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Bob Dylan in his own write

Mondo Scripto 1

I chuckled when I saw these bookshelves, installed on the stairwell of the Halcyon Gallery on Bond Street, accompanying an exhibition called Mondo Scripto: Lyrics and Drawings by Bob Dylan. Here is what appears to be just about every book ever written in English about Dylan, including my own extremely modest and inessential effort. The realisation of how many of these volumes are on my shelves made me pause for a moment to think about life’s priorities.

Anyway, the exhibition’s raison d’être is a new series of 52 handwritten lyrics, each framed with an accompanying pencil drawing. I happen to have a fondness for Dylan’s oil paintings, without feeling the need to make any great claims for them, but these sketches are extremely rudimentary. It’s the juxtapositions that make them interesting to a fan. Sometimes they’re surprisingly literal: a young woman behind bars with “I Shall Be Released”, a tank with “Masters of War”, a man alone high on a ridge with “One Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)”. Elsewhere any hint of shared meaning is, shall we say, elusive: a collapsed building with “Forever Young”, a sketch of a Chicago Cubs pitcher with “Hurricane” (which is, of course, about a boxer), a portrait of Jack Nicholson as the Joker with “All Along the Watchtower”.

A photograph on a wall shows Dylan, pen in hand, writing out one of the lyrics (they’re all inscribed on headed notepaper from something called the Black Buffalo on State Street in Dayton, Ohio, which — like the Abernathy Building, where he made his Theme Time Radio programmes — turns out not to exist). So I guess he did write them all himself, the calligraphy varying in a way that, like the occasional crossing-out, would probably be beyond currently available algorithms.

Personally, I’m moved by the sight of the words to “It’s Alright Ma” written out by their author. Or the third-person version of the “Tangled Up In Blue” lyric. The songs from Blood on the Tracks, in fact, are all treated to some fairly radical revision: apart from the first seven words and the title, this written version of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” contains nothing from the original recording.


Mondo Scripto 2

No doubt somebody will tell me that it’s from one of the outtakes on More Blood, More Tracks, the latest volume in the Bootleg Series, in which I have yet to invest — partly because the terrible early version of “Your Gonna Make Me Lonesome” that I heard during a playback session a few months ago came close to destroying what is probably my favourite of all Dylan’s songs and put me off the idea of buying the £100 deluxe edition altogether. But it was enjoyable to read these verses to myself, with the melody and Dylan’s voice in my head.

The exhibition also features some of his iron sculptures, created by welding together old farmyard tools and bits of tractors (or possibly new ones: it’s hard to tell, since they’re all dipped in a thick paint). I got a lot of fun out of overhearing a member of the gallery’s staff, a smart young man in a suit and tie, trying to explain them to a potential buyer. Not a job I’d want to have.

* Mondo Scripto is at the Halcyon Gallery at 144-146 Bond Street, London W1S 2PF, until December 23. For those who might be interested, 10 of the lyrics/sketches are available as individual prints in editions of 495 at £1,500 unframed and £1,895 framed. Originals apparently start at close to £100K. Black Buffalo Ironworks seems to be the name of his metal sculpture project, but it’s not based in Dayton, Ohio, as far as I can tell. About the books, the gallery will tell me only that they are the property of a collector.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rewarding, illuminating and fascinating as always, Richard, even for someone with a Dylan blind spot as long-standing as mine. (After Desire…) But this was the sentence that really struck home: ‘The realisation of how many of these volumes are on my shelves made me pause for a moment to think about life’s priorities.’ Those words – whether applied to books, music, or whatever – immediately made me pause for thought… as you say, about life itself.
    Thanks again for posting!

    November 29, 2018
  2. Michael #

    Hi Richard,
    Would you recommend, out of all the many Dylan books, anything in particular? Something that covers not just the work but is well researched and well written?
    And also, I’d recommend the single edition of More Blood, More Tracks. It’s all subjective of course but I actually prefer the version of Lily, Rosemary… – I’ve always felt that track was a bit of an outlier on the album but the version on the bootleg CD is far better.

    November 29, 2018
  3. budgie9 #

    Hi Richard
    Its all very well posing a rhetorical question like thinking about life’s priorities but did you come to any conclusion?
    I liked the works on show here though not as much as either the “Drawn Blank” or “Beaten Path” shows. My favourite was probably the version of “Forever Young” with its ladder to the stars.
    Personally I think you should reconsider your decision about the De Luxe “More Blood, More Tracks” but when I look at my bookshelves and my music collection I also know that my life’s priorities reveal various obsessions!
    Good to have your views back on a more regular basis

    November 29, 2018
    • GuitarSlinger #

      If I may interject ; re: your ” Life’s priorities ” question .

      As a man of a certain age who gratefully has attained a bit of wisdom over the decades despite most around me remaining ‘ Forever 18 ‘ … anyone who thinks they’ve come to any ‘ conclusions ‘ when it comes to life’s priorities .. other than immediate family and friends is fooling themselves verging on delusional . Fact is there’s no guarantee when it comes to family and friends either . The closest I can come to offering a conclusion is the one most people do not want to hear ;

      e.g. Everything in moderation and make contentment your main goal and absolute priority

      November 29, 2018
      • budgie9 #

        Dear GuitarSlinger
        I wasn’t really asking Richard for a philosophy to guide my life and my tongue was firmly in my cheek but as it happens I am also of a certain age and do not disagree with your own musings save to add that I try to do to others as I would hope they do to me – I also think Sid Griffin’s Million Dollar Bash is a great read and also Greil Marcus on Like A Rolling Stone.

        November 29, 2018
    • GuitarSlinger #

      David – Mea culpa for the misunderstanding . Once again the limitations of the internet , forums and chat rooms in particular when it comes to tongue and cheek , sarcasm , irony … and more often than not humor come to the forefront .

      ” Do unto others ” .A thousand shames upon me for not including that !

      As for the multitudes of Dylan books available . There are many .. far too many that are pseudo intellectually obsessive verging on the inanely absurd ( ” Why Dylan Matters ” being among the worst ) – more than a few that are nothing more than Fanzines inside a hardback cover – some pretty decent – some damn good ( the ones you’ve mentioned ) but a very few at the top that genuinely stand out among the very crowded field especially for those of us with first hand knowledge . Those are the ones I’ve recommended

      Rock On – Remain Calm ( despite all the political bs worldwide and especially here in the US ) and do Carry On

      GuitarSlinger 😎

      PS ; My sign off begging the question … when or where does a new 21st century Dylan arise from among the ashes of the vapid snowflakes now that we need one more than ever ?

      November 30, 2018
  4. Ronald McNeil #

    Came close to buying one of his pictures – of a hotel room chair with some clothes strewn around – at an exhibition in Edinburgh a few years back. A voice in my head said no.

    November 29, 2018
  5. GuitarSlinger #

    First off .. re; ” More Blood : More Tracks ” . Like you Richard ” Blood on the Tracks ” is my absolute all time favorite Dylan album by a country mile . And though the box set version of ” More Blood : More Tracks ” is overwhelming to the point of Dylanaphone fanatic ridiculousness wretched excess extraneous … the single CD version is a must have for anyone who loves ” Blood on the Tracks ”

    e.g. Buy it !

    Second ; In my opinion the best book on Dylan .. e.g. the ‘ Cosmic Chameleon ‘ 😉

    ” Dylan in America ” Sean Wilentz

    The best insider perspective ;

    ” Another Side of Bob Dylan ” Victor Maymudes

    And the most unique Dylan book by far ;

    ” The Monk’s Record Player ; Thomas Merton , Bob Dylan and the Perilous Summer of 1966 ” by Robert Hudsen

    Those three along with Dylan’s …. err .. ummm …. autobiography ; ” Chronicles ” are again in my never ever humble opinion the only Dylan books anyone really needs

    PS; Full discloser .. guilty as charged I’ve bought and read several others over the years but looking back the ones I’m recommending are the only ones that truly stand out and get reread and referenced time and time again

    PPSS ; Thanks for the review

    Now where is that ” Chronicles Volume II ” Dylan keeps promising us ? 😎

    November 29, 2018

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