David Gans (tnf) Thu 16 Jan 03 15:10
Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Review tour barnstormed for a couple of months in 1975, playing concerts and shooting a movie in its spare time. Dylan was accompanied onstage and/or before the cameras by Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Kinky Friedman, Allen Ginsberg, Joni Mitchell, and others; Larry Sloman, who acquired the sobriquet "Ratso" along the way, was in the thick of the action when he wasn't being held at bay by a road manager. "On the Road with Bob Dylan" narrates the action and includes some striking conversations with key players. Rolling Stone magazine's David Wild called it "an all-access pass to hang with the greatest singer-songwriter of our time.... a true gonzo rock journalism classic and a revealing study of music's greatest genius/enigma." Larry "Ratso" Sloman is best known as Howard Stern's collaborator on "Private Parts" and "Miss America," and is also the author of the Abbie Hoffman biography, "Steal This Dream." Prior to that he wrote "Reefer Madness," a social history of marijuana in America, and the best-selling "Thin Ice," an account of one season in the life of the New York Rangers. He has also served as Executive Editor of National Lampoon and Editor-in-Chief of High Times. He lives in New York City. Leading the converstaion is Michael Simmons, who recently cmpleted a tour of inlwell duty as the intrlocutor of our chat with Paul Krassner. Simmons is a masthead contributor to the LA Weekly and High Times and has also scribed for Rolling Stone, Penthouse, Crawdaddy, LA Reader, Clamor, The Progressive, and others. He won the Los Angeles Press Club Award in 1996 for Excellence in Journalism for his LA Weekly expose of the Hollywood Vice Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Simmons is currently authoring "Yippie! And The Politics Of Hip" (University of New Mexico Press) and "The Future Is Now!: The MC 5 and White Panthers" (Creation Books). He's also optioned his life rights and cannabis journalism to HBO and Goldie Hawn's production company, who are making a docudrama about the controversy over medical marijuana.
David Gans (tnf) Fri 17 Jan 03 11:00
Well, Mr. Simmons is late for the party, so I'm gonna start. Larry, how exactly did you get the name "Ratso" on the tour? And why havbe you been wearing it like a platinum laminate ever since?
Michael Simmons (michaelsimmons) Fri 17 Jan 03 13:21
Hello hello. Sorry I'm late. Password difficulties. Ratso is actually in L.A., where I live, for the week. We toyed with the idea of sitting in the same room and doing the inkwell interview. Sort of both live and virtually live simultaneously (don't ask me to explain, I just woke up). But I only have one chair in my pad and I refuse to let Ratboy sit on my lap. So Rats, The Great Gans asked you a question and we shall await your reply.
Dan Levy (danlevy) Fri 17 Jan 03 15:24
A corollary to David's question: when someone meets you on the street or telephones you, do you actually prefer to be called Ratso, or is Larry just fine?
Larry Ratso Sloman (ratsosloman) Fri 17 Jan 03 16:11
Hello everybody I'm off to a meeting where everyone will call me Ratso. I got that moniker from Joan Baez about midway through the tour. I was covering the tour for Rolling Stone magazine, enduring indignities from the tour promoters, one of which was that I couldn't stay at the same hotel as the musicians. So I rolled my rented Granada into the parking lot of THEIR hotel and saw Baez and a couple of the other people playing volleyball. Baez came up to the car, fingered my greasy, stringy hair (sometimes you miss a shower on the road) and she said, Hey, it's Ratso. "You calling me Ratso because I remind you of Dustin Hoffman" I innocently asked. "No, because you remind me of Ratso Rizzo" she replied. Ratso of course, was the character Hoffman played in Midnight Cowboy. I was probably somewhere in between Hoffman and Rizzo but sensing that being Ratso would give me an identity and maybe some sympathy I became Ratso. IN the book, when she calls me Ratso the narrative shifts from first to third person and Ratso takes on a life of his own. After the tour, I made up Ratso t-shirts and I've been Ratso ever since. It's come full circle because Ratso is now a fictional character again, the Dr. Watson character in the Kinky Friedman mystery novel series. So that's the story of Ratso, a man the authorities came to blame. See y'all later, after my meetings.
an oceanic sofa of bliss (sd) Fri 17 Jan 03 18:05
we love kinky at my house
Michael Simmons (michaelsimmons) Fri 17 Jan 03 18:18
Among the many impressive qualities of "On The Road With BD", is that it's the closest any journalist has come to capturing a sense of Dylan as a human being and not an icon. I realize this is a rather broad question, but what IS Dylan like as person? Sense of humor? View of stardom? Kind? Mean spirited? All of the above?
Larry Ratso Sloman (ratsosloman) Fri 17 Jan 03 21:07
Hard to answer that. I've known him now for over twenty five years and I've worked with him on a few other projects after the RTR tour so I can only relate my own experiences with him. The first quality that strikes me about him is his amazing mind - a mind that doesn't necessarily traverse the same roads that most mortals do. You could be having a conversation with him and one second he might say something that might strike you as naive and then the next sentence he says something thats so profound it blows you away. He's incredibly well read and knowledgable about a vast array of things that you wouldn't necessarily expect him to know about. The only other person who ever had that breadth of knowledge that I've come across was Michael Bloomfield and that was because Bloomfield was a stone insomniac and consequently he had read about 80% of the all the books ever published. But back to Bob. He's got one of the greatest senses (?) of humor I've ever come across - really droll, intelligent wit. He's tremendous fun to be around -- part of the fun is seeing him deal with being Bob Dylan and seeing how most people are reduced to blobs of protoplasm when they recognize him. ON the Rolling Thunder Revue he was nothing but supportive to me, and when Louie Kemp and Imhoff devised more and more devious pranks to fuck with me, Bob put a kibosh on them. I know that Bloomfield relates a different Bob in my book, one seemingly imprisoned by his fame, stuck in some character armor but I never saw that. I just saw a guy with an amazing gift who continually shares it which makes him a great human being in my book.
Michael Simmons (michaelsimmons) Fri 17 Jan 03 22:24
Yes, but is he as well-read as Wild Man Fisher? [Rats, Melrose Larry Green and I spent An Evening With Wild Man Fisher -- same title as his first album -- this past Monday night. The experience was like being inside a Bob Dylan song. Talk about your Mystery Tramp...] You received unbelievable tsuris from Kemp and Imhoff, Dylan's management at the time. They were sadistic bullies. While Dylan, the musicians and most of the crew were cool, some of Kemp/Imhoff's bullshit trickled down. Yet when the tour was over, you took Dylan's advice, and wrote it all down, producing the finest account ever of a band on the run -- one fronted by Bob Fucking Dylan. Has anyone ever apologized for the shitty way you were treated? From both personal experience and stories whispered in dark corners, I've realized that some -- not most -- but some of the Grateful Dead's inner sanctum can also be unnecessarily officious, cruel, condescending, power-tripping bastards. And its accepted. I mention this partly because many WELL participants are Deadheads and/or connected with the GD. You know me, I'm a utopian fool. But us lysergicized rock and roll hipdog boomers were supposed to have created a sub-society without hierarchy, without bosses, without assholes telling us when we could go to the bathroom. It's always struck me as particularly egregious when our own people act like fascists. I've heard contemporary anarchists in their teens and twenties tell me that the hippie trip was on this very level, full of shit. Did this occur to you when you were on the road in the mid-70s? That there was a disconnect between countercultural values and countercultural realities?
Larry Ratso Sloman (ratsosloman) Fri 17 Jan 03 23:20
There was a pecking order on that tour and, obviously, journalists were at the very bottom. Nevermind that Dylan had personally invited me on the tour to begin with. But in the minds of the promoters (I guess I'm saying Imhoff and Kemp) the film crew were also marginalized on the tour. IT's no accident that I wound up commisserating with them and ultimately working on the film as a general location/weirdo scout. But to answer your question, strangely enough, after the tour I became very friendly with Louie Kemp. He did apologize to me for some of the "pranks" they pulled and we spend many hours together after that, whenever I'd visit LA, reminiscing about the good old days, eating some of his fabled smoked salmon. I wasn't as close to Imhoff but we stayed in touch after the tour. He told me that my mistreatment was typical rockstars on the road stuff and that I shouldn't have taken it personally. I think both of their attitudes changed enormously after they saw my account of the tour in print. Hey this guy's not a crazed rock journalist, he's a respectable author. Imhoff died a few years ago but I got a call the other day from his widow who was thrilled to learn that my book was back in print. Go figure. As for that disconnect between countercultural values and countercultural realities, what else is new?
Jack King (gjk) Sat 18 Jan 03 06:41
Re: 8 But how do you really feel?
David Gans (tnf) Sat 18 Jan 03 08:47
Of course they apologized to you after the fact. That simulacrum of generosity cost them nothing. > when Louie Kemp and Imhoff devised more and more devious pranks to fuck > with me, Bob put a kibosh on them I was a music journalist for ten years, and I went on the road with lots of bands. And I have spent 20 years trying to deal with the Grateful Dead or- ganization. It is tempting to blame the proxies and surrogates and hold the artists blameless, but I think the truth is that the heroes often know very well what their buffers are doing in their name. Uh,I'd better not get started here...
David Gans (tnf) Sat 18 Jan 03 08:55
I just loved this quote from Mike Bloomfield: "Character armor. It's to keep his sanity, to keep away the people who are always wanting something from him. But if a lot of people relate to you as their concept of you, not your concept of you, you're gonna have to do some- thing to keep those people from driving you crazy, but if that is so strong that you can't realize who is trying to fuck with you and who just wants to get along with the business, if you can't tell the difference, if's very dif- ficult."
Dennis Donley (dennisd) Sat 18 Jan 03 08:56
re: >It is tempting to blame the proxies and surrogates and hold the artists blameless, but I think the truth is that the heroes often know very well what their buffers are doing in their name. I believe you're absolutely correct, David
Dennis Donley (dennisd) Sat 18 Jan 03 09:00
and the quote from Bloomfield is right on
Berliner (captward) Sat 18 Jan 03 09:06
Where's the Bloomer quote from, David?
oh me oh my, love that country pie (lava) Sat 18 Jan 03 09:07
Yes, but in the defense of the the proxies and surrogates, the artists need them to act as they do to maintain some sort of order, don't they? How often do people in those positions satisfy both the artists and the journalists? We're not talking about Barry Manilow here, after all. :) BTW - Welcome, Ratso. The question that comes to my mind while reading the book is regarding the volume of direct quotes. Did you record a lot of the situations on tape, take great notes, or is it a photographic memory-type thing?
Dan Mitchell (mitchell) Sat 18 Jan 03 09:15
I haven't read the book yet, so please bear with me. The mid-70s are by far my favorite Dylan era -- where all his musical strands were woven together. I'm curious about the differences between the two legs of the tour. The first leg was reported to be "magical," where everything came together, Dylan was in high spirits with his whiteface and crazy flower-festooned hat and such, and band was tight and rocked out. The second leg is seen as a mistake -- Dylan at a low point, wearing a bandanna (Howard Sounes sees this metaphorically, as a psychic bandage) and the shows didn't go well. Dylan insisted on playing lead, and people complained it didn't sound good. Now, I'm in something of a minority in that I really like the Hard Rain album. Even before I knew the story of that show, I somehow knew it was a rainy, cold day. Something in the music suggests it -- not just the title. And the I really like raggedness of the music -- including Bob's clumsy leads. What can you tell us about all this? What's your take on the differences between the two legs of the tour, and the differences in Dylan's attitude and persona on each leg?
"First you steal a bicycle...." (rik) Sat 18 Jan 03 09:16
Nick Gravenites once told me that Bloomfield realized that everytime he signed a contract, he was agreeing to be INSPIRED at a given time and place. The pressure was crippling.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 18 Jan 03 09:18
> Where's the Bloomer quote from, David? Page 287 of the book.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 18 Jan 03 09:19
> the artists need them to act as they do to maintain some sort of order I would say the artists need those interlocutors, but not necessarily to "act as they do." I have dealt with some nasty mofos who were clearly acting more in their own interests than their bosses'.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 18 Jan 03 09:21
> everytime he signed a contract, he was agreeing to be INSPIRED at a given > time and place. That's a bit romantic, don't you think? You could just as easily (and accurately) say that you're agreeing to be PROFESSIONAL at a given time and place. And very often, that's enough.
"First you steal a bicycle...." (rik) Sat 18 Jan 03 10:16
You could say that. But he couldn't. He was Mike Fuckin Bloomfield, the greatest white blues guitarist in the world. And, since he didn't have th resources we do (including all the cautionary tales), he couldn't take it. I'm just repeating what Nick told me.
"First you steal a bicycle...." (rik) Sat 18 Jan 03 10:24
I was reminded of this a few years ago watching that movie where Emily Watson plays the classical cellist, Jacqueline DuPrez. You hve these scenes of her touring solo in the 60s, and sending her laundry home to her mother in England. She had no resources. Didn't even know how to get laundry done in Madrid. She was barely out of her teens, touring the world solo, and there was no body of knowlege on how to do it. By the time I started serious road work, in the early 70s, we had some role models to follow, and some to avoid. Elvis Presley pioneered being a rock star, and since nobody had efver done it on that level before, he was on his own. Curt Cobain should have known better. By that time we had a body count to point to.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 18 Jan 03 10:27
I hear ya.
Larry Ratso Sloman (ratsosloman) Sat 18 Jan 03 10:50
David, I'm not absolving Dylan of any blame. Just suggesting that when dirty tricks started to escalate, he intervened and put a stop to it. And after my famous meltdown scene (see beginning of Renaldo and Clara) he came through.
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