“Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”

dylan_biograph_coverThe 1985 box set, Bob Dylan’s Biograph, is the first one I can remember.  At the time, I wasn’t as aware of Bob Dylan (other than his music as a presence in the house growing up) but instead, I remember being fascinated with the packaging.  I had only been used to records and the idea that three tapes would be placed in a box that, from the outside, looked like a box set of records, was intriguing.

As I became more aware of Dylan’s place in music and gained more of an appreciation for his work, I listened to these tapes more.  I remember listening to them as a sixteen-year old driving my father’s red Mitsubishi Colt Vista through cold New Hampshire winters.  There’s hardly any talking on the entire set except for a couple of introductions to songs including one for “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”, over some fingerpicking.

“I first heard this from Ric Von Schmidt.
He lives in Cambridge.
Ric’s a blues guitar player…
I met him one day in the green pastures…
of Harvard University.”

The next beat is marked with Dylan’s trademark harmonica.  This was a recording from his first, self-titled album released in 1962.

bobdylan_selftitled_smallOver a week ago, Club Passim, Harvard Square’s legendary folk club, started serving wine and beer.  I was reading the Boston.com article and looking at the gallery of historic photos including a 2001 photo of Eric Von Schmidt.  It reminded me of the Dylan introduction and listening to music while growing up.  Club Passim has had a specific presence in my life since my sister moved to Cambridge for college in 1999 and I moved to Boston for a new job back in 2003.  What’s ironic about the Club Passim/Dylan connection to me is that he never was booked to play a show there.  Apparently, he only had the opportunity to perform a few songs between sets.

I searched my iTunes library to see how many versions of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”, I owned.  The results showed four versions.  The first version was the one listed above.

The next was an all electric version from the famous “Royal Albert Hall” concert that actually occurred at Manchester Free Trade Hall.  In 1996 or 1997, I obtained a copy of Guitars Kissing and the Contemporary Fix and later the official Sony Release, The Bootleg Series, Volume 4: Live 1966 The “Royal Albert Hall Concert”. I had never heard this concert but read about it extensively on various websites.

Admittedly, in college, when I first heard the concert, I was more into the acoustic Dylan and would preferred the hypnotic opening set to the electric to disc 2 where he was backed by The Hawks (later to become The Band).  Things change, though.

The electric version of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” has no introduction.  Just harmonica and the infusion of electricity highlighted by Robbie Robertson’s blistering guitar solos and, of course, different lyrics.

More recently, I’ve been listening to the last version that shows up.  It’s another recording with The Band in 1978 from The Last Waltz.  Yet, another version with different lyrics and musical variation.  What had not changed was the fire and intensity.

“The Shape I’m In”

I’ve been revisiting The Band lately ever since Session Americana covered “The Shape I’m In” last fall during their ongoing Tuesday night residency at The Lizard Lounge in Cambridge.  I found myself knowing all the lyrics as they played it.  Looking around, I observed many others my age knowing them all, too.

On St. Patrick’s Day, my sister and her husband ventured out to Session Americana’s evening of music.  When they were in the middle of a cover of “Down South in New Orleans”, my sister found herself knowing the lyrics.  She leaned over to me:

“Why do I know this song?
“Bobby Charles and Dr. John sing it with The Band on The Last Waltz,” I said.
“This music is in our blood, isn’t it?” she asked.
“I believe it is.”

Club Passim

When reading the Boston Globe’s article about Club Passim obtaining a wine and beer license, I was both saddened and pleased.  Frankly speaking, I don’t need a buzz to enjoy live music.  However, I do know people who wouldn’t go to Passim with me because they just couldn’t get over the idea of not listening to music with a beer in their hand.  Ironically, three years ago when I finally convinced one of those friends to go to a show with me, there was a survey sitting on our table with the very question of a wine and beer license.  We both answered yes.  He answered for the sake of his entertainment experience.  I answered thinking that it would be a good additional revenue stream for Passim and that it wouldn’t change the audience experience.

We’re going to find out.  It may appear to be a natural progression for Passim to serve alcohol, this decision is definitely a financial one.  With memberships down a third and donations by half, fundraisers losing money, they are resorting to serving beer and wine to make up the shortfall.

They insist the listening environment, cultural identity and integrity of the room, will not be lost and I believe them.  Passim has evolved into a cultural hub in Cambridge and, for that matter, in Greater Boston as well.  If you appreciate live acoustic music and you’ve been in that basement room, you know why it’s so special.

Club Passim nurtures young musicians, builds community, and while bringing us the future of acoustic music, gives us a window into the past.  It brings us back to a time when Harvard had “green pastures” and a young Bob Dylan meets Eric Von Schmidt.

Forty-seven years later, I’m still listening to the songs they played together.  The songs have been transformed.  They have stood the test of time.

Club Passim is creating the place where those meetings may happen.

What songs are being played today that I’ll be listening to forty-seven years from now?

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