Sunday, May 19, 2024

Review: The Biggest, Most Comprehensive Bob Dylan Book Ever, Approved by Him with Lots of Unseen Archival Stuff

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Everyone remembers their first Dylan concert. Mine was historic: When Dylan switched guitars, from acoustic to electric, when crowds stormed the stage in protest. No, this was not the more famous concert in Newport. This was a few days later, in Forest Hills. A friend and I, two immigrant teens took the subway from Brooklyn to Queens to find America. Up until that day, Dylan was to me an anti-war poet/ a scratchy singer in the manner of Phil Ochs. But that day the Dylan fans were waging their own war against HIM, booing, unseating, moving forward as a mob.

It was clear: Dylan mattered. But the question was, did the rage matter to him? If it did, he took the advice of The Beatles, who advised, ‘Don’t worry about the fans, they will come back.’ And, of course, the rest is, as they say, history.

Cut to Tulsa, May 2022. The opening of The Bob Dylan Center. Why Tulsa, everyone asked? Because his archive could be housed right next door to his hero’s Woody Guthrie. Parties, music, academic meetings marked the occasion. Visiting, I could see a photograph from the concert of my youth amidst the incredible collection of guitars, vinyl, notebooks, artwork—memorabilia of a creative life.

And now readers of “Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine,” edited by Mark Davidson and Parker Fishel, can revel in their own nostalgia and more in this elegant, meaty tome—a chronology of the archival Tulsa haul, a backstory for a great biography. This is no small tome: 608 pages, 4.4 pounds, bursting with minutiae, color photos and graphics, essays by experts, unseen treasure troves, designed within an inch of itself to be the ultimate holiday gift for the Dylan freak in your realm.

To the photos with EVERYONE: Joan Baez, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Robbie Robertson, Allen Ginsberg, Barack Obama, still shots from D. A. Pennebaker’s famous card thrown down, torn ticket stubs, song lists, lyrics, stuff, add smart essays by Greil Marcus, Lucy Sante, Raymond Foye, Richard Hell limning Dylan’s writing process from foundational tapes to recordings and artifacts. A facsimile of Dylan’s essay on Jimi Hendrix. Peter Carey’s grim look at Tulsa’s racial divide, how the famed riots serve up classic Dylan material. Douglas Brinkley’s Epilogue sums up his last decade in person from his own interviews and personal connection with Dylan, noting: “his piercing blue eyes that could burn through disingenuous people like a blowtorch.”

Word in Tulsa was Dylan has never laid those eyes on the Archive, not even when he came to town to play. This book, a tribute to his art, should matter to him. But even if he turns away in the manner of his Nobel Prize for Literature, it’s a rich read and the deepest dive into his work to date. It’s so rich, in fact, that Sony Music has issued an accompanying CD– a greatest hits update — of the same name.

“Mixing Up the Medicine” is produced by Nicholas Callaway, of Callaway Editions, which means it’s delivered to us like the stones on the Temple Mount.

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