I was visiting the lovely city of Austin, Texas, earlier this summer and happened by the Stevie Ray Vaughan memorial on the shores of Lady Bird Lake just south of the downtown district. Although Vaughan was born in Dallas, Austin was an important venue for his rise to preeminence as a blues guitarist. Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash in 1990, and in 1994 Austin commissioned sculptor Ralph Helmick to cast a slightly larger than life bronze likeness. It is a dignified tribute to an extraordinary guitarist some (including myself) put in the same league with Jimi Hendrix.
The thought occurs to me that the good folks of Santa Monica should consider erecting a similar tribute to two giants of the protest folk song genre, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Over the decades their careers have intertwined, both with each other and with our burg-by-the-bay. It is a minor request at most to have our City Council set aside a little ocean view real estate in our world famous Palisades Park, and create a “ground zero” pilgrimage site for the current and future disciples of Baez and Dylan.
Both 68 years old, Baez and Dylan have fairly recent connections to Santa Monica. About a year ago Dylan appeared in concert at Civic Auditorium. That same week American Cinematheque’s Aero Theater screened Don’t Look Back, director D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1965 concert tour in the U.K. Baez and Dylan were reportedly romantically linked at the time and she appears in the film as well. Dylan currently resides on Point Dume, just up PCH from Santa Monica. Several long time residents tell me that Dylan appeared at Civic Auditorium decades ago (at least one appearance was with Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band with Maria Muldaur). At one time Dylan reportedly owned a home in Santa Monica, perhaps doubling as a studio. Some years ago he may have briefly studied at McCabe’s Guitar Shop on Pico while perfecting a blues guitar style for an impending concert tour.
This summer, Baez appeared in concert as part of the Santa Monica Pier’s Thursday night Twilight Dance Series. At the time, Baez was quoted in local media professing her love for the pier, including that fact that in the early 70’s she actually lived in an apartment above the pier’s carousel. Cool.
It is folly to suggest that all Santa Monicans are of the same political stripe. That said, our community is well known for its prevailing beliefs in support of civil rights and world peace, core themes of protest folk music. Regarding the latter, in 1990 the city commissioned the installation of cartoonist Paul Conrad’s “Chain Reaction,” a 26 foot tall mushroom cloud between the County Courthouse and Civic Auditorium. I suggest it is time for the city to make a similar public art commitment with the installation of a tribute honoring Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.