Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Few Things Things I Learned This Week During Dylan Fest

Bob Prophet (Claude-Angele Boni')
It has been anything but quiet here this week in Dylan-Land. Last weekend was the three-day streaming symposium from the TU Institute for Bob Dylan Studies. The range of topics discussed was striking. Dylan's career is touching and has touched people from all walks of life. Today there are even Tweeners getting tangled up in Bob.

Dylan turned 80 on Monday and the first three days of our Duluth Dylan Fest were a challenge because I also wanted to listen to as many presenters from Tulsa. Fortunately, those who paid the price of admission for the Tulsa conference -- a very low hurdle, for the record -- have six months to listen to everything they missed. That was a perk I will take advantage of.

The first presentation was by a young man named Nathan Blue, a student at TU who has the privilege of reading bags of unopened fan mail from 1966. There are literally thousands of documents in moldy mail bags that had to be disinfected for safety sake. His talk was titled "Don't Send Me No More Letters, No."

Those familiar with Dylan's life recognize 1966 as a significant year in his career. It featured his world tour with the band, the recording and release of Blonde On Blonde, and that motorcycle crash that became a 180 degree pivot away from life on the road. 

Michael Kramer's talk was titled "One Should Never Be Where One Does Not Belong." Kramer discussed this post crash period and Dylan's journals from that time as he developed the material for John Wesley Harding

What struck me most profoundly was how secretive and yet open Dylan has been his entire life. Let me explain.

Having come from a marketing/PR career I've always seen Dylan as the consummate marketer. He created buzz every time he opened his mouth, a master of misdirection and bafflement. He was photographed continuously. He had photographers documenting what seems like his every move from the moment he stepped into the spotlights very early on. The whole bootleg subculture and unofficial fan culture was profound. The manner in which every one of his concerts and even private playing seems to have been documented and captured -- how many others have had that? 

But the selling of his personal archives for the Dylan Museum in Tulsa, this was simply over the top. I just finished reading a biography of Jack London, written by the scholar who manages the archives of Jack London.  These archives were assembled posthumously. One of the scholars who spoke in Tulsa last weekend has been caretaker of the James Joyce archives. These, too, were assembled posthumously. How incredibly unusual that Dylan's archives have become accessible, are being organized and dissected while the man is still alive. This is something akin to an autopsy while the patient is still alive. It's unheard of.

People were digging through his garbage in the Sixties for anything and everything that could offer an insight into the enigmatic Bob. I just finished reading the section in Chronicles again where he described all these intrusions into his privacy as exceedingly annoying. Yet, today... His most private journals are being made available for microscopic inspection by every Dylanologist out there. What, exactly are we/they looking for? What new things do we/they hope to discover?

Like a master magician, the real Dylan is still playfully elusive. What does it really mean?  

Another big takeaway this week was seeing smiles on faces as we gathered again. This past year had us tangled up in blues. At last we've finally been released.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

One more time you are right ED.Bob is good at selling himself. As a painter I have made many portraits of Bob and I gave them titles like DYLAN PIRATE / DYLAN PROPHET/ THE RADIANT PHILOSOPHER / but though I think you are right it's impossible to me to find a way to made a portrait of him "looking like" a Marketing strategist but I know I will not resis to the temptation to have a look at the archives...

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