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My First Time with Bob Dylan - My First Time with Bob Dylan

2006-03-29 11:00

Oct. 6, 2004 | Editor's Note:
A Martin Scorsese-directed documentary of Bob Dylan will appear early next year, followed shortly by a biopic from "Far From Heaven" director Todd Haynes, starring seven actors -- including a woman and an 11-year-old black boy -- each portraying a period in the singer's development. Officially, the prolonged retrospective of Dylan kicks off this week with his own "Chronicles: Volume 1," the first memoir in what will be a series. But before all that, Dana Cook looks back and finds what others have said about him.

Judy Collins, folksinger
"At my feet; lost soul"

"Bob Dylan was singing at one of the clubs in nearby Cripple Creek [Colo.] that summer, and one night he came to the Gilded Garter to hear me and the rock-and-roll band. Whenever we meet now, he says, 'Remember that night I sat at your feet?'" (1959)

"I was hired at Gerdes, on West Fourth Street in New York.

"... I met up with Bob Dylan again. Dressed in sloppy clothes, with the funny railroad hat and a drink in front of him, grinning at me in the mirror across the bar at Gerdes, hunched over like a bum off the street, slouching up to the stage, he looked like a lost soul. We talked about Colorado and Minnesota. We were both a long way from home." (1960)

(From "Trust Your Heart: An Autobiography," by Judy Collins)

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Ronald Radosh, journalist and historian
"A young Woody Guthrie"

"One day, a young kid, very thin but with traces of baby fat on him, came knocking at our door, carrying a guitar and little else. He appeared to be just coming out of innocence. He had got my name, he said, from Carl Granich, Michael Gold's son, who was a friend and awesome guitar picker from the young Communist circle in New York City. He had just arrived in Madison [Wis.] by bus. 'I need a place to stay,' he said. 'Can you put me up?' With only one room, this was not possible, so I sent the kid -- his name was Bob Dylan, he told me -- to the apartment shared by my friends on Mifflin Street. Bobby stayed for a few weeks, a stopover before he set out to find Woody Gurthrie in New York.

"It seemed to me that Dylan was a young Woody Guthrie: he sounded and played like Woody, and wore a workingman's cap that he had copied from one Guthrie wore in a famous picture. As he acknowledged in an interview years later, he was a 'virtual Woody Guthrie jukebox.' Bob would come out to join us on spring afternoons on the Student Union terrace, where we would sit on the lawn, look at the girls, and intermittently pick and sing. One day we got into the ultimate 'what are you going to do when you grow up' conversation. Dylan looked at me earnestly and said, with a tone of complete assurance, 'I'm going to be as big a star as Elvis Presley.' I recall giving him a rather skeptical response, but Bob responded, 'No, you'll see. I'll play the same and even bigger arenas. I know it.'" (1961)

(From "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left," by Ronald Radosh)

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John Phillips, rock musician
"Worked at his 'look'"

"We [The Journeymen] were on a bill with a scruffy, anemic-looking kid who had been kicking around the Village. This was his first paid gig. He looked pale and fragile, like he had just gotten over mononucleosis, but his audiences were spellbound. He sang with an angry, nasal whine and seemed to work at his 'look': tousled hair, rumpled shirt, jeans, bots, cap, the watchful, restless squint. When we had met him backstage before the show [band member] Lightnin' was helping him tune his guitar. There were all kinds of wild stories going around about the guy. All we knew was that he was from Minnesota and went by the name of Bob Dylan." (New York, 1961)

(From "Papa John: A Music Legend's Shattering Journey Through Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll," by John Phillips)

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Sylvia Tyson, folk singer
"Great blotter"

"It always struck me as ironic that Dylan became a cult hero, because when we first knew him [at the Newport Folk Festival] he was nervous, overweight, and penniless, and he used to hit on girls in the clubs, not to make it with them, but just to sleep on their floors. He was like a great blotter, soaking up everything from anyone who was any good, and his great talent was in the special way he put it all together. Also, he began to write his own material, and that was a revelation to everyone. We [Ian and Sylvia] began to think, 'Hey, we can do that too.'" (1961)

From "I Never Sold My Saddle," by Ian Tyson with Colin Escott)

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Ian Tyson, folk and cowboy singer

"No one hanging around the New York folk scene in 1961 and 1962 could believe what happened to Bob Dylan. Bobby Zimmerman from bleakest Minnesota took a new name from the prolix Welsh poet, a new voice from Woody Guthrie, and songs from anywhere. He possessed an infinite capacity for reinventing himself, then living the lie he had created in a very Will Jamesian way. Albert Grossman, as adept as anyone at image creation, helped to manufacture Bob Dylan from Bobby Zimmerman, then wrapped him in a enigma.

"Dylan was an obnoxious little jerk in many ways. He crashed on couches around town. He was always bummin' stuff. I never thought he'd make it like he did. He gave us [Ian and Sylvia] a song, 'Tomorrow Is a Long Time,' for our second album. Then he became so prolific when he was on amphetamines. He was just crankin' them out. He absorbed everything like a sponge. He got away with singing out-of-tune and playing out-of-tune. He got away with it, but he ain't gonna get my eighteen dollars at the door."

(From "I Never Sold My Saddle," by Ian Tyson with Colin Escott)

Joan Baez says "...not overly impressive" | Next - Page 2

Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Cher, Allen Ginsberg, Jimmy Buffett, Andy Warhol and others on their initial meetings with the folk legend.
- Compiled by Dana Cook

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