This is the story, so far as I know never told, of Bob Dylan's first meeting with Woody Guthrie. I tell it now in honor of Dylan's new album and in memory of Mark Eastman, the man who told me the story and who died on October 4, 2008. I cannot verify the facts, so I will let readers decide for themselves.
Heading to New York for the first time, Dylan found his way first to Madison, Wisconsin and then to Chicago. Once there, Dylan headed immediately to see Kevin Krown. The two had met in the summer of 1960 in Central City, Colorado, and Krown had told Dylan to stop by if he was ever in Chicago.
Mark Eastman was a friend of Krown's. Eastman recalled that Dylan arrived at a dorm in Chicago looking like a "lost soul carrying a guitar." He was very shy, Eastman said. "He seemed like a little lost boy, with a frail quality, like he couldn't cook a cup of soup. He was in constant motion."
At some point, Dylan, Krown, and Eastman determined to head east to meet Woody Guthrie, and they did so several weeks later. Eastman and Krown hitchhiked to New York, and Dylan got a ride in a '57 Impala. Krown had a friend who had a vacant apartment in midtown, and the people said they could stay there. The three--and a fourth person whose name Eastman didn't recall--met at the apartment.
Dylan probably arrived sometime after the snowstorm on January 20, 1961. Eastman recalled there was snow on the ground when he got there and that he would have gone to New York on Fridays and weekends. Therefore, Dylan most likely arrived in New York on Friday, January 27th.
On the day after they got to New York, Dylan, Krown, Eastman, and the mysterious fourth person took a bus trip of about an hour and a half to Greystone Hospital to visit Woody Guthrie. Eastman said, "We walked into the floor where someone asked for Woody." There were "chairs along the wall, attendants in green mopping the floor." Eastman looked at the patients wandering around and felt depressed. "We sat down on some chairs in the corner of the room. Finally an attendant walked out with Woody, whose body was bent in strange angles. He almost looked like a prisoner from Auschwitz. However, he seemed happy and excited to have company. It was hard to understand Woody. Dylan played him some songs. Woody was very interested. He really bonded with Dylan. It seemed as if everyone present paid attention and felt that something significant was happening. The mopping of the floor stopped. I remember Woody asking the attendant to bring out how own guitar. Somehow even under the terrible weight of the crippling effects of Huntington's disease, Woody hammered out some chords to This Land is Your Land, and Bob and he sang the song together.
"As we were getting ready to leave, Woody wrote a few words for each of us." Eastman couldn't recall all the words Woody wrote on his. From other evidence, it seems that on Dylan's Woody wrote, "I ain't dead yet."
Eastman continued his story: "That evening we went to a party in Greenwich Village near NYU. Dylan played a couple of songs, but he wanted to leave. So he and I left and walked down the street [MacDougal] and went into The Commons or some other club. Dylan convinced the guy to let him play and a basket was passed around." The Commons, later named the Fat Black Pussycat, is the most likely place they went.
Bob Dylan had arrived.