Editor’s note: Reading this twenty year old interview will enhance your enjoyment of the new Scorsese product currently on Netflix by a factor of seven.
Article by Dave Conlin Read
On November 7, 1975, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue spent the day at the Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge in Becket, MA. They had played two shows the day before at the Springfield Civic Center, with special guest and Berkshire county resident Arlo Guthrie, who turned Dylan on to his friend Mama Frasca’s lodge. (See related: Interview with Arlo Guthrie)
This interview is the account of a friend of Mama Frasca’s who asked us to refer to him as “A.I.I.” (Anonymous Indigeneous Individual). It was conducted by Dave Conlin Read in Lenox, MA in 1998 and was excerpted in Q magazine’s special edition Maximum Bob.
D.C.R.: How did you come to be involved with Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge?
A.I.I.: Just a Berkshire hillbilly, I was living up there on Becket mountain, and I used to visit the Lodge. It was my social milieu. And I used to help Mama Frasca; she was basically illiterate, and I used to write alot of postcards for her. I’d be sitting with her in the afternoon or evening and she’d tell me what she wanted to tell her friends. We were just good pals, myself and Mama.
D.C.R.: You were invited to the Rolling Thunder Revue party?
A.I.I.: Yes, I was up there when there was a phone call and Mama got very excited. She kept saying, “Joan Baez is coming, Joan Baez is coming.” She didn’t say much about Bob Dylan. So, I was invited to the party the next day. I went up there early in the day, around noontime. A couple of guys from Shenandoah came up there shortly. Arlo Guthrie came up in his Ford pickup, I think it was a ’51 Ford – faded green pickup, maybe it was gray. I remember watching the hawks circling with one of the guys from Shenandoah, on the front steps of the Dreamaway.
And then, after a while, various people started arriving. I remember Dylan coming up in a Winnabago. He had a little sign in one of the side windows, it said “Kemp Fish Co.” I remember the cinematographers coming up in a big red Cadillac convertible. Then I was inside having a beer at the bar, and I guess Bob was having a brandy and talking with Mama. I remember introducing Bob to my friend Bob, saying “Bob, meet Bob”.
When Joan Baez got there, Mama swooped her right upstairs. Joan came in in dungarees, all denim. She went upstairs like that – she came down in a white dress with a white pearl necklass. She went right into the music room and Mama took her over to the big square piano. I think she sang – what’s that song – with a wretch like me? – she sang “Amazing Grace.”
Alot of people started crowding into the music room, and the photographers, the cinematographers, started taking alot of shots of Joan and Mama at the piano. Mama was coming out with these mountain-oracle words-of-wisdom and wit and everybody was sucking it up. Because that was about what she was – she was the Oracle.
Earlier, I remember Dylan leaning over the bar to listen to her – to one thing that she said to Dylan, and he was just hanging on every word she said. She had this big thing about love – “With love you’re like the egg – without love, you’re like the hollow egg, without yolk, all white”. Something like that, she had a way of saying things, you had to be there to hear her.
She was quite a character. She had a little guitar, it was painted lime-green, and she used to like to play when she sat in front of the fireplace. She used to call everybody children or sonny – she’d make you feel like you were a child and she was the adult.
They served the standard dinner – salad, chicken, spaghetti, and Mama’s famous hot potatoes, and coffee and Anisette after. Ginsberg was walkin around with Moby Dick, reading it, reading Moby Dick as he was walking around, because he knew of Melville’s stay in the Berkshires, writing Moby Dick in Pittsfield. And then Dylan was going in and out the window, of the freshly-painted north side of the Dreamaway.
D.C.R.: How did you know it was freshly-painted?
A.I.I.: Because my friend was painting it, who I had introduced to Bob – “Bob, this is Bob”, because Bob lived there. He was the caretaker of the place – the bartender, the dishwasher, and everything else. So the next day Bob, the other Bob, made a little sign that said, “Bob Dylan’s footprints”, with an arrow going to the window where he had been climbing in and out – to get away; to get a breath of fresh air from the packed place.
D.C.R.: How many times did Bob go in and out of the window?
A.I.I.: It was just a little prank – he may have done it only once. But I remeber we had the footprints, and they were there for a while, until it got painted again. I remember singing “Be bop a lula” at the piano – Arlo playing the piano.
Singing that song with Bob and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and the whole crew there. We all did a good rendition of “Be bop a lula.” I remember Joan seemed like a very genuine, sincere individual, interested in the people at large there – the natives. She just seemed genuinely friendly – just a regular person.
D.C.R.: Did Bob take the initiative with any of the music, did he take the lead?
A.I.I.: Not to my recollection. He was belting out the “Be bop a lula” lyrics, I was right there beside him, singing – he was getting into that. His wife was there, Sara, and she and Ginsberg seemed to be talking quite a bit, I don’t know how much weight that had. And Ronee Blakely was there. I had a nice conversation with her, down by the fish pond, feeding the catfish. They used to eat bread out of your hand. It was kind of like feeding piranas, because they’d all come to the surface as soon as you’d throw a little piece of bread in there – they would swarm around. That was another little gig that Mama had there for people – “Oh go down and feed the fish, here take some bread and feed the fish.”
D.C.R.: How did the party break up?
A.I.I.: I didn’t stay into the night time, I kind of drifted away, went home. I left before Bob and the crew. It was like a poetic moment – a happening – it was living poetry, very memorable.
D.C.R.: How did Mama feel about the party afterwards?
A.I.I.: Well Mama loved all kinds of people, but for some reason, she had a real affinity with Joan Baez. She really loved Joan Baez’ voice, essentially. She thought she had a wonderful, beautiful voice, and that it was a gift. So she was just very, very happy to be Joan Baez’ hostess that day.