Nobel Laureate’s Former Manager Looks Back

Michael Friedman has done a lot in his 72 years.

The 1961 Staples graduate managed Todd Rundgren. He did publicity for the Dave Clark 5 and Herman’s Hermits. He dated Linda Eastman.

And — for a few years in the late 1960s and early ’70s — he helped manage Bob Dylan.

You know: the newest Nobel Prize in Literature laureate.

Michael Friedman in his Weston home.

Michael Friedman in his Weston home.

Friedman — a longtime music lover and current Weston resident whose recollections of the early rock ‘n’ roll days in Westport I chronicled last April (he was Bo Diddley’s drummer at the YMCA, for example) — was just 24 years old when he joined Albert Grossman’s New York office.

It had been a 1-man operation, managing — besides Dylan, and the Band — Janis Joplin, Peter Paul & Mary, Richie Havens, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Odessa.

Friedman was hired on as Grossman’s assistant — and partner.

With Dylan back in the news last week, I asked Friedman for some insights into the singer/songwriter/poet/Nobel Prize honoree.

“What do you add to the conversation about Bob Dylan that hasn’t already been examined under a microscope?” Friedman wondered.

Bob Dylan and Albert Grossman.

Bob Dylan and Albert Grossman.

He thinks, though, that it’s hard to imagine Dylan achieving all that he did without Grossman. They were “alter egos,” Friedman says.

Friedman’s work with Dylan came mainly in the office, and Dylan’s home/studio in Woodstock, New York — not on the road. But the manager saw many facets of his client.

Decades later, he remains a huge fan.

“If anything, I’m surprised that people are surprised” at the Nobel news, Friedman says.

“His lyrics and music go far beyond anything any American has achieved,” he notes.

“He’s so influential. He gave everyone — the Beatles, Paul Simon, you name it — permission to write in a way that had never been done before. The body of work he’s responsible for laid the groundwork in a fearless, extraordinary way.”

That “Nashville Skyline” album remains one of Friedman’s favorites. It was light, simple — and very country-influenced. That, Friedman says, epitomizes Dylan.

bob-dylan-nashville-skyline

Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” cover.

“He did not care what anyone thought, or about celebrity or fame. He was booed off the stage at Newport for going electric, when he was the spokesman for folk music. He was the anti-war spokesman, and he went country. He did what he wanted..”

But Dylan was certainly no dilettante. When Friedman asked him about his writing “process,” Dylan said: “I get up in the morning. I go to my ‘office.’ I write songs. Then I go home.”

After nearly 60 years in the business — and countless honors — Bob Dylan has received an enormous honor, for his great body of work.

“I really admire him,” his former manager said. “And I’m really proud of him.”

12 responses to “Nobel Laureate’s Former Manager Looks Back

  1. I read that Dylan has not yet responded to the Nobel Committee’s call. Why do you think that it is?

  2. I’ve been waiting to hear what Westport connection would emerge.
    Interesting, as always.

  3. Mark Demmerle

    What great work of literature did Bob Dylan write?

    • Only a few hundred songs, many of which stand on their own even without music.

    • I heard (on WNYC — I’ve forgotten wether their own programming or NPR or BBC) that he won the prize for ‘songwriting’ (lyrics + music) NOT ‘literature’ as usually understood & that it’s the first time that they’ve done this. (I didn’t do any further research).

      The distinction being that the committee themselves stated that his lyrics belonged WITH the music (like ancient greek poets) & that’s what they have awarded him for & not his lyrics standing alone against other literature. It IS confusing — as it’s called the ‘literature’ prize. (Sorry if this is somewhat repetitive: it’s difficult to explain what they said! I wish I had the quote).

  4. Thanks for this very timely article Dan. Mr. Friedman sounds like an interesting man who’s lived an interesting life & must have some fascinating stories! (More about the *lovely* photographer Miss.Eastman please… The local girl from Scarsdale whose photos I love). I’m a bit jealous that you get to sit around and drink coffee (or something) w/ this man & listen to these stories. (Not fair!).

    It’s very interesting to read the *for & against* posts & articles from scholars & writers & musicians on Mr.Zimmerman’s win. Some of them are VERY funny & it’s so unpredictable WHO would be *for* & WHO *against*! (Please see the Guardian’s recent live feed article for a very comprehensive string of those).

    I knew Mr.Richie Havens. I’d gone to Woodstock the summer after high school (Staples) in 1978 to attend The Art Students League (summer satellite school — since closed) there & met him through my Native American friend who was very close to him (for years — as he wrote a song on ‘Mixed Bag’ & was on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour & was basically adopted by Pete Seeger as an 18 year old orphan).

    Richie is Native also — I don’t think many people are aware of that (from a Long Island tribe). I’m writing *is* because with his beautiful & expansive metaphysical beliefs I know he *does* not want me to say *was* & I don’t believe in *was* either!

    As w/ Mr.Bowie I feel that the Earth lost something so irreplaceably original when Mr.Havens passed over. Something has felt sadly missing ever since.

    • CORRECTION to my earlier post — the song I referred to was not on Mixed Bag (it is on an album from around that time — but I can’t remember which).

      Also online it says his father was Native from Long Island but Blackfoot (originally & moved to LI). I don’t remember that. It has been awhile & I remembered a LI tribe.

      • PS: I think the song my friend wrote that Richie recorded was on the 1970 album Stonehenge & called ‘Prayer’

        • Correction to PS: It was on Mixed Bag II and called ‘The Indian Prayer’. Very confusing between Mixed Bag 1&2 and also two songs called ‘Prayer’ & ‘The Indian Prayer’.