Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Writings And Drawings - Bob Dylan


Regarding Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature recently, the only question that needs to be asked is 'Why has it taken so long?'. You don't need to be a fan (and you don't need a weather man) to acknowledge the fact as Allen Ginsberg stated years ago that Dylan is the world's greatest living poet. Where's the argument in that?

Published in 1973, Writings And Drawings is a collection of Dylan's lyrics, sleeve notes and drawings dating from his very early songs, through all his albums from Freewheelin' in 1963 to New Morning in 1970. What's immediately apparent when reading it is how the lyrics stand up as poems in their own right rather than being just words to songs and of course, this is one of the reasons why he's been given the award.
There's an art to writing song lyrics and there's an art to writing poems, and it's actually not that often that the two forms are successfully combined to create a whole other. In respect of modern pop culture, Dylan was quite possibly the first to achieve this.

Throughout the book there are many classic songs and lines from songs, familiar if not by being sung by Dylan himself then being covered by other bands and artists: A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall - Bryan Ferry, Mr Tambourine Man - The Byrds, I'll keep It Mine - Nico, Quinn The Eskimo - Manfred Mann, This Wheel's On Fire - Julie Driscoll, Wanted Man - Johnny Cash, All Along The Watch Tower - Jimi Hendrix, etc, etc.
Dipping into the book at random you land upon such lines as this: "I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade. Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way. I promise to go under it." And this: "You've thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled, fear to bring children into the world. For threatening my baby, unborn and unnamed, you ain't worth the blood that runs in your veins."
Andrew Motion eat your heart out.

Writings And Drawings isn't really a book to be read cover to cover but rather to browse through appreciatively. It looks good on a bookcase also, or on the side of your table desk, particularly as it's out of print now...

And whilst on the subject of Bob Dylan, for what it's worth his best album (in my opinion) is Desire, from 1976. I remember first hearing it years ago in Athens, in a Greek hostel, sitting in the communal area drinking a coffee before setting off to catch a boat to Crete. The track One More Cup Of Coffee was being played over the hostel's sound system and the words would resonate with me for years after: "One more cup of coffee for the road, one more cup of coffee 'fore I go - to the valley below."
I landed on Crete and I remember a hippy lady saying to me "You look like the man who fell to earth," meaning Thomas Jerome Newton as played by Bowie in the film. I was seventeen, my hair was dyed yellow and my head buzzing with Anarcho Punk ideas.
Icarus descending.

Any right-thinking acolyte of Dylan should own a copy of this book. I do - and I'm not even really a fan; Patti Smith and Leonard Cohen being more my preference. I appreciate good art when I see it though and Bob Dylan is nothing but an artist and Writings And Drawings nothing less than a very good art book.
John Serpico

No comments:

Post a Comment