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



  1. Interesting take. I live in CT, so I'm familiar with a lot of the places you mention. Being the nit-picker I am, I need to mention that the Desire album was released AFTER the initial run of shows. So when I saw him in Springfield the new material was completely unfamiliar. (Imagine hearing Isis for the first time under that circumstance!) There were 2 shows in Springfield, afternoon and evening, and I saw the latter. Later in November I saw the tour again in Hartford, CT. The greatest shows I've ever seen? Yeah, probably, and I've seen hundreds.

    1. Hi Bill, thanks for this great feedback. Always a pleasure to hear from folks who were actually there. I made the correct (Desire being released during the tour). Neil Young did this on a handful of occasions. In fact several of his live albums were made up entirely of new material (Time Fades Away, Rust Never Sleeps). I'll be touching on the Connecticut part of the tour next week. thanks again


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