Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dylan Days, Dylanology, The Dylanologists and a Happy 73rd to the Elder Statesman of Rock

Yesterday I tried to write a review of David Kinney's The Dylanologists, but got stalled. After three false starts I left for Hibbing for Dylan Days. What a perfect day as far as weather goes. Blue skies and summer's kiss gave the whole town a lift.

As for me, by day's end it could not have gone much better. I saw things I could not photograph, photographed things I cannot share, heard rumors I cannot repeat, made new friends, strengthened ties with old friends and lived to tell about it. I made the trip to Hibbing in the company of John Bushey, host of KUMD's radio program Highway 61 Revisited, which this evening will be dedicated to Bob Dylan's 73rd birthday.

I had two primary aims for the day and the rest was gravy. First, to see the Daniel Kramer exhibit that was making its first U.S. appearance here in Dylan's hometown. Second, to meet David Kinney, author of The Dylanologists, who was going to be signing books at Howard Street Booksellers at 3:30.

The photography of Daniel Kramer was billed as An Exhibition Exploring Major Milestones in Dylan's Career in the mid-1960s. It is a selection of photos co-curated by Daniel Kramer, presented by The Grammy Museum and the City of Hibbing. For the next few months the exhibit will be on display at the Paulucci Space Theatre on the Campus of Hibbing Community College.

Daniel Kramer is a photographer who managed to be in the right place at the right time as far as rock history goes, the year everything changed, 1964-65. Many of his iconic photos from that year are familiar to all of us, including the album covers for Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. Since we were not permitted to take photos of the photos, the best way to see examples of his work is to do a Google search. As it turns out, it was a Daniel Kramer image that Simon & Schuster used for the cover of The Dylanologists.

Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum, was on hand to welcome us to the opening. What a small world it is, as Mr. Santelli's had previously been executive VP at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, my own home town till I was 12. When I went to college in 1970 (Ohio University) the first girl I met while waiting in line at Convocation Hall to sign up for classes was from Cleveland. She agreed to see me and that evening shared the vision her circle of friends had for a Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Though it took more than a decade the dream was achieved. Santelli, who served there in the 90's, stated that he spent seven years trying to get a Bob Dylan exhibit there.

The current exhibit primarily features what appears to be 14"x 20" black and white photos framed and mounted against a blue background. The images are striking, in part because of the clarity and quality of the reproductions themselves, and in part because of their familiarity. Many of these images have become a part of history, much like Matthew Brady's historic images of Civil War battlefields.

Members of the media had the privilege of viewing the exhibit from 4-5 and then at 6:00 p.m. a Skyped interview with Daniel Kramer was scheduled to take place, conducted by Mr. Santelli. The Skype feed failed to give us an image, but it succeeded in providing an audio feed and the interview provided many special insights into both Mr. Kramer's experiences of that year as well as his career making pictures.

Bob Santelli interviewing Daniel Kramer via Skype.
Mr. Santelli began by outlining the path this exhibit took to reach us here, and where it will be headed. It was originally unveiled in Paris, travelled to London and now to Hibbing, the correct place for its U.S. grand opening... and Dylan Days being the proper time. From here it will travel to Little Rock, a place in Mississippi and to Tulsa's Woody Guthrie Museum. Ultimately it will be housed in L.A.

Daniel Kramer began by saying he was sorry he could not be with us, but that his wife took ill and he had to stay home this week. Bob Santelli then conducted the interview, which lasted nearly an hour. How did you get into photography? What was your first experience of Dylan? What is it about Dylan that is so compelling? etc.

Mr. Kramer indicated that he did not know who Dylan was at all until he saw him sing The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll on television. He said, "It was his words that found me."

It took the photographer six months to get the Woodstock shoot to happen. It was to be an hour in length but ended up being six hours. He did not hear Dylan sing at the time, only spent time with him doing various things. Dylan then invited him to a concert in Philadelphia, thus beginning the long year.

What was significant here is that before that year he was "Bob Dylan" and after that year he was Dylan. The musician went from artist to icon.

When asked how he got this assignment (or relationship) he said, "I sell trust. I feel a responsibility to protect my subjects."

He described being present for the Bringing It All Back Home sessions, which was a totally new kind of music. He observed Bob way of talking to the musicians. His comprehensive understanding of all that was going on far exceeded his years. He was still a youth.

What was important to Kramer was not the images themselves, but how they revealed the inner person. He twice made reference to the notion of "peeling back the layers of the onion."

When asked what other people he has photographed and he mentioned three years of shooting Norman Mailer, plus many writers, actors and others, including Janis Joplin.

When asked if there was a particular image he was fond of from the collection he commented on the famous shot of Dylan with his hand in front of his face, twinkling eye glistening. It was as if he were saying, "Now you see it, now you don't."

Dylanologists David Kinney and John Bushey
There was a fairly large audience on hand in the theater there, and afterward all were invited to the reception, which included a variety of pastries and desserts plus juice. The lingering crowd -- which included Hibbing dignitaries, Dylan fans, locals, and author David Kinney -- seemed energized by the show and the experience.

David Kinney had earlier made a presentation at a book signing at Howard Street Booksellers at 3:30 p.m. It only seemed natural that a Dylan fan who wrote a book about Dylan fandom would be present for Dylan Days. This was his second Dylan Days event, the first being in 2011 as he was researching his book.

Because of the temporary closing of Zimmy's, the singer/songwriter contest -- which has always been a highlight of Dylan Days -- was moved to the Crown Ballroom, an utterly different venue, but not so different event.

There are far too many other impressions to share from yesterday's excursion, but today's another day and it's time to get on with it. There will be a review of The Dylanologists sometime soon. (Thank you, Mr. Kinney, for contributing to this special day. And to Joe and Mary, owners of Howard Street Booksellers. And to you, too, Bill.

Today, Bob Dylan is celebrating his 73rd birthday. Daniel Kramer began documenting that pivotal year of rock history exactly a half century ago. What a great way to celebrate this major milestone, with friends and fans from all over the world, sharing and making memories.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Celebrate it.

A few of the treats at Howard Street Booksellers.

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