Carnegie Chapter Hall Show (Nov 1961)

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A couple of months ago, when I was first contemplating this project, I thought “I should buy a Bob Dylan poster and put it in my office!” So then I googled Bob Dylan Posters and, it turns out, I pretty much hate them all. All but one – the very spare and austere poster for the Carnegie Chapter Hall concert from November 4, 1961. I didn’t buy a copy, but if I do buy a poster it will be that one. The image of Dylan with his corduroy cap and harmonica is completely iconic, and I like the fact that’s it is so clearly a mimeographed handbill that has been typeset on a typewriter.

Robert Shelton’s biography says that fifty-three people attended Dylan’s first ever non-coffee house New York concert (in a room that sat one hundred). Apparently he performed twenty-two songs that night, the vast majority of them covers and traditional songs (four written by Woody Guthrie). He would record Bob Dylan less than three weeks later, so it is not surprising that nine of the songs he recorded at those sessions (and seven that made it onto his debut album) were performed that night.

Martin Scorsese chose to use the version of Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” on No Direction Home. I can understand the impulse to connect Dylan’s Guthrie period directly to his best-known song, but I don’t like Dylan’s version of this. He does a good enough version on 1960’s Karen Wallace Tapes, but in the fall of 1961 he was doing a very slow, dour, and positively joyless version of the song (the same can be heard on the First McKenzie Tape), and that’s what he plays here. It seems like a totally wrong interpretation. Fifteen years later Dylan closed the Rolling Thunder shows with raucous group performances of “This Land”, and those are the complete opposite of this, which sounds like a 45 RPM record played at 33 RPM. Dylan essentially speaks the lyrics here. The guitar part works, but not much else about it.

I can’t find that version online, but here is an earlier version from the Minnesota Party Tape. This is a little bit more up tempo than the Carnegie version:

There is a cd release of this show Canada and the UK (Carnegie Chapter Hall 1961) but in the US it seems to be only available as an import, so I’m not exactly certain about its legal status. It seems that either a third of this show was never recorded or that the tapes were lost or that someone is simply sitting on them. They shouldn’t – it’s a great show that would make a good addition to the official Bootleg Series aside from its obvious historical importance.

One note about Dylanology: I’ve been using Bob’s Boots to sort out some of the historical confusion that (for me) surrounds these pre-Columbia releases, but now I’ve found Olof Bjorner’s incredibly detailed chronologies of Dylan’s life and recordings and have bookmarked that. I’ll be using this as my primary fact site until further notice. It has a level of obsessive detail that is incredible and it is incredibly well organized.

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