Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece, “Blood on the Tracks,” Is Still Hard to Find | The New Yorker

By Alex Ross (New Yorker Magazine)

In September, 1974, Bob Dylan spent four days in the old Studio A, his favorite recording haunt in Manhattan, and emerged with the greatest, darkest album of his career. It is a ten-song study in romantic devastation, as beautiful as it is bleak, worthy of comparison with Schubert’s “Winterreise.” Yet the record in question—“Blood on the Tracks”—has never officially seen the light of day. The Columbia label released an album with that title in January, 1975, but Dylan had reworked five of the songs in last-minute sessions in Minnesota, resulting in a substantial change of tone. Mournfulness and wistfulness gave way to a feisty, festive air. According to Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard, the authors of the book “A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of ‘Blood on the Tracks,’ ” from 2004, Dylan feared a commercial failure. The revised “Blood” sold extremely well, reaching the top of the Billboard album chart, and it ended talk of Dylan’s creative decline. It was not, however, the masterwork of melancholy that he created in Studio A.

For decades, the first “Blood” circulated on a bootleg called the New York Sessions. The compact disc that I picked up in a basement Greenwich Village store had a pleasant overlay of vinyl noise—the result of a transfer from a test pressing. Although several of the tracks have shown up in Columbia’s long-running Bootleg Series, the perennial absence of the full album has made fans wonder whether Dylan is wary of revisiting a turbulent time of his life, when his first marriage, to Sara Lownds, was dissolving. Dylan has denied that “Blood” is autobiographical; in his memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One,” he suggests that the songs were based on Chekhov. Artists tend to dislike personal readings of their most personal work.

Last month, Columbia issued “More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14.” Available both as a single-disk compilation and as a six-CD “deluxe edition,” it is both more and less than what Dylan obsessives have been tiresomely clamoring for. The logical move would have been to include the entire album in its initial guise. Yet the single disk gives you only two of the test-pressing tracks, alongside some admittedly riveting outtakes. The box set has all of the discarded tracks, but they are scattered through a complete chronological survey of the four days of sessions—five and a half hours of Dylan at the height of his powers. You will have to study the track listings to assemble the original record. The elusiveness of “Blood on the Tracks” has been integral to its allure, and so it remains.

The Morgan Library, which owns the autograph manuscript of “Winterreise,” also possesses a five-inch-by-three-inch red spiral notebook in which Dylan wrote down lyrics for “Blood on the Tracks.” A hardback book included with Columbia’s “deluxe edition” reproduces forty pages of sketches. Some of them are sung more or less as written on both incarnations of the album:

He woke up, the room was bare
He could didn’t see her anywhere
He told himself he didn’t care,
pushed the window open wide
Then felt an emptiness inside
to which he just could not relate
Brought on by a Simple Twist of Fate

Other lyrics never saw the light of day, and are brutally confessional: “Doomed (led) by a heart that wanders astray / Trapped by a brain that I can’t throw away . . . Was it really 12 years ago, well, it seems like just the other day . . . And it’s Breaking me up with only myself to blame.”

Clichés about heartbreak feeding genius fail to explain the singular potency of “Blood on the Tracks.” The rawness of feeling is certainly there, but it is joined to meticulous craftsmanship in the working-out of words and music. The notebook shows constant, obsessive revision—a sort of perfectionism of disaster. “Idiot Wind,” the extended primal scream at the heart of the album, is seen in drafts so crowded with marginal additions that they are hardly legible. Often Dylan doesn’t cross things out, instead superimposing alternatives:

The priest wore black on the seventh day and waltzed around on a tilted floor
stepped all over me
After you (came down on me) you said you never saw my face before
did me in
done
(After you stepped all over my head, you said ya never wanted to see my face no more)
I BEG YOUR PARDON MADAM
(thru the circles round your eyes)
IDIOT WIND – BLOWIN EVERY TIME YOU MOVE YOUR JAW
FROM THE GRAND COOLIE DAM TO THE MARDI GRAS
(blowing thru the hot and dusty skies)

Such collisions of hallucinatory images and dour realism—the waltzing priest, the marital argument—are common in Dylan’s work, yet here the literary touches seem less an artful device than a form of extreme emphasis. What’s more, the writing process is open-ended: images are shuffled around through successive drafts and, later, through successive takes in the studio. That priest waltzes on a tilted floor; then he waltzes while a building burns; then he sits stone-faced. The wind blows from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Mardi Gras, then to the Capitol.

The music that Dylan wrote for these lyrics has a chilly, clammy air. His guitar is in open-E tuning, meaning that all six strings of the guitar are tuned to notes of the E-major triad: E, B, E, G#, B, E. As a result, the tonic chord rings rich and bright. But each verse begins with a jarring A-minor chord, which tends to land awkwardly. The middle note easily strays off center, souring the sound. Occasionally, a stray F-sharp bleeds through, adding a Romantic tinge. The unwieldiness of the progression is at one with the fraught atmosphere of the text.

The emotional violence is troubling. The word “idiot” is flung down twelve times. Some lines are openly assaultive: “One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzing around your eyes, / Blood on your saddle.” Here, Dylan’s original approach makes a substantial difference. He made four complete takes in New York, plus several rehearsals and false starts. Each time, he has only a quiet bass guitar backing him. (A ghostly organ was later overdubbed.) The tempo is slow, the delivery subdued. All this is at odds with the song’s smoldering rage, and the contradiction gets resolved in the final chorus, where Dylan shifts from the second person to the first-person plural: “Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats / Blowing through the letters that we wrote . . . We’re idiots, babe, it’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.”

Many Dylanists will disagree with me—the second “Blood” has eloquent defenders—but to my ears the later version, recorded with six pick-up musicians in Minnesota, cuts out much of the complexity. Mannerisms overtake the singer’s delivery. “Idiot” becomes “yidiot,” and a goofy pirate yowl periodically intrudes: “I woke up on the roadside, daydreaming about the way things sometimes aaahhhhhrrrre.” (When he does this on one of the New York takes, Tony Brown, the bass player, laughs out loud.) The admission of shared responsibility at the end doesn’t register: you’re carried away by the momentum of the band.

All through the New York sessions, you hear a persistent downward tug in the voice, a grimace of regret. Even the album’s livelier numbers, such as “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” can be wrenched into the abyss; on one take, the tempo drastically slows, giving an almost tragic tinge to a line like “I’ve only known careless love.” The potential downside is a tendency toward relentlessness: one piece after another in the key of E, spiralling through love and loss. The final album offers more variety. The Minnesota band gives a rollicking energy to the cinematic yarn of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” Arguably, that song suffers under the austere New York style, though I love it anyway.

Ultimately, the long-running debate over the competing incarnations of “Blood on the Tracks” misses the point of what makes this artist so infinitely interesting, at least for some of us. Jeff Slate, who wrote liner notes for “More Blood, More Tracks,” observes that Dylan’s work is always in flux. The process that is documented on these eighty-seven tracks is not one of looking for the “right” take; it’s the beginning of an endless sequence of variations, which are still unfolding on his Never-Ending Tour. In an article from 1999, I notated some of Dylan’s live revisions of “Simple Twist of Fate.” The “More Blood” book reproduces alternate lyrics that were written on stationery from the Hotel Drei Könige am Rhein, in Basel. Dylan is still at it. The other night, in Durham, North Carolina, he sang:

He woke up and she was gone
He didn’t see nothing but the dawn
Got out of bed and put his shoes back on
Then he pushed back the blinds
Found a note she left behind
What’d it say? It said you should have met me back in ‘58
We could have avoided this, ah, little simple twist of fate.

To assemble the original “Blood on the Tracks” from the eighty-seven takes on “More Blood, More Tracks,” select tracks 69 (CD 5, No. 3), 71 (CD 5, No. 5), 34 (CD 3, No. 3), 76 (CD 5, No. 10), 48 (CD 4, No. 2), 16 (CD 2, No. 5), 11 (CD 1, No. 11), 59 (CD 4, No. 13), 46 (CD 3, No. 15), and 58 (CD 4, No. 12).

Source: Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece, “Blood on the Tracks,” Is Still Hard to Find | The New Yorker

Bob Dylan’s First Day with “Tangled Up in Blue” | The New Yorker

The  New York sessions for Bob Dylan’s 1975 album, “Blood on the Tracks,” have always been ground zero for Dylan’s reputation as a cipher and a curmudgeon in the recording studio, intent on speeding through the proceedings and capturing lightning in a bottle, quality control be damned. As the story has been told—mostly by musicians who no doubt felt that they didn’t get a fair shake during the biggest moment of their careers—Dylan started sessions for “Blood on the Tracks” on September 16, 1974, on Rosh Hashanah, with a band of New York session “cats” who couldn’t hear what Dylan was doing on songs that he hadn’t bothered to teach them. He waved them off, one by one, as the day wore on, essentially firing them before they had a chance to prove themselves. The problem is, it simply isn’t true.

As the author of the liner notes for “More Blood, More Tracks,” the latest entry in Dylan’s “Bootleg Series,” I was one of the first people to hear the raw session tapes in chronological order. I listened while perusing Dylan’s fabled “red notebook,” in which he’d written the lyrics to the ten songs on “Blood on the Tracks” in his tiny, precise scrawl. What I quickly realized turned the legend upside down: Dylan entered the studio early on the sixteenth, long before any of the session musicians had arrived, intent on cutting an acoustic album—a sort of “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” for the mid-seventies. Contrary to most accounts, Dylan was supremely prepared, and immediately went about delivering aching versions of some of the best—and most intimate—songs that he had ever written. In the era of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and so many others unjustly or unfortunately dubbed “the New Dylan,” and after a clutch of albums that fans had found less than satisfying, Dylan was throwing down the gauntlet, showing himself once again to be the master singer-songwriter and performer.

By the time the musicians who’d been hired to back Dylan arrived that afternoon, he had already cut eleven songs. Dylan would record another fifteen that day—including five takes of “Idiot Wind,” alone again, save for the bassist Tony Brown—for a total of thirty-six, an epic amount by any standard. But it’s clear as you listen that instead of things getting better as the sessions progressed, with the musicians finding their groove with Dylan, the atmosphere in the room degenerated. Most interesting, while Dylan gamely puts the band through their paces on the seemingly easy blues of “Call Letter Blues” and “Meet Me in the Morning” (after attempts at “Simple Twist of Fate” failed miserably), he never lets them near what he surely senses must be his latest masterpiece: “Tangled Up in Blue.” And so, on the afternoon of September 17th, Dylan steps up to the microphone and delivers a hushed, intense, and powerfully intimate version of that song, accompanied only by Brown on bass.

There’s a plaintiveness in that very first version of “Tangled Up in Blue” that’s unusual. It’s the earliest version we have of the now-familiar tale—of the star-crossed couple and their travels and travails, that jumps from the first to third person and back again—and while Dylan doesn’t necessarily sound tentative, the way he often did on “The Cutting Edge: 1965-1966,” the “Bootleg Series” entry that chronicled his “thin wild mercury music” years, he does seem more vulnerable than he ever had before, or ever would be again. “There’s a lot of honesty there,” Jeff Burger, the author of “Dylan on Dylan,” said. “It’s raw and heartfelt, with less posing than he’d done on some of his earlier songs. Of course, many great songs had come before, like ‘Desolation Row’ and so many others, but he was showing off his way with words and painting a picture of another world, not necessarily telling a whole lot about himself. But here he really gets down to the personal, even if it isn’t completely direct.”

While he was writing the songs for “Blood on the Tracks,” Dylan had taken up painting classes with the New York artist Norman Raeben. By all accounts, Raeben was a taskmaster, but he imparted in his students a sense both that life itself was the art, with their creations being merely the by-product of that experience, and, significantly for Dylan, that past, present, and future could all coexist in their work. “He put my mind and my hand and my eye together, in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt,” Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1978, of Raeben’s influence on his songwriting approach.

While Dylan is known to endlessly and brutally edit his lyrics until the very last minute in the studio, and the epic “Idiot Wind” transformed in the course of the “Blood on the Tracks” sessions, “Tangled Up in Blue” is the one song in Dylan’s vast catalogue that he has never seemed to be finished with. There are eight takes from the New York sessions, and the slightest lyrical change, shift in tempo, or variation in delivery causes the song to reveal itself in unexpected ways. When Dylan launches into take two of the song, it’s bouncy, with punchy vocals and organ flourishes, making it, already, a different tale altogether. Further takes seem to split the difference between dark and light. By the time Dylan and Brown attempt the song for the last time in New York, in a remarkable version recorded at the eleventh hour of those sessions, Dylan has seemingly wrung all he can out of “Tangled Up in Blue.”

Still, Dylan would revisit the song just three months later—this time in Minneapolis—in the version that we would all come to love and obsess over. His voice was already transformed, more akin to the carnival-barker delivery that he’d employ on 1975’s “Desire” and the Rolling Thunder Review tour. The version Dylan performed less than a year later on that tour was yet again vastly reworked, and he would continue tinkering with it over the years. A decade later, in 1984, on the album “Real Live,” Dylan felt he’d finally found the song he’d been looking for. “On ‘Real Live’ it is more like it should have been,” Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1985. “I was never really happy with it. I guess I was just trying to make it like a painting where you can see the different parts, but then you also see the whole of it. With that particular song, that’s what I was trying to do . . . with the concept of time, and the way the characters change from the first person to the third person, and you’re never quite sure if the third person is talking or the first person is talking. But as you look at the whole thing it really doesn’t matter. On ‘Real Live,’ the imagery is better and more the way I would have liked it than on the original recording.”

Dylan has performed “Tangled Up in Blue” 1,546 times during his Never Ending Tour, which began in 1988 and is still going. Like any good Dylan obsessive, I’ve seen many of those performances. It’s a guilty pleasure of Dylanologists to trainspot the tweaks—both large and small—that Dylan makes to the lyrics from year to year, or sometimes from night to night. Still, when I was presented with Dylan’s latest revision, written in his own hand—which is part of the “Mondo Scripto” exhibition of his art currently on display at the Halcyon Gallery in London— it was like seeing an old, dear friend, whom you know intimately, but who’s no doubt changed and grown over the years, adapting with the times.

Tangled Up in Blue v 13 Page 1 - Google Chrome 01_11_2018 13_14_17 (2)Tangled Up in Blue v 13 Page 2 - Google Chrome 01_11_2018 13_16_54 (2)

Fans who have seen Dylan in concert recently will recognize some of the changes, of how “he let the law take its course” has taken the place of using “a little too much force,” or how instead of “fishing outside Delacroix,” “everybody’d gone somewhere.” Of course, the past is still close behind, “following me like a shadow that couldn’t get out of my mind / sticking like glue / Tangled up in blue,” but she isn’t working in a topless bar anymore but at the Moonlight Lounge, “where men put money in her hand.” “There’s always been a certain truth about money that I never did understand,” this new version of Dylan’s classic tells us. “You put things to bed and you’ll call it a day / Sometimes you go along for the ride / You pick your brains and you bury the hatchet / Then you walk on the wild side / Towns are ruined and cities burns and images disappear / Weep with all of your heart if you would / I too cried a tear / Nothing you can do / If you’re tangled up in blue.” It recasts the song in the spirit of our times, in the same way the original was so much a product of the Vietnam and Watergate era.

While researching the sessions for “Blood on the Tracks,” I spoke to the writer Larry (Ratso) Sloman, who got to know Dylan around the time and has remained friends with him ever since. He told me a fascinating story of an artist who is perhaps oblivious to how seriously we all take him, but also at peace with his creative process. “I was around during the sessions for ‘Infidels,’ and I fell in love with the song ‘Blind Willie McTell,’ ” Sloman said, referring to a song that’s considered one of Dylan’s best but didn’t find a home on a release until the first volume of his “Bootleg Series,” in 1991. “When the album was finished, Bob called me up and asked me if I wanted to come over to hear it. He played it for me, but no ‘Blind Willie McTell.’ I asked him, ‘What gives, Bob? Where’s ‘Blind Willie McTell?’ And, without missing a beat, he goes, ‘It’s no big deal, Ratso. It’s just an album. I’ve made twenty-two. And I’ll make more.’ ”

Unlike, say, Paul Simon, a presenter who toils over his records, perfecting every nuance until everything is just so, Dylan is restless, visceral, mercurial, always seemingly on the way to his next creation. “More Blood, More Tracks,” and especially its centerpiece, the constantly evolving, shifting, changing “Tangled Up in Blue,” is pure Dylan, a portrait of an artist who never seems to tire of the chase.

“Tangled Up in Blue” copyright © 1974 by Ram’s Horn Music, renewed in 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music. Additional lyrics copyright © 2018 Ram’s Horn Music. Courtesy of the MondoScripto exhibit at the Halcyon Gallery, London.

  • Jeff Slate is a New York City-based songwriter and music journalist. He has written liner notes for Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and others, and is the co-author of “The Authorized Roy Orbison.”

Source: Bob Dylan’s First Day with “Tangled Up in Blue” | The New Yorker

Q&A: A.J. Weberman on Dylan, Lennon, Garbage, New York, and the JDL – Tablet Magazine

Good interview and article about A.J. Weberman by David Samuels of the Tablet.

Source: Q&A: A.J. Weberman on Dylan, Lennon, Garbage, New York, and the JDL – Tablet Magazine

Alan Weberman is a stone cold meshugganeh. He is by no means a reliable news source. Yet, by the same token, the legalese that these days must precede any printed record of the former Yippie, drug dealer, JDO activist, and pioneering garbologist’s nonstop provocations should not be taken as evidence that Weberman is somehow innately any less truthful than the celebrities, political figures, and power structures that he delighted in tweaking, torturing, and maligning for the past half-century. Weberman is no more or less corrosive than he always was, and politicians and rock stars are no more honest.

What’s changed, in the meanwhile, is us. We don’t see the point of Webermans anymore. They’re too abrasive. Or maybe, we are all Webermans now, thanks to the Internet, which flushed away the grittiness of a true oppositional culture down the social media toilet bowl. Thanks to Google, Facebook, and Twitter, there is no longer anything thrilling or shocking about calling celebrities bad names and going through their garbage. Or maybe it’s because famous people have more money, and better lawyers. Or because what’s left of the press is run by Ivy League conformist-types who are eager to maintain the pure ivory of their permanent records and are very anxious about keeping up institutional appearances, which are the only real form of capital they have, because the press is broke, which is a fool-proof recipe for boring.

If it helps, you can think of Weberman as a bullet-headed human keyhole into the oppositional culture that New York City nurtured in the bad old days, before Giuliani and Bloomberg cleaned the place up and turned it into one big dormitory for knowledge workers who were good with numbers and would die before eating at the wrong restaurant or sending their kids to the wrong preschool. Everything that was wrong about the old New York is right about Weberman, and everything that is right about the new New York is wrong about Weberman. So, like most things in life, it depends on your angle. Without Weberman, the world will become an even colder and less hospitable place for weirdos, which is something that I oppose.

I met Alan Weberman in his high-rise apartment, which is located in the upper part of the Upper East Side and offers a spectacular view of Queens. Through a haze of smoke, he offered me some of his memories, while being interrupted by the incessant demands of an ill-mannered bulldog, who is clearly the main focus of his affections. An edited transcript of our conversation was then redacted by a lawyer. I put the lawyer’s version aside, as I wrestled with the question of whether a lawyered version of Weberman was even worth publishing.

After an appropriate period of prayerful reflection, which lasted over a year, I have decided that it is important to hear Weberman speak about Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Meir Kahane, being a drug dealer, and some of his other pet subjects. It’s good to remember that being Jewish once meant being half-crazy, in addition to being neurotic and annoying. Anyone who wants to hear a recording of Weberman talking to Bob Dylan on the telephone can click here.

Where did your obsessive focus come from? Were you that way as a kid?

It started when I was in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 22, 1973, as part of an organized demonstration to find out who stole John F. Kennedy’s brain from the National Archives. You know, because the brain was missing. A New York Times reporter came across that. There was an article recently that some people say RFK took it.

So, we had this demonstration, and this guy Bernard Fensterwald was having a conference on the same day. I’d gotten vibes from working with Fensterwald that there was more to him than really met the eye. So, I’d been working all week, not smoking pot, putting up posters, handing out leaflets all over D.C. Then I came back and gave a little speech at Fensterwald’s conference.

Then I met this girl who was working for Fensterwald, and I says, “Let’s get high,” you know. So we started, I had a little hash, but it was Georgetown University, and these nuns were coming in and out. And so I said let’s go back to your dorm room so we went back to her dorm room, getting high and listening to rock and roll. And then somebody starts yelling from downstairs. It’s Steven Soter, you know Carl Sagan’s sidekick. And he shows me these pictures of the tramps who were picked up an hour after the assassination in a freight car you know behind the Texas schoolbook depository. So, you know so one of them looks like, says oh I thought this one was Frank Sturges, but Bernard Fensterwald said he went down to D.C. to Dallas and did a fucking study and it wasn’t the guy.

And I says, “You believe Fensterwald man? Fensterwald’s probably working for the CIA.” I looked at the tramp shots and I says, “Hmm, one of them looks like Howard Hunt, one of them looks like Frank Sturgis, and the other one looks like this guy who I rented a room to when I was going to Michigan State before I got expelled for dealing pot.” So I says, “Wait a minute, how can one guy, one tramp, can look like Sturgis, the other looked like Hunt, they’re both Nixon’s plumbers in Watergate?” Howard Hunt was involved in Bay of Pigs, and Frank Sturgis was involved with every goddamn thing imaginable.

So, I went to the National Archives, and that’s when I started speed-reading documents, and I read every document in the National Archives about the Kennedy assassination. Then I hooked up with this guy Mike Canfield, and Canfield convinced Congressman Gonzalez to introduce a bill to investigate the Kennedy assassination. And that’s how the House Select Committee on Assassinations was formed.

Did you ever read Norman Mailer’s novel Harlot’s Ghost?

No. I went through his garbage, though.

What did you find?

Betting slips.

Haha.

He’s a chicken shit, though. I was there going through his garbage and he came out of his house in Brooklyn Heights and I expected a big confrontation. But I was wearing a trench coat, so he must have thought I was a Fed or something. He just moved along.

I lived on that block, just up the hill from that big Jehovah’s Witness “Watchtower” building. Do you think Dylan was inspired to write “All Along the Watchtower” because of his view of that sign from downtown Manhattan?

(Photo courtesy of A.J. Weberman)

No, no. All along the watchtower, princes kept the view, while all the women came and went, it’s about his career. Before, when I was at a very primitive stage of Dylanology, I thought the wind began to howl meant Dylan, the wind, like blowing in the windbegan to howl, like Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” So, I went and asked Ginsberg about it. He comes to the door naked. He says, “No, Weberman no, no.”

But he would ask me for advice. He got mugged a lot, and he wanted to know what to do.

He is a human being.

You know, he fucked around with needles and he got fucking hepatitis. And then he finally got some money.

Why did everybody love the needle so much back then?

Don’t ask me. I didn’t mess with needles. But it’s just a very pleasurable thing, apparently. And when I knew Lennon, he was an addict. See the way he looks at the end of his life: He’s skinny, he’s emaciated. Him and Yoko, time and time again, they didn’t have clothes on. I would follow him into the fucking bathroom and watch him take a piss. You know, what difference did it make, he was nude anyway.

I feel like gestures that seemed perverse and counter-cultural when you made them first back in the day, like digging through Bob Dylan’s garbage, have become widely shared social instincts. In a way, garbage-ology is the soul of the Internet.

You know, the term garbologist existed—in Australian, it meant a garbage collector—but there was no garbology, which is the study of garbage. So, I invented the word “garbology.” It’s come to mean studying garbage to see what you can know, to increase recycling and understand socioeconomic divides and this and that. I did it just to spy on Dylan, essentially.

I’ve read some of the stuff you’ve written about your purported—and in some cases, recorded—phone conversations with Bob Dylan, which are hilarious. Why do you think he kept talking to you?

Well, I brought my Dylan class over to his house on a field trip. And he came out and he says, “Al, whatchu bringing all these people around for?” So I says, “Oh, it’s a field trip for my Dylanology class. But actually it’s a demonstration against all you’ve come to represent.” You know, and so it went. He rolled up his sleeves and he says, “Look, I’m not a junkie.”

Then Dylan called me later on, when I got back to Sixth and Bleecker, and he says “Hey, how’d you like a job as my bodyguard or a chauffeur?” So I says, “You’re trying to buy me off, man. You’re trying to co-opt me and it’s not going to work.” And I started hanging around the studio with him and we had a great time. He writes about it in Chronicles, you know—allegorically.

You know, we always moved in the same circles, druggie-type circles in the West Village. The guy who lived next door to me in the West Village was the guy who Dylan originally crashed with, Ray Gooch. So, there was a connection right there. There were generally fewer people around back then.

Then Dylan wrote “Dear Landlord,” which was the first song about the Dylan- Weberman relationship, and it’s full of threats.

He was right to see you as threatening, no?

No. He was threatening my life and stuff. He could get into a really creepy fucking head, where we’ll be sitting around and he wouldn’t turn the lights on in Houston Street, and he’d be looking at that church on Houston and Sullivan—St. Anthony’s—and it would all get real gray and everything. And then he’d say, “Al, if you get into my life, I might gain a soul.”

I says, “Gain a soul? What do you mean, man? Are you threatening to kill me, are you gonna kill me?” He says, “No, but I know some mafia people who might.”

But guess what. He didn’t want to be blackmailed by the mob for the rest of his life. You know so he went around, he did a number on me himself. He caught me on Bleecker Street and beat the shit out of me.

(Photo courtesy of A.J. Weberman)

You were like something he couldn’t get off his shoe.

I was threatening his whole thing. He couldn’t shoot junk in peace. And then I chased him out of Greenwich Village by having a birthday party in front of his house and it was in the centerfold of the Daily News. After that, he couldn’t live in that neighborhood anymore. There were too many hippies camping out in front of his house and stuff.

You could have just left the man in peace. Why did you bother him?

I thought he was a sellout. You know, he sold out the left. But guess what, Dylan was never a leftist. He just fell into the easiest thing that would make him famous.

It was a big fuckin’ laugh what Dylan did. He had people singing how many years can the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned? And if you look at Dylan in other contexts, he says “catch a cannonball bring me down the line, my bag is sinking low and I do believe it’s time.” So he’s saying, “Let’s find a black heroin connection, my bag is sinking low”—i.e., I’m running out of dope. “How many times must the cannonballs fly”—cannonballs are out of control, namely black people, “before they’re forever banned.” And what he means by banned is, people were banned in South Africa who were part of the ANC, because they opposed Apartheid.

That’s nuts.

Dylan sings racist sub-content, pro-apartheid sub-content, in his lyrics.

You understand that this is your own, very personal interpretation of Dylan’s lyrics, right?

Time after time these things come up. You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat, you used to have diplomatic relations with the biggest exporter of chrome, South Africa. Who carried on his shoulder—Who shouldered the white man’s burden—a siamese cat, slang for a black man, a nigger. Ain’t it hard when you discovered that he really wasn’t where it’s at—wasn’t it hard for you to rationalize what you’d done when you decided to break diplomatic relations with South Africa.

So, that’s where Dylan’s head is at, man. He’s a fucking racist, he’s a fucking Holocaust revisionist, and he’s a Nazi fucking sympathizer. But when I knew him he was a proud Jew, OK? And I was a self-hating fucking Jew, pro-Palestinian, digging my own grave. And not just because I was Jewish. I was a hippie, too.

But then in the eighties, when Dylan wrote “Neighborhood Bully” about the scapegoating of Israel, did you feel some sense that maybe the two of you were on the same trajectory, after all?

Oh, it was a great song, you know. But then Dylan became a Christian. So, he sang, your father was an outlaw and a wanderer by trade, he taught me how to pick and choose and how to throw a blade. OK, so your father is an outlaw—your antecedents killed Christ—and a wanderer by trade, and they were forced to wander the world because of that. He taught you how to pick and choose—the chosen people—and how to throw the blade, circumcision. He oversees his kingdom so no stranger does intrude—he watches very carefully who he takes in and allows to convert to Judaism.

I also discovered backwards masking. You know, when I played “If Dogs Weren’t Free” backwards, it said “If Mars Invades Us” or something. I was friends with Jann Wenner, and so Jann ran it on Random Notes in Rolling Stone. Then people began to play records backwards and they got “Paul Is Dead.”

When you look at Jann Wenner now, he’s buff, right?

I don’t know how he did it, he must be taking steroids or something. When I knew him he was a little wimp I could push around. You know, I got him in the Eastside Bookstore once and threw him up against the wall. But now, I don’t know.

Do you believe that decoding Dylan lyrics for the past 50 years has really been the best use of your highly original mind?

It was like, you know, when you’d buy Ovaltine and if you get enough wrappers they would give you the Ovaltine secret decoder ring, where each number on the ring represented a letter. So, you’d tune into the Ovaltine hour and then you’d copy a letter and then another letter and then what was the message? Drink Ovaltine.

This is another case of that. I wasted my fucking life trying to fucking understand this stuff.

So, you went from Dylanology to Meir Kahane and his followers or proteges in the JDO, the Jewish Defense Organization.

It was Mordechai Levy who came by to spy on the Yippies for the secret service, essentially. Levy came across to spy on me and he didn’t find much anti-Israel stuff among the Yippies. It was all basically, you know, pro-pot single-issue politics. And then he started doing data mining on Nazis. You know, he would find a Nazi’s phone number, call up the business office and say “Could you read me back the numbers that were called from this number.” And then from those records he’d do another search on everyone that the Nazis called. And in that sense he sort of unraveled the neo-Nazi network in the United States at the time.

I was very impressed by his methodology. And essentially he rolled me over. He let me hear calls with Palestinians where he would get them to admit they were working with the Klan. Then he started the Jewish Defense Organization, and then any alleged acts of, shall we say, vandalism, ceased after we formed the JDO, because you can’t do both things at once.

What is the point of what you do now?

The purpose is to fight the Nazis essentially. I’m not like an armchair anarchist or revolutionary. You know, when we were fighting against the war in Vietnam, we were instigating riots.

Well, it would hard to get the Jews of America to riot about anything these days. You could give Iran, say, a nuclear bomb in broad daylight, and you would barely hear a peep from these folks. You could round up all the Gypsies, or the Guatemalans, and put them into concentration camps. Regardless of their political orientation, Jews in America are some pretty wealthy, self-satisfied white people these days, and they are largely ignorant of their own history. That’s why I like hearing stories from people like you.

You’re just mad at Bob Dylan, because you wanted to have a relationship with him that he clearly didn’t want to have, because he thought you were a nut.
No, I’m not. I’m telling you the truth, so you know.

Back in the days of the JDO, a lot of Jews were being put into schools that were integrated for the first time. And then you had the whole Bed-Stuy-Brownsville, community control of the school of school boards, where they threw out the Jewish teachers. So, a lot of Jewish kids were radicalized.

What turned me off to the JDL was the “nigger, nigger, nigger” all the time, you know. The Yippies were opposed to the JDL. We published their credit card numbers in the Yipster Times, and then they came around with baseball bats to beat my head in. I said, “Hey, you’re getting all these charges on your bill, you know what you can do you can get the legitimate charges taken off too you know while you’re at it.”

Kahane was an interesting guy, got kosher food in the prisons. Common fare. That benefited the Muslims, too.

What do you think of Kahane now?

He was a theocrat. He wanted religious police. He was a racist. Israelis decided he was a racist. Ultimately it’s their call.

The Soviet Jewry issue was one place that he had a positive impact. His violence was appropriate there. It threw a scare into people, especially the brain-dead Jews who ran the national Jewish organizations in America, both then and now. It also scared the Russians.

Yeah, absolutely. He put a lot of heat on the Russians. There’s no doubt about it. He went to prison for it, too.

And what do you think about the fact that Kahane worked for the FBI all those years?

He hated the left essentially. But I would have to file an FOIA request and see if I can get his reports to the Feds or his contact sheets or whatever.

Kahane gets out of school and becomes an undercover informant for the FBI infiltrating Klan activity, so he almost looks like a civil rights guy. Then he moves to the Russians and the Soviet Jewry thing, and then he is revealed as an extreme theocrat and a racist. What I’ve always wondered is, did he continue working for the FBI the whole time?

No. Once he started with the so-called terrorists, they don’t want to touch him. You know he’s committing, he’s inciting the commission of illegal acts, he’s participating to some degree. You know they dropped him after that.

Then, of course, in an irony of history, Kahane is the one that al-Qaida ends up targeting first, because they recognized him. They’re like, “That guy’s is really dangerous, because he’s the Jewish version of us.” And the failure to really follow up on the investigative leads in the Kahane assassination—because everyone thought that Kahane was simply a crazy Jewish racist who embarrassed everyone and probably did deserve to get shot—opened the door to the first World Trade Center attack, and then to the success of the Sept. 11 plot.

It was stupid. They had Emad Salem in there for the first World Trade Center bombing, this guy Carson Dunbar took him out, he was head of the New York FBI office. Then the bombing occurred, they put him back in the cell, and then they arrested everyone including Sheikh Rahman, and they made tapes of Sheikh Rahman talking to Emad Salem. And Emad Salem is saying, “Let’s bomb the FBI building.” And Rahman says, “Slow down slow down. It took us three years to train the one who killed Kennedy.” You know, and when this came up on trial, everybody the U.S. attorney, Lynn Stewart, the whole fucking crew, they weren’t going to say, “Hey, that could have been Robert Kennedy.” They all just laughed and said, “Oh, how could it be John Kennedy?”

And guess what: Rahman was close to Mohammad [M.T.] Mehdi, and Mehdi was close to Sirhan Sirhan, who did kill Robert Kennedy.

When you read accounts of the assassination of Robert Kennedy, it’s always presented as some inexplicable Oswald-like lone gunman event—except the man who did it, Sirhan Sirhan, had a very clear political purpose, which was to mark the anniversary of the Six Day War and to protest American support for Israel. He killed Robert Kennedy because he understood him to be a powerful American Zionist who was running for President.

Robert Kennedy was going to send U.S. fighter jets to Israel. Sirhan Sirhan was a Palestinian, and he was trained by a Muslim Brotherhood cell. The FBI still won’t give me documents about this one suspicious guy who ran a little study group in which Sirhan Sirhan participated, an Egyptian. They won’t give me his name.

Let’s talk about your relationship with John Lennon.

How that started was that we invaded Allen Klein’s office, he did the fucking Concert for Bangladesh album, and he kept all the money instead of giving it to the Muzzies in Bangladesh. So, New York magazine does a whole story on it, and we figure, “Hey, if this guy has to rip off the starving people of Bangladesh, he must be one hungry motherfucker.” So, we had our free lunch for starving music executives program where we went to the dumpsters on 1st Avenue near the fruit stands, got all this rotten fruit, came into Klein’s office, and tossed it around. Fucking Phil Spector was there man, he attacked my old lady, Anne. So, then he had the bodyguards throw us out.

So then, John and Yoko call me. And Yoko says, “Come on over for tea with you and Anne.” You know, so we went over to Bank Street. And then the friendship started.

What do you think they wanted? Did they want protection, because they were new to New York?

No, no. They were pissed off at Allen Klein, they liked what we did, you know. We spoke for them, too. They liked activism.

That guy John Lennon was a revolutionary. You know, “working-class hero.” He was into that fucking IRA. I met IRA guys over there who were selling hash and smurfing arms and sending it back to the IRA in Ireland. He was crazy, you know. He gave me money to start riots in Miami, at the Republican Convention.

So, Lennon believed in his politics, unlike Dylan?

You know, Lennon, he was using smack a lot of the time. You’d go there and they’d say, “Oh he’s depressed, you can’t go in the room.” They’d just load me up with records and Yoko’s art and everything, you know. And, in retrospect, you know, I would say he was going through cold turkey. He had no track marks, he was snorting at the time.

Back when Lennon convinced me he was up to revolutionary shit, we went and we put a phone line, we went to the back of the house, to John Cage’s phone line, and put an extension into Lennon’s house so when Cage went to sleep at night, Lennon could make his calls on Cage’s line without the FBI tapping them.

Did John Cage ever know that?

I don’t think so. I know Andy Warhol knew that we stole his furniture. What happened was, we’d just moved, we got back from Miami and we had the Yippie headquarters on 3rd Street and 2nd Avenue in a basement on the Angels block. So, we were looking for like a space heater or something. So, I was walking by Cooper Square and I saw this door was busted open. So, I walked upstairs and then holy shit, there was all this art deco stuff was there. You know bureaus and lamps and clocks made out of marble. I said, “Wow, somebody abandoned this.”

So, I had this guy come with a truck and loaded it all into a truck and brought it back to my loft and to the Yippie house. A week later, I read in New York magazine that somebody looted Andy Warhol’s art deco stash. So, later at a party, Dana Beal went over and told him, “Andy, we were the ones that took it, we thought it was abandoned property.” Andy says, “I don’t care, as long as you didn’t sell it, it’s OK with me.”

What did Lennon want from America?

What did he want? He loved New York, you know. He liked Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. You know, they’re entertaining people. And David Peel, of course. He was a revolutionary, so he just fit right into the crew basically. He came to demonstrations.

I had one, you know, “Paul Is Dead,” we were demonstrating outside Linda Eastman’s parents’ house. You know we had a hearse and we had a big mock funeral for Paul McCartney because his album was so apolitical. So, he and Yoko, they showed up in bags and read a whole statement.

When did you stop seeing him?

After he moved to the Dakota. Then they got real heavy into heroin. Really heavy, you know. They became addicts.

Did you ever see John Lennon use heroin?

No, he knew I was opposed to it. Because I was saying that Dylan was an addict, and he had sold out his left-wing thinking to use heroin—when of course there was no left-wing thinking. He just became the Marxist minstrel, because that’s what was happening at the time.

You’re just mad at Bob Dylan, because you wanted to have a relationship with him that he clearly didn’t want to have, because he thought you were a nut.

No, I’m not. I’m telling you the truth, so you know.

But you admire Dylan. You think he is very smart.

Oh yeah, he’s smart. He’s a freak. He played at Hubert’s Flea Circus. You know, you could ask him to sing any song and he’d sing it, like some kind of machine on 42nd Street. I’m waiting for him to write about that, because I used to go to Hubert’s all the time. He loved it in New York at the time, the gaslight. The Café Wha? I worked at the Wha? I paid Jimmy Hendrix $30 a night for three sets.

Jimi Hendrix is the one person in music history that I would trade everything I own for the chance to spend three hours in a small room where he was playing live.

(Photo courtesy of A.J. Weberman)

Oh, I heard him all the time. We would drop the actual glassware on the floor when he started to play, and then sweep it up later on, you know, so we wouldn’t miss a second. We’d go out and listen to him. Man, he’d go crazy, he’d play with his tongue, he’d play behind his back, he had all kinds of stuff—a lot of Dylan covers, “All Along the Watchtower,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Wild Thing.”

I remember Jimi saying to me when Eric Burdon was in the audience one night—“He’s going to sign me to go to England, I’m going to have plenty of money man, and I’m going to take every drug there is.” And I says, “You sure you want to take every one?” He says, “Yeah, I’m sure.”

He was a nice guy. Friendly, not condescending. He saw himself as basically a black Yippie. He gave the money to Abbie Hoffman to send joints to Congress. Every congressman got a joint. And, according to Abbie, a big percentage of them didn’t turn their joints over to the FBI.

Did you believe that pot was going to change people’s heads and change American society for the better?

And acid. We were going to squirt the cops with DMSO and LSD in water guns. DMSO would make their skin a permeable membrane. And of course the LSD would be psychotomimetic, it would make them crazy. But people don’t take acid anymore.

I don’t even know where I’d get acid in New York City these days. And if I did drop acid in my present condition, I would probably flip out and become a real-estate broker at Corcoran or something. So that part of my life is clearly over with.

It became an ordeal. But it could end regressive behaviors it can end alcoholism, it has good therapeutic value if taken under the right circumstances.

What do you make of the speed at which pot is being legalized in America?

I’m happy about it. You know, I got radicalized when I sold five joints to a fuckin’ undercover cop at Michigan State. I was facing 20 years on the sail, minimum mandatory, 10 years, when they vacuumed my pockets and found little minute amounts of cannabis. I had to come to New York City, get a job from the Lawrence employment agency, go see a shrink, you know, and then pay the district attorney 5,000 to let me off the fucking hook.

I turned Dana Beal on to pot, and then Dana came to New York City, escaped from a mental hospital where his mother put him for attacking someone in his class, he got a job at Klein’s on Union Square, in the record department, and then he moved on to the Record Hunter on 5th Avenue and 42nd, enrolled at NYU, was an A student. And then I turned him on to LSD. And he said, I want to be a revolutionary. So we had the first smoke-in in Tompkins Square Park, in 1967 in the Summer of Love. The East Village Other gave us an office on Avenue A and 10th Street, and we put a big sign in the window, Psychedelic Revolution. And anyone, we had marches. Anyone, anytime there was a pot bust we’d march through the East Village, and people were very happy to have us doing that. They’d throw flowers at us. Including the fucking flower pot.

So, then we opened three stores, Dana got busted, he had to go underground, and he hooked up with the Weather Underground in Wisconsin, and we continued to push for legalized marijuana. Myself, publisher Rex Weiner, and some other people, we had the first Marijuana Day Parade. May Day is J Day. John and Yoko sponsored it one year. We had a giant joint on stage. Yossarian, the underground cartoonist, would do the posters. We had had somebody smoking pot in an iron lung, had a hippie tied a little kid in a wheelchair or a high chair and a hippie forcing him to smoke pot, you know all kinds of weird, bizarre stuff. And then NORML came along, and so it became more widespread.

The current President of the United States writes in his memoirs about smoking pot.

Yeah, he lived next door here, in the adjoining building. You can see from the terrace downstairs, that fire escape where Obama said he went out to smoke dope. I think it’s a progressive thing. But then you know you’ve got Nazis like Ron Paul who want to make all drugs legal for people who are looking for a shortcut to happiness, who are never going to be able to find that happiness via traditional economic means. That’s part of his hidden agenda to fuck up the African American community, because he is basically a Nazi at heart.

I was staying at Grover Norquist’s town house, right—

Grover Norquist, the Republican direct-mail guru?

He was like a libertarian, he loved rock and roll, he had the greatest collection of rock records, man.

You were friends with Grover Norquist because of his record collection?

We had a friend in common, and I needed a place to stay in D.C. So, my friend takes me over to Spotlight, which was a real right-wing John Birch-type magazine, right, because I’ve done research for [late Congressman Henry] Gonzalez and [Sen. Richard] Schweiker, who created a Congressional Commission to investigate the conclusions of the Warren Commission about the circumstances around Kennedy’s death. And so I show them the tramp shots.

And so they say, “Oh this is very interesting. What’s your name?” And I say, “Allen Jules Weberman.” And then the guy says “Allen Jew Weberman?” And so I say, “Who are these fucking guys?” So, then I went back and listened to their stinking broadcast and I says, “Holy shit, it’s fucking Father Coughlin has come to life again.” And then I started to subscribe to the Spotlight. And in every issue, it was Ron Paul this, and Ron Paul that. Ron Paul was at this meeting. Ron Paul was their hero. That was his fan club, his base.

To have somebody like Ron Paul alive is like having a cancer. His big catch-phrase is “the New World Order.” Do you know what the new world order is? The new world order is where the Jews control everything. It’s another way of saying ZOG, the Zionist Occupation Government. It’s dog-whistle politics.

Do you feel the same way about Ron’s kid, Rand Paul?

Yeah. He wants to cut off aid to Israel. And he goes to Israel and says how much he likes the place and then ultimately he wants to destroy it. You know what he was named after? The Rand, the South African currency.

That’s hilarious. But is that true?

That’s what I believe. Ask Ron Paul.

What do you think of this city now? I was born here, I grew up here, but I stay out of Manhattan these days, because it generally depresses me.

Well, it’s lost a lot of its interesting places, really, like 4th Avenue and the bookstores, the electronic places on Courtland Street. You know it’s become pretty homogenous—Payless Shoes, Starbucks, ATMs, Duane Reade. And basically you have de facto segregation now, in that you need to have an income that’s like 40 times the amount of the rent per year or something.

Right. No one is a racist anymore, because even that would mean that they had an allegiance to something other than money. But then I remember the shooting galleries and the junkies, the people living in abandoned buildings, and that time wasn’t so good, either. I hate that fake nostalgia for the New York I grew up in from people who came here in 2011 to be stockbrokers or work for some crappy Internet company. The old New York City had its virtues, but it was pretty dangerous and shitty.

Everybody was getting ripped off. You know you work at a job, make $50 a week and you buy something and then next thing you know the junkies have come and stolen it from you. My customers at low numbers in the East 60s were getting home and people were trying to break down their doors in home invasions.

The city was fucking chaos, you know. But for me, it was wonderful. Because they were taking riff-raff. Everybody wanted to rent to me, even on MacDougal Alley, a little town house they were going to rent opposite Washington Square. I finally settled on 240 Central Park South, overlooking the park there. Antoine Saint Exupery’s old apartment. It was a love nest for somebody who owned 6th Avenue Electronics. So I had a terrace, wood-burning fireplace, in a tower of 240 Central Park South. And it was rent stabilized. I had to pay money to get the guy out and pay a fee to the broker, but they didn’t really scrutinize your records so much, because it was a buyer’s market.

But the city was deteriorating. There were pornography places on every block. There were all kinds of roving gangs around 8th Avenue and 42nd Street and 9th Avenue.

Was it fun being a drug dealer in the city?

Yeah, except for the rips.

Did you have guys with guns take stuff from you?

No, just once. What happened was this idiot guy from High Times was doing some story on coke dealers. So he calls me up and he says, “Oh do you want me to bring my friend around, he’s a big coke smuggler.” I says, “No, don’t bring him around.” So, he brought him around anyway. Then the guy sent his crew back to rip me off. You know so when somebody left, they came up, they cuffed me up, you know hit me a couple of times with a gun, kicked the dog, and stole a bunch of reefer from Gainesville, but they missed the mushrooms, you know. So, I says, “Aw fuck.”

So, what I did was I put double doors on there so you got buzzed in one door, and you’re in a little hallway and then you get buzzed in the other door with a TV camera to see who it was and then tear gas that could be remotely controlled. I hired somebody to put the doors in.

And sure enough the rips came back. And what they did was there was next door we had Studio 10 at 10 Bleecker Street, Quiet Riot played there and other bands of note. So I look out the window and all of the sudden, the black guards are white. The rips had kidnapped the guards, they’d kidnapped the black guards and tied ’em up and put ’em inside 10 Bleecker, and got their uniforms and were outside the door. So then this woman comes who was not a criminal herself, but comes from a crime family whose name would be easily recognizable, and she refused to open the door.

So they let her go, and then I buzzed the guy in. You know, so he comes in and then all of a sudden, the lights go out, the tear gas goes off, and then me and this guy who later actually ended up working in Times Square as a bouncer in one of the peep shows, cleaning up the semen with a fucking mop, and this other guy Smitty, who was also happened to have organized crime connections, but was forced into it by his father. And they come down and we have two fuckin shotguns, Ithacas—we cocked the fuckin Ithacas and said “We’re gonna fuckin blow you away.” And then boom, we hear a fuckin shot goes off. I release the front door and he goes limping away. He shot himself in the leg!

So that was the Wild West back then, man. The cops saw everybody going in and out in and out, all these people like Jim Jarmusch, I ran into him the other day, he was a customer. Ginsburg brought a whole bunch of people around. The President’s brother [name has been excised at lawyer’s request]. Other people I don’t want to mention. That photographer dude who did the pictures of the young kids, Robert Mapplethorpe, brought his crew around. The people from Saturday Night Live, the writers, it was a salon. You know, everybody you could get jobs, you could meet, advance your career, meet other people. And then the cops chased us out and I had to start a delivery service.

And now you comment on stories on the Internet. What’s the pleasure in that?

Well, a lot of my comments are pretty absurd. Like this woman today, she ran, she came in number 75 in the marathon. So she said, “Oh I finished in 5 and 40.” So I says, “How can you finish in 5 minutes and 40 seconds?”

What are your favorite sites to comment on?

Well, I’m barred from Huffington Post, and I’m barred from the Gothamist. Wenner got me barred. You know because when they came out with the Rolling Stone thing, with the Chechen bomber’s picture on the cover of Rolling Stone, you know, then I said “Aw, man, Wenner is doing intellectual limbo. He’s reached a new fuckin low.” You know, I knew the guy was a fucking low-life from years back. But I didn’t realize it went this deep. Even his own writer Matt Taibbi wouldn’t defend him, put his heart in the defense, because he was almost killed by Chechnyan separatists in Moscow. And the Daily News, somehow I got banned from there.

The Forward, I was banned for a little while because I said that a lot of gay Jews don’t like Israel, because they were maltreated when they were younger by other Jews.

Do you think the open information culture that the Internet has created has been a good thing for American democracy?

It spread a lot of ignorance. It gives a lot of ignorant people a chance to express themselves. When you see some kind of a factoid, a lot of times it’s repeated time after time, so you just put it in quote marks and put it in the Google search, and then you can see that it comes up in certain groups over and over again. So you know that somebody’s started it and the rest of the idiots just promulgated it. But the big thing is that Facebook has changed a lot of people’s lives.

You like Facebook?

Facebook is good. It gives people a chance to express themselves.

There was something in your spirit, in good ways and bad, that is now widely diffused throughout the culture because of the Internet. It’s become part of our cultural DNA. You had so much passion and aggression and interest and you had tools and you were an obsessive. I think that energy is part of what makes the Internet run. That, and porn.

Right, right. Well, you know we were tied in with Cap’n Crunch, you know he lived at 9 Bleecker, and he was making the—

Yeah, the long-distance phone hacks. Ron Rosenbaum wrote a great magazine article about that, in the days when there were great magazine articles.

In Esquire.

[Stops to take a phone call]

They’re putting up like a garbage transfer point here, so all the wealthy people at Asphalt Green are pissed off. But guess what? Asphalt Green used to be an asphalt plant that the mob used to make inferior cement and stuff. So what are they so afraid of? It’s not going to be toxic, it’s just going to be people’s garbage. Rich people’s garbage!

Overloaded: The Story Of White Light/White Heat | MOJO

BY DAVID FRICKE (Mojo Magazine)

“NO ONE LISTENED TO IT. BUT THERE IT IS, FOREVER – THE QUINTESSENCE OF ARTICULATED PUNK. AND NO ONE GOES NEAR IT.”– Lou Reed, August, 2013

BY MID-1967, ONLY a few months after The Velvet Underground’s debut album was released, their iconic ice queen singer Nico was a solo artist, and pop art svengali Andy Warhol was no longer managing and feeding the group. Warhol’s parting gift: the all-black cover idea for their follow-up – the album they would name White Light/White Heat. Meanwhile, the band scrabbled to survive in the drug-soaked art-scene demi-monde of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

“Our lives were chaos,” VU guitarist Sterling Morrison told me in 1994. “Things were insane, day in and day out: the people we knew, the excesses of all sorts. For a long time, we were living in various places, afraid of the police. At the height of my musical career, I had no permanent address.”

Test Pressing White Light/White Heat
Test pressing of Lady Godiva’s Operation, the “experimental noir” from the White Light/White Heat sessions.

There were mounting internal tensions, too, over direction and control between Lou Reed and John Cale, the group’s founders, especially after their debut album’s failure to launch. “White Light/White Heat was definitely the raucous end of what we did,” Morrison affirmed. But, he insisted, “We were all pulling in the same direction. We may have been dragging each other off a cliff, but we were definitely all going in the same direction.”

From that turbulence and frustration, Reed, Cale, Morrison and drummer Moe Tucker created their second straight classic. Where The Velvet Underground And Nico was a demonstration of breadth and vision, developed in near-invisibility even before the band met Warhol – “We rehearsed for a year for that album, without doing anything else,” Cale claims – White Light/White Heat was a more compact whiplash: the exhilarating guitar violence starting with the title track, peaking in Reed’s atonal-flamethrower solo in I Heard Her Call My Name; the experimental sung and spoken noir of Lady Godiva’s Operation and The Gift; the propulsive, distorted eternity of sexual candour and twilight drug life, rendered dry and real in Reed’s lethal monotone, in Sister Ray.

“By this time, we were a touring band,” Cale explains. “And the sound we could get on stage – we wanted to get that on the record. In some performances, Moe would go up first, start a backbeat, then I would come out and put a drone on the keyboard. Sterling would start playing, then Lou would come out, maybe turn into a Southern preacher at the mike. That idea of us coming out one after the other, doing whatever we wanted, that individualism – it’s there on Sister Ray, in spades.”

White Light/White Heat was also the Velvets’ truest record, the most direct, uncompromised document of their deep, personal connections to New York’s avant-garde in the mid-’60s; the raw, independent cinema of Jack Smith, Jonas Mekas and Piero Heliczer; Cale’s pre-Velvets experiences in drone, improvisation and radical composition with John Cage and the early minimalists La Monte Young and Tony Conrad; Reed’s dual immersion, from his days at Syracuse University, in the free jazz of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor and the metropolitan-underworld literature of William Burroughs and Hubert Selby, Jr.

“I’m in there with a B.A. in English – I’m no naif,” Reed told me shortly before his death. “And being in with that crowd, the improvisers, the film-makers, of course it would affect where I was going. We said it a hundred times; people thought we were being arrogant and conceited. We’re reading those authors, watching those Jack Smith movies. What did you think we were going to come out with?”

The Velvet Underground White Light/White Heat

The Velvet Underground as they were on the eve of White Light/White Heat’s release. Clockwise from top left: Maureen “Moe” Tucker, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale.

“WE WERE ALL PULLING IN THE SAME DIRECTION. WE MAY HAVE BEEN DRAGGING EACH OTHER OFF A CLIFF…”– Sterling Morrison

The Velvets were also a rock band, with roots in that ferment but ambitions charged by the other modern action around them. “There was close competition with Bob Dylan,” Cale admits. “He was getting into people’s heads. We thought we could do that.”“Maybe our frustrations led the way,” Morrison said of White Light/White Heat. “But we were already pretty much into it. We had good amps, good distortion devices. We were the first American band to have an endorsement deal with Vox.” The album, he contended, “was just us using the Vox amps and playing them emphatically.”“They say rock is life-affirming music,” Reed says. “You feel bad, you put on two minutes of this – boom. There’s something implicit in it. And we were the best, the real thing. You listen to the Gymnasium tape [the live set included with December’s Deluxe reissue], this album – there is the real stuff. It’s aggressive, yes. But it’s not aggressive-bad. This is aggressive, going to God.”

The Players

Lou Reed
LOU REED

1942-2013. Guitarist/vocalist and primary songwriter. “No one censured it,” he said of WL/WH. “Because no one listened to it.”

John Cale
JOHN CALE

Bass guitar/viola/keyboards. The classically trained Welshman provided the deadpan monologue for The Gift: “Everyone was hellbent on being heard.”

Sterling Morrison
STERLING MORRISON

1942-1995. Guitar and “medical sound effects” on Lady Godiva’s Operation: “Maybe our frustrations led the way.”

Moe Tucker
MOE TUCKER

Drums. Provider of the group’s relentless, unfussy propulsion. “The songs were the songs,” she drily notes.

Andy Warhol
ANDY WARHOL

1928-1987. Pop art icon, art-director and manager of The Velvet Underground. Parted ways with the group in the run-in to White Light/White Heat.

Ornette Coleman
TOM WILSON

1931-1978. WL/WH producer and babe magnet. Notable track record with Dylan, Zappa, Simon & Garfunkel, the VU and Nico (pictured).

Hubert Selby Jr
HUBERT SELBY JR.

1928-2004. Novelist/poet of the New York demi-monde. Inspired Sister Ray: “It’s a taste of Selby, uptown,” said Reed.

Ornette Coleman
ORNETTE COLEMAN

Saxophonist/composer, architect of free jazz. His lines influenced Reed’s splintering lead guitar approach on I Heard Her Call My Name.

Cecil Taylor
CECIL TAYLOR

Jazz pianist and poet admired by Lou Reed. His experimental approach fed into WL/WH. Tom Wilson produced his 1956 album, Jazz Advance.

Players Photos: Getty / Rex

II.

White Light/White Heat Test Pressing
That’s the single! Test pressing of the ill-fated White Light/White Heat 45.

In September 1967 at Mayfair Studios – located on Seventh Avenue near Times Square and the only eight-track operation in town – The Velvet Underground put White Light/White Heat to tape. “I think it was five days,” Cale once told me.

Gary Kellgren, Mayfair’s house engineer, previously worked with the Velvets on part of the debut ‘Banana’ album and engineered the spring-’67 recording of Nico’s solo debut, Chelsea Girl. The producer, officially, was Tom Wilson, also with a track record with the group. In 1965, when the producer was still at Columbia, he invited Reed and Cale to play for him in his office. “We dragged Lou’s guitar, my viola and one amplifier up there,” said Cale. “We played Black Angel’s Death Song for him. He knew there was energy and potential.” At Mayfair, Cale mostly remembered Wilson’s “parade of beautiful girls, coming through all the time. He had an incredible style with women.”

But the Velvets’ volume and aggression posed problems for the recording men, and Reed insisted that Kellgren simply walked out during Sister Ray. “At one point, he turns to us and says, ‘You do this. When you’re done, call me.’ Which wasn’t far from the record company’s attitude. Everything we did – it came out. No one censured it. Because no one listened to it.”

White Light/White Heat Magazine Ad
Press ad for WhiteLight/White Heat. None, none more black.

On Sister Ray, Reed sang live across the feral seesawing of the guitars, drums and Cale’s Vox organ as each pressed for dominance in the mix. “It was competition,” Cale says. “Everyone was hellbent on being heard.” The ending, though, was easy. “We just knew when it was over,” Morrison remembered. “It felt like ending. And it did.”

There was a real Sister Ray: “This black queen,” Reed says. “John and I were uptown, out on the street, and up comes this person – very nice, but flaming.” Reed wrote the words, a set of incidents and character studies, on a train ride from Connecticut after a bad Velvets show there. “It was a propos of nothing. ‘Duck and Sally inside’ – it’s a taste of Selby, uptown. And the music was just a jam we had been working on” – provisionally titled Searchin’, after one of the lyrics (“I’m searchin’ for my mainline”).

“The lyrics aren’t negative,” Reed argues. “White Light/White Heat – it has to do with methamphetamine. Sister Ray is all about that. But they are telling you stories – and feelings. They are not stupid. And the rhythm is interesting. But you’d think that. I studied long enough.”

White Light/White Heat is renowned for its distortion and unforgiving thrust. But it also features the simple, airy yearning of Here She Comes Now, one of the Velvets’ finest ballads. And there are telling, human details even in the noise, like the breakdown at the end of White Light/White Heat, when Cale’s frantic, repetitive bass playing leaps forward in an out-of-time spasm. “I’m pretty sure it broke down,” he says of his part, “because my hand was falling off.”

White Light/White Heat Magazine Ad
The WL/WH press campaign hots up: “Reverberate in exploding whispers, electrifying echoes.”

Lady Godiva’s Operation was, Cale explains, “a radio-theatre piece, trying to use the studio to create this panorama of a story” – lust, transfiguration and ominously vague surgery that goes fatally wrong. The Gift was just the band and Cale’s rich Welsh intonation. Reed wrote the story – an examination of nerd-ish obsession peppered with wily minutiae (the Clarence Darrow Post Office) and ending in sudden death – at Syracuse University, for a creative writing class. Reed: “The idea was two things going at once” – Cale in one stereo channel, music in the other. “If you got tired of the words, you could just listen to the instrumental.”

Cale’s reading was a first take. The sound of the blade plunging through the cardboard, “right through the centre of Waldo Jeffers’ head,” was Reed stabbing a canteloupe with a knife. Frank Zappa, also working at Mayfair with The Mothers Of Invention, was there. “He said, ‘You’ll get a better sound if you do it this way,’” Reed recalled. “And then he says, ‘You know, I’m really surprised how much I like your album,’” referring to the ‘Banana’ LP. “Surprised? OK.” Reed smiled. “He was being friendly.”

Wayne McGuire’s ecstatic review of White Light/White Heat, in a 1968 issue of rock magazine Crawdaddy, cited Reed’s playing in “I Heard Her Call My Name” as “the most advanced lead guitar work I think you’re going to hear for at least a year or two.” McGuire also noted the jazz in there, comparing the album – especially Sister Ray – to recordings by Cecil Taylor and the saxophonists John Coltrane and Albert Ayler. “Sister Ray is much like [Coltrane’s] Impressions,” McGuire wrote, “in that it is a sustained exercise in emotional stampede and modal in the deepest sense: mode as spiritual motif, mode as infinite musical universe.”

It was rare understanding for the time. A brief review in the February 24, 1968 edition of Billboard was more measured: “Although the words tend to be drowned out by pulsating instrumentation, those not minding to cuddle up to the speakers will joy [sic] to narrative songs such as The Gift, the story of a boy and girl.” Still, the trade bible promised, “Dealers who cater to the underground market will find this disk a hot seller.”

“THERE WAS CLOSE COMPETITION WITH BOB DYLAN. HE WAS GETTING INTO PEOPLE’S HEADS. WE THOUGHT WE COULD DO THAT.”– John Cale

The Velvet Underground 1968

III.

That didn’t happen. There was a single, the title track coupled with Here She Comes Now. It didn’t help. By the fall of 1968, Cale was gone. Forced to leave the group he co-founded, the Welshman embarked on a second career as a producer, composer and solo artist that continues to this day.

The Velvets went back on the road, and soon into the studio, with a new bassist, Doug Yule. They found a new power in quiet and more decorative pop on their next two albums, until Reed left in 1970 to begin, eventually, his own extraordinary solo life. Live, without Cale, the Velvets still played Sister Ray.

This new Deluxe collection includes Cale’s last studio sessions with The Velvet Underground. Temptation Inside Your Heart and Stephanie Says were recorded in New York in February, 1968, produced by the band for a prospective single (according to Cale and Morrison). Temptation was their idea of a Motown dance party, with congas and comic asides caught by accident as Reed, Cale and Morrison overdubbed their male-Marvelettes harmony vocals. Stephanie Says was the first of Reed’s portrait songs, named after women in crisis and overheard conversation (Candy Says, Lisa Says, Caroline Says I and II). Cale’s viola hovered through the arrangement like another singer: graceful and comforting.

White Light/White Heat Master Tape
Original studio tape box for I Think I’m Falling In Love, aka Guess I’m Falling In Love. An instrumental outtake on the WL/WH reissue, a vocal version also appears on the Live At The Gymnasium disc.
White Light/White Heat Master Tape
The original mono master tape of the White Light/White Heat album. Note correction of “Searching”, the original title of Sister Ray.

On a spare day in May, 1968, between shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Velvets returned to L.A.’s T.T.G. Studios – where they had worked on The Velvet Underground And Nico – and taped two versions of another viola feature, Hey Mr. Rain. In a 1994 interview, Cale described the song’s droning melancholy and rhythmic suspense as “trying to have a pressure cooker. That’s what those songs were about – Sister Ray, European Son [on The Velvet Underground And Nico], Hey Mr. Rain. They were things we could exploit on stage, flesh out and improvise. But we were driving it into the ground. We hadn’t spent any time quietly puttering around the way we did before the first album.”

The classic quartet cut another song at T.T.G., a recently unearthed attempt at Reed’s Beginning To See The Light. The song, briskly redone with Yule, would open Side Two of the Velvets’ third album. This take has a vintage kick – Martha & The Vandellas’ Dancing In The Street taken at the gait of I’m Waiting For The Man. You also hear the impending change. “Here comes two of you/Which one would you choose?,” Reed sings, an intimation of the cleaving that would alter the Velvets for good.

“John has said we didn’t get to finish what we started – that is sadly true,” Reed acknowledged. “However, as far as we got, that was monumental.” White Light/White Heat, everything leading to it and gathered here – “I would match it,” he says, “with anything by anybody, anywhere, ever. No group in the world can touch what we did.”

Back in 1994, I asked Moe Tucker about the fuzz and chaos of White Light/White Heat – how much they reflected the daily trials and tensions of being The Velvet Underground, always first and alone in their ideals and attack. She replied with her usual, common sense: “I don’t know if I go along with that. The songs were the songs, and the way we played them was the way we each wanted to play them.”

Anything else, she declared with a grin, was “a little too philosophical.”

“THAT WAS MONUMENTAL. I WOULD MATCH IT WITH ANYTHING BY ANYBODY, ANYWHERE, EVER. NO GROUP IN THE WORLD CAN TOUCH WHAT WE DID.”– Lou Reed

New York Street 1960s

 

Tom Rapp, ’60s Folk Experimentalist And Civil Rights Attorney, Dead At 70 | BPR

I found this link on the Middle Earth Facebook group. Tom Rapp was part of a great late 60s band called Pearls Before Swine. They were one of my favourites. He was a really great songwriter and a big influence on me. He wrote a song called Rocket Man which inspired Elton John to write his version, which obviously became a big hit. Tom’s was better in my opinion, though.

Tom Rapp, a civil rights attorney and musician best known for his late-’60s and early-’70s recordings under the name Pearls Before Swine, has died while in hospice care at his home in Melbourne, Fla., his publicist confirmed to NPR Music. He was 70 years old.

Like many of his generation, Rapp was inspired by Elvis and The Everly Brothers. But it was hearing Bob Dylan‘s “Blowin’ in the Wind” in the early ’60s that finally galvanized him to begin writing music in earnest. (A possibly apocryphal tale goes that Rapp and Dylan actually competed as children in the same talent contest, with Dylan placing fifth, Rapp second.)

Pearls Before Swine’s first record, One Nation Underground, released in 1967, wore that influence plainly on its sleeve — not so much the fraught Hieronymous Bosch extract that adorned its cover, but in the Xeroxing of Dylan’s vocal delivery (with the addition of Rapp’s notable and endearing speech impediment) heard on the song “Playmate.” While Rapp may have been emulating on the mic there, the rest of the music on “Playmate” is woven with forward-thinking threads of psychedelia and garage rock. Further on, Rapp steps into his own, even presaging punk’s approach to institutional fealty (don’t) in the lyrics of “Drop Out!” and an avant-garde approach to a cursing word, spelled out in Morse code, on “(Oh Dear) Miss Morse.”

The album would go on to sell “about 250,000,” Rapp told NPR Music’s Bob Boilen last fall during a conversation centered on its 50th anniversary reissue. Despite the impressive sales, Rapp and his bandmates received next to no money from them. Bernard Stollman, who ran the label ESP-Disk’ that released One Nation Underground and its follow-up, told them that “the CIA and the Mafia were putting [the records] out themselves,” and so the sales weren’t ending with money in the pocket of ESP-Disk’ and, by extension, Pearls Before Swine. (Or many of the label’s other artists, the story goes.)

Rapp would go on to release eight more well-regarded records — Balaclava, the follow-up to One Nation Underground, perhaps highest among them — before utterly disappearing from music in 1974, not long after opening a concert for Patti Smith.

Infused with the spirit of the counterculture, but not willing to take his own advice and “drop out,” Rapp headed to college and, from there, law school, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1984. Rapp was a civil rights attorney in Philadelphia until 2001, after which he returned again to Florida. His practice emphasized reining in corporations and local governments.

As much as his music, Rapp’s work as a lawyer and his attitude towards his rediscovery in the popular imagination were illustrative of his spirit. Nearly 17 years ago, Rapp’s career was profiled for Weekend Edition by Peter Clowney. Rapp was bemused at the bloom of his late-in-life celebrity, treating it with a humbled, arm’s-length detachment, the attitude of someone who had long since filled his life.

Describing that rediscovery, which began around 1992 while he was in Philadelphia, Rapp said: “They call me a psychedelic godfather and they have these articles about how I’m a legend. The way that works is, you do some albums in the ’60s that are OK, you go away for 30 years, and you don’t die — then you’re a legend.”

During that piece, Rapp shared his “lessons from the ’60s.” They began with a dark half-joke: “One of the lessons of the ’60s was that assassination works.” He continued: “Love is real. Justice is real. Countries have no morals; you have to kick them to get them to do the right thing. Honesty is possible and necessary. And everything is not for sale.”

Source: Tom Rapp, ’60s Folk Experimentalist And Civil Rights Attorney, Dead At 70 | BPR

‘Bob Dylan was 10 feet away from me’: Isle of Wight festival, 1969

“Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were sitting behind us. The talk of the festival was that they might join Dylan on stage.”

Penny Warder

Bob Dylan concert

Penny Warder, front right, waits for Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight festival, 31 August 1969. Photograph: Medina Publishing

The organisers of the 1969 Isle of Wight festival, brothers Ronnie and Ray Foulk, had managed to pull off the amazing coup of getting Bob Dylan to headline. Woodstock, which had taken place two weeks earlier on his doorstep in upstate New York, had tried to persuade him but he’d turned them down. He’d been in semi-retirement for three years after a motorbike accident, and this was his comeback.

In this picture, we’re waiting in the VIP area just below the stage for him to come on; it took about two hours because there were some problems with microphones. The chap sitting next to me is Vernon Warder, my boyfriend of the time. He had long holidays from art college and was working at the festival, doing artwork for the signs on the front of the stage, and helping with security and management. As a result, he had a VIP pass and, being his partner, I got one, too. Otherwise it was £2 for a ticket.

I was aware that Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were sitting behind us. The talk of the festival was that they might join Dylan on stage. It never happened. I was a huge Beatles fan, but had not seen them live; I kept turning round to look at them. We were about three rows from the front and could smell the hash that someone was smoking behind us.

When Dylan finally came on, he was barely 10 feet away from me. It was so exciting. He played for only an hour, for which he got some stick in the press, but it was incredibly exhilarating. He did two encores.

After he finished, I went back to my parents’ house on the island, where I grew up. Even though I had been away at college for two years, there was no way they would allow me to stay out all night. I remember it was a real struggle trying to find a lift, because we didn’t have cars and couldn’t afford taxis.

Throughout the festival, I went back and forth between the VIP arena and backstage. I once bumped into Lennon and remember thinking, “Oh, he’s not very tall, is he?” I remember being really excited about going into a portable toilet after Ono had been in there. I wasn’t even aware of the celebrities: Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor and Eric Clapton were all there. That’s how young and naive I was.

I first saw this photo last summer. Some friends of mine who live on the Isle of Wight went to the launch of Ray Foulk’s book, Stealing Dylan From Woodstock, his account of the festival. One of them texted me: “Were you sitting in front of the Beatles at the 1969 festival?” I said yes, and she wrote back: “Your photo’s in the book!”

This was my first festival. I went to the Isle of Wight the following year, when Jimi Hendrix played shortly before his death. I’ve been to others since, but nothing will match those two experiences.

Interview: Erica Buist (Guardian 5/8/16)