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HIPSTERS, FLIPSTERS
AND
FINGER POPPIN' DADDIES!

by C. P. Lee

 

 
   
 

When Dylan was at home, he could be heard typing his lyrics long into the night. Chocolate milkshakes seemed to be his main staple. Earth mother that I am, and a true believer in the need for a balanced diet, I would insist that he come down for meals. I especially liked to feed him horse-meat steaks, which I purchased in fillet form at the pet-food store, kasha, peas, and salad.

Lisa Law, Flashing On The 60s
Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1987.


Horse-meat!? From a pet-food store?! What kind of a home was this?

I should have guessed when I started the research for my piece about Bob Dylan and Tiny Tim that things would change, and indeed they have. To put it more accurately, things have expanded. The links and threads that I referred to in that article have grown even more tangled so that the patchwork quilt has grown even bigger than it was, and now I need to go through everything twice in order to accommodate the extra information.

Firstly, a correction – According to Lisa Law (of whom, more in a moment), Dylan first saw Tiny Tim performing at Hugh Romney’s club in LA, which was called The Phantom Cabaret, not The Little Theatre. Why exactly did Dylan go and see him perform that night? Not purely a whim it would appear, but because he and Tiny were roomies, as the Americans would put it. That is to say, they shared the same accommodation.

Lisa Law was your typical California Girl, blonde, leggy, fairly well to do, and, definitely, most definitely, around at the right time, which for the purposes of this article is the 1960s.She left High school in the early 60s and took off on a round the world trip on-board a yacht that got her as far as Acapulco which she fell in love with. In 1964 and back in California the world was changing and what was to become known as ‘the Counter-Culture’ was beginning to emerge. Lisa went to art school in Marin County and somebody gave her a camera…

I was twenty-two and daring and went wherever the moment took me. The music scene was starting to happen. Elvis had got the hips moving and the mind racing, and a movement was being born. Everything seemed to happen at once. The war in Vietnam was escalating, Martin Luther King, Jnr., was leading the fight for civil rights, people were dropping acid as often as the pill, and music was expressing it all.

Lisa Law, Ibid

Lisa travelled up and down the West Coast wherever the ‘moment took’ her, and along the way photographed many of the new wave of musicians that were springing up, Paul Horn, The Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Beatles, being just a few. Then in the spring of 1965 she met a man called Tom Law and that night they got married.

Tom worked as a road-manager for, believe it or not, Albert Grossman, and they met at a Peter, Paul and Mary concert in Berkeley. “Who is THAT!?” she asked, and back came the answer, “That’s your husband.” They had their wedding feast at original Joe’s in North Beach. Tom worked out his notice for Albert and moved to LA where he and Lisa rented a house known as ‘The Castle’.

Set in its own three acres of land, in the Los Feliz Hills of Hollywood, the Castle was a four-storey mansion built at the turn of the century in Spanish colonial style. It had a ballroom with a gold leaf ceiling, a kitchen big enough to fit a ten-foot long table, turrets, sweeping staircases à la Douglas Fairbanks, and indeed, it had a filmic history having been the residence of Bela Lugosi when he was at the height of his fame and before drug addiction ruined him. By the mid 1960s it had become a kind of shabby, run-down relic, but it was perfect for Tom and Lisa Law. In order to make ends meet, Tom took a job as assistant director to Mike Nichols who was making Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? For extra cash they made use of their contacts in the entertainment world and rented out suites on either a short or long term basis.

As a kind of celebrity crash pad it developed a reputation as ‘the place to stay when in LA’ for an ever changing kaleidoscope of performers, eccentrics and stars. Not just a B&B either, local visitors were most welcome too:

The Castle was the first place I ever heard the music of Bulgaria. I went in there one day in my usual fashion – ripped to the tits – I was just as high as I could get – and someone was playing the music of The Bulgarian National Folk Ensemble in Choir under the direction of Phillipe Koutiv. That record taught me as much about harmony as The Everly Brothers, and that’s saying something…

David Crosby, ibid

The Castle became the place to hang out. Lisa became a kind of house mother, cooking, cleaning and generally looking after her guests… and hiding the dope. Mostly hiding the dope because she was sure that their Shangri La would almost certainly get busted. It never did.

Occasionally they hired an electrician cum odd-job man to help out with things. He was called Harrison Ford, but mainly it was Lisa who took care of things around the place. Probably because she was known to everybody personally she was able to take photographs all the time, and a portion of her book Flashing on The Sixties is devoted to her time at The Castle.

It’s no doubt due to Tom’s association with Albert Grossman that Dylan took to staying at The Castle whenever he was in LA. Lisa Law:

Occasionally, after a long writing session, I would massage his (Dylan’s) neck and back. This relaxed him and sometimes annoyed him because it sent him to sleep and interfered with his workings. Those were the times I felt close to Dylan. Though he didn’t stop me from photographing him, I was never comfortable doing it. He had a stare that intimidated me and took my breath away.

Ibid

Intimidated or not, the pictures of Dylan in her book are charming and intimate. In particular, a shot that doesn’t actually feature him sums Dylan up perfectly. It’s of his desk in The Castle, and it intrigues and infuriates both at the same time, because you can’t quite make out what’s actually there, except for his typewriter, with any great degree of clarity.

But back to last issue’s ‘links and threads’, because that’s what draws me to Lisa’s story – Hugh Romney, who was now metamorphosing into Wavy Gravy, has this memory of Dylan in her book:

The first time I saw Bob Dylan, he came wandering into the Gaslight Café on MacDougal Street wearing Woody Guthrie’s underwear. I know that only in hindsight. He had a sign on his guitar that said ‘THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS’. He asked me if it was alright if he performed, and I said, “Well, there’s a little lull. What’s your name kid?” He said, “Bob Dylan.” And I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, here he is, a legend in his own lifetime. What’s your name again?”

Ibid

Hugh and his wife Bonnie Beecher were regular visitors to The Castle because also staying there at the same time as Dylan was Hugh’s protégé from New York – Tiny Tim:

He came to The Castle and sang ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips’ from the balcony overlooking the ballroom. He always carried a brown shopping bag with his ukulele in it, and if you were lucky he would pull it out and play a sweet tune. I also remember that he ate a lot of canned spinach and liked a private shower adjoining his room. We called him Mr. Tim and treated him with enormous respect…

Ibid

And that’s how Bob met Tim.

Also resident at the time Dylan stayed during his rehearsals for the world tour was man who has virtually become an anathema to Dylan fans, though his credentials aren’t all that bad – Barry MacGuire, erstwhile singer of PF Sloane’s Eve of Destruction, the pseudo-Folk Protest hit with its growling vocals and sturm und drang lyrics that now, in 2002, appear to be frighteningly prophetic. Such are the vagaries of life…

Tim Rose lived there for a while, and, shortly after Dylan headed off on his apocalyptic tour, Nico and The Velvet Underground arrived. Let’s briefly rewind back to Nico – Dylan’s muse for I’ll Keep It With Mine, and subsequently Lou Reed’s main squeeze, the tragic, Germanic aristocratic junkie who, for some strange reason best known to herself, eventually came to linger away her twilight years in a suburb of north Manchester.

Never mentioned by Lisa Law in her book, but living in one of the apartments was the man who I personally regard as being Dylan’s closest competitor in the 1960s, Arthur Lee. The cover of Love’s first album was taken in the back garden of The Castle and Lee wrote a tune with that name for their second album Da Capo. As is to be expected, this beautiful Spanish influenced melody, full of crashing flamenco guitars and esoteric lyrics about baggage, cloaks and staffs, was eventually crucified by being used as the theme tune for BBC TVs Cliff Mitchelmore programme Holiday 69 – And let’s not forget who introduced Dylan to British TV viewers on the Tonight programme in 1964 – Yes, Cliff Mitchelmore.

So now we’ve got the Byrds, Harrison Ford, Tim Hardin accompanied by the lady from Baltimore herself, Susan Hardin, neither of whom are to be confused with John Wesley, Nico, Tiny Tim, Lou, Gerald, John, Sterling and Maureen, and not forgetting Andy Warhol himself, and the one and only Arthur Lee, all in the same space at almost the same time. And then Tom and Lisa move away to follow the hippy lifestyle by dragging a tepee across America in search of their dream.

The Castle slid gently into another level of genteel neglect and then it was bought in the late 1970s by another character from Dylan’s life, this time a man who he most certainly doesn’t like, and who, quite possibly bought the mansion with Dylan’s money.

The man in question was Marvin Mitchelson, the (in)famous divorce lawyer. The lawyer who ‘invented’ the concept of ‘palimony’ when he secured a settlement for Lee Marvin’s long-term girlfriend upon their separation. The lawyer who represented Sara when she and Dylan got divorced! It’s by no means unfeasible that Mitchelson used part of his fee off Sara (and thereby Dylan) to pay for the Los Feliz residence. With so many threads and links flying around, anything seems possible.

Karma caught up with Mitchelson and he was jailed in 1996 for tax evasion and forced to sell Bela Lugoi’s old home. Guess who bought it? Johnny Depp, that’s who. I’m sure there are more links and threads there, but right now, I’ve gone about as far as I can with this one. Happy hunting!

If you want, you can see Lisa Law’s pictures and read her tales of yester year on the internet – www.americanhistory.si.edu/lisalaw/3.htm.

Her book Flashing On The Sixties is ISBN 0-87701-465-5


Dylan

 
 
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