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Bob Dylan and Friends on the Bus: Like a Rolling Thunder

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So it came as no shock to show up at a surprise birthday party for Mike Porco, the owner of Gerde's Folk City who gave Dylan his first paid gig in 1960, and be greeted by a fourman film crew who explained their presence to Porco with a cover story of "filming for NET." Word was out on the streets that Dylan just might show up, and before midnight the normally sparse weekday crowd was elbow-to-elbow. Phil Ochs had a head start on everyone and wandered around, drink in hand, lecturing about "the Jewish Mafia" and the strange case of Sonny Liston. Patti Smith shyly slunk into one corner, while Commander Cody showed up with two limos full of shitkickers. Roger McGuinn sat outside in his Sunshine limo, never one to arrive too early. Then, just past 1:00 a.m., a red Cadillac Eldorado pulled up and Dylan strode briskly in, followed closely by Kemp and Neuwirth. They greeted Mrs. Porco, hugged Mike and retreated to a far corner of the club. Then with the inevitable tableside introduction, "Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest star of all, Bobby Dylan," Dylan found his way up to the stage, grabbing Baez on the way for a duet of "Happy Birthday" and "One Too Many Mornings" — but the music stopped abruptly when bassist Rob Stoner's bridge snapped right out of its mooring.

Jack Elliott joined in onstage and Dylan seized the opportunity to shout, "Let's turn the stage over to Ramblin' Jack Elliott," and headed back to the semisolitude of his table. Jack did a hauntingly beautiful ballad, "South Coast Blues"; Bette Midler fell onstage to duet with Buzzy Linhart; Allen Ginsberg sang some poem/songs backed by female guitarist Denise Mercedes. Then Eric Andersen and Patti Smith harmonized a bit. Finally, Neuwirth, looking like some turn-of-the-century Cuban porno star in a black eye-mask and cowboy hat, grabbed the stage and sang a touching "Mercedes Benz" for "someone who couldn't be here with us tonight."

It seemed over but then Phil Ochs, who's been battling some of his own private phantoms recently, performed a moving medley of folk and country, stuff like "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy," "There You Go," "Too Many Parties" and "The Blue and the Gray." Everyone at Dylan's table was standing, gaping at this poignant moment.

Ochs spotted Dylan heading for the bar. "Hey Bobby, come up with me," he shouted. "I'm only going to the bar, Phil," Dylan replied reassuringly. "Well, here's a song of yours that I've always wanted to do," Ochs answered, breaking into a dirge-like "Lay Down Your Weary Tune." But things lightened up when Ochs stumbled off the stage into the waiting arms of David Blue, who, with Kemp and Neuwirth, were part of an ambush designed to retrieve the cowboy hat from Ochs that Dylan had worn in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

By the next day, Friday, things were really rolling. A session was planned to re-record "Hurricane" to be released as the tour begins. The idea was born at the Kettle of Fish when Dylan was talking animatedly about Rubin Carter and the need for publicity about his case. He had written "Hurricane" in the summer, recorded it and performed it at the retirement tribute to Columbia Records' John Hammond, taped for the Soundstage PBS-TV show. But that show won't be seen until December. "We gotta get the song out, we gotta get it right out," Dylan had said, slamming his fist on the table.

So Tuesday, Dylan, Kemp and his camera crew, after a filmed scuffle with security guards at the CBS building, barged into the offices of CBS Records president Irwin Segelstein and CBS Records Group president Walter Yetnikoff and demanded rush release of the "Hurricane" single. Late that night Dylan entered Studio E, pre-empting a Janis Ian listening session, with his band — bassist Rob Stoner, drummer Howie Wyeth, violinist Scarlet Rivera, percussionist Luther and backup singers Steve Soles and Ronee Blakley. Four hours later, producer Don DeVito was left with the task of mixing, mastering and getting the story of the "Hurricane" out on the streets, in Dylan's words, "as soon as possible."

The reason for the recutting of "Hurricane" was the subject of some speculation, most of it centering on an allegedly libelous line about a person involved in Carter's arrest. Ken Ehrlich, producer of Soundstage, said he talked with Dylan's attorney about snipping parts of Dylan's taped performance "to avoid libel." The attorney, David Braun, has refused comment. At Columbia Records, Segelstein said only that "it's a very conventional name confusion, he had to correct a lyric. I do not know the details." And DeVito, a Columbia executive who produced the session, said Dylan made changes "just like last year with Blood on the Tracks. He's just totally unpredictable."

After the re-recording session, Dylan reflected on Rubin Carter. "The first time I saw Rubin, I left knowing one thing, that this man's philosophy and my philosophy were running on the same road, and you don't meet too many people like that, that you just kinda know are on the same path as you are, mentally. I never doubted him for a moment. He's just not a killer, not that kind of a man. You're talking about a different type of person. I mean, he's not gonna walk into a bar and start shooting. He's not the guy. I don't know how anybody in their right mind is gonna think he was guilty of something like that."

"Hurricane" is an eight-minute rocker, a scorching defense of Carter and an attack on a system that allows an allegedly innocent man to rot in a cell for nine years. Carter's is the kind of situation that spurred some of Dylan's greatest protest songs years ago. "There's an injustice that's been done and you know that Rubin's gonna get out," Dylan said. "There's no doubt about that, but the fact is that it can happen to anybody. We have to be confronted with that; people from the top to the bottom, they should be aware that it can happen to anybody, at any time."

Rubin Carter, for his part, is thrilled with the song. "I listened to it at first and thought, eh, it was just another song to me," Carter said in his cell at Trenton State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey. "I ain't got no time for music in here. This is not a place to be soothed. But the more I sat there and listened to it and really understood what he was saying, I said, 'Wow, man.' I mean, he took this case, this nine years of whatever, and put it together, wop, like that, and covered every level, every facet of it. I said, 'Man, this cat's a genius. He's giving the people the truth.' And it was inspiring to me. I told myself, 'Rubin, you got to keep pushing, 'cause you must be doing something right, you got all these good people coming to try and help you.'"

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