Which Direction Home, Pt. 2

Bob Dylan, probably June 1965, photo by Gene Smith

Bob Dylan, probably June 1965, photo by Gene Smith

I scanned the above photograph from my ragged copy of Smith’s 1969 Aperture monograph.  Smith and his longtime girlfriend and loft mate Carole Thomas designed the book with no page numbers, which is something I bet Smith long wanted to do.  The photograph comes from the section of the monograph that Smith called “The Loft from the Inside In,” including photos of Jimmy Stevenson at the piano, David Young, Carole, his daughter Shana in the stairwell, Thelonious Monk, and this photograph of Dylan.  From some research over the weeked I’ve come to the conclusion (again) that this photograph was made in June 1965 in the studios of Columbia Records on 30th Street, just a few blocks away from 821 Sixth Avenue.  I believe it was the same day Smith made the image that is on the cover of Sean Wilentz’s new book, Bob Dylan in America.  These sessions were for what became Dylan’s album Highway 61 Revisited. The mystery of Smith inserting this image into his loft section of the Aperture book requires more research, or more speculation.

After I wrote Which Direction Home, Pt. 1 here a few weeks ago, Dylan announced October tour dates in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, N.C. with a day off in between.  I immediately bought tickets for those shows and I’ll use the dates as an impetus and framework to finish the long piece I began last year on Dylan, the Piedmont blues, musical migration patterns, and other topics, including a few anecdotes from 821 Sixth Avenue.

The landscape in between and around Charlotte and Winston-Salem includes the home of John Coltrane’s childhood and youth in High Point, N.C.  Coltrane’s uncle worked a railroad line from High Point to Goldsboro, N.C., hence one of Coltrane’s early compositions, “Goldsboro Express.”  Perhaps more pertinent to Dylan, the home of the late great guitarist, Etta Baker, is not far away in Morganton.  Also nearby is Deep Gap, NC, where Doc Watson was born and still lives today and Boone, NC, where the Carolina Chocolate Drops (Justin Robinson, Dom Flemons, and Rhiannon Giddens) met while attending the annual Black Banjo Gathering there a few years ago.

This past Saturday night in Durham, Aaron Greenwald and Duke Performances presented a double bill including the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Joe Henry, who produced the Drops’ recent album for Nonesuch.  Henry performed an extraordinary opening set, playing acoustic guitar or piano and singing while accompanied only by the upright bass player David Piltch.  One of Henry’s closing tunes was the stunning, “Our Song,” which opens with an image of Willie Mays shopping in a Home Depot in Scottsdale, Arizona, a barren desert land turned vapid suburban theme park.  “The greatest center-fielder of all time/Stooped by the burden of endless dreams/His and Yours and Mine,” sang Henry.  Then, after an intermission, the Drops came onstage and played their vital, foot-stomping brand of old-time traditional string music – modern minstrel music, to borrow the term Sean Wilentz uses to describe Dylan, bringing the mostly white audience to its feet.

When Smith decided to put the image of Dylan in the loft section of his monograph across the book’s spine from Thelonious Monk, I believe he was thinking of human ambiguities; weird, pointed juxtapositions.  That’s always how he created his lay-outs.  Dylan and Monk are the only two images in this spread.  When you close the book Monk’s cigarette bumps into Dylan’s hair.  The tobacco Monk is smoking almost certainly came from the Winston-Salem/Durham tobacco corridor.  Hell, it might have come from Rocky Mount where Monk was born or Farmville, N.C. where hundreds of Monk family members congregate each Labor Day weekend for family reunions to this day.

Or maybe Smith just wanted us to think, forty years later, that Dylan was in his loft.

-Sam Stephenson

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