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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 association with Bob Dylan, has died aged 82. Neuwirth’s partner Paula Batson confirmed his death to RollingStone.

Wednesday night in Santa Monica, Bob Neuwirth’s big heart gave out, Neuwirth’s family said in a statement to RollingStone. Bob was an artist in every cell of his body and he loved encouraging others to make art themselves. He was a painter, songwriter, producer and recording artist whose body of work is loved and respected. For more than 60 years, Bob has been at the epicenter of cultural moments, from Woodstock to Paris, from Don’t Look Back to Monterey Pop, from Rolling Thunder to Nashville and Havana. He was a generous instigator who produced and often made things happen anonymously. It was the art that mattered to him, not the credit. He was an artist, a mentor and a support for 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 as his ties to the rock greats have made him a legend. . Dylan fans remember him for his caustic appearances in Don’t Look Backdirector DA Pennebaker’s film about Dylan’s 1965 UK tour, as well as for his appearances on the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Joplin fans recognize him from his classic a cappella ” Mercedes-Benz », co-written with the poet Michael McClure. In the world of private art collectors, Neuwirth was renowned for exhibitions of his paintings, and devotees of the Velvet Underground 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 just days before his death in 1970.

When you meet people like that, it does not push you to be a musiciansaid Neuwirth in 1989 about his collaborations. I had other outlets. I was a painter, so it never occurred to me to do any of 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 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 through for an arts scholarship. After a trip to Paris, he returned to Boston, worked in an art supply store, and learned to play banjo and guitar, which led him to become part of the Cambridge folk scene in the early 1960s.” It was by painting that I got into folk music, in a wayhe said in 1989. I kind of enrolled in art school as a folk singer. It was always my secondary art, and my part-time job. »

Neuwirth began hanging out with the similar scene developing in New York’s Greenwich Village (in part because weed was more readily available there, he joked). It was there that he met Bob Dylan, with whom he shared his caustic sense of humor. ” From the start, you could see that Neuwirth had a taste for provocation and that nothing was going to restrict his freedom.writes Dylan in Chronicles Volume 1. He was in a mad rebellion against something. You had to hang 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 RollingStone in 1972: When he arrived in New York in 1964, he started dating Dylan. And Dylan started to change around that time. This is partly thanks 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, don’t 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. »

Soon after, 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 cult, and reissue plans were in the works 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 when she found herself disoriented in Dylan’s orbit. ” At the time of [la tournée de Don’t Look Back]I felt bad and Bob [Neuwirth] wanted me to come homeshe says. He told me: “It’s not going to get 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’s how I spent a lot of my time with Dylan.she says. I was on my hotel bed and Neuwirth came in and started acting stupid, he opened the window and shouted: “She’s 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 mural works 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 intermittently. From the magnificent Back to the Front from 1989, he resumed recording occasional, ironic and often austere country-folk records. 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 appeared in Randy Newman and Harry Smith tribute concerts, as well as a New York concert in 2018 recreating Dylan’s 1963 show at Town Hall. The latter was all the more remarkable as Neuwirth normally distances himself from his associations with Dylan, rarely giving 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, slashed 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 there was ever a universal being able to pass 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. ” 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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