Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Just Like a Woman - Dylan and Sedgwick

In the mid-sixties, the apex of cool was Dylan at the Factory. He came at Warhol’s behest to star in one of Warhol’s "screen tests," which consisted of the subject sitting silently in front of a camera for about two minutes. In the resulting film, Dylan looks alternately bored, vacant, vulnerable, and full of contempt. According to many, Dylan thought Warhol talentless and exploitative. It was then that Dylan met Edie Sedgwick, the beautiful but troubled gamine who Warhol groomed to be a "Superstar." Over time, Edie would come to inspire a number of Dylan’s songs, including (maybe) "Like a Rolling Stone."

In Warhol’s 1975 memoir The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, he introduces a thinly veiled Edie as "a wonderful, beautiful blank. The mystique to end all mystiques… After one look at [Edie] I could see she had more problems than anybody I’d ever met. So beautiful but so sick. I was really intrigued." For her part, Edie was perhaps initially drawn to Andy because he wanted to make movies of her. She saw her visage in lights, her extraordinary appearance finally seguing into a bankable skill. The two became inseparable, even on occasion dressing alike: striped boat shirts and silver hair.

For Andy, Edie was a vessel, but for Dylan, she was perhaps something else entirely. "Dylan liked Edie because she was one of the few people who could stand up against his weird little numbers: she was much stronger than the sycophants who were hanging around him at the time," recalled film producer - and former Dylan road manager Jonathan Taplin. No one directly mentions "Like a Rolling Stone," and indeed, some Dylan historians advise against assigning his songs a single muse, but the parallels are hard to ignore: "Once upon a time you dressed so fine/ You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?/ People'd call, say, ‘Beware doll, you’re bound to fall’/ You thought they were all kiddin’ you." At the same time chiding the iconic artist as a sniveling sadist: "You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat/ Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat." No way around it; that's Andy.

Maybe Dylan was disheartened to see Edie Sedgwick fall further into her drug addiction. Maybe he always thought her a rather comedic figure, as he portrays what is almost certainly her in "Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat." ("You know it balances on your head/Just like a mattress balances/ On a bottle of wine/ Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat.") We can’t be sure why Dylan rejected Edie (if that's the case), but sources say she was crushed to learn that Dylan secretly married Sara Lownds, reportedly the inspiration for "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”  

Edie told Warhol in 1966 that she signed with Bob Dylan's manager in an effort to become a "real movie star." Warhol was angry about the decision, seeing it as a move outside of the art world. Perhaps in retaliation, Warhol revealed that Dylan was already married. In October, under the influence of cocaine, Edie fell unconscious. When she woke, her apartment was on fire. It was discovered that the flames came from a dropped cigarette. She was also apparently wearing a Betsy Johnson dress. "When Edie set her apartment on fire," said Betsey Johnson, "she was in one of my dresses." Edie once told a friend, "I have an accident about every two years, and one day it won't be an accident."

In another post I referred to Dylan's lyrics as misogynistic. Nix that. I’ve listened to "Just Like a Woman" twenty times since then, and all I hear is sorrow, despite the lyrics:

She takes just like a woman, yes she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl.
It's was raining from the first
And I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here
And your long-time curse hurts
But what's worse
Is this pain in here
I can't stay in here
Ain't it clear that.