First time with Dylan... cont. p2 - First time with Dylan... cont. p2

2006-03-29 11:00

Joan Baez, folk singer
"Urban hillbilly"

"I first saw Bob Dylan in 1961 at Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village. He was not overly impressive. He looked like an urban hillbilly, with hair short around the ears and curly on top. Bouncing from foot to foot as he played, he seemed dwarfed by the guitar. His jacket was rusty leather and two sizes too small. His cheeks were still softened with an undignified amount of baby fat. But his mouth was a killer: soft, sensuous, childish, nervous, and reticent. He spat out the words to his own songs. They were original and refreshing, if blunt and jagged. He was absurd, new, and grubby beyond words. When his set was over, he was ushered to my table and the historic event of our meeting was under way. He stood there nervously, mumbling politely, smiling and looking amused. I sipped my Shirley Temple, feeling like the old dowager of the folk scene ... There was no question that this boy was exceptional and that he touched people, but he had only just begun to touch me." (New York)

(From "And a Voice to Sing With: A Memoir," by Joan Baez)

Nat Hentoff, journalist
"Publicity conscious"

"Margot [his wife] and I were living in Greenwich Village, around the corner from Gerde's Folk City, an informal gathering place for folk singers -- both beginners and the more or less professional. A regular performer was a youngster who always wore a leather cap, blue jeans, and well-worn desert boots. Born Robert Zimmerman in the bleak mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota, he was known in Greenwich Village as Bob Dylan.

"... I agreed with a Missouri folk singer who said Dylan's music sound was like that of 'a dog with his leg caught in barbed wire.'" "I wrote about Dylan in other publications [besides the New Yorker], and I'd occasionally see him on the street in the Village. Invariably he'd ask about something I was writing about him, 'When's it coming out? When's it coming out?' At the same time, he would say to others that he wasn't the least interested in what was written about him." (New York, 1961)

(From "Speaking Freely: A Memoir," by Nat Hentoff)

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Richie Havens, folk-rock singer
"His song"

"Finally I had the song.

"So I took the three crumpled-up pieces of paper back to the Broadway Central and spent eight hours a day for three days learning the thirteen verses and working out my own arrangement.

"... I got to sing at what I would call my first 'legitimate' coffeehouse where people like Odetta and Pete Seeger got to play ... The audience responded wildly with almost deafening applause. A few minutes later, standing in the dark behind the audience, a young man stepped up in front of me with tears coming down his face. He was moved.

"'Oh, man,' he said, choking on his emotion, 'that ... that ... that was my favorite version of that song.' I could barely say thank you before I had to get away from him too. I wasn't used to this kind of reaction. 'Way too heavy for me,' I whispered under my breath, heading for the dressing room, which was downstairs.

"Dave Van Ronk was blocking my way, waiting for me.

"'Hey, man, do you know who that was who came over to you just now?'

"I didn't have a clue. 'No, I don't,' I answered.

"'He wrote the song you just sang,' he said.

"'No, he didn't,' I said. 'Gene Michaels wrote that song.' I was so sure.

"'The hell he did! The guy you just met wrote that song,' Van Ronk said firmly. And he was right; he was right.

"Hell of a way to meet Bob Dylan!

"For a whole month, I'd been telling everybody that somebody else wrote his song and then on my first night in a real coffeehouse, I get the chance to tell Dylan himself that somebody else wrote 'A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall.'" (New York, 1963)

(From "They Can't Hide Us Anymore," by Richie Havens with Steve Davidowitz)

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Allen Ginsberg, poet
"Where hearts and heads were"

"I first met Bob at a party at the Eighth Street Book Shop, and he invited me to go on tour with him. I ended up not going, but, boy, if I'd known then what I know now, I'd have gone like a flash. He'd probably have put me onstage with him." (New York, early 1960s)

"Dylan came to town for his West Coast tour. I saw a lot of him, and he gave me thirty or forty tickets for opening night. A fantastic assemblage occupied the first few rows of Dylan's concert: a dozen poets, myself, Peter [Orlovsky], [Lawrence] Ferlinghetti, Neal [Cassady], and I think [Ken] Kesey, Michael McClure; several Buddhists; a whole corps of Hell's Angels, led by Sonny Barger, Freewheelin' Frank and Tiny; and then came Jerry Rubin with a bunch of peace protesters. Fantastic."

(Quoted in "Faithfull: An Autobiography," by Marianne Faithfull with David Dalton)

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"His image was undercurrent, underground, unconscious in people ... something a little more mysterious, poetic, a little more Dada, more where people's hearts and heads actually were rather than where they 'should be' according to some ideological angry theory." (San Francisco, 1965)

(From "Deliberate Prose," by Allen Ginsberg, edited by Bill Morgan)

Brenda Lee, singer

"I paid my fourth visit to 'The Ed Sullivan Show'... "Bob Dylan was to make his national television debut...

"All the kids my age loved him. He was writing songs about the times and about what was going on. He was a beatnik with fur Eskimo boots and a long wool coat. His hair was unruly, all frizzy and curly. Bob showed up for dress rehearsal all rumpled, but nobody seemed to care. I thought he looked adorable. I introduced myself and told him what a fan I was. He knew my music, too, which thrilled me." (New York, 1963)

(From "Little Miss Dynamite: The Life and Times of Brenda Lee," by Brenda Lee with Robert K. Oermann and Julie Clay)

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Johnny Cash, country singer
"Happy like kids"

"I was deeply into folk music in the early 1960s, both the authentic songs from various periods and areas of American life and the new 'folk revival' songs of the time, so I took note of Bob Dylan as soon as the Bob Dylan album came out in early '62 ... I wrote Bob a letter telling him how much of a fan I was. He wrote back almost immediately, saying he'd been following my music since 'I Walk the Line'...

"We actually met each other, when I went to play the Newport [R.I.] Folk Festival in July of 1964. I don't have many memories of that event, but I do remember June [Carter] and me and Bob and Joan Baez in my hotel room, so happy to meet each other that we were jumping on the bed like kids."

(From "Cash: An Autobiography," by Johnny Cash with Patrick Carr)

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Levon Helm, rock musician
"Mod get-up"

"I met Bob for the first time in a New York rehearsal studio. Robbie [Robertson] and I had driven up from New Jersey, where we [The Band] were in the third month of our stand at Tony Mart's. Robbie hadn't been impressed with the drummer Bob was using and suggested he hire me instead, so I had come to sit in on a rehearsal. Bob was wearing some mod-style clothes he'd bought in England: a red and blue op-art shirt, a narrow-waisted jacket, black pegged pants, pointy black Beatle boots.

"I stuck out my hand when Robbie introduced me. 'Nice to see you,' Bob Dylan said. 'Thanks for coming up.'" (1965)

(From "This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of The Band," by Levon Helm with Stephen Davis)

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Marianne Faithfull, rock singer

"God Himself checked into the Savoy Hotel. Bob Dylan came to town wearing Phil Spector shades and an aureole of hair and seething irony.

"Dylan was, at that moment in time, nothing less than the hippest person on earth. The zeitgeist streamed through him like electricity. He was my Existential hero, the gangling Rimbaud of rock, and I wanted to meet him more than any other living being. I wasn't simply a fan; I worshipped him...

"... one minute I was walking down Oxford Street and the next I was knocking somewhat trepidatiously on a mysterious blue door. Of course, with Dylan you are drawn willy-nilly into his world of encoded messages. Doors are no longer doors; they take on Kafkaesque significance. There are answers behind them.

"Behind the blue door there was a room full of hipsters, hustlers, pop stars, swallow- tailed waiters, folkers, Fleet Street hacks, managers, blondes and beatniks...

"The most remarkable thing about Dylan was his rap. Stream-of-consciousness thought fragments...

"What people saw as abrasive in Dylan was really his elliptical approach to everything. He was nothing if not a slippery subject, and he did not suffer fools gladly. His testiness came into play mostly with the press. A master of the anti-interview, Dylan fairly bristled at direct questions." (London, 1965)

(From "Faithfull: An Autobiography," by Marianne Faithfull with David Dalton)

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Cher, rock singer
"Out of the elevator"

"Sonny [Bono] had some work to do at a recording studio in New York. I was just sitting by myself out in the hall, bored to tears, playing on some old manual typewriter. When the freight elevator came up, and its wood-slat doors opened, out stepped Bob Dylan. It was the first time we'd met. He told me he liked what I'd done with 'All I Really Wanna Do,' which made me feel like floating away. Then he went in to talk to Son.

"I just sat there with my jaw hanging open. Bob F_____g Dylan." (mid-1960s)

(From "The First Time," by Cher with Jeff Coplon)

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Andy Warhol, pop artist
"All hunched in"

"Edie [socialite Sedgwick] brought Bob Dylan to the [Sam Green] party and they huddled by themselves over in a corner...

"Dylan was in blue jeans and high-heeled boots and a sports jacket, and his hair was sort of long. He had deep circles under his eyes, and even when he was standing he was all hunched in. He was around twenty-four then and the kids were all just starting to talk and act and dress and swagger like he did. But not many people except Dylan could ever pull that anti-act off -- and if he wasn't in the right mood, he couldn't either. He was already slightly flashy when I met him, definitely not folksy anymore -- I mean, he was wearing satin polka-dot shirts. He'd released 'Bringing It All Back Home,' so he'd already started his rock sound at this point.

"I liked Dylan, the way he created a brilliant new style. He didn't spend his career doing homage to the past, he had to do things his own way, and that was just what I respected." (New York, 1965)

(From "POPism: The Warhol '60s," by Andy Warhol with Pat Hackett)

Skeeter Davis, country singer
"Keeping a low profile"

"I took a taxi to the Bitter End. I found a seat from which to listen to the Fifth Avenue Band...

"As I listened to the band, I noticed a fellow seated in a booth against the wall. Each time the house lights went up, he would slide down in his seat. Each time the lights dimmed, he would ease back up. Obviously he didn't want to be seen. I thought I recognized him. I called the club's proprietor over to my table and asked him, 'Isn't that Bob Dylan?'

"'Yeah, it is,' the man said. 'But I happen to own this place, girlie, and if you so much as bat an eyelash at him, I'll pitch you out on your ear.' After that warm response, I found myself concentrating on watching Dylan slide up and down in that booth rather than on listening to the band. Finally I could resist no longer. So what if the owner pitches me out, I'm leaving anyway.

"'Hello. I don't think you know me, but I know you and I just couldn't help but to come over here and tell you how much I like your music like everyone else does.'

"'I'm afraid everyone doesn't.' He laughed.

"'I know you don't know who I am' -- I felt awkward and apologetic -- 'but my name's Skeeter Davis.'

"Sit down, Skeeter. Of course I know you. You know my friends John and June Cash, don't you?...

"'As I left he said to me,' By the way, I like your music too, Skeeter. I intend to record a song of yours one of these days'...

"I was so happy when Bob Dylan released 'I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know' on his very next album, 'Self Portrait.'" (New York, 1968)

(From "Bus Fare to Kentucky: The Autobiography of Skeeter Davis")

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Peter Fonda, actor
"Screening Easy Rider"

"We had taken the film ['Easy Rider'] to New York City [in 1969] to show to the main executives at Columbia and to Bob Dylan. Dylan arrived for the screening with two Black Panthers and his manager, Fat Albert Grossman, and we rolled the film. When the lights came back up in the screening room, the Panthers were blown away. Dylan jumped up from his seat with his wife, Sarah, and hurried [Dennis] Hopper and me off to a private room as Fat Albert was trying to stop him. He told us the movie was fantastic, but we couldn't have his song 'It's Alright Ma,' and we should reshoot the ending -- we should have Captain America ram his bike into the pickup and made it explode.

"... In 1994, I learned that one of the reasons he didn't want us to use 'It's Alright Ma' was that he guessed the film's impact, and dreaded having to sing the song over and over again, endlessly, by popular demand." (1969)

(From "Don't Tell Dad: A Memoir," by Peter Fonda)
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Emmett Grogan, anarchist and provocateur

"Now Emmett was sitting on the second step of a warped wooden flight of four front stairs that led up and into the funky, screened porch of a pine-walled cabin where a film editor ... lived ... Bob was sitting on the same step and in him Emmett saw a man who somehow made it through that swamp [of drug addiction] and settled down alive on the other side. A man who had a wife and five kids and simply played music for a living. A plain and easy-dressed man, complicated only by heresy. A physically small man who was strong for his size and not fat at all, but wiry with coached stringy muscles and shoulders that stuck out wider than you'd think. A man with a lot of friends, but afraid of those who weren't, just the same. A man who kept a matchstick in his mouth to keep from smoking and who was sliding with the knowledge of growing older and leaving the brassy, punk snide of his younger-than-that-now behind him. Dylan was clean." (Woodstock, N.Y., late 1960s)

(From "Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps," by Emmett Grogan)

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Cathy Smith, groupie
"Famous sandwich"

"While we were living in Gordon's [Lightfoot's] apartment Bob Dylan came to town. That was when the Mariposa Festival was being held on Centre Island...

"Dylan appeared at the door wearing a leather jacket, a wide-brimmed hat and heavy shades. He sat in Gordon's favorite leather chair -- the standard lounging chair with an ottoman for the feet. His wife Sara, who was very protective of Dylan, sat between his legs. They both had halos of dark curly hair.

"Everyone made conversation while Gordon and Dylan looked each other over and mumbled. Finally Gordon asked Dylan if he would like something to eat.

"'Sure,' Dylan said, 'I'd love a cheese sandwich.'

"I rushed to the kitchen and began putting together a cheese sandwich. Then Gordon came in. 'Make it ham and cheese,' he said.

It made sense. A plain cheese sandwich wasn't much to offer Bob Dylan.

And so, using all my culinary skills, I assembled the famous Dylan sandwich: ham and cheese, with butter and lettuce, on whole wheat. It sat on the arm of the chair all night, the lettuce slowly curling at the edges. It turned out that Dylan had recently rediscovered his Orthodox Jewish roots." (Toronto, 1970)

(From "Chasing the Dragon," by Cathy Smith)

I said, 'I've waited ten years for this?' - Pamela DesBarres, groupie | Next - Page 3 publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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