Saturday, May 26, 2018

Master Blueprints # 20: “All Rubin’s Cards Were Marked in Advance, the Trial Was a Pig-Circus He Never Had a Chance”

(Personal reflections inspired by Bob Dylan songs)

Song: “Hurricane”
Album: Desire
Release Date: Date: January 1976

Part 3 of 3 (see Master Blueprint #’s 18 and 19 for the first two installments 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 24, Hartford, Connecticut: Hartford Civic Center

The last 8 shows on the first leg of the Rolling Thunder Review tour would find the ensemble spreading their wings some geographically, but continuing to orbit around my home State of Massachusetts.  The next stop after the second stretch of Boston-area shows (see last entry) was the capital city of Connecticut.  My Mom’s endearing sister Marie lived in Hartford most of her life.  My brother Joe got married to his lovely wife Monica in her nearby West Hartford hometown on a pristine fall day in 1989.  Another great memory of the area had my wife Nancy and I taking the kids to nearby Dinosaur State Park in the winter of 2001, where their lifelong love of natural history was significantly stimulated (the year of that excursion is easy to remember because we carried on to New York City afterward, where we enjoyed many Big Apple highlights, including the Statue of Liberty:  A photo of us on the Staten Island Ferry, with the Twin Towers as a backdrop is a refrigerator-door keeper, but it is also an eerie reminder of what would occur just a few months later). 

I’ve made the trek to Hartford for work on numerous occasions, staying overnight a few times for the rare multi-day meeting.  Great restaurants, great company.  One of the biggest Bob Dylan fans I’ve ever known, Steve Grady, worked in our Hartford office during my first 2 decades at USGS, and has long since retired.  As a child of the 60s, Steve attended many-a Bob Dylan shows, including the infamous 1965 Newport Folk Festival where Dylan went electric (if I recall correctly, he also attended several of the Rolling Thunder Review shows too).  It was always a treat to get Steve’s take on Bob Dylan, since I did not have any other long-term personal context in my life on this brilliant musician.  I’d like to believe that Steve appreciated my younger, upcoming angle on all-things-Dylan too. 

This week I did some research on the set lists of shows on the Rolling Thunder Review tour, after observing that the Hard Rain album - consisting solely of music from the 2nd leg - has a more heavy, personal, melancholy vibe than the Bob Dylan Live, 1975 album, consisting solely of music from the first leg.  For example, when I listen to “You’re a Big Girl Now” or “I Threw It All Away” off Hard Rain, I can’t help but feel the pain coming through in Bob Dylan’s vocals.  Had the end of the road with his wife Sara become more evident as the tour progressed?  Possibly related: I have not done a tally, but I’m thinking Bob Dylan performed more songs from “Blood on the Tracks” on the second leg, which as Dylan fans know, is his breakup album.  As such, I can’t help but disagree with Larry Stoman’s otherwise excellent liner notes in the Bob Dylan Live, 1975 booklet, where he hints that the second leg of the tour lacked the energy of the first.  I think it was simply more personally heavy for Dylan, but he was able to convey those emotions in the same awe-inspiring way that he was able to covey exuberance and protest during the first leg.

“Bird on the horizon, sittin' on a fence
He's singin' his song for me at his own expense
And I'm just like that bird, oh
Singin' just for you
I hope that you can hear
Hear me singin' through these tears”
--- “You’re a Big Girl Now”

November 26, Augusta, Maine: Augusta Civic Center

Maine was the last of the six New England states visited by the Rolling Thunder Review. It’s a state with an amazing range of natural beauty.  I hate to say it, but the capitol city of Augusta itself is not much to write home about…the larger Maine city of Portland, an hour or so ‘down east’ has significantly more character. Augusta’s capitol dome is darn impressive, though.  And if you make your way along the Kennebec River for a short stretch you will stumble upon the hip hamlet of Hallowell, home to several classic downtown pubs, including the Liberal Cup and the Quarry Tap Room. 

Augusta does have a crown jewel, however; the aforementioned Kennebec River, which was relieved of its last major dam in July 1999.  I was there to witness this, along with Bruce Babbitt, the then Secretary of the Interior, and many others.  At that moment the river’s natural state was freed up for the first time in over a century and a half.  Since then Augusta has witnessed a river transforming back to the anadromous fish habitat it once was. 

Having listened 3 straight weeks to music from the Rolling Thunder Review tour, I’ve picked up on a handful of individual musical highlights, including 1) Rob Stoner’s bass on the Hard Rain version of “Shelter from the Storm” 2) Scarlett Rivera violin on “One Too Many Mornings” and “Hurricane” 3) Mick Ronson’s guitar during the musical bridges of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (along with Stoner’s bass) and 4) Howard Wyeth’s drumming throughout.  For the most part though, it was an all ensemble effort all the time.  And these musicians were not just there to backup Bob Dylan; they were tuned into the emotional sway that played out from song to song.  Case in point, Wyeth imitates a judge’s gavel pounding just after Bob Dylan utters the lyrics “In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel” in “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and during “Isis” he imitates the sound of a dead body being rolled into a ditch as Dylan sings I picked up his body and I dragged him inside, threw him down in the hole and I put back the cover”.  And Mick Ronson imitates thunder on his guitar as Dylan sings “was that the thunder that I heard” during “Romance in Durango”.  These are but small samples of how zoned in the musicians were; and of course, none of them more so than Bob Dylan himself. 

“Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who's rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it's all over now, baby blue” --- “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”

November 27, Bangor, Maine: Bangor Municipal Auditorium

I’ve always thought of Bangor as the gateway to Maine’s Great North Woods.  It’s the last significantly populated area in Maine before hitting the vastness of the hinterlands to the north that includes Baxter State Park, Moosehead Lake, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and Maine’s highest peak, Mount Katahdin (which includes one of the most spectacular stretches of trail along its “Knife Edge”).  Bangor is also the gateway east to the splendid beauty of Acadia National Park.  I’ve had the privilege of enjoying each one of these regions and then some. 

The Allagash River on the far northern edge of Maine is so remote and isolated that once you are portaged upstream to the launch point on rugged dirt roads, it requires 4-5 days of strenuous canoeing to get back to any semblance of human habitation.  One of the most lasting images of my life was at dusk about halfway back to civilization, turning around to catch a moose crossing the Allagash, with the enormity of the red setting sun behind him.  A snapshot in time.

The Rolling Thunder Bangor show was performed on Thanksgiving, 1975.  One year later, on the very same holiday, Bob Dylan would be the most special of special guests at The Band’s Last Waltz concert.  There were a lot of famous musicians at these two events, but off the top of my head, the only other musician other than Dylan who was at both was Joni Mitchell.  Anyhow, there’s a little Dylan trivia for ya.

“I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the axe just fell” --- “Tangled Up in Blue”

November 29, Quebec City, Quebec: Colisée de Québec

I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know the Quebecois over the years through school and work connections, and despite the fact it’s the one province in Canada that is predominantly French speaking, there’s a New England affinity with these people that can be hard to explain.  I believe much of this is due to a shared Northeast experience.  Before I recognized this affinity in my Quebec neighbors, I would have thought the ‘Bostonian mentality’ was something unique to my own more immediate neck of the woods.  The similarities?  Well, one example is there’s a bit of the wisecrack in the Quebecois: You must be on your toes, at least early in any given conversation.  The aggressive driving is also familiar.  So too is the jaywalking.  Most important, there is a shared sense of humor. 

Quebec City is the only Old-World-feel city in North America.  It’s walled.  Many of its oldest structures are built of mortar and rock.  The food is exquisite.  The history, relatively speaking for the New World, is …. older.  One of my most recent visits there was on a Father-Son excursion with my Dad.  It was an invaluable and extremely memorable opportunity to have one on one time with my Pop for 4 days.  After two days in the old city, we headed further up the St. Lawrence River to the mouth of the Saguenay River, where a boat tour of this deep-water fjord had us witnessing Beluga Whales bobbing up and down in the water by the hundreds, their all-white bodies easily mistaken for wave caps to the untrained eye.  The St. Lawrence River is the center of the Quebecois world:  A prized possession of countless gems along it’s valley, much of which is not-well-advertised (I’m thinking intentionally) to the outside world. 

The set list for Bob Dylan’s portion of the show in Quebec City included “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” and “Dark as a Dungeon”, each of which were played a dozen times or so on the tour.  Other songs that were not quite as common on the tour included, “Catfish”, and “Walls of Red Wing”, “Seven Days” and “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” and “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts”.  The only musician I know who could have gotten all the lyrics to that last one down would be Mr. Dylan himself. 

“Backstage the girls were playin' five-card stud by the stairs
Lily had two queens, she was hopin' for a third to match her pair
Outside the streets were fillin' up, the window was open wide
A gentle breeze was blowin', you could feel it from inside
Lily called another bet and drew up the Jack of Hearts” --- “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts”

December 1-2, Toronto, Ontario: Maple Leaf Gardens

In terms of Rock and Roll music hubs, Toronto had its own big thing going in the early 60s, particularly on Yonge Street.  Joni Mitchell, Ronnie Hawkins (his band consisting of what eventually would become The Band), Stephen Stills, and Neil Young were all part of the scene.  One could argue that, at the time, it was as hot as it gets.  For this and other reasons, it was no wonder why bands like the Who and the Rolling Stones found Toronto to be like a home away from home:  That early 60’s scene greased the skids.

The first time I was in Toronto was 1980 when I vacationed with my parents and siblings across Upper State New York and Ontario in a motorhome RV.  I remember the year for 2 reasons.  First, I recall watching the Republican National Convention on a tiny tv in the camper on the shores of Lake Ontario in a campground just outside Toronto (Reagan trying to talk Ford into being his VP).  Why I was interested in this at the age of 17, I can only speculate.  Second, it was the summer before my going off to college, and I was struggling to determine a major. This trip was when I first mentally connected with a natural skillset I had related to mapping and navigation, seeing as my Dad endlessly required a co-pilot to get from point a to point b, and it appeared I had the knack.  This would end up leading to my career path in the world of geospatial (GIS) analysis

The story goes that “One More Cup of Coffee” was written about a Bob Dylan experience in France, but I cannot help but hear a Spanish influence in this song, particularly Mexico.  Same obviously with “Romance in Durango”.  I also sense a connection between Bob Dylan’s 1973 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and his Desire album.  Dylan spent a lot of time in Mexico during the making of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.  Was the Desire album partly an attempt to finish something he started 2 years earlier? 

“Your breath is sweet
Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky
Your back is straight; your hair is smooth
On the pillow where you lie” --- “One More Cup of Coffee”

December 4, Montreal, Quebec: Montreal Forum

Here’s a Montreal memory:  Great friend, Mac and I made the trek to Ottawa – 2 hours further west - in late winter, 1983, to reconnect with my Carleton University crowd (where I spent the previous year on an exchange program) for a long weekend.  I hitchhiked from North Adams, Massachusetts, up Rte. 7 in western Vermont and met up with Mac in Burlington, Vermont.  The two of us then continued the hitching to Montreal (a story in itself) where Bob Mainguy, another great lifelong friend, picked us up by driving the 2 hours from Carleton (having appreciated our effort to get that far).  After a stellar weekend, Mac and I took a bus back to Montreal, where we planned to take another bus to Burlington.  When we arrived in Montreal, however, we had a change of heart.  The decision to stay put was at least partially due to the outrageous cost of the bus tickets to Burlington, but was also driven by not wanting to miss an opportunity to take in the Montreal night life.  Fine enough, but these were the days before bank cards, and neither of us had credit cards.  We had just enough cash between us for a few beers.  Finding a place to stay?  How to get out of the city the next day?  We would figure all that out later. 

We helped close Wellington Street, and when we walked out of the last pub of the night, it was pouring out.  A local YMCA proved impossible to get into.  After roaming the streets for a while, we came up with a thought:  McGill University.  A TV lounge, perhaps?  Sure enough, we found a dorm, but the door was locked.  Somehow, we were able to get in (I remember a security guard, a student, a shrub and a skunk, not necessarily in that order).  We then made a B-line for the lounge, where we angled the couches to face the opposite wall.  This was to prove insightful seeing as before falling asleep, I watched as a night-patrol flashlight scan of the room passed overhead.  The next day we slipped off campus early, split a breakfast, and spent the remainder of our cash on a subway ride over the St. Lawrence River, where a highway awaited our thumbs pointed south.

After listening to live Rolling Thunder these past weeks, I’m now thinking Bob Dylan may have been better off not releasing a studio album for Desire. The best of that album was fleshed out live on the tour, before the studio album was released.  Desire could have been a live album, like Neil Young’s Time Fades Away, or Rust Never Sleeps albums.  In Young’s case it’s clear that this is the way these songs were meant to be heard.  And from what I’ve read (and heard now), the studio version of the Desire songs pales in comparison to what was witnessed on stage. 

“I was thinkin' about turquoise, I was thinkin' about gold
I was thinkin' about diamonds and the world's biggest necklace
As we rode through the canyons, through the devilish cold 
I was thinkin' about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless” --- “Isis”

December 7, Clinton, New Jersey: Clinton Correctional Facility

So, here’s where things start getting a little more serious.  Granted Bob Dylan was making a case throughout the tour in word, deed and song for Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a black boxer convicted of the crime of murder, which he would later be acquitted of (in great part thanks to this tour).  But at the Clinton Correctional Facility, where Carter was incarcerated, as well as the last stop on the first leg of the tour in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the focus on injustice would get ratcheted up significantly.  Dylan visited “the Hurricane” in prison, and played to inmates while there too.  The subsequent Madison Square Garden show would be a charity event to raise money for Carter’s defense. 

Clinton New Jersey is close to the Pennsylvania border.  Its where Bob Dylan and friends honored a moral Christian code by visiting the imprisoned.  Another angle of that moral code is sheltering the poor.  Coincidentally, my most significant memory of the area was in nearby Reading PA, where I spent a week with my daughter on a mission trip, doing our small part to help rebuild some of the lowest-income sections of that beleaguered city on the Schuylkill River.  Commitments like these can change a person.

There’s some good footage in the movie Renaldo and Clara of Rolling Thunder Review’s visit to the Clinton Correctional Facility, which includes Rubin Carter speaking in his own defense.  The scenes of the band performing in the prison reminds me of the great closing scene in Walk the Line when Joaquin Phoenix reenacts the famous Johnny Cash concert for inmates at Folsom Prison in 1968.  I’m sure Bob Dylan was inspired by his good friend Cash in this regard.

“Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world” – “Hurricane”
( )

December 8, New York City, New York: Madison Square Garden

The Massachusetts-centric first leg of the Rolling Thunder Review tour ended in New York City.  Go figure!  But hey, us outward-bound Bostonians can appreciate the Big Apple on occasion.  Besides, it was Bob Dylan’s home turf in those days, and of course where his career took off.  And so, I believe it was apropos that the best tour of Dylan’s career would end in New York, as a charity event for a black boxer, with the goal of releasing him from jail for a crime he did not commit.

The seven times I’ve spent more than one day in New York City have all been incredible adventures.  I briefly discussed several in this 3-part series already.  Two others were fleshed out in their own blog entries, the first of which kinda comes at you from a boxer’s angle, which I wrote back in 2008 ( ).  The second included discussion points on my only visit to Madison Square Garden, to see the Who perform Quadrophenia ( ).  So obviously, New York has influenced me.  There’s no other place like it that I know of.

That’s it for my 3-part whirlwind summary of the first leg of the Rolling Thunder Review Tour, and the memories jarred out of me in relation to reading up on the tour stops.  Listening to Hard Rain and Bob Dylan Live, 1975 these past 3 weeks has me more convinced than ever that this Gypsy Caravan was living out something the Beatles envisioned in 1967.  Yes, this was the real Magical Mystery Tour.  I wish I was about five years older at the time.  I’m guessing I would have been there.

Back to the regular single part series next time.


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 café, 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