We welcome Clinton Heylin to our hometown of Pontefract to give a very special presentation: The Words and Music of Bob Dylan. Hosted by our friends The CAT Club at The Pigeon Loft @ The Robin Hood on Sunday 29th May, 5:30pm. It’s the last night of Pontefract International Festival of Ale too, so it’s fun all round. Don’t you dare miss it. Click here for tickets
John Bauldie died in a helicopter crash on 22nd October 1996. He was returning to London with Matthew Harding, Chairman of Chelsea Football Club, after watching his beloved Bolton Wanderers’ shock victory over Chelsea in the League Cup. John and Harding had become friends over their shared love of football and Bob Dylan. To mark the 25th anniversary of Matthew Harding’s passing, Chelsea will have a minute’s applause before their home game with Norwich City on 23rd October 2021. That applause is for John too.
John Bauldie was the Godfather of the Bob Dylan fan network and Bob Dylan Studies. Throughout the seventies he’d been central to a worldwide community of avid Dylan tape collectors who shared rare studio outtakes and live concert recordings with each other. Galvanised by meeting a lot of fellow Dylan fans face-to-face at the 1978 concerts, and cemented by a subsequent Dylan conference called ‘Zimmerman Blues’ in 1979, John saw the need to create a vehicle to bring together this network of disparate fans. With the help of some like-minded friends – Clinton Heylin amongst them – they created Wanted Man, which served as a Bob Dylan knowledge hub, with a stream of information going out to a growing base of fellow travellers. Central to it all was The Telegraph, a subscription-based magazine that contained a mixture of updates on Dylan’s current activity, historical features, interviews with people who’d worked with Bob, and critical pieces examining particular aspects of Dylan’s work.
A student of literature, one of John’s key driving forces was for Dylan to be recognised in the same breath as other major artists, with serious consideration given to his work. Alongside The Telegraph, John created the Wanted Man Study Series to publish short book length studies of Dylan as a serious artist. John was a key early advocate for Dylan to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
By the late eighties, he’d successfully gathered together a large network of Dylan scholars, writers and fans across the world, and created a platform for them to share knowledge and ideas. There was barely any Bob Dylan related activity that John didn’t have a finger in. In 1990, he reached his zenith when Bob Dylan’s office invited him to help compile, and write the liner notes for, The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.
After the excitement of the 1978 concerts, and before publishing the first issue of The Telegraph in 1981, John wrote his own critical study of Dylan – The Chameleon Poet: Bob Dylan’s Search For Self. The book is on one level a literary study of Dylan, intertextually drawing lines between Dylan’s work and that of Shakespeare, Baudelaire, Hermann Hesse and other notable writers. It’s his blueprint for what he would set out to achieve with The Telegraph and Wanted Man Study Series. On another level, it is a personal account of how John responded to Dylan spiritually. Armed with knowledge of John’s own biography – skilfully painted by his life-long friend Bill Allison in an introduction to the book – it’s easy to see what John was looking for, and what he found, deep in the core of Dylan’s work. Invoking Carl Jung, the book maps out the first half of Dylan’s career – from Greenwich Village folkie to born again evangelist – as one continuous search for self. As revealed by a poet. A great one.
When John took the helm of The Telegraph, he grew into the role of facilitator, and his own manuscript was tucked away in a drawer. Save for the occasional hint of its existence in The Telegraph, and a few short published extracts, there it stayed until finally seeing the light of day with publication in 2021. Bill Allison wrote a full account of the provenance of the manuscript. You can read that here.
Michael Gray’s Outtakes On Bob Dylan reviewed in ISIS magazine by Seth Rogovoy.
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At a ‘Dylan Revisited’ conference held in Manchester in 1980, John Bauldie gave this bit of advice to assembled fans ‘It is surely up to the listener to investigate the song. Dylan, in writing songs, an art form that needs to be listened to, is offering the listener the opportunity to do this for themself. This is what art is about: an invitation to deduce something from it for yourself. What you find in it is up to you. Dylan puts it in the song for you to find. If you listen to “Isis” for example you might want to investigate vegetation rituals, an understanding of which is perhaps crucial to the understanding of the song itself.’ He expands on this in his book The Chameleon Poet. Here’s an extract on ‘Isis’ from his chapter about Desire.
The narrative takes place on a surreal, mythical plane, in a timeless landscape which combines elements of nineteenth-century Western America with ancient Egypt. (The song in one sense is broadly based on ‘On the Trail of the Buffalo’, which Dylan recorded informally in 1961.) It functions symbolically, presenting archetypal figures and situations. The ‘quest’ is symbolic of the process in the psyche which is seeking its own goal. Introduced in concert in 1975 as ‘a song about marriage’, ‘Isis’ can be related to the concept of the ‘sacred’ or ‘chemical’ marriage which is the central symbol of alchemy. The concept is that man, as a result of the loss of his original ‘Adamic’ state, is divided within himself. He regains his integral nature only when the two powers, whose discord has rendered him impotent, are again reconciled with one another. The regaining of the integral nature of man (expressed in alchemy by the symbol of the masculine-feminine androgyne) is the prerequisite of union with God. In psychological terms, these two poles of human nature resemble the conscious and the unconscious. The ‘chemical marriage’ may be simply interpreted as an ‘integration’ of the unconscious powers of the soul into the ego-consciousness, though such interpretation is not totally justifiable and as Titus Burckhardt points out:
It is quite vain to wish to describe psychologically the real essence of alchemy or the secret of the ‘chemical marriage’. The more one strives to dispense with symbols and to replace them with scientific concepts of one sort or another, the more rapidly does that spiritual presence vanish which is the very heart of the matter and which can only be transmitted by symbols.
Nevertheless, ‘Isis’ functions symbolically, combining the emblem of the sacred marriage with that of Isis, the Great Mother, and the song is structured around the concept of the quest. The myth of the quest is so pervasive that some scholars have argued that it determines virtually all mythic and literary patterns. According to Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the ‘monomyth’ can be reduced to a ‘formula represented by the rites of passage in separation – initiation – return’. ‘Isis’ begins with the ‘separation’:
I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country
where I could not go wrong.
Both ‘I rode straight away’ and ‘I could not go wrong’ are neatly ambivalent. The separation seems to lead him to asceticism – the cutting off of his hair is indicative of this, as is his behaviour in the second stanza:
I came to a high place of darkness and light
The dividing line ran through the center of town
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right
Went into a laundry to wash my clothes down.
‘Washing down’ is also a part of the apparent cleansing process involved in the self-discipline of the would-be ascetic. The hitching of the pony to the ambivalent ‘right’ is also a significant response to the choice between darkness and light that confronts him, separated as they are by the central ‘dividing line’. In Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols, Jung is quoted on the significance of ‘right’ and ‘left’:
The right side is masculine, representing the rational, the conscious, the logical and the virile, the left representing the converse.
Following the marriage and separation, the song’s narrator rides off seeking and attempting to assert his identity as an independent being, having been defeated in his attempts to assert himself in his relationship with ‘Isis’ whom he ‘could not hold on to’. An opportunity for such self-assertion is presented almost immediately by the approach of a man who is perceived to be ‘not ordinary’ and by his suggestion of the expedition for which money ‘ain’t necessary’, which suggests that the quest does not have material treasure as its aim. But his question ‘Where are we goin’?’ as they set out ‘for the cold in the North’ is ignored, leaving the song’s narrator:
Thinkin’ about turquoise … thinkin’ about gold
Thinkin’ about diamonds and the world’s biggest necklace.
As we’ll see, such thoughts are misguided.
The journey takes place in a surreal landscape. The questers set out in darkness and travel through canyons in a ‘devilish’ cold. The thoughts of the narrator turn back to Isis, whose identity can be expressed in terms of the Eternal Feminine discussed in the previous chapter, encountered in ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, and recognised as the Woman in White in Renaldo and Clara.
She told me that one day we would meet up again
And things would be different the next time we wed.
She directly echoes the words of the ‘she’ in ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ who reminds him ‘we’ll meet again some day’ and anticipates not just reunion but remarriage. The thoughts about Isis neatly fill in the time it takes for the questers to reach what appears to be a goal: ‘the pyramids all embedded in ice’. The mysterious man then reveals that it is neither gold nor turquoise they have been in search of, but ‘a body’ he’s ‘tryin’ to find’ that has its own value. He dies before the tomb is penetrated, leaving the narrator to continue alone:
I broke into the tomb but the casket was empty
There was no jewels, no nothin’, I felt I’d been had.
All that’s left to do is tidy up before riding back ‘to find Isis’ once more:
I picked up his body and I dragged him inside
Threw him down in the hole and I put back the cover.
In mythic terms, the ‘quest’ symbolises the urge for spiritual renewal. It has its origins in nature rituals purported to bring about and celebrate the annual regeneration of the deity whose death is synonymous with winter. One can see how this myth has been incorporated into the song. The ‘body’ the man wishes to ‘carry out’ of the tomb that is ‘embedded in ice’ and reached in the very depths of cold and dark winter – ‘the wind it was howlin’ and the snow was outrageous’ – is that of the ‘deity’. Its carriage out of the tomb will ‘bring a good price’ because it will bring about the regeneration of nature and thus of life. The concept of spiritual renewal, as opposed to natural regeneration, is also incorporated into the song.
In alchemical symbolism, the ‘tomb’ has its own significance. ‘The grave in the great world corresponds to the womb in the less world – a place of renewal, not of destruction.’ The vessel in which the alchemical process takes place is the coffin of the impotent old king. It can also become the womb in which the new seed may develop and where resurrection can take place.
But the narrator doesn’t take anything from the tomb and instead places a body into it. Thus he has, though perhaps neither willingly nor indeed consciously, played his part in a regenerative process of which he is himself both benefactor and beneficiary. As he journeys back to Isis, he finds her ‘in the meadow’ – in a spring he has played his part in regenerating. Similarly he feels renewed:
I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes.
The East is symbolic of spiritual regeneration. The idea of having ‘the sun in my eyes’ means not, I think, that it is shining from the West, but that he actually brings the sun from the East, signifying renewal. There are two neat examples of wordplay in the song’s penultimate stanza, when he confronts Isis once again:
She said ‘You look different.’ I said ‘Well, I guess.’
She said ‘You been gone.’ I said ‘That’s only natural.’
The reunion with the ‘mystical’ Isis completes the regenerative process for the narrator, who announces his intention to ‘stay’ at the song’s conclusion.
The song’s significance with regard to Dylan’s search for self thus resides in the mythical operation of its symbolism. The artist seeks the immortal self buried deep in nature and wishes to reclaim it through his art. The pyramids in ice symbolise the eternal nature of self – the timeless frozen into permanence. But the journey to the pyramids is only the beginning of a quest that ends with the second mystical wedding with Isis, in which the artist completes his own nature through the symbolic marriage with his ‘other half’ of whom he is always in search and yet, paradoxically, towards whom he is destined to be continually impelled.
The narrator of ‘Isis’ is accompanied on his journey by the mysterious stranger whom he immediately and intuitively understands and with whom he enters into a spontaneous and reciprocal agreement to embark upon the quest: ‘I gave him my blanket, he gave me his word’.
What the narrator leaves behind in the casket is an aspect of himself that he has encountered and transcended. The tomb becomes the cradle of the new self – ‘you look different’ – who journeys back to Isis and fulfilment. The journey has thus taken him through the night to the dawn, through darkness to light, through winter to spring – symbolically through death to life.
‘An important reminder of Bauldie’s astonishing effort to shed light on Dylan as a major poet worthy of a Nobel Prize, and, after more than four decades since it was written, it still speaks directly, fresh and enlightening to every one interested in the words and lyrics of Bob Dylan’ Johnny Borgan
‘Bauldie proves to be one of the top Dylan writers. The nice thing is that Bauldie often knows how to surprise and comes up with insights, interpretations that I have not thought of or read about before. One of the most interesting books about Dylan the poet. The Chameleon Poet is a must read… a gem in the Dylan library.’ Tom Willems
Route’s Bob Dylan titles come from the pens of three pre-eminent Dylan writers: Michael Gray, John Bauldie and Clinton Heylin. All born and raised in North West England – The Wirral, Bolton and Manchester respectively – each have not only been key figures in furthering our understanding and appreciation of Dylan as an artist, but have been active participants in how Bob Dylan’s work has been presented to the world. As such, their paths are tightly interconnected.
Michael Gray studied English Literature at York University in the mid-sixties, where he was trained to pay close-to-the-text attention to literary works that were firmly in the canon, and felt Dylan’s work could bear the weight of the same order of critical scrutiny. Fresh from graduating, he was invited by OZ magazine editor Richard Neville to ‘Do an F.R. Leavis on Bob Dylan’s songs.’ ‘Marvellous – right up my street’ he wrote in his diary at the time. He spent the next few years writing about Dylan’s work at length ‘to achieve something on a different level from mere album reviewing’. The subsequent book, Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan, published in 1972, was the first such work to take Dylan seriously as an artist. It gave birth to what we now know as Dylan Studies, and positioned Michael as his most prominent critic. It also marked the beginning of a lifetime’s work, with updated editions of Song & Dance Man appearing in 1972 and 1999, and the massive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia in 2006. Throughout he has been writing on Dylan for newspapers, magazines and journals, and giving talks around the world on the art of Bob Dylan. It is these works, plus a significant new essay on Rough And Rowdy Ways, that are collected in his latest book, Outtakes On Bob Dylan: Selected Writings 1967-2021.
Like Michael, John Bauldie studied English Literature at a Yorkshire university (Leeds) in the 1960s. He too saw Dylan beyond his framing as a pop star; instead he saw him as a significant poet of the age. Already an avid collector of Dylan recordings, when he walked into WH Smith in Bolton in 1972 and picked up a copy of Song & Dance Man, new possibilities for critical study opened up to him. Throughout the 1970s, John became part of an important cog in a worldwide network of Dylan collectors. Buoyed by renewed interest in Dylan following the 1978 world tour, he embarked on writing his own critical study of Dylan’s work, The Chameleon Poet. The manuscript pulled together his own thoughts and personal response to the work, while drawing on the few serious writers addressing Dylan at the time, most prominent amongst these was Michael Gray. Shortly after completing his manuscript, John, along with four like-minded friends (including Clinton Heylin) formed Wanted Man, the Bob Dylan Information Office, which built on his network of collectors to bring together a school of Bob Dylan Studies. Central to this was the The Telegraph, which John envisioned as a critical journal to examine and explore Dylan’s work. Alongside his Wanted Man colleagues, John steered The Telegraph for 15 years, until his untimely death in 1996, inviting contributions from the leading writers in the field, including Christopher Ricks and, of course, Michael Gray. He also founded the Wanted Man Study Series to produce books that looked in-depth at particular aspects of Dylan’s work. His growing prominence in the field led to him being invited to write the liner notes, and contribute to the compilation of, Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3. As his role as facilitator for others grew, his own manuscript, The Chameleon Poet, which was in some ways his blueprint for all that followed, was put on the back burner. When John’s lifelong friend Bill Allison brought the manuscript to our attention recently, we found it to be not only one of the most inspiring Dylan books we’d seen, but an essential part of the wider Bob Dylan story.
Clinton Heylin first got in to Dylan after reading an article on bootlegs written by Michael Gray for Let It Rock in 1972 (featured in Outtakes On Bob Dylan). This drove an adolescent Clinton to a record shop on Tibb Street, Manchester, to buy the mistitled Bob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall bootleg (it was Clinton who later discovered that the show was actually from Manchester’s Free Trade Hall). Unlike Michael and John, Clinton came of age not in the swinging sixties but in the spit and sweat of the punk-rock seventies. He was too young to see Dylan at the Free Trade Hall in 1966, but he did witness the cultural explosion that took place in the same building ten years later when the Sex Pistols played his home town. It wasn’t English Literature that Clinton studied either, but History. Although the three men share an equal passion for the work of Dylan, the half-a-generation gap between them led to a different approach. When he got together with John Bauldie and the other Wanted Men in 1980, Clinton was already experienced in publishing fanzines (Joy Division was his first subject) and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Dylan and general music history came to the fore. Clinton has since gone on to be recognised as the foremost biographer of Dylan, and the leading music biographer of his generation – a rock’n’roll biographer with a rock’n’roll attitude formed in the flames of punk. Alongside his books on Fairport Convention and the birth of English punk, we have published Clinton’s in-depth accounts of three golden periods in Dylan’s cannon: the electric tour of 1965-66, including the recording of Highway 61 Revisted and Blonde On Blonde (JUDAS!); the recording of his mid-seventies masterpiece Blood On The Tracks (No One Else Could Play That Tune), and the gospel years of 1979-1981 (Trouble In Mind).
A compendium of over five decades of writing on Dylan for newspapers, magazines and journals, plus a new extended essay on Rough And Rowdy Ways from the go-to critic for Dylan fans in search of serious analysis. In Outtakes On Bob Dylan, we get Gray the man as well as a unique measure of Dylan’s long career as it unfolds, not in retrospect but in real time.
Covering the formative span of Dylan’s career from his emergence in the early sixties to his conversion to Christianity in the late seventies, The Chameleon Poet traces each step in the development of the artist and man from youth to maturity with scholarly precision and vivid clarity.
In 1966 there was… the sell-out tour to end all tours. Bob Dylan and The Hawks found themselves at the epicentre of a storm of controversy. Their response? To unleash a cavalcade of ferocity from Melbourne to Manchester, from Forest Hills to the Free Trade Hall. The full story is told from eye-witnesses galore; from timely reports, both mile wide and spot on; and from the participants themselves.
In 1979 there was… trouble in mind, and trouble in store for the ever-iconoclastic Dylan. But unlike in 1965-66, the artifactal afterglow – three albums in three years, Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love – barely reflected the explosion of faith and inspiration. By drawing on a wealth of new information, newly-found recordings and new interviews. Clinton makes the case for a wholesale re-evaluation of the music Bob Dylan produced in these inspiring times.
The full tale of the making of Blood On The Tracks, as well as providing a detailed examination of the thought processes that went into the unmaking of it. Includes interviews with just about every eye-witness still standing, including the only musician – Dylan excepted – to play at all the New York sessions and a new interview with Ellen Bernstein, Dylan’s CBS A&R girlfriend at the time.
NEW TITLE: Outtakes On Bob Dylan: Selected Writings 1967-2021 by Michael Gray
Michael Gray wrote his first article on Bob Dylan for the counterculture magazine OZ in 1967 when its editor asked him to ‘Do an F.R. Leavis on Bob Dylan’s songs.’ He’s been writing about those songs ever since. Alongside his groundbreaking Song & Dance Man trilogy and the massive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, Gray has been bringing his acuity to Dylan’s career for newspapers, magazines and journals from the 1960s to the present day.
Here we have eye-witness accounts of concerts: from a mercurial 1966 show in Liverpool through to bulletins from glorious, and not so glorious, shows on the Never-Ending Tour. Dylan’s blues roots are explored in train rides through Mississippi. On a trip to Hibbing, Gray gets to play the same piano in the same school hall where Dylan hammered out Little Richard numbers in the 1950s. Throughout, Gray turns his critical attention to Dylan’s work as it appears, from his immediate perceptive take on 1975’s Blood On The Tracks up to a new, extended essay on 2020’s Rough And Rowdy Ways.
Ever since the pioneering Song & Dance Man in 1972, Michael Gray has been the go-to critic for Dylan fans in search of serious analysis of this most elusive artist’s work. In Outtakes On Bob Dylan, we get Gray the man as well as a unique measure of Dylan’s long career as it unfolds, not in retrospect but in real time.
‘Gray’s passionate subjectivity mirrors his subject’s wholly idiosyncratic journey through life, as well as the complexities and contradictions that make Dylan who he is.’ Times Literary Supplement
‘Gray has read everything remotely related to the subject; he has also listened to everything, and with great care… alert to the fluidity of ideas and associations in Dylan’s art and microscopically attentive to his choice and delivery of words.’ The Guardian
‘I have always admired Gray’s reach, tone, and acuity.’ Greil Marcus
NUMBERED EDITION: All pre-orders taken before 30th April 2021 will receive an exclusive numbered first-edition hardback. Pre-orders will begin shipping in the first week of May 2021, in advance of official publication. Click here to pre-order your advance numbered copy.