Saturday, 20 June 2009

Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan

by Howard Sounes

Years before, when he was Bob's traveling companion and gofer, Bobby Neuwirth was known as "Tacos-to-Go." Now he appeared on stage at Gerde's, wearing a Zorro mask and Bob's gray fedora hat, as "The Masked Tortilla." This was the character he adopted for Renaldo & Clara. After he read a poem at Gerde's for the benefit of the cameras, Neuwirth surrendered the fedora and microphone to a pallid, unhealthy-looking Phil Ochs. Bloated by alcoholism, Ochs was a tragic figure, banned from the nearby Bitter End because of his drunkenness. Ochs had been one of the first people Bob had talked to about The Rolling Thunder Revue, and he desperately wanted to join the troupe. Unfortunately, it was inconceivable; part of the time he believed himself a character called John Train, and as such he was paranoid, aggressive, and suicidal. "He was in a psychotic tailspin," says friend David Van Ronk. Ochs's performance at Gerde's was sad for many to watch. Wearing Bob's fedora, he sang directly to Dylan and, when Dylan got up from his chair at one point, Ochs called out plaintively as if worried that he might leave the room. Bob replied that he was only going to the bar.

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