of breaking out of or changing the folk format into pop stardom.  Where the money and influence was.  The money and the influence to move society in the directed he wanted it to go.
Taking his lesson from the more pop oriented groups like Belafonte, the Kingstons and Chad Mitchell Trios, The Brothers Four and The Highwaymen, in 1961 Grossman assembled a folk trio of two men and a woman.  A slight variation on the proven formula.  Grossman was no innovator.  But he had his social and political agenda.  He called the group Peter Paul And Mary giving it a subliminal Judaeo-Christian religious tinge.
His key member was Peter Yarrow, a Jew with a degree in psychology.  Apparently both he and Grossman were simpatico.  The other male was another Jew named Noel Stookey who performed as Paul.  The female was a shiksa named Mary Travers.
The group as well as Grossman was political and subversive from the start.  As the PPM website says: ( http://peterpaulandmary.com/history/bio/htm )
In the decades prior to the 60s, through the work of such avatars as Woody Guthrie, the Weavers and Pete Seeger, folk music had become identified with sociopolitical commentary, but the notion had been forced underground in the Senator Joe McCarthy witch-hunting era… Peter Paul and Mary came together to juxtapose these cross currents and thus to reclaim folk’s potency as a social, cultural and political force.
In other words Grossman and PPM would renew and reinvigorate the Communist offensive providing a foundation and incentive to the Boys of ’64.  Of course the Communists were the witches McCarthy was hunting.
‘If I Had A Hammer’ and all that Communist junk was alright for one time around but when Dylan made the scene with a fresh departure on traditional political folk Grossman saw the future.  PPM’s third LP in 1963 had three songs by Dylan.
Dylan’s career was effectively launched by Robert Shelton’s astonishing writeup of Dylan in 1961.  As Wikipedia notes Grossman had known Robert Shelton since at least the ’59 Newport Folk Festival.  It is possible that Grossman knew Shelton from Chicago in ’57 or ’58.  Robert Shelton himself, was from Chicago, graduated from the Northwestern School of Journalism.  He left Chicago for NYC in 1958 to become the music critic of the paper of record, the New York Times.  How lucky can you get.  Of course, the Times itself was and is owned by Jews.  As he was a folk critic in New York, practically living in the folk clubs, there seems little reason to doubt he was a habitue of the Gate Of Horn in Chicago.  As a  journalist it would be probable that he introduced himself to its owner, Albert Grossman.  There may be articles filed by him in Chicago.  So when Shelton interviewed Grossman in 1959 it is likely that he already knew him.
Why Shelton gave Dylan the incredible boost isn’t clear.  The entire folk community was astonished.  It may be that Grossman had already fixed on Dylan and he may have begun a buildup before he even signed him.  Shelton’s review of Dylan in the New York Times seems to be too incredible to be true, not that things like that don’t happen, but they don’t happen often and seldom without cause.
Still I find it difficult to believe those people thought Dylan was that talented a performer.  After all every folk label in the Village rejected Dylan from Vanguard and Elektra to Folkways.  They didn’t hear it, and those labels had some pretty lousy singers on them.
Perhaps the review in the Times was a signal to John Hammond at Columbia.  Imagine being refused by Folkways and being signed by Columbia.  Think about it.  One has to suspect the reason Hammond signed Dylan.  I don’t have tin ears and I can’t see why the LPs, Bob Dylan and Freewheelin’  are anything to shout about.  I can sure see why they didn’t sell.
Dylan began to really demonstrate his song writing prowess in early ’62 when Blowin’ In The Wind was first performed.  The song caught on quickly while Grossman who had been watching him decided to make his move.  He became Dylan’s manager in August of ’62.  Possibly he had asked his Chicago pal Shelton to write Dylan up earlier.  At any rate sometime between August ’62 and September ’63 Dylan incorporated himself most likely on his manager’s advice.
PPM had been a hit out of the box.  Both their first two albums without Dylan songs were mega hits as was their third with Blowin’ In The Wind  and two other Dylan songs.  In November ’63 all three albums were in the Top Ten so that Grossman’s two money machines were working in synch.
If Dylan hadn’t amassed the fortune Eldot mentions he soon would.  Eldot published his Duluth article on October 20, 1963.  It is difficult to believe Eldot’s statement that Dylan ‘had amassed a considerable fortune’ at that time.  Perhaps Papa Abe was gilding the lily to justify his son being a corporation.
I have never seen the fact mentioned before.  If Dylan did incorporate himself there should be a public record.  This is all the more remarkable as Dylan is universally portrayed as having been naive to the point of simplicity in business matters.  Can’t be quite true.
As the corporation has never been subsequently mentioned to my knowledge one wonders for how long it existed or if it still exists.  One wonders what the assets were and if dissolved in what manner the assets were distributed.  One thinks of Georgie Solloway of  Who Is Harry Kellerman.
Dylan’s father died in 1968 ending that influence on his life.  But Dylan had already been granted his own head by his parents.  Abe is quoted by Eldot:
“We have absolutely no part in his affairs.  Those are his own operation.  He’s a corporation and he has a manager.”
Being a corporation and having a manager…what more is there to life?

The Burden Of Being Cowboy Bob Dylan

The Ballad Of Bobby And Albert

by

R.E. Prindle

     For some reason the notion has grown that Folk music erupted in 1958 with the Kingston Trio’s version of Tom Dooley.  I don’t understand this.  We sang Folk and Old Timey all the way through grade school. Grade school ended for me in 1950.  Folk music was always a conscious part of my life.  I grew so tired of singing Go Tell Aunt Rhody and She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain that I shouted for joy upon hearing The Weaver’s sing On Top Of Old Smokey and Goodnight Irene.

     That was in the days of ‘Your Hit Parade’.  That show was a key program before TV wiped programmed radio off the Networks.  They thought radio was dead.  Didn’t think anyone would listen to music twenty-four hours a day.  We not only did that but we listened to the same four songs over and over in fifteen minute segments.  They called it Top Forty but I remember it more like the Top Four.  When one song wore out they plugged in another one and kept going.  Of course that was only temporary; things evolved fast.

     Folk and Folk related music was a strong stream all through the fifties.  Burl Ives was the rage for a while but you can only get so far on Jimmie Crack Corn And I Don’t Care and The Blue Tail Fly. Tennessee Ernie Ford and his Sixteen Tons was as close as you could get to Folk without actually stepping over the line.  Harry Belafonte occupied the mid-fifties as a Folksinger, academic quality, with his stupid Mark Twain.  In a more pop vein Mitch Miller churned out stuff like She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and The Bowery Grenadiers.  I didn’t care for it at the time but his sing along stuff is pretty good.

     Who can forget the greatest of them all with his fabulous hit tune The Rock Island Line in 1955.  The Great

The Great Lonnie Donegan

The Great Lonnie Donegan

Lonnie Donegan.  The song was played once every fifteen minutes around the clock on every station for a couple of weeks.  I once artfully shifted stations so that I got to hear the song seven times in a row.  Lonnie Donegan could sing circles around the entire Greenwich Village crowd including any number of Dylans.  He was very successful in combining a listenable approach to a trad style.  All the trad stuff done trad style was OK for the enthusiasts but had no commercial potential.  None of the Greenwich Village crowd had a future except Dylan.  Even the best of them, Fred Neil, fell flat.

     Fred Hellerman of the Weavers was musical advisor to the Kingstons who merely continued the Weavers’ tradition.  The music that Bob Dylan tuned into in 1959 had been an established fact for ten years or better.  His future manager Albert Grossman had established the premier folk venue, The Gate Of Horn in Chicago the year before while helping to establish the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 

     The trad folk types were running the Village by the time Dylan got there.  Some people liked the traditional style, they usually smoked pipes.  I can handle it but I don’t like those precious antiquarian stylists; I much prefer the pop styles of the Kingstons and the Chad Mitchell Trio.  Did you ever listen to Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders?  Pozo Seco Singers?

     It didn’t take Dylan long to understand that the way to success was through the pop style rather than the trad.  Thus Dylan as a folk act can be classed with the Kingstons, the Mitchell Trio and The New Christy Minstrels.

     His muse, however, spoke with a purer voice; the muse belonged to him, he said, or at least she shacked with him for a couple years before moving on.  As talented as Dylan was in those years he did not make it alone.  As he said, he wanted to sing to people on his own wavelength.  That was a small audience.

     While he was shifting the dial to the high numbers at the right hand side of the band he passed through the broad band.  In order to get to his own audience he had to appeal to a broader cross section; so he wrote stuff like Blowin’ In The Wind.

     As someone who was there at the time I had to roll my eyes at the song’s obviousness while Bob’s vocals drove me up the wall.  The sales figures for the first three or four albums bear me out.

     So how did Bob get from there to superstar?  Two words- Albert Grossman.  This article might be subtitled:  The Genius And The Promoter.  For that brief one or two year period Bob turned out generalized songs that caught the spirit of the g-g-generation.  It is questionable how far the songs would have gone had not the promotional genius of Albert Grossman seized the main chance.

     Grossman would be as fascinating a study as Bobby.  While Dylan has gotten all the credit his early career was in fact a fifty-fifty partnership with Albert.

     Bob had no business sense, still doesn’t; nor should any artist be expected to.  Everyone would have

The Manager

The Manager

stolen him blind.  It’s the music business.  The performers about him either professed to reject financial success because they couldn’t find the handle or may have been so purist that they actually despised the money.  Sorta hard to believe but that’s the way they talked.

     Now, Albert not only saw the financial potential of the caterwauling Dylan but more importantly he foresaw that phonographs records would be the medium of expression for the entire generation.  Records were how the generation would communicate.  Rather than looking back at what the recording industry had been he looked foward to what it would be.

     Noting the song writing potential of the 1962-63 Dylan he determined to make Bob the keystone of his grab for the golden ring.  He succeeded in capturing Bob.  He had his keystone but he lacked the supports.  He’d already thought that out working at it from the time he founded the Gate of Horn.  Having gotten himself a fecund folk style songwriter he now needed a sweet singing Top 40 folk style group a la the Kingston Trio.  The latter was perhaps the easiest part of the equation.

     Secure in his source of material Albert organized the commercial sounding folk group called Peter, Paul and Mary, three former purists who opted for the cash.  Packaging a sound for his group was relatively easy.  Taking the songs of his keystone he had them set to pretty three part harmonies.  Presto!  Albert had dumped the harsh cacophony of Dylan and the songs shone.

     Parts one and two of his plan were complete.  He had partnered himself with Dylan and he owned Peter, Paul and Mary.  The rest fell into place.  The public was entranced by the songs of Bob Dylan; now they wanted to know who the writer was.  Essentially the singer-songwriter was called into existence by demand.  Albert put his publicity act in motion.  It is doubtful that he knew how Dylan would respond but Dylan’s mysterioso act was perfect for the times while being executed to perfection.  Albert’s keystone captured the imagination of the world.

     As a genius promoter Albert understood his contribution to the equation.  Albert engineered Bobby’s success while with an artist’s ego Dylan totally underestimated Albert’s contribution.  Nevertheless Albert Grossman wanted his fair share which he calculated as much higher than the established ten percent for perfunctuory management while probably going over the line of fair which a promoter’s ego will.

     The structure of the contemporary music business was in its formative stages.  Albert was a presage of the future.  He formed groups with an identity in which he took only fifty percent, but the groups were his creation he was entitled to it.  Later the artists would simply be put on salary.  By the end of the century when the music industry had evolved, his successors concceived a group concept from start to finish providing concept and songs while merely hiring some musical working stiffs, probably not all that musical, just stiffs.  The performers were interchangeable like members of a sports team.  Heck they didn’t even play or sing they just danced to records.  It didn’t matter whether one or more or the whole group was replaced.  The performers had no talent merely acrobatic skills.  Promotion had evolved since Albert.

Bob and Albert Out On Highway 61

Bob and Albert Out On Highway 61

     Albert understood the artistic ego but too well.  Two colossal ambitions came into collision.

     One of the first things Albert did when he captured Bobby was to buy back the publishing from M. Witmark.  He then set up a new publishing company, Dwarf Music, in which he gave himself a fifty percent interest.  At first glance fifty percent looks like he really took advantage of Bobby.

     Certainly he was underhanded.  Remember, this is only the record business and Albert was relatively honest.  He never explained himself to Bobby.  He did go to lengths to conceal the fifty-fifty split from Dylan.  Albert Grossman was after all a promoter.  The record industry itself will never get high marks for probity.  The equation for theft is when one group controls the money and the other group provides the product.

     The question here is not whether Albert stole from Bobby in the sense of juggling the accounting, you can be sure Albert took advantage of his position, but whether he cheated Bobby by taking a fifty percent interest in Dwarf is open to qestion.

     I don’t think so.

     It is hard to believe that Bob Dylan would have amounted to much if Albert Grossman hadn’t been a promotional genius who recognized the potential which no one else, in fact, could see.

     Of course, today, long after the fact, Dylan’s genius seems to have ensured success.  At the time that genius wasn’t quite so obvious, indeed, I’m not so sure it ever existed.

     I wasn’t Johnny on the Spot when it came to recognizing Dylan’s talent.  I didn’t hear of him until 1964 when my brother-in-law played the first couple records for me.  All I could hear was a guy thwacking away noisily on guitar punctuating his horrid screeching with cacophonous bursts on an harmonica.  It might as well have been an air raid.

     I was thoroughly repelled.  I wouldn’t have listened to Dylan again but my brother-in-law who had a curious ability to scent out the next big thing insisted I listen to what he was saying.  ‘The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.’  To be sure.  Well, I’m from the midwest too.  I recognized the catch phrases; Dylan uses a lot of midwest catch phrases.  I still wasn’t impressed.

     To me Dylan sounded illiterate.  I ask you, what does ‘How many times can a man look up until he sees the sky?’  mean?  What does ‘How many seas must a white duck cross before it can sleep in the sand?’ mean?  Is there such a thing as a migrating white duck and do they ever sleep in the sand?  Am I supposed to let my heart bleed for white ducks who can’t sleep in the sand tonight?  The anwer to those questions, my friend, aren’t blowing in the wind.

     The guy just said whatever came into his head.  After his mind broke in 1966 and his muse left him he came up with ‘Shut the light, Shut the shade, you don’t have to be afraid.’  I mean, shade and fraid do rhyme.  I had problems understanding where the talent was.

     Protest singer?  What’s that to me?  I never did march anyway.

     If you listen to the 1963 Newport Folk Festival album Dylan’s singing of Blowin’ In The Wind is sandwiched between Joan Baez and the Freedom Singers.  Both back Bobby with a religious fervor the song doesn’t bear before launching into an even more religious shouting of We Shall Overcome…Someday.

     Masters of War?   You’ve got to be kidding?  This is a really puerile song.  Dylan just said what no one else wanted to put into words, although once said all those Sing Out types seemed to love it.  But, does anyone really believe that wars are promoted by a bunch of professional warriors sitting in a room trying to come up with ideas?  Before Bush I mean.  Is that a valid explanation of how politics work?  What happened to Bobby’s notions of ‘fixtures and forces.’

     I really couldn’t go with stuff like this.

     Impressed more by my brother-in-law’s unerring ability to spot the next big thing than Bobby I went out and bought the records but I didn’t listen to them although I was increasingly impressed by the number of cover versions that were appearing.  Albert Grossman was doing that work, not Bobby.

      And then Bringing It All Back Home with its vicious sounding title tuned into my wavelength down around 1600.  I was one of those confused, accused, misused, abused, strung out ones and worse.  I placed myself in the accused, abused and misused categories; A.J. Weberman obviously placed himself with the strung out ones and worse sorting through garbage cans.  But, here we have the spectrum of Bobby’s wavelength.

     It just keeps right on a hurtin’.

     By the time of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde  Bobby was like strong drink to me.  I became a bobaholic as he backed deeper and deeper into the inner recesses of his mind where a different logic prevailed in an attempt to narrow his audience as much as possible.  Strangely the more he found his own audience the greater his reputation grew.

     Even though I became absorbed in Bob Dylan’s ‘genius’ I always remembered those lovely cover versions of his early songs.  Don’t you think those Byrds’ covers are too beautiful?  I asked myself would I have stuck with Bobby if it hadn’t been for those.  I can’t say, but they homogenized Bobby’s quirky personality into a palatable product.  When you couldn’t handle Bobby’s Mr. Tambourine Man you could switch to that of the Byrds.

     Those cover versions Albert obtained are what made Bob Dylan successful.

     Bob wrote them but he had nothing to do with either their placement or production.  Bobby’s self appointed ‘partner’ Albert did.

     First he created Peter, Paul and Mary.  Grossman’s group was the key to Bob’s success.  It must be credited

Albert Grossman's Group

Albert Grossman's Group

to Grossman that he seized the moment.  This was his one chance for success and he caught the Golden Ring as it came around.  The rest of Grossman’s career was trying to replicate this golden moment and that he could not do although he did have a ‘critical’ success in establishing Bearsville Records.  The label turned out some nice stuff including the very lovely catalog of Jesse Winchester.

     However Grossman’s success was based on PP&M.   Albert cleverly recognized the quasi-religious spirt of the times.  While the catchword at the time was ‘God Is Dead’ Albert chose to name his group after three Christian saints.  This was mildly off-putting to those of us of the time.  Grossman, himself a Jew, had his private joke as these three ‘Christian’ saints were all Jews.

     His group started out singing stupid quasi-religious songs like If I Had A Hammer and This Land Is Your Land.  Guthrie Stuff.  Grossman was actually mired in the tastes of the fifties.  This material in itself was off-putting, even though popular, as being too overtly political.  PP&M really caught fire when Bobby, Albert’s ace in the hole, came up with Blowin’ In The Wind.  The song was still quasi-religious in tone but cleaner and more modern sounding while being, from my point of view, completely apolitical.

  

Jesse At The Time

Jesse At The Time

   After a couple successful covers by PP&M the Byrds came in with really stunning contemporary versions of Bobby’s songs.  Within a year or two of that whole albums were issued trying to cash in on Bobby as a songwriter.  Barry McGuire ex of the New Christy Minstrels for Chrissakes.  Even that embarrassing Sinatra clone, Trini Lopez.

     So Albert had turned Bobby’s catalog gold.  Not a trick to be despised.

     Bobby’s star rose as his reputation as a songwriter rose.

He's On His Way

He's On His Way

     Albert pushed the envelope to secure as large a portion of the revenues for himself and Bobby as he could.  Columbia had conned Dylan into a disadvantageous  contract so Albert forced a change.  He secured twenty-five percent of the revenues from Bobby’s records for himself which was far in advance of practice.  However Albert had been right.  Pop album sales which had been miniscule in 1960 burgeoned into a mult-billion dollar segment by the end of the decade.  Albert had positioned Bobby to benefit from this huge market.

     Albert had bullied Columbia Records, Bobby’s label, into giving him producers who would make the most of his talents.  His unusual terroristic tactics threw the fear of god into Columbia’s executives.  If Bobby hadn’t signed a new contract, a fairly generous contract, behind Albert’s back Albert probably would have secured an even richer contract.  Remember Albert had the incentive of twenty-five percent of Dylan’s record revenues.

     One must accept the fact that Albert Grossman managed Bob Dylan’s career to perfection.  One must accept the fact tht Dylan would have been worth much less financially, perhaps, worthless without the aid and support of Albert Grossman.

     But then, Bob discovered that Albert had, and this is improtant, given himself fifty percent of Dwarf Music not only without telling Bobby but actively preventing his knowing.

     Bobby saw only his own genius while ignoring Albert’s.  Without thinking it out he chose to feel betrayed.  Albert traded on Bobby’s trust but I do not believe Albert betrayed him.  I think Albert was the best friend Bobby ever had.

     I believe that Albert was entitled to fifty percent of Bobby’s earnings in perpetuity.  I’d have to say that Bobby played the churl in not recognizing Albert’s contribution to his success.

     Still, Bobby is the artist, Bob Dylan, while Albert is only the promoter, Albert Grossman.  Which is the tail and which is the dog?  Did you ever see a dog run round and round chasing its tail?    

 

I Ate The Whole Thing

I Ate The Whole Thing

                                                            

                                                                            The End.