Dylan's birthday brings three noteworthy titles, including a book of
his paintings and a memoir by his New York girlfriend.
By JON BREAM, Star Tribune
May 16, 2008
May 24 is fast approaching, and Minnesota music fans know what that
means: Bob Dylan's birthday (he'll turn 67) and the attendant events,
including Dylan Days in Hibbing, Minn., next weekend and the Dylan
Soundalike Contest Friday at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis.
This May also brings three new books to the Dylan library -- well,
actually two new titles and a reissue. One is the most anticipated
Dylan book since his own 2004 memoir: Suze Rotolo, his pre-Joan Baez
girlfriend and early muse, reflects on 1960s Greenwich Village -- and
her boy Bobby. The Pulitzer-winning legend himself contributes a
coffee-table book of paintings. And the reissue explores Dylan's
All three merit attention for even casual fans of Minnesota's most
revered musical icon.
"POSITIVELY MAIN STREET: BOB DYLAN'S MINNESOTA"
By Toby Thompson (University of Minnesota Press, $15.95)
Toby Thompson was -- not necessarily in this order -- a Dylan fan, an
aspiring journalist and one crazy dude from Washington, D.C. In 1968,
the 25-year-old set out to discover Dylan's roots, so he drove his VW
all the way to Hibbing -- twice.
First published in 1971 (with the subtitle "An Unorthodox View of Bob
Dylan"), "Positively Main Street" is positively entertaining in a
Hunter S. Thompson kind of way. It's New Journalism, as they called
it 40 years ago, with all the self-indulgent details of Thompson's
(Toby, that is) consumption of Grain Belt beers as he bounced on
Dylan's childhood bed, sat in Dylan's desk at Hibbing High and made
music with Dylan's 11th-grade girlfriend (a k a "Girl of the North Country").
Thompson tracked down anybody who knew "Die-lan" (as the Hibbingites
called him), including the guy at the local music store, the guy at
the motorcycle shop, his English and music teachers, his uncles, his
brother David and even his reluctant but ultimately charmingly chatty
mother. Of course, Thompson traveled into a few dead ends. But the
stuff with Dylan's mom and his high school girlfriend, Echo Helstrom,
"Positively" is a free-wheelin', fun and quick read that is
surprisingly informative. The only update is a 2005 interview with
Thompson, now a professor of (surprise!) creative writing at Penn
State, conducted by a British Dylan fanzine. He sounds deeply
thoughtful -- no, make that erudite -- and nowhere near as much fun
as he was in 1968.
"A FREEWHEELIN' TIME: A MEMOIR OF GREENWICH VILLAGE IN THE SIXTIES"
By Suze Rotolo (Broadway, $22.95)
The cover photo is iconic: an outtake for the cover of Dylan's second
album, 1963's "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." It's the singer strolling
arm in arm on a snowy winter's day with girlfriend Rotolo.
She was reluctant to cash in her Dylan chip until he wrote his own
memoir and she was interviewed for the 2005 Dylan documentary "No
Chronologically, "Freewheelin' Time" picks up Dylan's story where
Thompson's "Positively Main Street" left off -- his move to New York
-- but this book really is more about Rotolo and the 1960s New York
that shaped Dylan. Eschewing a ghostwriter, Rotolo, a visual artist,
is reasonably articulate, with a flair for vivid descriptions of
settings, people, and the intellectual and musical environment.
For all but the most intense Dylan fans, a good-sized magazine
article could cover what we learn about him in these 369 pages.
Rotolo, who was with Dylan from 1961 to '65, writes about how he'd
primp in front of a mirror to achieve his carefully disheveled look.
He made up stories about his background, "calmly and knowingly" said
"I am going to be big" and was seldom "swayed by outside demands or requests."
"Bobby had an impish charm that older women found endearing," writes
Rotolo, who was three years his junior. "He had a touch of arrogance,
a good dose of paranoia, and a wonderful sense of the absurd. But
Bobby was also tough and focused and he had a healthy ego. The
additional ingredients protected the intensive sensitivity. As an
artist he had what it took to become a success."
"BOB DYLAN: THE DRAWN BLANK SERIES"
For his first museum exhibit (in Chemnitz, Germany) Dylan painted 322
watercolors and gouaches in eight months in 2007, based on pencil and
charcoal sketches he'd done between 1989 and '92. This book contains
170 of them -- portraits, still lifes, landscapes, interiors and city
scenes, in a style that recalls his painting for the 1970 album "Self
Four experts, including Diana Widmaier Picasso (who has published
books of her famous grandfather's works), weigh in with essays on
Dylan's paintings. Let's just say that his art, like his voice, is an
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719