Last year, we were fascinated when a lyric sheet for "Listen, Robert Moses," credited to Bob Dylan, popped up on the internet.
While Dylan and Moses never directly crossed paths—Moses was not exactly a fan of the new music scene in the 1960s, refusing even to book the Beatles at the World’s Fair grounds—there was evidence to suggest Dylan could have been involved in protests against him.
But experts and Dylanologists we spoke to were incredibly skeptical about the material, the New York Public Library had no record of any recording of the song, and we could only find two references to it in books—most importantly, a Harvard Graduate School of Design essay on the fight between Jacobs and Moses over The Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX).
But now, a new interview with Jacobs' son has confirmed the authenticity of the document.
Jacobs' son Jim has helped mount Jane at Home, an exhibition in Toronto about the urban activist encompassing her Pennsylvania childhood, her activist days in New York, and decades-long life in Toronto. In an interview with Globe 2 Go, he confirmed that Jacobs did approach Dylan to pen the tune to fight LOMAX—and he also claims she helped teach him how to write protest songs!
What was the soundtrack of the household, generally? Was it television? Radio? Music?
We often had a record player playing. Jane and my father [architect Robert Jacobs] enjoyed protest songs. Lively, vigorous, angry songs. We grew up with those. In the exhibit, we’ll have a soundscape that includes recordings of selections from all the old records.
Any Bob Dylan?
Actually, Jane and Bob Dylan wrote a song together. Jane needed a protest song for the fight against the Lower Manhattan Expressway in New York. A friend of ours, Harry Jackson, an artist, had a folk singer sleeping on his floor. He sent Dylan around to the house. Jane helped him, telling him how a protest song was structured and how it worked. I think it was the first protest song he ever wrote.
What was the song? Who recorded it?
Nobody recorded it. The song was "Listen, Robert Moses." A copy of the lyrics has surfaced on the Internet recently. It’s not the world’s greatest song. But it’s an interesting piece.
Dylan song genuine. RB Gratz 1998 directly quotes Jane Jacobs. Dylan wrote it "for us." "We" sang it at rallies https://t.co/yhoFZmxNXN
— Benjamin Ross (@BenRossTransit) June 27, 2015
For more on Jacobs, there's a new book out coinciding with the 100th anniversary of her birth, JANE JACOBS: The Last Interview and Other Conversations that includes her final interview from 2005 and is well worth your time.