Blowin’ in the Skirball

A week ago I made a long-delayed visit to L.A.’s Skirball Center to see its exhibit “Bob Dylan’s American Journey 1956-1966.”

I’m a Dylan fan of almost 30 years standing but it took a while for my interest in seeing the show to overcome my inertia. Viewing a cache of memorabilia didn’t strike me as a must-see as far as deepening my appreciation of Dylan’s music, and as it turned out, I’m not sure the visit did help all that much.

And yet for me the visit was diverting enough to have been worth the trip and the $10.

One of the first things you see is a wall of 45s featuring 100 versions from all over the world of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Among the grab-bag of performers: Trini Lopez, Spike Jones, Marlene Dietrich, Les 3 Menestrels, Odetta, the Harmonicats, Sven-Ingvars, Vince Guaraldi, Stevie Wonder, Gun Sjoberg and Srecko Zubak. Some of them sound like characters in one of Dylan’s more surreal songs. Odetta’s version, by the way, is the more grammatically precise “Blowing in the Wind.”

Inside the exhibit are typed and handwritten lyrics to classic Dylan songs, concert tickets, handbills, photos, video clips, correspondence and recordings of songs by Dylan and by folk and blues artists who inspired him. It made for an enjoyable hour.

Some of the material wasn’t new to me and yet it was neat to see the actual object. I’m thinking here of the famous Robert Shelton review that led to Dylan’s recording contract. This version is the original, clipped from the New York Times. I’ve seen young Robert Zimmerman’s 1959 Hibbing High yearbook photo in many books, but here was the actual yearbook. I knew his stated ambition was “to join Little Richard,” but did you know his club affiliations were “Latin Club 2, Social Studies Club 4″?

We also see his inscription in a female classmate’s yearbook that includes the charming comment: “You have the most beautifullest hair in school, too.” There’s also a 1964-ish letter to Joan Baez’s mother written by Dylan openly pretending to be Joan, talking about how in love they were and how wonderful he was.

Silly, inessential stuff, but kind of fun.

I overheard a tour guide say that Echo Helstrom, Dylan’s first girlfriend, phoned and was given a private tour of the exhibit. There were plenty of regular folks there when I visited, from all ages. Including polite but bored children enduring their parents’ mini-lectures on the 1960s civil rights movement.

One of the coolest objects was Bruce Langhorne’s tambourine, the one that inspired “Mr. Tambourine Man,” in a glass case. I recall reading where Dylan described the tambourine as being as large as a wagon wheel. Well, it’s not that big, but it’s probably 15 inches across.

If you’re curious about Dylan, whether you’re a neophyte or a hardcore fan, I’d say the exhibit is worth a visit.

The exhibit, which opened in February, continues through June 8. Many of the neatest lectures, films and other ancillary events are past, but there are more. On Sunday, Ann Powers, the L.A. Times pop music critic, will lead a tour at 2:30. Wish I’d waited a week to go. And the rare documentary “Eat the Document” will screen May 29 at 8 p.m.

If you’re not curious about Dylan, thanks for reading this far.

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  • Jim L

    I too am a longtime Dylan fan. Two years ago I had a opportunity to finally see the man live in concert. With great anticipation I drove hours through the Maryland countryside to a minor league ballpark in the Frederick, MD where he was to perform.

    I’d already factored in his age and knew the vocals and energy wouldn’t be Dylan in his prime yet I wasn’t remotely prepared for the disappointment of the performance. His voice was but a mere whisper and his music was almost unrecognizable. The Washington Post described his performance best when they wrote “The man sounds less like the venerable icon and more like Cookie Monster with a head cold.”

    At some point in the concert I realized it was less about the man’s music and more about coming to honor the legend and I was okay with that. Yet from the time Dylan took the stage to the time he left he never interacted or even acknowledged the enthusiastic crowd.

    I left the show lamenting even more that I’d never seen him perform live in his prime. I wish I’d left well enough alone that day.

    [Well, to each his own. Dylan live is an acquired taste and it's been almost 30 years since he made much chit-chat between songs. His last three albums have been his best string since "Bringing It All Back Home"/"Highway 16 Revisited"/"Blonde on Blonde" in '65-'66...in this fan's opinion. But we'll see what "Hal" has to say. -- DA]

  • “Hal Linker”

    I dig music. Dylan is a major figure. He’s not for everyone. Never has been. Didn’t try to be.

    I got into Dylan because of the Animals. I really loved their version of “House Of the Rising Sun,” in the summer of 1964. I think I remember reading in a Hit Parader magazine of the time that several members of the Animals listed Bob Dylan as one of their favorite artists. How could a band as cool as the Animals be wrong?

    My older sister had “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” on which I dug “Girl From the North Country” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” I didn’t really get into the protest stuff, being as I was only 11. Even now, realizing the protest songs on that album are some of his best, I still prefer those two love songs over the rest.

    My older sister also had “The Times” and “Another Side,” but at the time, I really didn’t like them much — though “One Too Many Mornings,” “Boots Of Spanish Leather,” I Dont Believe You, Motorpsycho Nightmare, “Spanish Harlem Incident” and “To Ramona” were all pretty cool. The Times especially seemed didactic, preachy, tight-assed and stuffy like the baloney I had to endure at my mom and dads church only without the strangling necktie.

    The “Subterranean Homesick Blues” single is what really lit me up and made me go out and buy “Bringing It All Back Home” for myself. Even if I didn’t get the meanings, or if the meanings shifted, or if the meanings weren’t even meant to be gotten, it didn’t matter. It was that loose, sloppy, timeless rockin’ sound on Side One, and that collection of future classics on Side Two. This was head music. And I was a head. A good head. With rapidly growing and flowing wild hair. Suddenly many of my friends’ parents saw me as a threat. There were a lot fewer invites to sleep over or go to Dodger games. The Linker kid must be a fag or a commie or both. The Times They Were Indeed A-Changin’.

    And then came “Like a Rolling Stone,” which was a Number One single on Los Angeles radio. The term “Folk-Rock” was exploding everywhere. Dylan had barely released “Highway 61 Revisited” when he played the Hollywood Bowl in early September 1965.

    My sister took two of her friends and me in her brand new 1965 convertible Volkswagen, which was a very generous graduation present from my parents. Even though I was her punk 12-year-old brother, I knew more about music than she did. In fact, it was me who alerted her and her friends to the show (I would later alert her to Arthur Lee and Love and Bido Litos).

    It was a tremendous and life-changing show for me and not even close to being sold out. It looked to me to be just a little more than half-filled at the Bowl.

    The summer of 1965 was a magical one as it also involved that VW and my sister and friends taking me to see the Beatles at the Bowl just a few days before the Dylan gig.

    The Beatles were sold out to the max! But the Dylan show was better – half electric and half acoustic. People shut up and listened. I liked that, especially after the Beatles experience.

    Earlier in the Spring of 1965, my older sister and friends took me along to see the Stones play at the Swing Auditorium. This was in my dad’s Oldsmobile Ninety Eight, which really did drive like a boat. The opening bands were the Byrds (who had just recently released their first single, “Mr. Tambourine Man”) and the Bushmen (name later shortened to the Bush – local Berdoo heroes who would have a Number One Hit in the region with “Who Killed the Ice Cream Man”).

    Needless to say, Dylan’s 1965 and 1966 output was amazing!! “John Wesley Harding” is also a fave of mine. But things began to drop off in quality after that. Thus, the bootleg industry provided more interesting releases than CBS in the years of 1969 through 1974 (But damn do I love “Watching the River Flow” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece”!)

    I personally knew the guys who did Great White Wonder and a host of other titles. It was a small world back then. Those 1965 outtakes they put out made Dylan fans cry tears of joy in a period of drought in official releases. “Seems Like a Freeze Out,” “Talkin’ Bear Mountain” and “While The Establishment Burns” should have gotten them a Grammy! And the Grammy goes to Dub Taylor and Ken Douglas of Trademark Of Quality Records, Glendale, for best archival recording!!!

    It was a long time after 1965 when I next saw Dylan. It wasn’t until February 1974 at the Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor with the Band. I flew in to Los Angeles a couple of weeks later to see him play again. He did three shows in two days and I went to two of them. These shows were first bootlegged as The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre 3-LP box set. Later Asylum Records issued the double live set which featured many tracks from a couple of these three shows.

    I saw the Rolling Thunder Tour on Easter Sunday 1976 in Lakeland, Florida. Great show! Some don’t, but I really like the Rolling Thunder stuff!!

    I also saw Dylan in 1978 at both the Universal Amphitheater and the Forum. The latter show was better. “Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)” and “Changing of the Guards” could be great live!

    The 1979 “Slow Train” tour was a must for me, not because I was a born again bandwagonner, but because I had seen who was in the band when he played SNL. He had some top-notch guys in that group (Fred Tackett, Spooner Oldham, Terry Young, Tim Drummond, Jim Keltner) and I had to see the show. I went to two of the four Santa Monica Civic shows and they were great! I didn’t notice much heckling either.

    Didn’t see Dylan again until he showed up as a special guest with Joan Baez at Peace Sunday in the Rose Bowl. I also remember David Crosby at that show. He practically had to be propped up to stand. I had binoculars and he looked terrible. Oh well, he’s a jerk anyway, even if I do like many of his songs.

    Summary of the 1980s and early 1990s: Saw with Tom Petty at Pacific Amphitheater, Costa Mesa 1986. Could have gone with free ticket to Anaheim Stadium 1987 gig with the Grateful Dead – passed on the chance – didn’t seem like a very good combination to me – quite heinous actually. Saw Dylan with G.E. Smith at Greek Theatre and Santa Barbara Bowl in 1988. Pacific Amphitheater with G.E. Smith 1989.

    I skipped all of Dylan’s early 1990s shows even his week-long run at the Pantages in 1992. Friends of mine went and said he was fantastic. But these people were only in their early 20s and had never seen him before. In other words, I didn’t put much value on their judgment. I’m certain the band was fine, but Dylan was really strange during this period.

    Also, for these 1992 shows a complete stranger showed up at my house. He had arrived as a stowaway in the back of a potato truck bound for Southern California from Idaho. This guy was a complete Dylan freakazoid. I never did find out how he came to know about me and where I lived. Undoubtedly he must have talked to an ex-Californian in Idaho who knew me and knew I was deeply into music in many ways. The guy needed a bath and a place to stay so Hadla and I put him up for a couple of days. Other than his near deranged Dylan fixation, the guy seemed harmless. He admired my Dylan LPs and CDs but paid little attention to anything else. He went to three of the Pantages shows, after which he got arrested for entering Dylans Malibu estate. He also got to meet Dylans dogs. But not Bob. I loaned him some money so he could get out of trouble and back to Idaho and out of my hair. I also gave him a Youssou NDour CD so he could broaden his horizons outside the realm of Bobby Z.

    1995: I saw Dylan at The Joint (Hard Rock Hotel) two shows in May (the place had tables and chairs then) which I taped to DAT (I went to DAT in late 1993). McCallum Theater in Palm Desert also in May. I skipped the three-night May Hollywood Palladium run (the place has bad sound), but did attend the Santa Barbara Bowl show (also in May).

    Dylan returned to the Joint in November for two nights and so did I (tables and chairs were still present). Really liked the band which was John Jackson (gtr – he later left to play with Lucinda along side Kenny Vaughan for a spell), Bucky Baxter (pedal steel, mandolin, gtr), Tony Garnier (bass) and Winston Watson (drums). I cant recall which 1995 Dylan run at the Joint was right around the time Johnny Cash played there. We spent quite a few days in Vegas on that run because Dylan and Cash were back-to-back. (Also saw Johnny Cash at the House of Blues Hollywood [circa 1995-1996] with special surprise guests Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.)

    Next saw Dylan every night of a five-night run at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles in December 1997. All shows were recorded directly in front of the PA with DAT by me and others. I also recorded the opening acts which were Beck, Jewel, Sheryl Crow 2 nights, Willie Nelson. Willie was kind of sick on his night of opening for Dylan so their planned duet songs were called off. Bummer. Hadla grabbed set lists from the stage on three of the five nights.

    The 1997 El Rey shows were something else! I loved the band!!! – Larry Campbell (gtr, mandolin), Bucky Baxter (pedal steel, mandolin, gtr), Tony Garnier (bass), David Kemper (drums). Hadla and I hung out with David before and after one of the shows. Robert Hilburn stood behind me at one of the shows taking notes as I recorded. Afterwards, me, Robert and Van Dyke Parks shot the sh*t. Of course, Jack Nicholson was at several of the shows near stage right. Kevin Costner sat in the balcony in the rear for another. Lots of other stars there too, but I was busy being a human microphone.

    In 1998 Dylan came through with Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison. He played Pauley Pavilion and Arrowhead Pond. I elected to skip these big-venue, split bill shows. I dont know for sure, but I assumed bad sound and short sets by three stars that should headline for long sets.

    Next I saw Dylan at the Grand Opening of The House Of Blues at Mandalay Bay in Vegas March 1999. This was a pretty exclusive gig which a friend of mine named Herman got me into (Thanks Herman). Lotsa stars present at this gig including the annoying Penny Marshall, who never shut up during the whole show. Drew Barrymore was also sitting by us. Bono guested on “Knockin On Heavens Door.” Sally Kirkland was around too. She seemed pretty f**ked up, but maybe thats just her way.

    Next I went to see Dylan with Paul Simon at the Hollywood Bowl, Arrowhead Pond, and the MGM Grand. This was June 1999. Simon also played a solo gig around this time frame at the House Of Blues in Hollywood to which I also went.

    I had an exceptional box seat for the Hollywood Bowl show. It was dead center row 3 directly behind a box containing Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow and two other gorgeous young women. In the boxes just to the left and right and behind us were Dustin Hoffman and family (he had some pretty young kids with him), Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Jack Nicholson & female friend (these four shared a box and smoked a hell of a lot of pot during the show), Penny Marshall (who had her own personal metal flask of liquor) & brother Garry Marshall, Woody Harrelson (with some friends who looked like refugees from a Phish concert obviously lotsa dope bein smoked), Jeff Bridges (looking very Dude-like), Rob Reiner Mr. Anti-smoking was smoking a big fat stinking cigar (Meatheads box was several rows behind us), Steven Spielberg and jeez, I cant remember all the rest.

    Hadla and I kept to ourselves being as we were bootlegging, but she was flattered when Clapton admiringly asked her if he knew her from somewhere between sets. A pretty face and great cleavage will get you everywhere. She might have been the next Layla. Clapton was definitely interested. I had a rare full beard and not so unusual shoulder-length hair at the time. Several people (including Rob Reiner) walked up to me and shook my hand that night. I didnt know who any of them were, so they must have mistaken me for someone else. It was fun.

    Dylan opened the Pond show. Simon opened the Bowl and MGM shows. Dylan and Simon shared a short three-song set in the interim during this tour. For this tour, Bucky Baxter was replaced by Texas guitar ace Charlie Sexton.

    I actually took my mother, who was 80 at the time, to the MGM Grand show. We had fifth row center seats and the spotlight kept inadvertently hitting her. People around us thought she was Bob Dylans mother. When a gentleman asked if she was Dylans mom, my mother, being just about as ornery as her son, told him yes. She was having a great time!

    Dylan was wearing a white belt which kept coming unfastened as he played guitar. My mother found this amusing. Afterwards she said, I like that Paul Simon boy. Bob Dylan is good too, but he is a little bit strange.

    Next I taped two rather mediocre shows at the Sun Theater in Anaheim (now The Grove) March 2000. This was followed by a show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in July 2000. Summer 2001 saw me taping at The Joint (now standing room only) and the Lancaster Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. I skipped the Fall 2001 Staples show because I hate Staples. Bad sound!

    Next, Fall 2002 three shows as Dylan helped re-open the re-modeled Wiltern. I liked the old Wiltern better.

    I didnt see Dylan again until March 2005 when he played five nights at the Pantages with Amos Lee and Merle Haggard. I taped all shows, all acts. I also learned to hate Nathans Hot Dogs because of these gigs. I was also bummed to see that Marianne Faithfull was playing across the street at the Henry Fonda on one of the nights and I would miss it. Luckily for me, her Henry Fonda show was released on DVD. I didn’t miss it after all!

    Dylans band was excellent – Worth the price of the tickets alone!! Stu Kimball (gtr), Denny Freeman (gtr ex Taj Mahal), Donnie Herron (pedal steel, mandolin, fiddle ex-BR5-49), Elana Fremerman (fiddle), Tony Garnier (bass), George Recile (drums). The Pantages shows were great when Dylan was doing his newer material. The older stuff just didnt seem to be doing much for Bob, though the band cranked. Also on this tour Dylan wasnt playing guitar only keys, and not very good keys either.

    Bruce Willis sat in front of me one night. Elliot Mintz another. As always at L.A. gigs lots of celebs in the crowd.

    Havent seen Bob since.

    Hadla and I have been to thousands of concerts over the years and have documented them all. They are mostly already in the trading community, so please dont inquire. We both dig many artists and types of music. So dont get me wrong, I dont think Dylan is god. Far from it. Hes about as flawed as you can get. Lotsa warts. Especially live.

    My fave Dylan commercial non-archival albums:

    Freewheelin’, Bringing, Highway 61, Blonde, JWH, Blood On the Tracks, Desire, Time Out Of Mind, Love and Theft, Modern Times.

    Honorable Mention: Oh Mercy. Also the Infidels outtakes are far better than the album itself.

    Also noteworthy: Shot Of Love, Slow Train Coming

    Underrated: Street Legal

    No surprises there.

    So yeah, DA, I agree about the last three albums theyre great!!

    This has reached “Sad-Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands” proportions and it must end! It’s like a never ending rendition of “Desolation Row,” with a scratch in the vinyl that keeps bringing it back to the same phrase:

    “Now at midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew come out and round up everyone who knows more than they do. Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine is strapped across their shoulders.”

    ["And then the kerosene is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row." Thanks, "Hal." Four quick observations: 1) "Spanish Harlem Incident" is indeed an underrated song, 2) If "Hal" was 12 in 1965, he is or will be 55 this year, for anyone curious, 3) I haven't seen Dylan since the Pantages show either and 4) Our best-of lists would be very similar although I'd drop "Desire" from the top ranks. -- DA]

  • Jim L

    I think I’ll just stay in the shallow end for now…

    [Life can be pleasant in the shallow end. Also, your comment took far less of my time to read! -- DA]

  • Bob House

    Cancel my subscription to Rolling Stone. I’ll be sitting at the feet of Master “Hal” right here on The DA Blog. That he did all this is one thing, but it’s the recall that is truly amazing! I’m only a Greatest Hits sort of fan, but found this fascinating.

    [Me too. -- DA]