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John Cohen's photographs and film stills of Bob Dylan - from Cohen's 2003 book Young Bob: John Cohen's Early Photographs of Bob Dylan (powerHouse Books, NY 2003).

This is Part 1 of a 2-part PopSpot. In this PopSpot, my goal was to find the exact location of where, in the spring of 1962, musician/photographer John Cohen not only took still photos of Dylan, but also where he took the first film footage of Dylan in New York.

(From Young Bob by John Cohen)

The location turns out to be on the roof above John Cohen's apartment which was located in a 3-story apartment building at 32 Third Avenue (on the west side of the street between 9th and 10th Streets) in the East Village of New York City.

Cohen's building has since been replaced by a large, high-rise apartment building, but, with the help of Photoshop, and some authentic background buildings, I was able to recreate the rooftop photoshoot as it might have looked over 50 years ago (as you'll see soon).

This is the cover of John Cohen's 2003 Book, which is still in print and available at many bookstores. It shows Dylan on the roof of John Cohen's loft building.

The book is basically divided into 3 distinct photoshoots:

Part 1 - On the roof of Cohen's loft (an apartment without many inner walls) building
Part 2 - Along Houston Street, near Dylan's Greenwich Village townhouse on MacDougal Street
Part 3 - On Cohen's farm in upstate New York (Putnam County)

In Part 1, Cohen photographs Dylan in his (Cohen's) East Village loft and then goes upstairs and photographs Dylan on the roof in the spring of 1962 (see photo above). Then, later that same spring, Cohen makes a "silent" film with Dylan on the same roof.

(From Young Bob by John Cohen)

In Part 2, Cohen photographs Dylan on Dylan's MacDougal Street townhouse roof and also along nearby Houston Street in 1970.

(Photo by John Cohen)

And in Part 3, Cohen photographs Dylan at Cohen's farm in upstate New York, also in 1970. One of those photos, a picture of Dylan on a hill looking up at the sky, was used on the back album cover of Self-Portrait. You may remember this:

(Photo by John Cohen)

Look for Part 2 of this entry - Cohen's photos of Dylan on Houston Street - in the next entry on PopSpots after this (in a search initiated by Marie Fotini, a contributor to PopSpots from Nimes, France.).

Part 3 - Dylan at Cohen's farm in Upstate New York, will be the subject of a later PopSpot.

First: a little about John Cohen.

This is a film still of John Cohen taken at the same time Cohen filmed Dylan on his roof in 1962

(From Young Bob by John Cohen)

Born in Brooklyn, but with a huge interest in rural roots music, John Cohen was one of the pioneer folk musicians on the Village scene.

His band, The New Lost City Ramblers, was very influential in bringing "old-time," traditional, Appalacian-style string band music to the folk revival that began of the late 50's and early 60's.

Cohen, also a photographer, was unique in straddling the worlds of the Bleecker/MacDougal folk music scene, the East Village Beat Generation scene, and the Downtown Abstract Expressionist art scenes, being friends with Jack Kerouac (writer) and Robert Frank (photographer) of the Beats, and the painters like Red Grooms who hung out at places like the Cedar Bar on University Place. Cohen even photographed many of these people, including Woody Guthrie in his loft/studio.

Here he is photographing Gregroy Corso (poet), Larry Rivers (painter), and Jack Kerouac (writer) in New York in the late 50's.

(Photo by John Cohen)

John Cohen was also a noted musiclogist, and he championed the music of Appalacia in his 1962 film High Lonesome Sound.

And to top it all off, according to the Wikipedia entry on him ("search: John Cohen musician"), he was the inspiration for the Grateful Dead song - Uncle John's Band.

That's pretty connected.

In the spring of 1962, roughly a year after Dylan arrived in New York, Dylan and Cohen had the photo session on the roof that I referred to earlier.

It began inside Cohen's loft, then went upstairs to the roof. During part of that session, Dylan, standing in front of a dark, 10-foot bulkhead (a small structure covering a stiarcase) pretended he was singing into a microphone, while in reality he was singing into a vent pipe coming up from one of the apartment below.

(Photo by John Cohen)

That same bulkhead would be the background, a short time later that Spring, of the first film of Dylan taken when he was in New York.

As John Cohen writes in Young Bob (page 42) about the film-shoot, "I wanted to test my new Arriflex movie camera. Bob and I went up to the rooftop. Bob was to perform a song. However the tape recorder wasn't working right and at the last moment, I decided to make "a silent" film.

The film starts with the shot of John Cohen taken earlier.

(From Young Bob by John Cohen)

The words "Bed on the Floor" most likely refers to the title of the song Dylan was going to sing, a Woody Guthrie song with lyrics such as:

I'm a poor lonesome boy, I'm a long ways from home,
I'll lay my head in a bed on your floor.

The words "em-plus-x 100" probably refers to Kodak plus-x movie filmstock.

During the short film, Dylan climbs down from the rooftop bulkhead and playfully tries on three different hats that he takes, one at a time, out of his guitar case. The film ends with Dylan waving a large photograph that looks like it could be of him playing a piano (see below).

According to Cohen in Young Bob, there was originally a second reel to the film - now lost - which included shots of one of Robert Frank's kids trying to give a flower to Dylan who is singing a song. (Cohen also says Dylan waved a harmonic rack in the first reel.)

You can usually find this film on YouTube under "First Film of Bob Dylan in New York City." Excerpts of the three-minute film can also be found on Martin Scorcese's documentary on Dylan: No Direction Home.

(From Young Bob by John Cohen)

From the short film: Dylan climbing down off the small roof that covered the stairway exiting out onto the roof.

(From Young Bob by John Cohen)

Bob waves one of three hats he takes one-by-one from the guitar case and tries it on, walking toward the camera.

Dylan hold what looks like a picture of three people.

A close-up of the photograph.

...and even closer. It looks like it could be Dylan playing piano with a person of each side watching him.

In fact it looks very much like a photo taken that year (1962) at the Alper home in Schenectedy, New York, of Dylan playing piano. That is Jaye Alper, a friend of Dylan, on the right.

(Photo by Alper family)

In one of the still shots from The Cohen/Dylan rooftop session, Dylan pretends to sing into an airvent pipe as if it's a microphone. In back of him, to the left, you can see a tall white building. This was my big clue to finding the location of the photo-shoot.

(From Young Bob by John Cohen)

I recognized it immediately as the Wanamaker Building, one of the largest buildings in Greenwich Village - a building I used to live near. It's takes up an entire block between Broadway and Fourth Avenue from East 8th Street to East 9th Street.

So, after figuring out from which roof the photo was shot from - the story of which is the subject of the rest of this entry, using a little Photoshop magic, I meshed together this tableau of the scene as John Cohen may have seen it 50 years ago. You can almost hear Dylan singing, "Pretty Peggy - O" or one of his early tunes."

And, as you can see, the windows of the Wanamaker Building matched up perfectly with the windows in back of Dylan's picture.

(Interior photo of Bob Dylan by John Cohen)

Here's the only picture that I could find that shows John Cohen's roof.. An arrow points to the rooftop elevator bulkhead that Dylan hangs off of in the video. You can see just barely see two bulkheads. Since Cohen's building was one in from the corner. His would be the second bulkhead in from East 9th Street, the street just below that huge brick building.

How I figured out the exact roof from which the photo and film were taken.

So I knew the background of the shot, but the bigger question in this search was "Could I find a picture of the roof Dylan was on? Was it still there?

But the main question of course was : Just where was the roof?

I started the search by first by trying to figure out visually where Cohen & Dylan would have been when they had the session. So here's a picture of the Wanamaker Building looking down East 9th Street taken from the east side of Third Avenue looking west.

From the photo angle, I figured John Cohen took the photo from about 3-6 floors up on the right side of this photo, most likely from where that tall building was, or across the street from that to my right.

Before I proceed, let me show you another view of almost the exact scene from around the 1940's when the Third Avenue Elevated Train was still in existance. You can see the Wanamaker Building in the background.

Here's pretty much the same scene in 2011. Notice the same brick building on the right side in both pictures. This view, again, is East 9th Street looking west across Third Avenue.

As background, I'm now going to show you some early pictures of the Wanamaker building below, but before I do, I just want to add some interesting details about the building and the neighborhood using the same photo I used up above.

U2 started their PopMart tour in 1997 inside the Kmart on the ground floor of the Wanamaker Building. You can see the red Kmart logo in the windows in the picture below. Also, just behind the two people at the left of the photo is the Astor Place subway stop where Billy Joel posed for the photo for the cover of his 1976 album Turnstyles.

Looking above those two people, way in the back, on the rooftop of the furthest building to the left, is where the cover photo for Blondie's Autoamerican was shot in 1980. (That will be in another PopSpot.)

Lastly, on the tenth floor of the tall white building on the right, at the northwest corner of Third Avene and Ninth Steet, Joey Ramone's family had rwo apartments (and I think Joey lived in one). So, a lot of rock happening history here.

While we're talking history, here's the Wanamaker Building (back of picture) and its shorter predecessor (middle of picture) from early in the century. (The tall Wanamaker Building was originally the annex to the smaller original Wanamaker's.)

Tom Thumb, one of P.T. Barnum's tiny performers got married in Grace Church, the building in the front of the picture with the steeple. Barnum used to wheel him to his museum in a baby cart so no one would see him free -- they would have to pay to see him at the museum.

Here's a picture of the "Bridge of Progress" between the two Wanamakers. The shorter Wanamaker Building has been replaced an apartment building.

And here, for fun, is a shot of a launch of a giant hot air balooon from the Wanamaker roof at the turn of the century. (I was trying to find the photo location of the Cohen/Dylan roof in the background of this shot, but it's out of frame) .

So, to find the roof I decided to take a different approach than looking at overhead shots of the area, which wasn't working out. Instead, I would try to John Cohen's street address.

Despite much Googling, I could not come up with his exact address, but I did find that he had written that he lived "next door" to a famous Beat-era photographer named Robert Frank who lived at 34 Third Avenue. But did that mean he lived "next door" - i.e. "down the hall" inside 34 Third Avenue or "next door" - i.e. "down the block" at either #32 or #36 Third Avenue.

I would have to figure that out to find the roof.

Here's a 1916 map from the New York Public Library digital archives showing the Wanamaker Building and also the corner of Third Avenue and East 9th Street.

I put a red box around numbers 32, 34, and 36 Third Avenue. I also drew an arrow showing the direction of the photo that came from the roof of one of those three buildings.

Remember the tall white building that I wrote that Joey Ramone's family owned two apartments in at the corner of Third Ave. and East 9th Street? (115 East 9th street for you Googlers). Well, that was the building that replaced all the small buildings on that side of the street, including #32, #34, and #36. So I realized I would never take a PopSpot from the exact roof, but, as you saw earlier in the entry, I could approximate it.

The photo below is an old close-up map showing #32, #34 (Robert Frank's loft), and #36. The little number "3" above the street number indicates they were 3-story buildings.

(From the NYPL Digital files)

I had hope this map might help me with another clue I had to John Cohen's building, but it didn't.

In my research I had found that John Cohen had used the backyard of his apartment building to photograph his group, the New Lost City Ramblers. Here are three pictures of them in the backyard, against a brick wall.

New Lost City Album - 2.

New Lost City album - 3.

According to the book Gone to the Country: The New Lost City Ramblers the covers were taken by Robert Frank. "The group was posed in the courtyard of John's Third Avenue loft in front of a moldy brick wall. With fiddle, banjo, and guitar in hands, the three were dressed in plain jackets and ties. The idea, John explained, was to emulate old photographs of country musicians who dressed up to go to town."

But a look at the map (here it is again) told me that #32, #34, and #36 ALL had backyards, so untimately that was a dead end.

(Much later, Marie Fotini, a contributor to PopSpots (more about her in a minute) came up on this photo of Cohen's backyard in one of Cohen's photography books, There Is No Eye (2nd edition, powerHouse Books, 2002), and e-mailed it to me. Notice how the short extended brick wall on the right matches the brick pattern behind the group in the album shots.)

While looking for photos that John Cohen took in his neighborhood, I ran across this photo of the painter Red Grooms rolling a canvas across Third Avenue in a baby carriage. So I made a little PopSpot of it. People familiar with New York might recognize the entrance to St. Marks Place just to Red Grooms right.

(Photo by John Cohen)

Here's the Red Grooms overlay. He's "rolling" west across Third Avenue at Ninth Street.

(Photo of Red Grooms by John Cohen)

As I mentioned, John Cohen knew people from the literary, painting, and folk music worlds. His neighbor, Robert Frank, was a Swiss photographer and filmmaker best know for a book of photographs he took while traveling across America in 1958 entitled The Americans. Frank lived with wife and kids in a loft on the second floor of the old three-story building at 34 Third Avenue. Here's the cover of The Americans.

Frank also also later was hired by The Rolling Stones to take the photos for the cover and inside of their album Exile on Main Street.

For Stones enthusiasts and PopSpotters alike, here's a photo from a short film Frank made with the Stones, from which he took some stills for the album cover. Two of the places filmed are the skid rows of Los Angeles and New York (The Bowery). You should be able to find it by searching YouTube for "Rolling Stones - Rocks Off (1972)

Jack Kerouac was a friend of Robert Frank and wrote the introduction for Frank's bookThe Americans. He also collaborated with Frank on a famous beat-era short film called Pull My Daisy, which was filmed in Frank's loft in 34 Third Avenue. It's usually available on You tube.

Here's a frame from the film: Pull My Daisy

I found all this background information out while trying to find out if Cohen lived in the same building or "next door" to Frank.

I also ran across a film clip of Kerouac and his friends entering a bar called the Harmony Bar and Restaurant at #30 Third Avenue, which is the northwest corner of Third Avenue and East 9th Street. You can see #32 Third Ave in the background in the picture. (You can find the video at YouTube at "jack kerouac cat power good woman".)

Here's the video:

So I seemed to be closing in on finding the address, but was still searching for clues, when good fortune struck!

It was at this point that out of the blue, a PopSpot contributor from Nîmes, France, named Marie Fotini, who had been working with me via the Web to figure out the locations of the Dylan photos in Part 2 of this entry -- Cohen's 1970 photos of Dylan on Houston Street - sent me this photo of a letter that she had run across in her research. The letterhead gave Cohen's address as #32 Third Avenue! So "next" door meant literally that "next door" - and not down the hall. Problem Solved! (Merci beaucoup, Marie!)

(via Marie Fotini)

I would later confirm the address by looking the address up in the New York Public Library's reverse street directory from 1960. Using it, you can look up the address and then find out who's in the building.

As you can see, John Cohen is at #32. Robert Frank is at #34, And The Harmony Bar and Restaurant" where the video was shot was at #30. Double solved!

So now that I knew that John Cohen took Dylan's picture on the third floor roof of #32 Third Avenue, one building in from the corner, how could I portray what the roof looked like before it was demolished?

First I "borrowed" the top three stories off a building up the block and placed it where Cohen's 3-story apartment was. I also added the line that was the direction of the photo.

Now I wanted to show what the little enclosure (bulkhead) over the stairwell that Dylan climbed down in the film looked like. To find it, I needed to get up a few stories on Third Avenue. So I went back in time to the Elevated Railroad that ran up Third Avenue until the early 50's.

Here's the view from inside the EL.

This is a building a block up from Cohen's building that still exists. It's at East 10th and Third Avenue. It's the one I "borrowed" the top three floors of for the diagram of the photo path a few pictures before this.

This is bottom part of the same building from what it looked like when the El ran next to it. Do you see the building with the LOANS sign on it? Cohen's 3-story building have looked something like that - only a block down the street.

Going back upstairs, now at the train level, you can see the 3-orb sign of the LOAN SHOP from the last picture.

Now if we "pan the camera" to the east side of Third Avenue at East 10th Street, you will see the building across the street. It has an oval sign on it's side wall. Looking above the oval, you can see that it has the same type of small enclosue over the roof stairway access that Dylan jumped down from in Cohen's video.

(photo from NYPL Digital archives)

Here's a close-up of it. It's called a "bulkhead." The back is slanted because the stairs beneath it are on an angle.

Now I happen to have a similar stucture outside of my office window, which looks out over a 100-year old six-story building near Times Square.

Here it is from another angle. (That's the Port Authority Bus Terminal to the right).

PhotoShopping out the open doorway, we can see that this is somewhat like the background Dylan was in front of, and climbed down from, in John Cohen's photos.

So, taking this idea to the max, I put the famous picture of Dylan singing into the ventpipe in front of the structure, then added the Wanamaker Building (and a building a block up from it) in the exact position, so we can get a feel for the scene John Cohen saw when he photographed and filmed Dylan 50 years ago in 1962.

And finally, taking it back down to the streets again, if you went to Third Avenue and East 9th Street and looked up, the roof would have been approximately as depicted, one building in from the corner and up three stories.

And if you close your eyes you might be able to conjure up a vision of Dylan trying on hats for John Cohen's camera -- right about the time his first album came out, all those albums ago.