Barry Feinstein; Legendary Photographer Dead at 80

by Tad Wise

Our friend the legendary photographer Barry Feinstein died at 80 on October 20th at Kingston Hospital. Tad Wise was asked by the family to write an obit for The Woodstock Times. It began:

Barry Feinstein didn’t much care for photographers, who are — by nature — observers. He preferred men and women with strong opinions and passionate beliefs, individuals who scrawled memorable graffiti on the boundaries of an increasingly walled-​​in, walled-​​off world. His liberation from almost two decades of illness and pain is a merciful reprieve from the years he fought with supernatural strength against many “conditions” wanting him dead. In the end the conditions won. They always do. But Barry’s life defies extinction — it’s a wild ride, ten thousand stories deep. What we can print of his career is that he was hands down brilliant; what we can remember of his appetites is that they were gargantuan, and what we can say of his marriage in 2000 to his true love, Judy Jamison, is that a bad boy grown old could never ever get so lucky twice.”

In 1999, Wise ghost-​​wrote Barry’s introduction to EARLY DYLAN, which we thank Little Brown for permission to excerpt.

My friendship with Bob began in September of ‘963. As a favor to my old friend Albert  Grossman, I agreed to drive his 953 Silver Dawn Rolls-​​Royce from a Denver dealership, where it had been repaired, to New York. “Too bad I don’t have someone to drive with,” I said. Albert mused, “Maybe Bob would like to take a ride with you.” At this suggestion, Albert’s client, the young Bob Dylan, smiled. We flew out of La Guardia the next afternoon, landed in Denver, and checked into the Hilton Hotel. That night we went to a coffeehouse, where people began noticing Bob. That really amused him. His second record, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, had just been released. The next morning I went to get the car and picked Bob up at the hotel. As I pulled into the semicircular entrance I could see him standing there in the lobby, like a waif. He starred toward me smiling, and the whole lobby froze. Then he got in and we “RolIs’d” away. Down the road, Bob said, “Barry, I was thinkin’, I’d like to see a place I worked at in Central City. Okay with you?’” “Okay with me. Central City it is.” Forty-​​five minutes later we pulled up outside an old-​​style saloon. “I played piano for a stripper in there.” “You want to go in?” “Nah, they fired me, I just wanted to see it.”, We doubled back to Denver, and then went north to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where we stopped at a western clothing store for some shirts, pants, and a vest for me. Then we picked up Route I·80 east and drove across Wyoming to Nebraska. On the way into North Platte, Nebraska, we saw this big sign for a “Revival Meeting.” We parked, got out of the car, and walked over to the entrance, which read, “Open one at a time!” Once inside the first door, we found ourselves in a pressurized chamber in an inflatable tent. We closed the outside door, opened the inside one, and stepped into a gale-​​force revival meeting: organ, drums, bass, and choir, with singing and preaching side-​​by-​​side. We sat down and were revivalized. I was starting to mumble along with the “be praise-​​suhh-​​dahl” stuff when Bob and I exchanged a look. Then, moving with the music and the words of the Lord, we made for the door. I told Bob to stay with me but he was moving with the Lord. I stepped through the first door into the chamber and then opened the next door before Bob had closed the first door. Then there came a great wind. We had failed to keep the commandment above the door, and the tent lost a lot of air. We walked fast to the Rolls giggling, trying not to stare at the dented tent behind us, when one of the preachers came out to see who’d let God’s wind escape. He followed us to the middle of the parking lot, and watched us step into the silver car and roll away. That night we raced a freight train across the Nebraska plains for as long as the road and tracks ran together, which was nearly two hours at seventy miles per hour. There was a, three quarters full yellow moon in the sky up ahead, and in the headlights the corn looked as if it was made of aluminum foil. Sometimes we’d pull ahead and then the train would lead. When we were neck and neck, we’d honk at each other. The train’s horn was louder than ours was, but our horn was higher. When we honked together, it was as if we had the same ideas about cars and trains. Maybe life and death. An hour went by like a minute and my cheeks ached from smiling so hard. Eventually the train veered northeast and we honked out two short blasts and a long one in farewell. The engineer echoed our phrase but more slowly, and then we were on our way We ate dinner at a truck stop and checked into a motel. The next morning we stepped outside and found a bunch of pickup trucks parked all around the Rolls. What a picture. “Mornin’ ‚” I said. “Good day for a drive.” “That your car?”. “Oh, it’s a friend’s, we’re driving it east.” “to save it from sandstorms,” Bob added. “The paint doesn’t do well in sandstorms.” “No desert around here.” “I hear it’s moving north through Mexico.” Bob said. “You don’t say… Well, one thing’s for sure. Ain’t never seen a car like that.” “That’s what everyone says,” We continued on I-​​80 across the plains into Illinois. “Masters of War” and “Don’t Think Twice” came over weak radio signals from college stations. We pulled over once to listen. Bob and I never did too much talking anyway, it was one reason we got along. In Chicago we took a day off and each of us went our own way. Then we hooked up again on the North Side and got back onto I·80 all the way to I-​​76. We drove to Amish country, the Rolls weaving through horse-​​drawn buggies. In Lancaster, Ohio, we came upon five or six buggies all tied up in back of a low building. We parked and went in the back door and found ourselves in a poolroom with all these Amish kids who were smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and playing pool. I wish I had a camera that time too. But there’s a time not to take pictures, and that’s really all I want to say here in this introduction. It’s what I’ve always said to anyone asking about how I got an image of Dylan or anyone else. Before I picked up the camera. I became Bob’s friend and the images reflect our friendship. The real answer to the question “How did you take that picture?” becomes “By not taking it at least not for a while,” I don’t know about Dylan’s getting high, or what ladies came and went, or which religions. Or whether he was playing acoustic or electric; all I know is that I liked him and I still do. To me, these pictures show him at his most interesting, his best-​​and that’s all I was looking for. Dylan is the only person that I know who has done contemporary musical literature. The only Bob, was Bob. And these are my pictures of him.

As a post-​​script Wise today adds:

At 1.20 in morning on October 20th Judy got the call from Kingston Hospital  informing  her that her husband Barry Feinstein had passed away in his sleep. Shortly after, she completed her last visit to see Barry “at the hospital.” There had been at least a thousand such trips over the 18 years since a drunken sheriff ran a red-​​light, broadsiding Barry’s side of his small car. (Feinstein had never much cared for alcohol or sheriffs.) Suddenly a widow, Judy finally re-​​emerged into a nearly empty parking lot at three thirty in the morning. Not another soul in sight. Then the stillness was broken by the surging of a nearby freight train and as the whistle let out its low moan Judy shivered at the cosmic coda. Halted in her tracks on an intake of breath, she waited, ever more amazed, as the whistle persisted. At last it did abate, only to take a breath before blowing again, that long, lonesome wail echoing all the way back to the vast, moonlit plains of Nebraska — reducing Judy to shocked sobs, before completing its most fitting and gorgeous recognition of an old friend speeding by.


Photo of Barry Feinstein taken by Bob Dylan, during the legendary road trip.

Comments are closed.