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On the Road With Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and the Rolling Thunder Revue

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Allen Ginsberg also speaks of protest, but as in a vision. Where once was a time to howl, now is the time to begin the harvest and to give thanks to the harbingers, then and now.

In Springfield, Massachusetts, Arlo Guthrie moves onstage to play and sing with his father's other son, the hard-wishing, hard-traveling, earnestly self-adopted Jack Elliott. Backstage, the midwestern klezmer (to whom Woody was his "last idol") watches and listens.

"That's a strong lineage, Woody's," says Allen Ginsberg, "and Woody, of course, was part of an older lineage, that old good-time Wobbly idealism. That's all still going strong right in this show. Joan sings 'Joe Hill.' And 'Hurricane' is part of that too, an old classic social protest song."

Sound the news of injustice and the people will awake. How else can we begin?

"And look how we end," says Walt Whitman's friend.

The end, a reasonably jubilant "This Land Is Your Land," everybody onstage, even Ginsberg-the-keeper-of-the-vision making silvery his finger cymbals, as Joan soars and swoops from the mountains to the prairies and Dylan, smiling, stands his ground, and all the rest move to the hearty beat of the American Upanishad.

"There was a kind of vision of community in the Sixties," Ginsberg says after the show, "and many people thought that once they'd had the vision, everything was solved. But as Jack Kerouac once said, 'Walking on water wasn't built in a day.' Another thing going on in the Sixties was just people digging each other, digging each other's texture and character, hanging out. You can't do that fast either. You know, there was a lot of hanging out in the Fifties too, in Kerouac."

Dylan had been braced and shaped, in part, way back then, by Kerouac. Doctor Sax, On the Road, Mexico City Blues. The day after the Rolling Thunder Revue came to Lowell, Dylan, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky visited Kerouac's grave. Ginsberg had brought a copy of Mexico City Blues and Dylan read a poem from it. The three then sat on the grave, Dylan picking up Ginsberg's harmonium and making up a tune. When Dylan pulled out his guitar, Ginsberg began to improvise a long, slow, 12-bar blues about Kerouac sitting up in the clouds looking down on these kindly wanderers putting music to his grave. Dylan is much moved, much involved, a state of introspection closely captured by the camera crew that has also come along.

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Before Lowell, before Boston, before Plymouth, the day the Dharma Carnival was to leave New York, Allen Ginsberg meets Muriel Rukeyser on the street. This soft-voiced, slow-speaking, hugely honest poet, who of late has been in South Korea trying to stop the terminal silencing of an antideath poet there, is glad to see Ginsberg. She admires people with visions. She asks where he's going.

"I'm going on the bus," Ginsberg says cheerily. "It's a minstrel show!"

"But it's more than a minstrel show, isn't it?" she asks me the next day.

"It is a signal to the country," Ginsberg tells me on the road. "What happened in the San Francisco renaissance in the mid-Fifties was one of those signals that characterize the rise of a generation's poetic consciousness and its sense of social rebellion. And that happened in the very midst of McCarthyism. Then, in the mid-Sixties, the peace marches and the rise of rock — the Beatles and things like that — were among the signals for a further rising of consciousness, a wider sense of community. Now, the Rolling Thunder Revue will be one of the signal gestures characterizing the working cultural community that will make the Seventies."

I would like to truly believe, I tell the poet, but where, except in wish, is the basis for such joyous tidings in a time of torpor?

"Have you read Dave Dellinger's book, More Power than We Knew?" The poet must resort to prose. "Dellinger shows that many of the demands that the youth generation or the left or the movement made in the Sixties have actually been met. Congress did cut off funds for the Vietnam war and who would have thought that possible in the mid-Sixties? Then there were all the protests about the police state, and a police state paranoia to go with them. Now a great deal of that has been confirmed and exposed in public investigations. Not that everything has been all cleaned up but the work of the Sixties did bear some fruit. It never was in vain.

"So now, it's time for America to get its shit together," the poet says idiomatically. "It's time to get back to work or keep on working, depending on who you are, because the work that went before has been good, even though people got discouraged. It's been as good as you can expect, considering what it takes to walk on water or reverse the machine age or deal with overpopulation or capitalism. Rolling Thunder, with its sense of community, is saying we should all get our act together. And do it properly and well." The poet, bouncing his vision, laughs. "Once you have a view of the right path, then you have to travel that path."

That means Dylan's getting his act together too?

"Having gone through his changes in the Sixties and Seventies, just like everybody else," Ginsberg says, "Bob now has his powers together. On the show, he has all the different kinds of art he has practiced — protest, improvisation, surrealist invention, electric rock & roll, solitary acoustic guitars strumming, duet work with Joan and with other people. All these different practices have now ripened and are usable in one single show, just as there is also room for Mick Ronson and his very English kind of space-music rock, Joan and her sort of refined balladry and Roger McGuinn with his West Coast-style rock. All of these different styles turn out to be usable now."

"Do you know what Dylan is talking about doing?" a principal of the tour says to me. "Don't use my name, but he might start a newspaper! That blows my mind. It'll be like a community newspaper, but for a community all over the country."

I wonder who is going to be the music critic and, in particular, who is going to write about Dylan's records. Blind Boy Grunt?

"I am not able to tell you any details," says Allen Ginsberg, "but this tour may not end as all other tours have. There is some desire among us to have a kind of permanent community and Dylan is stepping very, very slowly to find out if that can work. Recordings would be one way and there may be other ways. One must proceed slowly and soberly — unlike the Beatles when they tried to expand their sense of community. Remember John Lennon trying to put together that whole Apple enterprise as a sort of umbrella organization for all kinds of collective work? But he didn't have the right personnel and so it wasn't done soberly and practically enough. This would be. Keep watching. The thing is to keep the Rolling Thunder spirit alive."

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