Sunday, May 20, 2018

Master Blueprints # 19: “He Said Are You Lookin’ For Somethin’ Easy To Catch. I Said, I Got No Money. He Said, That Ain’t Necessary”

(Personal reflections inspired by Bob Dylan songs)

Song: “Isis”
Album: Desire
Release Date: Date: January, 1976

Part 2 of 3 (see Master Blueprint # 18 for the start of this 3-part mini-series of personal thoughts inspired by the first leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975, which consisted of 24 locales in the Northeast; 1/3 of which took place in my home State of Massachusetts.  Eight locales are covered for each of the 3 entries).

November 11, Waterbury, Connecticut: Palace Theatre

After Durham, New Hampshire the Rolling Thunder Review tour headed south, through Central Massachusetts, into Connecticut, where three shows would ultimately take place. The city of Waterbury was the first stop; about a half hour southwest of the capital Hartford (which itself is roughly smack dab in the geographic bullseye of this rectangular state).  Last week, I received a response to Master Blueprint # 18 from someone who attended several of the Connecticut events.  He pointed out to me that Desire was not released until after the tour commenced (prompting a correction to that blog entry) and so all of the songs from it were brand new to the audience’s ears.  Six of these songs were performed routinely on the tour, including “Romance in Durango”, “Oh, Sister”, “Hurricane”, “One More Cup of Coffee”, “Sara”, and “Isis” (the same responder stated “Imagine hearing ‘Isis’ for the first time under that circumstance!”). 

Waterbury straddles the Naugatuck River which is where I learned to do stream-morphology field work in my early years with the USGS.  It can be quite a different perspective to take in a region from its river beds, which was the case for me here.  There’s an undeniable beauty to Connecticut from this vantage point; looking up at the canopy of the oak/hickory forest-type that is unique to this southernmost part of New England.

This past week as I listened to “Isis” I could not get out of my head John Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” in the mid-70s (which actually lasted 18 months and ended just before the Rolling Thunder Review tour); estranged from Yoko Ono and falling into the crazed world of LA celebrity along with fellow lost-weekenders’, Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr and Keith Moon.  It’s that type of storyline Bob Dylan seems to be addressing in this song, including the counterintuitive healing that works its way out in the process, leading to a reuniting with lost love:

“She said, where ya been, I said, no place special
She said, you look different I said, well, yeah
She said, you been gone I said, that's only natural
She said, you gonna stay I said, if you want you me, yes!”  --- “ISIS”

( )

November 13, New Haven, Connecticut: Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum

Connecticut is split in half by the largest river in New England, the Connecticut River.  As you head further west from this demarcation line (more specifically, further southwest), the gravitational pull of New York City becomes palpable.  Case in point, it is somewhere in that southwest region where Boston Red Sox fans transition to New York Yankees fans, and I’m guessing that New Haven - tucked within this transition zone - is pretty evenly split.  For Dylanologists, this city is where ‘The Bard’ (Dylan) would return to 15 years later to perform one of his most celebrated ‘Never Ending Tour’ shows at Toad’s Place (included in the set was a one-off of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”).  

I’ve certainly felt my share of the Big Apple’s gravitational pull as I made my way through this region of Connecticut.  One specific memory is of driving into a blizzard - with my great friend Mac riding shotgun - to Greenwich Village to see Ray Davies perform at the Westbeth Theatre in the winter of 1997.  Now, I've traveled many-a-mile to see concerts over the years, but this may be the one show for which I may have risked life and limb. Looking back, it’s hard to explain the behavior (which has kicked in at other times in my life as well).  All I can say is, take any key factor out of the equation - Mac, Ray Davies, or the Big Apple - and I would likely have stayed home.  Anyhow, by the time we got south of Hartford, it was a white out.  The only vehicles on the road for the next 40 miles were ours and snow plows the size of Godzilla.  The subsequent stretch along Wilbur Cross Parkway and Merritt Parkway into New York State was more like skiing.  The one spinout I took was in New Haven - the only time I’ve ever seen Mac turn pale as a ghost – and so we stopped for a breather and a reevaluation.  From my determined perspective though there really was no turning back, and we made it into Manhattan by dusk, finding the Village under two feet of fresh snow.  Mac and I even had enough time to wine and dine at a small bohemian cafĂ©, which included some deep conversation with the artsy proprietor, helping to set the tone for the evening.

Back to Rolling Thunder Revue, it’s important to note that not only were Desire songs being performed for the first time live on this tour.  So too were songs from Bob Dylan’s previous album, Blood on the Tracks, regarded by many critics as his best album.  On the Bob Dylan Live 1975 record, as well as the Hard Rain album, these are the songs that get some of the loudest cheers from the crowd.  Dylan did a lot of reflecting on Blood on the Tracks, and I certainly felt a poignant connection to his experience that winter weekend in 1997, as well as a handful of other trips, particularly in regards to his first winter journey to New York in the early 60s (more on that topic in the next blog entry):

“Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
Come in, she said I'll give ya shelter from the storm” ---
“Shelter From the Storm”

November 15, Niagara Falls, New York: Niagara Falls Convention Center

Niagara Falls would be as far from the first-leg epicenter (Massachusetts) as this gypsy caravan would get.  The long bus ride there from Connecticut played out over 2 days.  I’m sure the experience helped to bond the newly-formed band.  I know this, because I’ve enjoyed my fair share of road trips over my lifetime.  These are bonding experiences like no other.  I believe the wisdom gained from life on the road is a big reason why Bob Dylan connects with Woody Guthrie, and Jack Kerouac.  And it has a lot to do with why I’ve bonded with the music of Dylan. 

I’ve been fortunate to visit Niagara Falls three times… as a teenager travelling with my parents and siblings; as a young husband travelling with my young wife; and as a Dad travelling with my family.  The Falls of course are spectacular no matter your phase in life, and so it’s difficult to signal out any single one of those wonderful events for specific memories here.  To break the impasse, I’ll move up the Niagara River about 20 miles to Buffalo’s Rich Stadium, where I first saw the Who and the Clash in 1982 (I wrote about this in my “Under the Big Top” series ( ).  A big part of that adventure was the 3-bus caravan to Buffalo from Ottawa, Canada, where I was going to school at the time.  There was plenty of singing and revelry on those buses - Canadians are very good at this sort of thing.  I’d like to think it was similar to the revelry that was happening on another bus caravan to that region just 7 years prior. 

One song off Desire that was performed with great passion on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour was “Oh, Sister”.  It’s the only song that appears on both official live album releases of the tour (Hard Rain and Bob Dylan Live 1975).  The song is a lament and appeal to a ‘sister’ to help repair their broken relationship.  It has the feel of the early Bob Dylan period, as it could have fit easily onto albums like The Times They Are A-Changin’ or Another Side of Bob Dylan.  As with many of Dylan’s best works, it includes a refrain that stops you in your tracks when you take it in.  In this case, I refer to the following:

“We grew up together
From the cradle to the grave
We died and were reborn
And then mysteriously saved” --- “Oh, Sister”

November 17, Rochester, New York: Community War Memorial

From a Geographer’s point of view, New York is one of the most fascinating of States.  It’s loosely tied together by the mighty Hudson River, running north to south and its largest tributary, the Mohawk River, running west to east, along with the old Erie Canal, which parallels the Mohawk for a good stretch before carrying on its own all the way to the Niagara River.  Interspersed are numerous natural landmarks of immense beauty including the Catskills, the Finger Lakes, Taughannock Falls, the Adirondacks, Lake George, Lake Champlain, Fire Island, the Susquehanna River, the Allegheny River, Ausable Chasm, Niagara Falls, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and Long Island Sound. I’ve been blessed to have visited them all.

One of the lesser known of the Empire State’s natural landmarks is the “Grand Canyon of the East”, much of which is in Letchworth State Park, where the Genesee River roars through a large gorge.  It’s great for whitewater rafting, which was the “main event” when Nancy and I visited the park with the kids 14 summers ago.  The region is also excellent to hunt for fossils from the Devonian period such as trilobites and corals.  On the same trip, we received some great tips to exploring off-the-beaten-path locales for doing just that. 

The Genesee River drains into Lake Ontario in the city of Rochester, home of Genesee Beer, about an hour’s drive from Letchworth State Park. It’s the only major city on the USA side of the Lake, and it’s where Rolling Thunder made its 12th tour stop.  One aspect of the tour - and the album Desire - that cannot go without mentioning is the rhythm section of Rob Stoner on bass and Howie Wyeth on drums. When I listen to Rolling Thunder Review, I hear a fullness of sound that kinda reminds me of the Who.  In both cases, there’s a variety of phenomenal options to tune into - lyrics, singing, guitar, bass, drums, and the entirety of it all – that can only be possible with a virtuoso back beat.  I’m not in any way comparing Stoner and Wyeth to John Entwistle and Keith Moon in terms of innovation and flair, but when it comes to terms such as richness and vividness, there is a foundation here on par with the Who… the greatest of all road bands. 

The way is long but the end is near
Already the fiesta has begun.
And in the streets the face of God will appear
With His serpent eyes of obsidian.  --- “Romance in Durango”

November 19, Worcester, Massachusetts: Worcester Memorial Auditorium

The next four dates would find the band back in my home state of Massachusetts.  All four locales, Worcester, Cambridge, Boston and Waltham, have an endless array of memories for me.  Worcester is underrated, and alternates with Hartford, Connecticut as the 2nd largest city in New England.  I come at it mentally from all 4 primary directions: North, South, East, and West, seeing as, at different periods of my life, I’ve lived in surrounding areas that had me doing just that.  In terms of concerts, I’ve attended many in Worcester over the years, including a Bob Dylan show with Phil Lesh in 1999. 

A memory of Worcester that came back to me this week was of family trips to Spag’s Department Store, which unfortunately closed its doors for good in 2004, along with its motto: “No Bags at Spag’s”.  One particular visit there was to shop for my 1986 backpacking trip across Europe with my Mom and Dad.  My parent’s helped me purchase a tent, along with a number of other accessories (much of which I still have, including the tent).  After the shopping spree, we went up the road for dinner and to discuss my imminent journey.  Mom and Dad have always been there for me; their character and faith a never ending source of inspiration.

Alan Ginsberg, who routinely recited his poetry as a charter member of Rolling Thunder Review, states the following in the liner notes of Desire about Bob Dylan’s singing on that tour:  “he snarled out NOT for bummer ego put-down, but instead for egoless enunciation of exact phrasings so everyone can hear intelligence – which is only your own heart Dear.  There is a hidden message here.  Ginsberg is talking about character and faith; preparing intensely for something and then letting go of your inhibitions.  It’s the only way to explain how masterful Bob Dylan was on this tour.  There’s a lesson learned here for all of us: You can rise to the occasion with preparation, but if you want to rise even higher, you need to let go you’re ego.  This is the underlying secret to Dylan’s success. 

“Oh, sister, am I not a brother to you
And one deserving of affection?
And is our purpose not the same on this earth
To love and follow his direction? --- “Oh Sister

November 20, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Square Theater

The last time I was in the late great Harvard Square Theater was a few days before my daughter Charlotte was born in 1994.  Nancy and I made the trek into Harvard Square from our home in Waltham on the day of her due date to dine and then watch the recently released Forrest Gump, but the real goal of the evening was to be in the immediate vicinity of Mount Auburn Hospital should the anticipated occur.  Didn’t happen.  A few days later our daughter was finally delivered to us, but it was a long drawn out affair.  And so, with Nancy sedated overnight in order to regain her dehydrated energy for the big event, I took a stroll out the hospital doors in the wee hours, down the road to Harvard Square to grab a quick bite, expecting (correctly) that I’d be in it for the long haul come day break.  I knew just where to go:  The Tasty, an all-night mini-diner in the heart of the Square, which seated about 5 people.  I’d been there only once before - the night prior to my wedding – along with my brother/best man, Fred.  The Tasty has since closed and so I can always say that I twice dined at this classic all-night landmark on the eve of 2 of the most important days of my life.

The Tasty was a perfect representation of the character of the old Harvard Square, which has since become much more gentrified.  It’s still got plenty of class, but a number of unique institutions have over the years been replaces by chains.  Cambridge in general still has plenty of class in its various Squares: Harvard, Central, Kendall, Inman, Porter.  Each with its own vibe; each with many musical stories to tell, a number of clubs now only living in memory though.  One club that has hung in there is Club Passim in Harvard Square.  In the 60s it was called Club 47.  Both Bob Dylan and Joan Baez performed there in the early part of the decade.  I’m wondering if they paid a visit on the Rolling Thunder Review tour, seeing as it was just around the corner from Harvard Square Theater. 

If any song tied the Passim period with the Rolling Thunder Review tour it was “Blowin’ in the Wind” (that one will be getting its own blog entry for sure).  Joan Baez and Bob Dylan regularly opened their mutual set with this anthem.  By this time it was more than a dozen years old, and that earlier period when they originally sang it together must have felt light years away. 

“How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?” --- “Blowin’ in the Wind

November 21, Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Music Hall

Boston: I’ve always referred to it as my favorite city.  I suppose something can only become “favorite” based on how much great memory whatever it may be stirs in the soul.  And so yes, this makes sense.  I got to know Boston extremely well in the summer of 1981, when I got a job making the smaller deliveries for a South Boston trucking company using my parents old Chevy Van (after having removed all the back seats to make space for shipments).  Boston may not quite deliver ‘a memory in every nook and cranny’ when I roam the streets, as my old hometown of Franklin, Massachusetts can do for me, but for this and many other experiences, it’s pretty darn close. 

I’ve seen to some of the best shows of my life Boston theatres.  Roger Daltrey performed an incredible set at the Orpheum in 1985, as did Lou Reed on his New York tour (performing the entire album, beginning to end).  Van Morrison, the Pogues, Rat Dog, the Allman Brothers, and the man himself, Bob Dylan, were all huge events at the Orpheum for me as well (my one lament was having to give my Keith Richards tickets away because of a conflict that I could not get out of.  But it’s nice to know that the recipients of those tickets, my sister Amy and her husband Paul, enjoyed the show immensely).  R.E.M. and Leonard Cohen also come to mind as amazing performances in the intimacy of Boston's theatre scene.

I’m sure Bob Dylan’s has had his fair share of memories in ‘Boston Town’ too.  One memory he fleshes out in lyrics can be heard in his epic song “Highlands” off the Time Out of Mind album.  Other memories of course were on the Rolling Thunder Review tour, where Dylan and company got to spend a fair amount of time (let’s hope some of this comes out some day in a Chronicles Volume II).  From all accounts, the Rolling Thunder Review were cooking on cylinders during the Boston stage.  Many of the songs on the Bob Dylan Live 1975 album were pulled from performances on this leg of the tour. 

“They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark
She looked at him and he felt a spark
Tingle to his bones” --- “Simple Twist of Fate

November 22, Waltham, Massachusetts: Brandeis University

Waltham was where I became a homeowner, first with my brother Fred and then my wife Nancy.  Just out of college, Fred and I had no credit to speak of when we purchased the cottage home on Lake Street. But this was the Reagan 80s, when a dead dog could probably purchase a house (I’m reminded of the hilarious Bob Dylan “115th Dream” lyrics, which go “they asked me for collateral, and I pulled down my pants”).  That Lake Street home would ultimately hold so many remembrances, the curtain closing in 1998, just before my son, Peter was born. 

One memory of that Waltham home was building an addition to it with my Father-in-Law.  Tom’s time and skills were a gift to Nancy and I at a much needed time, seeing as climbing the Civil Service pay ladder takes patience, success and determination over a long period.  In other words, we did not have much fiscal elbowroom in those days.  Tom also taught me many of the tricks of the trade in the world of carpentry; his quiet, deliberate demeanor being an approach that worked for me on many levels. 

Bob Dylan has a similar demeanor, which comes across in his interviews.  There’s no showboating, no need to explain song meaning, and no pride to speak of.  Everything he needs to say is expressed in his music, which was presented as good as anyone could do so on those late November days in the Boston area in 1975.

“A man in the corner approached me for a match
I knew right away he was not ordinary
He said, are you lookin' for somethin' easy to catch?
I said, I got no money he said, that ain't necessary”  --- “Isis

Next up: Part 3 of 3


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Master Blueprints # 18: “One More Cup of Coffee For the Road, One More Cup of Coffee ‘Fore I Go To the Valley Below”

(Personal reflections inspired by Bob Dylan songs)

Song: “One More Cup of Coffee”
Album: Desire
Release Date: January, 1976

Part 1 of 3

Massachusetts:  Other than a year in Ottawa, Canada on a college exchange program and a summer backpacking across Europe, it’s been home all my life.  This is not to say that I’d declare myself a townie.  I’ve lived in a handful of municipalities in the Bay State; on its South Shore, its North Shore, out west in the Berkshires, in the ‘Hub’ (Boston), and for the past 14 years in the Merrimack Valley…. more specifically the ecologically-gifted town of Pepperell on the New Hampshire border.  And with 54 years of geographic curiosity under my belt, I’m pretty sure I could recall at least one good memory in more than 70% of the 351 towns that make up “The Commonwealth”.  Expanding out beyond the confines of Massachusetts the memories pile up quite considerably throughout the entire Northeast region; countless nooks and crannies in each of the other five New England States, as well as all over New York and Eastern Canada.  Alas, there is much to take in across the breadth of this historic, cultural, and naturally rich region, and I’d like to think I’ve capitalized on it as much as anyone.

And so when I first read about the hippest-of-all tours - the 1975 Rolling Thunder Review bus caravan of musical gypsies, which featured Bob Dylan at his (or anyone’s for that matter) live-performing best - I was pleasantly surprised to see that the first (of two) legs was completely centered on my world.  I’m going to be delving into this mutual experience here, but before I do, I need to set the stage for those who may not be aware of the uniqueness of this tour-de-force. 

When it comes to attendee-accessibility to major rock and roll stars, the Rolling Thunder Review tour was like no other in terms of intimacy.  Bob Dylan came up with a brilliant idea.  First, he conceived the notion of performing in relatively small venues, including auditoriums and gymnasiums, by significantly curtailing the pre-concert marketing hype.  Typically, this was pulled off by having roadies post pamphlets on nearby college campuses only days prior to a show (one big reason the Northeast was likely chosen was the abundance of “higher learning” universities in the region).  Next, Dylan reached out to an iconic and eclectic cross-section of musicians from his past and then-present, including Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, T-Bone Burnett, Scarlet Rivera, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, among many others.  Imagine being able to rally any and all connections in your life, asking them to convene for a few months to celebrate something with you?  This is but one aspect of what Bob Dylan pulled off here.

As the Rolling Thunder Review commenced, Dylan released Desire.  If any of Bob Dylan’s albums portrays an artistic visual effect in the music and lyrics, this one is it, which allows the listener to relate the songs to their own life experiences in more concrete terms.  Many cuts from Desire were performed on the tour.  And so, in recognition of all these converging factors; Desire, Rolling Thunder Review, and my home turf, I’ve compiled the following journey of sorts consisting of a sprint through each of the 24 tour locations and dates, including; 1) thought-provoking insights about the album (Desire) and/or the tour; 2) personal thoughts on every locale and; 3) a related verse of lyrics from Bob Dylan songs that were performed by Rolling Thunder Revue on that first leg (most quotes are from songs off Desire), which hopefully helps to bring it all home, especially for those like me who were unfortunately not there (although little of it matters without listening to the music).  I’ll be breaking this up into 3 installments over the next three blog entries (including this one), where each installment will cover 8 northeast locations where the gypsy caravan set up shop for a night or two of seminal musical revelry. 

October 27-29, Falmouth, Massachusetts: Sea Crest Hotel

There was no official tour event in Falmouth, but I include it here because this is where the rehearsals kicked into high gear.  Also, as documented by Larry “Ratso” Sloman in the booklet that accompanies Bob Dylan Live 1975, there was an impromptu show pulled together for a Mah Jongg convention at the hotel.  Regardless, Falmouth is where this newly-formed band began to gel, to get a feel for what they had in them. And boy, did they ultimately pull it off.  When you listen to any recording of Rolling Thunder Review, there’s an uncanny sense of interplay and ease in the performances.  Some of this likely had to do with Bob Dylan’s surreal film, Renaldo and Clara, which was being produced on the tour. Band members got to act out of character, which may have relaxed them more so than usual.  Was this the ulterior motive for doing a film?

As for Falmouth, Cape Cod it was my 2nd home growing up:  Where much of my Dad’s side of the family lived way back when (many still), including his parents and three of his sisters along with their families.  Beaches, dunes, tide pools, eel fishing in the culverts with my cousins.  The Falmouth Road Race.  The hotel itself, home to one of my earliest USGS presentations at a GIS conference back in 1994; my parents babysitting our newborn Charlotte down the hall in the hotel bedroom as my wife Nancy and I attended the banquet.  And now, these past 10 years, my parents with a beautiful home of their own on Cape Cod… a lifelong dream of theirs. 

I can still see them playin’ with their pails in the sand,
They run to the water their buckets to fill
I can still see the shells fallin’ out of their hands
As they follow each other back up the hill” --- “Sara”

October 30-31, Plymouth, Massachusetts: War Memorial Auditorium

The tour then moved on up the road, over the Cape Cod Canal, to Plymouth, Massachusetts. I’m sure the band was starting to feel each other out by this time. One member who stands out to me is Mick Ronson.  Bob Dylan had the unique privilege to recruit the best of the best lead guitarists for his many bands, both live and in studio, including Mick Taylor, Mark Knopfler, Robbie Robertson, Jerry Garcia, Mike Campbell, George Harrison, and G.E. Smith.  But I’ll choose Mick Ronson over all of them. Just listen to the live version of “Shelter from the Storm” (off Hard Rain) or his subtle exquisiteness during the instrumental bridges of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (off Bob Dylan Live 1975) to get a sense of what I am talking about.

As for Plymouth, it’s worth a visit for anyone exploring the region: There’s Plymouth Rock, and Plymouth Plantation, and a replica of the Mayflower.  It’s a large town area-wise….somehow still retaining a significant amount of open space, despite its proximity to Boston and Cape Cod, which is at least partly due to the abundance of kettle-hole ponds (can’t develop those).  Here is the home of Camp Wind-in-the-Pines and thoughts of my coming-of-age days:  Canoes tipping in the lakes, dock jumping, teen stories around the campfire.  There are more recent memories too, of touring the downtown area several summers back, and dining at a classic Mexican restaurant (San Diego’s) with my Europe-travelling best buddy, Bob and his family.

Hot chili peppers in the blistering sun
Dust on my face and on my cape,
Me and Magdalena on the run
I think this time we shall escape” --- “Romance in Durango”

November 1, Dartmouth, Massachusetts: UMass Dartmouth

From Plymouth the Rolling Thunder Revue tour headed not-far due west, likely along several scenic State routes, to Buzzards Bay and the town of Dartmouth, where they played at the State College there.  One observation I make right off with the Rolling Thunder Revue recordings is just how powerful Bob Dylan’s singing is, and how tuned in he must have been.  To memorize the massive abundance of lyrics for each set list is simply mind boggling (“Hard Rain” alone is enough for any average singer).  And to do this while messing with the melodies and the key signatures. Wow.

Dartmouth; a pristine coastal community, wonderfully serene, where my daughter did her summer internship, studying the ground-nesting habits of bobolinks in rotation-mowed fields of grass near the coast. I was fortunate to spend a day with Charlotte in those fields, getting up and out bright and early, and was also fortunate to get a few photos of these fascinating birds.  And then heading back to watch her summary presentation to the local land and trust.  A very proud moment for a Dad.

Maybe it’s the color of the sun cut flat
An’ coverin’ the crossroads I’m standing at
Or maybe it’s the weather or something like that
But mama, you are just on my mind” --- “Mama, You Been on My Mind”

November 2, Lowell, Massachusetts: UMass Lowell

Next for the Dylan caravan, it was a two-plus-hour bus drive from south to north, to the historic industrial city of Lowell, only 20 minutes from my current home in Pepperell.  While there, Bob Dylan paid a visit to Jack Kerouac’s graveside with fellow poet Allan Ginsberg (who was part of the tour).  Much like the city of Brockton further to the south (which the bus tour likely passed by on its way north that day) Lowell has a rich boxing history. The award-winning movie The Fighter was based on the story of a Lowell featherweight, Micky Ward.  As for Brockton, two middleweight champs reside from the city: Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler.  Another middleweight, Rubin Carter, who “could-a been the champion of the world” was heavy on the minds and in the lyrics of the Rolling Thunder Review ensemble on this tour.  Yes, Dylan was on board with the “Black Lives Matter” cause long before the term was coined.

Lowell has had a major face lift these past 30 years, thanks to people like the late Senator Paul Tsongas. It’s a great city now to visit, with an old canal system still intact, and a significant presence by the National Park Service (in relation to the old mill structures).  My son, Peter just wrapped up his freshman year in the College of Engineering at UMass Lowell, which was as great of an experience for him as we could have hoped.  UMass Lowell is also where my sister Jen graduated from as a physical therapist. One of my favorite memories in Lowell was of an outdoor show, watching Ritchie Havens weave his magic onstage.    

Meanwhile far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around
Number one contender for the middle weight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down” --- “Hurricane”

November 4, Providence, Rhode Island: Providence Civic Center

Leaving the State of Massachusetts for the first time (within arm’s length, though, as with other ventures on that first leg), the tour then headed to Providence, Rhode Island, and the first large venue on the tour, the Providence Civic Center, which was only 3 years old at the time.  The band also made a pit stop in Newport.  I’m curious if Bob Dylan reflected at all on his early career, seeing as Newport is the home of the Newport Folk Festival, which is where Dylan gained much of his early fame… and early notoriety too. 

I went to my first big concert at the Providence Civic Center, back in 1979 to see Rush perform on their Permanent Waves tour.  And I’ve had the opportunity to see many other great shows there over the years, including Eric Clapton, Tom Petty and Elton John.  I’ve also attended a number of more intimate events in Providence, including several John Entwistle shows, and Gram Parker & the Rumor.  Of course, there was always Lupo’s (the scene of the cult classic “Complex World”) to catch local bands.  More recently there’s been the Providence WaterFire summer events, and meeting daughter Charlotte, and her roommates in the city, they making the trek up from their University of Rhode Island home.  Along with the roommates’ parents, the group of us would take in all the goings on along the ablazed Providence River, music playing around every corner.

Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you” --- “Mr. Tambourine Man”

November 6, Springfield, Massachusetts: Springfield Civic Center

From Providence the tour bus headed for the hills, returning to Massachusetts, this time Springfield, on the edge of the Berkshires.  Dylan and crowd hooked up with Arlo Guthrie, a fellow Bay Stater who has resided in Stockbridge most of his life; a lovely hamlet on the southwest corner; just a stone’s throw from Connecticut and New York (and the geographic inspiration for “Alice’s Restaurant”, which I listen to religiously every Thanksgiving). Ramblin’ Jack Elliot – a contemporary of Arlo’s Dad, Woody - helped tie the past to the present.  Many concerts on the tour closed with Woody Guthrie’s most famous anthem “This Land is Your Land”, Arlo joining them at the Springfield event.

I went to school in the Berkshires.  Got very familiar with the Mohawk Trail, “Hairpin Turn” and Mount Greylock.  The region has many similarities to the Catskills, so when I first gravitated to Bob Dylan’s music, the ‘Big Pink’ Woodstock period felt so accessible to me. 

“They say everything can be replaced
Yet ev’ry distant is not near.
So I remember ev’ry face
Of ev’ry man who put me here” --- “I Shall Be Released”

November 8, Burlington, Vermont: Patrick Gym

Next it was a straight shot north, up routes 91 and 89 to Burlington, Vermont through the Green Mountains.  I’m sure Bob Dylan’s gypsy caravan enjoyed the ride.  Joan Baez played the gypsy better than anyone.  Her presence on the tour added a touch of class and a nice angle on Bob Dylan’s history.  No one had to adapt to Dylan’s on-the-fly musical whims more than Baez.  Her professionalism shined though. 

Looming over the tranquil beauty that is Lake Champlain, Burlington was such a great place to visit when my great friend Mac went to school at nearby St. Michaels College.  Vermont holds so many more amazing memories for me, most recently in the aptly-named “Northeast Kingdom”, a region where a close work colleague, Don, calls home.  My work travels to Sherbrooke, Quebec, has had me driving through “the Kingdom” several times a year over the past decade, and Don’s doors are always open on the return trip.  It’s irresistible to pass through without taking him up on it, his West Glover lodge with a 360 degree view of the surrounding rolling countryside, and the coolest pub in Vermont, the Parker Pie, at the foot of his half mile long common driveway.  The live music, character, and great food at “The Pie” can’t be beat.  Leaving the Northeast Kingdom for home those early morning after’s always leaves me with a melancholy feel inside, each mile travelled farther and farther away from tranquil isolation:

“One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee before I go
To the valley below” --- “One More Cup of Coffee”

November 9, Durham, New Hampshire: University of New Hampshire (UNH)

Tucked in the southeast corner of the New Hampshire, near the coastal city of Portsmouth, Durham is home to UNH, the largest university in the State.  The Rolling Thunder Revue played in the campus gymnasium.  I wonder what it was like to be there to witness Scarlet Rivera’s violin sounds resonating off those gym walls.  Rivera is right up there with Al Kooper and Daniel Lanois when it comes to identifying a period in Bob Dylan’s career with a distinguishing sound.  In Rivera’s case, of course it’s her haunting violin, which permeates throughout most of Desire as well as on this tour. 

Next door to Durham is the small town of Lee, where many a summer days in my early college years were spent at a family campground there.  The campfire was the center of so many great conversations, which were hilarious at times: My cousin’s ability to recite entire episodes of Lost in Space.  Same with my brother-in-law Dale when it came to Monty Python.  Forays into Durham were frequent.  The diners and pubs always a welcome touch of civilization after several days and nights in the forest.

“Sleepin’ in the woods by a fire in the night
Drinkin’ white run in a Portuguese bar,
Them playin’ leapfrog and hearin’ about Snow White
You in the marketplace in Savanna-la-Mar.”  ---- “Sara”

Next up: Part 2 of 3