Thursday, October 10, 2013
  Haekel's Gaseous Invertibrate: Dialing with his nose

So my view of Bob Dylan is this:  He developed "street cred" from his early association with Joan and Mimi Baez and her sister Mimi Farina, and actually was involved on the periphery of Civil Rights movements because they were interested in those.  And of course because Woody Guthrie had been.  Bob even saw the beginning stages of some Freedom Rider demonstrations (where by his own account, "he freaked" I believe he said).  But that was as close as he got, aside from newspapers, magazines, televisions, radios, and firsthand reports perhaps from people he might have come in contact with.   His manager, "Viktor", was still involved in this stuff when he came to reside in Los Angeles (to be closer to record companies).  Bob wrote important songs like "Oxford Town" and "The Ballad of Poor Hattie Carrol".  And Life magazine did a feature on him that identified him as a "protest singer".  And I liked Bob back then even though he was to my ear quite "unmusical".

Shortly, towards the end of 1963, my art teacher (who was great and let me do what I wanted in class and he was well turned out and wore an Ernst tie) and I were talking about music because he (unlike most teachers I had encountered til then) actually wanted to get to know me a bit so that he could stream me towards an art form I might like.  So I mentioned Bob Dylan, famous in Life magazine now, who was a "protest singer".  He said, "That's too bad, because protest singers usually don't have a long career." 

And it was as if Bob Dylan overheard that remark, because he soon stopped being a "protest singer".

The fact he caused an uproar at Newport Folk festival perhaps was in part because of electric instrumentation.  I think mixed in was some resentment from the audience that he was dropping anything to do with social activism and they raised their cultural antennae and knew it.

(And like Frank Zappa, I cried, too, when Bob came out with "Like a Rolling Stone" because it meant he would be around a bit longer and I would have to hear him on the radio before switching the dial, or listen to people talk about him until I could get them to change the subject, or not read about him exactly but be exposed to him in print and then hurry to turn pages and skip over magazine articles about him, because if he were on the cover of a magazine people would be reading it in public and hold the magazine up covering their faces so Bob's face would be there on the magazine cover looking out at me until I would be forced to glance away).

So if I were to describe Bob Dylan's subsequent career to future generations, let's say in a science fiction future where people haven't heard his music and are unfamiliar with the history surrounding his ascendancy to a one-time popularity, oh and that future is most distant from us at this moment in history is it not because there are those among us who still listen to Dylan and go to his concerts and remember what we think we was about ...

I would say switching to electric instruments and a different form of composition was a career strategy as protest music was nearly guaranteed to become more "controversial" with all the things around to protest, and poor Bob would have worn himself out.  And Bob (and Viktor) wouldn't have made as good a living.  And the record companies might have dropped him from contract, and there he would be .... a schlump with a guitar with a brief but glorious career that people could wonder over.

And he will be exactly that in the distant future when historians sort through decaying electrons to read old pieces of music history to identify a scrap of music, which in Bob's case will be easy for them because he appeared in print everywhere and "media" seemed to love the idea of him because "media" is in love with its own voice.  And human compassion, thankfully, is something that "media" considered at one time to be an important human value and "media" would remind us occasionally that we are (or were) "human".

I really didn't follow Bob's career too much after that debacle concert in 1964.  Although I would hear a song of his on the radio now and again, and one time in 1980 or so someone brought over a whole new album of his to listen to as they still liked Bob Dylan.  I remember some of those lyrics as I listened to the album .... "her father'd emphasized you have to be more than street wise" and "there was laughter down on Elizabeth Street".  But that's about it for me and Bob.  Oh yeah, "I had a pony ... and her name was Jupiter" (is that the right lyric?)

Sure, I can recall some of his lyrics to his songs I'd heard on the radio ... and some were further ingrained in me as I had a boyfriend who had gone to Bard and so he liked the line "the pump don't work cause the vandals stole the handle" (because that supposedly was an historic incident at Bard college that somehow Bob Dylan had heard about and worked into one of his songs) and he could sing that song from start to finish (and he would do that sometimes and as I liked him I would kind of smile nicely while he did so).  

You know the one I mean, "get drunk, get well, hang around the ink well" (I would sing along to get on my boyfriend's nerves: "join a gym, learn to swim, and eat farina" and that was a multi-leveled joke, you see, one I made up on the spot which caused us both a brief moment of hilarity).

So of course, thus encouraged by small appreciate audiences along the way, in 1963 I began developing what I thought was a funny little skit imitating Bob Dylan and would amuse my friends with this when we were washing dishes or whatever.  I was amazed to learn that Joan Baez was doing exactly the same thing, and she would imitate Bob Dylan singing and right in front of Mimi and in their kitchen besides!  And they'd call themselves "The Kitchen Sisters" and wear rag mops on their heads as part of the joke.  Great minds think alike, I always say. 

well heck, I wouldn't really imitate Dylan any more after 1964 as that was hackneyed.  Because everyone was doing that, imitating Dylan. 

So what I did (I actually did this earlier when I learned first to imitate Bob Dylan effectively and I actually had a harmonica, a harmonica holder, and a place for a kazoo on the harmonica holder, PLUS a whistle ring I wore on my little finger and would blow at the precise moment necessary in a song for added emphasis and would play guitar at the same time).

I also didn't imitate Dylan anymore, because Joan Baez was much closer to the material and did a much better job at that.

What I did was to imitate Joan Baez as she realized Bob was not a real "bird of a feather" and at the moment he began to search for another more well paying genre and first practiced his soul roots but Joan noticed him reaching out for his soul roots first in pop rhythm and blues tunes which were easier and friendlier to play than the real blues.  So one day I did an imitation of Joan Baez imitating Bob Dylan singing "Searchin ' " (which my friends enjoyed immensely, and one of them secretly taped me and even to my amazement gave me a secret "blues name" of "Barbecue Babs" because I was doing the vocal chorus boom boom boom transferred to the bass quitar lines, and he played the tape on KMPX or maybe KPFK, I think it was KMPX.  Why he chose that moment (as I suspect I know who this was) his action was in direct response to all the home recordings of Janis Joplin singing in somebody's living room with typewriters tapping in the background.  This is an amazing true story.  And I actually happened to hear this being played one time!



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