As a longtime biker, any mention of motorcycles, riders, clubs, etcetera, intrigues me, so when Bob Dylan mentioned late Hells Angel Berdoo President Bobby Zimmerman (Chronicle: Volume One, 2004, pg. 79), while explaining his own renaming, I went looking for more info. First, I located a photo of the deceased, posted on the Berdoo chapter’s Memorial page:
Dylan apparently had the date of death wrong: He said Zimmerman died in 1964, but Zimmerman’s *Angel brothers have him dying three years earlier.
Then I dug a little further, and found this article, a human-interest item by John Weeks of the San Bernardino Sun, published last fall, in which Dylan claims a spiritual bond with the soul of the dead Angel:
A surprise addition to the local family
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s put our hands together and give a warm hometown welcome to a local boy who has made good, who has distinguished himself as one of the most influential singers and songwriters of all time, a living legend, a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, a recipient of multiple Grammy, Oscar and People’s Choice awards, the one and only, the Inland Empire’s own … Bob Dylan!
Whoa, hold on here. Let’s check our notes.
Says here that Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in 1941 in Duluth, Minn., that he grew up in Hibbing, Minn., that he went to college in Minneapolis, that he moved to New York and became famous, that he later lived in both New York and Minnesota, and that for the last couple of decades he has made his home in Malibu. There’s no mention here at all of the Inland Empire.
Oh, wait, there’s more. Wow, this is new. Says here that Bob Dylan had a bonding experience with the soul of a dead San Bernardino biker, also named Robert Zimmerman, in the 1960s, and that he was transformed into a different person at that time.
An Inland Empire person, evidently.
Is this a joke?
If it is, it’s Bob Dylan himself who is telling it. In public.
Here are his own words, in an interview with Mikal Gilmore that appears in a recent cover story in Rolling Stone magazine:
“When you ask some of your questions, you’re asking them to a person who’s long dead. You’re asking them to a person that doesn’t exist. But people make that mistake about me all the time. … Transfiguration is what allows you to crawl out from under the chaos and fly above it. That’s how I can still do what I do and write the songs I sing and just keep on moving.”
That Bob Dylan! What a card! What a kidder!
No, wait. Later in the interview, he starts talking about transfiguration again, and he presses the point. He brandishes a dog-eared copy of the book Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. He cites a chapter in the book that recounts how Robert Zimmerman, the 21-year-old president of the San Bernardino chapter of the Hells Angels, who lived on Walnut Street in San Bernardino, was killed in a 1961 motorcycle accident in Madera County. That accident was a precursor, Dylan believes, to his own motorcycle accident in 1966 near Woodstock, N.Y. The two events were directly related and they completed Dylan’s transformation into a new person, he says.
He can’t be serious about this, right?
Wait, he really is. He goes off on it for a third time during the course of the interview. “I’m showing you a book that’s been written and published. I mean, look at all the connecting things: motorcycles, Bobby Zimmerman. … And there’s more to it than even that. … I’d always been different than other people, but this book told me why. … I didn’t know who I was before I read the Barger book.”
Well, if he really means it, we should start now to prepare for that hometown concert in the Inland Empire that now seems inevitable. We’ll put up banners. “Welcome home, Bob!”
He can perform in the giant San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore, or perhaps he would prefer a smaller arena show, at the Epicenter, say, in Rancho Cucamonga, or the San Manuel Stadium in downtown San Bernardino, or Coussoulis Arena at Cal State San Bernardino. Or, he could do a series of small, intimate shows in theater settings, such as the Glass House in Pomona, or the Fox Riverside, or the historic California Theatre in San Bernardino.
Many towering figures in the music industry do have strong roots in the Inland Empire. The list includes Tennessee Ernie Ford of San Bernardino, Kris Kristofferson of Claremont, Frank Zappa of Rancho Cucamonga, Jimmy Webb and Jim Messina of Colton, Sammy Hagar and Travis Barker of Fontana, and Liberace, Dick Clark and Herb Alpert, all of whom had homes in Lake Arrowhead.
Jazz legend Pearl Bailey, in her retirement, ran a popular guest ranch in Apple Valley.
Singers Bonnie Raitt and Joan Baez both have University of Redlands connections, thanks to their fathers. Raitt’s father, the Broadway star John Raitt, was a University of Redlands graduate. Baez, whose father taught there, writes about living in Redlands in her autobiography, “Daybreak.”
Now, it appears, we must add a new name to the list of musical hometown heroes.
Of course, unlike the others, Dylan neither was born nor raised here, nor did he ever work or go to school here. No, he’s here only in spirit, as the result of transfiguration.
That means he is in a category of his own.
But we knew that already, didn’t we?
The story is addressed in greater detail by author Grant Maxwell, in a post he describes as “a (slightly modified) excerpt from my forthcoming book, How Does It Feel?: Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Meaning of Rock and Roll,” which may be seen here:
In that post Maxwell delves deep into the chronology of events, and how Zimmerman’s death ties in not only with Dylan’s own motorcycle crash, but with the entirety of Dylan’s professional career! So, I guess that would make Zimmerman Dylan’s “guardian angel,” right?
Food for thought, if you’re inclined to think along those lines.
* NOTE: In the book Dylan mentions in his interview – Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club – Hells Angel Sonny Barger relates the story of Zimmerman’s death on the ride home from the Bass Lake Run, an annual Angel event immortalized in Hunter S. Thompson’s book on the Angels. However, while on page 70 he gives the same 1964 date that Dylan used, on page 130, again recounting Zimmerman’s death, he writes that Zimmerman died in1962. I can’t explain the discrepancies between Barger’s recollections and the chapter’s official website.