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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Monday, October 04, 2010


Janis Joplin died 40 years ago.

She co-wrote her well-known song 'Mercedes Benz' with Dylan's old associate Bob Neuwirth. As I wrote in the entry on the latter (there is no entry on Ms Joplin) "Dylan’s memoir Chronicles Volume One ... gives a vivid description of Neuwirth’s spiky character, without managing to explain what he liked about a man who seems to so many the archetypal snivelling sidekick, stroking Dylan’s ego all through Don’t Look Back while kicking and belittling everyone else around - as when he says of JOAN BAEZ, right in front of her, ‘Hey, she has one of those see-through blouses that you don’t even wanna’ - and generally game-playing, suffused with the vicarious power of being Bob’s friend, a position he first assumed in February 1964..."

On the cover of Highway 61 Revisited, Neuwirth's "are the legs standing behind motorbike-persona Dylan, his black-jeaned crotch just off to one side of Dylan’s head, while his fist, thumb in pocket, holds a dangling camera on a strap. Those legs have always contributed a very, very slight hint of Warholian arty eroticism to the photo..."

A decade later, "there was no getting away from Bob Neuwirth in the film Renaldo & Clara, and in the concert footage, he’s the one mugging the bulbous-eyed faces and, in David Faciane’s happy phrase, ‘jumping around like he had to go to the bathroom’."

The entry concludes:

"In the 2000s [Neuwirth] has co-produced Down from the Mountain, the D.A. Pennebaker film about the musicians who contributed to the hit movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and performed Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s trademark song ‘I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground’ at the ‘HARRY SMITH Concerts’ in New York and London in 2004.

"Yet whatever else he does, Bob Neuwirth will always be Robin to Dylan’s Batman (or to put it another way, always batman to Bob). He is therefore also an interviewee in Scorsese’s No Direction Home; by the time of this filming he had grown quieter, dessicated and slightly camp; but he remained articulate and gave illuminating testimony, as for instance when recalling that on the Village scene in the early 1960s, a key question always asked about any performer, even a musician who never used words, was ‘Does he have anything to say?’ In Dylan’s case, of course, the answer had been an emphatic ‘Yes’. In Neuwirth’s case, it had probably been ‘Neu’."


Anonymous Peter Doggett said...

I'd forgive Neuwirth a lot for his last album, Havana Midnight, which is an exquisite blend of Cubana rhythms and spare country-folk songwriting. It includes a song called The Phone Call (I think), which sounds to me like a reminiscence about Dylan and the Baez sisters.

7:50 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Hi Peter - that's interesting: thank you. I don't know the album.

But if this is his last album, I note that it's ten years ago. It was a collaboration with the Cuban arranger/composer José Maria Vitier, and released on Diesel Motor Records, US, in 2000. The track you mention is called The Call.

10:29 am  
Anonymous Kieran said...

I often wonder how dudes like Neuwirth make a living...

2:47 pm  
Anonymous Mike Jahn said...

I rather liked Neuwirth. He seemed articulate, amusing, accessible, and easy to get along with. Of course I only spent enough time with him to have a portion of whatever poison they were serving at the Gaslight those days, and I wasn't asking more of him than a chat, but his ego seemed a lot less inflated than many others I was running into in the late-60s Village.

6:12 pm  

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