Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rock Revival’s Time Capsule: Dylan’s First Major Concert, April 12 1963

By 1963, Bob Dylan, folk singer and growing civil rights activist, was outgrowing his place in Greenwich Vilage, New York. In April, 23 he performed his first major concert at the Town Hall, on a Friday night, playing ‘Hard Rain’, John Brown’ and the mind-blowing poem, 'Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie'. He had never performed a poem on stage before and has never since.

This served as kind of eulogy to his hero, although he wasn’t to die until 1967, a tribute to the man who has brought him to New York, not just physically (Dylan came to visit him regularly in hospital where he was dying), but musically, given Woody’s position as one of America’s greatest folk singer to that date.

Here is his introduction to the poem:

'There's this book coming out and they asked me to write, uh, something about Woody. Sorta like "What does Woody Guthrie Mean to You" in 25 words. And, uh, I couldn't do it, I wrote out five pages and, uh...I have it here, its a...I have it here by accident, actually. B-but I-I'd like to say this out loud. So, uh...if you could sorta roll along with this thing here, this is called Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie. '

Eric Clapton talks about this performance:

'He's a poet. Basically he's a poet. He does not trust his voice. He doesn't trust his guitar playing. He doesn't think he's good at anything, except writing—and even then he has self-doubts. Have you heard that thing he wrote about Woody Guthrie? That to me is the sum of his life's work so far. Whatever happens, that is it. That sums it up. '

The poem is very long, like an Allan Ginsberg, but here is the phenomenal last stanza.

No but that ain't yer game, it ain't even yer race

You can't hear yer name, you can't see yer face

You gotta look some other place

And where do you look for this hope that yer seekin

'Where do you look for this lamp that's a-burnin

'Where do you look for this oil well gushin'Where do you look for this candle that's glowin

'Where do you look for this hope that you know is there

And out there somewhere

And your feet can only walk down two kinds of roads

Your eyes can only look through two kinds of windows

Your nose can only smell two kinds of hallways

You can touch and twistAnd turn two kinds of doorknobs

You can either go to the church of your choice

Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital

You'll find God in the church of your choice

You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

And though it's only my opinionI may be right or wrong

You'll find them bothIn the Grand Canyon

At sundown

Image: Courtesy

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