Rocklike / Song and Dance Man

I won't argue with nitpickers, but the amount of data the human brain can store is estimated to be about 2.5 petabytes [1 petabyte = 1,000 terabytes] of information. As most of what I’m writing is based on my memory, and there is doubtlessly some lost data on my personal hard drive, I can’t guarantee everything I write is either accurate or verifiable. What I do promise is, it’s as best I can recall.

I caught on to Bob Dylan in 1963. My art teacher, Daniel Dallman was a blues picker of substance and turned me on to several old bluesmen, including Robert Johnson. I already owned "Another side of Bob Dylan" - which was just that - a completely different writer folksinger from his first two albums. This was in my sophomore year of high school. JFK would die in a couple months. In those days, art was still offered as a cultural breadth class - even if you could only take one art class in the entire three years of high school. I mean, we don't want to create a generation of beatnik artists unwilling to fight in Viet Nam and other manufactured conflicts, do we?

“What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”

Mr. Dallmann (you can call me Dan) invited Diane Hudson and I over to his house. I don't recall exactly where he lived, but it was close to the school. It was a small town, so everything was close to the school. He played the first two Dylan albums for me, along with several others. I had never had a teacher invite me to their house. I remember he was also a fan of Koerner, Ray and Glover, local blues musicians who performed in coffee houses along the West Bank. As a musician, I couldn't help but notice the music consisted primarily of covers of old blues songs.

I never bought the first Dylan album, but I did buy "Freewheelin'" shortly after Dan Dallmann played it for me. I thought Dylan had found his voice with original numbers such as "Masters of War" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright."

Some critics considered Dylan's music "derivative". Case in point: "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" is a solid example of song where the narrator lies to himself and unknowingly shares more of his emotional struggles than he himself is aware of. Dylan was accused of lifting the melody and even pieces of lyric from Paul Clayton's "Who's Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I'm Gone?" At the same time, Clayton's song was based on an older song "Who's Gonna Buy Your Chickens When I'm Gone?" You can decide for yourself, just listen to Clayton's song.

"This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway."

Johnny Cash lifted pieces of "Don't Think Twice" to compose "Understand Your Man". According to Robert Shelton, "Clayton and Dylan had an amicable legal tiff, settling without rancor out of court." Personally, I always figured there were only eight notes to begin with. As Henry Glover said, "It ain't the meat, it's the motion." Historically, it's the way music was handed down, with the neophyte sitting at the feet of his hero - similar to Dylan going to see Woody Guthrie - and then playing the song in their own voice as they find that voice.

Fast forward to 1965. I had my own band and we covered a few Dylan songs, including Like a Rolling Stone. Dylan continued to record and tour at a breakneck pace. He released "Bringing It All Back Home" in March and had just released "Highway 61 Revisited" in September. His lyrics were much more complex than the musicians considered his contemporaries. I tended to agree with Warren Zevon, "Bob Dylan can do no wrong". I listened to his music a lot and was driven to research many times to try and figure out some of his references and symbolism. I hadn't even considered 13th Century Italian poets at this time.

Just months earlier Dylan had done the unspeakable and gone electric with members of the Butterfield Blues Band at the Newport Folk festival. The resultant fallout was massive. Initially it was reported that Pete Seeger had threatened to chop the power off with an axe. Dylan's feelings were hurt. He claimed Seeger's unenthusiastic response to his set was like a "dagger in his heart" and made him "want to go out and get drunk". The Newport story has changed over the years to make it less powerful, but I can imagine the performance was really a shock for the die-hard folkies.

Shelter From The Storm from Andrew Lawandus on Vimeo.

I went to see Dylan in November of 1965 at the Minneapolis Auditorium. It was his first visit to Minnesota since he became a big deal. He had played the coffee houses on the West Bank in 1960, but now he was back. This was my first trip into the city driving. I was a farm boy and I had just turned 17. I was still annoyed I had missed the Rolling Stones a year earlier when they played "Danceland". But at the time, I had a "Farmboy" license that did not allow me to drive after dark or more than 15 miles away from the family farm. Had it been the 1980s, I could have driven to Bob’s farm in Hanover, which was less than 15 miles from my father’s place. My sister saw Dylan regularly as his son Jacob played T-ball with my nephew.

Dylan came out and played for maybe an hour, doing acoustic stuff - basically his most popular and successful folk songs. It was a strong set with some stories in between songs. I had a fairly good seat, and unbeknownst to me, the woman I would marry a few years later was only a few seats away. I can remember him doing "Masters of War" and "It's Alright Ma". I noticed there was band equipment scattered all over the stage, but I was still surprised when he came back out with a full band and proceeded to do another hour of electric tunes. My highlights included "Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues" and also when he sat down at the piano and played "Ballad Of A Thin Man".

"Just because you like my stuff doesn't mean I owe you anything."

Of course, the band turned out to be "The Band". Still known as the Hawks after spending years on the road with Ronnie Hawkins, they were solid - particularly in the rhythm section. Levon Helm was not in the band at the time. Bobby Gregg was the drummer - replaced mid-tour by Sandy Konikoff. Dylan was simultaneously recording "Blonde on Blonde" with keyboardist Al Kooper, guitarist Robbie Robertson and professional studio musicians at CBS studios in Nashville, Tennessee. "Blonde on Blonde" would become the capstone of the trilogy he recorded in 1965-66.

The combination of seasoned Nashville session musicians with Dylan's modernist literary sensibility, created a new playing field altogether. Dylan had finally married the grand scale of music to his lyrics, described by a critic as "a unique blend of the visionary and the colloquial". Dylan would soon disappear for a few years. No one has ever given me a satisfactory explanation of what happened to him. The story goes: He was in a bad motorcycle accident and took some time to heal, get married and raise a family. I can accept that, but you never know.

But here's the deal, if you lived in Minnesota and did not see him in 1960 at some house party on the West Bank, or in 1965 at the Auditorium, you weren't going to see him for a long time. It means you missed several iterations, he would never show anyone again. I've seen Dylan several times since. The Planet Waves/Before the Flood tour was excellent - although I thought the Band's numbers outshone some of Dylan's stuff. The Rolling Thunder Revue was also outstanding, due in no small part to the number and diversity of the participants. I’ve seen him inside and outside, at massive stadiums and in intimate venues, when he was having a hard time (rarely) and when he was on fire (often), but that first show will always stand out in my mind.


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The Photography of Diane Arbus.Selected Works

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