Bob Neuwirth, a versatile artist, influenced Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Patti Smith.
Bob Neuwirth, folk singer-songwriter known for his long and influential collaboration with Bob Dylan, has died aged 82. Neuwirth’s partner Paula Batson confirmed his death to Rolling stone.
† Wednesday night in Santa Monica, Bob Neuwirth’s great heart gave out, Neuwirth’s family said in a statement: rolling stone† Bob was an artist in every cell of his body and he loved to encourage others to make art of their own. He was a painter, songwriter, producer and recording artist whose body of work is loved and respected. For over 60 years, Bob has been at the epicenter of cultural moments, from Woodstock to Paris, from Do not look back to Monterey Pop, from Rolling Thunder to Nashville and Havana. He was a generous instigator who produced things and often let them happen anonymously. It was the art that mattered to him, not the honour. He was an artist, a mentor and a support to many. He will be missed by all who love him †
Throughout his decades-long career, Neuwirth has moved back and forth between the music world and the art world, fortunately going unnoticed, even though his ties to the rock greats have made him a legend. † Dylan fans remember him for his biting performances in Do not look backdirector DA Pennebaker’s film about Dylan’s 1965 UK tour, as well as for his performances on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975. Joplin fans will recognize him from his classic a cappella” Mercedes-Benz », written in collaboration with the poet Michael McClure. In the world of private art collectors, Neuwirth was known for exhibitions of his paintings, and Velvet Underground enthusiasts remember his work with John Cale in the 1990s. Neuwirth also introduced Joplin to ” Me and Bobby McGee », written by his friend Kris Kristofferson. Joplin recorded the song a few days before his death in 1970.
† When you meet such people, it does not challenge you to become a musiciansaid Neuwirth in 1989 about his collaborations. I had other outlets. I was a painter, so it never occurred to me to do those other things. †
† He was good at everything says Patti Smith. He was a great songwriter. A moving singer. A very good painter. He had so much attraction, impossible not to be attracted to him. †
Born on June 20, 1939 in Akron, Ohio, Neuwirth first attended Ohio University before moving to Boston in 1959 to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Art for an art scholarship. After a trip to Paris, he returned to Boston, working in an art supply store and learning to play the banjo and guitar, which made him part of the Cambridge folk scene in the early 1960s. By painting I came into contact with folk music in a certain wayhe said in 1989. I kind of enrolled in art academy as a folk singer. It was always my secondary art and my side job. †
Neuwirth started hanging out with the similar scene that developed in New York’s Greenwich Village (partly because weed was more readily available there, he joked). There he met Bob Dylan, with whom he shared his caustic sense of humor. † You could tell from the start that Neuwirth had a penchant for provocation and that nothing would limit his freedom.writes Dylan in Chronicles Part 1† He was in a frenzied revolt against something. You had to hold on when you talked to her† †
Neuwirth eventually became part of Dylan’s inner circle, hanging out at bars like the Kettle of Fish in the Village. As a singer who played with Dylan said in rolling stone in 1972: When he arrived in New York in 1964, he began dating Dylan. And Dylan started to change around that time. This is partly due to Neuwirth, who had a strong influence on Dylan. Neuwirth had a negative attitude, he emphasized pride and ego, he said: “Keep your head up, don’t give up, take control of the stage”. He was the kind of man who could influence others, work on their egos and support them. Her negative attitude matched Dylan’s feelings perfectly. †
Shortly thereafter, Neuwirth moved to Los Angeles, where he remained for most of his life. In 1974 he finally released his own record on David Geffen’s Asylum label. The album was not a commercial success, but became a cult, and before his death there were plans for a reissue. Bob Neuwirth also starred in Dylan’s experimental film, Renaldo and Clara1978.
For Joan Baez, who met Neuwirth in the Cambridge folk scene, Neuwirth was a stabilizing figure as she became disoriented in Dylan’s job. † During the day [la tournée de Don’t Look Back]I felt bad and Bob [Neuwirth] wanted me to come homeshe says. He told me “It doesn’t get any better”. And he was right. Ten years later, at Rolling Thunder concerts conducted by Dylan, Baez also felt bad about himself. † I felt devalued again, and that’s how I spent a lot of my time with Dylan.she says. I was lying on my hotel bed and Neuwirth came in and started acting stupid, he opened the window and shouted: “She is going to live!”. He was one of those people who could make you laugh.
His work in painting, which began in the 1960s, continued. At the beginning of his career he produced ” eccentric hybrids of cubism and surrealism “. Later he focused on murals that combine painting and sculpture. A large exhibition of his works, Overs & Unders: Paintings by Bob Neuwirth: 1964 – 2009took place in Los Angeles in 2011.
If his musical career has never been his priority, Bob Neuwirth has intermittently immersed himself in this part of his life. From the beautiful Back to the front from 1989 he resumed recording incidental, ironic and often austere country folk records. In 1994 he directed John Cale, whom he had met while they hung out at Andy Warhol’s Factory in the 1960s. Last day on Earth. In recent years, Neuwirth has featured in Randy Newman and Harry Smith’s tribute concerts, as well as a 2018 New York concert that recreated Dylan’s 1963 City Hall show. The latter was all the more remarkable because Neuwirth normally distances himself from his associations with Dylan and rarely gives interviews about this period of his life.
† As Kerouac had immortalized Neal Cassady in On the roadsomeone should have immortalized Neuwrithwrites Dylan. He was such a character … With his tongue he tore, cut and could make everyone uncomfortable, he could also get out of any situation thanks to her. No one knew what to think of him. If ever there was a universal being who could go from one thing to another, it was him. †
For Patti Smith, the cover of Highway 61 Revisited of Dylan (on which we see Neuwirth, or rather his pants behind Dylan) testifies to his discreet but important role in the culture. † He is it in a nutshellshe says. It stays in the background. But he is there, and his presence is still strong. †
David Browne and Daniel Kreps
Translated by the editor