Bob Dylan’s live performance at the Finjan Club in Montreal from 2 July 1962 is named a “must have” by a number of bootleg sites. One of Dylan’s earliest post-debut album concerts, the sound quality is exceptional – you can actually hear a stage assistant rummaging through his guitar case looking for a capo. (Here’s a sample of Emmett Till from a German website that illustrates the outstanding sound quality). The show itself? A bit of a mixed bag. There seemed to have been about a dozen people there, and Dylan spends half his time tuning his guitar and starting and restarting songs. Sound quality can only take you so far…
For me, listening to a playlist set to present everything chronologically it has the remarkable moment of hearing Dylan introduce a song he wrote that he calls “How Many Roads Must A Man Walk Down?” Wikipedia says that there is an earlier recording of “Blowin’ In The Wind” known to collectors, but I haven’t heard it. This version differs a bit from his mega-hit, and not just in title, but I want to save that for 1963, since I’m trying not to skip ahead. I should note, though, that Dylan recorded the version of “Blowin'” that appears on Freewheelin’ exactly one week after he played it in Montreal.
For me, listening to this set, I was interested in the Finjan Club. I did my graduate work at McGill University in Montreal from 1993 to 1999, a time when the Finjan was long gone. Apparently it was on Victoria Street, a small street just immediately south of McGill. When I was a student there I certainly never knew Dylan had played so close to campus thirty years earlier.
Indeed, according to the records on BobDylan.com, Dylan performed twice in Montreal while I lived there. In 1996 he played at the Verdun Auditorium and the next year he had a show at DuMaurier Stadium. I attended neither of these. I don’t remember hearing about them, or wanting to go. I asked Rebecca if she recalled us considering them, and she didn’t. I don’t think I thought about Dylan at all during that entire six years I lived there.
What I recall about music in Montreal is that it wasn’t that important to me. I had all my vinyl but my record player was broken and I don’t think I ever got it fixed. I was pretty anti-CD at the time, and, besides, living on a student stipend I had no money for them. I certainly wasn’t willing to rebuy things I had on vinyl, so I just didn’t listen to Dylan. I think I owned Biograph on CD and so that I probably played on occasion, but that was it. For the most part, Dylan became something I had listened to in high school, and, to a lesser degree, during my undergrad years. I maintained a residual interest in folk – I bought the O Brother soundtrack when everyone else did – but Dylan was not part of my Montreal experience any more than the Finjan Club was.
My parents lived in Montreal in 1962, with my mother at nursing school just up the hill from the Finjan. Neither of them claim to like Dylan though (Elvis fans), so I doubt they were there. From the thin applause I think few people were there to see the man with the poor selling debut album offering an early take on a song that would help transform popular music.