Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Scuttlebutt on Things Dylanesque . . .

Stan Gottlieb
Acquainted with the Young Dylan

My old Ozark friend Pete Hale, the erudite physicist, sent me a note on a fellow named Stan Gottlieb who knew Bob Dylan at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) before Dylan was Dylan, when the not-yet Dylan played in a local 'beat' coffeehouse called The Ten O'Clock Scholar - from a nursery rhyme, by the way. Gottlieb tells of his impressions at the time in a blog called An Inappropriate Life, the blog entry being titled "Me and Bobby D." - a wordplay on Kristofferson's song "Me and Bobby McGee":
Around this time, a rather pushy college sophomore named Bobby Zimmerman began dropping in [at The Ten O'Clock Scholar]. Most of us reacted negatively to him, probably as a balance to his own inflated estimates of his ability as a guitarist and as a poet. Inevitably, we . . . found him so lacking that we sometimes hooted at him when he performed. Still, he persisted, and, bolstered by the women in our crowd, all of whom found his boyishness immensely attractive, he began to get gigs here and there. Nonetheless, there was universal agreement that he was definitely second rate . . . . During these early years, not many of us had cars. Since I did, I was hit on for rides to gigs, especially by Dylan (as he had renamed himself), who never seemed to have money for gas or bus fare or food or cigarettes . . . . Bobby was living with some other guys, having been kicked out of . . . [his] fraternity house for not paying his dues . . . . [Some young, aspiring writers and poets] were keeping journals and writing lots of poetry, and Dylan started doing the same.
Gottlieb explains how that came about:
About this time, Dylan discovered Woody Guthrie, and began imitating Woody's speech patterns and singing Woody's songs. One day he was telling me all about how Woody had written some of the greatest songs of all time, but that the songs he (Dylan) was writing just weren't as good. "Bobby," I said, "do you think that he just woke up one day and wrote 'This Land Is My Land,' and a couple of weeks later took out his notebook and wrote 'Pastures of Plenty'? That isn't the way it worked. Guthrie wrote about everything: tying his shoe, being overcharged at he grocery store; he wrote tens of thousands of songs that never made it into history. Sure he was a genius, but he was also a prolific, hard-working, and mostly unsuccessful genius." I could see the light bulb going off in his head. From that day on, I never saw him without his notebook.
That was some good advice from Gottlieb, without which Dylan might never have been Dylan, and Dylan deserves respect for taking the advice.
Dylan [soon] decided he was ready for the big time in the Big Apple [i.e., New York City, and,] . . . like almost everyone he knew, [I ] told him to forget it; that he didn't have the talent; that if truly fine musicians . . . were not able to make it there, he had no business even trying . . . . When Dylan came back from New York with a Columbia Records contract, and slid into "my" booth . . . , he couldn't help but rub it in a little. I can see now that he had earned a little crowing, but back then I had less of a sense of humor about being dead wrong and getting caught at it. I told him he was a punk; that I didn't care if he had made it, he was still a punk to me, and he would always be a punk. It hurt his feelings, and it was to say the least lacking in grace on my part.
Gottlieb now feels bad about that, and addresses Dylan directly at this point:
Bobby, if you happen to read this, I apologize. You've done well; you've even done some good. Most of us grow up, somewhere along the line, and you probably have too.
Yeah, we all grow up in life, some of us more than others . . . and some of us less than others. In any case, Dylan's success as a musician and a writer obviously came about through hard work since his early oeuvre was seen as second rate - though he probably wasn't really second rate.

And I should know, for I do have a second-rate mind . . . though with a lot of effort, I can manage to do first-rate work.



At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you liked the link, Jeff. The monster bio that referenced it, "Once Upon a Time" by Ian Bell, has me sorely captured (I literally hurt my fool eyes reading the thing over the weekend! jeez). It's doing a super-comprehensive job of laying out how, somehow or other, Dylan had such an incredibly intense picture of his future greatness in music, that he just couldn't not end up being Dylan. That, and his slavish and in Bell's opinion, literally "clinical" obsession with destroying his past in order to build his future, before he even saw twenty, seem to be the two major elements that ended up working for him at the level that it has (that is, IMHO, the highest level there is in such art). Amazing--Pete

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dylan once remarked in an interview that some people are born to the "wrong parents," adding, "It happens all the time."

I'd say that Dylan feels himself to be one of those people.

Jeffery Hodges

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