Page 7


BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Age of Bob BY DICK HOLLAND At last count there were over ninety books published about Bob Dylan and thousands of web-site pages that examine everything from the nuances of his set list the last time he played Dublin to deconstructions of his current pencilthin mustache and fine-tailored cowboy jackets. Chat rooms are devoted to the controversy over his recent television ad for Victoria’s Secret; on-line archivists have gathered together scores of what look like family snapshots of Bob, including late ’60s takes of him hid out in Woodstock, surrounded by babies and little children. Dylan the songwriter drew attention to himself immediately in the early sixtiesno popular musician or group, including Elvis or the Beatles, has inspired so much smart, insightful, speculative, and silly writing. A few weeks ago, Rolling Stone named his “Like a Rolling Stone” the greatest song of the rock era. A few years back he stood between Lauren Bacall and President Clinton at the Kennedy Center and sang “Forever Young” to the Pope in Italy. In 2000 he won an Academy Award for best Bob himself, what of him? He is on constant tour, has nothing much left of he keeps writing and recording notable songs, some recent ones are some of his best. Although he is a public man, Dylan Ronk, Paul Stookey \(later of Peter, Paul, expands on the scene: I’d either be up in the card room or at the Kettle of Fish Tavern next door. That place was usually packed too, on any given night of the week. A frantic atmosphereall kinds of characters talking fast, moving fastsome debonair, some rakish. Literary types with black beards, grim-faced intellectualseclectic girls, non-homemaker types. The kind of people who come from out of nowhere and go right back into ita pistol-packing rabbi, a snaggle-toothed girl with a big crucifix between her breasts all kinds of characters looking for the inner heat. I felt like I was seeing it all sitting on the crest of a cliff. Some people even had titles”The Man Who Made History,” “The Link Between the Races”that’s how they’d want to be referred to. Folk music based on the old English ballads and their American variants was everywhere, but Bobby also picked up music from the jukebox at the Kettle of Fish. The jukebox in the place showed mostly jazz records. Zoot Sims, Hampton Hawes, Stan Getz, and some rhythmand-blues recordsBumble Bee Slim, Slim Gaillard, Percy Mayfield. The Beats tolerated folk music, but they really didn’t like it. They listened exclusively to modern jazz, bebop. A couple of times I dropped a coin right into the slot [nice Chuck Berry reference!’ and played “The Man That Got Away” by Judy Garland. The song always did something to me, not in any stupefying, tremendous kind of way . . It was just nice to hear. Judy Garland was from Grand Chronicles, Volume 1 by Bob Dylan Simon & Schuster 293 pages, $24 Dylan’s Visions of Sin by Christopher Ricks Ecco 517 pages, $26.95 has always chosen to be cryptic about his private life and thoughts, choosing to hide in plain sight. Now the Sphinx has chosen to speak in the first of three projected autobiographical volumes, and the result is bracing. As Bob says about reading Balzac in his early folk days in Greenwich Village: the guy is hilarious. In Chronicles Vol. 1, Dylan just jumps right in with a story about his first New York song publisher, Lou Levy, taking him out to a busy sports bar to celebrate their contract. This would have been in late 1961. Lou introduced me to Jack Dempsey, the great boxer. Jack shook his fist at me. “You look too light for a heavyweight kid, you’ll have to put on a few pounds. You’re gonna have to dress a little finer, look a little sharpernot that you’ll need much in the way of clothes when you’re in the ring don’t be afraid of hitting somebody too hard.” “He’s not a boxer, Jack, he’s a songwriter and we’ll be publishing his songs.” “Oh, yeah, well I hope to hear ‘ern some of these days. Good luck to you, kid.” These good wishes from the old champion to the newly signed musical aspirant mark the beginning of the book, but the end of his formative period in New York, where he fled from his native Minnesota at the age of 19. About half the book is a vivid recreation of his days before he signed up with Columbia Records and with Lou Levy. The Gaslight Club in the Village is where beginning folkies congregated, singing 20-minute sets all through the night. Upstairs there was a floating poker game where Bobby \(still Zimmerman 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1/7/05