Sunday, September 11, 2005


Finding a 'lost' set of Bob Dylan pics is like discovering the Holy Grail - in a way. Such was my luck in discovering the work of Douglas Gilbert earlier this year. Some of you may have seen my feature on the subject in The Times magazine this weekend - 'The Lost Dylan'. For them that missed it, here is the full unedited text.

This month is Dylan central in the UK, with the launch of major photo exhibition at the Proud Galleries in London, coinciding with the launch of 'The Bob Dylan Scrapbook: An American Journey 1956-66 [Simon & Schuster] and the screening of the two-part Martin Scorsese documentary on Dylan 'No Direction Home' on September 26 &27th on BBC's Arena programme. See:

'In 1964, a 21-year-old photographer named Douglas R. Gilbert went on an assignment for Look magazine, to photograph the just-turned 23-year-old Bob Dylan.

In a couple of days in late June, he captured Dylan, in Woodstock, relaxing with friends – including the beat poet Allen Ginsberg - playing with kids, writing poetry, posing on his motorbike and jamming in the local café with John Sebastian (who later formed The Lovin’ Spoonful).

A week or so after, Gilbert spent a few further hours shooting Dylan getting drunk with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at the legendary Kettle of Fish bar in Greenwich Village, examining fresh vinyl he had acquired from his recent European trip, and browsing in a local bookstore.

At the end of July, Gilbert is at the Newport Folk Festival, to record shots of Dylan appearing at the Friday opening song workshop, his surprise appearance at the end of Joan Baez’ set that night, and his solo set on the main stage on Saturday night, when Baez joined him for an encore.

Despite the quality of these elegant black and white photos, the story was subsequently rejected by Look as the editors felt Dylan was ‘too scruffy’ for a family magazine and the pictures were kept unseen in the photographer’s archive for the next 40 years, as Gilbert was unsure as to whether the copyright rested with him.

Reassured by a colleague and with encouragement from his daughter, the pictures have finally seen daylight – and the public acclaim they deserve.

A long tangled trail led me to these pictures, to Douglas Gilbert and eventually the whole set of contact sheets which proved to be the key to recapturing lost days in Dylan’s life by sequencing the pictures for the first time, identifying the key characters and researching Dylan’s life to give them a context. Thus the photos can now speak to us.
Firstly, they capture Dylan in a way we have never really seen him – relaxed, at peace, easy with himself and his surroundings. There is an innocence there but also the marks of the journey he has made from Hibbing to Greenwich Village to these images.

He is a young man who has already come a very long way. The summer before he had become the new star of Newport and had discovered Woodstock before it became ‘a zoo or a ‘nation’, in the words of Robert Shelton. Then Kennedy was shot. ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ was released. He took a road trip across America (part Kerouac, part Fear and Loathing). He’d split up with Suze Rotolo (the girl on the cover of ‘Freewheelin’’ and was having an affair with Joan Baez. He played England, roamed Europe, hung out in Greece. On his return, he went into Studio A in New York and in one night recorded ‘Another Side of Bob Dylan’ between 7:30pm and 1.00am. That was just a couple of weeks before the first pictures you see here were taken.

In fact, we actually see Bob writing part of the liner notes for the album (says Gilbert), who captures Dylan at the typewriter in The White Room above the Café Expresso on Tinker Street, in a beautifully balanced image, full of resonant repeating shapes – the wooden mallet on the hook, the distinctive t-square shape on the drawing board, the adze-like black outline of the cover over the typewriter keys. Dylan sits, at an elegant wooden table, ashtray by his side. Cool in his suede jacket and boots of Spanish leather. A table in the foreground holds a tableaux of cigarette packets, corkscrew, French wine bottle and cup of coffee – the artist’s tools.

Some two weeks after the Newport Festival, Dylan gets taken to the Hotel Delmonico in New York by the recently deceased journalist Al Aronowitz to meet the Beatles. Al shared some heavy weed with the lads and claimed ever after that this was where the ‘60s began.

Ahead lies the legendary and explosive Dylan-goes-electric performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, 'Like A Rolling Stone', mob attention, stellar fame, and the mysterious bike crash (the same Triumph we see in these pictures) on July 29th 1966. Press reports at the time said he had broken his neck and almost killed himself but this version of events does not now stand up to historical scrutiny. The incident did however enable Dylan to cancel his increasingly frenetic commitments and withdraw from performing for a time, his next live show being a tribute to WoodyGuthrie, one of his key mentors, on January 20th 1968.

The pictures of Dylan and Ginsberg are amongst the best ever taken of a friendship that had begun that previous December and which lasted until the poet’s death in 1997. Ginsberg, resplendent on cotton and sandals, had recently returned from a long spell in India; the photos actually capture Dylan showing him how to play the harmonium that Ginsberg had acquired in Benares.

There are no fans in these pictures. This was a different world. Sun-splashed images of a lost summer. Gilbert’s youthful assignment has captured for history another side of Dylan. A very human one. A young man about to make it big. But in a new way. Knowing what we now know gives these rediscovered images a powerful poignancy and allows us to see Dylan afresh. Once more.'

Due to my investigative work on the photos, I have an 'Additional Research'  credit on the title page of the book of Gilbert's images. 'Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan, 1964, is to be published by Da Capo Press on November 1st. The opening essay is by the legendary US rock writer Dave Marsh, biographer of Bruce Springsteen and The Who and founder of Creem magazine, where the legendary Lester Bangs was one of the star writers. It was a pleasure to work with him.

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