Friday, October 24, 2014

In an Age Where Content Is King, "The Lyrics: Since 1962" Shows Dylan's Mastery of Content Generation

We're all familiar with the adage "Content is King." On the Internet, content is the coin of the realm. He (or she) who produces content is the one who collects the chips at the end of the game. Hype and B.S. only go so far. When all is said and done, everyone is eventually found out for what they are. That’s where celebritydom fails. All too often American celebs are pure vapor. The soul hungers for substance.

Well, this coming month Simon & Schuster is publishing a substantial new edition of the collected works of Bob Dylan aptly titled The Lyrics: Since 1962. The book is a tad larger than an LP, near a thousand pages in length and weighs more than 13 pounds. 50 numbered copies of this massive volume will be signed by Mr. Dylan himself, with a price tag set at $5,000 apiece. 3500 copies will be available for $200 each.

The signed edition is available from The $200 version will supposedly be available in bookshops, but 3,000 U.S. copies (500 have been set aside for Britain) means there will only be 60 copies per state, which seems a pretty limited edition. The collectible $5K signed edition will be available to only one person per state at this rate... though my guess is a few will be snapped up by Dylan fans in other corners of the world from Britain and Spain to Japan and Scandinavia. Recommended: You want one? Better snatch it while you can.

One of the more interesting features of the book is the contribution from Christopher Ricks, a British literary scholar now on the faculty of Boston University. Ricks, who authored the 2003 analysis of Dylan's work titled Dylan's Visions of Sin, edited the lyrics here and contributed a lengthy introduction. The sisters Lisa and Julie Nemrow assisted as co-editors.

According to one announcement I saw about the book the editors strove to show the different ways Dylan has performed the songs over time, or even at a single recording session. "When a song’s previously published lyrics differ from what Mr. Dylan sang on the original recording, the differences are noted. So are differences that crop up on officially released live recordings, or outtakes."

The Nemrows, who run a design company, were also involved with the layout of the book. Some of the decisions with regard to the layout of the songs may be surprising, but the aim is to give the printed word the feeling associated with the performance of the songs as Dylan sang them.

Here's a little more background on Mr. Ricks:

Christopher Ricks is the William M. and Sara B. Warren Professor of the Humanities at Boston University, having formerly been professor of English at Bristol and at Cambridge. He is a member of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers, of which he was president (2007-2008). He has edited and also teaches in the Core Curriculum. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 2004, and is known both for his critical studies and for his editorial work. The latter includes The Poems of Tennyson (revised 1987), The New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse(1987), Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917 by T. S. Eliot (1996), The Oxford Book of English Verse (1999), Selected Poems of James Henry (2002), Samuel Menashe’s New and Selected Poems (2005), Samuel Beckett’s The Expelled / The Calmative / The End / First Love (2009), Henry James’s What Maisie Knew (2010) and for Penguin Books Alfred Lord Tennyson: Selected Poems(2007). He is the author of Milton’s Grand Style (1963), Keats and Embarrassment (1974), The Force of Poetry (1984), T. S. Eliot and Prejudice (1988), Tennyson (1989), Beckett’s Dying Words (1993), Essays in Appreciation (1996), Allusion to the Poets (2002), Reviewery (2002), Decisions and Revisions in T. S. Eliot (2003), Dylan’s Visions of Sin (2004), and True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell under the Sign of Eliot and Pound (2010). He was Professor of Poetry at Oxford, 2004-2009; in 2010, Waywiser Press published his anthology Joining Music with Reason: 34 Poets, British and American, Oxford 2004-2009.

And if this isn't enough to establish his authority, you can read Donald MacLeod's 2004 profile of Ricks that appeared in The Guardian.

"Don't Look Back"
I mention all this only because I have a couple friends who do not consider Dylan a poet. Mr. Ricks, who seems to have a fairly substantive understanding of poetry, would disagree with my friends. As Mr. MacLeod states early on in the piece, "The critic who made his name with meticulous readings of Milton, Tennyson and TS Eliot has long championed the American rock star as a poet worthy of the same close and painstaking analysis. Not everyone approves."

Regarding the price tag on the signed and numbered limited edition, a story here comes to mind. Jonathan Winters was once criticized because he had priced one of his paintings at $25,000. A woman who was interested in purchasing it exclaimed, "Why is this painting worth $25,000?" to which the famous comedian replied, "Because it has my signature on it. If it had been signed by Red Skelton it would be worth $40,000."

Jonathan Karp, Simon & Schuster's president and publisher, said, “It’s the biggest, most expensive book we’ve ever published, as far as I know.” And personally, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the books will be sold out before the date of their release. I know know at least a few people in my own circle who will likely end up owning one.

Meantime, life goes on....

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Photos of The Lyrics: Since 1962 courtesy Simon and Schuster.
"Don't Look Back" is an original painting by Ed Newman that will be on display tonight at the Goin' Postal 2014 Fall Art Show in Superior. You can see the art of 17 local artists from 6-9 p.m. and then unwind up the street at V.I.P. Pizza while listening to the music of Cowboy Angel Blue.

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