Bob Dylan’s Greenwich Village
by Vinyl Renewal
On a snowy, crisp day in February 1963, in the heart of Greenwich Village, photographer Don Hunstein set up on West 4th Street and shot down Jones Street as Bob Dylan and his then girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, walked towards the camera. The resultant image is one of music’s most famous album covers: Dylan’s second LP, the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. In fact, this photo embodies a remarkable time and place: a buzz and creative energy that appealed to Dylan’s artistic sensibility. He recalls: “The air was bitter cold, always below zero, but the fire in my mind was never out.”
Bob arrived in the city that would ‘shape’ his ‘destiny’ with a readymade back catalogue of tall stories about himself, and what he believed to be a mind that ‘was strong like a trap.’ Although the Village is a different place today, there still remains an architectural mixture of tenements and grander, a spirit of the ‘original vagabond’ who set up camp in January 1961.
White Horse Tavern: Hudson St at West 11th
This old longshoremen’s dive has an impeccable bohemian pedigree: in the 1950s Dylan Thomas (rumour has it the inspiration for Robert Zimmerman’s – AKA Bob Dylan name change) drank his last at the bar before dying a few days later; Norman Mailer purportedly conceived the radical Village Voice newspaper here; and it was a Beat poet hangout. It was also where Dylan listened to the Clancy Brothers singing “rousing rebel songs that would lift the roof”.
Dave Van Ronk
The folk singer Dave Van Ronk, whom Dylan described as “king of the street”, lived several blocks north-east on Waverly Place. In his autobiography, Bob talked about staying on the couch there.
Gerde’s Folk City
“Basket Houses” and other venues
Plenty of venues still exist from those days. Known as “basket houses” where performers passed around a hat. Principle among them is Café Wha? On Macdougal St, which Dylan sought out when he arrived in New York. Here, to an audience of “lunch-hour secretaries, sailors and tourists” he played harmonica for Freddy Neil, who later wrote Everybody’s Talkin’, popularised in the film Midnight Cowboy. Then, Macdougal St was lined with coffee Houses. At 116, in the basement, was the Gaslight (now a lounge bar called Alibi), the ultimate destination for aspiring musician’s in Dylan’s time.
Former residential Hotel where he lived for a while and which Joan Baez, in her bittersweet love song about Dylan, Diamonds and Rust, refers to as “that crummy hotel over Washington Square.”
Dylan wrote in Chronicles: “Everything was always new, always changing. It was never the same crowd upon the streets.”