Saturday, February 25, 2012

Soy Bomb Revisited

Fourteen years ago on this day in 1998, Bob Dylan scooped up his first Grammy for Album of the Year, and he immortalized a party crasher with the words Soy Bomb painted in block letters on his bare chest. Just like so many times before,  this was a mind out of time moment in Dylan folklore.
Seven years before Soy Bomb, as American bombs rained down on Iraq, Dylan bombed on the Grammy stage. Sure, “Masters of War” was a gutsy song choice, but regardless of the spin that any Dylanologist puts on it, Dylan’s 1991 performance was abrasive.  On that night, Jack Nicholson presented Dylan with a Lifetime Achievement  Award.  Dylan’s improvised acceptance speech was a hoot, but it was obvious he had seen better days.

After six more years of touring, and overcoming a freak heart ailment, Dylan released Time Out of Mind to the thunderous roar of writers, critics, and loyalists. Dylan was a shoe in to win at the 1998 Grammy Awards. The only suspense was the live performance: what would Dylan play, and what did the Grammy Gods have in store for him.
Dylan looked dashing in a gray suit as his band broke into “Love Sick,” the tune I was pulling for. A funky crew of hired cool cats circled the band as the Hibbing Hipster let it rip: “I’m walking, through streets that are dead; I’m walking, with you in my head.” Dylan was in the hypnotic zone. TV land was at his command until Soy Bomb burst upon the scene—a half-naked man  with his arms a-flailing. Dylan noticed him from behind and shot him a look of absolute bewilderment.
It took security over a minute to remove the intruder, but the bomb was lit. Dylan laced into the best guitar solo of his career.  Dylan’s focused performance became sublime, the adrenaline rush  elevated the drama for everybody. Dylan’s band was smiling in unison.  Bob closed “Love Sick” with a poignant verse filled with attentive  vocal inflections. By itself, the audio track is a Dylan classic.
 With the Eyes of the World watching, this became one of the most riveting moments in history of live entertainment. And we were yet to hear that gripping acceptance speech where Dylan talked of how he was inspired by Buddy Holly’s spirit during the recording  of Time Out of Mind because of a vibe Dylan had picked up on when he saw Buddy in Duluth as a young man.

Dylan keeps on keepin’ on.  If Soy Bomb hadn't existed, somebody would have had to an invent a Soy Bomb Theory  to explain Dylan's career renaissance that is still raging fourteen years later.

Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead
available at  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Deadhead Born This Morning

Philly Spectrum 4-6-82

I sought The Holy Grail, “Morning Dew.” A rarely-played jewel, The Dead only played the Dew when they had IT going on.  A cyclone of psychedelic sound was unleashed in the jam between “Truckin” and “The Other One.” I hollered and yodeled approval; the band was ripping. Now I had mental telepathy working: The Dew, Jerry. For the love of God, please play the Dew. Weir sang, “Cowboy Neal at the wheel, the bus to never ever land; Coming, coming, coming around; coming around, coming around; coming around.” The time had come.

A fractioned second of silence framed the moment. Jerry struck the magic Dew chord.

            Oh, the humanity! I grabbed Scott by the waist and proudly hoisted him over my head like he was the Stanley Cup Trophy. A young lady standing in front of me let out two primal, erotic screams. Pandemonium in Philly! Folks were crying, hugging, kissing, and squeezing each other.
Jerry’s solitary voice emerged: “Walk me out in the morning dew my honey; walk me out in the morning dew today.” The tempo was dirge-like, almost still. Jerry appeared egoless, just standing there in black t-shirt and jeans. He poured his soul into each syllable, seemingly stopping time, freezing the moment, connecting with the raw emotion of the masses: “I thought I heard a baby cry this morning; I thought I heard a baby cry today!”  
            Jerry compressed a screaming tirade of notes into his solo, punctuated by a resounding blast from Phil’s bass. Jerry’s solitary voice returned, more solemn than before, repetitiously crying, “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.” Silence filled the arena. Deadheads prepared for takeoff.
Garcia began his sermon deliberately, plucking strings with surgeon-like precision. He was immobile nobility—his bearded mug intense, his brain boiling. Each note radiating from his fret board did so with intimacy. Each note was crucial. The band followed in a trance, adding layers and waves of aural sensation. As the foundation solidified, the velocity and volume of Jerry’s playing spiraled until the steam valve blew. Each musician was engaged in the spectacular display—they scaled the pyramid of transcendence together.  The wall of sound crashed down. Jerry mournfully wailed, “I guess it doesn’t matter, anyway ay ay ayyyyy!”
Overwhelmed by the Dew, I didn’t care what was next. I let out a lunatic’s laugh as the band burst into “Sugar Magnolia.” Sweat poured as Deadheads bounced off the Spectrum floor like it was a trampoline. This was the exclamation point for a historic set. The boys delivered my wish list: Shakedown Street, Terrapin Station, Morning Dew, Sugar Magnolia. It was the only time in Grateful Dead history that those four songs appeared together in the same show. Just once in 2,314 concerts. Was it a coincidence, or was my presence part of the equation? 
Much like the sports fan who goes to his favorite pub week after week and roots for his favorite football team, and wears the same dingy sweatshirt, and sits in the same wobbly stool, and orders the same pint of beer from the same bartender until his team wins the Super Bowl or flops and he realizes the folly of his ways, I believed my presence in Philly inspired the band.
Returning home, we felt sensational. There was something heroic about it all. I was an active participant in the musical process. I knew I’d soon land a bootleg tape of the show and, if I listened close enough, I might even hear myself howling. Musical recordings are breathing snapshots of life and emotion that pass through time and endure in a way that no other art form can.
Cruising along the Palisades Parkway, fifteen minutes from my twin mattress, Seymour suddenly lost control of the wheel. His pillbox Honda hit an ice patch and went spinning like a sock in a dryer.  When the whirling ceased, we were ensconced in a snow drift, a few feet from the towering pines that might have mangled the car. A tragedy was narrowly averted. Miraculously, there wasn’t a scratch on the car or anybody in it. I pried the door ajar, looked up at the star-cluttered sky and pumped my fist into the night. Standing knee deep in snow while waiting for help to arrive, I cut loose with a “Yee-haw, yippie yah-hoo, Jerry is God-od-od-od.” My crazed voice echoed through the valley.
Thirty minutes later, a tow truck yanked the tiny vehicle from its snowy trap. Three teens were on the road again. Scott and Seymour were subdued and shaken. I'd found my calling, and seeking more days like this would dominate my foreseeable future. I was dropped off at my parents’ house, but there was no going home. My heart and soul were on the road with the Grateful Dead.
Tangled Up in Tunes Ballad of a Dylanhead is available in paperback or on kindle

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Special President's Day Post

Minneapolis, Minnesota 11-04-08
Excerpt from Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylahead

As showtime neared, anticipation and expectation swelled inside Northrop Auditorium. The Prodigal Son had returned. This was Dylan’s debut concert on the campus of the college he had dropped out of to claim fame in New York. Dylan’s past was present: folks from his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, who knew him as Bobby Zimmerman; peers from his Dinkytown days; academics and professors who scrutinized his oeuvre. The poet laureate of American music, our Jewish homeboy from the Iron Range, was serenading the faithful on the evening that an African American born in Hawaii would break the ultimate color barrier.
I settled into my twentieth-row seat. Right behind me were two affable young ladies in Minnesota Gopher attire. They were studying biophysics, and I was studying them. Their approach to this concert was simple: they didn’t know any of Dylan’s tunes, but they were psyched to see a legend. I told them I was from Manhattan, and I was writing a book on Dylan. They just might be impressed by a mystery man on a scholarly quest. How else could I smoothly explain why I’d traveled cross-country to see one Dylan concert when I’ve already seen ninety-two?  I was thrilled these girls were my friends for the evening. They looked like cast members from the Real World: one a natural California blonde; the other a sultry Asian beauty. One smelled like magnolias, and the other banana bread. My scalp was bare, but with my baby face and sturdy physique, I hoped to pass for thirty-five.

The sultry Asian student with jeans torn at the knees placed her dainty fingers on my shoulder, leaned over my neck, and whispered, “We’re, like, so excited for the concert, and that’s, like—ah, so cool that you’re writer and you live in Manhattan. We don’t have any ID. If we give you money, can you buy us beers?”

I refused the money with a nonchalant wave of my hand and returned with three jumbo beers as the lights dimmed.

Dressed in black with a wide-brimmed, white top hat, Dylan exuded alpha maleness despite his slender frame. His bandmates wore fine tailored suits, Obama pins, and serious expressions. The audience cheered lustily when they identified “The Times They Are-A-Changin’” and “Masters of War.” Playing keyboards most of the night, Dylan aroused the crowd whenever he grabbed his harmonica and blasted away, tip-toeing across the stage. Rapturous applause erupted at the beginning and ending of Dylan’s idiosyncratic harp solos.

The reality girls yahooed and shook their hips as Dylan twisted away behind his keyboards to the electrified swing of “Summer Days.” The blonde one tapped me on the shoulder, cupped her hand to my ear and said, “This is sooooo amazing.” Her tongue ever so slightly grazed my earlobe. Good vibrations surrounded me. I was relieved that these college cookies were digging the groove because Dylan’s voice was gruff like an old carnival barker at the end of a double shift. Either you were drawn to the rumbling or you were repulsed, but everyone listened. Dylan’s mysterious web of charisma hypnotized the audience.

Dylan muffed some lyrics and his vocals were more jagged than usual, but the audacious fifteen-song set made up for any performance hiccups. Hopscotching across his canon, Dylan offered sketches of America that represented all five decades of his career. When Bob grunted, “Even the President of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked,” it sounded more like a warning shot for Obama than a eulogy for Bush. Revolution was in the air. It was the sentimental “Shooting Star,” however, that jingle-jangled indelibly in my mind.

A backdrop of a star-cluttered sky unfurled behind the band as they glided into the opening chords. “Shooting Star” is a sacred song that Dylan only breaks out once or twice a tour. Dylan sang with a gentle caress: “Seen a shooting star tonight, and I thought of me. If I was still the same. If I ever became what you wanted me to be.” If ever a singer became his words, Dylan did that night. He was Minnesota’s shooting star. Trekking down memory lane, Dylan moseyed from the organ and snatched an electric guitar. The crowd showered their North Star with love as he stood like a toy soldier and plucked an awkwardly authentic solo.

My mind left the action in Minneapolis when Dylan crooned, “Seen a shooting star tonight, and I thought of you. You were trying to break into another world; a world I never knew.” I reflected back on my twenty-one-year fascination with Dylan’s music. “Shooting Star” is the final tune on Oh Mercy, Dylan’s gloomy 1989 masterpiece. I skipped all my college classes at SUNY New Paltz that semester and held daily Oh Mercy listening parties in my ground floor crash pad. The baby blue house I rented bore a striking resemblance to Dylan’s childhood home in Hibbing. Some folks settle down, but some of us are shooting stars, restless strangers, in a constant state of becoming—lonesome and a long way from home.

New Paltz was my first home away from my parent’s house, but I’ll always remember that town as the place where I was seduced by Blood on the Tracks while driving north on Route 32. After hearing that tape, my brain went berserk. I scored every Dylan album and felt immediate connection to a level of experience that could only be accessed through his songs. I’d seen the Promised Land, and I tried sharing my vision with everybody in town. Time spent studying Dylan played a part in my academic dismissal from SUNY New Paltz. Also factoring into my “downfall” was a predilection for debauchery and hedonism. Many years later, my interest in Dylan’s lyrics brought me back to the classroom. I finally earned an undergraduate degree, and I was now working on my Master’s in creative writing. “Shooting Star” slipped away—nothing left but an illusionary sparkle. Dylan rolled on to his next performance, preaching, “He not busy being born, is busy dying.”

Jimmy Carter quoted that line when he accepted the Democratic Party nomination for President. It’s a daily struggle: either you’re living or you’re dying. Many days you’re on a treadmill, vacillating between the two, no matter how hard you strive. Dylan then warned, “Money doesn’t talk; it swears.” In the midst of a vicious recession, the relevance of Dylan’s poetry was uncanny.
After introducing his band, Dylan offered a rare comment: “I was born the year Pearl Harbor was attacked, and I’ve seen some pretty dark days since then. It looks like things are going to change now.”

Dylan’s declaration was a nod to Obama, even though the statement was vague. When you’re Bob Dylan, every statement you make can and will be scrutinized for eternity. I suppose that’s why Bob lets his songs do all the yapping. However, there was nothing ambiguous about his final entrée of the evening, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Inspiration can strike in the strangest of places. I respect this anthem, but I’ve never before detected an emotional connection between the singer and his iconic song. Like so many times before, Dylan asked, “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?” On this momentous night for America, Dylan answered with a resounding, “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wiiiiindd!” The answer seemed tangible, at least for now. There was boundless optimism rippling through this rendition—a sense that this song, which has meant so much to so many, had finally resonated with its creator. The crowd was frenzied when Dylan came out for his final ovation. With a wild smile, the Prodigal Son opened his arms to the faithful as if to say, “How about that? What a night!” Tears of triumph slid down my cheeks.

I was lured into a photo shoot with my fabulous reality girls. They hooted and danced all night while I double-shuffled and plucked air-guitar. One of our neighbors took a snapshot of us. I then posed with each girl individually as they snapped away on their iPhones. Ahhhh, the sensuous smell of magnolias and banana bread. It had been a while since I’d practiced the art of seduction on a twenty-year-old coed, but I had an early flight back to New York. I teetered on the ledge of temptation. I wondered if they lived off campus.

My musings were interrupted by lusty screams and a rumbling roar from the halls. Jumping Jesus! Bob Dylan must be outside greeting fans. As I stepped into the lobby, the hollering and cheering felt biblical. I looked up at the big screen, and there was the face I’d seen all day—honest and promising. The scoreboard read: Obama 297, McCain 188. NBC News had just projected that Barack Obama would be the 44th President of the United States.

Delirious students flocked from the dorms to the front of the auditorium, joining revelers who had just seen Dylan. The tribe chanted and danced as one: “O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma.” I floated into the surging celebration and soaked in the primal exhilaration. It was unlike any group euphoria I’d experienced. It was as is if the crowd had given collective birth. I knew Obama was going to win, but I never envisioned this.

Separating myself from the spontaneous soirée, and forever ending my chances with the co-eds, I walked to the far end of the courtyard and peered in at the ruckus through the tall feather reed grass. The students bounced and howled as one in the warm North Country night. Choked up with emotion, I watched in silence. This was their glory. I shared it from a distance. This land is your land, this land is my land. I’m skeptical of politicians, especially those who reside in the White House. I liked Obama and enjoyed the rush of historical significance, but I didn’t share the unbridled optimism of the students. I lurked in the background until the surreal scene dissipated into the evening haze.

When Dylan stood on the stage on Election Day 2008, the announcer’s intro had reminded us that Bob was “The voice of the promise of the ‘60s counterculture.” Seconds after Dylan took his final bow and disappeared into the darkness, a slice of that promise had been realized.

You might think that traveling from Manhattan to Minneapolis for one Dylan concert is extreme, but as I devoured chicken wings at a Dinkytown dive, I was glad I’d followed my musical instincts again. In the midst of analytical commentary on Obama’s decisive victory, a news agency had projected that Republican Norm Coleman was re-elected to the senate in the tightest race of the night. I was following this contest because Norm’s opponent, Al Franken, of Saturday Night Live fame, was a Deadhead. Chalk it up as another Election Day media blunder. But, after a recount which included absentee ballots, Minnesota elected Franken, a Deadhead Democrat, to represent them in the U.S. Senate. Well, well, well, you can never tell.

Tangled Up in Tunes available in paperback or on Kindle:

Monday, February 13, 2012

What a Week

Sunday 2-5-12: The New York Football Giants win the Super Bowl. 5-0 in NFC Championship games, and 4-1 in Super Bowls, they are a blessed franchise.

Tuesday 2-7-12: I hate parades, but I was compelled to go to this one. I was in the front row as Eli skook the Super Bowl Trophy at me and seemed to mouth the words, "Make it come alive!"

Thursday 2-9-12: My book launch party. Four friends, main characters from the book showed up. Phil (Boston), Perry (Pearl River), Stan (Valley Cottage), and Blaise (New Paltz). McMule performed two great sets and improvised during my reading.

Friday 2-10-12: Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead was released on Kindle.

Saturday 2-11-12: I saw my cousins for the first time in five years, these cats turned me on to the Beatles. I also saw my beautiful niece and three rambunctious nephews. Whitney Houston, one of the greatest vocalists ever, died later that night at the age of 48 for no good reason. That's why we should all chronicle good weeks when they happen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Launch Party Feburary 9th

Come celebrate the birth of Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead, and meet author, Howard Weiner. This special event will be at Manny's on 1770 Second Avenue in Manhattan from 7:30 - 11:30 PM. Live music will be provided by the finest bluegrass band in the land, Mc Mule. The musical celebration will also include tributes to Dylan's fiftieth year as a recording artist, and the fortieth anniversary of the Grateful Dead's Europe '72 Tour.

In addition to literature and song, the Chinese Year of the Water Dragon, and the Giants Super Bowl victory will be celebrated. This soirée will be held in the luxurious second floor party room at Manny's on Second. Stop by and celebrate the arts. If you can't attend, Tangled Up in Tunes is available here.

Praise for Tangled Up in Tunes:
“Howard’s writing of this time period has an On The Road quest feel to it.”
-          Jonathan Ames, creator of the HBO series Bored To Death; Author of The Extra Man
“Tangled Up In Tunes is terrific storytelling…suspenseful, I couldn’t wait to read what came next.”
-          Ann Hood author of Somewhere off The Coast Of Maine

  "Howard Weiner's new book is a smart, funny, informative and ultimately touching accomplishment, a classic American bildungsroman with Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan as the surprising emotional engines."

-          Robert Polito, author of Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson and Hollywood & God

“Howard “Catfish” Weiner is a hilarious Dylan-head with heart.”
-          Susan Shapiro author of Lighting Up

"Tangled Up In Tunes recalls the energy and "carpe diem” attitude of the Beat Generation. Howard’s vivid prose style allows the reader to experience the improvisational thrill of American music."
-          Lauren Cardon,  Postdoctoral Fellow at Tulane with a PhD in American Literature

"Tangled Up in Tunes is a road memoir like no other...The author loves his lobsters, Greyhound buses, and's a romp through the best music there is. Memphis, Vegas, Hibbing, and Allentown are some of the stops on this never ending tour. I loved it.
            -    Hamlin J. Endicott Owner, Grateful Dead Books


  In honor of the anniversary of Music Mountain, here’s chapter two from my latest work, The Grateful Pilgrimage: Time Travel with the Dea...