dylan's such a fucking maniac

[from "Patti Smith," by Barry Miles, in Wanted Man: In Search of Bob Dylan, edited by John Bauldie published by Citadel Underground, New York, 1991]

NOTE: The year being recalled is 1975. The interviewer is described in the list of contributors as follows: "[Barry] Miles co-founded (with John Hopkins) the underground newspaper International Times and is the author of several books, including two about Bob Dylan -- Dylan (Big O, 1978) and In His Own Words (Omnibus, 1978). He recently published a biography of Allen Ginsberg (Viking, 1990) and is hoping to begin work shortly on the authorized biography of Paul McCartney. Meanwhile he buys and sells rare books and lives in London."

Patti Smith, poet and rock singer extraordinaire, was in bed in the Chelsea Hotel when Miles called round to ask her about her encounters with Bob Dylan back in 1975. The interview was conducted on March 18, 1977 but never published.

[what follows is a long quotation from Patti]

In 1975, at the Other End, when we played there, right after me and my band got signed, Bob came. I knew he was there -- nobody had to tell me. I felt something. The neat thing about him is that his energy is a real thing. I don't expect anything out of anybody when I meet them, all I expect is that ... if I've really admired them...that they exude a certain kind of energy that's really inspiring. And he had a lot of it. He's really an amazing storehouse -- he's so full of grace, speed and urgency, it's a real thing.

I'm never ashamed to say what makes me happy, and that was something. It was really great. And then he came back to see me and it was different because there was the same kind of sensation that I used to have in high school, like when you meet a guy in the hallway...it was just like that -- teenage. It was like we had an energy collision. I felt like we were both...blue T-birds, you know, having a head-on collision. Or like a pit dog dance, or a cock fight, circling around. Then I got real nervous and I went to another room -- and he came after me and said something. And I moved to another room and he came and hugged me and people took pictures. It was really great, just like when you're the wallflower all your life...I always wanted to dance with boys and nobody ever asked me to dance, I had to wait for ladies' choice and I'd always pick he most beautiful boy, the most popular guy -- I was so pathetic. But Bob understands that, 'cos he wrote the song "Wallflower" and he knew me, y'know, and he was checking up on me. Not as long as I'd been checking up on him!

At that time he was going through...he had been in hiding for so long, or...it wasn't the '60s any more. And Dylan had been King of the '60s, the Absolute King -- he had Elvis Presley's crown of thorns, he was the next in line, the successor for the championship of rock'n'roll. To me, Dylan always represented rock'n'roll -- I never thought of him as a folk singer or poet or nothing. I just thought he was the sexiest person since Elvis Presley -- sex in the brain, y'know? Sex at its most ultimate is being totally illuminated, and he was that, he was the King. and he still has it. I don't think his true power has been unleashed. I haven't stopped believing in him.

Well, he wanted to come out, and in the club he kinda saw in me someone who was potentially as strong as him, who has a lot of energy --the kind that makes you totally uncomfortable with the world -- and he recognized that. On stage I was into improvising, linguistically, and I was especially inspired that night because he was there. But of course I learned that from him, from "Bob Dylan's 144th Dream of Captain Ahab", and yet it was almost like it was a new thing to him. I said, "You have to remember where that came from!" He started getting really turned on by the idea of the band -- my guys following me or pushing me and not faltering or wondering about what musical changes to go into because I've just spread the song out like a hand. He saw somebody doing something that he didn't think was possible, and he said, "I wish I would have stayed with just one group -- if I'd had the same group all this time how well we would have known the ins and outs of each other."

He started hanging out more. He liked the fact that he could be in a club and people didn't maul him to death, because there were a lot of things happening at that time. And we were hanging out there, and it was really great 'cos we'd all get drunk and stuff and be falling around. People just started turning up in the Village. It happened very fast. Jack Elliott was around -- everybody was around. Then one night, Bob started going up on stage, jamming with these people. I saw him start getting attracted to certain people -- Rob Stoner, Bobby Neuwirth -- it was great to see him and Bob back together because he really brings out the worst in Dylan, which is what we usually love the best. And he was working out this Rolling Thunder thing -- he was thinking about improvisation, about extending himself language-wise. In the talks that we had there was something that he admired about me that was difficult to comprehend then, but that's what we were talking about. That's what we were talking about on the stairway -- there are pictures -- when he started getting Rolling Thunder together.

Everybody was asked to go on Rolling Thunder except me. And then he told me to come to this party. Actually I thought he was inviting me for a drink -- he asked me to come to some bar at Gerde's Folk City, where he first started in New York. So I went, and there's a million people there -- well-known people, and I thought he was asking me for a drink, he couldn't have asked all these people -- is this a coincidence? but it was a party for a birthday and they were also going to announce Rolling Thunder.

And how he announced it was real weird. First, him and Joan Baez got up and sang "One Too Many Mornings", which was one of my favorite Dylan songs...now you see, I'd seen him a lot in between all this time, but it's like personal, y'know, not relevant -- only to my memories...Anyway, different people got up: Bobby Neuwirth, Jack Elliott got up, Jim McGuinn got up and sang his horse song; Bette Midler got up and sang this song -- she didn't do such a hot job. She may have been nervous -- at first I thought she was just obnoxious and not so hot, but she did this weird thing -- she came over and threw this glass of beer in my face! Just walked up! I never met her before. It was like a John Wayne movie! She had bloomers on -- or pyjamas, I don't know. I was real shocked. And then Dylan stood right up and he made me go up there. But I had no band, no song prepared, but I understood that why I had to go up there was to save face. Since I couldn't hit her I had to do something to maintain my dignity, so I got up there and Eric Andersen was there, and I said, "Just play a droning E chord behind me." so I just made up this thing. I looked at Bob and made up this thing about brother and sister. But while "I'm doing it I start thinking about Sam Shepard -- he was in my consciousness -- and so I told this story, really got into it, made this brother and sister be parted by the greed and corruption of the system -- and I did a good job and lots of people liked it. I was real proud. There was a lot of tension. Phil Ochs was there, and Phil Ochs could always bring out that "Don't Look Back" side of Dylan. Dylan's got that side still -- it's all stored up -- he's all those people, he's still that guy, he hasn't turned beautiful and gentle, he's a real bastard -- but that's what I think is great, for his art -- maybe not for being a husband! And he was like really a son-of-a-bitch that night. Phil Ochs was crazy. Phil Ochs ...I couldn't believe it, but Bob wouldn't talk to Phil Ochs. The two of them...it was like there was a noose in the middle of the room and they were circling around, trying to get each other to hang themselves.

One time he was telling me what my gifts were -- he has great humility but he doesn't like flattery -- hates for you to tell him how much he meant to you all your life, through your young years -- he doesn't want to hear that. What he wants to do is tell you the good things about you, so that you can do your own work; he doesn't want you to be involved with him, he would rather inspire you to do your own work -- he's not jealous and possessive about that. So he was trying to teach me just what my worth was, and we did some neat stuff together. They were filming this, at a crazy party up on 8th Street somewhere. He told me to maintain the eye of an eagle, which he told me I had, and then Phil Ochs came up and poured a whole pail of beer on my head, and Bob started fighting with Phil and I said, "What is this"? Every time I'm around you I get doused with beer!"

The next step was that I had to go to a rehearsal at S.I.R., the last rehearsal. And he's singing these songs and I wanted him to rock it up. I said, "What's with this acoustic guitar?" Then he goes off into a room. But then there's like these hot-shot lawyers and bodyguards and stuff around -- it looks like the Mafia -- I can see why he was into Joey Gallo -- he has himself this whole thing -- and they tap me on the shoulder and they go, "Bob wants to see ya!" And so these lawyers take me on into this room and he's standing there, looked great, and his lawyers say, "Bob is having this Rolling Thunder Revue and he wants you to go on it." And he says, "erm...yes. I think it would be very good for your career -- get you exposure." And I thought it was a riot, him talking to me like that! And I said, "Whaddya mean? Exposure? I'm getting well exposed! You didn't discover me under a rock, you know -- people know I'm out there!" And I said, "Look, you got 150 million people going on this tour with you, you don't need to make space for me. I'd just drive you crazy, totally crazy. And the only thing I'd ever want to do with you is to drive you crazy -- to push you so far that you would start to cut everybody down verbally, that you'd play the best solo on the electric guitar, push you to see you be the best, not rehashing old folk songs and singing country harmony -- I ain't interested in singing country harmony with you, I did that in a bar, where country harmony belongs."

Well, he saw my point. I'd got everything I need from him -- he's inspired me for so long, I guessed it was time to turn the beat around. so I said, "I'll give you one tip. Use your fists." He sort of hung his hands when he was singing, when he was standing there without a guitar he didn't know what to do with his hands. I said, "Grab that microphone. You got these fists, you're singing about a boxer, Hurricane Carter, use those fists! Box with them. You're a great mover -- what're you standing there like a dead fish for? Move!" He was a great mover in the '60s, Dylan, those great little curtsies he used to do. I said, "You're the father of Cool. Don't be cool by being uptight, be cool by moving with the moment." And he says, "Aw, I can't hit the air with my fists or nothing. People will think I'm copying you!" I said, "Well, I've imitated you for 12 years, you can spare a little imitation." So he just laughed. Seeing him laugh is great, 'cos he has a lot of pain. He's like the Duke of Windsor -- how he gave up his crown for the woman he loved, y'know? He's like that. But he's also got a streak in him that won't give up being a contender, and the streak is what gives him so much life -- that streak makes him keep creating, keeps putting him out there.

Anyway, the streak took him out on the Rolling Thunder thing. Sam went out on the road with him, I didn't go. Sam did the same thing -- kept pushing him to improve, got him to Kerouac's grave, got him to exorcise his demon and to really start celebrating. and Dylan opened up -- his lungs, his sunglasses became windows -- and then he slammed them shut again. And Sam said, "If you're gonna get involved in all this superficial folky stuff then I'm leaving." So Sam split. I couldn't believe Sam split. Dylan's not used to having people walk out on him. He didn't like it.

Dylan's such a fucking maniac. Y'know, I've not said anything specifically, but I hope I've done something here to remind how intense he is, and how much that intensity has only been successfully revealed through abstract expressionism in rock'n'roll. I look at him and I don't see a guy giving out leaflets, holding a banner. I see a machine gun.

Copyright © John Bauldie 1991

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