ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN: A Personal History on the Road and Off the Tracks
By Victor Maymudes. Co-written and edited by Jacob Maymudes. St. Martin’s Press. Hardcover. 288 pages.
Reviewed by Francis DiMenno
Long time Dylan crony Victor Maymudes meant to write a memoir of his friendship with Bob Dylan—as well as his time as tour manager for Dylan and his entourage, during both the mid-’60s and the late ’80s and early ’90s. Instead, prior to his untimely death in 2001, he left behind a treasure trove of audio-taped reminiscences. His son has sorted through these and selected some of the most interesting anecdotes and observations. It is questionable whether there are enough of these to fill an entire book, but certain Dylan fanatics may feel well rewarded—particularly after reading the early chapters.
Maymudes was a guitarist and poet in his own right but soon realized that he could never compete in either field on the same level as Dylan – so he helped his friend by solving problems for him while he was on tour, and also by controlling access to Dylan before and after he went on stage: “There were lots of people who would try to get close to Bob… the most aggressive attempts would be from people using their power in the entertainment business to get access to him…. When I was on tour Bob asked me to stand between them and him.” (83).
But Maymudes was far more than a humble factotum; he was also a long-time veteran of the hip scene in Los Angeles, having co-founded in 1955 the Unicorn Cafe, a coffee-shop which was the first of its kind, located in the heart of the Sunset Strip. “For marketing they put posters up in liberal bookstores, music venues, and any place that had a sense of hipness and a taste for folk music…. The cafe was painted entirely black inside and pictures of nude women hung upside down on the walls. They were defining what hip was and they nailed it. Once the place was built, Victor would reach out to musician friends and poets to book performances at the cafe” (25).
So Maymudes was no innocent. He had been around. He knew a lot of interesting people–he made a point of cultivating and collecting celebrities (and dropping names—sometimes to an annoying degree)–and he also introduced Dylan to his more interesting friends: people such as Lenny Bruce (about whom Dylan later wrote a song). Maymudes also suggested that Dylan sign with Albert Grossman (the money-grasping manager about whom few complimentary songs will ever be written).
We learn, among other stories, further details of that notorious incident in which Dylan introduced The Beatles to marijuana, in a NYC hotel room, where the streets outside were overrun with both policemen and rabid fans. According to Maymudes, he was the one who rolled the joints and chummed around with the band. Dylan, for his part, had a couple of drinks and passed out. We also learn that the motorcycle accident which supposedly incapacitated Dylan for months was actually a quite minor incident that gave him the incentive to slow down and examine his life, and eventually to try life as a family man instead of a famous and constantly on-call superstar.
We also discover more about Dylan’s early writing technique—solitude, along with plenty of coffee and cigarettes. We can guess at why Dylan was successful when so many other folk singers are now relegated to the status of footnotes—including such luminaries as Dave Van Ronk, Rolf Cahn, and Eric Von Schmidt. It was likely Dylan’s work ethic—which, by Maymudes’s account, was extraordinary. “Bob’s vision is bad,” says Maymudes, “but he doesn’t mind. He doesn’t wear glasses because the world he inhabits is an internal one” (121).
Dylan, we learn from Maymudes’s account, was an extraordinarily gifted and insightful individual who had to be left alone to do his work as much as possible. But with this aloofness came a concomitant loneliness; a void which Maymudes himself, for all his fabled closeness to Dylan, could not fill. So he tried instead to be the friend of the great man who provides companionship when desired: “Our talks would expand the boundaries of our philosophy; we would push the limits of the meaning of words and bend ideas around new phrases” (83).
There are genuine insights to be found, even if they are suffused in a glow of orange sunshine or whatever type of drug the author happened to be on at the time. This one is my favorite: “The Hopis sang and danced for those elements that were rare, water principally, and our music was all about love, maybe because for us that was rare” (144).
Dylan scholars will rightly be skeptical of some of the claims made by Maymudes. Some parts of this memoir seem overstated; for example, Maymudes claims that “I did get to watch our taste in clothes influence a whole generation” (116). Really? He also claims that he and Bob would meet some of the most interesting characters on any given local scene by dropping into pool halls early in the morning. Okay—if you say so,
But, overall, it is difficult to fault this book, since it is ostensibly nothing more than a memoir of someone who had been present at the creation of the Dylan mythos. The author himself protests that “I want to help people remember the great, the magic that was those early days. The miserable shit that took place can be forgotten, for it won’t help anyone” (35). All the same, the temperamental, arbitrary, and sometimes downright cruel side of Bob Dylan is sometimes observed – like the time he made his friend wait in the car while he visited his parents; like the time he made him desert his 7- year-old son and 14-year-old daughter in a parking lot for hours; like the time he fired the author’s daughter for her inept management of his coffee shop, and chewed her out in front of everybody. This latter deed effectively helped end both their long friendship and business relationship, as did a charge of statutory rape brought against Maymudes which Dylan’s people managed to extricate him from. To sum up: Maymudes seems to share Dylan’s absolute narcissism with none of his crippling self-doubt. Diehard Dylan fans will find this an interesting and useful account; others might prefer to dip into books such as the recent biography Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited by Clinton Heylin, Dave Van Ronk’s underrated memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street or even Dylan’s own memoir Chronicles (which, perhaps tellingly, mentions Maymudes not at all).
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