Jewish summer camp is such a crucial part of the American Jewish experience that many Jewish adults, even in their older age, likely remember the names of many of the kids in their cabins from when they were 11 years old.
One of those cabins more than 60 years ago contained a couple of interesting young Jewish boys: Louie Kemp and Robert “Bobby” Zimmerman.
Kemp, who went on to head his family’s seafood company and played a key role in introducing imitation king crab to the United States, has written a memoir called “Dylan & Me: 50 Years of Adventures,” detailing his decades-long friendship with the iconic singer Bob Dylan.
The journey begins when they were preteen campers at the Jewish Herzl Camp in Webster, Wisconsin, from 1953 through 1957. In ’54, Kemp witnessed a cabin rooftop concert that he considers the then-11-year-old Bobby’s first public performance.
Following the stories of summer camp concerts and hijinks, the book follows Dylan and Kemp’s time together as teenagers in Kemp’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, where Dylan was born, and later in Minneapolis, where Kemp attended college and Dylan briefly moved to pursue music.
Even after Dylan went to New York and became one of America’s most famous men, they continued their friendship. Kemp lived with Dylan for a time in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, and Dylan was the best man at Kemp’s wedding. Kemp said he hadn’t always intended to write a book about his friendship with Dylan, but he had been telling the stories at parties and Shabbat dinners for years and was told frequently that he should collect them.
The book is full of delightful, specifically Jewish details, such as the time Kemp and Dylan attended a seder at a Los Angeles synagogue with Marlon Brando (Brando, like Frank Sinatra, was an Italian American who was known for his love of the Jewish people). There were also Dylan’s years of participation in Chabad telethons; the time he opened the ark on Yom Kippur and people thought he was a homeless man; the story of how Kemp arranged for Kaddish to be said for Allen Ginsburg each year on his yahrtzeit; and much, much more.