People have been asking (since our editor posted Like in Rolly Stone), whether Mick Jagger really named the greatest rock band of all time after Dave Williamson’s 1959-60 cartoon character from The Manitoban. In the words of Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” And the backstory to the “Stones” surely ranks as one of the strangest. But even stranger than Jagger choosing to name his band after Rolly Stone is the strip’s connection to what Rolling Stone (the magazine) called “the single greatest song of all time”.
The closest thing to social media for university students in the ’50s and ’60s was the student newspaper. Before cell phones, the Internet, or even fax machines, the student “rag” was a place to read, write, and rant. And “posting” in those days referred to the post office, with “snail mail” providing us a global forum. The Manitoban could reach McGill, MIT, and Oxford, while students here could devour The Sphinx from Liverpool, or Columbia University’s Daily Spectator. So no one would be surprised to find Rolly Stone occasionally reprinted in The Minnesota Daily, out of the U. of Minnesota, whose most famous alumnus remains Robert Allen Zimmerman —though he dropped out in 1960 and wound up in New York City.
Now, Dave Williamson and your editor (Guy) have a few things in common. Guy too was a contributor The Manitoban (Dave in ’59-60, Guy in ’71-72), Guy dropped out of university after second year (though he travelled to Europe, not New York), and he ended his career at Red River (Dave retired in 2003, Guy in 2016,). Had Guy chosen New York instead of Europe, he too might have met Robert Zimmerman (who had by now changed his last name to Dillon, after Gunsmoke‘s Matt Dillon).
It would be surprising enough for Dillon to meet another dropout at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village who, coming from Winnipeg, actually knew where Duluth (Dillon’s birthplace) was. All the more amazing for Dillon was to recognize Dave’s name from his cartoon in the Daily, though he never knew Rolly had originated in Winnipeg. And how could Dave have imagined that Rolly Stone would inspire Dillon (like Dave) to drop out and move to Greenwich Village—in one strip, Rolly muses about his fellow students’ superficiality and lack of direction. The original lyrics to Like a Rolling Stone could have been lifted right out their White Horse conversation, including Dave asking Dillon, “How does it feel to be on your own?”
Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Drew for the Manitoban in your prime
How does it feel to be on your own,
Direction (told back home) a complete unknown,
Like in Rolly Stone?
But there’s one more bit of serendipity that, in ’60s parlance, will blow your mind. Who would have thought that a simple question from Dave would prompt Dillon to change his name to Dylan:
“Isn’t it weird that I am getting drunk with a poet called Dillon in the bar where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death?”
Dave, as it turns out, did return to complete his studies. Dylan did not. Dylan went on to win the Nobel prize in literature. Dave did not.
How does it feel?