Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Bob Dylan

While sitting at the Memorial Union Terrace in 1961, Ron Radosh recalls that a scrawny 19-year-old folk singer named Bob Zimmerman was gazing out over Lake Mendota when he proclaimed, "I'm going to be as big a star as Elvis Presley." Radosh laughed and responded, "Singing Woody Guthrie songs?"

As inplausible as it seemed at the time, Zimmerman would go on to become not only a musical icon like Presley, but a cultural and political icon as well.

Bob Zimmerman would change his last name to Dylan and end up as big a star as Presley, and even surpass his achievements. He would win a Noble Prize in literature in 2016, as well as a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation in 2008 for "lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

He was born in Duluth, Minnesota, and after studying at the University of Minnesota for a year, and a trip to New York, he was on his way back to Minnesota when he decided he'd stop in Madison, Wisconsin to check out the folk music scene.

Bob Dylan arrived in town with his guitar, little else, and no plans on where he was going to stay. He had been given Ron Radosh's name and address by a friend. Radosh, a student at UW-Madison, would help him find a room with a friend of his who lived on Mifflin Street.

He played at house parties and at The Pad on State Street, and he was hoping to take the folk scene in Madison by storm. The Pad at 527 State Street was Madison’s first (and longest lasting) "beatnik" coffee shop during the “beat years". Performers included Steve Miller and others holding jam sessions and reading poetry.

Nick Topitzes recalls, "In the 60’s, there was The Pad.... [they] made great sandwiches which you could buy in their coffee house on the 500 block of State Street. They also went door to door on Langdon Street late at night to feed those with late night hunger." Ben Sidran said that musicians liked the owner of The Pad, Murray Winer, because he let them charge sandwiches.

He also spent a lot of his time at an apartment on Clymer Place, home of UW students Marshall Brickman and Eric Weissberg, which is south of Johnson Street between Park and Mills, and was the unofficial center of the Madison folk music scene.

While in Madison, Dylan was profoundly influenced by a Pete Seeger concert he attended here. Seeing Seeger perform Woody Guthrie's songs and speaking about him had fueled his desire to meet Guthrie in person. He would meet him shortly after he arrived in New York the following year, who would tell him, "Kid, don't worry about writing songs; work on your singing." In 1963, Dylan penned Last Thoughts on Guthrie in homage to his idol.

Ultimately, Madison was full of good folk singers at the time he was here and Dylan would not stand out. He was only in residence in Madison for a few months before he would leave. He would later move to New York City, where he took it, and the world, by storm.

Over the years, Dylan would return to Madison many times to perform, and notably a performance at The Orpheum Theater November 19, 1964, would see concert goers booing him when he took out an electric guitar to play it. This would be the beginning of an ongoing controversy of Dylan's electric guitar playing.

When he came to perform at the then Dane County Colisium in 1978, now the Alliant Energy Center, then mayor, Paul Soglin declared November 1, 1978 "Bob Dylan Day".

In addition to his Nobel and Pulitzer, Dylan would also be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and receive a Grammy Llifetime Achievement Award.

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