My Brief Encounter With Musician/Historian John Cohen. RIP.


When the news of John Cohen’s death arrived last week, it sent me back to a quality visit we had five years ago. I was writing about the opening of the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, and he was there to help launch the museum with an exhibit of his photographs of Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Here was a man whose own musical history — as a member of the pioneering New Lost City Ramblers — would be impressive enough. But John’s career as a musicologist, photographer and documentary maker expanded his footprint greatly. I’d never met him before, so I am grateful to have encountered his gentle style and the wealth of his experience. Also glad to have preserved this small moment on video (below), where he talks about shooting Dylan for the first time in 1962:

A few months later John’s book including many of those pictures on display came out. Its title is more poignant now: Here and Gone. His books and music certainly are worth seeking out. I’m glad I got turned onto Amanda Petrusich’s insightful piece about him and his discovery of a noted banjo player that ran in The New Yorker a few years ago, actually the year following this video. Check it out here:

I don’t know how I missed it then, but Petrusich has become my new favorite writer at the magazine. Our interests seem to overlap frequently (see her recent appreciation of the late Robert Frank).