Thursday, June 30, 2011

Anthony Scaduto's Bob Dylan

As a result of The Witmark Demos, I've found myself interested in Bob Dylan's story and especially his roots. This led me to Anthony Scaduto's in depth study of the the man behind the shades, simply titled Bob Dylan.

Scaduto was a former crime reporter, so this book is the mother lode when it comes to early Dylan detail. It includes volumes of material on his relationship with Woodie Guthrie (far more than I realized), and all the machinations that brought him so quickly to the limelight in a city crowded with dreamers. It also is a very unflattering portrait, as Dylan's trail to the top was littered with injured or betrayed friends, peers and others who stood on the sidelines and disliked the kid. Yes, he was but a kid when he washed ashore in New York. And anyone who looking for more reasons to dislike Dylan can find additional ammo here.

Which does raise the question for me again as regards the relationship between the artist's life and his work. Take Van Gogh, for example. Characterized by insane extreme behavior -- he cut off his ear and sent it to the woman he loved -- yet extremely sensitive toward the suffering, the needy... and a pioneer in the world of art, a true original.

Well, Scaduto isn't just a bad-mouthin' here. The guy gives the most detailed, in depth look at all the characters who brushed across Dylan's life, and through this book adds understanding to many of the songs we've listened to over the years. "I learned this song from Ric Van Schmidt" is a line at the beginning of "Baby Let Me Follow You Down." Now I know more about Von Schmidt, and Dave Van Ronk, Rambling Jack Elliot and Odetta and the Dinkytown days, the places and faces that became mythical moments in music history. Did you know Dylan played harmonica on one of Harry Belafonte's albums? One song only. Belafonte was a professional and very "tight" with his sound. Young Dylan was ragged, and had no interest in being put in such a confined box. Their styles didn't mesh.

But Dylan's quest was a style of his own. Once he stopped singing Woody Guthrie's boxcar hobo songs of the thirties, his own contemporary interests and subject matter began to emerge. In those early New York years he matured quickly, writing his ideas on scraps of paper and throwing them into his guitar case, an endless stream of material to sift and sort.

This book, published in 1971, will take you back in time. You truly get the feel of that never-to-be-forgotten era.

Here's a tender lament from side one of The Witmark Demos.

Tomorrow Is A Long Time

If today was not an endless highway
If tonight was not a crooked trail
If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time
Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all
Yes, and only if my own true love was waitin’
Yes, and if I could hear her heart a-softly poundin’
Only if she was lyin’ by me
Then I’d lie in my bed once again

I can’t see my reflection in the waters
I can’t speak the sounds that show no pain
I can’t hear the echo of my footsteps
Or can’t remember the sound of my own name
Yes, and only if my own true love was waitin’
Yes, and if I could hear her heart a-softly poundin’
Only if she was lyin’ by me
Then I’d lie in my bed once again

There’s beauty in the silver, singin’ river
There’s beauty in the sunrise in the sky
But none of these and nothing else can touch the beauty
That I remember in my true love’s eyes
Yes, and only if my own true love was waitin’
Yes, and if I could hear her heart a-softly poundin’
Only if she was lyin’ by me
Then I’d lie in my bed once again

Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

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