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A multifaceted artist, Bob Neuwirth, 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 at the age of 82. Neuwirth’s partner Paula Batson confirmed her death to Rolling stones.

Wednesday night in Santa Monica, Bob Neuwirth’s big heart gave out, Neuwirth’s family said in a statement to Rolling stones. Bob was an artist in every cell of his body, and he loved to encourage others to make art themselves. He was a painter, songwriter, producer and record artist whose body is loved and respected. For more than 60 years, Bob has been at the center of cultural moments, from Woodstock to Paris, from do not look back to Monterey Pop, from the Rolling Thunder to Nashville and Havana. He was a generous instigator who produced and often made things happen anonymously. It was the art that meant something to him, not the honor. 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, happy to go unnoticed, even though his ties to the great rockers have made him a legend. . Dylan fans remember him for his caustic performances in do not look backdirector DA Pennebaker’s film about Dylan’s UK tour in 1965, as well as for his appearances on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975. Joplin fans recognize him from his classic a cappella ” Mercedes-Benz », Co-written with the poet Michael McClure. In a world of private art collectors, Neuwirth was known for exhibiting his paintings, and Velvet Underground fans 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 some people like that, it does not force you to be a musiciansaid Neuwirth in 1989 about his collaborations. I had other business. I was a painter, so it never occurred to me to do any of the 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 magnetism, impossible not to be attracted to him. »

Born in Akron, Ohio on June 20, 1939, Neuwirth first attended Ohio University before moving to Boston in 1959 to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Art to receive an art scholarship. After a trip to Paris, he returned to Boston, worked in an art shop and learned to play the banjo and guitar, which led to him becoming part of the Cambridge folk scene in the early 1960s. ” It was about painting that I somehow got into folk musiche said in 1989. I kind of signed up for art school as a folk singer. It was always my secondary art and my part-time job. »

Neuwirth began to hang out with the similar scene that unfolded in New York’s Greenwich Village (partly because weeds were more readily available there, he joked). It was there that he met Bob Dylan, with whom he shared his caustic humor. ” From the outset one could see that Neuwirth had a taste for provocation and that nothing would limit his freedom.writes Dylan in Chronicles volume 1. He was in a wrong rebellion 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 one singer who played with Dylan said Rolling stones in 1972: When he arrived in New York in 1964, he began dating Dylan. And Dylan started to change around that time. This is thanks in part to Neuwirth, who was a strong influence on Dylan. Neuwirth had a negative attitude, he emphasized pride and ego, he said: “Keep your head up, do not give up, take control of the stage”. He was the kind of guy who could influence others, work on their egos and support them. Her negative attitude matched Dylan’s feelings perfectly. »

Shortly after, Neuwirth moved to Los Angeles, where he remained 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 cult, and re-release plans were on the way before his death. Bob Neuwirth also starred in Dylan’s experimental film, Renaldo and Clarain 1978.

For Joan Baez, who met Neuwirth on the Cambridge folk scene, Neuwirth was a stabilizing figure as she found herself disoriented in Dylan’s orbit. ” At the time of [la tournée de Don’t Look Back]i was feeling bad and bob [Neuwirth] wanted me to come homeshe says. He told me, “It’s not getting any better.” And he was right. Ten years later, at Rolling Thunder concerts led by Dylan, Baez also felt bad about himself. ” I felt devalued again and that was how I spent much of my time with Dylan.she says. I was lying on my hotel bed and Neuwirth came in and started behaving stupidly, he opened the window and shouted: “She must live!”. He was one of those people who could make you laugh.

His work on 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 immersed himself in this part of his life from time to time. From the magnificent Back to the front page from 1989, he resumed recording occasional, ironic and often stringent country-folk records. Along with John Cale, whom he had met when they hung out together at Andy Warhol’s Factory in the 1960s, he directed in 1994. Last day on earth. In recent years, Neuwirth has performed at Randy Newman and Harry Smith’s tribute concerts, as well as a New York concert in 2018 that recreated Dylan’s 1963 show in Town Hall. The latter was all the more remarkable as Neuwirth usually distances himself from his connections 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 that kind of character … With his tongue he ripped, cut and could make anyone 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 capable of going from one thing to another, then it was him. “.

For Patti Smith, the front page of Highway 61 Revisited of Dylan (as we see Neuwirth on, or rather his pants behind Dylan) testifies to his discreet but important role in the culture. ” It’s him 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

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