Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxx)

In the Spring of 1971, around the time of Dylan’s 30th birthday, the then-long-haired but beardless AJ—who was then in his mid-to-late 20s—was then a high-energy writer-activist in the Lower East Side’s anti-war, underground press, yippie movement/freak sub-culture and underground freak media world and 1970s counter-culture. AJ had been studying Dylan’s song lyrics as intensely as some of the more culturally-straight and conventional middle-class academics and professors of English at places like Columbia and Harvard then studied the poetry of poets like Robert Burns, John Keats, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, since the mid-1960s. And in the early 1970s—before there was much of a Dylan industry/Dylan studies/pop cultural studies wing set up on U.S. university campuses by the Baby Boom Generation rock music fans who ended up returning to the culturally straight bourgeois academic world to become middle-class academics and professors in order to escape the 9-to-5 work world—AJ, the creator of the Dylanology subject, knew more about Dylan and Dylan’s lyrics, by far, than any other freak or academic in the whole world.

Besides putting together the first Concordance of Dylan’s song lyrics which enabled him to discover that Dylan had apparently become addicted to heroin for a time in the 1960s (long before the mainstream media finally apparently confirmed this fact in the 21st century), AJ also had established a Dylan Archives in his Bleecker Street loft on the Lower East Side that was then the most complete source of information about Dylan and Dylan’s artistic work which existed in the early 1970s.

In the early 1970s AJ also wrote a weekly column for the now-defunct East Village Other (EVO) underground newspaper in which he exposed the way the hip capitalists in the U.S. music industry were enriching themselves in various unethical ways by ripping-off and marketing for their personal, individual profit, the anti-capitalist hippie/yippie/freak counter-culture--a counter-culture which had previously been collectively created by hip anti-capitalist, anti-war and civil rights African-American and New Left Movement activists and artists who had been involved with politically radical groups like SNCC, C.O.R.E., SDS, the Yippies and the Black Panther Party.

For daring to criticize Dylan for ceasing to write more protest folk songs for the Movement after 1965, for not doing any benefits for late 1960s revolutionary groups like the Black Panther Party and for apparently selling out his early 1960s principles in exchange for being rewarded with millions of dollars in song royalties that Dylan’s financial consultants apparently then used to purchase stock in various transnational corporations, AJ apparently enraged large numbers of loyal Dylan fans and Dylan freaks. He also apparently angered many sycophantic rock music industry publishers, editors or writers who apparently felt that no one had the right in 1971 to question Dylan’s moral integrity, since Dylan was such a “great artist” and “creative genius.” Many of the Dylan fans and Dylan freaks who, in the early 1970s, still regarded Dylan as a kind of “prophet” also felt that AJ had no right and no basis for attempting to raise consciousness among anti-capitalist Dylan freaks about the degree to which images of Dylan that the mass media was still marketing in the early 1970s were more myth than an accurate reflection of who Dylan really was.

Yet besides the freaks who detested AJ for writing uncomplimentary words about Dylan’s accumulation of wealth and financial activities and Dylan’s post-1965 political shift in his East Village Other column or for criticizing Dylan from a yippie left freak perspective (whenever AJ was allowed to get some radio airtime on WBAI and other New York City local radio stations), there were other anti-capitalist freaks on the Lower East Side (like Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, for example, as well as the freaks who hung around the counter-cultural Alternate University in the late 1960s and early 1970s) who agreed with most of AJ’s critical perspective with respect to Dylan’s post-1965 transformation. And by the time that Dylan’s 30th birthday came around in May 1971, there was a Dylan Liberation Front group that soon developed into a Rock Liberation Front group, which AJ led, that actually marched on Dylan’s house in the West Village, to protest the hip capitalist direction that Dylan and the U.S. corporate rock music industry had taken since the mid-1960s.

So around the time that AJ and his Dylan Liberation Front/Rock Liberation Front had begun to make a big impact within counter-cultural circles (even getting some press coverage in the Village Voice, for example), I mailed AJ a cassette tape of protest folk songs, including the “A Millionaire” protest folk song and the “Livin’ On Stolen Goods” protest folk song (that protested against U.S. imperialism)—which I had recorded on my cheap portable cassette tape recorder in my Bronx apartment--and asked him if he felt like being my “manager” for free. Surprisingly, AJ soon contacted me and invited me to stop by for a chat at his Bleecker Street loft a few days later.