Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bob Dylan's biggest bomb

Douglas R. Gilbert/Redferns
Bob Dylan behind the Cafe at Woodstock on July 1st, 1964

BY DANIEL KREPS | November 30, 2014

The lyric sheets of two unrecorded Bob Dylan songs, typed out with handwritten annotations by Dylan himself, will hit the auction block at Christie's on December 4th. The folk legend's original four-page manuscript for "Talkin Folklore Center," published by Dylan in March 1962, is projected to sell for between $40,000 and $60,000, while the two-page "Go Away You Bomb" from 1963 expects to draw bids of $30,000 to $50,000, the auction house estimates.

According to the New York Times, Dylan gifted both sets of lyrics to Izzy Young, the founder of the Folklore Center on Macdougal Street and an influential presence as Dylan climbed the ranks in the Greenwich Village folk scene; it was Young that secured Dylan's first "important concert uptown" at New York's Carnegie Chapter Hall on November 4th, 1961.

"At first Dylan seemed like anybody else that came into the store," Young said. "But I noticed after a while there was something different about him. He would take every goddamn record I had in the store and listen to them. He was the only one that read all those scholarly communist books, as well as all the folk magazines. Anything I had in the store, he would read."

Dylan wrote the 43-line "Talkin Folklore Center" after being asked by Young to pen a song about the Folklore Center. While the song was never performed or recorded as is, some lyrics found their way into early performances of Dylan's "Talkin' New York," theNew York Times reports. Young, who relocated to Sweden in 1972, plans to use the proceeds of the lyric sheet sales to help support his current venture, the Folklore Centrum in Stockholm.

"Go Away You Bomb" was written after Young mentioned to Dylan he was compiling a book of lyrics for anti-nuclear songs. The next day, according to Young, Dylan walked into the Folklore Center with "Go Away You Bomb" in hand. However, the book of lyrics was never published. The song was written around the same time Dylan was at work on his second album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, an LP that shares similar anxieties about the state of world affairs at the time.

"Go Away You Bomb" was previously up for sale at a 2013 rock memorabilia auction in London, but it failed to sell. A representative from Christie's tells the New York Times that the venue was likely the cause for the lack of interest, and that a manuscript auction in New York is a proper setting. The December 4th sale marks the first time "Talkin Folklore Center" has been on the auction block.

You know, it strikes me as amazing that Dylan can still get rich from cleaning out his desk.

Those two "found" songs - Talkin' Folklore Center and (wince) Go Away You Bomb - sound so out-takey that I wonder why anyone would bother with them.

But Dylan, in spite of or because of being the troubadour of our times (and, admittedly, author of some of the most astonishing lyrics ever written by anyone), keeps on finding new ways of marketing himself. It's often called "reinventing", but I wonder if it isn't the same thing. And I do sometimes wonder if he just needs the money. I've read various Dylan bios, and one thing they agree on - well, it's a couple of things. He goes through women like water, and he can't keep track of a buck. Money just sort of flows through him like the River Jordan.

It's partly our fault. OK, ALL our fault, for devouring the worst stale crumbs fallen from his table, for obsessively collecting the belly button lint of this decrepit old legend. His cigarette butts are probably being collected and used for DNA even as we speak, to spawn a whole new generation of Dylanettes.

Think about it. Lots of kids have been named Dylan for the past 20 years or so, and whyyyyyy? Not because of Dylan Thomas, the disreputable old sot (and not nearly the genius writer most people say he was - God, he wrote some abominable crap to read on the BBC, no doubt to pay his beer bill). No, it's a Bob Dylan thing, and when people name their sons after you - dear God, it all becomes downright Biblical, a reverence akin to worship.

When I was a teenager, I was slavishly devoted to Bob. I collected pictures of him. I drew knives stuck into photos of his doll-like little wife Sara Lownds. I listened to everything he did and tried to like it, but after a while it got a mite watered-down.

The bizarre, hallucinogenic power of his metaphor ("jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule"; "They're selling postcards of the hanging/They're painting the passports brown/The beauty parlour is filled with sailors/The circus is in town") dwindled after a while, and though songs like If Not for You and Forever Young were pretty enough, they didn't pack the gut-wallop of "money doesn't talk, it swears," "you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," and "he not busy being born is busy dying".

I think everyone really expected him to kick off young, to do the Lord Byron thing. Joan Baez, the biggest Dylan groupie who ever lived (Diamonds and Rust!!), once wrote in her memoir Daybreak, "Look closely after him, God. He's more fragile than most people, and besides, I love him."

Fragile, my ass! If Baez turned out to be tough as old horsehide, Dylan is the saddle. These two leathery old comrades are probably going to pull a Pete Seeger and live to be 106.  I'll give him this much, whether he was in fashion or out, he always kept on going. Kept on recording, kept trudging along on that never-ending tour, which some say is a refuge from the emotional emptiness of his life. But the Christmas album (perhaps a horrible remnant of his born-again days) somehow just didn't make it for me. 

When people meet Dylan, they always remark on how small he is. Not fragile-small, but elf-like, in this case a withered and poisonous old elf who has been living underground for a couple of hundred years. They also notice his eyes, "bluer than robin's eggs", though they've probably become a mite rheumy since his Diamonds and Rust days. He's odd, oddly apart. There's something abnormal about him. A genius? I would have thought so in his early days, when he could rip off a song like Chimes of Freedom, dedicated to "every hung-up person in the whole wide universe". 

He's strange enough, surely. His artifacts, his napkin-scribbles, his old beer glasses, the pencil he dropped at the hungry i in 1963, all are sacred objects now. For all we know, he sat down and typed out Go Away You Bomb last week on the last remaining Olivetti portable typewriter. Typed it standing up, with two fingers, while Joan Baez crammed food into his mouth as if he was a baby bird. But the truth is, he never wrote tunes for those two lyrics and never recorded them because he knew they weren't good enough.  Too bad the rest of us lack that kind of wise discernment.

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