Today’s post is a little excursion into the genesis of a song that I wrote with my band in the seventies. I was living in Greenwich Village down the street from Bob Dylan. He had been pretty nice to me, attending our performance at the Bitter End and offering encouraging words. When I ran in to him on the street one afternoon he asked me to join him at Gerde’s folk City that evening. I showed up and as he was sitting with his people, including Sarah, Joan Baez, Rambling Jack Elliot and Allen Ginsberg, I maneuvered on my own. There were a lot of well-known musicians there and the atmosphere was mysteriously electric. I was told that everyone was expected to do something, such as read a poem or sing. I wasn’t sure what to do as I didn’t play an instrument and had nothing prepared. Suddenly, my name was called and with everybody looking I had to come up with something. Under pressure, I made up a story about an archer and his sister in 16th century Japan, and the singer-songwriter Eric Anderson mercifully joined in on guitar. Afterwards, I took off and went crosstown to CBGB’s, the stronghold of the unknown, to be with my own people.
I never knew that the night was being filmed until Martin Scorsese asked for permission to include my impromptu performance in his Rolling Thunder film. Though I dreaded it, I arranged to meet him and watched my segment in a small screening room. Sitting in the dark, what struck me was that I still contain aspects of the hubris and humor of that stumbling South Jersey girl. In the credits of the film I was identified as the punk poet. I guess in a way that was true and most possibly why I didn’t make the cut in the Rolling Thunder Revue. I was too raw and irreverent, but none the less it was quite an experience. Bob Dylan treated me well and I was proud that he saw something in me, which I held as a secret weapon through the challenging times ahead. I found the clip from that night, performing before some of the best minds of my generation. That night, though difficult, validated that I could think on my feet, and provided me with an unexpected gift. The lyric refrain, initially spit out as an act of improvisational survival, developed as a propelling build in the song Aint it Strange. The song went through several metamorphosis until it found its final form on the album Radio Ethiopia, shedding its stages from caterpillar to moth to another dimension.