As you may have heard, legendary NYC journalist and novelist Pete Hamill passed away on Wednesday (8/5) at age 85 from kidney and heart failure. Hamill was the top editor at The New York Post and The Daily News; his work appeared in Rolling Stone, Playboy, the Village Voice, Esquire, and more; and he’s written teleplays, screenplays, and several novels and nonfiction books.
Hamill was also iconic in the music world. He won a Grammy in 1975 for the liner notes that he wrote for Bob Dylan‘s now-classic Blood on the Tracks. “Dylan has gotten into the self and with the situation poets should deal with,” Hamill told Rolling Stone in 1974. “The whole notion that he should write ‘Like a Rolling Stone Meets the Wolfman’ or ‘Gates of Eden Goes to Japan’ — what the fuck does he want to do that for? What I love about Dylan is what he leaves out because then he gives us a chance to help create it. It’s the most democratic form of art there is. Totalitarian art tells you every fucking thing. Dylan leaves the spaces. Listen, what I love about these love songs is that there’s a terrific sophistication of feeling in them and a generosity of feeling. You know it’s not just like ‘You left me, you cunt,’ or ‘Come mother me, you bitch,’ it’s not at that level at all.”
The full essay that Hamill penned for Blood on the Tracks is available online, and here’s an excerpt:
He had remained, in front of us, or writing from the north country, and remained true. He was not the only one, of course; he is not the only one now. But of all the poets, Dylan is the one who has most clearly taken the rolled sea and put it in a glass.
Early on, he warned us, he gave many of us voice, he told us about the hard rain that was going to fall, and how it would carry plague. In the teargas in 1968 Chicago, they hurled Dylan at the walls of the great hotels, where the infected drew the blinds, and their butlers ordered up the bayonets. Most of them are gone now. Dylan remains.
So forget the clenched young scholars who analyze his rhymes into dust. Remember that he gave us voice, When our innocence died forever, Bob Dylan made that moment into art. The wonder is that he survived.
That is no small thing. We live in the smoky landscape now, as the exhausted troops seek the roads home. The signposts have been smashed; the maps are blurred. There is no politician anywhere who can move anyone to hope; the plague recedes, but it is not dead, and the statesmen are as irrelevant as the tarnished statues in the public parks. We live with a callous on the heart. Only the artists can remove it. Only the artists can help the poor land again to feel.
And here is Dylan, bringing feeling back home. In this album, he is as personal and as universal as Yeats or Blake; speaking for himself, risking that dangerous opening of the veins, he speaks for us all. The words, the music, the tones of voice speak of regret, melancholy, a sense of inevitable farewell, mixed with sly humor, some rage, and a sense of simple joy. They are the poems of a survivor. The warning voice of the innocent boy is no longer here, because Dylan has chosen not to remain a boy. It is not his voice that has grown richer, stronger, more certain; it is Dylan himself. And his poetry, his troubadour’s traveling art, seems to me to be more meaningful than ever. I thought, listening to these songs, of the words of Yeats, walker of the roads of Ireland: “We make out of the quarrel with others rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”
Read the rest here.
Hamill’s notes also appear in Dylan compilations that came later on such as The Collection, Vol. 3: Blonde on Blonde/Blood on the Tracks/Infidels and The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1, and he penned liner notes for other artists such as Dexter Gordon as well.
Pete Hamill also interviewed John Lennon for Rolling Stone in 1975 and you can read the whole thing at RS‘ site. Here’s an excerpt:
On that first morning, and later, we talked only briefly about the Beatles. For the moment at least, talk of a reunion is only a perhaps. “What we did was what we did,” he said in 1970, “but what we are is something different.” The 20 Beatles albums are there; the voices are forever young. John Lennon, the young man with the guitar who went to Hamburg and played the eight-hour gigs with the others, popping pills to stay up, drawing on some tough maniac energy. “You see,” he explained later, “we wanted to be bigger than Elvis. . . . “
Bigger than Elvis. Bigger than Sinatra. Bigger than God. John told everybody how the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ and for a couple of weeks that summer most of the Western world seemed to go into an uproar. Was the world really that innocent so short a time ago? No. It was just that John Lennon was explaining that the world had changed and the newspapers had to catch up; we were not going to have any more aw-shucks heroes. So we could all run in the endless emptiness of the rugby field in A Hard Day’s Night, rising and falling, in slow motion or fast, but sooner or later we would have to grow up. The Beatles were custodians of childhood. They could not last.
And yet . . . and yet, it seemed when it was finally over, when they had all gone their separate ways, when Brian Epstein lay dead and Apple was some terrible mess and the lawyers and the agents and the money men had come in to paw the remains, it often seemed that John was the only one whose heart was truly broken. Cynthia Lennon said it best, when all of them were still together: “They seem to need you less than you need them.”
Hamill also penned New York Magazine‘s John Lennon obituary and cover story in 1980, and you can read that in full online as well.
The Park Slope, Brooklyn native also has an entire book on Frank Sinatra, Why Sinatra Matters, and to hear him speak about Sinatra, here he is speaking to Wayne Cabot around the time of what would have been Sinatra’s 100th birthday:
There’s also a comprehensive Pete Hamill collection at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, including interviews with Bob Dylan, Dexter Gordon, Tony Bennett, Linda Ronstadt, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, and more.
In this New York Daily News clip, Hamill spoke about the influence music magazines such as Down Beat and Metronome had on him early on, and how an interview with Gene Krupa’s drummer helped him put rhythm in his sentences:
Rest in peace, Pete. We’ll miss you.