Bob Neuwirth - An Appreciation


I first ran into Bob Neuwirth on a change of planes in Chicago, on the way from NYC to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival, must have been 1988.

I knew Bob was scheduled to play also, and when he got on the plane I called out his name -- and he lit up and we bonded.

He made a point of coming to see my solo set the next day, and gave me all sorts of fatherly advice like: "Now Gary, don't get nervous!"We had dinner together that night and I asked him if it was true what Don Van Vliet had once boasted about to me; namely, "I threw Bob Dylan out of Barney's Beanery!" (A notorious  bar/burger joint in LA.)

"Well…if it makes him feel better to say that," he grinned.

I asked him to elaborate.

"No, no…that wasn't it at all. What it was, was...they had a sign in Barney's Beanery that said:

'No Faggots Allowed’.

And Bob and I didn’t think that was right. So we got up and left."

Bobby Neuwirth came over to my apartment in the West Village once in the mid-'90s, and we recorded one of his songs "Cloudy Day" right then and there direct to DAT, no overdubs:

Bob is singing and on acoustic, and I’m on electric. This track later came out on his solo album Looking Up (Watermelon Records). 

Bob was a great guy! He gave me one of his abstract paintings as a gift and said:

"I've been carrying this around for you forever. What I've paid in overweight charges!"

I rang him up two months ago and tried to get him to sign on to a documentary about his life that my friend Remy wanted to make. He adamantly declined. Guess he knew Dylan would come up as part of the interview, obviously, and he didn't want to go there.

True story:

They had a Norman Mailer Film Festival at Anthology Film Archives some years ago where they screened Norman's first totally improvised "film" shot by DA Pennebaker call WILD 90. Basically, Norman and his cronies playing at being gangsters holed up in a shitty hotel room someplace (the template for Reservoir Dogs, come to think of it). The cast also included a barking dog that Norman infamously barks back at.

On the film credits it says: "Sound by Bob Neuwirth."

(Bob and Pennebaker were old friends, and he is well featured in and does audio commentaries on the DVDs of Don’t Look Back. Also No Direction Home).

The sound is muddy and atrocious, about 90% indecipherable, and after the Anthology screening (where I spotted Alec Baldwin in the audience studying up on Norman probably anticipating playing him someday), they showed a short interview with Norman all about the making of Wild 90, shot only a few years previous. Norman was already dead at this point.

In this doc. when asked about the terrible sound, Norman says:

"Yeah, we had this guy Bob Newhart doing sound, who was just terrible!"

I rang Bob up that night and and told him I'd just seen the film and asked him about this, and he laughed a long time and said:

"Did Norman say that? Well, he and the other guys had never been in a film before, and they kept wandering off their marks with their ‘improvisation’. And I had to try and keep up with their lurching all over the place by trailing after them with the boom mic. So it was nearly impossible in that situation to capture the sound decently. 

But let me tell you something Gary -- even if the film had had pristine sound, 'it wouldn't have made any difference!'"

I really am missing Bob Neuwirth. A great man.

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