TOM LEONARD: Are ageing rock stars about to face their MeToo moment?

Bob Dylan has penned a fair few songs about the women he’s loved and lost but it’s difficult to see how he’ll incorporate the latest development in his private life into his repertoire.

The singer-songwriter is being sued by a woman who claims he sexually abused her in 1965 when she was 12.

The accuser, who is now 68 and lives in the state of Connecticut, is only identified by the initials JC in court papers filed in New York.

She says the star enacted ‘predatory, sexual and unlawful acts’, which, the suit alleges, were ‘done intentionally by him to her without her consent’, causing her ‘severe psychological damage and emotional trauma’.

It’s alleged that over a six-week period in April and May 1965, Dylan — who would have been 23 at the time — abused her, provided her with drugs and alcohol and threatened physical violence, ‘leaving her emotionally scarred and psychologically damaged to this day’.

Singer who caught his eye: Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan pictured above with Dana Gillespie, who claims they had a fling when she was 16

She says Dylan had his ‘evil’ way with her by establishing an ’emotional connection’ and grooming her using his status as an enormously famous musician.

She is claiming unspecified damages and seeking a jury trial to consider her allegations of assault, battery, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress.

Some of the alleged abuse took place in Dylan’s apartment in the bohemian Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan where at the time he was writing songs for his 1966 album Blonde On Blonde. Dylan, now a Nobel Prize-winning poet, has denied the allegations, his spokesman saying: ‘The 56-year-old claim is untrue and will be vigorously defended.’b

Sceptics may fairly wonder why it took her so long to come forward but there is a legal explanation for this. New York’s Child Victims Act was introduced in 2019 and temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims.

The deadline for bringing such claims ran out last Saturday and the lawsuit against Dylan was filed the previous day in New York Supreme Court. More than 9,000 civil suits have been filed in the two years the law has been in place.

There is little specific detail in the 13-page legal outline of JC’s claim that might allow others to judge the veracity or otherwise of her shocking allegations.

The lingering physical and emotional damage she has suffered have not only incurred continuing medical expenses but led to ‘permanent’ injuries that have ‘incapacitated’ her, it is claimed. JC also alleges the abuse was malicious, so entitling her not only to compensatory but also punitive damages.

It’s fair to say that, to borrow a classic Dylan song, The Times They Are a-Changin’ when it comes to celebrities and allegations of sexual misconduct.

Wild child: Sable Starr

‘Baby groupie’: Lori Mattix in 1974

‘Baby groupie’: Lori Mattix, right, claims she lost her virginity to David Bowie in a threesome involving one of her girlfriends, fellow school-age groupie Sable Starr, left, when she was 14

The anti-harassment MeToo Movement that shot to power on the back of disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein has ushered in a new mood of zero tolerance towards accusations of predatory male behaviour.

The rock stars of the 1960s and 1970s were notorious for sleeping with young female fans and, inevitably, MeToo has put that sexual free-for-all under a far less indulgent spotlight.

The reclusive Dylan, now 80, has already been caught in the glare a year ago, after British actress and singer Dana Gillespie listed him as just one of many rock stars in those decades who seduced her when she was a teenager — in his case, when she had just turned 16.

Interestingly, she says she first met him in April 1965 — the same time he allegedly met the 12-year-old.

Gillespie also claimed that by 15 she had been to bed with David Bowie, and by 16 with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, as well as bedding The Who’s Keith Moon, Mick Jagger, Michael Caine and Sean Connery.

While the veracity of such claims as the one filed in New York may nowadays be very difficult to establish, it’s not hard to imagine other ageing rockers may be wondering what decades-old sexual trysts (real or imagined) could be revisited in the courts.

After all, New York is hardly the only legal jurisdiction under pressure in the era of Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein to allow purported claimants who might previously have given up hoping for justice — particularly if their abuser was famous — to finally have their day.

Gillespie, for her part, insisted she had no regrets and never saw herself as a victim, but Dylan cannot have enjoyed her revelations.

A deeply private star who has had many lovers, his attempts to fence off his private life from public view have already been disrupted by some of those women — if not darkening his legacy, certainly taking some of the glister off it

And spring 1965 — the period of time covered by JC’s allegations — was a particularly eventful time in his rollercoaster love life. It saw him dramatically ending his most notoriously fraught love affair — with folk singer Joan Baez — and fathering a child with his future wife, former Playboy Bunny Sara Lownds. 

Dylan, pictured in 2015, is being sued by a woman who claims he sexually abused her in 1965 when she was 12

Dylan, pictured in 2015, is being sued by a woman who claims he sexually abused her in 1965 when she was 12 

He and Baez began an affair in 1963 when she had already been crowned the ‘Queen of Folk’. They became one of the most talked-about young couples of the 1960s but, by the middle of the decade, Dylan was playing 200 concerts a year and his fame had eclipsed hers.

It all ended brutally for Baez during his 1965 British tour in late April and early May. Baez, who had never performed in the UK, expected Dylan would bring her out on stage and sing together with her, introducing her to British audiences as she’d done for him in America.

Dylan, by then a heavy drinker, refused and Baez called it a ‘big slap in the face’.

She received an even bigger shock when, after Dylan was admitted to a London hospital with a stomach complaint, she went to visit him and ran in to Lownds at the door of his room. Baez had had no idea that Dylan was also seeing Lownds, renting a flat in the scruffy but colourful Chelsea Hotel for the purpose.

The London trip was ‘the most demoralising experience in my life’, Baez later said.

It took Dylan 44 years to apologise to Baez publicly, telling a 2009 documentary: ‘I was just trying to deal with the madness that had become my career. Unfortunately, she got swept along and I felt very bad about it.’

The apology did little to shift a widespread public perception of Dylan — whose songs such as Just Like A Woman have been dismissed as misogynistic — as a cold-hearted and self-absorbed genius who had little time for charm and sensitivity with women.

Dylan, who has fathered at least six children, married Sara Lownds in a secret ceremony in November 1965, little more than a month before their first child, Jesse, was born. 

Dylan pocyurecords Bringing It All Back Home in New York in January of that year

Dylan recording Bringing It All Back Home in New York in January of 1965 – the year the alleged abuse took place

When his shocked road manager, Victor Maymudes, asked him why he hadn’t married Baez instead, he reportedly replied: ‘Because Sara will be there when I want her to be home, she’ll be there when I want her to be there, she’ll do it when I want to do it.’

Lownds, who gave him four children, was also dispensed with as Dylan disappeared off on tour and cheated on her.

In February 1977, Lownds went downstairs one morning at their home and found Dylan and a woman who had clearly stayed the night having breakfast with her children. They soon divorced.

Dylan married his second wife, backing singer Carolyn Dennis, in 1986, six months after the birth of their daughter.

They divorced six years later but, in a tribute to Dylan’s hunger for privacy, they managed to keep the child and indeed the marriage secret until 2001.

There have been claims over the years about other secret marriages and unacknowledged children — including as many as four by various backing singers.

In 1994, Ruth Tyrangiel, an actress, sued him for $5 million, claiming they had effectively lived together as husband and wife for 17 years. Dylan eventually paid a much reduced sum in an out-of-court settlement.

None of Dylan’s reported lovers have been underage, although Dana Gillespie came close, saying she was just 16 when she — and her 44in chest — caught his eye at a reception at the Savoy in London in April 1965.

He rang her at home the next day and she hurried over to his hotel, sneaking back to her parents’ Central London home early each morning over the next few nights.

She says she was 15 when she first slept with the late David Bowie — she insists she seduced him — after he accompanied her back to her family home after a London performance.

‘I smuggled him past my parents’ bedroom and up to the top floor,’ she recalled in a 2020 memoir. ‘We landed up in my single bed, and messed around a bit sexually. In the morning, I had to go to school, so I needed to get him down past my parents’ bedroom and out of the house.’

She needn’t have worried as her father thought the long-haired Bowie was a girl.

As Gillespie freely admits, there was little ‘romance’ in her rock ‘n’ roll love life — the sex with various music stars was usually strictly transactional as she fed off their fame.

‘It sounds bizarre now, with everyone so uptight and politically correct, but there were no rules back in the 1960s,’ she said. ‘Back then, the way you met people was that you slept with them. Back then, it wasn’t such a big deal to sleep with someone, and I was lucky to have spent time with Bowie, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger among others.’

Some of the alleged abuse took place in Dylan’s apartment in the bohemian Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan where at the time he was writing songs for his 1966 album Blonde On Blonde

Some of the alleged abuse took place in Dylan’s apartment in the bohemian Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan where at the time he was writing songs for his 1966 album Blonde On Blonde

Other super-groupies wouldn’t disagree. Lori Mattix was a child model and member of a Los Angeles posse of underage girls in the 1970s dubbed the ‘baby groupies’ who wore outrageously revealing outfits and hung around rock musicians with certain intent.

She claims she lost her virginity to Bowie in a threesome involving one of her girlfriends, fellow school-age groupie Sable Starr, when she was 14 and Bowie was 21. She didn’t have regrets either, continuing to see the star for another decade.

‘I got to hang out with some of the most amazing, most beautiful, most charismatic men in the world,’ Mattix said. ‘I went to concerts in limos with police escorts. Am I going to regret this? No.’

Mattix says she met Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page when she was 15. She recalled Peter Grant, the band’s debauched and ‘scary as hell’ manager, ‘kidnapped’ her —ordering her into a car and taking her to Jimmy Page’s hotel room.

Mattix says she ‘fell in love instantly’ with Page and they had a three-year relationship. She called it ‘the most beautiful pure love I thought I could ever feel’.

Her friend, Sable Starr, a petite curly haired blonde dubbed the ‘Queen of the Groupies’, says she lost her virginity when she was 12 with the guitarist of a well-known U.S. rock band. ‘I always liked getting into trouble,’ the late Starr said of a youth in which she was reputed to have had sexual encounters with every major male rock star of her day.

Pamela Des Barres, another American super-groupie, got five books out of her claims that she slept with Mick Jagger, Page, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon and myriad others. She regarded herself as something of a musical muse and, like the others, also argued that the relationships were always consensual.

Nowadays, however, there’s less sympathy for that stance with critics saying that given the huge power disparity between star and groupie, not to mention the high level of expectation the latter invests in the relationship, it’s never a free choice.

Whatever the outcome of JC vs Bob Dylan, there are plenty of people who believe that many in the music industry, like Hollywood, face their own MeToo day of reckoning.

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