Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bob Dylan and the Band: What Kind of Love is This

It’s daytime in the big city as I approach the 14th Street Y near 2nd Avenue. I am meeting my old friend Roy Herschaft whom I have known since high school. I remember our walks on Saunders Street to Forest Hills High School when we argued about who was better Dylan or the Supremes. We were going to a symposium called Bob Dylan and the Band: What Kind of Love is this? I have always enjoyed the Band whether they played by themselves or with Dylan. The were originally known as the Hawks as they were Ronnie Hawkins backup band and later backed up Dylan in his 1966 and 1974 tours.

I took notes during the symposium and will discuss some of the highlights in this journal entry.  It is not meant to be exhaustive.

Greil Marcus was the keynote speaker wrote the following 2 books among many other publications:

Marcus, Greil. Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010. Print

Marcus, Greil. Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes. New York: H. Holt & Co, 1997. Print.

He mentioned that in 1961 when Dylan first came to New York, the musicians in The Band including Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm were already established . He said that later Dylan and the Band were attracted to each other since they were opposites. Thus, the subtitle of this symposium “What Kind of Love is this” refers to the love between Dylan and The Band who were very disciplined musicians while Dylan was not interested in following any rules. He showed a photo of Dylan who“took the Band to school” in 1967.

Christopher Ricks ( Ricks, Christopher. Dylan's Visions of Sin. New York: Ecco, 2004. Print.) talked about versions of the following Dylan love songs that were recorded by Dylan himself and with The Band:

Just Like a Woman
It Ain’t Me Babe

All 4 recordings were played so that the audience could hear the changes in the singing the changed the meaning of the song. The symposium did not consider cover versions of Dylan songs where different artist change the meaning of the song. This would certainly be a good topic of discussion for a future gathering of Dylan scholars.

Wesley Stace whose stage name is John Wesley Harding contributed to the discussion. He considered Rainy Day Women #12 and 35 as a love song and mentioned that the word women was never mentioned by Dylan. Most of his fans consider this a song about marijuana.

The next speaker, John Niven read an excerpt from:

Niven, John. Music from Big Pink. New York: Continuum, 2005. Print.

It was a fictional account of events in Big Pink when Dylan and the Band were there. Reviews of this book may be found at

The next session was titled Rock and Utopia: Through the Lens of Bob Dylan and the Band.

Spiotta, Dana. Eat the Document: A Novel. New York: Scribner, 2006. Print.

Eat the Document was a documentary about Dylan’s 1966 British tour that was supposed to air on ABC television but was withdrawn. It did appear on WNET TV in New York. I have a bootlegged copy in VHS format. Dana Spiotta talked about the book which has nothing to do with Dylan. A good review from the New York Times may be found at

Matthew Friedberger, Co-founder of the visionary rock band The Fiery Furnaces,remarked on the following quote by Dylan:

“I heard Elvis and knew that I wasn’t going to work for anyone.” It really is nice when you can be a performer and earn a living doing what you love. That happens for very few people. There are plenty of aspiring actors, singers, and songwriters out there who must live on the wages from their day jobs. Greil also contributed to this discussion.

The next session was titled “Representing Dylan & the Band” with the following speakers:

John Niven - fiction

D.A. Pennebaker - film

Greil Marcus - non-fiction

D.A. Pennebaker filmed Don’t Look Back and Eat the Document. He didn’t know much about Dylan before he did the film back in 1965. Dylan appeared in films like Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Masked and Anonymous and others, but these were not discussed. There were certainly plenty of documentaries about him including Martin Scorcese’ s No Direction Home.

Greil quoted Bob Gottlieb who said “Dylan seduced an entire generation of writers to become musicians.”

It was 5:30 and I was getting hungry and tired and decided somewhat reluctantly to leave before the last hour of the symposium. I am relating the information below from the program.

William G. Scheele, Equipment/Stage Manager for The Band and Bob Dylan from 1969 to 1976., talked about photos that he had taken that were on display in the 14th Street Y.

Stephen Hazan Arnoff, the executive Director of the Y gave both the Introduction and the closing remarks. He wrote the following article: Understanding the Myth and Music of Bob Dylan.

Dana Spiotta concluded the program by reading an excerpt from her book Eat the Document described above.

What a day!

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