Dick WeissmanJan 22, 2023
Bob Dylan's New York
A Historic Guide
SUNY Press 2022
New York has long been a city where people go to reinvent themselves.
And since the dawn of the twentieth century, New York City’s Greenwich Village has been at the center of that alchemy of reinvention. Its side streets, squares and coffeehouses have nurtured generations of artists, writers, and musicians, among them Bob Dylan.
Dylan first set foot in the Village in 1961, and even as he continues to make music, you can argue that his Greenwich Village years in the 1960s were a formative period in his life and work. Dick Weissman’s new book, Bob Dylan's New York: A Historic Guide (SUNY Press, 2022) helps fans and students of Dylan walk the streets where his career took off. Weissman-- musician, author, veteran of the folk scene, and associate professor emeritus at the University of Colorado Denver—emphasizes the Village but also takes in the midtown Manhattan offices that ran the music industry in Dylan’s early days and the backroads of Woodstock, NY where Dylan found refuge from the big city. The result is a book that situates Dylan’s New York years in a rich context.
Bob Dylan’s New York is organized as a series of mapped walking tours--covering Bleecker Street, MacDougal Street, Washington Square and more—that convey the people and institutions that nurtured Dylan’s early career. Individual stops on the tour—such as Dylan’s apartment building at 161 West Fourth Street and the sites of Izzy Young’s Folklore Center on MacDougal Street and Sixth Avenue—are covered in well-researched entries. The book also lists the homes and addresses of other famous Village inhabitants such as the journalist John Reed, the artist Jackson Pollock, the singer Barbra Streisand, and the political activist Eleanor Roosevelt, suggesting the cultural and political ferment of the Village in the twentieth century. Bob Dylan’s New York is generously illustrated with photographs, many of them from folklore collections at the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, that capture famous and not-so-famous inhabitants of the Village folk scene in the 1960s.
The gentrification that has transformed the Village in recent decades has shoved aside much of the grass-roots folk music scene that made the neighborhood so interesting. Nevertheless, many of the cafes and clubs where Dylan and his contemporaries honed their craft are still there, hidden in plain sight. This folkie, former Village resident and long-time Dylan fan went out for a two-hour walk with Bob Dylan’s New York in hand. I made many discoveries on streets that I thought I knew, and I barely scratched the surface of what the book has to offer.
Robert W. Snyder, Manhattan Borough Historian and professor emeritus of American Studies and Journalism at Rutgers University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.