Setting off on a cross-country motoring trip, Bob Dylan‘s entourage drove through the Holland Tunnel and onto the New Jersey Turnpike on the morning of February 2nd, 1964 — Dylan himself, Daily Mirror writer Pete Karman, mindguards Paul Clayton and Victor Maimudes, the latter behind the wheel. Dylan had put his three companions on the books of Ashes & Sand, the holding company Albert Grossman had set up to protect the newly-successful singer’s financial interests. All expenses were to be paid but apparently only Maimudes, who was officially Dylan’s road manager, was on salary.
The car was filled with used clothing that Dylan had collected for the striking miners in Kentucky. And Dylan’s typewriter. “Gonna write all along the way,” he said.
That first night they stopped in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Clayton had a house. The drive down had been uneventful, which is surprising considering that they were all stoned. Clayton high on pills, Dylan and others on grass. As soon as they arrived Dylan called Suze back in New York, then he and his companions spent the night playing Monopoly, drinking wine, smoking to maintain the high edge of psychic excitement.
They went into town the next day, wandering the streets in the downtown area, dropping into a bar for a couple of drinks and moving on again. “Hey, man,” Dylan shouted as they passed a record shop. “Gotta see if the new album’s out yet. Wanna pass ’em around to people.” They shuffled into the shop. “Got the new Dylan album?” Dylan asked. The girl behind the counter looked up. Lord help her, that’s Bob Dylan, that man there with the funny cap, surrounded by a bunch of freaks. She stumbled out into the aisle, to a bin labeled “Dylan” and pulled out a copy of The Times They Are A-Changin’. “How many you got?” Dylan asked. The girl counted them out, ten of them. “I’ll take them all,” Dylan said.
He leaned against the counter, under a large poster with his picture on it, signing traveler’s checks, and the word flashed through the store. “That’s Bob Dylan.” “Where?” “Over there.” Four or five kids moved closer, suppressing moans and squeals. Dylan looked around at them, and his guard moved in around him. “Man,” Dylan said, “there’s a lot of people in here. Let’s split.” He hustled out to the street, followed by several of the customers. “They’re closin’ in on us.” Dylan said. “Let’s move.” They began to trot, the kids catching up, then to gallop, into the car, roll up the windows, race away. “Man, that was close,” Dylan said. “They almost got me.”
Later that morning they were on the road again, Clayton driving, Dylan studying the map: “Hendersonville, North Carolina,” he said. “You gotta take this highway” — shoving the map in front of Clayton — “and right outside Hendersonville is where he has his place, Flat Rock. That’s where he lives.”
They entered Flat Rock late that afternoon, pulled up to a gas station. Dylan jumped out of the car. “Where’s Carl Sandburg’s place?” he asked the tall gangling mountain man in coveralls. “You know, the poet.” The mountain man considered that for a while. “You mean Sandburg the goat farmer?” he asked.
“No, I mean Sandburg the poet.”
“Don’t know about no poet. There’s a Sandburg has a goat farm. Wrote a book on Lincoln. Little guy. Littler than you, even. If that’s the one, take this road two miles up there, turn left after the little bridge, can’t miss it if you’re sober.”
Stoned, they didn’t miss it. They pulled up to the farm house and knocked on the door. A small, bearded, wizened man came out.
“You’re Carl Sandburg,” Dylan said, not asking. “I’m Bob Dylan. I’m a poet, too.”
“How nice,” Sandburg said, his smile saying another kid who wants to be a poet. But he tried to be gracious and said, “Come, sit a while.” Mrs. Sandburg joined them, smiling but not saying anything.
“I’ve written some songs, Mr. Sandburg,” Dylan said. “I know Woody Guthrie, he’s very sick in a hospital, he talked about you a lot. Got some songs here I’d appreciate you listening to.” He handed Sandburg one of the albums and the poet took it and said, “That’s wonderful,” but it was clear he was simply being polite. They chatted awhile, Dylan rambling on about folk music, and his own songs and poems, and subtly telling Sandburg he was a young poet and Sandburg should recognize him because he recognized Sandburg as an older poet. And Sandburg smiled at this scruffy kid promoting his album, hyping himself as a poet, Sandburg polite but not particularly interested.
After about ten minutes Dylan said, “Well, gotta go. Nice meeting you,” and he turned and skipped down the steps and into the car. His entourage piled in after him and they drove off, quickly, Dylan slouching down in the front seat, very quiet, staring straight ahead. Someone handed him a joint and he puffed deeply and said nothing. He was obviously annoyed at his encounter with Sandburg, hurt that the poet had never heard of him.
They entered Hazard, Kentucky, in Harlan County, coal-mining country, the next day. The first stop was the post office, to look for a thick envelope sent them from New York in care of Dylan, general delivery. The envelope was there. It contained a quantity of marijuana, sent by friends; all along their route similar envelopes filled with grass would be waiting for them in similar post office buildings.
Dylan drove. He was a bad driver, erratic, and his companions tried to keep him away from the wheel. He found the mine union headquarters and Hamish Sinclair, an organizer Bob had met on his earlier trip South, greeted him, but half-heartedly, clearly distracted. “Got a whole bunch of clothes in the car for your people that need ’em,” Dylan said, and Sinclair was pleased. But he was very busy. There was trouble in the coal fields and several miners had been arrested. Sinclair was on the phone for an hour, then had to run out to the mines, and Dylan was getting depressed. “I know he’s got problems, but shit . . .”
Dylan stalked out, and the four of them piled into the car again. As they drove into the countryside beyond Hazard, past mine towers and slag heaps, they came across a man trudging along the side of the road. “Pick him up,” Dylan said. “He’s a miner. Look how black he is.” The man was a white man but his pasty face and rough hands were streaked with coal dust and sweat.
“Can we buy ya a drink?” Dylan asked. The miner agreed and directed them to a bar up the road, where they ordered drinks. “This guy’s groovy,” Dylan said. “Real miner.” He turned to the man. “Been a miner long?” he asked. The man nodded. They threw questions at him — Ever been in a cave-in? Gotta shop at a company store? Company cops ever beat you? — stereotyping him as The Miner, grooving on being with a real miner, not seeing him as a man with a wife and kids, struggling to get along. And after a while they left him, drinking alone at the bar, and climbed back into the station wagon.
A feeling began to come over Karman that none of it was quite real. Dylan was looking for sensations, without involving his intellect, and Karman couldn’t understand that this is the way his mind works. Dylan had seldom been articulate, but now he barely verbalized his impressions at all. His whole trip was more feeling than logical thinking — This is where it’s at, it’s what’s happening, oh, wow!
And when he did talk, it was to work out some poetic images, testing their reactions: “Time don’t exist, it’s an illusion, the other side of Dali’s clocks.” And: “Know where God is? The river, that’s God. The river’s right where you’re standing, and it’s up in the mountains, and it’s down the bend, and into the sea. All at the same instant. Very same instant. If there’s a God, the river’s Him.”
As Victor drove away from Hazard, Dylan climbed into the back of his station wagon, put the portable typewriter on his lap, and began to write. Later, Karman got a look at the page: “Chimes of Freedom” was the title, a poem that would later become a song, perhaps Dylan’s description of an actual mystical experience.
They drove through the night, completely stoned. At the Atlanta post office in the morning they picked up another batch of dope and replenished the dwindling supply in the jar, and Dylan gave a concert that night at Emory University, a black college. A number of Dylan’s friends from SNCC were there, and afterwards a select group of people returned with him to his motel room — kids in the civil rights movement, enough groupies to make everyone feel welcome, to take the edge off the hard travelin’, and plenty to drink and smoke. Dylan called Suze, to tell her the concert went off well, and they hung around for a couple of days, filling up on the pleasures.
Through Mississippi later, and Louisiana, driving at top speed, the dope jar on the dash board and not caring about Southern cops. Clayton leaned out the window in one town, as they flew past three or four young rednecks sitting in front of a store, and shouted: “Muthfuckers!” Putting down everything they saw, deliberately courting danger.
New Orleans was alive with tourists, in town for Mardi Gras week. Dylan found their motel where there was only one room available for the four of them, and they quickly headed for the Latin Quarter. “Gotta find the black bars,” Dylan said. “That’s where it’s happening.” He led them into one place and they got thrown out by the bartender who didn’t want trouble with white cops. In a second place they had a couple of drinks, talked with black patrons, and were thrown out when a cop came by and wanted to know if they were part of a desegregation movement. And into another place, Dylan enchanted by the owner, a huge man in woman’s clothes, a transvestite who called himself Wanda. And then off to the streets again.
There were a dozen people trailing them by this time, who had to see what this Pied Piper was up to. A white street singer and poet, Joe B. Stuart, became part of the entourage for a while. Everybody flying high, floating through the town, Dylan at the head of a freak carnival procession.
Out in front of one bar they came across a young white street singer who was busking — playing for the coins of passersby — his guitar work and singing style a fusion of Leadbelly and Guthrie. “Hey,” Dylan said, “can I borrow your guitar?” The singer handed it over and Dylan began to sing a couple of things off his first album. “Man,” the kid exclaimed, “you sound just like Bob Dylan.” Bob’s face was impassive. “Saw Dylan once,” he said. “A place in the Village. He’s all right, I guess.”
They returned to their motel room and Dylan was talking in elliptic, flashing images: “No one’s free, even the birds are chained to the sky.” And saying: “Rimbaud’s where it’s at. That’s the kind of stuff means something. That’s the kind of writing I’m gonna do.”
The guy’s freaky, Karman thought. He asked: “You moving away from social protest stuff?” His voice sounded disapproving, and disappointed.
“You becoming a critic?” Dylan snapped.
“Hell, I only know your protest songs mean something to a lot of people . . .”
“Hell with ’em,” Dylan said. He went to the typewriter and banged out a few lines, then turned to Karman. “Even the birds are chained to the sky,” he repeated.
“You’re only saying that ’cause you’re stoned,” Karman said, and walked out.
They had to race out of town after a couple of days, racing through Louisiana toward Denver, where Dylan had a concert that he would miss if they didn’t hurry. “Drive, Pablo, drive,” he shouted at Clayton from the back of the wagon where he sat with his typewriter, working on “Chimes of Freedom” again.
But on entering Dallas, Dylan had an urge: “Let’s go see where Kennedy was killed.” They drove around, looking for the Texas Book Depository and Dealey Plaza, four months after the murder, lost in downtown Dallas. “Where’s Dealey Plaza?” Dylan asked, leaning out the window, and no one knew, four people, and five, and six, and none of them knew the place. At least, that’s what they said. The seventh man they asked answered: “You mean where they shot that bastard Kennedy?” Dylan didn’t answer, and the Texan gave them directions. For about a half hour they wandered around the murder scene, Dylan grim and silent, and then back in the car and on their way, and all of them shouting out the windows, condemning all Texans as assassins.
They made it to the Denver Folk Lore Center, the local freak haven, with several hours to spare. Harry Tuft, the young operator of the place, apologetically told Dylan the concert had not sold too well, only about half the tickets gone. Dylan didn’t react at first. He hung around, enjoying the hang-loose feel of the place and the kids. Then: “Hey, tell you what. Let’s cancel the concert in the big hall and do it right here. I’d rather a small place, anyway.” Empty seats: the performer’s nightmare.
But the concert was a success, Dylan getting it on and living up to the audience’s expectations. For weeks there had been rumors that he would not come, that he had been killed, or gone insane, destroyed by a System-conspiracy. On stage his appearance seemed to justify these fears, his fragile body, his wounded voice. James Dean’s death, now Kennedy’s, had done that to this generation: they were certain their leaders, their heroes, would be taken from them. Dylan — because he was like a broken-winged sparrow — appeared the most defenseless, the most vulnerable.
Karman had some straight friends in Denver and he went to visit them for a couple of hours and they blew his mind, he says. They were so warmly normal and average and stable, while Dylan and his group seemed on the edge of some dark cataclysm, totally unreal, always stoned, speaking in unintelligible parables. Karman felt as if Dylan was backing him into a padded cell.
They all were, in fact, almost thrown in jail. Karman was behind the wheel as they drove through the mountains in western Colorado and, as they were climbing one very steep hill along a narrow two-lane road, they were caught behind a funeral procession.
“Pass the goddamn thing,” Victor shouted, from the seat directly behind the driver.
“That’s illegal,” Karman said. “You’re not supposed to pass a funeral.”
They argued a bit, Victor growing more insistent, Pete standing his ground. Suddenly, Victor threw a leg between Pete’s shoulder and the door, shoved Pete to the passenger side, and jumped behind the wheel. He gunned the accelerator and the car shot out of lane, on a blind curve, swinging around the last car in the procession, past one big limousine after another.
The station wagon finally pulled abreast of the hearse. “Okay, we made it . . .” Victor started to say and Dylan shouted: “Cops!” At the front of the procession a state police crusier paced the way, its dome light gently revolving, and before Victor could slip back behind the hearse the trooper spotted him and waved him to pull over. The funeral procession ground to a halt.
“The stash!” Dylan shouted. “Hide the dope!” Karman grabbed the marijuana jar from the dash board, hobbled it like a nervous first-year quarterback, and passed it back. Dylan shoved it under a rear seat.
The cop walked over to the driver’s side and if they were all high a moment ago, they were now as sober as they’d ever be. “The registration,” the trooper said, in a soft Western drawl. Dylan pulled it out of his pocket and handed it over. Ashes & Sand was listed as the owner. The cop glared at the four freaky-looking guys in a brand new car and not one of them could safely be identified as Ashes & Sand.
“What are you people doing?” the cop asked.
“We’re a group,” Dylan said, holding up his guitar. “Like the Kingston Trio, but there’s four of us. We sing.” He couldn’t say he was Bob Dylan because the cop probably had never heard of Bob Dylan, but a group like the Kingston Trio might work. Dylan strummed a few chords and sang. Clayton joined him. The other two remained silent, for fear of giving it away. And the cop finally said: “OK, get on out of here. And be careful.” Victor drove off, slowly. Dylan leaned his head back. “Stop at the next gas station, Victor boy. I got something to do.”
They stayed over in Reno for a couple of days, gambling, Karman losing all his money, and then they pushed on towards San Francisco. Dylan had a concert in the Berkeley Community Theater and it had been sold out for weeks in advance. The undergraduates at the university and kids from as far north as Oregon and as far south as San Diego had joined the pilgrimage.
“By this time I was disillusioned, my mind was being blown,” Karman recalls. “Dylan was a very strange character. His notion of reality was like nothing else I’d ever experienced. I sort of was gettin’ the idea I was crazy. I was beginning to feel crazy when they were crazy, Victor a freaky nut and Dylan very weird and Clayton always high on pills, and I just had to break away from them.”
Karman had friends in San Francisco and he went to see them the night before the concert. They reinforced his feeling that some kind of insanity had struck the wandering ministrel and his entourage. But Karman was completely out of money, having dropped his last cent at the gambling tables, and he decided to stick it out to the end. A few hours before the concert he asked Victor for a pair of tickets, for his friends. “What are you talking about?” Victor demanded. “We got no tickets to spare for friends.”
“For Christ sakes, they’re my friends.” Karman said. “Of course you’ve got tickets. There’s always plenty of tickets for the performer to pass around to friends.”
“Sure,” Victor said. “But his friends. Not your friends.”
Dylan came in at that point and listened to the argument for a moment. Then he broke in: “What do ya want out of me, Peter?”
“I don’t want anything out of you,” Karman said. “I just asked for a couple of tickets for friends and I’m getting hassled.”
“You want tickets, right?” Dylan asked. “Then ya want something out of me.”
“I’ve never asked you for any . . .”
“I brought ya to a party for Peter, Paul and Mary,” Dylan shot back. Karman remembered it, of course. A birthday party for Peter Yarrow, a couple of months earlier, and Karman had been in a down mood and had stayed out of everyone’s way and Dylan was bringing it up now for the first time: “I take ya to a party and ya act cool and ya sulk all night, in front of my friends. Ya ignored all my friends.”
“What are you talking about?” Karman asked. “If it bothered you back then, why didn’t you say so? Funny time to be bringing it up.”
“Ya ignored my friends,” Dylan insisted, “and now ya want tickets for your friends. Very strange. You trying to use me, Peter?”
Karman’s brain felt like it was being wrenched around inside his skull. “I’m beginning to think I’m crazy,” he shouted, “when it’s really you guys who are crazy. You’re all out of your minds. I’m going back to New York before I get as crazy as you guys are.”
The concert was one of those memorable events that is still talked about in the San Francisco area. Dylan was never so attuned to an audience, his kind of audience, the hippest, most radical and aware college students in the country, and he held them the way few entertainers ever hold an audience, few Holy Roller gospel preachers either, for that matter. And when he came back after intermission and introduced Joan Baez — a stunning surprise — it electrified the audience. Dick Farina, who had been divorced by Carolyn Hester and had since married Joan’s sister, Mimi, wrote: “Had a literary audience been confronted by Dylan Thomas and Edna St. Vincent Millay the mood of aesthetic anxiety might have been the same.”
When the concert was ended, Dylan, Clayton, Maimudes, and a new member of the group, Bob Neuwirth — a folk singer who replaced Karman — drove down to Baez’s home in Carmel. Farina, who was there with Mimi, later recalled that Dylan brought French fried almonds, glazed walnuts, bleached cashews, dried figs, oranges and prunes. Joan’s mother, visiting from Paris, cooked a beef stew. They all sat around later talking about old friends back East, in Harvard Square and the Village, a gathering that wasn’t much out of the ordinary, except that it was the King and Queen — and by now that’s what the fan magazines were calling them. They played some old Everly Brothers records, Clayton sang some of the whaling and sea songs in which he specialized and a few Appalachian folk songs, and only once did anyone mention Dylan’s music. “You know, Bobby,” Joan said, “I’m thinking about recording a whole album of your songs.” Dylan replied: “Sure thing.” That’s all.
Suze was very upset by the time Bob returned to New York after his six-week absence. Toward the end of his trip he hadn’t bothered calling her at all. He had tried to keep her from seeing people and holding down a job, as has been pointed out, and yet he was gone for more than a month and had stopped calling her. When he returned it was as if he had slipped downstairs for a pack of cigarettes. And he seemed a lot meaner now.
Jack Elliott: “When he got famous around then, he got kinda mean. He was very quick, very sarcastic, dealt with people like a boxer, parrying blows and remarks and skipping out in a hurry. Which was good. Dylan’s way was the only way not to hurt yourself. These people just hang on and bore you to smithereens. It’s an energy drain. You have to shut the door on fans and groupies, even if it means running little numbers on them.”
But Dylan began to run some of his numbers on friends, using them as targets.
Carla Rotolo: “As things got worse and worse for him, in terms of demands on him, he got tighter and nastier. He’d tell people he’s got the truth, he was going to show everybody everything, tell them he had the truth about it all. That’s were he started using bayonets on people. He could look at you and pick out a weakness and suddenly grab it and use it on you. Which is what he did with everybody. He’d find their vulnerable spots, and just demolish them. At that time he was vicious to everybody.”
Sue Zuckerman: “Once we all went down to a little Chinese restaurant near Carla’s place on Avenue B, Bob, Pete, Suze and myself and a friend from college. We were talking about politics and history and Bob wouldn’t let anyone get a word in edgewise. But what he was doing was just fabricating what he called facts. It was about history, and forces of history, and he was trying to talk about the things he felt emotionally, but he insisted they were facts. He couldn’t back anything up, but he insisted they were facts and everybody should know them. He wasn’t letting anybody else speak, his whole attitude was that nobody else had anything to say on anything, and after a while Suze got up and left the restaurant kind of upset. His attitude wasn’t pretty. He used to say, ‘Dave Van Ronk always kids me that I never read any books but I know more than . . .’ and that kind of thing.”
Carla: “I used to stay in the Limelight till four in the morning because I didn’t want to go home. I’d come in and see them sitting in the room with the TV set, or a lot of people around, and there was no privacy, absolutely none. I felt I was some kind of freak. I began to think I was crazy because he had a way of telling you. ‘You’re full of shit, you’re this and that,’ and even my head was blown. I thought I was flipping out. Once I said to him, ‘Hey, man, again, let me take your place on Fourth Street and we can swap apartments and everybody’ll be happy,’ and he started coming on like the song he wrote about it all, ‘Ballad in Plain D,’ about my being lousy for this reason, and rotten for that reason. And a parasite. How could he call me a parasite when for a long time I was the only one with a job? But it was just devastating, the way he could twist somebody’s words back on themselves and make them feel he was right and they were wrong.”
Suze’s sister and her closest friend may not be the most objective witnesses available (especially since Dylan used his sharpest hooks on Carla in “Plain D,” getting revenge on her as he was to get revenge on so many others in his songs) but their collections of Dylan’s “viciousness” are corroborated by practically everyone who had contact with him at the time: Baez, Elliott, Ochs, Van Ronk, Dave Cohen, among them. It was not constant. Bob was frequently warm and funny and almost open with his nearest friends, but on many occasions when his mood swung to a dark, savage side, he ran his numbers on everyone.
For Suze and Bob, it all came to a head in March, during an argument that was more heated than any before. Dylan’s version is in “Ballad in Plain D.” Suze, he writes, was caught in the middle of an argument he had with Carla, the “parasite” sister. But what actually happened was between Bob and Suze, who broke down completely. Bob left the apartment and Suze once more went to live with her mother in New Jersey. It was the final break between them, although Bob attempted to get Suze to return to marry him for almost another year.
“He took it badly, very badly,” one friend recalls. “He used to come around the apartment and pound on the door and shout, ‘Let me in,’ but Carla wouldn’t open the door. Suze came back to live with Carla in a couple of weeks and Dylan kept coming around, but she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. In a couple of months, she’d see him occasionally and spend time with him and their friends, but she refused to go back to him. It was too late. It was over. He’d lost her by then, although he couldn’t realize that for a long time. He kept asking her to come back, but for Suze it was all over.”
I had heard the Beatles in New York when they first hit,” Dylan told me in 1971 as we sat in his studio. “Then, when we were driving through Colorado we had the radio on and eight of the ten top songs were Beatles songs. In Colorado! ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand,’ all those early ones.
“They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid. You could only do that with other musicians. Even if you’re playing your own chords you had to have other people playing with you. That was obvious. And it started me thinking about other people.
“But I just kept it to myself that I really dug them. Everybody else thought they were for the teenyboppers, that they were gonna pass right away. But it was obvious to me that they had staying power. I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go. I was not about to put up with other musicians, but in my head the Beatles were it. In Colorado, I started thinking it was so far out that I couldn’t deal with it — eight in the Top Ten. It seemed to me a definite line was being drawn. This was something that never happened before. It was outrageous, and I kept it in my mind. You see, there was a lot of hypocrisy all around, people saying it had to be either folk or rock. But I knew it didn’t have to be like that. I dug what the Beatles were doing, and I always kept it in mind from back then.”
Dylan went to England in May for a concert tour. In London the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Burdon of the Animals and members of some of the other rock groups that were changing the structure of pop music came out to see him. After his concert in London, Dylan spent some time with the Beatles — striking it off especially well with Paul McCartney and John Lennon — and they got stoned together; Dylan turned the Beatles on to marijuana. Bob later told one interviewer, “We just laughed all night, that’s all, just laughed all night,” not mentioning dope because back in 1964, you didn’t publicly admit using the stuff.
The English tour made a large impression on him, for the Beatles and the Stones demonstrated with great force that rock and roll was viable once more. Dylan, to a friend on his return to New York: “My God, ya oughtta hear what’s going down over there. Eric Burdon, the Animals, ya know? Well, he’s doing ‘House of the Rising Sun’ in rock. Rock! It’s fuckin’ wild! Blew my mind.” Burdon’s rock interpretation of that old folk song was the first folk-rock, although it wouldn’t be called that until Dylan returned to rock.
* * *
For Dylan, protest was completely dead at this time. He would never again write a song of explicit protest until “George Jackson.” Although he would continue publicly to perform the best of his protest songs for another year he was deliberately moving away from the Broadside niche. The shift was gradual, for Dylan knew one thing about his audience: “You gotta keep control over them. You can’t jump from one mountain to another. You gotta bring them along with you through the valleys so’s they can see what’s behind them and where they’re goin’ next. Nice and easy.”
To Phil Ochs: “The stuff you’re writing is bullshit, because politics is bullshit. It’s all unreal. The only thing that’s real is inside you. Your feelings. Just look at the world you’re writing about and you’ll see you’re wasting your time. The world is, well . . . it’s just absurd.”
And he began to express aloud the fears that friends sensed after Kennedy’s assassination:
“All I can say is politics is not my thing at all. I can’t see myself on a platform talking about how to help people. Because I would get myself killed if I really tried to help anybody. I mean, if somebody really had something to say to help somebody out, just bluntly say the truth, well obviously they’re gonna be done away with. They’re gonna be killed.”
There is also another factor in what many have called Dylan’s loss of commitment. He had become more certain of himself as an artist, as a poet; not simply a folk-poet, in the Guthrie tradition but an artist from whose grave-dark mind began to spring epic images. Bombarded by visionaries such as Rimbaud, Brecht, Byron, Ginsberg, and the anonymous authors of the Bible, among others, the songs, that were beginning to flow from him were growing more transcendent, less concretely objective, increasingly filled with the shapes of vivid fantasy, with the motifs out of the collective unconscious.
“I have to write for myself now,” he told one friend. “There’s stuff in me bustin’ to get out and I’m not gonna hold it back.”
* * *
The first public awareness of what was swirling in him came at the Newport Folk Festival in July, 1964. Dylan had, of course, written and performed, non-protest, personal songs before; “Bob Dylan’s Blues,” on the second album, actually started with a spoken introduction that was a put-down of the commercial folk song: “Unlike most of the songs nowadays, that’re bein’ written uptown in Tin Pan Alley, most of the folk songs, that is . . . this song was written somewhere down in the United States.” And many of his other songs were outside the protest idiom. But in Newport, 1964, Dylan provoked a storm by singing love songs — negative bitter songs of love gone wrong. The audiences were captivated by this Dylan; the kids responding to a young man who was suffering as they were. But the professional upholders of the folk tradition were aghast. Sing Out! published a long impassioned letter to Dylan, begging him not to change, demanding he not give up protest. “I wouldn’t mind so much if he sang just one song about the war,” Irwin Silber, the magazine’s editor, was quoted as saying at the time. Others accused Dylan of selling out to Grossman, to Columbia, to the fast buck.
The shouting grew more shrill a month later, with the release of Dylan’s fourth album, which contained many of the songs he performed at Newport. The album title, Another Side of Bob Dylan, told it all.
The album was a stunning reversal and made it clear beyond doubt that Bob had abandoned folk in his search for, depending on your point of view, greater meaning, or greater fame. Dylan was no longer the anthem-writing revolutionary. Much of it was clearly autobiographical, songs about the imperfections of man, forcing his audience to face themselves. A song is an experience, Dylan has said; you don’t have to understand the words to understand the experience, and trying to understand the full meaning of the words may destroy the feeling of the experience.
In “My Back Pages” Dylan says the old slogans and the old symbols don’t work. In the “love” songs he argues that the old consciousness doesn’t work; that we must get beyond consciousness and into ourselves and others. The poems that take the place of album liner notes are part of the collage that Dylan was building, part of the experience of Bob Dylan. Go fight your own battles, he says to Joshua, for Dylan has to go to the woods for a while to live and to dream, because he has learned that nothing makes sense, anywhere. That he has no answers, no truth. Except, maybe, don’t play their game; discover in your own head what it’s all about.
Dylan denied he was a leader of anything. “I agree with everything that’s happening, but I’m not part of no Movement,” he told Nat Hentoff.
Dylan’s role as hip hero was, in a sense, stage-managed by Bob Neuwirth, who encouraged it and almost directed it. As Farina described him, Neuwirth was one of the original hipster nomads who shuttled back and forth between Cambridge and Berkeley. He had worked the Club 47 in Cambridge when it was the folk center of the East, playing an easy country-folk at the time Baez, Von Schmidt, Hester and other young singers were making it there. It is said he was every bit as talented as Dylan, but never had Dylan’s obsessive drive. Neuwirth seemed to dissipate himself in a hundred directions. He is Dylan’s age, and at that time resembled him in a striking way: skinny, small, nervous, wasted, jumping around all the time, manic, with a very quick mind and a fast, caustic wit, elusive, almost as secretive as Dylan.
A singer, part of the Dylan set: “Neuwirth was a scenemaker, a very strong cat. When he got to New York in 1964, he started hanging around Dylan. And Dylan started to change at that time. Part of it was Neuwirth, he was a real strong influence on Dylan. Neuwirth had a negative attitude, stressing pride and ego, sort of saying, ‘Hold your head high, man, don’t take shit, just take over the scene.’ He was the kind of cat who could influence others, work on their egos and support those egos. His whole negative attitude fell in perfectly with what Dylan was feeling, because of Suze and the fame and all the rest of it.
As Dylan underwent the transformation into a “personality” he began to turn his back on old friends, many of whom grew angry because they felt he had used them. A couple we will call the Smiths, for example, hadn’t seen much of Bob in the past year and were somewhat bitter about it, that he had lived with them when he was unknown and in need of food, shelter and companionship, and slowly moved away from them as he grew famous. He had almost completely cut himself off from them by this time, and Mrs. Smith wanted to know why. She recalls:
“We saw him backstage at a concert, before he went on. Bobby was racing back and forth, getting ready, and we talked to Joan Baez for a while. We helped him with something on his trousers. And then I said to him: ‘Why haven’t we seen you? Shall it be my backyard or your backyard?’ And this boy, as fast as lightning, said, ‘There are no backyards.'”
A major turning point for Dylan came in the first months of 1965, when the Byrds demonstrated what could be done with Dylan’s songs by performing them to a modified rock beat. The previous summer, when Dylan was cutting the album Another Side, he had asked Jack Elliott to sing “Mr. Tambourine Man” with him. Elliott didn’t know all the words and the song didn’t work out. A tape of that out-take was sent to David Crosby, then leader of the Byrds. The group had been experimenting with electric instruments and they cut a single. “Tambourine Man” backed with Dylan’s “All I Really Want To Do.” Bob was sent an advance copy and, a member of his set recalls: “He was stunned. He ran around saying, ‘Fuckin wild!’ For Bob, it was like the Animals rocking ‘House of the Rising Sun’ all over again. Rock worked.”
He went into the studio at this time to work on his fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home. He brought with him Bruce Langhorne to play lead guitar, and 18 songs, some of which he had written in Woodstock over the preceding couple of weeks. Tom Wilson had several other studio musicians waiting. It was Dylan’s concept all the way but he was able to draw out of the other musicians their ideas, their musical feel, using them to give his music a substance.
Bringing It All Back Home was released in March, 1965, and eventually became his first million-dollar seller. The album erupted on the scene like an earthquake. Seven songs on the first side backed by electric instruments and the lyrics — in such symbolist poems as “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Maggie’s Farm,” “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.” and some of those written for the Philharmonic Hall concert: “Gates of Eden,” “It’s All Right, Ma,” and “Baby Blue” — were again denounced as a complete “sellout” by the folk purists.
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Joan Baez laughs with genuine pleasure as she remembers incidents from back then, during the years she and Bob were so very close.
She seldom talked about Bob in the past, she explains, because “there are so many people who live vicariously off people like Bobby, and I hate it when it happens.” And, also, “out of a loyalty to Bobby.” But once she began to reminisce about what it was like, being with Dylan, “I realized that everybody who talks about him must really like it because in all our lives there’s so few things that ring real.”
We talked for about three hours.
Tell me about the early days with Dylan, the first period. Did you get together?
Bobby was always just out of reach the way he probably is for most people. And, I can’t remember the order of how, I remember vaguely being at a party and he had just written “God on Our Side” and I was in that state of disbelief that anybody was turning out something like that. There was a lot of mystique about him, and also hiding. But sweet and funny you know, the really wonderful thing about him is that sense of humor, it’s really terribly funny, and cynical. And forming, you know, he was forming.
You brought Bob up as a guest on a number of your concerts. Had you drawn close?
Not really, I wanted people to hear him. I think we liked each other and I really loved him. 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 get that from most girls and women who knew him in those days, this great maternal . . .
Yeah, it was very maternal. And then I wanted to have as many people hear him as possible. I asked him to appear with me because he was brilliant. I loved him, I love his music, I wanted people to hear him. That was it. I mean, I wanted to share him. And he dug it. He’d get drunk and scared but he dug it. I guess the concert I remember most was Forest Hills. I was always afraid for Bobby. He didn’t seem to have the stage fright kind of fear. He seemed to submerge that and it came out in paranoia about people afterwards, like coming at him for autographs. He was so terrified. I remember times later when we sang together officially, you know, at those concerts where nobody could decide how to arrange the names so his wouldn’t be higher than mine, and mine higher than his — all that crap. Afterward, he’d have these big getaways all planned, it was just bullshit. I think that in a way he needed people pounding on the car and breaking the car antenna and climbing under the hood and everything.
He’d say “Wow, fucking my mind, I can’t stand this whole shit.” Obviously there were other ways to get out of a building. One time we got out of a limousine somewhere, when we were doing concerts together, and two girls came screaming, “There’s Bobby.” They came screaming at him, and he said “Oh, wow, let’s run,” and I said, “You dumb ass, just stand here,” and I took his hand, and he was like a little kid and they came up all hysterical and teary and I said, “Now stop acting so stupid and he’ll give you his autograph.” And then he calmed all down. They looked a little embarrassed. It was beautiful. I said, “Just talk to them a minute, Bobby,” so he did. He gets control the minute he sees he can have it, but I think he genuinely was terrified of people like that.
I saw it come out in very different ways. He never had the traditional stage fright the way I did, sit down and have diarrhea and feel nauseated for 45 minutes before a concert. He was always bopping around writing songs. But it would come out in another way, a sudden furious tantrum because his coat was stolen one time. That scene you probably heard about — it was unbelievable. This horrible little coat. I’m sure to this day he thinks I must have stolen it. Because I used to try to get him to — it had throw-up all over the front of it. I guess he got drunk and threw up on it. It was his favorite. It was this shitty-looking horrible brown thing, there are hundreds of pictures of him in it. It smelled horrible . . . was too short, it was short in the sleeves, made him look like a poverty-stricken little Welsh schoolboy.
I was really working on him, trying to get him to get rid of that jacket. And one night we showed up backstage — I guess we must have left for a while and gone back to the dressing room — and his jacket was gone. And he had a tantrum, I mean like a five-year-old, and he screamed at the policeman and the policeman scurried out, and he screamed at who else was there and they all scurried out. I think Neuwirth was there. And there was that kind of tension that I would always think would have something to do with having to perform. That night was amazing, though, because I wouldn’t scurry out. He was really wild-eyed with fury. “My fucking jacket . . . somebody took my fucking jacket, and all you fuckin, cops get out of here, and you fuckin’ — and fuck fuck fuck . . .”
I said “Oh Bobby, take it easy” or something, and he started to blow up because nobody was supposed to talk to him like that. And I asked, “You want to practice or do you want to have a tantrum?” Or some equally dumb maternal thing like that, and then he calmed down. He said “I’m not mad.” I mean I’ve seen that in other people before and I don’t know what you’d call it but he refused to admit he was mad. He switched roles, we practiced, he gave a brilliant performance in the first half. At intermission I said, “Gee, you ought to get pissed off more often,” and he had another tantrum. I mean it was terrible. He said, “I was not mad,” and I said “No, you were furious, but I won’t talk about it here.”
A number of reviews of concerts where you performed together said Bob detracted from the program, and there were also complaints from people at the Hollywood Bowl in ’63.
I think he was drunk or high on something, and he went on much too long. He could never resist singing what he had just written and he had just written “Lay Down Your Weary Tune.” It was 45 minutes long.
What was his reaction? Was he aware that the crowd was hostile?
He just seemed very young when this happened. He seemed young and smaller than usual, and I just wanted to protect him all the more. He’d say something like . . . Oh, he’d never talk about it. But if you brought it up, then he’d admit, “Hey, wow, ooh . . .”
Hollywood Bowl is a weird place. You see, in different places he was received differently. In Boston, as I recall, he was received well. He was drunk there, though, and that’s another thing I think is stage fright, too — getting loaded so he wouldn’t feel anything. He did beautifully, no matter how he was. He would stand up and sing whether he was smashed or straight. The concerts were fun. I mean I just looked forward to him as the funnest part of the concert for me, and I’d ask him up on the stage, and we’d sing mostly his stuff — a couple of other things we did. I guess we did “Butcher Boy.” But he’d just come up and sing, and in the hipper places people just went wild. They just loved him. He’d sing some stuff alone, and then we’d sing some stuff together.
When we used to sing concerts together and he’d start getting keyed up like that coat thing, oh, he’d start screaming about who was taking charge of the getaway car, who was this and who was that. I’d slip a Librium into his coffee. I don’t think he ever knew that. Sometimes I’d slip two of them and a couple of times it helped. I could see him sag a little bit and, whew — he was this bundle of nerves.
And he was never aware of it?
The Librium? I don’t think so. I think he would have been pretty pissed off if he had known.
And did the Librium improve his performances?
He didn’t need improving. It just improved my nerves a little bit.
Did it improve his stage presence?
He did relax a little bit.
His basic feeling about audiences, as I get it, is not quite yours. You’re concerned with your audience, he’s concerned with his material and himself more than the audience.
I could never figure out what he was concerned with. I mean the most real conversation I ever had with him — which was the beginning of Bobby and my splitting — was after the last concert we did together. I can’t remember when or where, it was somewhere on the East Coast . . . But, ah, we were having fun. There were a lot of people up in the hotel. That’s when Dan Kramer took those goofy pictures of him ironing my hair and stuff. We felt good together, it had been fun and everything. And then he said — you know, you’d get these private-private talks, you’d have to go and hide under a couch somewhere and talk — and he hauled me off to the bathroom and said, “Hey, hey, let’s do Madison Square Garden.” And I suddenly had a really funny feeling, and I said, “What are we gonna do with Madison Square Garden?” And he said, “I don’t know, man, it’ll just be a gas to do Madison Square Garden.” I thought about it a minute. “I’m scared,” I said. “I think what it means is that you’ll be the rock-and-roll king, and I’ll be the peace queen,” and he always put me down when I talked like that. He’d say, “Bullshit, bullshit,” but the fact was that night the kids in the audience had been pleading for “Masters of War, “God on Our Side,” any song that he’d ever written that meant something to them. And he knew immediately what I meant when I said I’d be peace queen and he’d be rock-and-roll king, and he said, “Hey, man, I heard those kids, I heard them right? I can’t be responsible for those kids’ lives.” I said, “Bobby, you rat, you mean you’re gonna leave them all with me?” He said, “Hey, hey, take them if you want them, but man, I can’t be responsible.” It didn’t mean he didn’t love them, you know. I think he was just afraid. But it was real, he meant it. And that was the last time we ever sang together.
What about ‘Don’t Look Back’? My impression was that was the last time you sang together.
I never sang with him. He wouldn’t let me sing, to put it bluntly. I should never have gone on that tour. It was sick. You see, originally I was going to go to England and have a concert tour, and in the middle of that Bobby’s rise to fame came so fast that a few months later, we thought we’d go together and do split concerts. By the time it got around to England, Bobby was much more famous there than I was, and so Bobby just took England. I mean I didn’t even bother with a tour. But, you see, I thought he would do what I had done with him, would introduce me, and it would be very nice for me because I’d never sung in England before. That’s what I had in my mind. And by the time we got to England, whatever had happened in Bobby’s mind — I’d never seen him less healthy than he was in England — he was a wreck and he wouldn’t ask me on the stage to sing. And I was really surprised. I was very, very hurt. I was miserable. I was a complete ass; I should have left. I mean, I should have left after the first concert. But there’s something about situations like that — you hang around. I stayed for two weeks, and then when I walked out the door in the film, I never came back after that. I went to France and stayed with my parents. They lived in France then. But it was one of the really most painful weeks in my life because I couldn’t understand really what the hell was going on.
Understand there was a proposal of marriage on Bobby’s part at one point which was around the time that you last . . .
Well, I wouldn’t put it that formally. We joked about it, you know. You see, Bobby and my coming together was inevitable: crown prince and Newport and all that stuff. It was inevitable. I was involved with other people, and he was involved with other people and when we finally shed all the other people and met — then we were together. But it was something that just had to happen in the course of our lives. I think that we both would halfway kid about it and get scared and back off. I wouldn’t say Bobby proposed to me. No, we talked about it. We talked about getting married. And we kidded about it because we knew, in a sense, we almost felt it was inevitable, too. But luckily we both had enough sense to realize that it would have been a complete disaster. But I think what happened was that I expressed it before he did. He would have, probably, eventually. But he was still in the joking stage and I said, oh, you know, it’d never work out or something . . . And after that was the switch, after that he never was . . . I mean, after that it was as though he was trying to get back at me . . .
Well, he’s got a highly developed sense, a need for approval.
And Pride. And obviously this was a rejection of him.
Yeah, I think that’s what happened. He was on the East Coast and I was on the West when that came about in a phone conversation. And ever after, it was as though he was playing around with my soul. But you see we were still going to go to Europe, which was really dumb on my part because I should have understood his kind of psyche and how he was going to feel. “Hey sure, sure come to Europe, you can help me out,” is what he said, and I thought that meant I would sing with him, and I think probably, originally, he planned on it and then decided against it.
Were you aware at the time, before you got to Europe that he was bigger than you?
Yeah, I knew that perfectly well, which is why I canceled my tour. I was just perfectly happy in that position, that I’d go to Europe and then . . . When the plane landed in England, I think Bobby was torn because he was scared and he wanted me by his side. I couldn’t tell that then, and I stayed back because I felt very much that I didn’t want to impose on his scene. It was Bobby’s tour, and I stayed about ten feet in back of him, literally not noticed by anybody. That was fine. But a couple of times, as I think back, he gave a look. It was like “Help,” and I couldn’t decide whether it was more important to go and help him.
What was the situation?
It was just coming out of a building, out of the airport after a press conference, and he went like [signaling], like “Come here,” but I didn’t want to jump into his scene. Maybe it was stupid modesty, maybe I should have, ’cause maybe he needed me then. But I didn’t jump in. And that happened a couple of times. Then after that he never asked me again, so then I never saw him. I mean I was like never allowed . . . Oh, I went into the room and stuff, but it was that stupid revolting scene. Bobby would get the record player and put on his record, sit with his back to everybody and type, and everybody’d sit around and eat. It was really revolting. The most human he got was that night in the film where he’d been typing and we sang some stuff, or I sang a song he’d written and forgotten, and then I kissed him on the head and left.
And that was the last real contact you had with him?
No, I saw him once years later, in a concert in San Jose. I went to see him in San Francisco and then San Jose, I think. Or two nights in a row, I think, in San Francisco, and then I spent late into the night with him in San Jose. But he was not being real. He was getting into these arguments with people about . . . I remember him saying, “Hey man, if ya gonna bomb Hanoi, whyn’t the fuck, man, they bomb Hanoi? I mean, I don’t give a fuck if they bomb Hanoi.” It was all sort of saying, “Hello Joanie,” I felt, when he couldn’t say anything more real than that. And that was when he was married and he didn’t tell me he was married.
Yeah. That was very confusing, too. And he . . . I don’t think . . . I think he didn’t want to be around me, or I was too much to bother with, or he was genuinely not interested at that point. I feel now as though I really imposed myself. I should have gone home, but people don’t. I mean, when you’re around somebody like Bobby, you do impose. I mean, you stay around until everybody is kicked out.
I’ve never understood charisma. There aren’t many people who have as much as Bobby has. I’ve never met anybody who has as much. There’s also the charm about Bobby’s being maniacal. I mean you can’t resist watching it, see which way it’s going to go next, even if you stand there and get hit over the head with it.
Did you feel this in the very beginning?
Oh, yeah, the charisma, and it was obvious he was on the edge of something. You see, I think Bobby comes closer to being psychotic than neurotic. I just say that because of the couple times that he got drunk and turned against friends, just turned on them, and I couldn’t believe it. I would never buy it. It wasn’t real. I would stand there and fight him.
I guess the most I did take was in England, and I’m amazed when I look back that I took that much. But I loved him and I couldn’t believe that he was, you know, just being so hurtful. And even when he was sick, at the end of that tour, when he got so sick, and God I was just in agony. I didn’t know how sick he was, and I wasn’t allowed in his room. I think he over-ate in Sweden or something. They all went off . . . I mean you live with Albert Grossman, you’re gonna eat. Everybody said. “I’m tired of being in England, let’s go someplace where there’s a good restaurant.” I don’t know if they went to India or someplace, but everybody took off and came back sick. And I didn’t know whether Bobby had tonsillitis, syphilis or just a stomachache or what, but he was pretty sick and that’s when he called in Sarah. But he would see my mother, he’d see everybody, but he wouldn’t see me.
I went out and bought him a shirt, something. I mean I wanted to tell him that I loved him, that I cared for him, that it didn’t matter what was going on and everything, and I was glad Sarah was there because she seemed to care for him, you know, somebody to take care of him. And I bought him a shirt and went to the door and, I’d never met her but I guess that’s who came to the door. And she took it and I never heard anything after that. That was the closest I got to seeing him. And then I left England.
Did Bob ever talk about where he was going, talk about the writing, talk about the Movement?
No, he just denied everything he’d ever done as he moved along. He said something to me once . . . Of course, I have to distinguish between before and after that one phone call. Before, he was more honest with me, but it would take me sometimes four hours to get something out of him that I knew was the truth. And then he’d say, “Hey, don’t you never tell nobody, man. You’re the only fuckin’ chick who’s ever made me do that.” I mean, ’cause nobody had the patience . . .
One night he shouted at Victor. Bobby was in one of his psychotic frenzies about . . . I don’t know what it was about, but it was at my house in Carmel, and he said, “Victor, Victor, you’re nothing but a road manager.” I said “Bobby, what a way to talk. Is that . . . ?” And he said, “Hey, why don’t you keep out of this?” And I said I didn’t want to hear him talk like that in my house. Then it all simmered down and later on I said, “Bobby, why did you talk that way, why are you rude to me?” He said, “Hey, the only reason I said what I said to you is that you looked hurt, right?” I thought, “Did I look hurt? I did not look hurt.” I said, I did not look hurt, I wasn’t hurt. I was mad.” He said. “Hey, you were hurt,” and I said, “Bobby, I wasn’t hurt and you know it,” and he said, “Hey, hey I know it, hey, but don’t ever tell nobody.” He said, “Hey, you’re the only chick who pins me down on that kind of shit, hey. I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to think about it.” And then he was in a good mood again and we laughed. But I can’t believe it. He does that to people all the time, and they really think, “Oh, I must have looked hurt.”
Did you ever pin him down on his writing, or his feelings?
No, it came to a draw. I said something about “God on Our Side.” “What were you thinking when you wrote that stuff? He said. “Hey, hey, news can sell, right?” and I said “Oh, Bobby, speaking of selling, you don’t think I’m gonna buy that, do you?” He said, “You know me, I knew people would buy that kind of shit, right? Hey, I never was into that stuff,” and he denied it all. I said, “Well, you can deny it till you’re blue, but you know I’m never gonna believe it.” I never carried it farther than that.
He teased about songs, I got him in some songs, but not the radical ones. It was like “Four Letter Word.” I remember he’d just written it all out on paper, and he said, “Hey, can ya dig this?” I read it off, he hadn’t finished the last verse yet. He said, “Bet ya can’t guess what’s gonna happen,” and I said, “Sure I can, you’re gonna go back to the girl’s house and fuck her.” And he said, “You bitch, how’d you figure that out?” And I said, “‘Cause that’s what you always do.” It didn’t take any genius on my part. Teasing, things like that. But I don’t remember . . . because I don’t know if it was clear to Bobby what he was doing when he was writing those songs. But you can’t take “God on Our Side” and pretend you wrote it because you thought it was gonna sell.
Oh, he was so busy saying, he was busy being dada, everything’s crazy, sort of comical, cynical or however you want to put it. And he was avoiding being real with anybody by doing that. I mean he had weird stuff going on. He’d just written “Visions of Johanna,” which sounded very suspicious to me, as though it had images of me in it. I mean, I can’t ever say that publicly. But he’d been talking to Ginsberg about it. First of all he had never performed it before, and Neuwirth told him I was there that night and he performed it. And that was very odd. I was listening to the song and sort of inwardly wanting to feel flattered, but wondering whether — you know, I mean, everybody in the world thinks Bobby’s written songs about them, and I consider myself in the same bag. But I would never claim a song. But certain images in there did sound very strange.
Then Ginsberg came up at one point and said, “What do you think ‘Visions of Johanna’ is about?” And I said, “I don’t know, Ginsberg, your guess is as good as mine.” He said. “No, no, what do you think it’s about? Bobby says . . .”and then he reeled off this pile of crap that had nothing to do with anything. And I said, “Did Bobby say that or did you make that up, Allen?” I had the feeling the two of them were in sort of cahoots to make sure I never thought the song had anything to do with me. I had that feeling a lot. And I wouldn’t give any . . . I mean Ginsberg was trying to get me to say I thought the song was written about me, and I would never say that about any of Bobby’s songs.
You had the feeling Ginsberg was acting as Bobby’s front man?
Yeah, I did. You see, he had been hanging around Ginsberg. That’s another great story, funny story, of how I meet Ginsberg for the first time. And by the way, I dig Allen. He’s crazy, but I dig him. It was at a party. I guess Bobby and I must have given a concert. I was feeling very off Bobby that night, so Bobby was trying to make it with some redhead. He got very drunk at this party, and he was flirty-flirty-flirty-flirty, talk-talk-talk with this redhead. And so I started talking with Neuwirth and hanging out with Neuwirth. I think Neuwirth had on a blue velvet jecket. Anyway Ginsberg came up, introduced himself and announced he wanted to fuck Bobby. And I said, “Well hello, what’s holding you back?” And he said, “I’m shy.” I said, “Isn’t that sad?”
I can’t remember much more about that meeting except that’s all Ginsberg wanted to talk about. I was a little insulted myself. I hadn’t realized he wouldn’t have any interest in me at all and was just using me to get to Bobby. 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. You see, when people fall in love with Bobby, they do it all the way.
He just did seem like a huge ego bubble, I mean, frantic, and lost, and so wrapped up in ego that he couldn’t have seen more than four feet in front of him . . . Well he can’t anyway, without his glasses. And also, see, I’d written him a note on Ralph Gleason’s typewriter saying could I come back and see him because it would make it easier for me. I still felt terrible from London. Obviously, in a way something in me was still in love with Bobby. I mean that’s hard to get over because, I mean it’s not real. It’s just that when somebody ignores you, you always wonder where you’ve missed and want to get back to be OK — “Do you still like me, do you still like me, am I still OK in your book?” And that’s what the note was really saying and apparently Gleason handed him the note and Bobby didn’t even look inside. He said “Oh yeah” or something, and was very vague about it. “Oh yeah, sure, tell her to come on back and say hi,” so I went back to say hi and he was, I felt, just completely unreal. “Hi, hi, I hear you’re running a school.”
Up to now, I still wonder what Bobby thinks about me. You’re bound to do that with somebody you loved once and who it seems, turned on you. But he would never . . . Superficially, he’d say, “Turn on her? Wha? You know I talk to her, ‘How you doing, you got a nice school.'” But inside you’re wondering what does Bobby really think? I mean people want to be loved, want to be accepted, and when you feel as though somebody slapped you in the face you always want them to reassure you that they haven’t. And so that also is what I was feeling. But I have the going backstage things mixed up. I can’t remember which year is which and which night I stayed on and saw him afterward and had that discussion about Hanoi and which time I went home. When I wrote the “Dada King” was the time I went back home. And I did have this wonderful feeling afterwards, just tenderness, complete tenderness. I didn’t feel demanding, like “Why doesn’t Bobby spend time with me, and what’s he doing with that stupid girl in the polka dot dress?” which is what I thought when I saw him at the party. I just thought. “I hope somebody takes care of that kid.”
Some of your memories of Bobby, personally and professionally?
Oh, I think of the time at Woodstock. That was one of the nicest times we ever had. We were all staying out at that, ugh. Bearsville, the big house, the big haunted house. Just gave me the fuckin’ willies. People talking . . . Well, I had nightmares. You know, when you’re in a place and you wish you weren’t there . . . And it happened that night. The next morning, Dick Farina, who was always into that kind of thing, he was staying there. Mimi, Dick, and Bobby and I, and I guess a bunch of other people around the house. And in the morning I looked like hell. I was just all green. I just passed through the house all night long in my dreams, and Dick, suspicious, said. “Did you have bad dreams?” And I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “This house, isn’t it?” And he went into this long great history of the house and how it used to have these pictures in the halls. I had dreamed about axes, I had dreams about people chopping up people all night, and Bobby — you couldn’t get anything out of Bobby. When Bobby was out he was completely out, and I didn’t want to wake him. I didn’t want to scare him by telling him his house was haunted anyway. And the next day. Bobby and I went on a motorcycle ride. I can’t remember who was driving. I think he was driving. I had dreamed about axes all night long. We talked about axes all morning long. We came to this fork in the road, and there was an axe lying there in the middle of the road. I was terrified. It was one of those dreams where it hangs over you the whole next day.
Another thing that I remember Bobby saying. We were sitting out, there was a lot somewhere in Woodstock near the antique stores. We were just sitting out on a little knoll. He used to go out a lot. He managed to go places in Woodstock. That was in the old days, though. I mean, it would be different for him now, anyway. But we used to go to that little coffee shop all the time. We had fun then. But he just said something about his memory. He said, “Hey, hey, tell ya one thing, hey. I got a fantastic memory, right? I don’t never forget nothing.” And I think it’s probably true. I mean he forgets what he wants to forget, but if he wants to remember something, he’ll remember. He’ll go to his grave with it.
I used to drive his motorcycle around. I used to prefer to drive because he was a terrible driver, just terrible. I mean, I figured he was writing ten songs at once and trying to drive at the same time, and I always feared for us. So I’d always say. “Could I drive?” he drove so sloppy, he used to hang on that thing like a sack of flour. I always had the feeling it was driving him, and if we were lucky we’d lean the right way and the motorcycle would turn the corner. If not, it would be the end of both of us. So I’d say, “Bobby, you cheat, remember you’ve got somebody on here with you. Maybe that’ll help you steer it, an’ everything, better.” Once when we got out of a store I said, “Let me drive,” and he said OK. So he got on the back and I drove and went over a bump and he said, “Hey, watch it, waddaya think I am, a fucking can of tomatoes?” What a nut. And I laughed. Sometimes when he’d say something like that I’d laugh for an hour.
Another time, he got drunk after a concert. Bobby insisted on driving and we got in the old station wagon. He was driving us all from the city to Woodstock, Mimi and Dick and Bobby and me and maybe somebody else. And he was driving horrendously. We were just all terrified. Gee, he terrifies you. You’re afraid to say anything. And I was thinking “I wonder if I took the keys out if that would do it,” because we all said, “Oh Bobby, let me drive, hah, hah,” you know, pussyfooting around, and he was having a wonderful time. “Hey, I don’t know what everybody’s so fuckin’ scared about. I can drive, right? I can drive.” I mean, if he’d taken his glasses off it wouldn’t have made any difference. He really nearly killed us. Finally Mimi and I said, “Oh, we have to go to the bathroom,” so he had to pull in, and we all got out of the car and he got out of the car, and somebody else jumped in the driver’s seat. And he laughed when he came back from the bathroom. “Oh, man I can’t believe it. Everybody’s so fuckin’ scared. Everybody’s so chicken. Wow, I can’t believe it.” And I said, “Oh shut up,” and he got in the back seat, put his head in my lap and was asleep in about thirty seconds. Sweet little baby.
Reminisce a little more about some of those concerts where he was your guest.
You know when he wrote “When the Ship Comes in”? That was amazing, the history of that little song. We were driving around the East Coast, we were out in the boondocks somewhere, and I had a concert to give. I don’t even know whether he was singing with me at that point, but he and I were driving together and we stopped. I said, “Run in and see if this is the right place,” so he went in and came out and said, “Hey there’s no reservations here.” I went in and they said, “Hello, Miss Baez, we’ve been waiting for you.” And I said, “Hold it a minute. I want an extra room, please.” And then Bobby walked in, and he was all innocent and looking shitty as hell and I said, “Give this gentleman a room.” And they said, “Oh certainly,” but they wouldn’t talk to him. He had said, “Does Joan Baez have a room here?” and they had said “No.” And he went out. So then he went to his room and wrote “When the Ship Comes In”: “Your days are numbered.” He wrote it that night, took him exactly one evening to write it, he was so pissed, “Hey, hey I’m writin’ something. Hey, I’m writin’ something.” I couldn’t believe it, to get back at those idiots so fast.
Did he do a lot of writing in your place at Carmel? Somebody was telling me he would sit in a corner with a Coke bottle and typewriter.
Well, he was writing Tarantula then. God, I still have a great hunk of it. If he wants it back he can have it. He wrote like a ticker tape machine. He’d just stand there with his knees going tung, tung, tung, back and forth. He was standing, and he’d smoke all day and drink wine. The only way I could get him to eat was to go over and eat right next to him, just peer over his shoulder and chew, and right away he’d start picking at whatever I had in my hand. So I made picking food. Otherwise I’d say, “You want something to eat?” and he’d say, “No, no.” One time he was visiting, he wrote “Hattie Carroll,” and one time he wrote “Four Letter Word,” and a couple of other things. But mostly the second time he was there, he was writing his book.
He ever talk about the name, talk about the book, what he was trying to do?
No, he just said. “Hey, hey, writing about my childhood. Wait’ll you meet the girl named Mona, right?” So 15 pages he’d write about Mona. He wrote some beautiful things about running up to his own house and trying to get in. He had to pee, something about his mother behind the screen door and he was jumping up and down — he had to pee. I mean, they were beautiful. He never edited anything. He couldn’t bear to take anything out of the sentence he’d written.
I was thinking of how at first I didn’t want to talk about Bobby. But when I got started I realized that everybody who talks about him must really like it because in all of our lives there’s so few little things that ring real. Most people are half dead and Bobby may be on a death trip, but he’s got more life, more zonk or something to him. So you start talking about him.
What makes you think he may be on a death trip?
I always pictured Bobby with a skull and crossbones on his forehead. I guess it’s because I’ve seen him be destructive to himself and to other people. I’ve seen him not take care of himself. But see, I haven’t seen him in years . . . But back then I would say he was on something of a death trip, in a way. A withdrawal from life to me always seems like that, a withdrawal from commitment. But whenever somebody is mystical, I mean, you have to be a mystic to be a saint, and you don’t have to be a saint to be a mystic. And Bobby’s a mystic. He may be more devil than he is saint, I don’t know. But he gave us a lot.
You don’t have any idea where his head may be now, from having known him well, back then?
No. I think he’d like to be somewhere comfortable and I don’t know if that’s possible for somebody with a mind like that I think he’s attempting that, from everything I’ve heard about him, he’s attempting it with his wife and children. I mean I hope he finds something there. Maybe he has. Some people say he’s happier.
And others say he seems to be searching for something he lost back along the way. That is, he bought the house in the Village, and he’s back down there because he’s looking for something.
Yeah, I can’t imagine Bobby sitting back and saying, “Oh, hi,” or “I’ve finally found peace.” But then who the hell would say that except some moron? Especially because I think he’s gonna try to be isolated and I don’t think you find it that way. I think you’ll always feel guilty enough in that isolation that you can’t find peace. But I do think he’s calmed down and I think that maybe some of the worst times of his life may be over. Like England. I mean England was hell. And I think it was as much hell for him as for anybody else. He was tied up in knots. That’s what I thought anyway. He was treating everybody like shit and screamin’ and hollerin’, having fits.
Were you able to separate loving his music and loving the man?
Oh, I don’t know, that’s a hard question to answer. I mean, how could you imagine Bobby not ever having written that stuff? He wouldn’t be Bobby if he didn’t write that, and if he weren’t a genius I . . . It was everything, you know. It was the whole combination that makes up Bobby that made him irresistible. His humor, his warehouse eyes.
One time, it was his super grubby days, we were driving somewhere and I looked through his glasses when he turned his head or something. I said “Jesus, Bobby,” and I took his glasses off and cleaned them, and he said “Oh hey, wow, hey, I can see.” And I said, “How’d you like to be able to hear?” He was pretty low, and it made him laugh. He was really a grubby cat. He threw up out the window that night. He got drunk on wine, and in a tunnel somewhere he threw up, just had time to holler to whoever was in the back seat to shut their windows.
But some of it was just really beautiful, I remember days . . . I guess we were with Victor and Dick and Mimi and Bobby. We’d stop on the highway and get out and dance and horse around — be crazy. Then Bobby and I would just fall asleep in the back of the station wagon. That was just really, really nice. Because I mean if you’re with somebody for a long period of time, they’re bound to have to calm down.
Once he bought me a beautiful coat, a blue-green corduroy thing. I wore it with a silk scarf. And I bought him a black jacket, and some weird lavender cuff links, and a white shirt. I remember it was winter then and we were staying at the Earle in the Village. We were leaning out the window one morning and watching the kids. I felt as if I’d been with Bobby for a hundred years, and all those kids wandering around out there were our own children, you know? This couple looked up and I know they recognized us. They were beautiful . . .
After the English tour, Dylan said, he decided to quit because it was too easy for him. It was down to a pattern, he complained.
He told one friend: “I play these concert and I ask myself: ‘Would you have come to see me tonight?’ and I’d have to truthfully say: ‘No, I wouldn’t come. I’d rather be doin’ something else, really I would.’ That’s where it’s at for me. My words are pictures and the rock’s gonna help me flesh out the colors of the pictures.”
The decision was made: Dylan had to get a band behind him. Several rock musicians he began to work with at this time helped him flesh out the pictures, helped him take the step into electrified sound. Mike Bloomfield was one. Another was Robbie Robertson, of the group now called the Band. Some months after his return from England, Dylan met Robertson and the other members of the group — Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. They then called themselves Levon and the Hawks. John Hammond Jr., the blues guitarist and singer, son of the Columbia executive who had first signed Dylan, got them together with Dylan. By the summer of 1965, Dylan had grown very close to Robertson and they frequently jammed together; Robertson, one of the more dynamic lead guitarists around, frequently sat in as Dylan was writing some of his songs, lending a counterpoint to Dylan’s melody, following Dylan’s lead and direction to make it possible for him to capture in sound what was in his head.
Dylan had gone into the studio at the end of May and recorded a single, “Like A Rolling Stone.” “I wrote it soon as I got back from England,” he told writer Jules Siegel. “It was ten pages long. It wasn’t called anything, just a rhythm on paper — all about my steady hatred directed at some point that was honest. In the end it wasn’t hatred. Revenge, that’s a better word. It was telling someone they didn’t know what it’s all about, and they were lucky. I had never thought of it as a song, until one day I was at the piano, and on the paper it was singing. ‘How does it feel?” in a slow motion pace, in the utmost of slow motion. It was like swimming in lava hanging by their arms from a birch tree. Skipping, kicking the tree, hitting a nail with your foot. Seeing someone in the pain they were bound to meet up with. I wrote it. I didn’t fail. It was straight.”
Revenge. Most of his songs from this point on would be songs of revenge. Dylan angrily sticking the hatchet into people who had hurt him, or whom he believed were destroying themselves and trying to destroy him because they didn’t know truth. They were shadow-people, alienated from experience, divided from their true natures, so deluded by illusion that they were cut off from the inner reality. “Rolling Stone” could have been written for Neuwirth, as Joan Baez believes; it could have been written for her; more likely it was written for everyone Dylan believed had been trapped by the poison, including Dylan himself.
The depth of the change in Dylan was fully revealed on Sunday night, July 25, 1965, at the Newport Folk Festival. Dylan was introduced by Peter Yarrow, but no one paid attention to his words this time, for Dylan needed no introduction. Bringing It All Back Home was selling several thousand copies a week. “Rolling Stone” was being played on Top 40 AM radio, music for teenyboppers.
When he came running out on stage there was little doubt this was a new Dylan. Gone were the boots and the jeans and work shirts. When Dylan made himself over in a new identity, he did it inside and out, and the outside was now a reflection of the sights he had seen in England: kids expressing themselves and demonstrating their disdain of authority in wild and freaky clothes. Dylan had returned with a wardrobe of the latest London mod fashion, and he came out onto the Newport stage in a black leather jacket, black slacks, a dress shirt, and pointed black boots with Chelsea heels. Carrying a solid body electric guitar.
The audience sat transfixed as someone plugged his guitar into the amps and as a rock combo took its place behind him — the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Dylan launched immediately into “Maggie’s Farm.” The audience was bewildered, upset. This wasn’t their Bob Dylan. There were a few boos, mixed in with a smattering of applause. Most of the audience simply sat on its hands. Dylan plunged on and the boos grew more insistent. When he swung into “Like a Rolling Stone” no one clapped, and the boos and the hecklers’ shouts rang through the Festival site. “Go back to the Sullivan show!” someone shouted and laughter rolled up from the audience and across the stage. Dylan turned and stalked off, driven from the stage. Some who were there, behind the scenes, said there were tears in his eyes as he made his way backstage, and tears in the eyes of Pete Seeger, who was standing off to one side while rock was desecrating the hallowed Folk Festival ground.
“I did not have tears in my eyes,” Dylan said in one of our talks. “I was just stunned and probably a little drunk.”
Bob returned to the stage and quickly launched into “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” from the non-rock side of his latest album. The folk fans didn’t understand that the song was Dylan again bidding the old allegiance goodbye. Friends say the song was written for blue-eyed Paul Clayton, marking the end of a very close and warm relationship, although Dylan denies it. But the fans cheered now because they believed they had won Dylan back to “pure” folk, had forced him to accede to their demands. They gave him a standing ovation, shouting “More!” and someone called out “‘Tambourine Man.'” Dylan said: “All right, people. I’ll sing that for ya.” The folk crowd knew only that he was using the proper guitar.
Bob was deeply hurt by the reaction at Newport. He hadn’t expected it, and he was enormously upset. Upset at the reaction, and upset that he had apparently misjudged his audience, had lost control. But as events unfolded, Newport worked out to his advantage. Although he may have lost a few folk fans, the publicity helped him gain an even wider audience among the young disaffected. His album began to sell at a quickened pace, and “Rolling Stone” shot up the charts.
Dylan had now plunged into a complete search for the self that he had denied during his protest period. He was into life, in all its forms: into drugs more heavily, establishing friendships with Allen Ginsberg and other poets and artists. “Doing things for kicks, that’s why I do things, without hangups, just an attitude of ‘Why not?’ I tell you, I’m willing to try anything once. Turn on to a realization of things.” He was deliberately experiencing life in all its ugly-beautiful forms, living a life of total freedom, no matter where it led. He was attempting to come to a “realization of things” by completely throwing off all the learned attitudes imposed by society, attitudes that have repressed naturalness and sexuality, imposed a false consciousness over man’s natural drives.
Phil Ochs: “From the moment I met him I thought he was great, a genius, Shakespearean. Every succeeding album up to Highway 61 Revisited, I had an increasing lot of secret fear: ‘Oh, my God, what can he do next? He can’t possibly top that one.’ And then I put on Highway 61, and laughed and said it’s so ridiculous. It’s impossibly good, it just can’t be that good. And I walked away and didn’t listen to it again right away because I thought this was too much . . . Listening to Dylan is like climbing a ladder; you look at it as you would a painting. You don’t look at a painting and say, ‘That’s great,’ and walk away from it. And you don’t listen to Dylan once and say. ‘That’s good.’ It’s the kind of music that plants a seed in your mind and then you have to hear it several times — ten times. And as you go over it you start to hear more and more things . . . He’s done it. He’s done something that’s left the whole field ridiculously in back of him. He’s in his own world now . . .”
The Presley-fame was in his grasp, but he would never pull it off.
The Beatles got in the way, certainly, but there were deeper reasons why Dylan blew it. Mostly, it seemed to be a recurrence of Dylan’s fear that he would be swallowed by it all, destroyed by fame. He was becoming too visible once more in a world full of danger; that inner self was being threatened again.
“They want me to handle their lives,” Dylan told a friend at this time. “That’s a lot of responsibility. I got enough to do handling my own life. Trying to handle somebody else’s life you gotta be a very powerful person. The more people’s lives you got responsibility for, the bigger the weight is. I don’t want that. Too much for my head.”
The quality of the fame troubled him, and brought enormous pressures on him. To many who heard him and believed they understood him, he was almost a Christ. Those who knew him personally were struck by the magnetism, the power of his personality. “He’s got the heaviest vibes I’ve ever felt on anyone,” Eric Andersen says. “His power, his mystique, just affected people in crazy ways,” says Dave Cohen. “Even just from hearing him on records you have to say, ‘This guy knows, this guy feels,’ and want to be with him.” And a young Australian actress, who would meet him a few months later: “He was Christ revisited. I felt that everything fitted, without being Christian-religious or anything. I began to feel Dylan was sacrificing himself in his whole philosophy, and that eventually he would die . . .”
More than ever now, he needed protection; more a bodyguard than the mindguard that had originally surrounded him. The Dylan Village group was a tight little circle: Victor Maimudes as bodyguard; Phil Ochs, Eric Andersen, Dave Van Ronk and Tom Paxton as sort of anvils off which he could flash his verbal pyrotechnics; Bob Neuwirth and Dave Cohen straddling both roles. Few others could break into their scene.
Of the singers and writers on the scene at this time, Dave Cohen appears to have been closest to Dylan. He became Dylan’s bodyguard and companion around the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. “He needed a friend,” Cohen says. “So he started including me in his scene and I got tight with him. He didn’t like to be alone. He couldn’t go out alone, but the scene had to be made because he was the number one star. My role was like protection. It wasn’t stated, but I responded that way.
“I didn’t feel it was Dylan and me, two guys going places. It was him, and I’d go out and get a cab if he needed a cab. Not like a lackey, but just that he couldn’t go out and get a cab. But it was an equal exchange. He’d do something for you. Like needs. I had a need for him. It was his scene, that’s what he gave. I got a lot of notoriety. Not looking for it, but it was there.”
When Cohen began singing professionally, at the urging of Dylan and others, he changed his name to Dave Blue (he’s since taken his own name again). Blue was suggested by Eric Andersen because it fit Cohen’s personality at the time: gruff, nasty, unsmiling, suspicious. He looked and acted a lot like Dylan. “I was unable to make contact with people,” he says, “and when I hooked up with Dylan I became even more sarcastic. I fell into a pattern, a routine, of cutting people up.” Cohen is not so mean today, but he still resembles Dylan somewhat, and doesn’t smile much. He remembers those months in 1965 with a great deal of fondness.
“Dylan was very hostile, a mean cat, very cruel to people,” Cohen says. “But I could see the reasons for it. It was very defensive, for one thing. Just from having to answer too many questions. The big thing was that his privacy had been invaded. It was just too heavy for him, being the center of attention, having people all around, asking things and demanding answers. He was a street cat, man, and he lost it. He lost his freedom.
“Another thing about his hostility, we were the competition. All the singers, like Ochs, were in competition with Dylan. All writing songs, competing for an audience. Even I was writing at this time. But Phil especially was the competition. He always expected to be as big as Dylan, saying, ‘I’m gonna go that far.’ He thought he would be playing that big. Ochs wanted to take Dylan’s place and it must have seemed absurd to Dylan, that Ochs would dethrone him. Dylan had it almost by accident, he never dreamed it was going to happen. At one point he figured he would just be as big as Van Ronk. Never beyond that. There was no beyond in the folk scene. It just didn’t exist. Then everything went crazy. And everybody wanted what he had.”
Van Ronk recalls: “I remember sessions at the Kettle of Fish where Dylan was especially obnoxious to Ochs, Andersen and Dave Cohen. And I realized something: Bobby came over like that because he knew something about those guys, he was into them — they wanted to get rich. They were hungry, scuffling cats looking to grab the brass ring. The big thing to keep in mind is that Bobby wanted to be a superstar. When he discovered the reality of being a superstar he freaked out.”
One night Bob trained his guns on Ochs: “You oughta find a new line of work, Ochs. You’re not doin’ very much in this one.” Andersen, uncharacteristically, leaned over and told Dylan: “Why don’t you lay off him? Leave him alone.” Bob looked hurt, and very angry. “What do ya want me to talk about?” he shouted. “I buy your wine, I try to be your friend. What do ya want me to talk about? The rats in the sewers? Or the sunrise over the Hudson?”
“He got real uptight,” Andersen says. “Nobody dared to ever say anything to Dylan. Everybody had this awe of Dylan — not awe behind his back, but to his face. He knew it. Even Jack Elliott was smitten by the Dylan fame. Phil worshipped him.”
One night Dylan played his new single, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window,” for Ochs and Cohen. Before he put it on he told them: “This is the one I’ve been trying to do for years, this is the record that’s really got it.” He played it and asked: “What do ya think?” Cohen said he thought it was simply great, a good driving rock piece. And Ochs replied: “It’s OK, but it’s not going to be a hit.” Dylan’s anger turned to cold fury. “What do ya mean, it’s not going to be a hit? You’re crazy, man. It’s a great song. Ya only know the protest, that’s all.” At that point a limousine arrived to take them to one of the uptown discos. They all climbed in and after the driver had moved up Sixth Avenue a few blocks, Dylan shouted at him: “Pull over.” When the car stopped at the curb Dylan turned to Ochs and said: “Get out here, Ochs.” Ochs was appalled, frozen. He wasn’t certain whether Dylan was serious. “Get out, Ochs,” Dylan repeated. “You’re not a folksinger. You’re just a journalist.”
Phil Ochs: “Imagine someone that sensitive sitting at a bar and someone come in and say, ‘Hey, you’re Bob Dylan, tell me . . .’ It just drove him crazy. It spurred on that essentially huge defense system building up, plus the need for privacy. That’s the kind of thing that really started him moving into hostility. And Bobby Neuwirth. He was Dylan’s right hand man and assassin. They were a team sitting at the table doing it. It was also very clever, witty, barbed, and very stimulating, too. But you really had to be on your toes. You’d walk into a threshing machine if you were just a regular guy, naive and open, you’d be torn to pieces.”
Bob married Sarah Lowndes on November 22, 1965, in a quiet civil ceremony performed by a State Supreme Court judge in suburban Nassau County and attended by Grossman, their lawyer, and a couple of close friends. There was no public announcement of the marriage. Bob kept Sarah a secret as he had kept so many things secret, until Nora Ephron broke the story in a New York newspaper the following February.
He even pulled a mask over the marriage with some friends. Jack Elliot recalls: “I saw him right after he was married and I said: ‘Congratulations, I heard you got married.’ And he said: ‘I didn’t get married. You’d be the first cat I’d tell, man, if I got married.'”
“Bob needed Sarah very desperately,” a close friend from that period says. “His head was all screwed around from the presures, the fame, that whole insane thing that was happening to him, and Sarah represented some solid ground. She was mystical, into Zen and all, and seemed to have found her own head and maybe seemed to have some answers from Zen, and Dylan needed that. Also, she was sort of Zen-egoless. She didn’t try to get into Bob’s head the way people always do, because that’s not where it was at for her. And Bob needed that kind of unthreatening woman. She seemed to be able to give herself over to him and his special needs. Besides which, she is very beautiful and very tender.”
The marriage was immediately followed by a grueling concert tour that Grossman had set up for him. It lasted through the end of 1965 and into the first months of 1966, a succession of one night stands broken by a week or two of rest before he was off again.
The tour schedule that Grossman set up for Dylan was a tortuously heavy one, a series of one and two night stands. Dylan was running from fans, running from interviewers, racing into a limousine, dashing to the private Lodestar jet he was using. Out of motels, into concert halls, off again before the kids grab you, try to unwind later with everyone pulling at your body and your head. “It’s lonely where I am,” Dylan remarked at one of the press conferences.
At the end of that tour through Canada and to the West Coast, Dylan went into the studio again to cut several new songs, part of the album that would be called Blonde on Blonde. He was back on the West Coast by the end of March, 1966, performing at concerts from Los Angeles up to Vancouver and back again. He had put Levon and the Hawks on salary; they were his band by now, and his concerts were becoming wilder and more surrealistic, the sound of electricity like a squadron of jet planes, a pulsing, leaping, crushing sound that tore the air and seemed to make the seats rise. The audience listened, absorbing the experience, letting it all wash over them and finding understanding that way — viscerally.
“I’m not on drugs,” Dylan had said at a California press conference around this time. “I just have a nervous disorder.” But he was on drugs. Those who saw him say he was using speed and he has admitted that he was using a good deal of dope to keep going. He was in bad shape by early April, physically and mentally. The pressures of the tour were driving him down; he was totally exhausted, and he seemed to almost hate Grossman. And the West Coast was not the end of it. He was scheduled to give a concert in Honolulu on April 9th, spend more than a week touring Australia, and then on to Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, Rome, Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland.
It was grinding on Dylan: the drugs, the endless tours, the threatening fans. At one concert a mob of girls broke through police lines and overwhelmed him. One tall blonde with a huge pair of shears snipped off some of his hair and ran away weeping, and Bob later sat in his dressing room, even paler and more wasted than usual, and cried: “Did ya see that? I mean, did ya see that? I don’t care about the hair but she could have killed me. I mean, she could have taken my eyes out with those scissors.” He looked like death during that tour, friends say. Ochs was saying in an interview: “Dylan is LSD on stage. Dylan is LSD set to music . . . I don’t know if Dylan can get on stage a year from now. I don’t think so. I mean that the phenomenon of Dylan will be so much that it will be dangerous. One year from now I think it will be very dangerous to Dylan’s life to get on the stage. Dylan has become part of so many people’s psyches and there are so many screwed up people in America, and death is such a part of the American scene now . . . I think he’s going to have to quit.”
On the afternoon of Saturday, July 30th, pop radio stations across the country interrupted their broadcasts with a bulletin: Bob Dylan had a motorcycle accident in Woodstock the day before, had been hospitalized, and appeared to be seriously hurt. Vague details came out in succeeding days: he had been riding his Triumph 500 bike near his home, heading for a repair shop and followed in a car by either Sarah or a friend, depending on the version. The back wheels of the bike suddenly locked, throwing it into a skid and dashing Bob to the pavement. He was lifted into the car and taken to Middletown Hospital, where his injuries were diagnosed as a broken neck (that is, several broken vertebrae), a concussion, and lacerations of the face and scalp.
Suddenly, the cataclysm that had always been expected to fall on him — the James Dean end — had happened. And the rumors began to spread: Dylan was dead; his brain had been crushed and he was no more than a vegetable; he was an incurable drug addict, hospitalized for treatment; he was in a psychiatric ward somewhere, totally insane; he was so badly scarred his public would never see him again. His wife was rumored to be turning away almost all visitors, permitting only the closest friends into the house. They could communicate with him only over an intercom because he refused to come out of the bedroom where he was hiding in the sprawling ranch house he had recently bought in Woodstock.
The accident was indeed a cataclysm, but not in the sense his fans believed. Physically, Bob had been injured quite seriously. Those who were closest to him at the time and had refused to talk about it, now concede that the broken neck almost killed him. They say doctors told Sarah and Grossman that a fraction of an inch difference in the way his head had struck the pavement was the difference between injury and death. “He almost died,” one friend says. “It really almost killed him. His neck is still stiff, still gives him trouble.” Dylan was unconscious for a while, from the brain concussion, and had a short spell of amnesia. He was also paralyzed for a brief period, and internal injuries seemed particularly dangerous to his doctors. He remained in the hospital for more than a week, and when he was returned to his Woodstock home he remained in bed for more than a month.
Recovery was slow because Dylan was in poor physical shape. He had never been a strong person, physically, and his condition at the time of the accident was as poor as it had ever been because of the exhaustion of the concert tour, the drugs, and the enormous conflict between his fame and his fear. “He was more scared by the accident than scarred,” another friend says. Death was personally close to him at this time. The previous April Richard Farina had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Paul Clayton committed suicide the April before Dylan’s accident, jumping out of a window after a three-day LSD trip. Peter La Farge had committed suicide. Death lurked all around.
But Dylan had also used the accident, not deliberately to create a new myth, although his withdrawal from public view did stimulate sales of his albums. The accident gave him a chance to sort things out in his head, to try and decide where he wanted to go from here. In discussing it with me years later, Dylan remarked:
“You were right on it when you described all those pressures. But you really only touched the surface. The pressures were unbelievable. They were just something you can’t imagine unless you go through them yourself. Man, they hurt so much.”
During his recuperation, Dylan let things slide. The MGM deal fell through, and he did nothing to rescue the deal. He also gave up on Tarantula. He told one friend it was the “wrong time to write a book,” and he told another that the book was so meaningless and absurdist that he was “sure it won’t be accepted, so I’m dropping it.” (He told me in early 1971 that he planned to release the book “because I dig it now. It’s a good book. I didn’t dig it back then, but I dig it now.” Tarantula was finally published in May, 1971.)
Robbie Robertson and the other members of the old Hawks went up to Woodstock to be with Dylan. “He just needed some friends, that’s all,” Robertson later said. Eventually their families joined them, and they rented an old house on a mountaintop in West Saugerties, a few miles away, that they called Big Pink. Dylan and the band, as it was informally called then, began to play together while Dylan was recuperating. They were important to his head, musically; not simply bringing him back to the relative simplicity of country music, but also in emphasizing his music which had always taken second place to his poetry.
Dylan remained in his Woodstock home for more than nine months after the accident, refusing to see any but close friends and growing into an American legend at twenty-five. Blonde On Blonde was certified as a million-dollar seller, and more than 50 other artists raced to record Dylan songs, some of which hit the pop charts. Columbia released an album, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, simply to have something on the market. That one quickly hit the million dollar mark, and two earlier Dylan albums broke through it.
Dylan went down to Nashville with a batch of songs in October, 1967, almost 15 months after the accident. He selected only three musicians — Charlie McCoy, bass; Kenny Buttrey, drums; and Pete Drake, steel guitar — and got down to work, putting in two days of intensive music making. When it was over he had most of the cuts for John Wesley Harding. He taped the rest of it a short time later, on another quick trip to Nashville.
The album, released in January, 1968, was a stunning reversal on what had been happening in pop music. The Beatles had released Sergeant Pepper a few months earlier. One report had it that when Dylan heard the first few cuts of that album he snapped: “Turn that off!” indicating to some that he was afraid rock was leaving him behind. Rock had become almost a toy of studio engineers fiddling with control knobs and super-charged electricity. And Dylan’s new album pulled out the plug.
Dylan explained the musical changes to me this way: “You see, that album was all I could come up with musically. It’s the best I could have done at that time. I didn’t intentionally come out with some kind of mellow sound. I would have liked a good sound, more musical, more steel guitar, more piano. More music. At that time so many people were into electronics, and I didn’t know anything about that. I didn’t even know anybody who knew it. I didn’t sit down and play that sound. It wasn’t a question of this is what I’m doing and come over here.”
Dylan’s ambiguity and mystique continued to dominate his public image even after John Wesley Harding was released. He remained in Woodstock, leading the life of the simple country man, in near retirement with Sarah and her daughter, Maria, and their son, Jesse Byron, and Anna, born in 1967. He continued to make music with the Band, as the old Hawks were now officially calling themselves, and with any of dozens of friends who took up residence in the area or came up to visit occasionally. Those who saw him say that, generally, he seemed to be content. “He calmed down,” Eric Andersen recalls, “got into his family, got into something more real, more tangible, and he was really grooving on it for a while. There’s a happiness in the songs he was writing in that period.” He appeared to be drawing considerable joy out of the life he was leading, particularly after Harding was well received. He had been worried about that album, friends say, afraid his audience wouldn’t like it, worried about its effect on others. It was the first time anyone remembers him conceding that kind of worry; it was unusual for the only pop figure who had never set up a fan club or hired a public relations man. Part of Dylan’s fear was stimulated by Grossman, friends say. Grossman didn’t like the album, which is not too difficult to understand since many believed that Grossman was among the things Dylan said he was now rejecting. They had an argument over it, a rift that widened and resulted in Dylan refusing to sign a new contract in the spring of 1969. Dylan no longer has a manager.
Bob was now a mature family man who seems to have found at least a degree of peace. At the end of 1968 he flew down to Nashville again and taped the songs that would become Nashville Skyline. He had only four songs with him, not enough for a full album. But then Johnny Cash dropped in for a visit one day and they sang together — “Girl From the North Country” — and it worked. He wrote a few songs in his motel room at night, and a couple of others during studio sessions. “Then pretty soon the whole album started fillin’ in together, and we had an album. I mean, we didn’t go down with that in mind . . . It just manipulated out of nothing.”
Eric Andersen: “The way he talked around the time of Nashville Skyline, he said he had learned to sing for the first time in his life. Now he knew something about music, knew how to play and sing, and he was very proud of it.”
On the face of it, Bob Dylan as a country gentleman seemed absurd, some sort of Kafkaesque brain-washing by a crew of mind doctors from desolation row. Or just good business, like Muzak. “I got a hit album,” Dylan told Terri Van Ronk about Nashville Skyline, implying it was all a shuck for the masses.
The change in Dylan’s music was reflected in a change in his manner. He was going out of his way to be nice to people, many of those to whom he had not been nice in the past began to notice.
Hibbing, August 2, 1969. The Moose rooms on Howard Street. Reunion of the Hibbing High School Class of 1960. Echo Helstrom, standing there, waiting:
“I got a phone call from a friend a couple of days before. ‘You of all people have to know this,’ she told me. ‘Bob Dylan’s coming. Don’t tell anyone, but be there.’ I went. I was a nervous wreck, waiting. I was so afraid he’d be mad at me for talking to Toby Thompson, the guy who wrote the Village Voice articles on Dylan as a kid, a few months before. When Bob finally showed up it was around eleven at night. He was a lot thinner than when I saw him last, he had his hair cut real short. His wife was there, a tiny little delicate princess, long brown hair, very cute and very quiet, just standing by his side.
“Everybody was standing around waiting for him and he just kind of showed up, walked down the stairs and in the doorway and everybody crowded around him. I headed for the bar and stayed there a while. Then I told my best girl friend to walk over with me, to his table.
“I thought, ‘I can’t go up to him like everybody else. I have to do something he would do himself.’ So I put on these great big dark sunglasses and took the reunion booklet over there, where everybody was putting it down for him to sign. And I put mine down in front of him. I was going to say something like, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but I’d like your autograph,’ but he saw me and he said, ‘Hey, I talk about you all the time,’ and he turned to his wife and said, ‘This is Echo.’ He asked how I was and what I was doing, and we talked a little, but we couldn’t really talk because there were all these people around. I don’t know if he was being nice because he really wanted to be, or polite because of the crowd. He said, ‘Hey, I saw that thing in the Voice,’ and he laughed about it, he wasn’t mad. I said, ‘Hey, I wrote you a song.’ He asked, ‘What do you call it?’ and I said, ‘Boy From the North Country.’ He started laughing a little bit, kind of embarrassed.
“He stayed about an hour. And then some dumb-dumb guy tried to start a fight with him and all of a sudden Bob was gone. That town, really impossible.”
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