(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)


(Drawing by Denise Locke)

I wrote the following piece for The New York Sunday News of November 11, 1973:

Call me a Dylanite.  I don't even know what the word means, but I'll tell you this: of all the   things I've ever done or failed to do in my life, what very often impresses me most about  myself is the fact that Bob wrote Mr. Tambourine Man one night in my house in Berkeley Heights, N.J., sitting with my portable typewriter at my white Formica breakfast bar in a swirl of chain-lit Camels cigarette smoke, his bony, long-nailed fingers tapping the words out on my stolen canary-colored Saturday Evening Post copy paper while the whole time,  over and over again, Marvin Gaye sang Can I Get A Witness? from the six-foot speakers of my hi-fi in the room next to where he was, with Bob getting up from the typewriter each  time the record finished in order to put the needle back at the start.

I remember telling this story once, afterwards, to George Harrison up in Nat Weiss' apartment---a little bit of what Allen Ginsberg would call divine gossip.  Georges eyes twinkled off into thought for a moment and then he said:

"I'll bet you could find every note from Can I Get A Witness? in Mr. Tambourine Man if you  looked for it."

Every note---except, of course, rearranged in that mysterious, secret way that Bob has.  But then, its the mysterious, secret way that Bob has that makes everything he does seem so awesome.  Bob always keeps you guessing.  When George and Leon Russell played  behind him at the Concert for Bangladesh, he went from song to song without so much as  telling them the key he was going to play in. Which says as much about George and Leon as followers as it does about Bob as a leader. Bob is the most psychic person I know. You've got to be a heavyweight to play with Bob.  You've got to be a champion heavyweight to lead the way he leads.

Call me a Dylanite.  In a swirl of chain-lit Camels cigarette smoke, while the whole time, over and over again, Marvin Gaye sang Can I Get A Witness?  I had my bedroom wired into the hi-fi, too, and I listened to Can I Get A Witness? over and over again with Bob through the night, me in my bedroom and Bob out at the breakfast bar, until I shut off my speakers and went to sleep.  Bob must have stayed up past dawn, tapping away at the keys in his cigarette fog.  He had just broken up with his girl friend of the time, the one girl who had gotten the closest to him after he first hit New York---Suzie Rotolo, the girl on the cover of his Freewheelin' album.

"We keep wearing each other down like pencils," she'd said.

For him it was a long step further into loneliness, a personal loneliness over, above and beyond the loneliness that had to do with his career, with his destiny, with all that abstract crap which makes a deity out of a star, an idol out of a man.  Can you imagine the loneliness of suddenly finding you've outdistanced everyone, who used to be there for you to talk to?  The loneliness of a spiritual explorer, of a scout, of a pioneer, way out there by himself in the unknown?  Somehow, I thought Bob always knew he was being driven by the touch of God.

Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me.  I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm
goin' to. . .

I knew he was going through something that night.  We had been hanging out in New York, heard some music, gone to a restaurant, hit a few bars.  He had stopped in to see her, briefly, while I waited outside in the car. They had tried hard to stay close.  The drive out to Jersey, back to my house was 33 miles.  It was a gloomy ride.  At my house, we talked, listened to some records and raided my refrigerator. You've never known a refrigerator raider like Bob. He'd stand there for what seemed like an hour with the fridge door open and pick a full-course meal off the shelves, running some kind of insane, hilarious, non-stop dinner conversation as he kept chomping away, maybe with a chicken leg in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.  If nothing else about Bob ever dazzled me, I had to be awed by his metabolism.

I forget whether it was he or I who put on Can I Get A Witness?  The record was one of my happiest favorites at the time. Then Bob asked to borrow my typewriter.  He put it on the breakfast bar and began pecking away, sometimes stopping to talk with me or my wife, Ann.  He had been staying at our house on and off for a while, making himself quite at home.  Ann used to complain a little, but the way I felt about Bob, I used to daydream that one day they'd turn the place into a national monument.  I had never met anybody with so much wisdom.  I still haven't.  I knew he was going through something that night but I knew he could handle it.  He kept coming back to the subject of Suzie.  I remember him talking about what it had been like having her to turn to. I respected the forlorn resignation with which he attacked his bittersweet agony.  To me, he was Billy the Kid.  He said he had to write a song.  He already had the music, he just needed the words.                        

The next morning, I think, was a Sunday.  It was a little jingle-jangled for me, too.  I remember stumbling to the refrigerator for something cold to put out the fire in my throat.  Bob was collapsed downstairs on the couch. There was always tension in our house when Bob was there, always an excitement. We catered to him like he was a rich relative, but it wasn't his power and wealth we sought, it was the charm of his presence, the same charm that fills a hall when he gets on its stage. There was always a magic in the house when he was there, and I had felt a particular magic the night before.  I had sensed the song he was working on to be special and I was anxious to find out what the night had granted him.  He had sung me some of the lines and we had talked about the song.  Who was Mr. Tambourine Man?  My wife asked those kinds of questions. I never did try to analyze the images.  I knew they had a lot to do with what he had been thinking about the night before.  He had just cut himself loose and yet here he was surrendering to his own destiny.  Who was Mr. Tambourine Man?  I don't know.  God, maybe.  Maybe Bob himself, calling to himself  to come dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand wavin' free, to me the most Chaplinesque figure to fascinate the world since Chaplin himself.

At the breakfast bar I found a wastebasket full of crumpled false starts.  I took it out the side door to empty it into the trash can when a whispering emotion caught me, like a breeze that sometimes gently stops you cold just because of its own ghostly power to make you notice it.  I took the crumpled sheets, smoothed them out, read the crazy leaping lines, smiled to myself at the leaps that never landed and then put the sheets into a file folder.  I still have them somewhere.

Call me a Dylanite.  I laugh at all these young snot Rolling Stone type rock critics who are so eager to write Bob off as an over-30 has-been.  If they'd stop adoring themselves for a half hour or so to listen to Bobs Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid album, they might detect a new fervor, a new energy and a new confidence to Bob's singing.  They'd also get punched out by the lyrics.

I detect no deterioration of Bob's power.  And doesn't anyone understand the significance of the fact that Knockin' On Heaven's Door, one of the most uncompromising songs he has ever written, has just cracked the Top 5 of the Top 40 charts? I think Bob Dylan's career is just beginning, if career is the right word. Because Bob does  have a destiny.  Here's a man who once used my typewriter to write words that have branded themselves into the imagination of an entire generation and will continue to flash in the minds of God knows how many generations more.  As far as I'm concerned, Bob is the heavyweight champion of the world and I don't see any contenders in sight.  

Yes, call me a Dylanite.

There's no doubt about it.  I was crazy about Bob Dylan, the hero of my life.  Crazy enough to start fantasizing that he was the new Messiah.  Lord knows, the world sure needs a new Messiah.  But I wasn't the only one who got that crazy.  Ron Rosenbaum, one of the best writers I know, told me he at one time thought Bob was the new Messiah, too.  And Bob Johnston, who produced 12 of Bob's albums between 1964 and 1971, told me that he at first believed Bob was a messenger from Jesus.  Didn't his lyrics sound like verses from a new Bible?  Yes, Bob certainly must have tremendous psychic power to be able to put that deep a dent in all the psyches into which he embedded himself.  It's a tribute to his magic that he was able to cast that spell over us that he did.

But the late Victor Maymudes, who played Robin to Bob's Batman for some 40 years, told me that Bob is just another asshole like the rest of us.  The tall, dark and handsome, slim, sinewy and Sephardic Victor started working as Bob's road manager since almost

Bob's the Shakespeare
of our time, but
his shit stinks like everybody else's

before Bob started needing one.  Victor was maybe the last of the old-timers to be ousted from King Bob's court.  They broke up a year or so before Victor started trying to write his story of life with Bob.  He asked me to help him write it and I started to. There was some awful shit he told me that stunk so bad, he said he couldn't put it into his book.

"I'll let you put it in your column," he told me.

I've learned from personal experience that as charming as Bob can be, he also can be that nasty. Such as when he told me, "Get the fuck outta here? when he came into Levon Helm's dressing room at the Lone Star years ago. I still don't know why Bob turned on me like that, but there's a long list of others he also turned on for what reason they have no idea---including Victor, who died wondering why Bob got so nasty with him.

Once he fired Victor, Bob was surrounded entirely by suits.  Do I sound a little more cynical than the guy who once called himself a Dylanite?  The guy who used to think Bob's shit didn't stink? I still think Bob's the Shakespeare of our time but I now know how bad his shit stinks. It smells as bad as everybody else's shit and I oughta  know. I've been close enough to smell it.

In his liner notes for his 3-cd biograph set, Bob wrote about Mr. Tambourine Man:

"Mr. Tambourine Man, I think, was inspired by Bruce Langhorne.  Bruce was playing guitar with me on a bunch of the early records.  On one session, (producer) Tom Wilson had asked him to play tambourine.  And he had this gigantic tambourine. It was like, really big.  It was as big as a wagon-wheel.  He was playing, and this vision of him playing this tambourine just stuck in my mind.  He was one of those characters ... he was like that.  I don't know if I've ever told him that.  I haven't seen him in a long time."

Yeah, I was at that session in June of "64.  There's a lot of people Bob hasn't seen in a long time.  I'm not he only one. In his liner notes, Bob goes on to say he wrote some of the song in New Orleans, adding:

I don't know, different things inspired me ... that Fellini movie?  What was it?  La Strada.  It was
all sort of like the same thing, you know.  Drugs never played a part in that song ... 'disappearing
in the smoke rings in my mind', that's not drugs, drugs were never that big a thing with me.  I
could take 'm or leave 'm, never hung me up."  

Drugs?  Heavens forbid! That wasn't all Camels cigarette smoke that fogged Bob as he pecked away at my portable in my house in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.  Drugs?  Bob was never hung up on drugs.  He could take "m or leave "m.  But mostly he took "m.  ##



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