Sunday, April 08, 2007



The day following our pilgrimage to Hibbing, we gathered on the campus of the University of Minnesota to get the academic portion of our proceedings started. But we didn't start in the usual way, and the first item on the program would have gotten me to Minneapolis even if there hadn't been a Dylan Symposium. Our opening keynote consisted of a performance, all too short, by "Spider" John Koerner and Tony "Little Sun" Glover. These names are familiar, of course, to all those too familiar with Dylan's personal history as two of the people who taught Dylan much of what he knew about folk blues when he wasn't attending classes at the university. They were regulars on the Dinkytown scene and performed at the Ten O'Clock Scholar. If you purchased the official bootleg edition of Dylan's live 1966 CD, you saw the award-winning liner notes that Glover contributed to the project.

But this opening was a serious opportunity for hero worship to me. These men are the surviving members of the triad (they were never actually a trio) whose records were released under the name of KOERNER, RAY & GLOVER. Those LPs, BLUES RAGS AND HOLLERS followed by, believe it or not, LOTS MORE BLUES RAGS & HOLLERS, were required listening for any of us who were interested in that fecund site where bohemia and the acoustic blues met.

And Tony Glover bears a certain responsibility for my own development. His book, BLUES HARP, was like a bible to me in my youth. The book was dedicated to Kenneth Patchen and Sonny Boy Williamson. That's all you really need to know in order to grasp how important Glover was to so many of us. Here in one person we found the worlds of poetry and blues converging in the first really new manner since the days of Sterling Brown (who I was also to meet in my youth).

"Spider" John Koerner I had last seen opening for Taj Mahal one night more than three decades ago. I think it's a mark of the high esteem in which Koerner is held by most who really know the music that Taj spent a good five minutes near the start of his set just going on about how privileged he felt to appear on the same stage with Koerner. How often do you hear that sort of praise from the person whose name heads the bill?

For this set, "Spider" was working with a twelve string, and you wouldn't know from his energetic playing that this was a guy who'd recently had a triple bypass. The duo was forced to do an encore by the enthusiastic audience, and most of us would have been happy to spend the rest of the day just listening to them.

But we had our own business to get to. Still, it wasn't your usual scholarly affair. I'll have to remember to tell my sister that I got to shake hands with Bobby Vee. To Dylan fans, he's the guy Elston Gunnn (a Dylan precursor pseudonym) played with for one night, but to my sister, who owned his records, he will forever be known as the guy who sang THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES.

These two guys were the MOST Minnesota people I met all weekend. The fellow on the left is Dave Engel, a Hibbingite who was on a bowling team with Dylan and who has published a book titled JUST LIKE ROBERT ZIMMERMAN'S BLUES. The gentleman in the pink shirt is Dan Bergan, who was one of our guides on the tour of Hibbing. Bergan graduated from Hibbing High and came back later to teach there for thirty years. He's the one who found that stage drop you see in the Hibbing High photos I posted the other day. Bergan was in the same graduating class as Dylan's brother, David, and says the younger Zimmerman was, in his opinion, the more talented of the two.

You'll notice that both Steve Scobie (glasses and red shirt) and I are seen wearing black leather jackets. This is because we are both academics.

Steve is the author of ALIAS BOB DYLAN, which is by far one of the more readable and worthwhile books on Dylan. He's also a fine poet (with two Dylan-related volumes among his works: SLOWLY INTO AUTUMN and AND FORGET MY NAME). He's also retired now, which he wasn't when I met him at Stanford University's Dylan conference some years ago. Must be nice.

One of the real highlights of the symposium was sitting in the hotel bar listening to Steve Scobie and C.P. Lee singing songs they'd learned in their youth, Glasgow street songs and folk revival staples. Lee had given one of the better plenary addresses, expanding on the work he did in his estimable book LIKE THE NIGHT: BOB DYLAN AND THE ROAD TO THE MANCHESTER FREE TRADE HALL. Another truly worthwhile address was the keynote by Greil Marcus, but then one of the interesting things about the symposium was the percentage of really good work that was presented. If you've glanced at the Dylan bibliography, you know that it's opinionated and not always well written, but this symposium offers reason to hope that it's getting better all the time (oops! wrong musical referent there).

Here you see me with poet Anne Waldman and Maria Damon (who was also seen just a couple posts ago with Kamau Brathwaite - lots of poetry in that town). Waldman was a regular on the Rolling Thunder Review and can be seen in RENALDO AND CLARA, that is, if you can ever see RENALDO AND CLARA. Anne became a friend after I met her at the Naropa Institute so it was good to see her again and catch up on family news. Her own plenary session was an interesting mix of commentary, remembrance, quotations from Allen Ginsberg's scattered passages on Dylan, etc.

At the end of the first evening of the symposium, my friend Richard Flynn persuaded me to join him in a trip across town to a little gallery that was hosting an exhibit of photos of Patti Smith. I'm not nearly the fan of Smith that Richard is (which is why you don't see a photo here of me in front of her photos), but I'm a huge fan of little galleries and of the art of photography, and I have to say the photos were impressive. The exhibit was to honor Frank Stefanko's book of his Smith photos, which you can see three gallery goers admiring here.

Afterwards, Richard and I headed back over to Dinkytown, to a pasta restaurant that had been recommended to us by one of the Dylan Symposium organizers, Colleen Sheehy. We wound up sitting upstairs, which is where Dylan sat when he lived in that building long before it had become this amazing restaurant. What Colleen hadn't told us, though, was that this is the weekely gathering spot of Minneapolis's Tango aficianados. There was a remarkably adept Tango combo on the stage, and slowly swirling couples Tangoed below us as we had our dinner.
So, we started the day with the Blues and ended with the Tango, all of which made perfect sense in a Dylan context. Remember that episode of Dharma and Greg that ends with her playing drums in Dylan's band as Dylan picks out a polka on his electric guitar? That's how the whole weekend went--

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Aldon, enjoyed your photos and commentary on the Dylan symposium! It will remain a high point in my life and memory. Thanks for being part of it. I'm sorry I missed the CP Lee and Stephen Scobie concert!
All best, Colleen Sheehy, Weisman Art Museum