The Ship of Theseus

My newest piece is up at First of the Month. It begins:

With Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020), his first album of new songs in eight years, Bob Dylan became the first artist to reach the Top 40 in sales in every decade since the 1960s. In the year prior to the Covid-delayed tour which brought him to Oakland’s Fox Theater for three sold-out shows, Dylan had exhibited paintings in China, offered 180 works for sale on-line through a London gallery, published his first book since 2004, sold his music catalog to Sony for $150-200 million, put up for auction a one-of-a-kind studio recording of “Blowing in the Wind,” which was expected to bring in an additional $1.25 mill, founded “an entire NFT project,” and saw the opening of a Bob Dylan museum containing 100,000 “treasures.” In the 98 days before Adele and I caught his opening at the Fox, he had performed 35 concerts in 18 states, at each of which you could pick up a t-shirt for $40 a pop. These shows brought the total, in what his fans have known since 2008 as the Never-Ending-Tour, to over 3000.

Who was That Masked Man?

My latest piece is on-line at

Here’s a portion:

Martin Scorsese’s “Rolling Thunder Revue” opened with a a silent movie magician vanishing a woman. (The trick should have been a clue.) Then came Rolling Thunder Dylan performing “Mr. Tambourine Man,” intercut with Present Day Dylan explaining why he’d hit the road. He referred to America’s “loss of confidence,” following the fall of Saigon and two attempts on the life of the president, while flotillas, parades, and President Nixon celebrating the Bicentennial screened.
But the Bicentennial had been the summer after Rolling Thunder, and Nixon had resigned two years before it, and Ford had been shot at, not Tricky Dick. Neither Saigon nor the assassinations had figured in any tour account Goshkin had read, and the only mention of the Bicentennial was Shepard telling Scorsese people “didn’t give a shit” about it.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 41

Sold one “Cheesesteak.” The purchaser was a young woman, visiting Berkeley from San Diego, seated beside me in the café. I gave her my card. She was so far outside the demographics of my general buying public, I was hoping to hear her response.

Otherwise, it was a bevy of chitchat. There was a financial planner from Cincinnati, who had brought out his son, an Antioch student, to begin one of his work stints. We talked Yellow Springs, Woodstock, People’s Park, and Robert Maplethorpe. There was a homeless fan of Bob Dylan and Steve Jobs, whom I hadn’t seen since another café we both frequented made him and his several stuffed shopping bags feel unwelcome. (He hadn’t known I wrote books.) There was an Eritrian-born systems engineer, a fan of Raymond Carver’s, who’d worked all over the world and was now taking a break, deciding whether to become a writer himself or an entrepreneur (and, if the latter, whether here or in Africa).

And there was an elderly gentleman, who paused on the way to his table and stared at my sign and books. This was not unusual, but he kept staring.

“Wanna buy a book?”

“Are you Bob?”

I was.

“I’ve heard of you.”

This I doubted. “$5-to-$20.”

“Are you here often?”

“Three or four times a week.”

“Maybe when I get my check.”

I could have said I take credit cards. I should have said that, at least, to the financial planner.

And Bob’s Your Uncle

My latest is up at

The new editor belatedly informed me there was an 850-word limit, not 1000, so she cut 150 without asking, and I am afraid to look at the result.

Anyway, here is how it begins — or used to begin.

On July 10, Bob Dylan, the most significant American artist of our lifetime, will play the Borgala Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City and, July 13, Philadelphia’s Mann Center, as part of a 30-concerts-in-43-days cross-country tour, which shows good energy for anyone, let alone a 75-year-old grandfather of nine and survivor of near-fatal heart disease. Opening will be Mavis Staples, who, Dylan scholars will recall, rejected his marriage proposal in the early ‘60s; and, no, his mended heart does not guarantee Joan Baez’s being aboard the next time he sails into town. For those who will attend either show but have not been following the old song-and-dance man since the days you worried about Frank Rizzo seizing your stash, consider the following a public service announcement designed to steer your expectations onto safely appreciative ground.

Electric Bob

Just in time for the end of my Kennedy blatherings, I have something new to tout:
It begins:

On May 3, 1963, a 22-year-old folk singer, down from Greewich Village, drew 45 people to the Ethical Society for his Philadelphia debut. Less than three years later, he sold out the Academy of Music. In “Dylan Goes Electric!” (Dey St. 2015) Elijah Wald explains the in-between.
Wald was six-years-old in Cambridge, Mass., when Bob Dylan exploded into “Maggie’s Farm” at the Newport Folk Festival. I was about to start my second year at Penn Law School by moving into a Powelton Village pad, so our connections to those times differ. I might emphasize things differently, but I don’t think he missed much. He heard the tapes, he viewed the films, he read the correspondence, he interviewed dozens, (not including Dylan). Wald’s reconstruction, from build-up through consequences, is thoughtful and thorough, balanced and gracefully styled. He lays out facts, voices arguments, analyzes schisms – and answers the enduring questions. Was Bob booed? Were those tears on his cheeks or sweat? Did Pete Seeger threaten his set with an axe? And when the folklorist Allen Lomax – metaphorically and actually – wrestled the agent Albert Grossman, who won?

My latest…

…can be found at

I can’t resist saying that when the editor showed it to a woman friend, she told him that when she was in college, she would have slept with whoever wrote it. (She went on to say that, regrettably, while now in her fifties that is still her highest praise for a boy author.

I thought, now why didn’t anyone react like this when it would have done me some good. Then Adele reminded me that, aside from how I looked in jeans, my writing was what first attracted her to me.

Anyway, it begins…

To get the preliminaries out of the way, at Bob Dylan’s third of three concerts at the Oakland Paramount, first, the band – Bob (piano and harmonica), Tony Garnier (bass), Donnie Herron (banjo, viola, violin, mandolin, pedal and lap steel), Stu Kimball (rhythm guitar), and especially, given the way the sound mix reached these ears, George Reville (drums) and Charley Sexton (lead guitar) – was terrific; but if you understood more than one-third of the lyrics, you beat the over-under. Second, they did nineteen songs, of which one was from the sixties and five from “Tempest,” Bob’s latest release of new material. (Last year, at Mountain View, they did fifteen songs, of which four were from the sixties and two from “Tempest.” The year before, in Berkeley, eight of fifteen songs from the sixties and none from “Tempest, even though it had just been released and could have used the promotion.) Third, as for ingratiating stage presence, Bob no longer even introduces the musicians. (If he said anything, it was “Thank you. We’ll be right back.” At least, immediately after something undistinguishable uttered from his microphone, everyone walked off stage and returned, fifteen minutes later, to resume playing, without any buzzings or dimming lights to alert those in line in the rest rooms, of whom, given the number of graying pony tails in the audience, male as well as female, there were likely to be plenty. (Of further demographic note, it being the night after the World Series, the audience sported about as many t-shirts saluting the Giants as it did saluting Bob.) And finally, when he’d played Mountain View, Bob was still varying his shows by a couple songs, night to night; but on most of this tour, he has been sticking with the same songs, in the same order, every night, regardless of whether he is moving on or sticking around.