Thousands of hours mining poems convince me that there is no such thing as private property – neither outside, at the edge of town, nor inside, where Humpty Dumpty keeps tumbling down, or was that Jill and Jack? All there is is the first person to the copywright office, some lawyer sonofabitch.
For the quick, alert, and lucky Bob Dylan, by the late 1950s, the story of America had taken up residency in and around Greenwich Village, in the form of the music and songs of all the peoples who comprise the people of these United States. That the near equivalent, Woody Guthrie, was an hour away dying of Huntington’s disease, was the neat in Dylan’s whiskey.
Twenty or so years earlier, Alan Lomax, at the behest of the Library of Congress, headed deep into the south, with rare, mobile, recording equipment, and became the modern Pied Piper of Hamlin – Five or ten years after he had made a fuss in someplace like the Piedmont in North Carolina, the best musicians in town would be heading to New York City, looking to make a record and strike it rich.
Sad footnote is that somehow the otherwise tin-eared Lomax co-wrote way too many songs, gyping too many rustics of their fair share of their own composition. Dylan trained for his January 1961 pilgrimage to NYC by spending half the fifties upstairs in his Minnisota bedroom looking out the window and listening to music from all over the country.
(if you’ll allow me to digress: the Celtic version of Lomax is Tommy Makem, of county Armagh, Northern Ireland; incidentally, a teetotaler. He played a five night residency at a place I hungout in 1977 or so and I didn’t miss a show. He and the Clancy Brothers were as important in the parturition of Bob Dylan as W.C. Handy was.)
My first indictment for piracy was filed against Dylan for clipping House of the Rising Sun from – his damn landlord and first adult friend, much less mentor and guide! Van Ronk obliged my curiosity by coming close to my neighborhood, ironically within a week or so of the Rolling Thunder Revue rolling through, too!
There he was at the end pf the bar with his guitar and a glass of whiskey. I interupted to ask if what I read in the Scaduto biogra[hy about Rising Sun was true and he said “I don’t want to talk about that man.” I was embarrased for asking but after the show, I couldn’t help myself and asked if he’d be joining the imminent Rolling Thunder? He looked at me as if I were orange and said, “I told you, I don’t want to talk about that man.”
That was a drag, a real drag, because Dave Van Ronk was awesome and it would suck if he got screwed here. Turns out, I tend to make more of other peoples’ troubles than my own. Dave and Bob made up and one of the first things Dylan did in Chronicles, Vol. 1 was to lasvish his recently departed friend with nonpareil praise.