August 11, 2017
They can’t help it if they’re lucky: Stanford librarians stumble upon a trove of Dylan bootlegs recorded by… Allen Ginsberg?
by Peter Kranitz
A recording of a Nobel Prize winner is really not a huge deal. These people say and read a lot of things; often, they do so in front of microphones and recording equipment. For example, here’s 10,000 videos of Nobel laureate Derek Walcott saying and reading things.
Bob Dylan is, of course, no exception to this, and is almost certainly the most recorded Nobel laureate of all time. So news that there may be two more Dylan recordings floating around shouldn’t turn anybody’s head. But what if these tapes were from the legendary 1965 tour when Dylan went electric? And what if they were recorded live by none other than legendary beat poet Allen Ginsberg, a close friend of Dylan’s? To quote former FBI director James Comey, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
Well, praise be unto the rock gods: there are tapes. Discovered in 2015 by the Stanford University library’s Special Collections team while sifting through Ginsberg’s papers, the previously unreleased recordings are from two consecutive California concerts in 1965. Ginsberg had shown Dylan his fancy new tape recorder, prompting the future Nobelist to ask his friend to make the recordings. Spin’s Andy Cush reports that, for a few glorious days, the audio from the tapes was available on YouTube.
According to Cush, the sound quality of the music isn’t great, but the recordings also provide the rare opportunity to hear Dylan and Ginsberg chat about… things. At the start of the first recording, Ginsberg and Dylan are hanging out before the show. Ginsberg gushes over the “absolute, beautiful precision” of the tape recorder, Dylan proposes that he use it to record the show, they gossip about their pal Marlon Brando, and Dylan mentions that he talked to Phil Spector about the two of them (Bob and Allen, that is) recording an album together. (Side note: Oh my God, how crazy would this album have been?!) In the second recording, Ginsberg gets spotted by a fan who asks about Joan Baez, and Bob and Al chat some more about the show’s vibe, likely among other things.
Unfortunately, the YouTuber who posted the recordings has since removed them from the site, which means that anybody who wants to hear this rarity will once again need to make a pilgrimage to California. To the Stanford Special Collections librarians, I beg of you, for the good of humanity: Release those tapes.
Editor’s note: Bob Dylan is the absolute fucking greatest, a gift from beyond of which humanity has never made itself fully worthy.
Peter Kranitz is an intern at Melville House.