Bob Dylan in the Alley: The Alan J. Weberman Story

In which it is proven once again that you do not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

March 4, 1971
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan on Issue No. 77

The coast looks clear for a fine afternoon among the garbage. Macdougal Street is almost empty of passers-by. The lights at Bob Dylan's house are off, indicating no one is home. Even the New York Sanitation Department is cooperating in its own inimitable way by being late for the daily collection: Trash cans full. Excited with his good luck, Alan Jules Weberman, Dylanologist, reaches into the metal barrel incautiously and pulls out a lump of something wrapped most seriously in a wad of newspaper. Briefly thoughts flash of rare manuscripts, of trinkets from Bob's trip to Australia, of discarded and badly worn Spanish boots of Spanish leather.

"Dogshit! Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeecch!!!" he screeches with a cry that could wake half of posh Macdougal Gardens. Quickly, he wipes his hands on the side of the garbage can as he curses out Dylan for not housebreaking his mutt, Sacha. "Fuckin' bitch . . ."

To protect himself against a repetition of the dogshit disaster, Weberman decides to move the entire garbage picking operation to a location where he can work in a careful and scholarly manner . . . and where soap and running water are more readily available. So over the shoulder goes the green plastic bag and A.J. jigs the eight blocks to his home.

In front of Weberman's place on the Bowery at Bleecker Street, A.J. spreads out his remarkable haul on the sidewalk. It's the Bowery, so no one really notices. No one except a fellow longhair who passes and thinks there is something odd about a guy wading through a ton of garbage.

"Hey, did you lose something in all that crap?" the guy inquires solicitously.

"Oh, no, no," stutters A.J. nervously. "This ain't my garbage. It's Bob Dylan's. I just grabbed it from in front of his house."

"No shit," the passerby exclaimed ironically. "You went all the way up to Woodstock just to get at Bob Dylan's garbage?"

"Oh, no. Dylan's living in New York . . . over on Macdougal Street. I got his garbage from over there."

The passerby stops for a moment. An idea dawns. There could only be one person in the whole world who would bother to carry Bob Dylan's garbage all the way from Macdougal Street to the Bowery. "Hey . . . is your name A.J. Weberman? Are you the guy I'm always hearing on the Bob Fass Show on WBAI?"

"Right on," answers Alan, giving the fellow a tip of his Bob Dylan-style cap.

Aha! So it is. This fellow in the rimless glasses, Army Surplus boots and jacket and frizzed-out hair — looking, in fact, like a seventh carbon copy, 90 pounds heavier, of Bob Dylan circa 1965 — could only be A.J. Weberman, Dylanologist.

Excrementwise, the garbage picking scene was not getting much better — even with the change of venue. As A.J. pored through the trash, all he could discern was a mound of dog crap and a mountain of odoriferous, soiled disposable diapers.

"Fuck," complained Alan to his old lady, Ann Duncan, a tall, willowy blonde who had come down to the sidewalk to help with the sorting. "What does the cat do with all these Pamper shitcatchers? Buy 'em by the gross?"

"Well," answers Ann, "you've got to understand, the cat did go out and have four kids in five years. I mean, if he can't even housebreak a dog, what do you think he can do with four infants?"

Beyond the wads of excrement, after a good half-hour of picking, some potentially valuable bits of Dylan memorabilia begin to emerge. Included in the haul is a fund-raising letter from a rather artsy-craftsy Greenwich Village private school attended by one of Bob's children, a false start to a letter to Johnny and June Cash, shredded remains of various fan letters, Polaroid negatives of Dylan and his brood, and empty granola and cookie mix boxes. Also found in the trashmine is a medical report from a veterinarian on the condition of Sacha, some torn-up drawings of Bob a la the Self-Portrait cover, notes on the out-takes to Self-Portrait, an original poem, and a note from Mama Zimmerman: "Fort Lauderdale is great. Enjoy the candy!" Underneath all this trivia is a pile of rock and music magazines, including Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy.

Weberman lets out a wounded moan upon seeing the discarded Crawdaddy. "Sheeeeeeet! He threw out this issue . . . the one with my article on him in it. You'd think he'd have the decency to collect my stuff the way I collect him."

A.J. performs this ritual with diligence and love, daily, for nearly a month. But after the first two weeks the pickings begin to get meager. There are still some prizes to be found in the garbage: a torn up drawing of Jimi Hendrix made on the day of his death, some fan letters. But on the whole the quality of Dylan's garbage has degenerated to diapers and liverwurst wrappers.

Alan is beginning to wonder if Bob is burning his valuable trash in a fireplace — or even if he is taking it over to a friend's incinerator for more private disposal. One night Weberman has a nightmare: he dreams Dylan has gone out and bought himself a garbage compactor!

* * *

For a man with such an unusual life mission, Alan Jules Weberman's background is remarkably uninteresting. He is Brooklyn, Jewish, an only child. He considers himself a revolutionary communist. As for his past, the most interesting things about him are that he was perhaps the first Jewish dope dealer arrested in the history of the state of Michigan; at the age of eleven he was president of a fan club for a three-hundred-pound wrestler, Haystack Calhoun; and that his second cousin is the rock critic Richard Goldstein.

But how does the former president of the Haystack Calhoun Fan Club get into Dylanology? Interviews with Alan provide few concise answers. Evidently, the seeds of Dylanology were sown somewhere around 1964-1965, when A.J., out on parole for his dealing bust, was working as an interviewer for the Lawrence Employment Agency in New York. "I hated my job. But I had to play straight to keep out of jail. So at night, I'd come home and dig on Dylan. I liked his music. His songs were political. They'd talk about the things that mattered at the time. You dig me? He was singing about the problems of black people and the poor. Nobody was singing those songs the way Dylan was and he totally turned me on.

"I used to come home from work and listen to his stuff hour after hour after hour. When his fourth record, Another Side of Bob Dylan, came out, all my political friends were up in arms. A lot of them asked me if I thought it was right for Bob to go off on this apolitical riff. I said I thought it was great, that Dylan was trying to reach a wider audience with his message — but that there still was a message there.

"What's more, there was this riff on the back of the album about 'door enlargement' — a blatant reference to LSD. I had taken some acid and dug the fact that Dylan was linking drugs with politics. Besides that, his song, 'Ballad in Plain D,' was all about his breakup with Suzie Rotolo, his girlfriend, who was on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. I could identify with that song too 'cause I had just broken up with my girl."

Dylanology moved from passive admiration of Bob's message to active appreciation when Bringing It All Back Home came out. At the time, Weberman was living with a super-leftist dude named Dana, and the two of them were very into Dylan. For days on end they'd do nothing but listen to Bringing It All Back Home. Sometimes they'd trip out on acid . . . and then they would get some simply phenomenal insights into Bob Dylan.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

More Song Stories entries »