Bob Dylan and the Great White Wonder

I love little ephemeral pieces of paper that look like nothing important, but that chronicle a historic moment--in this case, one where there was no turning back. Here's an article torn from the October 26, 1969 issue of the New York Times, about a "bootleg Bob Dylan record with an unmarked white cover and blank labels selling briskly around the country and Canada." This of course was "Great White Wonder," the first-ever rock music bootleg (yes, there had previously been some private pressing jazz and classical bootlegs, but never anything mass produced and sold on this kind of level.)

This was the warning shot across the bow; the first of thousands of bootlegs to follow, and of course no artist has been bootlegged more than Bob Dylan. The double disc Great White Wonder, or GWW as it's popularly abbreviated, mixed tracks from Dylan's legendary "basement tapes" recorded at his house in Woodstock and The Band's nearby house "Big Pink," songs recorded in December 1961 in Minneapolis (the "Minnesota Hotel tape",) a track from the Johnny Cash TV show, some studio outtakes from '63-65, and an interview with Dylan and Pete Seeger. You can read more about the exact contents on the excellent "Bob's Boots" site.

As far as I know, the first article about Great White Wonder appeared in the September 20, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. The New York Times article may have been the first article in the "mainstream press," and certainly doesn't anticipate what was to come--but who could have. Bootlegs are today a part of record collecting life, and the advent of the internet has made them both easier than ever to find, and virtually impossible to stop.

"Outtakes" were once considered by artists and record labels to be material unworthy of release--the unwanted byproducts of making a record. They are now compiled and released with great regularity, poured over by obsessive collectors and archivists looking for clues into an artist's process and intentions. And in my opinion, that's a very good thing. Dub and Ken, the makers of Great White Wonder (see the wikipedia article on GWW) doubtless had no idea what they were starting when they made their crude double album with the plain white cover. But they were clearly on to something big.


Dylan, The Beatles and Al Aronowitz

Al who ? Al Aronowitz, that's who. Aronowitz was a critic for many New York and national newspapers and magazines, and at the center of so many scenes in the 60's. He was the first manager of the Velvet Underground. He famously introduced The Beatles to Bob Dylan (and brought the joint to their meeting that resulted in the Beatles getting high for the first time.) As his 2005 obituary in the Washington Post said, "in the '60s and '70s Al Aronowitz knew everyone worth knowing. The Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Pete Townshend -- he either wrote about them, befriended them or both." And he was especially close to (and an early supporter of) Bob Dylan.

Here's a letter Aronowitz wrote to San Francisco Chronicle music critic (and Rolling Stone c0-founder) Ralph J. Gleason in August of 1967. Aronowitz tells Gleason, also a friend and supporter of Dylan "just was up to visit dylan, listened to some practice tapes he and his group laid down, all great new songs, but dylan'll probably throw em away rather than record em. i'd like to buy his wastebasket." He's referring to "the Basement Tapes" here--and his evaluation was right-on. I'd like to have bought his waste basket too ! Aronowitz then talks about Dylan manager Albert Grossman, fills in Gleason on gossip about the diggers (SF activist group) activities in New York, mentions Allen Ginsberg hanging with Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney in London, asks Gleason if he saw George H (Harrison) when he visited SF (San Francisco and the Haight Ashbury during the summer of love.) And that's just the first paragraph !

Aronowitz was certainly in the middle of it all during the 60's. I love this kind of revealing correspondence. Read more about Al Aronowitz here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/02/AR2005080201920.html