In a piece last week on the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan, The New York Times noted “Mr. Dylan emerged on the New York music scene in 1961 as an artist in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, singing protest songs and strumming an acoustic guitar in clubs and cafes in Greenwich Village.”
It’s worth noting that along his journey to Greenwich Village and eventual stardom, the Minnesota-born and raised Dylan made a months-long stop in Madison in 1960.
I got the story in 2001 from a writer named Ron Radosh, who had just penned a piece on Dylan for the New Republic that included fascinating tidbits about the music legend’s time in Madison.
I contacted Radosh after I read the article. Radosh says he had come to Madison from New York in 1960 to study history under the esteemed professor William Appleman Williams.
Radosh told me he was living with his wife in a small apartment on Hawthorne Court, off lower State Street, when he answered a knock on the door and there was Dylan, guitar in hand, having arrived by bus with directions to Radosh’s place provided by a mutual friend.
Radosh, with no crash space available, found Dylan a room with a friend on Mifflin Street. Over the next few months, they stayed in touch. Dylan began playing music: Woody Guthrie songs, at The Pad, a State Street coffeehouse operated by an East Coast transplant named Murray Winer. Ben Sidran once told me that musicians liked Winer because he let them charge sandwiches.
Radosh recalled that one spring day, he and Dylan were sitting on the Memorial Union Terrace, talking about this and that, when Dylan suddenly blurted, “I’m going to be as big a star as Elvis Presley.”
Radosh laughed and said, “Singing Woody Guthrie songs?”
Soon enough, of course, Dylan was writing his own songs. He came back to Madison after he was famous, though not all that often.
Perhaps his most noteworthy Madison performance came in 1978, after an absence of 13 years. Dylan had been booed at the Orpheum Theater in 1964 after picking up an electric guitar.
Maybe that reception accounted for the long break between Madison appearances. In any case, Dylan’s 1978 show at the Dane County Coliseum was a big deal. Paul Soglin—nearing the end of his first run in the city of Madison mayor’s office—declared the day of the concert, Nov. 1, 1978, “Bob Dylan Day.” Soglin’s proclamation called Dylan “truly a remarkable figure of the 20th century.”
Tickets sold quickly. Dylan’s Union Terrace boast to Radosh had come true. Concert promoter Herb Frank told The Capital Times, “It’s the biggest thing since Presley—even bigger.”
That 1978 Madison Dylan concert had an interesting postscript that happened nearly 30 years later.
In 2006, someone alerted me to an eBay sale of a photo taken backstage that night at the Coliseum.
The photo showed Dylan, Soglin and several other men lined up next to one another in a Coliseum dressing room. The photo was inscribed by Bob Dylan to “Charlie.”
The men I didn’t know in the photo turned out to be record company executives from Chicago. The two that I did know were Jonathan Little and Charlie “Rock ‘n’ Roll” Simon from WISM-AM radio, then Madison’s hot music station.
It was “Charlie”—Charlie Simon, real name Larry Goodman—who put the signed photo up on eBay in 2006.
After Goodman left Madison, he had a successful career in radio sales in San Diego. I talked to him a few times over the years, and I think he said it was his wife who encouraged him to start to unload his old radio station memorabilia.
At one point, Goodman traded a piece of the Otis Redding airplane that crashed into Lake Monona to the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas for a guitar autographed by Paul McCartney.
The auction of the signed Dylan in Madison photo came a couple of years later. It sold for $436.
Doug Moe is a Madison writer. See his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.