‘I was there more as a servant’: Bob Dylan remembers seminal visits with Woody Guthrie

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A forthcoming audio book titled My Name is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town serves as an historic walking guide to the places that defined the folk pioneer’s life — including Brooklyn State Hospital, where he met a young Bob Dylan.

Guthrie had been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a genetic neurological disorder, in 1952 at Brooklyn State. He’d be in and out of hospitals for the next 15 years, eventually intersecting with Dylan — who made a pilgrimage to meet someone who’d become more legend than man during that era’s folk boom.

Dylan remembers those days as part of My Name is New York: “When I met him, he was not functioning with all of his facilities at 100 percent,” he says. “I was there more as a servant. I knew all of his songs, and I went there to sing him his songs. He always liked the songs.”

Dylan would bring along cigarettes and, occasionally, friends. Regular Sunday visits continued as a ritual for Dylan and others like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Pete Seeger, John Hammond, Phil Ochs, Sonny Terry and others, even as Guthrie moved from hospital to hospital, room to room. A clearly starstruck Dylan was already ready for requests. “He’d ask for certain ones — and I knew them all!” he adds, laughing. “I was like a Woody Guthrie jukebox.”

The My Name is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town audio book, narrated by author Nora Guthrie and due September 23, 2014, also includes commentary from Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Elliott, as well as rare home recordings.

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