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

Page 2 of 9

One night, during a particularly insightful acid trip, A.J. asked Dana to listen to a particular excerpt. "Hey, dig this," he called. "'With time rusted compass blade, Aladdin and his lamp / Sits with Utopian hermit monks, side saddle on the golden calf!' Dana, I read somewhere that Dylan is down on the left. In this verse, it sure sounds to me like what he's really doing is putting down the left. The 'golden calf,' see, it's materialism . . . dialectical materialism."

"Holy shit," exclaimed Dana, "you're right! And dig this riff on 'Maggie's Farm.' I think 'Maggie's Farm' is really capitalism. So is 'Baby Blue!'"

By the time the evening was over, the pair had discovered an entire hidden language inside Bringing It All Back Home.

He found that words that didn't make any sense to him in their own context would make sense when they appeared over and over again in Bob's lyrics. The word "rain," for instance, made little literal sense when Dylan sang, "A hard rain's gonna fall." But from later Dylan tunes A.J. was led to conclude that "rain" was really a symbol for violence. By carefully matching up the frequency and context in which Dylan's symbols appeared, Alan was able to decipher what he was certain was a deliberate code.

"Dylan was trying to get a political message onto AM radio," Weberman explains. "The only way he could do this was to make his ideas as cryptic as possible. His language had to be something that straights wouldn't respond to — but that kids would find. I knew that Dylan had put the meanings there for people like me to find. So, I decided to dedicate myself to explaining The Secret Language of Rock to the world."

Shortly after making his discovery, A.J. quit his job at the Lawrence Agency, dropped out of City College night school and began working full-time on a book that would explain all of Bob Dylan's hidden messages. Two 500-page volumes were written, neither of which was a hit with publishers. From the ashes of Michigan's first Jewish dope dealer arose America's first living Dylanologist.

* * *

To dismiss Weberman as an over-enthusiastic male groupie is to completely misunderstand him. Alan likes to think of himself as a scientist — and indeed few encyclopedists have catalogued their subjects as well as he, nor distilled their raw materials through as many test tubes and retorts. Every word that Dylan ever published has been advertised, analyzed, categorized and finalized by A.J. Weberman's life, matter of fact, has become so intertwined with Dylan's that the apartment/loft he lives in has been dubbed 'The Dylan Archives."

Hundreds of hours of rare Dylan tapes line the bookshelves at the Archives. Alan's reel collection is the product of years of studious gathering. He has traded, bought, begged, cheated, lied and stolen to be able to say that he has the best Bob Dylan collection in the whole wide world. Everything is there: Bob putting on Studs Terkel in Chicago, Bob in London, Bob in Minneapolis, Bob singing with Joanie Baez at Forest Hills. Dylan himself probably doesn't have as complete a treasury.

Then there are pictures, hundreds of them, black and white and color. A complete clipping file of every article ever to appear mentioning Bob Dylan's name. There are Dylan songsheets, letters from friends of Dylan gossiping about D.'s life, and 2000 xeroxed bootleg copies of Dylan's suppressed novel, Tarantula. (Peddling Tarantula is the nearest A.J. comes to making a living. He sells them on Greenwich Village street corners for prices ranging from two dollars per copy on down.) And, of course, the Archives include Dylan's garbage, all neatly filed according to date and contents.

Early in Dylanology, Bob's poetry was put on file cards in alphabetical order, a cumbersome index to where each Dylan word appeared. Modern Dylanology has kept up with the latest technological breakthroughs, though. Weberman and Ann Duncan recently keypunched every one of Dylan's words, and with the help of a friendly computer programmer, the Dylan Archives will soon be in possession of the first Dylan concordance. This compendium will consist of every word ever uttered by Mr. D., the frequency of its occurrence, the title of the song or poem, and the context it appears in. When the computerized word concordance is finished, Weberman is convinced he will hold the key to Dylan's most inner thoughts.

What will Weberman see on that printout? Smack! Dope! Scag! Dogee! A.J. never will say as much in his own articles, but in private he broadcasts the theory that Dylan's recent music is nothing more than a love song to heroin. "I get my evidence," he explains, "from Bob's lyrics. It's there clear as day. Nobody can tell me any different. I know it!"

Weberman sees dope symbolized everywhere in Dylan's music. For instance, the word "morning," according to A.J., means dope. So does "nighttime." He has even developed an elaborate theory to explain Dylan's current lifestyle. The theory, known as the Current Bag Theory, or the CB, runs something like this:

Once upon a time Bob Dylan walked the earth, a revolutionary prince with a guitar on his back. He loved poor people, black people and the disinherited. He was a regular John Wesley Harding.

Then came the CB. The CB enslaved our free-spirited hero and turned him into a quiet, fear-filled little man who lives with his family on Macdougal Street afraid of political contact.

Armed with his implacable faith, Alan has decided to make his life's mission the saving of Bob Dylan from the evils of dope. His ultimate goal: to return Bob to the Mother Church of revolution.

That's the other part of Dylanology: re-radicalizing Dylan. To this end, Weberman has formed the Dylan Liberation Front, an organization of indeterminate membership whose motto is "Free Bob Dylan from himself." Phones at the Archives are usually answered: "Dylan Liberation Front, we mean business!" Further, Weberman teaches a course at the hyper-left Alternate University in New York. The subject: Dylanology. And there are various radio appearances and a column in the East Village Other, where broad hints are cast that Dylan is subject to a Current Bag, and that this bag is habit-forming.

"How do you know for sure that Dylan is into heroin?" I asked once while we were listening to part of Weberman's collection of basement tapes.

"I get it from his music. He tells me about it in his lyrics."

"Well, is that enough evidence to go spreading that kind of rumor about a person?"

"Well, I was going through his garbage in search of something more concrete . . . like maybe a syringe or something. But I couldn't find anything at all there. Dylan's really clever about that. All I found was a prescription for a muscle relaxant which a doctor friend tells me he needs on account of his accident. But still, I'd bet my life that his Current Bag is what I think it is. I'd bet my life on it."

Notice in the East Village Other: "If anyone has a sample of Bob Dylan's urine, please send it to me c/o EVO, 20 East 12th Street, New York, New York."

* * *

Jann Wenner: "There's a cat named Alan Weberman who writes in the East Village Other. He calls himself the world's leading Dylanologist. You know him?"

Bob Dylan: "No . . . oh yes, I did. Is this the guy who tears up all my songs? Well, he oughta take a rest. He's way off. I saw something he wrote about 'All Along the Watchtower,' and boy, let me tell you this boy is off. Not only did he create some kind of fantasy — he had Allen Ginsberg in there — he couldn't even hear the words to the song right. Can you believe that? I mean this fellow couldn't even hear the words . . . or something. I bet that he's a hard working fellow, though. I bet he really does a good job if he could find something to do, but it's too bad it's just my songs, 'cause I don't know if there's enough material in my songs to sustain someone who is really out to do a big job. You understand what I mean?

"I mean a fellow like that would be better off writing about Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky or Freud . . . doing a really big analysis of somebody who has countless volumes of writings. But here's me, just a few records out. Somebody devoting so much time to those records, when there's such a wealth of material that hasn't even been heard or read . . . that escapes me. Does it escape you?

"I understand putting time into it, but I read this, in this East Village Other: I read it . . . and it was clever. And I got a kick out of reading it on some level, but I don't want to think anybody was taking it too seriously. You follow me?"

Rolling Stone, November 29, 1969

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

“Wake Up Everybody”

John Legend and the Roots | 2010

A Number One record by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes in 1976 (a McFadden- and Whitehead-penned classic sung by Teddy Pendergrass) inspired the title and lead single from Wake Up!, John Legend's tribute album to message music. The more familiar strains of "Wake Up Everybody" also fit his agenda. "It basically sums up, in a very concise way, all the things we were thinking about when we were putting this record together in that it's about justice, doing the right thing and coming together to make the world a better place," he said. Vocalists Common and Melanie Fiona assist Legend on this mission to connect.

More Song Stories entries »