See copyright notice at

Raeben, Norman

Raeben, Norman (1901-1978) 

Norman Raeben was one of the most influential people in Bob Dylanâs
life. It was Norman Raeben, Dylan said, who, in the mid '70s, renewed
his ability to compose songs. Dylan also suggested that Norman's
teaching and influence so altered his outlook upon life that Sara, his
wife, could no longer understand him, and this was a contributory
factor in the breakdown of the Dylans' marriage. It's strange that,
given the importance of Norman Raeben's influence on Bob Dylan, he
isnât even mentioned in either of the big biographies published in the

Dylan first began to talk about Raeben in the round of interviews he
did in 1978 to promote his movie, Renaldo & Clam, though for a while
he wouldnât specifically identify him. "There ain't nobody like him,"
Dylan told Pete Oppel, of the Dallas Morning News. "I'd rather not say
his name. He's really special, and I don't want to create any heat for
He was, Dylan told Playboys Ron Rosenbaum, "just an old man. His name
wouldn't mean anything to you.

Dylan's interest in Norman began sometime in 1974, when several
friends of Sara came to visit:

They were talking about truth and love and beauty and all these words
I had heard for years, and they had 'em all defined. I couldn't
believe it... I asked them, 'Where do you come up with all those
definitions?â and they told me about this teacher.

Sufficiently impressed, Dylan looked up the teacher the next time he
was in New York. It was the spring of 1974 when Dylan popped his head
around Norman's door:

He says, 'You wanna paint?â So I said, 'Well, I was thinking about it,
you know.â He said, 'Well, I don't know if you even deserve to be
here. Let me see what you can do.' So he put this vase in front of me
and he says, 'You see this vase?â And he put it there for 30 seconds
or so and then he took it away and he said, 'Draw It'. Well, I mean, I
started drawing it and I couldnât remember shit about this vase - I'd
looked at it but I didn't see it. And he took a look at what I drew
and he said, 'OK, you can be up here.' And he told me 13 paints to
get... Well, I hadn't gone up there to paint, I'd just gone up there
to see what was going on. I wound up staying there for maybe two
months. This guy was amazing...

It was some time later when I was finally able to identify Dylan's
mysterious man called Norman as Norman Raeben, born in Russia in 1901,
who visited the USA with his family when be was three years old and
emigrated for permanent residence when he was about 14. Norman's
father was the noted Yiddish writer, Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916), a
man best known today for having created the character Tvye, whose
fictional life-story was adapted for the musical, Fiddler On The Roof.
The most remarkable change brought about by the months Dylan spent in
Norman Raeben's studio was upon the way Dylan composed lyrics.

The Mysterious Norman Raeben
by Bert Cartwright writes:
This isn't really about what Dylan's read, but a major influence on him nonetheless....I can't remember the guy's name. In some Rolling Stone interview (I believe) Dylan carries on about some art teacher who lived in New York City that worked with Dylan in the early-to-mid 70's. Dylan described the guy as giving him a whole other view of art, which led to the music and lyrics of Blood on the Tracks. Does anyone know what I'm talking about? (James Lyons):
Yeah. The art teacher/painter was Norman Raeben. Dylan attended his classes in NYC during May-July '74, and later recalled that Raeben "taught me how to see in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt....I wasn't sure it could be done in songs because I'd never written a song like that. But when I started doing it, the first album I made was Blood on the Tracks."
---From Heylin's BD Behind the Shades (Seth Kulick):
okay, just for fun: Norman Raeben's father was the famous Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (pen name - his full name I think was something Rabinowitz, hence Raeben, but I'm only speculating). What other son of a well-known Yiddish writer had an influence on Dylan? In this case, it's a bit more indirect, although I think that it's fair to say that the influence was fairly major.

Date: Sun, 21 Jun 1998 11:48:05 GMT There's a whole chapter in my precious "Wanted Man - In Search Of Bob Dylan" (edited by the late John Bauldie, mine is a Penguin Books edition) entitled "The Mysterious Norman Raeben". There are also Dylan's interviews by 1978 (Playboy, Rolling Stone, notably).

Francesca P.

Who's Who