Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Artist Daniel Botkin Expounds On Busy Being Born: Prenatal Portrait of Bob Dylan in Amniotic Sac Hovering Over the Horizon of Hibbing, Minnesota

One of the highlights of the Duluth Dylan Fest these past few years has been an evening of Dylan-themed art at the Red Mug Coffeehouse in Superior. This year featured works by Chicago-based artist Daniel Botkin whose painted stories came alive during his artist talk. I asked Mr. Botkin to share details about his unusual painting of Hibbing titled Busy Being Born. 

The title of this painting is Busy Being Born: Prenatal Portrait of Bob Dylan in Amniotic Sac Hovering Over the Horizon of Hibbing, Minnesota. The inspiration for this piece is from the line "he not busy being born is busy dying." The wild-haired fetus floating in the amniotic sac that hovers over Hibbing is my rendition of baby Bobby Zimmerman, wrapped in a prayer shawl, busy being born as Hibbing and Duluth and the rest of the world await his arrival.

The umbilical cord morphs into a shofar, the ram's horn that is blown in the synagogue, which serves as "the hollow horn" from which the music and words of the song emerge. The musical notes, copied from an old song book, show the actual melody. The Hebrew text above the music (reading from right to left) says: mi she-lo asuk ba-hivdalut asuk ba-mavet ("he not busy being born is busy dying"), followed by aval zeh b'seder, ima, ani rak m'damem ("but it's alright, ma, I'm only bleeding"), which is also the title of the song.

The Hibbing landscape below the floating fetus shows buildings and places of significance to Dylan's years in Hibbing. Near the end of his song Desolation Row, Bob sang, "All these people that you mention / yes, I know them, they are quite lame / I had to rearrange their faces / and give them all another name." In the same spirit, I have taken the liberty to rearrange the buildings and streets of Hibbing to fit all these important features into my painting.

The Zimmerman home is in the lower center. In one of the upstairs bedroom windows, I placed Milton Glaser's famous poster that was included with Dylan's first volume of Greatest Hits. To the left of the Zimmerman home, just above the green Hibbing sign, is the synagogue the Zimmerman family attended. Behind that is the Androy Hotel, where Bobby Zimmerman had his bar mitzvah. Across the street from the Androy Hotel is Zimmy's, Hibbing's Dylan-themed restaurant and unofficial Dylan museum.* The pedestrian walking into Zimmy's is me in my "leopard skin pillbox hat." The Greyhound Bus parked by Zimmy's pays homage to Hibbing as the home of the Greyhound Bus Lines. The landscape in the distance, behind the bus, shows Hibbing's mining operations. The Hibbing Memorial Building in the bottom right corner is where Bobby Zimmerman played his first public concert as a teenager. The two figures walking in front of the building, by the "Highway 61" sign, are me and my younger brother, who accompanied me on my two pilgrimages (so far) to Hibbing.

When the painting was almost finished, my 15-year-old daughter, Emily, said to me, "You should put a flying saucer above the horizon."

"A flying saucer?" I said. "That would make the painting look weird."

She said, "I've got news for you, Dad...."

I explained why it would look weird. "Bob Dylan didn't sing about flying saucers," I said. "I can't remember a single reference to UFOs in any Dylan song. But if you go online, find a concordance of Dylan lyrics, and find a reference to flying saucers, I'll paint one there."

She couldn't find anything. "Well," she said, "maybe instead of a flying saucer, you could paint a Goodyear Blimp. But call it BobYear."

So to please her, I painted the BobYear Blimp. And instead of a winged shoe like you see on a Goodyear Blimp, I painted a musical note, taking my cue from Zimmy's use of a musical note for an apostrophe on their sign. Under "BobYear" I painted 1941, the year Bob was born.

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It's been fun getting to know Daniel Botkin this past few years. Duluth Dylan Fest and Hibbing's Dylan Days have brought a lot of of fans and interesting people to the Northland each spring, including artists, writers, musicians and even news teams. (Big shout out to South Korea and Japan.) 

Botkin has offered to produce 76 portraits of Bob Dylan for Bob's 76th birthday if we can raise funds for the canvases and help defray transportation costs. Send me a note at ennyman at northlc.com if you would like to contribute. Learn more about the artist here and at his website here

EdNote: Duluth Dylan Fest will take place the week leading up to Memorial Day weekend again this year.

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SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: If you are a Dylan fan within a 400 mile radius of Duluth mark your calendars for October 15 for a special Musical Celebration in honor of John Bushey, host of Highway 61 Revisited on KUMD on 103.3 FM, a show I've been listening to for nearly two decades, streaming live worldwide.

Get Tickets in Advance at eventbrite.com: http://johnbusheycelebration.eventbrite.com
Our esteemed Master of Ceremonies will be Magic Marc Percansky. There will also be Live Music with Cowboy Angel Blue, The Boomchucks and Special Guests.

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Meantime life goes on all around you. He not busy being born is busy dyin'.

*Sadly, now closed.

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