Saturday, August 17, 2019

Louis Kemp's Dylan & Me Book Signing: Bringing It All Back Home

Filming for Making It Up North. Chairs and lights set up on the Armory
drill hall stage where Buddy Holly performed January 31, 1959.
L to R: Louis Kemp, Karen Sunderman and cameraman Steve Ash.
Thursday August 15 Louis Kemp, businessman and former Duluthian, returned to his hometown to promote his new book, Dylan and Me.

Kemp arrived in Duluth shortly after the lunch hour with a full schedule ahead of him. His first stop: the Duluth Armory drill hall where he and teen chum Bobby Zimmerman saw Buddy Holly perform on January 31, 1959.

The structure was built in 1915, a drill hall that could be used year round. The stage was added in 1940, from which presidents and countless entertainers spoke or performed. The list of names includes Harry Truman, Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, Liberace, Sonny & Cher,  Diana Ross & the Supremes, Eleanor Roosevelt and a host of other famous persons. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Karen Sunderman, award-winning host of Making It Up North, a show that airs on public television, sat with Louie to discuss his new book about the friendship he shared over a period of 50 years. But first, the author stood near the stage and pointed across the drill hall to the door where he and Bobby entered from the far side and wove through the gathered masses toward the very front.

Kemp shows Armory director Mark Poirier the door he and Bobby
entered that night. The wind chill was 44 below outside.
Louie then pointed and walked over to the spot where he believes that they were standing that fateful night. “As close as possible. There was nothing between us and the stage,” he said. “The goal was to see the concert, not to dance and kibbitz.”

Armory director Mark Poirier brought to Louie a star with the Armory insignia in it that had been created by the Forging Community which is housed in the Armory Annex. The star was placed on this that spot Louie indicated.

Some of what Kemp shared had been mentioned in other stories, how “Bobby listened to the radio stations coming out of the South late at night.” And the story of how Bobby would say he was going to be a rock and roll star. Other stories were new, and the book has many of those. Kemp shared that as teens the tight-knit Jewish community would have a lot of open houses. Many of these homes would have pianos and it wouldn’t be long before Bobby was at the piano, playing. But while playing he’d push the boundaries and, according to Kemp, “Every open house we went to we’d get kicked out of.”

A forged star with the Armory logo was placed on the floor
where the two young chums watched the concert.
While interviewing the author Karen Sunderman kept asking questions about Dylan, and Kemp would always rebuff, stating, “Dylan is a persona. To me he was Bobby.”

“I’ve met lots of big names with big egos. Bobby Zimmerman has no ego,” he said. “He knows he has a gift from God. He’s just a conduit.”

Of the book itself, Kemp states that he wanted people to see the human side of Bobby Zimmerman. He was prompted to write it by a friend who was dying, who had heard many of these stories. “When are you going to write this book? Promise me you’re gonna write this book.”

Karpeles from the balcony. Photo credit: Michael Anderson
AFTER an hour at the Armory there was a trip to the Jewish cemetery where Louis Kemp’s parents and grandparents lay, about 20 paces from the grave marker for Abe and Beatty Zimmerman.

From there we drove to the neighborhood where Louie grew up. The house sits in the middle of the block across the street from a park on the East Hillside. Bobby used to come to this house and visit during their teen years, play in the park or Monopoly upstairs. (I have it on good authority that Bob's favorite Monopoly piece was the Scotty dog.)

A little after 5:00 we arrived at Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum for the main event. The former Christian Science church building was already collecting a good crowd by the time we arrived. The reception, sponsored by Valentini's and Super One Liquor, included music by Gene LaFond, Amy Grillo and Dave Bennett while Louie autographed copies of his book.

This was a reunion of sorts, as Gene used to perform with Larry Kegan, who is prominently featured in the book, another friend from Herzl Camp. Gene also had a chance to be on a portion of the Rolling Thunder Revue of which Louie was the producer. (Bob said to him, "You can sell fish. You can sell tickets.)

The event itself was sponsored by the Duluth Dylan Fest Committee and a continuation of the John Bushey Memorial Lecture Series, honoring the legacy of John Bushey, who hosted the Dylan-themed Highway 61 Revisited on KUMD for 26 years. We were calling this an Encore event.

It also signified the final night of Bill Pagel's exhibition of Dylan memorabilia, which included handwritten lyrics to Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues and Desolation Row. It was a nice touch when Gene sang Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues.

August 15 was also the 50th anniversary of the start of Woodstock. In my opening remarks I made note of this and reminded everyone that the emergency room to St. Luke's Hospital is directly across the street, in the event that they failed to heed the warnings about the brown acid.

With that Louie Kemp came to the microphone and spent 45 minutes to an hour reading favorite passages and stories from his book.

His shirt reads, "Duluth Minnesota. It's Where My Story Began."
Bob Zimmerman's story began here, too. Six years in the upstairs of a duplex
in the Central Hillside and where Louie would spend the night.
With Jim and Barb Bushey, brother and sister of the late John Bushey, 
* * * *
Even some of Louie's former employees from Kemp Fisheries came out.
* * * *
Matt Steichen and clan. He and his wife Jennifer met at a Dylan concert.
* * * *
Geno, Louie, Amy and the author of Ennyman's Territory.
Learning something new every day. It's all good.

All the evening event photos were taken by Michael Anderson 
with the exception of the Matt Steichen family.

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