It had bothered Michael Perlin for years.
Perlin attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, class of '66. While there, he remembered seeing Bob Dylan give a concert in the school's gymnasium. However, in all the literature and web pages devoted to the famously documented singer-songwriter, there was no evidence this show had ever taken place.
The only clue was to be found on page 24 of the 1999 book, "Early Dylan" (Bulfinch Press). There's a photograph taken by Daniel Kramer of Johnny Cash backstage with Dylan at a "concert in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in February."
Perlin had previously seen Dylan perform numerous times: At Gerde's Folk City in May, 1963 ("The night before my Political Science 102 exam"), where Dylan thanked him for the quarter he dropped into the folk singer's hat; the historic March On Washington later that year in August; and the legendary Halloween concert of 1964, officially released on CD in 2004. (He also has a memory of seeing Dylan perform at a Johnson-for-President rally in Madison Square Garden around that time, although he cannot find any corroborating evidence so far.)
The Rutgers show itself, however, had remained a mystery. In those days, it was unusual for a rock, pop, or folk music concert to receive much attention from the mainstream press. It would be a year or two before the burgeoning underground scene began reporting such events with the reverence we take for granted today.
"This has been on my mind for a long, long time," Perlin told me. “I became editor of the Rutgers Daily Targum in February 1965, and recalled it was right around the time of the show. I was sure that I had written a review, but there was no record of it.” He continued, "In 2005, I wrote a letter to the Rutgers Alumni Monthly asking whether others had recollections. In response, I received many letters ... but still, no documentary evidence. I put the idea aside, figuring I would come back to it one day in the future. Soon after that, I received a copy of a review that had appeared in the Douglass Caellian, but it was so lacking of detail, that I felt I needed more before I could 'go public'.”
"At some point over the next couple of years, I contacted the then-editors of the Rutgers paper, but was told, if I recall correctly, that no issues could be found discussing the concert. Paper archives back then, of course, were not perfect. In 2010, there was a reunion of editors of the Targum and the Douglass Caellian (at that time, Rutgers was all-male, and Douglass all-female, and there were two separate newspapers published) spanning a seven year period. At that point, I mentioned this quest to someone, and one of the attendees recalled the Caellian review. But again, that review was so empty that I decided to wait until I had more.
"In November, 2010, in line for a Bob Dylan concert at Terminal 5 in New York, I struck up a conversation with the woman behind me, who was also at the Rutgers concert. Coincidentally, her home town, Middletown, New Jersey, was the same as my friend Hank Wallace, who also attended the show with me. That again reminded me to try to do something.
"A couple of months ago, I received an email from a historian at Rutgers who was writing a book about Rutgers and student activism in the 1960s, and was trying to track down something entirely different in Targum that I had written at about the same time. When he and I started corresponding, I asked about the concert. The historian, Paul Clemens, then sent me what I sent you. The time line is this: The concert was February 10. I coincidently became editor-in-chief on the 12th. I know copies of the February 13 issue of Targum exists. But there is no record of any surviving issues from February 11 or 12 anywhere. The review was in one of those, I am sure."
After years of inquiries, Perlin has finally been able to secure documentation of Dylan's Wednesday, February 10, 1965, 8 p.m. concert at Rutgers University, forty-eight years ago tomorrow, through articles in the Rutgers Daily Targum, as well as the Douglass Caellian, preserved on microfilm.
The Targum and Caellian articles are all brief. On January 14, the same day as Dylan was in New York City recording songs for his upcoming album, "Bringing It All Back Home," there was a front page Targum piece titled, "Anti-establishment Bob Dylan Professes 'Concern for People'." The accompanying photograph, an already outdated Guthrie-esque pose, also described Dylan with the equally antiquated title, "... protestee extraordinaire." On February 4, there was another article headlined, "Dylan Concert to Aid SISCAP." (SISCAP is an acronym for "Students in Support of Community Actions Projects.") Two days before the performance, there was an ad with ticket prices listed as $4, $3, and $2, and another short article promoting the show.
On the Friday after the concert, there was a short, three paragraph review in the Caellian by Ruth Winfield, describing the first half as "satisfactory" except for those in the balcony, "where Dylan dialect comes out garbled." She much preferred the shorter second half, where Dylan was "a stronger, more confident performer." Remember, this was a solo acoustic show, five and a half months before Dylan "went electric" at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
After obtaining copies of these reports, Perlin wracked his brain trying to remember any details not included in the articles.
"I am trying to think about the set list at Rutgers, and working really hard in my mind," Perlin told me. "So far, this is all I have come up with. I wouldn't bet the ranch, but am I fairly sure he performed 'With God on Our Side,' 'All I Really Want To Do,' 'Mr. Tambourine Man,' and 'Seven Curses.'
"I remembered 'Seven Curses' because I adored the early Judy Collins albums, especially the first three, and of course, 'Seven Curses' was similar to 'Anathea' that was on one of those LPs. It may have been the last time he ever performed it."
To try and find out more details, Perlin asked other Rutgers alumni what they remembered.
"While I was only a first semester sophomore pledge at Delta Phi, I remember that some Delts drove to Greenwich Village and picked up Dylan at Gerde's Folk City. After the concert, at the chapter house located at 17 Union Street, Dylan asked someone for their army jacket. We paid him $75 and returned him to Manhattan."
"For what it is worth, my memory of the Dylan concert at Rutgers has to do with his harmonica. If I remember it correctly, Dylan’s harmonica ‘malfunctioned’ part way through the concert. He must have said something, for I remember someone in the front row or near the front handing him a replacement, and the show went on."
There were also these memories shared regarding the Rutgers swimming team. One friend wrote:
"We had a hilarious experience with one of Bob Dylan's cadre. He was dressed in full uniform. Heavy hiking boots, grubby jeans, wide leather belt with a Bowie knife lashed to his hip. This individual walked into the pool and told us we were disturbing Bob during his practice session. He asked us to stop and our coach George Hurych ... said, 'No way,' because we were practicing for a major championship. He, Bob's lackey, became very pissed and stomped out of the pool area. He made one big mistake, however. He went through the door to the locker rooms down below the pool. Perhaps you might recall that there was a four inch deep disinfectant pool just inside that door. He got both feet into the pool and then there was dead silence. About 10 seconds later he came storming out from his disinfectant bath and proceeded to go out the correct door. We all laughed ..."
Perlin's friend, Hank Wallace, had this to add:
All I remember is hearing occasional splashes while Dylan sang, splashes I later learned were from Rutgers swim team members diving into the pool behind the stage's back wall. I only wish I could approximate the number of splashes I heard, or remember a (specific) reaction by Dylan or anyone else.
Perlin said, "Hank, like me, recalls a joke Dylan made when the sounds of the divers in the pool behind the stage almost drowned out his singing."
Someone else indicated Dylan may have appeared at an earlier Joan Baez SISCAP benefit concert on July 29, also at the Rutgers gymnasium (mentioned in one of the Targum articles), just days after the 1964 Newport Folk Festival.
And while we're on the subject, apparently Dylan also played a not very well documented concert at St. Lawrence University, in Canton, New York, on Tuesday, November 26, 1963, at 8:15 p.m., just days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Perlin is currently a professor at New York Law School, and continues to use Dylan lyrics in the titles of many of his articles, including, for example, "'What's Good Is Bad, What's Bad Is Good, You'll Find Out When You Reach the Top, You're on the Bottom': Are the Americans with Disabilities Act (and Olmstead v. L.C.) Anything More than 'Idiot Wind'?" (University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Fall 2001-Winter 2002).
He also participated in the Bob Dylan 70th birthday countdown.
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