Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography, Part Two

Part two of the Bob Dylan story, from his time on the road in the mid-60s to his relationship with Joan Baez to his re-invention with 'New Morning'

March 16, 1972
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan on Issue No. 103

Setting off on a cross-country motoring trip, Bob Dylan's entourage drove through the Holland Tunnel and onto the New Jersey Turnpike on the morning of February 2nd, 1964 — Dylan himself, Daily Mirror writer Pete Karman, mindguards Paul Clayton and Victor Maimudes, the latter behind the wheel. Dylan had put his three companions on the books of Ashes & Sand, the holding company Albert Grossman had set up to protect the newly-successful singer's financial interests. All expenses were to be paid but apparently only Maimudes, who was officially Dylan's road manager, was on salary.

The car was filled with used clothing that Dylan had collected for the striking miners in Kentucky. And Dylan's typewriter. "Gonna write all along the way," he said.

That first night they stopped in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Clayton had a house. The drive down had been uneventful, which is surprising considering that they were all stoned. Clayton high on pills, Dylan and others on grass. As soon as they arrived Dylan called Suze back in New York, then he and his companions spent the night playing Monopoly, drinking wine, smoking to maintain the high edge of psychic excitement.

They went into town the next day, wandering the streets in the downtown area, dropping into a bar for a couple of drinks and moving on again. "Hey, man," Dylan shouted as they passed a record shop. "Gotta see if the new album's out yet. Wanna pass 'em around to people." They shuffled into the shop. "Got the new Dylan album?" Dylan asked. The girl behind the counter looked up. Lord help her, that's Bob Dylan, that man there with the funny cap, surrounded by a bunch of freaks. She stumbled out into the aisle, to a bin labeled "Dylan" and pulled out a copy of The Times They Are A-Changin'. "How many you got?" Dylan asked. The girl counted them out, ten of them. "I'll take them all," Dylan said.

He leaned against the counter, under a large poster with his picture on it, signing traveler's checks, and the word flashed through the store. "That's Bob Dylan." "Where?" "Over there." Four or five kids moved closer, suppressing moans and squeals. Dylan looked around at them, and his guard moved in around him. "Man," Dylan said, "there's a lot of people in here. Let's split." He hustled out to the street, followed by several of the customers. "They're closin' in on us." Dylan said. "Let's move." They began to trot, the kids catching up, then to gallop, into the car, roll up the windows, race away. "Man, that was close," Dylan said. "They almost got me."

Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography, Part One

Later that morning they were on the road again, Clayton driving, Dylan studying the map: "Hendersonville, North Carolina," he said. "You gotta take this highway" — shoving the map in front of Clayton — "and right outside Hendersonville is where he has his place, Flat Rock. That's where he lives."

They entered Flat Rock late that afternoon, pulled up to a gas station. Dylan jumped out of the car. "Where's Carl Sandburg's place?" he asked the tall gangling mountain man in coveralls. "You know, the poet." The mountain man considered that for a while. "You mean Sandburg the goat farmer?" he asked.

"No, I mean Sandburg the poet."

"Don't know about no poet. There's a Sandburg has a goat farm. Wrote a book on Lincoln. Little guy. Littler than you, even. If that's the one, take this road two miles up there, turn left after the little bridge, can't miss it if you're sober."

Stoned, they didn't miss it. They pulled up to the farm house and knocked on the door. A small, bearded, wizened man came out.

"You're Carl Sandburg," Dylan said, not asking. "I'm Bob Dylan. I'm a poet, too."

"How nice," Sandburg said, his smile saying another kid who wants to be a poet. But he tried to be gracious and said, "Come, sit a while." Mrs. Sandburg joined them, smiling but not saying anything.

"I've written some songs, Mr. Sandburg," Dylan said. "I know Woody Guthrie, he's very sick in a hospital, he talked about you a lot. Got some songs here I'd appreciate you listening to." He handed Sandburg one of the albums and the poet took it and said, "That's wonderful," but it was clear he was simply being polite. They chatted awhile, Dylan rambling on about folk music, and his own songs and poems, and subtly telling Sandburg he was a young poet and Sandburg should recognize him because he recognized Sandburg as an older poet. And Sandburg smiled at this scruffy kid promoting his album, hyping himself as a poet, Sandburg polite but not particularly interested.

After about ten minutes Dylan said, "Well, gotta go. Nice meeting you," and he turned and skipped down the steps and into the car. His entourage piled in after him and they drove off, quickly, Dylan slouching down in the front seat, very quiet, staring straight ahead. Someone handed him a joint and he puffed deeply and said nothing. He was obviously annoyed at his encounter with Sandburg, hurt that the poet had never heard of him.

They entered Hazard, Kentucky, in Harlan County, coal-mining country, the next day. The first stop was the post office, to look for a thick envelope sent them from New York in care of Dylan, general delivery. The envelope was there. It contained a quantity of marijuana, sent by friends; all along their route similar envelopes filled with grass would be waiting for them in similar post office buildings.

Dylan drove. He was a bad driver, erratic, and his companions tried to keep him away from the wheel. He found the mine union headquarters and Hamish Sinclair, an organizer Bob had met on his earlier trip South, greeted him, but half-heartedly, clearly distracted. "Got a whole bunch of clothes in the car for your people that need 'em," Dylan said, and Sinclair was pleased. But he was very busy. There was trouble in the coal fields and several miners had been arrested. Sinclair was on the phone for an hour, then had to run out to the mines, and Dylan was getting depressed. "I know he's got problems, but shit . . ."

Dylan stalked out, and the four of them piled into the car again. As they drove into the countryside beyond Hazard, past mine towers and slag heaps, they came across a man trudging along the side of the road. "Pick him up," Dylan said. "He's a miner. Look how black he is." The man was a white man but his pasty face and rough hands were streaked with coal dust and sweat.

"Can we buy ya a drink?" Dylan asked. The miner agreed and directed them to a bar up the road, where they ordered drinks. "This guy's groovy," Dylan said. "Real miner." He turned to the man. "Been a miner long?" he asked. The man nodded. They threw questions at him — Ever been in a cave-in? Gotta shop at a company store? Company cops ever beat you? — stereotyping him as The Miner, grooving on being with a real miner, not seeing him as a man with a wife and kids, struggling to get along. And after a while they left him, drinking alone at the bar, and climbed back into the station wagon.

A feeling began to come over Karman that none of it was quite real. Dylan was looking for sensations, without involving his intellect, and Karman couldn't understand that this is the way his mind works. Dylan had seldom been articulate, but now he barely verbalized his impressions at all. His whole trip was more feeling than logical thinking — This is where it's at, it's what's happening, oh, wow!

And when he did talk, it was to work out some poetic images, testing their reactions: "Time don't exist, it's an illusion, the other side of Dali's clocks." And: "Know where God is? The river, that's God. The river's right where you're standing, and it's up in the mountains, and it's down the bend, and into the sea. All at the same instant. Very same instant. If there's a God, the river's Him."

As Victor drove away from Hazard, Dylan climbed into the back of his station wagon, put the portable typewriter on his lap, and began to write. Later, Karman got a look at the page: "Chimes of Freedom" was the title, a poem that would later become a song, perhaps Dylan's description of an actual mystical experience.

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