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Happy Birthday Anyway, Bob Dylan

An unsettling pseudo-celebration on the stoop of a legend

June 24, 1971
Bob Dylan, rolling stone, archive, gospel, self portrait, Nashville
Bob Dylan recording his album 'Self Portrait' on May 3, 1969 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

New York — Bob Dylan has turned 30, which Charlie Brown called "the most depressing thing I've ever heard." When a few hundred uninvited guests showed up to celebrate in front of Bob's house on MacDougal Street, they staged a party so dispiriting that you began to think maybe it was the most depressing thing you'd ever heard.

The thing was promoted by A. J. Weberman, who invented Dylanology and now is busy turning it into a five-syllable synonym for slander. Weberman stood on a garbage can with a bullhorn and presented his case: Decoding Dylan's songs proves that Dylan is a junkie; Dylan has turned into a capitalist who buys stock in munitions companies; Dylan gave up social protest to avoid harassment by the government so he could shoot up in peace.

Rolling Stone Celebrates Bob Dylan's 70th Birthday

For more tangible garbage, Weberman turned to Xerox copies of an unfinished letter Dylan wrote to Johnny Cash and Weberman scored from Dylan's trashcan. Weberman handed out the copies to people who, for the most part, read them with puzzled expressions and then threw them away.

It was a beautiful sunny day — the clearest air ever measured in New York — and a crowd of about 500 showed up. When Weberman produced a birthday cake decorated with hypodermic needles instead of candles, some of the guests decided their tastes were incompatible and drifted away. Others stayed and ate free hot dogs, asking, "Who paid for the hot dogs?" The vendors under their umbrellas just smiled. Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman paraded around.

Bob Dylan In The Alley: The Alan J. Weberman Story

A face appeared in one of the windows of Dylan's duplex townhouse and Weberman shouted excitedly, "Somebody's looking through the window!" He grabbed the bullhorn and yelled "We've got you surrounded, Bob."

But Bob wasn't home. The face in the window belonged to John Rosenberg, age 11. "Everybody thought I was one of Dylan's kids, but I'm just a friend of the people who live next door," John said with a big grin.

Bob Dylan Through The Years

The party was punctuated by little knots of ugliness. A guy who scattered some play money on Dylan's doorstep was busted for littering and "failure to comply with a lawful order," i.e., to pick it up. A drunk tried to punch Weberman in the nose. Weberman sang "Blowin' in the Wind" in a voice so far off key as to produce renewed waves of sympathy for the drunk.

Finally, Weberman put on a 1966 Dylan tape on the P.A. and it blasted out some of the greatest rock music ever, while the crowd stared intently at the empty windows of Dylan's home.

This story is from the June 24th, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone.

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

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Song Stories

“Vicious”

Lou Reed | 1972

Opening Lou Reed's 1972 solo album, the hard-riffing "Vicious" actually traces its origin back to Reed's days with the Velvet Underground. Picking up bits and pieces of songs from the people and places around him, and filing his notes for later use, Reed said it was Andy Warhol who provided fuel for the song. "He said, 'Why don't you write a song called 'Vicious,'" Reed told Rolling Stone in 1989. "And I said, 'What kind of vicious?' 'Oh, you know, vicious like I hit you with a flower.' And I wrote it down literally."

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