#TBT: Bob Dylan’s Shaky Start

He is undoubtedly the biggest star with a bona fide Saratoga footnote in his origin story, but the audience members at Bob Dylan’s first two shows here were, by all accounts, clueless to his talents. The softspoken singer was living in the Village in Manhattan in 1961, doing local gigs but unable to score anything outside his artsy neighborhood—a matter of his folk bent working against him. A teenaged Dylan was booked at Caffè Lena as a favor to his manager, who helped fill empty nights in the coffeehouse’s schedule, according to Caffè Lena: Inside America’s Legendary Folk Music Coffeehouse. Co-owner Lena Spencer had been skeptical, but Bill, her husband at the time, was quickly impressed. When the rowdy crowd wouldn’t stop talking, he jumped up on stage and demanded, “Listen to him, dammit!” according to Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography. He threatened that they’d all soon be sorry (“stupid” was the exact word he used) if they didn’t quiet down, (rightly) predicting Dylan’s fame. By January 14, 1962—when this photo was taken at the club—Lena (far right) had been more than won over, relaxing with Dylan; his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo; and Pasha, Lena’s cat. This second visit took place just two months before the singer’s debut album was released, kicking off Dylan’s legendary 60-plus-year career.  

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