Bob Dylan and JFK
The last time Bob Dylan played the Jersey Shore he went for a walk and was stopped by young, rookie female cop who thought him a suspicious character walking aimlessly about a residential neighborhood. The girl just didn’t recognize Bob Dylan, even when he introduced himself.
That didn’t happen when Bob Dylan came to Philadelphia to take the stage at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia November 21-22-23, a trilogy of shows that were billed as the first time Dylan has played a center city theater since 1963.
Those who were there will flashback to October 25, 1963 - Philadelphia Town Hall – the Scottish Rite Cathedral at 150 North Broad at Race Street, a beautiful building that was leveled in 1983. The same setting was the preferred recording space for Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra after the Academy of Music was remodeled in 1950. The Academy acoustics were fine for the live performances, but recorded flat but served Dylan well when he performed there on November 22, 2014 - the fifty first anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.
As usual, Dylan took a walk around the Academy of Music neighborhood and found McGlinchy’s Bar behind the Academy, where he had a beer and was recognized by some who remembered him from when he performed in 1963. They recall a younger, wilder Dylan who then stopped in Dirty Franks on Pine Street, where he was asked to leave for what witnesses simply described as “a drunken asshole.”
For some reason it is somehow comforting to know that the conscience of a generation, the Godfather of folk and protest songs, a musical icon with a doctorate from Princeton who was awarded the Tom Paine and presidential Freedom awards, the heir to Whitman and Ginsberg as the poet laurite of our nation can also, at least on occasion, be a drunken asshole.
Dylan was much more reserved this time around.
Dylan’s current major theater tour coincides with the release of a new, restored digital version of the legendary Basement Tapes as well as the release of a new version of some of the Basement Tape songs covered by new, younger artists including T. Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello and Marcus Mulford of the Mulford Family.
While the concerts certainly attracted the aging hippie crowd - the over-under was fifty five, the Basement Tapes recordings should be of interest to the younger crowd, not only because of their role in the history of the music, but also the continued interest by the new artists in the nearly half-century old Big Pink Basement tape recordings.
It may be technically true that Dylan hasn’t performed in a center city Philadelphia theater since 1963, but he has performed on his “never ending tour” at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby in West Philly in 1994 and at the new Electric Factory in Society Hill a few years ago, but it has been fifty years since Dylan made his mark as a major theater attraction in both New York and Philadelphia.
It was in 1963 when Dylan performed with Joan Baiz on the same stage as Martin Luther King, Jr. during the march on Washington, released his celebrated second “Freewheelen’” album for Columbia, performed at Carnegie Hall and received the Tom Paine Award.
Then everything started going wrong – Newsweek called him a fake for trying to manipulate the media, they booed him at the Tom Paine Awards and he began to break up with his girlfriend Suzie Rotolo – who is seen walking down McDougle Street with Dylan arm in arm on the album cover.
What happened between his celebrated theater shows in October and being booed while receiving the Tom Paine Award? John Kennedy was killed, an event that influenced Dylan and his entire generation, and still continues to haunt us today.
And so on November 22 JFK’s ghost overshadowed Dylan’s dark theatrical performance as much as the echo of the basement tapes.
Dylan’s principled interest in social issues and causes branded him political, and one of his first benefit concerts was for the civil rights Freedom Riders, but he detested being called “the conscience of his generation,” and refused to support other causes though he did perform at Live Aid, and much to the chagrin of Bog Geldorf, sang a song about a farmer and called for the struggling American farmers who feed the world, a remark that sparked the founding of Farm Aid, which he also supported.
But he once said he didn’t vote in the 1960 election because he didn’t recognize any candidates, none of whom looked and thought like him. Of John Kennedy he said he was a fake and pretender, just as Newsweek described him.
But later, Dylan told Kurt Loder in a Rolling Stone Magazine interview that Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers are spiritual icons who planted seeds that are still growing today. “I don’t know what people’s errors are: nobody’s perfect, for sure,” Dylan said. But I thought Kennedy, both Kennedys – I just liked them. And I liked Martin Luther King. I thought those people who were blessed and touched, you know? The fact that they all went out with bullets doesn’t change nothin’. Because thee good they do gets planted. And those seeds live on longer than that.”
And in his autobiographical Chronicals Dylan recounts how his mother told him she saw JFK when Kennedy visited Hibbing, Minnesota during a campaign tour, which led Dylan to say that he would have voted for JFK for just visiting his hometown.
Dylan’s mother and father Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman, were in the audience when he performed at Carnegie Hall. Dylan had legally changed his name from Robert A. Zimmerman to Bob Dylan in 1962 and arranged for his parents to be in the audience for the Carnegie Hall show, a big step for him to go from playing coffee houses, cafes and nightclubs to performing solo at Carnegie Hall.
The night before – October 24, 1963, Dylan performed Philadelphia’s Town Hall.
A few days earlier he was interviewed for the Newsweek article that branded Dylan a fake pretender who manipulated the media and suggested he didn’t actually write the hit song, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Instead they reported, the hit song that was fanning revolution was instead written by Millburn, New Jersey high school student Lorrie Wyatt, who fellow students claimed sang the song before Dylan, and printed the false rumor even as Wyatt denied it.
In the two months between the Town Hall and Carnegie Hall and the Tom Paine Award, JFK was killed, and the assassination was still on his mind and he talked about it when he accepted the award.
“Dylan was on his way uptown to (his manager Al) Grossman on the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas,” notes Dylan’s biographer Anthony Scaduto (Bob Dylan, New American Library, p. 186), who quotes Dylan as telling him, “I watched it at my manager’s office. The next night, Saturday, I had a concert upstate in Ithica or Buffalo. There was a really down feeling in the air. I had to go on stage, I couldn’t cancel. I went to the hall and to my amazement the hall was filled. Everybody turned out for the concert.”
“The song I was opening with was ‘The Times They Are a Changing” and I thought, ‘Wow, how can I open with that song? I’ll get rocks thrown at me. That song was just too much for the day after the assassination. But I had to sing it. My whole concert takes off from there.”
“I know I had no understanding of anything. Something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding that song. And I couldn’t understand why they were clapping or why I wrote that song even. I couldn’t understand anything. For me, it was just insane.”
According to Scaduto, “When he returned to the Village he, Suze and Carla sat and watched the national tragedy through the rest of the weekend and into the Monday morning funeral. Like so many across the nation, they were engrossed in the events unfolding before them: the murder of Oswald, the funeral, the continued replays of the death of Kennedy, the confirmation of a new president, the widow refusing to change her blood-soaked dress because she wanted the world to see her husband’s blood, to see what it had done. Through it all Dylan sat and watched and said little, just feeling the emotion of it. He drank a little wine, and played Berlioz’s Requiem over and over.”
“I didn’t feel it any more than anybody else,” Dylan said. “We were all sensitive to it. The assassination took more of the shape of a happening. I read about those things happening to Lincoln, to Garfield, and that it could happen in this day and age was not too far-fetched. It didn’t knock the wind out of me. Of course, I felt as rotten as everyone else. But if I was more sensitive about it than anyone else, I would have written a song about it, wouldn’t I? The whole thing about my reactions to the assassination is overplayed.”
“Yet, despite Bob’s denial,” says Scaduto, “the murder did have an enormous effect on him. He signaled that feeling to very close friends, and a couple of weeks after Kennedy’s death, Dylan gave a disastrous speech that indicated how much the assassination had troubled him. He went to the grand ballroom of the Hotel Americana in New York to accept the Tom Paine Award of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee for his work in the civil rights campaign.”
Dylan: “As soon as I get there I feel uptight. I began to drink. I looked down from the platform and saw a bunch of people who had nothing to do with my kind of politics. I looked down and I got scared. They were supposed to be on my side, but I didn’t feel any connection with them. Here were these people who had been all involved with the left in the Thirties, and now they were supporting civil rights drives. That’s groovy, but they were giving money out of guilt. I got up to leave and they followed me and caught me. They told me I had to accept the award. When I got up to make my speech I couldn’t say anything by that time but what was passing through my mind.”
As he put it that night: “So, I accept this reward - not reward, (Laughter) award in behalf of Phillip Luce who led the group to Cuba which all people should go down to Cuba. I don't see why anybody can't go to Cuba. I don't see what's going to hurt by going any place. I don't know what's going to hurt anybody's eyes to see anything. On the other hand, Phillip is a friend of mine who went to Cuba.”
Dylan said: “I'll stand up and to get uncompromisable about it, which I have to be to be honest, I just got to be, as I got to admit that the man who shot President Kennedy, Lee Oswald, I don't know exactly where —what he thought he was doing, but I got to admit honestly that I too - I saw some of myself in him. I don't think it would have gone - I don't think it could go that far. But I got to stand up and say I saw things that he felt, in me - not to go that far and shoot. (Boos and hisses) You can boo but booing's got nothing to do with it. It's a - I just a - I've got to tell you, man, it's Bill of Rights is free speech and I just want to admit that I accept this Tom Paine Award in behalf of James Forman of the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and on behalf of the people who went to Cuba.” (Boos and Applause).
For full speech see: http://jfkcountercoup2.blogspot.com/2014/11/dylans-tom-paine-award.html
Although Dylan took exception to being called the social conscience of a generation, he did accept the Princeton doctorate and took the Tom Paine Award in honor of those American students who disregarded the tourist embargo and illegally traveled to Cuba. Dylan had met them through his girl, Suzie Rotollo.
It wasn’t honoring the students who went to Cuba that bothered the audience of 1500 well heeled liberals whose donations kept the non-profit organization afloat, it was Dylan’s remark that he could somewhat sympathize with Oswald – the man accused of killing JFK. Oswald himself had tried to get a visa to Cuba and like Tom Paine, he handed out leaflets in New Orleans and got into a scuffle with some anti-Castro Cubans.
But the audience wasn’t buying that spiel, and was ushered off stage – getting the hook, and the incident inspired him to write a poem in which he tried to explain himself.
From the toast of the town to being shunned by liberals, Dylan decided to hit the road, literally, and drove cross country to perform few college dates and visit a few new places, including New Orleans French Quarter, Oswald’s old neighborhood, and Dealey Plaza in Dallas where Kennedy was killed.
In Dallas Dylan, as did the Beatles and David Crosby, went to Dealey Plaza to see where President Kennedy was killed. The Beatles ducked in the back of their limo as they drove past the Texas School Book Depository Building and Grassy Knoll and then retired to their rooms at the Dallas Cabana Hotel, where some of the witnesses and suspects had famously stayed on the weekend of the assassination.
When Dylan was looking for Dealey Plaza and the first few Dallas pedestrians couldn’t direct him to the spot, Dylan was perplexed, and then finally found a pedestrian who directed them to the site and said, “You mean where they killed that son-of-a-bitch?”
Bob Dylan was impressed by those young American students who went to Cuba to support the Cuban Revolution despite the legal restrictions imposed by the government making such travel illegal. Dylan met some of them at a New York apartment, introduced to them by his girlfriend Suzie Rotolo.
Among those who Dylan met was Corliss Lamont, leftist radical writer and author of a pamphlet “Crime Against Cuba” that was distributed by the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), copies of which were handed out by Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans in the summer of 1963.
It has been alleged that the specific copies in Oswald’s possession were numbered copies that were in a batch that, according to Lamont’s records, sold and sent to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The Warren Report says Oswald got Lamont’s phamplet from the New York City office of the FPCC, which was then being targeted by the FBI and CIA, as were the students who attempted to break the travel to Cuba embargo.
Besides Dylan, his good friend and fellow protest singer and songwriter Phil Ochs also supported the FPCC and frequented their New York City office.
Ochs had attended an exclusive military academy with Barry Goldwater, Jr. and the sons of other high ranking military officers, and enlisted in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) while a college student in Ohio. One of his duties included spying on campus anti-war groups, but then his dorm room mate taught him how to play the guitar and he began writing political songs and ballads on such subjects as such as assassinated civil rights leader Medgar Evers, Billy Sol Etes, Christine Keeler, General Walker and the war in Vietnam – “Draft Dodger Rag.” His song “Crucifixioin” is supposed to be about the Kennedy assassination.
Also see: “The Marines Have Landed on the Shores of Santo Domingo,” “The Men Behind the Guns,” “Talkin’ Cuban Crisis,” “That Was the President,” “United Fruit,” “William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park and Escapes Unscathed,” “I Ain’t :Marchin’ Anymore.”
Ochs later told his old roommate Jim Glover that, under the direction of his former ROTC officer, he went to Dallas and was in Dealey Plaza “as a national security observer” when the president was assassinated.
Ochs also went insane, changing his name to CIA agent John Train before committing suicide after a number of public confrontations with his former friend Bob Dylan.
John Train, it turns out, is the name of a real CIA officer who ran CIA propriety companies out of his New York City offices that were visited by George deMohrenschildt in April 1963, shortly after he left his friend Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas. At the same time deMohresnschildt also met Col. Sam Kail and Dorothie Matlack, who reported to the Pentagon office known as ACSI - the Assistant Chief of Staff Intelligence (US Army Reserves). Kail had previously been stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Havana while ACSI was directed by the same officers who the Texas Army Reserve commanders reported to from Dallas, including those who became entwined in the assassination.
When Castro visited New York, stayed at a Harlem hotel and addressed the United Nations, CIA-Cuban G-2 Double Agent LICOZY-3 was ostensibly recruited and identified only as an American student from Philadelphia who went to Mexico City, and was later terminated as an agent by Phil Agee while he was still a faithful CIA officer.
Fifteen years later, when investigators from the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) requested specific CIA files, they were given practically everything they asked for, except the names of the Double-agents in Mexico City.
Based on public records and recently records released under the JFK Act, some researchers suspect LICOZY-3 to be Steve Kenin, an American student from Philadelphia who went to Cuba, met and was photographed with Fidel Castro and went to Mexico City.
Kenin also knew Suzie Rotolo, Dylan’s girlfriend who had introduced Dylan to the pro-Castro Cuban crowd in New York city, as she attended the same upstate New York summer camp as Steve Kenin and his twin brother Elliot, both of whom were aspiring folk musicians. The Kenin brothers owned a music store
just around the corner from Rittenhouse Square.
Some other curious events stand out from the recently released records, including reports of Oswald’s sudden and inexpliciable appearance handing out FPCC leaflets in Philadelphia at Rittenhouse Square in the summer of 1963 when the Quebec to Guantamano March passed through.
The same marchers had previously marched from Quebec to Moscow in the name of peace and nuclear disarmament, and passed through Minsk when Oswald lived there, but it’s not known if they met. A few weeks later, when they got to Washington D.C., one of the marchers, amateur boxer Ray Robinson got into a fistfight inside a parked car with former CIA officer Wilcox, who testified before the HSCA that he handled a secret fund for Oswald when he was stationed in the Marines in Japan.
After passing through New York City, where they met with FPCC activists, the marchers arrived in Philadelphia where they had a rally at Rittenhouse Square when Oswald was reported to have handed out his leaflets, and just around the corner from where Steve and Elliot Kenin ran the Guitar Workshop.
Steve attended Temple University where one of his professors had relocated to Cuba to teach at Havana University during the revolution, after which Steve himself traveled to Cuba, met and had his picture taken with Castro, and wrote about his experiences for the Temple student newspaper.
Steve Kenin also edited the program for the first Philadelphia Folk Festival and did the same for the Newport Folk Festival the following year when Dylan famously performed. Kenin knew Suzie Rotolo from summer camp and knew Dylan from Newport, and named his son Dylan.
Bob Dylan came to Philadelphia in October 1963 to play his first major theater concert at Town Hall (Masonic Temple at North Broad, demolished in 1980s), the night before he played and recorded at Carnege Hall in New York city.
Among the songs Dylan wrote around that time:
Goen’ to Accopolco –
In 1963 Steve Kenin took off on his motorcycle to ride around Mexico and wrote an article about his adventures for Motorcycle Magazine and visitede Accopolco and Mexico City where he reportedly met Lee Harvey Oswald.
In Mexico City Steve Kenin stayed at a Quaker hostel “Cassa d’Amego,” which is supported by Philadelphia Quakrs, and he hung out at a Mexican restaurant near the American embassy that was popular with other Americans, including Oswald. According to a Mexican lawyer who was there, he last saw Kenin ride off on his motorcycle with Lee Oswald on the back, heading for the Cuban embassy to try to get visas to Cuba.
Oswald did go to the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in a failed attempt to get a visa to Cuba, and at the Cuban embassy he dealt with a Syliva Duran.
Shortly thereafter two other young Americans in Mexico City also contacted Sylvia Duran in an attempt to get visas to Cuba, and while there, reportedly attended a Twist Party at Duran’s apartment, a party also attended by Lee Harvey Oswald.
Of the other two Americans, one was recognized as a movie actor Richard Beymer - the star of the then popular West Side Story, which includes the music of Leonard Bernstein, who was also profoundly impacted by JFK’s murder.
Beymer was accompanied by a friend, the owner of a Manhattan bar that featured live music who also knew Bob Dylan.
Tracked down and questioned about the CIA records that mention him and the Twist Party, Beymer was quite surprised by the whole thing, not having been questioned by anyone before.
Yes, he went to Mexico City and Acapulco in 1963 with his friend, the owner of a Manhattan bar, and yes, they were young and footloose and fancy free and may have attended a Twist Party at a private apartment, but no, he doesn’t remember Sylvia Duran or Lee Harvey Oswald.
His friend who owned a Manhattan bar, now a Catholic priest, recalls that they were in Mexico on November 22, 1963 when the assassination occurred, and since they were only there for a few weeks they couldn’t have been in Mexico in late September and early October when Oswald was there.
As for Steve Kenin, he says that he doesn’t remember meeting Oswald or giving him a ride to the Cuban Embassy on his motorcycle, though he did try to get a visa to go back to Cuba, but had probably left Mexico before Oswald arrived.
He is a bit perplexed however, by what the CIA records say about him and the accounts of witnesses implicate him with Oswald and Castro. It makes one wonder what would have happened if the story came out shortly after the assassination, even if it wasn’t true, that Kenin had given Oswald a ride to the Cuban Embassy and then the photo of him and Castro further connected Oswald and Castro?
Could that have been a psyops ploy to link Oswald and Castro and what would it mean?
We still don’t know what it all means.
So a half a century later to the day when Dylan performed at the Academy of Music on November 22, 2014 – the fifty first anniversary of the assassination, the event hovered in the background like a cloud over the dark stage on which he performed.
· Set List Nov 22 2014- Philadelphia Academy of Music
7. Pay in Blood
9. Love Sick
10. Set 2:
13. Forgetful Heart
15. Scarlet Town
19. Stay With Me
(Frank Sinatra cover)