Following is the first of two lengthy excerpts from Anthony Scaduto’s authoritative biography of Bob Dylan, to be published by Grosset & Dunlap on February 29th. Together, the two Rolling Stone segments add up to a total of approximately 35,000 words, which is substantially less than a third of the book’s length. Thus, the book in its entirety is recommended to serious followers of the Dylan legend — and who among us these days isn’t that?
Anthony Scaduto is a former police and court reporter accustomed to ferreting out hard facts and making them stick. This he has done in tracing Dylan’s development as both man and artist. The end product is a richly-detailed and penetrating portrait of Dylan — and what Dylan mirrors of our times.
— Grover Lewis.
Dylan used to tell us that he came out doing it — out of the womb, singing and playing and writing,” folk-singer S. David Cohen, formerly known as Dave Blue, likes to recall. That’s an exaggeration, certainly, but possibly not by that much; at least, Bob Dylan said it so often, with so many variations, that he must have come half way to believing it. A man who is cloaking himself in myth must believe in his own magic to make it all work. “After a while,” a close friend from the early days recalls, “he didn’t seem to know any more what was truth and what was his own creation.”
During one of our talks, Dylan conceded that I was “right on target” in discussing the inner Self that he could not repress, that brought him so much pain he had to make himself invisible, and provided him with the strength to reach for higher levels of consciousness.
Eric von Schmidt, folksinger, songwriter, illustrator, writer of children’s books, was close to Dylan in his early professional years. He recalls: “Dylan’s mind seemed to make strange jumps, like electricity. His mind was the most exciting . . . like a calypso mind, making instantaneous sorts of connections, relating seemingly unrelated things and putting them together into something marvelous. He doesn’t go from A to B to C and so on — he can jump from A to G while other people are plodding on. He doesn’t need to plod. He is able to make connections, not out of something he studies, but viscerally.”
Von Schmidt recalls: “Dylan was continually inventing himself,” as a circus hand, carnival boy, road bum, musician, and many other roles in what have come to be called the Dylan myths. One of those myths was that he had started running away when he was ten, got picked up by the police and sent home, and ran away again. But he never actually ran away as a child; he ran from, and within, himself, because of what his parents wanted him to be, what the educators wanted him to be, what Hibbing, Minnesota, wanted him to be.
He was going to be Bob Dylan (whoever Bob Dylan might be), not Robert Allen Zimmerman. As he matured, he built a new identity every step of the way in order to escape identity; he would pursue privacy as some pursue notoriety.
Echo Helstrom and Bob began going steady in Hibbing about a month after they met. He gave her his identification bracelet. “A symbol of our belonging to each other,” Echo says. “We were really in love. Everybody laughs at kids when they fall in love, saying how they don’t know what it all means or anything, but that’s not true.
“By the time I met him it was just understood that music was his future. All along we knew there was no other way for him to get out of there, to leave Hibbing. I just knew he had to go on to his career, his singing. I accepted it on those terms, that when school was over, after graduation, he would be off and gone. Get out of Hibbing.”
Echo’s mother, Martha Helstrom, recalls: “Bob and John Buckland always talked big dreams together about how they were going to make it. They decided whichever got to be famous first would help the other one. They were always planning about being in the limelight, get all the world’s attention, stuff like that. Elvis Presley — the idea was to be like him.”
“When I first met Bobby he claimed he was an Okie, a real Okie,” says Gretel Pelto, who was Gretel Hoffman back then while she and Bob were students at the University of Minnesota and residents of Minneapolis’ student quarter, Dinkytown. “He never talked about Steinbeck because Bobby was, at least superficially, non-intellectual, a primitive. He sort of was one of Steinbeck’s characters. He had a whole set of original stories that he was an Okie, that he was an orphan. And that he’d been on the road for years as a piano player.
“There was this thing about his imagination; sometimes he didn’t know what was truth any more. I knew about Zimmerman within a few weeks of the time I met him. He said that Dylan was his mother’s name. There were a hundred stories about his background. Then it dawned on us that they were all stories. But it didn’t matter. He was so vivid, so interesting, so much fun that I came to the conclusion after a while I didn’t care about the quote unquote truth about what he was.”
A Minneapolis girl, her mother a professional photographer, Gretel had been to Bennington for a while, was a dancer, played the guitar, and was part of the scene. She met Dylan in a folk club called The Scholar around February, 1960, about the time he was giving up on college. He was living above a drugstore by then, a short walk from The Scholar. She would get together with him and play the guitar, and she remembers introducing him to the old New Orleans whorehouse song, “House of the Rising Sun.”
Dylan, tracing some of his roots in a conversation a couple of years later: “And then you arrive at Woody Guthrie, who sounds pretty weird and obviously looks like you . . .”
He became Woody Guthrie. Paul Nelson, writer and editor, who knew Dylan at the university, would later write: “He was moving so rapidly that one could say his only style was that of transition, both in his artistic and personal life. It took him about a week to become the finest interpreter I have yet heard of the songs of Woody Guthrie.”
Dylan’s stories began to change to fit his changing identity. “I met Woody once in California,” he told friends. Some of Bob’s friends knew he would have had to be very young to have seen Woody in California, because of Woody’s illness, but they never let on that they suspected him of lying. As blues singer John Koerner put it: “I never bothered thinking about any of that.”
Ellen Baker was exactly Dylan’s age (one day younger) and a student at the university. Her mother was a Minneapolis grade school teacher, her father an industrial chemist who has been a folk music collector for years, with a house full of all the old People’s Songs, Sing Outs!, folklore material up to the rock era, and hundreds of recordings. The Baker house, on Gerard Street, not far from the university, was a second meeting room for the kids in the Folk Song Club at the school, and for other folkies. Once a week or so, for years, the place was filled with kids playing, informal, with coffee and cake and a lot of music.
“Some of the people around used to call him ‘That itinerant Jewish folk singer,'” Ellen recalls. “He wanted so much to be part of what he was singing about. I used to ask him, ‘How’s the man of the soil today?’ And that’s what he was.
“He so absolutely became Woody Guthrie in the months I knew him well, from September to about December. ‘We’re going to go see Woody in New York,’ he used to tell me all the time. He was painfully sincere in his feelings. He had an obsession about Woody Guthrie, and going to see him. And people used to put him on about it, especially when he was drunk. We’d be at a party and a couple of them would say, ‘Woody’s outside, Bob. Woody’s here. Woody wants to see you.’ And Bob would go dashing down into the snow in his shirtsleeves, crying, ‘Hey, Woody, where are you? Wait, Woody, wait!’ It got a big laugh. Very disgusting people.”
Ellen’s mother sensed some of the conflicts in Dylan. Mrs. Baker recalls: “I had the feeling he was a little lost boy. I felt he was rejecting a lot of things, sort of traveling in disguise. He built a character for himself and it’s hard living up to that. I felt it was just a posture, at first. I took it as a kind of chutzpah thing, this little kid making a model on a Woody Guthrie. I didn’t think of it as genius. I thought it was imitative.
“At the same time, there was this intensity, this singleness of purpose, within the boy. Whatever it was, he got a lot of support from inside himself. He was not compromising. He was going to entertain, that was what he was going to do. He was withdrawn, but I think inside he was on all the time. Once he lighted on Guthrie it all began to come together for him.”
Dylan had been in Minneapolis a year by the time Ellen got to know him well, and in that year he had grown a great deal. And Dylan felt the growth, and was very much aware that he had something. There was also a toughening of spirit and a deepening cynicism — even about Woody. A few who were very close to Bob at this stage felt that in adopting the Guthrie identity Bob was coldly calculating: he knew Guthrie was dying, was no longer able to write or perform, and that a vacuum existed in the folk world. A vacuum that could be filled by a young man named Dylan.
Most of his Minneapolis friends, however, don’t believe it was as conscious as all that. More likely, he intuitively seized on Guthrie as the final piece that would fully complete his identity.
John Koerner: “I don’t know about conscious designs. What it was, mostly, is that he was going to New York to see Guthrie and to get into a situation where some of the stuff he was doing could develop.”
But even his closest friends didn’t believe he would make it. “We all laughed,” Hugh Brown recalls. “It’s so easy to say ‘I’m going to make it big’ and so hard to do it.” And Gretel: “I don’t think any of us believed he was going to make it. Because it was all so tough. Not that he wasn’t good, but there were a lot of good people. And, you see, at this time he was doing very little of his own composing. Mostly singing other people’s songs.”
Dylan stopped off at Lynn Kastner’s house, carrying some clothing, records and books. “Hold onto this stuff for me,” he said. “I’m going to New York to see Woody.” He left, carrying his guitar and a knapsack.
* * *
One afternoon shortly before Christmas, Kevin Krown was sitting in a coffeehouse near the University of Chicago, when a chilled kid wearing a corduroy snap-brimmed cap wandered into the place.
“Kevin?” he asked.
“Yeah?” Krown asked in reply.
“They told me at your place you’d be hanging out here. I’m Bob Dylan.”
“Great. Who’s Bob Dylan?”
“Remember? Ya told me to look you up when I got to Chicago. I got here.”
“Oh, yeah,” Krown said. “Want to play piano somewhere?”
“I don’t play piano anymore,” Dylan said. “I play guitar.”
Krown introduced him to the folkie crowd. “He played guitar in the girls’ dorm that night and I listened and it didn’t ring. Whatever he was before, he wasn’t that now.” Krown asked: “What happened? Why you playing the guitar?”
“Well,” Dylan said, “I met this guy Woody Guthrie in a hospital in New Jersey and I started playing guitar.” He had not yet visited Guthrie, of course.
Dylan remained in Chicago for several weeks. He moved into Krown’s place for a couple of days. Then he met a girl — “She grows pot in her place,” he said — and moved in with her. He came and went, drifting in and out of Krown’s circle, over the next few weeks, playing at parties, coffee houses, dorms.
He was writing a great deal by now, mostly reworking old folk standards into something that he considered his own kind of music, often Guthrie kind of things. The only song from this period that is remembered is his very significant “Song to Woody,” young Dylan’s tribute to his idol who was slowly dying in a hospital almost a thousand miles away.
Dylan Arrived in New York at the end of January, 1961. The city was shivering with temperatures down near zero, the coldest spell of weather to hit in at least 15 years. A week before he arrived a foot of snow had been dumped on New York, with drifts ten feet high, and the paralysis that usually grips the snow-bound city lingered for many days. Dylan went directly to Greenwich Village and wandered around, taking in the sights, checking the coffee houses and folk clubs and tourist bars along MacDougal and Bleeker Streets. That evening, lugging his guitar and knapsack, he wandered into the Cafe Wha?, a coffee house on MacDougal. Maddy Bloom, then a waitress there, remembers that Dylan found Manny Roth, who still operates the Wha?, and said: “Just got here from the West. Name’s Bob Dylan. I’d like to do a few songs. Can I?”
“Sure,” Roth said. “Where you staying?”
“Don’t have a place yet. Know anybody’s got a place I can crash for the night?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Roth said.
Bob climbed up on the stage. Maddy recalls Dylan with his guitar and his harmonica on the wire holder around his neck — “I’d never seen that before. Thought it was unusual and kind of kooky.” — and the Huck Finn cap. He sang a couple of Guthrie’s songs, and a few others, and between songs he told the audience a little about himself: “I been travelin’ around the country,” he said. “Followin’ in Woody Guthrie’s footsteps. Goin’ to he went to. All I got is my guitar and that little knapsack. That’s all I need.”
The Wha? was half empty but, Maddy recalls, a number of people in the audience seemed to share her feeling about Dylan: “I remember thinking he was very raw, that he had no professional polish, but that he had a quality of such great innocence, in a way, that you just had to notice him, you had to listen to him.”
After a few songs Roth took the microphone and told the audience: “This kid has just come into town and he has no place to stay. Can anybody help him out?” There were a half dozen offers, folk buffs from Queens and Brooklyn, straight people, not Village freaks. No one remembers now where Dylan spent that first night, but those who were there remember very clearly that he seemed to drill right into the hearts of the audience.
Within a day or two he was hitchhiking out to Greystone Hospital, a mental institution near Morristown in central New Jersey, with facilities for some non-psychiatric patients like Woody. Dylan was alone, and exactly what took place is known only to him. But Kevin Krown recalls another visit to Greystone a short time later: “Guthrie was very shaky, he could barely talk, and he was very difficult to look at. But Dylan would sit beside him and play the guitar for him and somehow they communicated. Guthrie legitimately liked the guy, he even tried to play ‘This Land Is Your Land’ for Dylan.” By this time Huntington’s disease had practically crippled Guthrie. He couldn’t do much more than strum the guitar with his full hand by now, a chord, and a pause as he struggled for a word, and another chord.
Dylan sent a postcard back to David Whittaker a couple of days after he arrived in the Village, a brief message scrawled on the back of one of those cards printed by the Guthrie Children’s Fund, the organization set up to provide for Woody’s children. The card carried the classic photo of Woody in a workshirt, holding his guitar in front of him. Dylan’s enthusiasm leaps off the card: “I know Woody. I know Woody . . . I know him and met him and saw him and sang to him. I know Woody — Goddamn.” He signed it, “Dylan.”
Bob Gleason and his wife Sid had been fans of Guthrie since the Thirties and when they heard he was in Greystone they went to visit him. Guthrie complained about being confined to the hospital and the Gleasons persuaded hospital officials to let them take Guthrie around Morristown for the day. While wandering around the town, Gleason asked Guthrie if he’d like to spend weekends at their place if the doctors would agree, and Guthrie said he’d love it. The hospital director gave his permission, so long as Guthrie was back at night for special medication. The next Sunday — Mother’s Day, 1959 — the Gleasons picked up Guthrie at the hospital and drove him to their apartment in East Orange, New Jersey.
Over the next two years the Gleasons brought Woody to their apartment every weekend, missing only two weekends in all that time. The Gleason apartment in East Orange became a center of folk activity, filled every weekend and frequently during the week with “every stumblebum in creation,” as one of them affectionately said of the loose crowd, all come to spend time with the greatest figure in modern folk music. Pete Seeger would come, with his wife, Toshi, and their children. Peter La Farge, part-Indian, cowboy, folksinger, author of “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” weaver of tall tales, Cisco Houston, Jack Elliott and dozens more. They would eat and drink and swap tall tales, and play music. Much of the playing was laid down on Bob Gleason’s tapes, some of the most marvelous and priceless tapes around.
When he visited Guthrie, Dylan was told that the Gleasons were bringing him to their home every weekend and the next day Dylan hitchhiked to the Gleasons’ apartment. Mrs. Gleason remembers that first meeting:
“He came, and he said little except that he loved Woody and wanted to spend time with him. He looked like an archangel almost, like a choir boy, with that little round face and the beautiful eyes. His hair in those days was long and curly and he wore that dark Eton cap. He had a pair of boots that was two sizes too big; everything that child had was either too small or too big.”
Mrs. Gleason apparently (she doesn’t recall exactly) told Dylan that Woody would be at her apartment the following Sunday ,which was January 29th from the available evidence, and that she expected a few of Woody’s friends to show up. And, she added, Bob would be welcome if he cared to make the trip.
Bob began visiting Woody at the hospital several times a week, and he showed up at the Gleasons practically every weekend over the next few weeks. By the second weekend Woody was asking for Bobby, and he would ask for him all the time: “Is the boy coming today? When is the boy coming back?” Something grew between them, between the dying originator of modern folk and the boy who was imitating him, idolizing him, and who would soon surpass him. On one of those first Sundays, Bob played “Song to Woody” for him, privately, in the corner, and everyone in the room stopped to listen. And, someone remembers, Woody’s face broke into a broad smile of joy, and he said: “That’s good, Bob. That’s damned good.” After everyone left, Woody told the Gleasons, “That boy’s got a voice. Maybe he won’t make it by his writing, but he can sing it. He can really sing it.”
He also said, “Pete Seeger’s a singer of folk songs, not a folksinger. Jack Elliott is a singer of folk songs. But Bobby Dylan is a folksinger. Oh, Christ, he’s a folksinger all right.”
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, as he’s long been known, is able to see Dylan from some special vantage points. He had himself become so totally hooked on Guthrie ten years earlier that he imitated his music and his style. The Guthrie magnetism so completely attracted him that he eventually became known as “the son of Woody Guthrie.” And, in Dylan’s first few months in New York, playing with Elliott at folk clubs and in private parties, Dylan began to absorb some of Elliott’s tricks and mannerisms, and folkies would describe Dylan in those earliest months as “the son of Jack Elliott and the grandson of Woody Guthrie” with just a little bit of scorn, at first.
Jack Elliott, on Bob Dylan and Jack Elliott: “Bob was kind of shy, that first day. He had a lot of strong feelings about things. I could tell he liked Woody a lot, and Woody liked him. He was talking a lot like Woody. In fact I told him so one time,” You sound like Woody,” and he explained he picked it up from an old black street singer he met down in New Mexico, who speaks like that. I used to imitate Woody all the time, and I saw Dylan imitate me direct, doing things that were pure Jack Elliott. He’d already been doing it quite a bit before he got to New York, from my records. A girl friend of his from back in Minneapolis, Bonnie Beecher, the last time I saw her she said,’Bob used to play all your records before he came to New York. He was fond of your voice and he listened to your records and picked up your style,’ and I was tickled about that. And then in Gerde’s Folk City, he used to get up on stage and sing things like me. I didn’t know it was some of me, at first. I thought he was doing it Woody Guthrie style, in the Guthrie Cisco Houston school. I was tickled to see somebody doing it well ’cause I was really bored with all the other folksingers. There was not another son of a bitch in the country who could sing until Bob Dylan came along. Everybody else was singing like a damned faggot.
“Some of the people around were turned off a little bit because Bob was playing the hobo role. I thought that he was maybe a little too young to pull it off in the style in which he was doing it. He was trying to sound like an old man who bummed around eighty-five years on a freight train, and you could see this kid didn’t even have fuzz on his face yet. But I was charmed by it. He was a rough little pixie runt with a guitar. He was headed in the right direction and he had great taste — the words he was singing, the gestures and the mannerisms. Like he was not quite bringing it off, the way he was trying, it wasn’t perfected yet. He was very rough. I thought sometimes he had a lot of nerve trying to get away with that bullshit. At the same time I felt unofficially like a coach, teaching him a little bit, in a very loose way. So, secretly, I felt a lot of pride about him every once in a while picking up on something I did.
“I saw him one time, I don’t know what it was that I was doing, some kind of gesture I didn’t know about and must have just got started on, but he got up on stage right after I did and sang songs and did the same things I’d just done. He had a great ability to pick things up quickly, but more from hanging out — not a calculated thing.
“There was something else about Bob. He had the same kind of magnetism as James Dean. Dean was the first cat I ever met with that kind of thing, the magnetism and the feeling he was running too fast and was going to get himself killed because he was running too fast. And Bob was the second I ever met.”
* * *
Dylan was singing before Village audiences every chance he got, hitting the coffee houses primarily. No one would hire him at first, and he was forced to sing for nothing more than the exposure, getting up on the stage of the coffee houses in the afternoons and evenings, before the paid professionals would come on, singing for a sandwich and some coffee, mostly. He seldom shared in the donation baskets, even.
Dylan sang at the Commons, the Gaslight, and the Wha?, and occasionally when he backed someone who was getting paid he would share in the wages. But usually he got just a dollar or two. Freddy Neil was one of the first to recognize Dylan’s talents and had Bob accompany him as often as he could, but the pay wasn’t much. Paul Clayton, who came from the old whaling town, New Bedford, Massachusetts, and who sang sea chanties, went around singing Dylan’s praises to any who would listen. “Bobby worshipped Pablo Clayton artistically,” one of the folksingers from those days recalls.” And Pablo became absolutely fixated on Bobby. Bobby could talk about nothing else but Woody Guthrie, and Pablo could talk about nothing else but Bobby Dylan.”
There weren’t too many paying jobs available, however. The coffee houses and clubs weren’t run by people with especially well tuned ears, and Dylan was considered a little too off-beat even if the professionals were digging him. “Nobody would hire Dylan, he was a freak,” blues singer Dave Van Ronk recalls.
He was living a very marginal existence, not quite starving but going hungry often enough. The Gleasons say Dylan took a job for a short time, working as a laborer for the Department of Sanitation removing snow from the city’s streets.
The Mills Tavern, where Bob claimed he wrote the song to Guthrie, was an early hangout for Dylan and Kevin Krown, and their friends. It was a warm place and Rocco, the bartender, was a friendly sort of guy who would give the boys free stew with their beer. Dylan ate a lot of stew. Rocco also permitted Dylan and Krown to sleep in the back when they had nowhere else to go.
All of the older women around suspected Dylan was smoking marijuana, and part of the mothering included attempts to show him the folly of his ways. “He was hanging around with a pretty blatantly pot smoking crowd,” Camilla Horne recalls, “and we kept nagging him about it because if he got busted he wouldn’t be able to work in a club in New York. I was concerned. I figured this crowd was due for a raid because it was too well known, and I kept nagging at him, and he kept saying he’d given it up.”
One of his closest friends at the time says: “There wasn’t that much grass around. None of us were smoking heavy. And Bob wasn’t buying back then, he was cheap. I remember once Bob was up at our apartment and we had been blowing grass a bit, and I gave him a little grass for himself that he stuck in his pocket. After a while we left the apartment to go somewhere and I suddenly remembered Bob had this grass and I almost killed him for it. It was never smart to walk around the Village with grass on you, and this fool kid was holding. I made him take it back to the apartment.”
* * *
Sue Zuckerman, then a college girl, had met Dylan as he sat in back of the Folklore Center, playing and singing, and she remembers thinking “he looked like he was 14 years old.” She recalls: “A friend of mine belonged to the folk club and told me Dylan was singing at N.Y.U. So I went. There were only about six of us, sitting around this little room, listening to him. And I just immediately fell in love with him, with him and his voice.” She and her friends began following him around the Village, “totally entranced by him,” catching him in the afternoons at the Cafe Wha? One of her closest friends was a 17-year-old girl she had met at camp a few years earlier — Susan Rotolo, who called herself “Suze.”
“I told her about this groovy guy I had a crush on, named Bob Dylan. So Suze and I started hanging around with Bob and Mark Spoelstra, hanging around, talking to them, and they hardly knew we were around.” A couple of months later Suze would get to know Dylan and she would quickly become one of the important women in his life.
Izzy Young recalls: “He came into the Folk Center a lot, to play. He was very powerful right away, took over the room right away. Very competitive. He really didn’t listen to anybody else. He would sort of wait to sing and then go out. Looking back now, I realize he didn’t come in casually like the other kids would come in, Van Ronk and them, just wander in the back of the store and hang around. Bob Dylan was performing all the time, like this was the right time to play his songs and he would play.
“What I’m saying is, he wasn’t an innocent kid when he came to New York City. He knew exactly what he wanted, knew how to use people, and when the point came that he didn’t have to use them any more he dropped them. In other words, he’s sitting with Dave Van Ronk in his apartment for three days, drinking, sleeping and listening, and then he comes to my store and he doesn’t say anything about Van Ronk. Or he’d spend a week with Jack Elliott and then go to Van Ronk and not talk about Jack Elliott. He never gave you a feeling he was into anybody else except you.”
Dylan’s first major engagement began on April 11, 1961. He was the second act behind John Lee Hooker. Hooker had a three-week engagement, starting the week before Dylan was to debut, and Dylan spent every night in Gerde’s watching him, talking to him, sponging up his unique urban-country blues guitar.
Woody couldn’t make it to Bob’s opening, but everyone else was there. As his friends jammed into Gerde’s that opening night, Dylan remained out of sight, down in his dressing room, wearing one of Woody’s jackets given him by Sid Gleason. When he came on stage, he seemed very uptight. Then he seemed to shake it off’ and he began to play “House of the Rising Sun” as an opener. Those standing at the bar stopped drinking and listened to the kid growling and gutcrying the whore’s lament. He sang “A Song To Woody,” “like he meant every word,” one who was there remembers, and one or two Guthrie songs, and a black blues, and then he was off — five songs in the set, and it seemed to be over before it began.
The Dylan rooting section was cheering loudly from front tables as he bounded off the stage. He ran, he hopped, over to Bob Gleason and shook his hand — the first time anyone remembers Bob Dylan shaking hands. “You know, Bob,” he said to Gleason, “somebody does care. I guess somebody cares, really.”
By the time his two-week stint was only half over, Dylan was climbing up walls. “I hate that kind of stuff,” he was saying toward the end of it. “Hate to play in one place more than a couple of nights. It’s such a drag. One week is a drag and two weeks are ridiculous.” His friends had to work on him as they had done when he was singing at the hoots, bolstering him, getting liquor into him to loosen him up and, at the same time, trying to keep him from getting drunk and ruining his set.
He had been in New York less than three months and he had moved at a remarkable pace in that short time. He had been befriended, fussed over, mothered and smothered and fathered and bothered, was “getting a lot of chicks” (as he put it to a Dinkytown friend around this time), and he had been helped in his craft by some of the most talented folk and blues musicians around. And yet he went away somewhat bitter about his first winter in New York. “He was like paranoid about it,” one very close folkie-friend says today. “He felt everyone was out to take him, like it was a plot. So many people went out of their way to make him feel part of the scene and to keep him from freezing and starving, but he sort of accepted that part of it and then got strung-out-paranoid about the few things that were going against him. Like he went up to the Sing Out! office and Irwin Silber [the editor] sort of threw him out. He was there to put out a magazine and he didn’t have time to talk to every grubby kid who came in off the street asking questions like they were doing around the clock. Bobby was furious, upset, angry about that. And then there was the first gig, with Freddy Neil at the Wha?, where he got only a dollar or two which is all Freddy could afford to pay him. He became friendly with Silber and with Neil, but he was very offish, because he suspected everyone was out to take him.”
* * *
After getting to know Woody, Dylan started to write seriously. “He was always working on some song in his mind when he was out in East Orange with us,” Mrs. Gleason says. “I can remember him lying on his stomach almost across the dining room table, making notes on scraps of paper, even the edges of newspapers, because he never had anything to write on, and then sticking them in his pocket. Always working on scraps and snatches of songs.”
Jack Elliott: “Dylan never talked much, but Dave Van Ronk could actually get him to start arguing. I’d sit in and listen to Bobby argue for many long hours, mostly with Dave, about politics and the world and everything. Him and Dave, both like bulls, locking horns for hours.” And, while he had not appeared to be paying much attention to radical thought in Minneapolis, it touched him here in New York.
Van Ronk, by most accounts, also got Dylan into the French symbolist poets, particularly Rimbaud, and into Villiers and Bertolt Brecht. Dave talked about them, quoted them, during the long sessions of arguing, but Dylan continued to carry off the American primitive role, the Woody Guthrie kid who never read a book in his life. Van Ronk: “Being a hayseed, that was part of his image or what he considered his image at the time. Like, once I asked him, ‘Do you know the French symbolists?’ And he said, ‘Huh?’ — the stupidest ‘Huh’ you can imagine — and later, when he had a place of his own, I went up there and on the bookshelf was a volume of French poets from Nerval almost to the present. I think it ended at Apollinaire, and it included Rimbaud, and it was all well-thumbed with passages underlined and notes in the margins. The man wanted to be a primitive, a natural kind of genius. He never talked about somebody like Rimbaud. But he knew Rimbaud, all right. You see that in his later songs.”
One man who helped fuel Dylan’s imagination was Richard M. Buckley, known as Lord Buckley, “a most immaculately hip aristocrat,” someone has called him. Lord Buckley was a monologist, but that’s as lame as calling Dylan a singer. Born in California in 1905, he began working nightclubs in Chicago during Prohibition when Al Capone ruled, and gangsters, hookers, pimps, chorus girls and sporting men were pop culture heroes. He swung into it all and he learned the language and mores of the streets, and of the black jazz musicians with whom he shared the stage and life, and he incorporated them in the visions and allegories he wove. A white man speaking the slang of black jazz musicians, he used the language of the hip to bring fresh insight into the meaning of, for example, the Nazz — namely, Jesus, or appraising good and evil in his monologue “The Bad-Rapping of the Marquis De Sade, the King of Bad Cats.”
A number of people introduced Dylan to the Buckley magic, including Bill Cosby, who was doing some Buckley monologues at the Gaslight, and Hugh Romney. Dylan crashed at Romney’s place occasionally during the summer, and Romney got him an album of Lord Buckley’s material. Dylan studied it the way he had studied Guthrie.
* * *
Suddenly, their friends say, Dylan and Suze Rotolo began going together. It was summer and there was no school for Suze and no work for Dylan, and they were together a great deal. Suze was living with her sister Carla in the Village and their widowed mother, Mrs. Mary Rotolo, was living with friends.
“They were two kids bouncing around together, two innocent children falling in love,” one girl in the crowd remembers. “It was very pretty, at the beginning. It was like the picture of them walking along West Fourth Street that’s used as the cover for the second Dylan album.”
Dylan stirred the maternal instinct in older women, and he stirred another basic impulse in younger women. Sue Zuckerman says: “He roused a sexual instinct. It’s difficult to describe him. I always dug the way he moved. It was pleasing to watch him move, and he had that sort of rough kind of appeal, not all pretty and fancy, but definitely an individual who was very different from most people hanging around in those days. He just had a very special sort of identity.”
Some time in early August, a couple of weeks after meeting Suze, Bob went to Cambridge with a couple of other folksingers. They dropped into the Club 47, which was the center of the young folk sound in New England, the place where Joan Baez had begun to sing. Dylan was called to the stage and he did a couple of songs, and then he was introduced to some of the folk crowd. Among them was Carolyn Hester, who was appearing regularly there through the summer, and her husband, Richard Farina.
Carolyn was a warm, fresh-faced young folksinger from Texas who had been signed to Columbia by John Hammond, director of talent acquisition, a few months earlier, in 1961. Farina was a darkly impetuous and bubbling young man of prodigious talent as a folksinger, songwriter, novelist and short story writer. Dylan struck it off well with them and the next day, Carolyn, Dick, singer Eric von Schmidt and his wife and infant daughter all went off to Revere Beach.
Carolyn Hester: “This was the first time I ever got a good look at Dylan, got to talk to him. His hair was pretty long then, and I loved the way he looked. But he seemed to be in bad health, he seemed to be living out in the street. His hands were very rough, very tough, but almost feminine in a strange way. He was in a shirt and jeans, and when he took his shirt off his skin was transparent. He had his harmonica with him and played it, and had music very much on his mind.
“I don’t remember exactly how Dylan came to work with me on my first Columbia album. It may have been Richard saying to Dylan, ‘Gee, if we get into some gigs or something we’ll bring you in, too.’ And the record was the first thing to come along.
“Bob was happy about it. I went to the apartment where he was staying with Suze and Carla, off Sheridan Square, to see him. Dylan impressed me as being, again, totally absorbed by the music. It seemed to me he didn’t put his guitar down hardly ever. I think at that time, by September, I was beginning to get the idea he was writing, he may have sung me part of a song but he didn’t emphasize what he was doing. He was very happy he was going to play the harmonica, going to get a record date.
“The next meeting was a week or so later. Richard and I were staying in the apartment of Ned O’Gorman, the poet, on West Tenth Street. John Hammond came by, to listen to what I had worked up, and Dylan was there, and Richard. Just the four of us. I remember one wall was all a window and there was a garden in the back and the sun was streaming in. Dylan was sitting next to Hammond on the couch and I was sitting in front of them singing and Dylan was playing his harmonica and they talked to me about “Come Back,” a song Dylan gave me, and Hammond liked that song very much. He said, ‘OK, our first session will be . . .’ and he set a date for the end of September. And he liked Dylan.”
John Hammond: “I saw this kid in the peaked hat playing not terribly good harmonica, but I was taken with him. I asked him, ‘Can you sing? Do you write? Why don’t you come up to the studio? I’d like to do a demo session with you just to see how it is.’ I was sitting there thinking, ‘What a wonderful character, playing guitar and blowing mouth harp, he’s gotta be an original.’ It was just one of those flashes. I thought, ‘I gotta talk contract right away.’ So we made a date for him to come to the studio.”
But Dylan would first go into the studio to record for someone else. Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson opened a two-week engagement at Gerde’s on September 12th. Miss Spivey, born in Houston in 1910, began recording the blues when she was a teenager, and began writing the first of what is probably as many blues numbers as Guthrie had written white folk songs.
Victoria Spivey: “The first night I was aware of him, really, he came up and put his arms around me and said, ‘You’re the most gorgeous creature,’ and I asked, ‘What can I do for you?’ And he said. ‘Nothing, I just like you.’ And we just used to hang around and talk. And Big Joe Williams was there a lot. I know Bob Dylan loved Big Joe Williams and Big Joe Williams loved Bob Dylan, and they used to get on the stage at Gerde’s and play together.
“I told Bobby that Big Joe was gonna record for me and he said, ‘Moms, you want a little white boy on one of your records?’ Bobby, you know, had no color denomination to him at all, everybody was people, not color, so I said, ‘What do you mean? You’re just one of my sons,’ and he said, ‘You should have a white boy on some of your records,’ and I said, ‘You got some around?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, me.’ So I told him we’d get together.”
Dylan went into a West Forty-sixth Street recording studio with them on a warm afternoon in late fall and laid down at least four tracks with Big Joe, playing the harmonica behind and around Williams’ strong guitar and sandpaper-rough Delta blues voice. Two of them have been issued, on an album featuring tracks by Miss Spivey, Williams, Lonnie Johnson and Roosevelt Sykes, called Three Kings and the Queen.
* * *
Mike Porco booked Dylan into Gerde’s again for a two-week engagement, beginning September 26th, with the Greenbriar Boys on the same bill as the lead act. Dylan was ready for the New York Times now, and Bob Shelton was there for the opening night. A couple of days later Shelton’s enthusiastic, almost rhapsodic review ran under a four-column headline that said: “Bob Dylan: A Distinctive Folk-Song Stylist.”
The review simply amazed everyone, and it created some jealousy in folk circles. None of the singers who’d been knocking themselves out had ever been treated to such an effusive bit of puffery by Shelton. The critic was friendly with all of the folkies in the Village, yet had never given any of their careers the boost he gave to Dylan.
Jack Elliott: “I remember that review. I was really turned on by it because it was beautiful and true, but I was a little burned because Shelton gave me a review a little before that, but not like Bobby’s. It was nice, no putdown, but he flipped out over Bobby so heavily. I remember feeling, ‘Gee, whiz, Shelton, you gave him a jet-propelled push there.'”
Carolyn Hester: “The day of my recording session was the day the review was printed, and Dylan brought it with him. He was absolutely delighted with it. He would laugh and sort of shyly say something like he didn’t expect it and he was so new in town and wasn’t that a bitch and wasn’t he lucky. And Dick and I had the article, and Bruce Langhorne who was playing guitar with me on that session, he had it, too. And Hammond saw it. We were in the studio working every day and I could see Hammond was getting more and more interested in him.”
Hammond: “So he came in and made some demos, and when I heard him I flipped. I told him I wanted him to record for Columbia, and I had the contract drawn up. We sat in my office and I said, ‘How old are you?’ and he said he was 20 and I said, ‘I have to get your contract signed by your parents’ and he said, ‘I don’t have any parents.’ I asked, ‘Do you have any relatives?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I have an uncle who’s a dealer in Las Vegas’ and he added, ‘John, don’t worry, you can trust me.’ He said he had no manager and I told him, ‘I’ll get you the best deal possible from the company. We usually start an artist at two percent of royalties but I’ll start you at four. It was unprecedented to start him at four. Seeger was getting five, and he was established.”
Bob ran down to Mikki Isaacson’s place and burst into the apartment. “I’ve got it!” he cried. “I got the contract.” He waved a couple of sheets of paper around, hopping all over the place. But he wouldn’t let anyone see it and he wasn’t believed, at first. When the folk crowd learned he had actually been signed by Columbia, the jubilation outweighed any jealousy anyone may have felt because it was a break-through: the first of the younger male folksingers to be signed by a major record label.
By this time Suze’s mother had found an apartment, the penthouse at One Sheridan Square, the same building in which Mikki Isaacson, combination mother hen and folk collector, lived. Suze moved in with her mother. Bob had been living on Avenue B, on the East Side; now he moved for a while into the Hotel Earle, on Waverly Place, where Jack Elliott and Peter La Farge were staying. He then moved in with Mikki, to be near Suze.
Mikki: “It looked as if Suze was his first big love. It was a beautiful thing to see. Whenever Suze was around Bobby was so sweet. Sweetness wasn’t a part of his personality, and neither was compassion. He was a bit of a terror. But when Suze was around he was gentle, sweet and loving. A complete change. She could make him jump through hoops. One thing, he wouldn’t go to sleep at night unless Suze was there to stroke him and put him to sleep. He looked like he was terrified to be alone. He wasn’t loverish about it, more like a four-year-old child. Suze couldn’t go upstairs to her mother’s apartment until Bob went to sleep. Maybe he was acting, and putting us all on. He was always good for an act, always performing his kid stuff about Suze, but even in acting it showed how desperately he wanted Suze.”
Suze took over much of the mothering Bob seemed to require. She got him to change and wash his clothes a little more often, and she broke down his fears and persuaded him to have his eyes checked; he had lost his glasses a year earlier. Suze also took upon herself the job of getting Dylan primed for the stage. He was still uneven, as a performer, still required pampering, and Suze would make certain he had the extra drink to loosen him up. “He was often drunk on hoot nights but Mike Porco never knew,” one friend says. Suze played up to him and “loved him up,” as Mikki Isaacson puts it, while others taped to the topside of his guitar a list of songs they thought he should sing, so that he wouldn’t have an excuse for coming off stage early.
Suze’s sister, Carla, and their mother were far from happy about Dylan. “In comes this scruffy, dirty, slightly strange and totally poverty-stricken little boy of 19, and your daughter falls in love with him. You can’t be too ecstatic about that,” Terri Van Ronk recalls. And Miss Isaacson: “I remember Carla coming around, talking about how worried she was about Suze and Bobby, their relationship was so intense, and Carla kept saying, ‘I know Bobby’s going to make it.’ Suze, Carla and I, we were so sure Bob was going to make it, we knew it. I met Mrs. Rotolo and talked to her and tried to convey that Suze was safe. Everybody felt so protective about Suze. We wanted to protect her against her mother finding out she was staying out too late, and protect Suze from finding out Bobby was off on a toot with some other girl.”
Bob spent much time in the Rotolo apartment. Mrs. Rotolo was a charming, gracious woman, articulate, sensitive, thoughtful. “She’s one of those rare Italian women who kept their face and figure into middle-age,” a woman in the folk crowd recalls. “She didn’t like Bobby too much. I can remember being up there once when she wasn’t being too nice to him. She used to call him ‘Twerp,’ but she had a certain amount of style, and she put in it a way so that he couldn’t get upset about it. After all, he was a twerp.”
Within days after signing the Columbia contract, Dylan rented an apartment on West Fourth Street, just off Sixth Avenue. He was forced to pay the previous tenant $350 for some broken furniture. The rent was $80 a month for a place described by friends as absolutely raunchy, a tiny bedroom and living room, and a “kitchen” in which a bachelor and a box of corn flakes could barely fit. Bob asked Suze to move in with him, but she resisted at first.
It was very pretty Hansel-and-Gretel in the beginning, but there were also very destructive elements in their relationship. Bob Dylan was totally possessive about his women, a trait that seems common to many artists and entertainers. But Suze was not about to become some sort of vegetable. She didn’t simply want to hang around being Bob Dylan’s woman, completely swallowed by him and his career, even as she loved him. She painted and sketched constantly, had some artistic talent. Suze doesn’t appear to have been the kind of teenager with dreams and no ability, flightily skipping from one glamour-ambition to another; she had been thrown into the Village artistic cauldron quite young, it all broiled within her, she had a large intelligence, and those who knew her believed she could work out an artistic destiny. She believed it, too. She had to be her own self; at the same time, Bob needed a woman who would be a mere reflection of himself. That is not an oversimplification nor it is exaggeration; it was felt by everyone who was close to Suze and Bob during the couple of years they bounced from one emotional crisis to another.
At the end of November, 1961, Suze went into the studio with Bob for one of his recording sessions and even at this early date in their relationship she recognized her fears and confided them in a letter to Sue Zuckerman:
“The funny thing is that I don’t want to get sucked under by Bob Dylan and his fame. I really don’t. It sort of scares me. I’m glad and all but I just have a funny feeling about it. I can’t put my finger on it but it’s there. It really changes a person when they become well-known by all and sundry.”
Bob Dylan cut the album in only three or four sessions, working alone and working quickly, and it cost Columbia precisely $402 to get it down. Suze’s feeling that Bob would be going through some fast changes began here, in the studio, as she saw the way Hammond and others were handling Bob. She told a friend: “Dylan’s got them treating him like he’s the new God.”
Albert Grossman is probably the best-known, most successful, and aggressive artist’s manager in the music business. The basic charge against him is commercialism: “Anybody who goes with Grossman has to accept his premise that financial success is the absolute goal,” says one who has worked with Grossman and with Dylan. Grossman was already operating behind the scenes by the time Dylan cut his first album. He seems to have been managing Dylan very early, without a contract, but he never let anyone know he was Dylan’s manager.
Apparently Dylan didn’t sign with Grossman immediately because of his own suspicious nature, that “paranoia” again. He researched Grossman as thoroughly as possible. He asked John Hammond’s advice and Hammond remembers: “I said I knew Albert, we had worked together on the board of the Newport Folk Festival, and I told Bob I could work with Albert. ‘He’s not the grooviest guy around but if you want to sign with him, go ahead.'”
Dylan went up to Grossman’s office a couple of weeks after Shelton’s review and signed a contract — for seven years.
Dylan returned to Minneapolis in mid-December, and Suze remained in New York. His Dinkytown friends were surprised at the further changes in him since his last visit the previous May.
John Koerner: “It was obvious he had grown. He was friendly and all that, but it was obvious he was into something stronger than we got into. You could see it, something forceful, something coming off.”
When he returned from Dinkytown he finally convinced Suze to move into the West Fourth Street apartment with him. He was way up with happiness, about Suze and about his career. The album was going to be released soon. And people were knocking on his door. He was asked to sing at the Blue Angel, a plush uptown room, but turned it down because he felt it was too posh and unreal for him and his material. And the big businessmen were becoming interested in him, particularly the Music Corporation of America, then a talent agency. One of the executives at MCA heard an advance copy of Dylan’s first album and called John Hammond to set up an appointment with Dylan. “I’ve got two possible things for him,” the executive said. “I want him to audition for the Ed Sullivan Show, and I want to see if he can play Holden Caulfield. We own the rights to Catcher in the Rye and we think maybe we finally found Holden Caufield in your boy.”
Dylan went up to the CBS TV studios, protesting all the way. “I don’t like to push my music on anyone.” He was shown to a studio, got up on a stage in a huge room and, while a half-dozen men in dark Madison Avenue suits sat and listened, he went through several of the numbers on his first album. The executive types didn’t know what to make of him.
“I guess they think I’m cute and funny,” Dylan snapped, and he went back to the Village and described his experience to everyone he met. Later, over a glass of wine, Dylan told a friend, “I’m not going up there again.”
“They’ll call you,” the friend said. “Just wait.”
“Maybe so,” Dylan replied. “But they ain’t telling me what to sing.”
The Holden Caulfield idea fell through, and the men from the Sullivan show wouldn’t call Dylan for another year, and when they did, they would indeed try to tell him what to sing.
The album was released at the end of February, which was considered an extraordinarily short time for recording and releasing an album, especially by an unknown artist. Bob Dylan didn’t light up the skies; it sold only five thousand copies the first year, just enough to break even for Columbia. (It has sold more than 200,000 copies through the end of 1970.) The enthusiasm at Columbia was so soggy, in fact, that some didn’t want to release it at first. It is said in the industry that Columbia didn’t know what it had in Bob Dylan. One executive thought Bob was a farout comic and should try some laundered Lenny Bruce routines. Another thought he was a harmonica player who should be stuck on some country or bluegrass records. A third executive, according to industry scuttlebutt, was spending many of his working hours trying to undercut Hammond’s power in the organization, and he tagged Bob Dylan with a label: “Hammond’s Folly.”
Some time before Dylan was scheduled to cut his second album, one of the executives called Hammond and said: “John, I think we’re going to have to drop Bob Dylan.” Hammond replied: “Over my dead body.” Hammond didn’t have to offer up his body, however, because he was relatively unassailable: he had the reputation of knowing his music — Columbia’s strength in its jazz catalogue is attributable to Hammond — and he was the man who had originally brought Goddard Lieberson to Columbia, and Leiberson was now the firm’s president. There was another card in Hammond’s full-house hand. “Johnny Cash was one of Dylan’s big boosters at Columbia,” Hammond says. “Way back there in ’62, whenever Dylan was in the studio or playing in town, Cash would come around. They hung around together back then. Johnny dug me because I brought Seeger to the company, and I brought Dylan to the company, and he was behind me all the way. Cash was behind Dylan every which way, everybody in the company knew it. Cash made it known he thought Dylan was a giant. There’s no higher recommendation possible.” Dylan’s contract was not dropped.
Everything that had been fermenting in Bob Dylan suddenly bubbled over into a series of “protest” or “topical” songs that he wrote at this time. The songs were remarkable not because they pointed the finger at the ills of our society; minstrels had been doing that since the first dragon ate the first knight. Dylan’s songs reached beyond political sloganeering; many of them were touched with poetry. “He wrote songs that hadn’t been written yet,” Joan Baez said recently in discussing Dylan’s early work.
Suze Rotolo is considered one of the most important influences on Dylan during this period. Suze was working for CORE as a secretary and envelope stuffer. She spent many hours telling Bob about the realities of the black man’s life as she saw it from her desk at CORE, where the phones rang day and night as field men called in to describe the latest segregationist brutalities. And so one of Dylan’s first protest songs, “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” was written for CORE.
Dylan’s concern was not with the civil rights movement alone, however. Some friends believe Suze’s radical bent was broader than that, and that she passed it on to Dylan. Suze denies being a major influence on Bob’s political thinking. It was in the air, she says, all around, and everyone influenced him; everyone was involved, it was there, that’s what those days were all about. She was, of course, only one of many who were caught up in the civil rights movement, in all radical movements. A number of folksingers, such as Len Chandler, Gil Turner and Peter LaFarge, were following Pete Seeger’s lead and turning out topical songs. Even those who were not writing at the time — especially Dave Van Ronk — were urging Bob to forget the Guthrie-Thirties and get on with the business of the Sixties. “Guthrie’s dying, and his generation is dead,” someone remembers Van Ronk shouting at Dylan during one of their endless wine-soaked, back-biting sessions.
In April, Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which became an anthem of the civil rights activists and made Dylan the spiritual leader and troubador of the movement. “Blowin’ in the Wind” came to him during a long discussion in the Commons, a Village coffee house, about civil rights, and the failure of America to fulfill its promises. The conversation finally petered out and everyone was quietly staring into his beer. An idea flashed — “your silence betrays you.” Dylan made some notes on a scrap of paper and, after finishing his drink, went home and began to write.
Later, Dylan would refuse to talk about his songs (“They speak for themselves.”) even to his friends, but at this early stage, he was still open and very excited at the songs coming off his pen. He told some friends, “The idea came to me that you were betrayed by your silence. That all of us in America who didn’t speak out were betrayed by our silence. Betrayed by the silence of the people in power. They refuse to look at what is happening. And the others, they ride the subways and read the Times, but they don’t understand. They don’t know. They don’t even care, that’s the worst of it.”
Dylan later told me, “That’s true, about ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’ I say that to you because it means a lot to me, that song. It means a whole lot to me.”
Although it would be another year before Dylan’s name and his music would become widely known, the people around him were thunderstruck at what Bob was doing. He seemed able to turn out a dozen songs a day, on any topic, and most of them displayed more flashes of brilliance than any other songs being written by anyone else at the time.
Later, when he moved away from protest and folk song, Dylan insisted he had used that sort of music mostly as a way to become more widely known. He told Nat Hentoff, for a New Yorker profile: “Some of that was jumping into the scene to be heard and a lot of it was because I didn’t see anybody else doing that kind of thing.” He put it even more strongly to close friends. Joan Baez remembers asking him what he was thinking when he wrote the protest songs, and Dylan said: “Hey, hey, news can sell, right? You know me. I knew people would buy that kind of shit, right? I never was into that stuff.”
* * *
When Bob went to Dinkytown for a few days that March, he didn’t completely endear himself to his old friends. They were thrilled at his mounting success, but made slightly uncomfortable by his arrogance. At one party someone asked him to play and Dylan snapped: “I get paid for playing, and I ain’t about to play for free. You know what I’d get paid if I was doing this in New York?” (Actually, he wasn’t making very much — Columbia did not give him an advance, and he made only $180 for the two weeks at Gerde’s.) Eventually he did play, but the thing was rather sticky. He also hurt Echo, who describes how he played with her emotions:
“After he gave me his album and we talked a while out on the street in front of where I was working, he asked me to go to a party with him. I told him I didn’t know if I could make it — he had always been talking about his wild parties, where girls didn’t wear blouses, and free love, and all of that, and I didn’t dig that scene. But later I decided I’d go. I called him and told him I was coming and he seemed all shook up. Maybe he was afraid of getting involved with me. I didn’t have any bad intentions. He was now a friend, not a sweetheart, and I just wanted to go and see him. I knew he was going to play and everybody was happy for him, and I wanted to see him. The party was at David Whittaker’s place. I was standing in the kitchen talking to some guy and Bob came in. ‘I want you to come and live in New York,’ he said. I said, ‘What will I do in New York? And besides, you’re supposed to be in love with Joan Baez, that’s what we all hear back here.’ I was so upset and so mad because he was being cruel, and I just ran down the stairs and he yelled from the top of the stairs, ‘Wait, where ya going?’ and I walked all the way home.”
The conflict between Suze and Bob grew deeper in their first months of living together. She was feeling more submerged every day. “He won’t let me do anything,” she told one friend. “He just wants me to hang around with him all the time. I had to stop working now that he’s making some money, and he doesn’t want me to do anything for myself. I have to be myself, too, but be can’t understand that.”
Suze’s mother had been married, to a college professor, and they were making plans to spend the summer in Italy. Suze wanted very much to go, but she also did not want to leave Bob. Dylan kept telling her that it was all a plot on her mother’s part to break them up. Most of their friends felt her mother was trying “the classic breaking up of a kid romance,” as one of them put it. That’s what Dylan went around telling everyone.
Terri Van Ronk: “Suze didn’t know what to do. She ran around for a month asking whether she should go. I gave her some advice that just about ended my friendship with Bob. I told her that if she went she shouldn’t expect Bob to wait the summer for her, and if she didn’t go she might completely regret it. I told her to make up her own mind, instead of telling her to stay with Bob the way Bob would have wanted me, and we had a falling out.”
They sailed on June 8th — Suze, her mother and her stepfather. The trip took eight days and as soon as Suze settled in Perugia, she got a transatlantic call from Bob, urging her to turn around and come home. She cried for hours, she told a friend, and she was tempted to tell her mother she was going home. But she stayed. Bob wrote her many letters, most of them repeating what he said, in effect, in one of the first: “We wasted a lot of time playing cards at the Van Ronks, sitting around bullshitting with a lot of people. Come on home and let’s get to know each other, dig each other.” But Suze stayed, and she fell in love with Italy. “She got a taste of freedom,” one friend says. “When she was with Bob she found she was withdrawing into herself, that all the openness was turning sour and inward. He sapped all the life out of her. She was unable to work or paint. And they wouldn’t talk or communicate when they were together, just watch TV a lot, or Suze would sit there and listen to Dylan play. The whole thing was pretty bad. Both of them had better things to do with their lives than be heavies in a melodrama. But that’s what it was.”
Dylan spent the following months grieving over Suze. Some friends felt he was acting, and overdoing the melodrama. Others believed it was sincere. All are agreed that Dylan seemed to be falling apart as the summer wore on.
On August 9th, Bob wandered over to the Supreme Court building in downtown Manhattan, where he legally changed his name to Bob Dylan. He wasn’t about to permit his anguish over Suze to make him lose sight of his main goal: making it as a folksinger.
* * *
At almost precisely this same time the nation was enmeshed in the Cuban missile crisis and marching along the edge of nuclear war. Dylan sat around one night at the end of September talking with friends about the very real possibility that it was all unwinding to a violent end, and he went to a friend’s apartment and wrote “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” “I wrote that at the bottom of the Village Gate, in Chip Monck’s place,” Dylan told me. “It was his apartment, a real cruddy basement apartment but it had wall-to-wall carpeting and the carpeting even ran up the walls. It was a great place.”
“Hard Rain” impressed the professionals, much as “Blowin’ in the Wind” had. Pete Seeger began singing it at his concerts, and less well-known singers had to include it in their song bags.
“Boy, you’re really like the Woody of today,” Jack Elliott told him one night in the Gaslight. Dylan took exception to that: “I’ve gone ‘way far beyond Woody,” he said. “Woody was good in his time, he served his purpose. But I’ve gone far beyond that.”
Bob Dylan, on “Hard Rain”: “I wrote that when I didn’t figure I’d have enough time left in life, didn’t know how many other songs I could write, during the Cuban thing. I wanted to get the most down that I knew about into one song, the most that I possibly could, and I wrote it like that. Every line in that actually is a complete song, could be used as a whole song. It’s worth a song, every single line. Because I was a little worried . . . It’s not atomic rain, though. Some people think that. It’s just a hard rain, not the fallout rain, it isn’t that at all. The hard rain that’s gonna fall is in the last verse, where I say the ‘pellets of poison are flooding us all,’ I mean all the lies that people are told on their radios and in the newspapers, trying to take people’s brains away, all the lies I consider poison.”
* * *
One night at the end of December Dylan rushed into the Kettle of Fish, where a group of his friends were sitting at a back table. “Hey, I’m going to London,” he shouted. “The BBC wants me to do a TV show. Gonna pay a thousand bucks.” After they all congratulated him, someone asked, “When are you leaving?” Dylan replied: “Right away. The show’s the middle of January, but I’m going over to find Suze in Italy.”
Bob went to Italy after the first of the year. He rushed to Perugia, but Suze had left for New York just a couple of days before. Dylan later told me: “I was in Italy with Odetta. Suze had gone back to the States and that’s when I worked up the melodies of ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ and ‘Girl From the North Country.'” Dylan had told friends that he had been carrying “Girl From the North Country” around in his head for a year or so and it suddenly came bursting out after he failed to locate Suze.
Dylan headed for London, to look up Dick Farina. He and Carolyn Hester had separated and Farina had run into Eric von Schmidt a few days before Dylan arrived, and when the three of them got together they settled into a couple of rooms in a hotel in the South Kensington district. They worked in a couple of clubs together and played a lot of music everywhere they went.
Von Schmidt hadn’t seen Dylan for at least a year, and he now sensed a remarkable sort of change in him: “At this time Bob had the most incredible way of changing shape, changing size, changing looks. The whole time he was there he wore the same thing, his brown jacket, blue jeans and cap. And sometimes he would look big and muscular and the next day he’d look like a little gnome, and one day he’d be kind of handsome and virile and the following day he’d look like a 13-year-old child. I think he was searching for an identity at that time. But I don’t think it was conscious; if it was conscious it had nothing to do with attitudes. As I think back, it was physical. He physically looked different. He just seemed like Bob Dylan, but in a whole different version each time, wearing the same clothes but making incredible changes, like Plastic Man.”
Dylan appeared in a TV drama on January 12th that was, by all critical standards, a bomb. Critics dismissed the drama outright, but at least one of them was kind to Dylan — “Bob Dylan as a hobo guitar player was interesting,” the Daily Mirror man wrote, “although his type of singing could not be judged against this sorry-go-round.”
Sue Zuckerman ran into Bob in front of Gerde’s in the first week in January, 1963. “She’s back,” Dylan, cried, giggling with obvious pleasure. “Suze’ just got back.”
“He was really strange,” Miss Zuckerman recalls. “I hadn’t seen him in a long time and he looked dilapidated, like he was falling apart. He’d lost that boyish glow. He changed a lot over those seven months, because of Suze. And he was out of his mind that she returned.”
Suze also seemed to have changed, physically and emotionally. Her long hair had been cut, she dressed with a touch more sophistication. She seemed to be quieter, “like she was just observing the scene and trying to make decisions about what she was going to do, with her life and maybe a career,” Carolyn Hester recalls.
Within days of her return Suze was back with Bob, in the West Fourth Street apartment, and almost immediately the old stresses returned to shatter their relationship. Suze complained to friends that Bob wouldn’t permit her to lead any life of her own. She had taken a part-time job in a luncheonette, working a couple of hours a day simply to have something to do, and Bob said to her: “You don’t need that. I got money now. I don’t want you to work.” She stopped working. She told other friends he objected when she signed up for a three-night-a-week course at the School of Visual Arts.
Their friends could see Dylan “overpowering” Suze. He had the sort of personality that dominated everyone, no matter who else was around. Those who knew them well say that Bob ran Suze ragged with emotional binges. To everyone else, on the surface, he was the ultimate cool. But with Suze he would break down as a youngster might, shouting and screaming and crying — “crying constantly” — overwhelming her. He’d sit in a corner with her and whisper: “Hey, it’s me and you against the world.”
Sue Zuckerman: “It tormented Suze that there was no peace, no privacy, and above all the paranoia — she couldn’t trust anyone, that everyone except her old friends were trying to get to Dylan through her. A large part of it was justifiable paranoia, because it was really happening that way, and a large part was that Bob’s paranoia was probably rubbing off on her.”
The Dylan mystique had already outgrown the Village scene by the time of his first major concert, at New York’s prestigious Town Hall, on the night of April 12th, 1963. Eric Andersen recalls: “I was up in college at the time and I had a friend who hitch-hiked down to that concert. When he came back he said it was like the most incredible thing ever, to see somebody get up and do what you’re feeling. It blew their minds.
“You see,” Andersen adds, “this was the most together period in recent American history. Like the first Woodstock, happening way back then. The old left, the new left, college singers, everyone started sensing the vibes. People were sort of aware of what started to happen, students especially. The word began to spread and college kids from the Midwest realized something incredible was happening, like the age was filled with tremendous spirits. Dylan and those cats were singing about the Vietnam War when everybody else thought it was still a ‘conflict.’ That whole scene was generating a lot of vibes, and Dylan had the heaviest vibes of them all. Dylan was sowing the seeds of the decade.”
Bob had almost completed the second album when Grossman descended from his Park Avenue office and pounced on Columbia executives with a series of demands that added up to an attempt to get Dylan away from the record company. Grossman had discovered a few months earlier that Dylan had signed the Columbia contract when he was under age. Lawyers said the contract was illegal. Grossman got Dylan to send a letter to Columbia repudiating the contract, demanding the return of all tapes and masters. But Columbia’s attorneys pointed out that Dylan had been in the studio several times since turning 21 in May, 1962, and the contract could not be broken. Now, as Dylan was finishing up the album, Grossman and his associate, John Court, charged into the studio.
John Hammond: “Relations with Grossman were not the most pleasant because I got Bobby to repudiate that letter and to sign a new contract, which made Grossman very uptight. I don’t think Grossman has ears and I don’t think he has taste, even though I respect him a lot for giving Big Bill Broonzy and people like that a shot. But Grossman came in the studio and got in the way.”
Grossman couldn’t break the contract but he began demanding that Dylan be taken away from Hammond. Grossman went to David Kapralik and said: “We don’t want John Hammond to record us. We don’t want anything to do with any producer at Columbia because you don’t have a producer who understands Bob Dylan.” At around the same time, Hammond says, he asked to be released as Dylan’s producer and, he recalls, he suggested that Tom Wilson, a young black producer, be given a chance to see if he and Bob could work together. Grossman and Dylan went into Kapralik’s office one afternoon, Dylan remaining silent, and Grossman softly demanding: “Take Hammond off Dylan.” Kapralik replied: “OK. I don’t know why you’re taking that position, but there’s a young man just signed to the label I’d like Bob to meet and see if he can get together with him.” Wilson was called into the office and, because he was black, neither Grossman nor Dylan could turn him down out of hand. Dylan and Wilson talked for a while, and the next day Grossman called Kapralik and said: “Wilson’s OK.”
Dylan returned to the studio immediately to tape several more songs. “I got enough for a full album, plus some,” he said, “but I can’t be sure what I want to use. A couple sound too folksy for me.” He finished working in the third week in April and the album was scheduled to be rushed out at the end of May. Dylan was happening. Nat Hentoff had interviewed him for a Playboy article on the new phenomenon of the citybilly. Time wanted an interview. Other national publications expressed interest.
And there was the Ed Sullivan Show. Finally, after a year, they did call and they wanted Bob to appear — an enormous break, for Sullivan’s show had one of the largest audiences in the country and, most important, no one was trying to dictate what he would sing. Bob chose “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues,” and when he sang it for Sullivan and Bob Precht, producer of the show, they were delighted with the song.
During rehearsals in May, hours before the show, Dylan was told by Stowe Phelps, editor of program practices for the CBS network, that he could not sing the song because there was a possibility it libeled members of the Birch organization. “Are ya out of your fuckin’ mind?” Dylan shouted, according to one who was there. “What the hell can they sue about?” Phelps said: “I’m sorry, Bob, but that’s the order from the lawyers. They won’t let us use it.” Precht and Sullivan both apologized, asked Dylan to sing something else. “Bullshit,” Dylan almost screamed. “I sing that or I sing nothing.” And he stalked off.
The controversy spilled over to Columbia Records, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CBS. CBS’s lawyers and officials discovered the song was scheduled to be included in Dylan’s second album, and they ordered it taken off. Hammond, who was no longer producing Dylan but had been producer on “Talkin’ John Birch,” Kapralik, and others in the company argued against the suppression on the grounds that the lawyers were being too conservative and pigheaded and also that other Birch songs had been recorded, including a fairly recent one by the Kingston Trio. Their arguments were fruitless, and the song was deleted.
Dylan was almost totally crushed by it. Dave Cohen recalls: “He was very upset. He disappeared for three days or so. I remember Suze, Van Ronk and Terri asking if I’d seen him.” In a short time, however, he was shrugging it off: “Who needs all the hassling? Just gonna keep writin’ and all those cats can screw.” And he smiled when someone pointed out: “Man, you got a lot of free publicity. A real underdog.”
Freewheelin’ was an immediate success, selling at a steady ten thousand copies a week, bringing Dylan an income from the record of about $2500 a week. Hentoff’s Playboy article on folk was printed in the June issue, and gave Dylan a good deal of space. Hentoff called him “a penetratingly individual singer, as well as an expert harmonica whooper and guitarist . . . the most vital of the younger citybillies.” Hentoff was also working on the editors of the New Yorker for a profile on Dylan. Time‘s last issue in May gave him two columns and a photo. While the story — titled “Let Us Now Praise Little Men” — ridiculed him somewhat, it was as much praise as putdown, and any kid who was not yet fully aware of Dylan and what he was all about could probably figure out from the tone of the article that many adults found something disturbing about Dylan.
“It ain’t nothin’ just to walk around and sing, you have to step out a little, right?” Dylan had said to Farina one morning when they were together in London the previous January. He added: “Take Joanie, man, she’s still singing about Mary Hamilton. I mean, where’s that at? She’s walked around on picket lines, she’s got all kinds of feeling, so why ain’t she stepping out?”
Dylan affected Miss Baez in another way, as he had affected so many other women: “I wanted people to hear him,” she recalls. “I think we liked each other, and I really loved him. It was a funny thing. I wanted to take care of him and have him sing . . . I mean, brush his hair and brush his teeth and get him on stage . . . I wanted to have as many people hear him as possible.”
After the Monterey Folk Festival in May, Dylan went with Miss Baez to her home in Carmel and he lived there for several weeks. He wrote, he played dozens of his songs for her, and she began rehearsing them for use at her next scheduled concert dates. She asked Dylan to be her unannounced guest during her next concert tour later that summer, and Dylan agreed. Joan was providing him with a ready-made audience, the kind of young audience that could most appreciate Dylan and spread the word about him. Of all those promoting him, Joan was probably the most important and the most effective.
By his return to New York and to Suze in June, Peter, Paul and Mary had released a single of “Blowin’ In the Wind” that immediately became an enormous hit. In the first two weeks it sold well over 300,000 copies, the fastest-selling single in Warner Brothers history, and it swept the country. Even black rhythm and blues stations in the South, which had ignored the trio in the past, were playing the record. The racial crisis in the South was deepening and folk songs had become a vital morale booster for the Southern blacks and Northern whites who joined them in the civil rights struggle. “Blowin’ In the Wind” became the most sung “freedom song,” North and South, black or white, and its author the most widely known protest singer.
* * *
The Newport Folk Festival at the end of July was literally Dylan’s Crowning moment. When the three days of traditional and protest music and folk workshops in the seaside Rhode Island resort were over, Dylan was being hailed as “the crown prince of folk music” by the mass media. It was a Dylan triumph, almost a Cecil B. DeMille ending to the tale of a poor orphan boy who makes it, complete with 46,000 extras playing the role of fans. But it was real, and it was all Dylan’s.
Newport was also the scene of the transformation of Bob Dylan, hobo minstrel, into Bob Dylan the eclectic poet-visionary-hero who was orchestrating a “youth revolution.” He looked thinner and more undernourished, more ascetic and pained than ever before; his bones stuck out, and his skin — the color of sour milk — appeared to be stretched to the ripping point. He generated visions of a young man on a death trip: rebellious, living fast and dangerously; we’d better love him now and pay attention to him now because tomorrow he may be dead.
But there was another kind of Dylan performance. Behind the scenes in Newport’s giant Freebody Park, and at the motel where most of the performers were housed, Dylan strutted with a giant 20-foot bullwhip, lashing with it, over and over again. What do you do with that? someone asked, and Dylan replied: “I flip people’s cigarettes out of their mouths. That’s what I do with it, man.” He rattled a lot of people with his arrogance, with the walls he erected around himself. He was the center of attention wherever he went, his music was the music being sung from the stage, his songs were the ones being discussed and analyzed at the afternoon music workshops. Some of the traditionalists made it clear they despised Dylan for his style, his youth, and most of all because it was his magic that had attracted the largest and youngest crowd in the history of the festival.
Dave Van Ronk: “I remember at the Festival, some of the crowd came and charged after him. They were running after Bobby and we were running away from them. We got in a damn station wagon and got away from them. I was sitting on the tailgate and Bobby was inside and he said: ‘Get used to it, Dave, next year it’ll be you.’ It terrified him. He was paranoid to start. All of a sudden five million people were pulling at his coat and picking his brain, and he couldn’t take it when just five people were doing that. His feeling, basically, was that the audience is a lynch mob. What he said was: ‘Look out, they’ll kill you.’ He never trusted anything or anybody in his life. At the same time, the man has some notion of the basic dignity of a human being. If you are a brilliant person, the wages of your brilliance are not to have your clothes torn off or your mind invaded. And that’s what they started doing to Bobby.”
Dylan, to a group of friends at Newport: “Wish I could do it all and stay in the places I’m comfortable. Where they don’t know me and don’t stare at me. The attention is too much commotion for my body and head. The world’s scary, sometimes.”
Suze was at Newport and some who were there sensed that she and Dylan were still having their problems. One of the folksingers remembers seeing Suze sitting around, “wistful, sad, like Ophelia,” looking through a lattice-work fence with the sun streaming on her face and burnishing her hair, watching Tom Paxton, Seeger, and then Dylan singing to thousands. And watching him with Baez, especially Baez.
“Well, what kind of rumors do you hear about Bobby and Joanie?” she asked one friend as talk about their intense affair grew even more persistent. The friend answered: “The same kind of rumors you hear.” Suze considered that for a moment, and then said: “Bobby couldn’t love Joan Baez. He couldn’t love anybody that big.”
Baez’s first opportunity to bring Dylan up as an unannounced guest artist came immediately after the Newport Festival. She held several concerts scheduled in the East: the Camden Music Fair in New Jersey on August 3rd, Ashbury Park a week later, a date in Connecticut and one in Massachusetts, and the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium on August 17th. At each performance Joan would sing alone for the first half, doing several of Dylan’s songs, and then after intermission call him out, sing with him, let him sing several songs alone. While there was some grumbling from a few purists who objected to Dylan, most of the crowd was demolished by the appearance of the skinny kid who was becoming a greater idol than Woody had ever been.
The Forest Hills appearance was an especially important one for him. There were 14,000 people there, very young and very hip, and reporters and critics from the New York papers and all the trade publications. When she came out after the intermission Joan began: “There’s a boy wandering around New York City and his name’s Bob Dylan. You all know about him. Bobby Dylan says what a lot of people my age feel, but cannot say. It just so happens that Bob Dylan is here with me tonight.” When the ovation finally died, he sang “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “Pawn in Their Game,” “With God on Our Side,” and a song he had composed a couple of days before, “Troubled And I Don’t Know Why,” which tickled the crowd by castigating the establishment’s boob tube: the TV squalled, roared and boomed and bounced around the room, but it didn’t say anything at all.
Bob, Joan, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary, Mahalia Jackson, Harry Belafonte and dozens of other performers who had been raising their voices to benefit the civil rights movement took part in the March on Washington on August 28th. Two hundred thousand demonstrators, black and white, filled the nation’s capitol to jog the national conscience. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the most eloquent speech of his career (“I have a dream … I have a dream … ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”). Ossie Davis introduced the entertainers, Dylan sang “Pawn in Their Game,” Baez sang “We Shall Overcome,” and Peter, Paul and Mary did “Wind.” What was blowing in the wind was an optimism, Dr. King’s dream, “a dream deeply rooted in the American system,” but even then, as the speeches and the songs filled the seat of national government, even before assassinations would lead so many to abandon the dream, Dylan was questioning the reality of it all.
“Think they’re listening?” he asked, glancing towards the Capitol. “No, they ain’t listening at all.”
* * *
David Whittaker: “I came from Minneapolis for the March. Dylan, in Washington, could still go to an open party — he was at a party with Baez and they were very close — but he was beginning to feel the pressures. I remember him saying, ‘I can’t go on the streets,’ and I said, ‘Why? Do they think you’re Bobby Darin?’ Then I went up to New York, to West Fourth Street. Suze had just split. And even though he was quite wealthy by now there was nothing in the place but two mattresses, a card table, four chairs, and a refrigerator he didn’t dare open. I went to see if there was any beer and Bob screamed, ‘Don’t open it! There’s stuff growin’ in it!’ It was a funny time. You realized something was really happening with him. Peter, Paul and Mary sang ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in front of 200,000 people. He sang. And yet when he got back to New York he was still the same guy, not taking care of himself, sleeping in his clothes, doing strange things. A funny time.”
Suze had left just before the March on Washington, had gone to live with her mother and stepfather in New Jersey. She left because the recurring arguments over their relationship wore her down; because, she told friends, when she and Bob were getting along it was good, but when they weren’t it was bad and she just wanted out. One argument on a sweltering night in mid-August was especially bad. Dylan left the apartment and went to Gerde’s, and a while later Suze called him there and said she was leaving. He rushed back, tried to talk her out of going, but he couldn’t budge her. They talked all night, into the dawn. As the streets of the Village began coming to life, she called Carla and some friends and they helped her move her things out.
Dylan got out of town after Suze left. Albert Grossman had bought a large house up in Bearsville, adjacent to the art community of Woodstock, a hundred miles upstate from the city, and Bob spent a great amount of time there. “I’m going through bad times,” Dylan told a few close friends. “It’s blowin’ my head.” Some who were close to him at the time believe he “was near a breakdown” — and Grossman helped pull him over the bad times. Dylan wandered through the woods during the day, clearing his head. He wrote in the mornings and at night in a room which had a bed, table, typewriter, and little else.
“If it wasn’t for Albert,” Dylan later told Bob Shelton, “I could be on the Bowery now. Albert’s the greatest manager that ever lived in the whole century of the world.”
Grossman appeared to be more than a manager at this point. He had become almost a substitute father, running Bob’s life in most respects. A number of men and women who were in the Dylan circle at this time say that Grossman was telling Bob what to eat, where to sleep. Dylan was confused, uncertain of what was happening to him, where he was going, and he accepted Grossman’s guidance.
To those who were around them at the time it also appeared that Grossman was feeding Bob’s distrust of people, his paranoia. Grossman’s attitude — and Dylan’s — was that outsiders were trying to use them, to take advantage of them, to con them in some way.
Bob’s feelings about Grossman were ambivalent. On the one hand he appreciated Grossman’s enormous talents as a manager, but he also deeply resented Grossman for changing what had been the simplicity of his early days in the Village and making his life a huge hassling operation. And when the money started to pour in, Dylan began worrying if he was getting a fair shake from the Grossman office, whether the investments and tax setups were to his best advantage, whether somebody was possibly frittering away some of his wealth. Grossman’s maneuvers to get Dylan away from Columbia, his treatment of John Hammond, made Dylan feel guilty. “He shouldn’t of done that to John,” Dylan once told a friend, and although he never said more than that, it was clear he resented Grossman for it.
His need to work, and his obligations to Columbia, also helped him get over the rough times after Suze left. He went into the studio in late September and early October, 1963, and laid down his third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’. The second album had already sold about 100,000 copies with reorders amounting to another 100,000 or so, and Dylan’s income had risen to about $5000 a month. “I’m makin’ money,” he told writer Chris Welles. “But it’s botherin’ me. The money’s wrong. It don’t make sense. It’s all so weird.”
* * *
A number of forces were working on Dylan during this period that contributed to profound personality changes.
There was, first of all, what some old friends have called the “mindguard” — a special kind of bodyguard whose duty was not only to protect him from the groupies (the less desirable ones, anyway) and other fans, but to protect him also from those whom he felt were making demands on his head, on his time. These included old friends, mostly, and some fellow folksingers with whom he no longer felt comfortable “because, in his paranoia, he thought we all hated him for his great talent,” as one of them put it. “Basically,” says Phil Ochs, “he was a very human person and wanted to keep human relationships from souring. And I think he felt that slipping away because of his fame, in the way people reacted to him.” His friends didn’t understand why, and were confused and hurt by his withdrawal.
The mindguards traveled with Dylan wherever he went, spent much time with him up in Woodstock, protecting him and changing his head in other ways. Among the Dylan entourage was Geno Foreman, son of Clark Foreman of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. Geno was a young folksinger, part of the crowd that hung around the Club 47 in Cambridge; he had a wild raucous way of singing that pre-dated Joe Cocker‘s spastic style by ten years. And Victor Maimudes, a dark, strange young man who had once played Lincoln in a high school production and is described by friends as “a frustrated actor and frustrated guitar player.” Victor got into the folk scene by hanging around with Jack Elliott in Topanga Canyon in California in the mid-Fifties. He showed up one day in Woodstock with a friend’s wife, and he was hired as Dylan’s road manager and companion. Also part of the group were Albert and John Maher, sons of a wealthy Texas industrialist, and Paul Clayton. Many of them were heavily into drugs, popping all kinds of pills and experimenting with acid and mushrooms.
Recalls one woman who was intimate with Dylan: “Bob was one of those rare people who get their strength from some inner self. But when I first knew him, in the protest period, he was putting it down and denying it. The inner self was just part of the things you didn’t talk about, it was understood. He was aware of Zen, some of us were getting into that, but he was into reality at the time and he was putting the inner self down. He was writing protest and he had to push everything else aside and jump into that all the way.
“He was always that kind of mystical person, but during the protest period he was playing some other role. Later, when it was all evolving for him, he was into things like Byron and began to get into his head more. Later, I’m certain Bob got into acid or one of the mind-expanders. We used to have arguments about drugs. He was always saying he was in favor of chemistry. ‘I’m pro-chemistry,’ he would say. He would try anything to open his head. And after he got into the drugs he stopped denying that thing inside himself. He began looking for it, believing in it, working with it and letting it flow over him. The drugs got him back to that mystic inner self.”
In a 1969 interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, Dylan acknowledges, “I was on drugs, a lot of things,” and while he says the drug experience heightened his “awareness of the minute” and of the mind, he insists drugs did not influence the writing of his songs. Still, the songs he was beginning to write at this time — “Chimes of Freedom” and “Tambourine Man” among them — were directly related to the drug experience, just as the work of the San Francisco and New York poets, some of them once called Beat — Ginsberg, Corso, Sanders and Kupferberg, Duncan, Ferlinghetti, McClure, Whalen and others — reflected their drug culture. Ginsberg met Dylan around this time, and he expanded Dylan’s perceptions as much as drugs did.
The conflict with Suze was also a catalyst for change. Dylan had things to say about women, and love, and the quality of human relationships, and they could not be said in the standard folk ballad. That’s one reason he was writing poems he never intended to set to music, as in “11 Outlined Epitaphs” on the back of The Times They Are A-Changin’. Suze had returned to the Village in mid-September after a few weeks with her mother in New Jersey, and went to live with her sister, Carla, in an apartment on Avenue B, in the East Village. One day Dylan came around to the apartment. He persuaded Suze to let him stay, and he moved in with them. Carla soon asked him to leave, mostly because there were no doors on any of the rooms, no chance for privacy, she explains. But Dylan ignored her. Carla asked him to swap apartments — let her use his West Fourth Street place — but he refused. “Need it for practicing and stuff,” he said. And he stayed, unable to give Suze up. Friends who visited them say they spent much time arguing, or watching TV. Seldom talking.
And there were other tensions. Pete Karman recalls one night in late September when he was sitting around in the apartment with Bob, Suze, Albert and John Maher, when someone rapped on the door. Dylan got up and opened it and Geno Foreman swept in and shouted: “Hey, Bobby, I hear you’re makin’ it with Joan Baez.” Suze’s face went through several color changes in the next room, and Dylan was urgently whispering: “Shut up, will ya? Shut the hell up.”
Karman: “The relationship between Dylan and Baez seemed to be very close by then. The King and Queen — that’s how Bobby was talking about it. He had that image of himself, that he was the King and Baez was the Queen. And still he was worried about Suze because he knew she was very uptight about that.”
Suze’s feelings didn’t keep Bob from flying to Hollywood in October, to appear as Joan’s guest at the Hollywood Bowl. His reception was not quite triumphant, however. A very vocal minority of the audience booed and otherwise expressed their displeasure when he took over the second half of her program.
A week later Dylan filled Carnegie Hall with a couple of thousand young rooters, most of them adoring teenagers who had bought out the house. These were fans, not folk music aficionados. It was as enthusiastic a crowd as any Dylan had ever experienced and they cheered every one of the 20 songs he performed, the protest songs, the bitter anti-hero love songs, a couple of early Guthrie-esque ballads.
The Carnegie Hall audience’s style was further proof that something had happened to lift Bob Dylan out of the folk trap. “It was very strange,” Terri Van Ronk remembers. “Like the precursor to Beatlemania. Bobby’s first big skyrocketing was right there in that Carnegie Hall gig. When it was over and we were all backstage, they began to plot the getaway from all these little girls who were screaming outside. Suze and I were delegated to go out and act as decoys. We went out the stage door and started walking up the street in the opposite direction from where the car was parked, and a whole bunch of kids began to follow us. Suze got a little panicky and she began to tell them to go back, that Bobby was still inside, and after a while they finally believed her and they all ran back. And Bobby came out, flanked by Geno on one side and Maimudes on the other, and we all pushed our way to the car. Bobby was terrified over mobs, and that was a mob.”
Suze’s reaction was that Carnegie Hall was “a horror show, all these people chasing you up the block, that really sent it home that anybody around Dylan was as much in danger as he was.”
Dylan was on his way uptown to Grossman’s office on the afternoon of Friday, November 22nd, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas. “I watched it at my manager’s office,” Dylan later told me. “The next night, Saturday, I had a concert upstate, in Ithaca or Buffalo. There was a really down feeling in the air. I had to go on stage, I couldn’t cancel. I went to the hall and to my amazement the hall was filled. Everybody turned out for the concert. The song I was opening with was “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and I thought, ‘Wow, how can I open with that song? I’ll get rocks thrown at me.” That song was just too much for the day after the assassination. But I had to sing it, my whole concert takes off from there.
“I know I had no understanding of anything. Something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding that song. And I couldn’t understand why they were clapping or why I wrote that song, even. I couldn’t understand anything. For me, it was just insane.”
When he returned to the Village he, Suze and Carla sat and watched the national tragedy through the rest of the weekend and into the Monday morning funeral. Like so many across the nation, they were engrossed in the events unfolding before them: the murder of Oswald, the funeral, the continual replays of the death of Kennedy, the confirmation of a new president, the widow refusing to change her blood-soaked dress because she wanted the world to see her husband’s blood, to see what it had done. Through it all Dylan sat and watched and said little, just feeling the emotion of it. He drank a little wine, and played Berlioz’s Requiem over and over.
Eric Andersen: “You can’t separate Dylan from history in the sense of what was going down, the way he reacted to a chain of events. The first being Kennedy’s death; I think that got him out of politics. He might even have had fears of assassination himself, being the center of attention and saying the kind of things he was saying. Kennedy’s death brought home that there were a lot of maniacs out there in this country.”
By the middle of January he seemed to be more nervous than he’d ever been, restless, complaining that something was wrong, that he didn’t know what to do with his life. “I gotta get away,” he told a friend. “Need time to think, to dope things out.” The Grossman office had set up a couple of concerts across the country — Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ordinarily Dylan would have flown to keep the dates, but this time he had other ideas.
“Hey,” he said to Pete Karman, the Daily Mirror writer, “wanna ride cross-country with us? Gonna do some concerts. Ramble ’round the country. Show ya some of the places I been, like Central City, Atlanta, Greenwood. Hit New Orleans for the Mardi Gras, even.”
“You have concerts in all those places?” Karman asked.
“No, just a couple. But wanna get out and ramble around. Meet people. Stop in bars and poolhalls and talk to real people. That’s where it’s at, people. Talk to farmers. Talk to miners. That’s where it’s at. That’s real.”
Friends say he wanted to do the Woody Guthrie thing, even though he was beyond the Guthrie stage. “You gonna ride a boxcar?” someone asked him. He only smiled; what he was going to ride was a brand new Ford station wagon, bought by a company called Ashes & Sand, a holding company that Grossman and the lawyers had set up because Bob was becoming a rich man, worth at least a hundred thousand dollars and with prospects of at least three and four times that much from song royalties alone in the next year or so. Dylan insisted money didn’t mean anything to him. “If I need money, I just go to my manager and get it,” he said, “and if I spend that and need more, I just go back and get more.” He had always done as he pleased, but money gave him the freedom to do it in a new style. Ford station wagon style, which wasn’t quite Rolls Royce style, but getting there. Plus a very thick sheaf of traveler’s checks.
But most friends felt he was sincere when he confided, “I want to go out and feel what the people are feeling, find out what’s goin’ on.”
Suze was happy to see him go. She wasn’t satisfied at the way their relationship was going, and she was bored much of the time because they just sat around when they were together.
In the concluding installment: a stoned and scary trip across America, “deliberately courting danger”; the final break with Suze; an end to protest — a “new” Dylan; Baez remembers — with all the fury of a woman scorned (“Then Bobby was completely and totally drunk. We got him out in the car and he was, oh, maudlin. I don’t remember what he was saying, but I said, ‘Ginsberg wants to go to bed with you,’ and he said, ‘Oh, oh, far out,’ and then he passed out. Probably threw up on that horrible little jacket again.”); “Like a Rolling Stone” and other acts of revenge; love & marriage & gruelling touring & drugs & the motorcycle accident; family man on the mend in the country; back to the Village, “looking for a piece of his past.”
This is a story from the March 2, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone.