An Illustrated Biography of David Blue

Copyright: Nesya Shapiro Blue 1984

 David Blue was born Stuart David Cohen, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, on February I8th, I94I, the son of a Jewish father and an Irish Catholic mother of French Canadian heritage. His parents’ wedding had been prompted by David’s impending arrival. Soon after David was born, his father was sent overseas with the Armed Forces and did not return until after the war was over, when David was four and a half years old. David recalled that his father "came hobbling home on crutches and stayed depressed all his life," permanently injured and trapped in an unwanted marriage. His mother worked as a hairdresser as well as bringing up David and a daughter from one of her two previous marriages. David and his older half sister, Suzanne, were close friends and allies against the rages and silences of their parents.

As a teenager, David was alienated, overweight, and restless  and “had the constant feeling that I had to get away," he remembered. His half sister, Suzanne, got away. "She ended up busted for prostitution in New York City in I963", David said, and when she died in an automobile accident a few months later, David was shattered. The gulf between him and his parents widened when he discovered that they had kept secret from him the existence of his two other half sisters. At seventeen, David quit high school, left home, and joined the Navy. He was soon thrown out for his “Inability to adjust to a military way of life.”

 Hitchhiking back east, David discovered Greenwich Village. At last, an environment where he did not have to adjust, but could simply hang out. He got a job washing dishes in the Gaslight Cafe." Allen Ginsberg used to do readings there, Jack Elliot played guitar; I ran into Bob (Dylan) in the kitchen." David took acting classes, wrote poetry and songs, and began performing in Village clubs. When he began singing professionally, at the urging of Dylan and others, he changed his name to Blue. "Actually, I got the name from Eric Andersen. We were together one day, and I knew there were two other David Cohens in the music business, one  with Country Joe and The Fish, the other a studio cat in LA. We felt that was too many. So Eric said: “You’ve got such blue eyes, you should be David Blue. I decided to do it. I called Ramblin’ Jack Eliot and Dylan because they had changed their names and Dylan thought it was very funny and started singing to me,” It’s all over now, David Blue,” said David in an interview.

 Blue quickly became part of the inner circle of artists and writers fomenting the social and music revolution of the sixties. In his book on Bob Dylan, Anthony Scaduto wrote “The Dylan Village group was a tight little circle: Victor Maimudes as bodyguard; Phil Ochs, Eric Andersen, Dave Van Ronk and Tom Paxton as sort of anvils off which he could flash his verbal pyrotechnics; Bob Neuwirth and David Blue straddling both roles. Few others could break into their scene … Of the singers and writers on the scene at this time, David Blue appears to have been closest to Dylan...” "He needed a friend," Blue said. "So he started including me in his scene and I got tight with him.

In an interview published in the British newspaper Zigzag, David said, "Dylan just happened to be there. Maybe he was the sy’bol of the time, or the spearhead, but we were friends, and at one point he encouraged me. “That”s a great song you wrote‑ here’s a typewriter, take this, and let’s go up to the woods.” And that got me more interest in songwriting.” As Dylan’s fame grew, "I didn’t feel it was Dylan and me, two guys going places. It was him, and I’d go out and get a cab if he needed a cab. Not like a lackey, but just that he couldn’t go out and get a cab. But it was an equal exchange," Scaduto quoted.

By 1966, Blue released an album of his own songs, his work reflecting his close bond with Dylan. He then moved towards a more “aggressive and personalized style,” fronting a band, The American Patrol, which “anticipated the rock avant-garde in its blend of high powered electric music and theatrical presentation.”  His next album, These 23 Days in September, was “one of the first, and finest “deescalation” records of I968, the arrangements smooth and ... consistent with the romantic tone” of the songs. With another record deal underway, David and his girlfriend Sara Morris, moved to Los Angeles. Theirs was a volatile relationship; after many breakups, Sara finally left David and went to live in San Francisco. He followed her there and tried, in vain, to persuade her to return. Me (I970) and Stories (I972) were two albums which reflected this period. Stories, a record full of “lost love’s longing” and “eloquent and haunting power”, was chosen by several reviewers as one of the best records of I972.

In David’s next album, Nice Baby and the Angel, he continued to unsparingly reveal himself through his work. This Graham Nash produced record was described as “impressive in every aspect, of devastating honesty,” and “artistry...singular and very moving.”

 Despite the esteem of his colleagues and the loyal enthusiasm of his fans, Blue never became a major “star.”  He was perhaps best known as an “eminence grise,” an influence upon and close friend to some of the artists whose public fame eclipsed his own. Leonard Cohen, in his eulogy to David, stated "David Blue was the peer of any singer in this country, and he knew it, and he coveted their audiences and their power, he claimed them as his rightful due. And when he could not have them, his disappointment became so dazzling, his greed assumed such purity, his appetite such honesty, and he stretched his arms so wide, that we were all able to recognize ourselves, and we fell in love with him. And as we grew older, as something in the public realm corrupted itself into irrelevance, the integrity of his ambition, the integrity of his failure, became for those who knew him, increasingly appealing, and he moved swiftly, with effortless intimacy, into the private life of anyone who recognized him, and our private lives became for him the theaters that no one would book for him, and he sang for us in hotel rooms and kitchens, and he became that poet and that gambler, and he established a defiant style to revive those soiled archetypes.

 David was an actor, as well as a musician, perhaps best known for his role in Renaldo and Clara, Dylan’s I976 film of The Rolling Thunder Review. As an actor, Blue had great timing, presence, and naturalness. He had several roles in noted films and plays, including The American Friend, directed by Wim Wenders, Human Highway, by Neil Young, and Studs Lonnigan by Tommy Flannery. His last work as a film actor was in Uncertain Futures directed by Nesya Blue.

David and Nesya met when David was invited to star in a stage production in Montreal, Nesya’s native city. "And finally, toward the end of his short and graceful life, he had the grace to recognize the woman to whom he had always been singing, and he courted and married Nesya, and because a woman of talent and beauty does not choose lightly, she made manifest for all to plainly see the qualities of love and generosity that he had forged out of his distress," continued Leonard.

David and Nesya married and moved to New York City. Back in Greenwich Village after nearly a decade in California. David continued to write prose, poetry and music: "in the last few years, something happened to his voice and his guitar, something very deep and sweet entered, his timing became immaculate and we knew that we were listening to one of the finest, one of the few men singing in America and I was happy then and perhaps happier now to say that I told him that." Leonard’s eulogy continued.

In 1982, Blue danced and sang in a Broadway production. He appeared in the soap opera All My Children and starred in American Days at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Active in the music scene, he encouraged younger musicians, played gigs, and prepared material for a new album. In one of his songs from this period, a ballad called Children of Rock and Roll, David wrote: “Time has taken its toll on the children of rock and roll. But 1 survived to tell the tale. Others are dead or still in jail." On the 2nd of December, 1982, David Blue died of a sudden and massive heart attack while jogging around Washington Square Park. He was 41 years old.