If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that uncovering strange literary connections with Deià is a big part of what I love to do. My latest find is the splendidly named Rudy Wurlitzer.
Rudy Wurlitzer was born in 1937. He’s still with us but a request for an interview sent to his website sadly went unanswered. In his time, he been a novelist, screenplay writer, librettist and short story writer. He’s best known for being the writer of cult classic movie Two Lane Blacktop (1971), starring James Taylor and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), the Sam Pekinpah film that marked Bob Dylan’s first acting role.
Regular readers of this blog will also know that there’s a wonderful Dylan connection to the village which may or may not be true but is a great story.
I have Rudy Wurlitzer’s very odd Los Angeles novel Quake and his memoir Hard Travel to Sacred Places. Both are well worth seeking out.
If the name Wurlitzer sounds familiar to you, I’d imagine you’re thinking of the jukeboxes. Rudy is indeed a scion.
The Wurlitzer family actually began as makers of musical instruments in 17th century Germany. After the founder of the original Wurlitzer company, also named Rudy Wurlitzer, moved from Germany to the USA, he began importing musical instruments from the old country. He then became a manufacturer.
In 1896, Wurlitzer produced a coin-operated electric piano. Mighty Wurlitzer cinema organs came next. The first Wurlitzer jukeboxes appeared in the early 1930s. By the end of that decade, Wurlitzer was producing over 45,000 gorgeous jukeboxes a year.
Wurlitzer jukeboxes became one of the great symbols of the 1950s rock and roll era, featuring in movies like nostalgia-fest George Lucas’s American Graffiti (1973). Ironically, the Wurlitzer model associated with American Graffiti couldn’t play the 45 rpm single records that drove the explosion of recorded rock and roll without being modified.
Today, the name Wurlitzer is owned by the Gibson Guitar Corp, best known for its iconic axes.
Somehow or other, by the time Rudy appeared in the Wurlitzer story, the Wurlitzer empire had collapsed – according to him. I guess he means the musical instrument manufacturing side of things because the jukebox business was just taking off.
Incidentally, when I asked Tomás Graves, Robert’s son, whether he could recall there ever having been a jukebox in Deià, he replied ‘I never saw a jukebox in Deià, only in Palma. I remember my mother saying that if anybody produced a blank record she would happily put money in the slot for three minutes of silence!’
Interviewed by L.A. Weekly , Rudy’s answer to the question ‘How did you become a writer?’ was
One summer, when I was 17, I got a job on an oil tanker that went from Philadelphia to Spanish Morocco to Kuwait. And on that trip I started to write. Then, after a couple years at Columbia University, I took a spring vacation down to Cuba, just after Castro had arrived, and the whole thing was completely exuberant, so I stayed on, fell in love with a Cuban, uh, woman of the night, let’s say. By the time I finally got back to Columbia, my career as an academic was in real jeopardy. So I went into the Army for a few years, went up to Hudson Bay to test cold-weather equipment, and when I was there, I wrote even more because it was so isolating. Then I hung out in Paris for a long time, drifted down to Majorca, where I sort of became secretary to Robert Graves the poet, and he taught me how to write short sentences.
I spoke to someone who should know about Rudy’s time in Deià and he wrote, ‘Yes, he was here probably around 1963. I remember him as a fairly mixed up guy. He wrote a play called the Tunnel of Love which was put on for Robert’s birthday.’
I guess Rudy came to Deià because he was part of the American expat scene in Paris that discovered the village from the 1950s onwards. He may well have met the Jamaican-American writer Alston Anderson in the City of Lights and heard about Deià from him.
Judging by Alston’s letters, Rudy was in Deià for quite some time. If it’s correct that he was in the village in 1963, he could have been here for two years. In a letter dated 6 August, 1965, Alston writes to Rudy ‘What the f..k are you doing in Deya?’
Given that Rudy was in Deià for two years – we can’t eliminate the possibility that he came and went – he might have been here in 1964, when Dylan supposedly made his pilgrimage to meet Robert Graves.
Which leads me to wonder if this was where Dylan and Rudy first met. It was apparently Rudy who got Dylan a part in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. In an interview with the writer Chuck Palahniuk, a fan, Rudy tells a great story about how that came about.
After Two-Lane Blacktop I was hired to write Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid for Sam Peckinpah. As I was finishing the script, Bob Dylan came over to my apartment on the Lower East Side and asked if maybe he could be involved as he had always felt connected to Billy the Kid, implying that maybe he was a reincarnation of the famous outlaw. I called the producer who was thrilled at the thought of a Bob Dylan score and suggested that I write Dylan a part and then fly to Mexico to meet Sam who was busy with pre-production. We arrived in Durango late one evening and immediately went out to see Sam, who was living outside of town. As we approached the house there was a gunshot from inside, followed by a terrified maid running out the front door. Hesitating, we stepped inside as another shot rang out from upstairs. I called out for Sam, but there was no sound, no answer. Fearing the worst, we crept upstairs. At the end of the hall we found Sam in his bedroom standing half-naked in front of a smashed full length mirror staring at his shattered image, a pistol in one hand and a bottle of tequila in the other. “Hi, Sam,” I finally managed to mumble. “This is Bob Dylan. He wants to be in the film. I’ve taken the liberty of writing a part for him.” After a long pause, Sam turned, slowly looking Dylan over before he replied, “I’m a big Roger Miller fan myself.
If you didn’t already know, Roger Miller was an American country-pop singer best known for the mighty England Swings and jukebox favourite King of the Road.
So, for what it’s worth, Deià and Robert Graves may have been tangentially instrumental in the birth of Dylan’s classic Knocking on Heaven’s Door.
I sincerely hope I’ve enriched your life by sharing that piece of obscure Deià history spiced up with pure speculation.
If you know anything about Rudy Wurlitzer’s time in Dieà or are in contact with the man himself, please get in touch. I’d love to know more.