It was in January nearly half a century ago that Bob Dylan arrived in New York. In a Telegraph article, Nigel Richardson sees the district that helped to forge ‘the original vagabond’ who arrived here in January 1961, and whose words and music went on to shape a generation’s way of looking at the world. To accompany the article there’s a gallery of images- Freewheelin’ Through Bob Dylan’s Village.
Dylan gave this description of the city in Chronicles Volume 1:
It was freezing winter with a snap and sparkle in the air, nights full of blue haze. It seemed like ages ago since I’d lay in the green grass and it smelled of true summer – glints of light dancing off the lakes and yellow butterflies on the black tarred roads. Walking down 7th Avenue in Manhattan in the early hours, you’d sometimes see people sleeping in the back-seats of cars. I was lucky I had places to stay – even people who lived in New York sometimes didn’t have one. There’s a lot of things I didn’t have, didn’t have too much of a concrete identity either. “I’m a rambler – I’m a gambler. I’m a long way from home.” That pretty much summed it up.
In the world news, Picasso at seventy-nine years old had just married his thirty-five-year-old model. Wow. Picasso wasn’t just loafing about on crowded sidewalks. Life hadn’t flowed past him yet. Picasso had fractured an art world and cracked it wide open. He was a revolutionary. I wanted to be like that.
Talking New York – from Dylan’s first album
Ramblin’ outa the wild West,
Leavin’ the towns I love the best.
Thought I’d seen some ups and down,
“Til I come into New York town.
People goin’ down to the ground,
Buildings goin’ up to the sky.
Wintertime in New York town,
The wind blowin’ snow around.
Walk around with nowhere to go,
Somebody could freeze right to the bone.
I froze right to the bone.
New York Times said it was the coldest winter in seventeen years;
I didn’t feel so cold then.
I swung on to my old guitar,
Grabbed hold of a subway car,
And after a rocking, reeling, rolling ride,
I landed up on the downtown side;
I walked down there and ended up
In one of them coffee-houses on the block.
Got on the stage to sing and play,
Man there said, “Come back some other day,
You sound like a hillbilly;
We want folk singer here.”
Well, I got a harmonica job, begun to play,
Blowin’ my lungs out for a dollar a day.
I blowed inside out and upside down.
The man there said he loved m’ sound,
He was ravin’ about how he loved m’ sound;
Dollar a day’s worth.
And after weeks and weeks of hangin’ around,
I finally got a job in New York town,
In a bigger place, bigger money too,
Even joined the union and paid m’ dues.
Now, a very great man once said
That some people rob you with a fountain pen.
It didn’t take too long to find out
Just what he was talkin’ about.
A lot of people don’t have much food on their table,
But they got a lot of forks n’ knives,
And they gotta cut somethin’.
So one mornin’ when the sun was warm,
I rambled out of New York town.
Pulled my cap down over my eyes
And headed out for the western skies.
So long, New York.
Howdy, East Orange.