Bob Dylan Arrived In New York City 50 Years Ago Today

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Photo by the incomparable Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images
Bob Dylan's life is short on concrete facts and figures, very much by design, but the experts seem to agree on this one: The man born Robert Zimmerman arrived in NYC on January 24, 1961, exactly a half-century ago. He immediately started showing up at the Village's Cafe Wha? (that's him on the left with Karen Dalton and Fred Neil, in a pic dated just a few weeks later, February 6) and lying about having arrived in town via freight train. As he explains in his memoir, Chronicles: Volume One:

When I arrived, it was dead-on winter. The cold was brutal and every artery of the city was snowpacked, but I'd started out from the frostbitten North Country, a little corner of the earth where the dark frozen woods and icy roads didn't faze me. I could transcend the limitations. It wasn't money or love that I was looking for. I had a heightened sense of awareness, was set in my ways, impractical and a visionary to boot. My mind was strong like a trap and I didn't need any guarantee of validity. I didn't know a single soul in this dark freezing metropolis but that was all about to change -- and quick.

To celebrate, this week SOTC is offering a mess of Dylan-centric content: a multi-suite video tour of Bob Dylan's Greenwich Village (which has changed ever so slightly in the past 50 years), old Dylan pieces from the Voice archives, essays from a few different Dylan scholars and high-profile admirers, and a compilation of various artists' favorite Dylan songs. All in honor of a guy who didn't waste any time once he'd landed here -- via '57 Impala, not freight train, but no man on earth is more deserving of a little poetic license. For a mere $2 back then, you could've seen it for yourself. We hope you enjoy.

See also:
The Sex Shop Near Where Bob Dylan Lived

Interview: Famed Bob Dylan Violinist Scarlet Rivera On The Chance NYC-Street Meeting That Changed Her Life

Rock-Critic Pop Quiz #4: How Many '60s Bob Dylan Albums Can You Name?

Let's Play "Name Your Favorite Bob Dylan Song," Starring No Age, Robyn Hitchcock, DJ Rekha, Greg Dulli, And More

Dylan's Voice Archive: Nobody Likes Him In His Hometown

Dylan In NYC, Day 4: Haunting The Washington Square Hotel And The 8th Street Bookshop

Bob Dylan In NYC, Day 3: Revisiting The Gaslight, The Village Gate, And More

A Word From Todd Snider: What Would You Say If You Met Bob Dylan?

Dylan's Voice Archives: In Praise Of The Kinder, Gentler Blonde on Blonde

Bob Dylan In NYC, Day 2: Revisiting Jones Street And 161 West 4th

Bob Dylan's New York City: Why It Never Got Better Than 1961

Dylan's Voice Archives: Mods And Rockers Face Off In An Epic Orgy Of Stage-Crashing And Fruit-Throwing

Bob Dylan In NYC: Revisiting Cafe Wha? And 94 MacDougal

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24 comments
lee
lee

He couldn't have arrived in NYC in a '57 Impala. They didn't start making them until '58.

Samm Bennett
Samm Bennett

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting at a corner table at the Cafe Whooo?, on my 17th cup of coffee, furiously scribbling the notes for my epic poem Upending the Redundant Conundrum, when the door swung open. The light from outside was momentarily blinding, but after a second we saw him there, a silhouette in the doorway, carrying his electric hot pink sousaphone. We all knew this was the man who, 50 years later, would inspire a blog post about this moment.

He walked in like he owned the place. Went straight to the bar and ordered 4 bloody marys. Pete Seeger saddled up beside him and said, "you gonna play that horn boy, or just balance it on your nose while you tap dance?". Dylan shrugged, mumbled something about Leadbelly's younger sister, and downed three of the bloody marys.

Now, he was such a slight, wiry little guy, he could hardly hold that big pink horn. But that didn't stop him. He took the stage, and in his best 'just-blew-in-from-the-coal-country' voice he announced: "My name is Bob Dylan, and I'm a-here to blow this pink sousaphone." It was then I noticed the message painted in sloppy letters on the bell of the horn: THIS MACHINE SLIGHTLY IRRITATES UNDECIDED VOTERS.

He started blowing, and immediately, the room was his. Peter, Paul and Mary were there, and Paul, upon hearing Dylan hit those low, flatulent notes so brilliantly, took his own sousaphone and threw it out the window. John Hammond, A&R man for Columbia records, quickly typed up a contract for a 5-record deal, folded it into a paper airplane, and sent it sailing toward Dylan onstage. Dylan caught it, signed the contract and launched it back to Hammond, all without missing a note. Ten minutes later, Dylan left with my girlfriend, and I never saw either one of them again.

Ram_71449
Ram_71449

Those were the days when you could see Bob Dylan for $2.00

Donna
Donna

Been a fan since the tender age of 13... over 40 years now!Dylan is a National Treasure!

Yabanjin
Yabanjin

Voice archives link leads to a sign in for something called Movable Type?

Garby876
Garby876

The "Boss Tweed" of folk.

David
David

what was his monthly rent?

Patinestero
Patinestero

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE DYLAN AND THE 60'S AND 70'S IN NEW YORK CITY - NOTHING GREATER

Patinestero
Patinestero

think he lived on sullivan street - rents were lowi lived on 21st and 3rd and paid $150 monthly for ten tears - then it was 157.50

Daphidyl
Daphidyl

... and I'm soooo thankful that he did; otherwise, I might never have known him ... that simple twist of fate.

Cony
Cony

All seats $2.00....*sigh*

iDoNtBeLiEvEyOu
iDoNtBeLiEvEyOu

1961 $2.00 adjusted to 2010 = $14.59

That was an expensive concert, considering he was unknown beyond his circle of friends.

Manny Miles
Manny Miles

January 24th is my birthday, so knowing this about Dylan is cool news to me. His arrival to New York City came exactly 7 years before my arrival into the world. great article.

Nona
Nona

I adore Bob. Always have, always will :-)

Mary
Mary

I am so happy he came to NY at 48 below in Minnesota I would have left there, too. I think Bob Dylan is just amazing he always did know what he wanted and I believe he achieved it and then some. Love him.

Elston Gunn
Elston Gunn

"...and when I leave New York, I'll be standing on my feet..."

Jacki M SeiWell
Jacki M SeiWell

wasn't there only six or seven people at his first concert and they were his local friends he had met

JEBworks
JEBworks

Great moment in time. Cause for celebration and remembering.

Joe Nowlan
Joe Nowlan

Future national holiday, perhaps??

Clare
Clare

Bob Dylan Day love the sound of that! a celebration of Americana! Bob is loved here in Australia and is visiting again in April

Ed
Ed

Unbeknownst to the world writ large, a seminal day in American culture.

Rare Book Room
Rare Book Room

Everybody arrives in New York in brutal Winter & never forgets

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