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 been gone I said, that's only natural
She said, you gonna stay I said, if you want you me, yes!” --- “ISIS”
( http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4x1owv )
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
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 ( http://pete-gemsandbeyond.blogspot.com/2016/01/under-big-top-3-goodbye-hello-personal.html ). 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