Michael Gray’s Outtakes On Bob Dylan reviewed in ISIS magazine by Seth Rogovoy.
Some other order options
Michael Gray’s Outtakes On Bob Dylan reviewed in ISIS magazine by Seth Rogovoy.
Some other order options
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.
The Chameleon Poet manuscript came to us via John Bauldie’s lifelong friend, Bill Allison. During the process of preparing the manuscript for publication, we spent many hours with Bill who regaled us with countless stories about John, providing invaluable context. The book is objectively a critical study of Bob Dylan’s work, and as such is thoroughly conceived, but such accounts are never free of personal responses to the work so it was important for us to understand the man in order to fully understand his text. Some of the stories Bill told us about John’s life are recounted in the introduction he wrote to the book, but there was nothing in there on the provenance of the manuscript, and where it had been resting for the past 40 years, so we invited Bill to write a little about that for us. Here’s the story he sent.
I would like write about how the manuscript for The Chameleon Poet was found hidden in a terracotta jar in a cave near a desert, stuffed behind some rather large canvases in a Bloomsbury attic, in a bunker of looted war treasure or in an old dusty university library. I can’t. The manuscript for The Chameleon Poet has sat in a steel trunk in my attic for twenty-five years. The most exotic its storage gets is that the trunk was commissioned by my grandad on his return from India in 1932. It’s emblazoned with an inscription on the lock which tells that it was made in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, the home of the best locks in the world. Nevertheless, the manuscript’s preservation has been just as important to the world of Dylan Studies as any of the above have been respective to theirs.
People who recognise the name of John Bauldie will perhaps be aware of something of his biography, his life and his death, which I describe in my extended introduction to The Chameleon Poet. In there I have deliberately avoided telling the story of where the manuscript has been. But for those who want to know, here it is.
Film directors are known to issue the command ‘Cut on action’. This is all well and good but there will obviously be footage that spills off the reel and falls on the cutting room floor. Rather cliché ridden I know. However, when a person’s life is cut on action, especially before its rightful time, the very same happens. Very few are ready for death, certainly when death occurs to the young, nothing is in order, nothing is finished, nothing is closed.
When John died in October 1996, Penny, his partner of over twenty-five years, asked me to take everything away, take care of it and look to any unfinished business. So, after his funeral, boxes and boxes of newspaper cuttings, magazines, posters, books and tapes filled my car and made its way from Richmond upon Thames to my home in Lancashire. All of it went into my attic, that Aladdin’s cave of a lifetime’s junk.
Rather tragically Penny, who was John’s literary executor, died in 2004. Penny and I had been close friends since 1975 and knew the intimacies of each other’s lives. We were always in touch until her death. The literary estate then passed to Penny’s sister, Margaret, who felt the same as Penny about John’s work and suggested I carry on with what Penny had asked me to do.
Everyone’s first concerns were the tapes. What was in John’s fabled Dylan tape collection? Would we find acetates of ‘Church with No Upstairs’ or ‘Snow on the Interstate’? Would there be music that collectors would drool over?
Well actually, no. John was generous to a fault and always gave copies of whatever he had to close friends who would pass copies on to their close friends until everyone who wanted it had it and had already drooled over it. And actually, don’t hold your breath, as far as we know the two tracks listed above don’t exist. Myth becomes fable becomes history but they were just figments of tape hungry, scoop needy journalists’ imagination.
John’s collection contained recordings in every format available from 1965 onward. So there were stacks and stacks of open reel tapes, box after box of cassettes and the beginnings of a CD-R stash.
His CD-Rs weren’t as extensive as they might have been since John felt that DATs offered a better quality sound and he was in the process of transferring some of his collection to DAT.
For fifteen years this hoard rested in our house above our heads, piled in amongst the Christmas decorations, outgrown children’s toys and old lamp shades that had gone out of fashion as I continued to work as a senior leader in secondary school. I retired in 2010. My daughters who were massive Dr Who fans at the time suggested that I hadn’t retired, an awful concept, but that I had regenerated and indeed such was the case.
Upon regenerating there were certain things that I felt that I had to do. John always said that there were people and there was stuff, and that people were more important than stuff. However to do right by John, I felt that I had to sort his stuff out. This was top of my ‘to do’ list. So I began to trawl and this took some considerable time. Months running to years.
The boxes of tapes got in the way of everything. I constantly fell over them whenever I went up into the attic. They hindered getting the Christmas decorations out, climbing over them for fifteen years or so. I toyed with the idea of listing them, playing them all to check what was there and if indeed there were any surprises. Collectors and I were in touch. The quest was always to try and find better quality recordings that were closer to the source tape. Indeed over the years I had played my own part in the world of ‘Dylan Collecting’. Like John, I was a grown man from the North of England who had started collecting Dylan tapes as a seemingly little boy and swapping them as if I was a bright-eyed schoolboy swapping stamps to put in my album. Still, I quite quickly came to the conclusion that the tapes of Dylan’s music held nothing to reveal that we didn’t already know about.
Next up was the paperwork, and there was lots of it. Original newspaper cuttings about the 1966 havoc-wreaking world tour, reviews of the comeback tour in 1974, and photographs of the 1975 Rolling Thunder Tour amongst much, much more. Then The Telegraphs. Cut and paste starting-point copies of many issues, culminating in all published fifty-six editions, most with beautiful colour photographs on the front.
Amongst the material were also ring-binder folders of various sizes. Some contained handwritten material and some had what was in them typed up. I actually found it emotionally quite difficult to look into these and put it off for some time as I tried to make sense of my feelings. These days we are told that it is good thing for men to articulate their emotions and even cry if necessary. But this didn’t seem to be the case then. as recently as 2010. It was Margaret who attempted to articulate for me what I was feeling. She suggested that even now I was still grieving for John, someone who had played a massive part in my life. Our lives had been as tangled as spaghetti. For a quarter of a century we had seen each other’s ups and downs, highs and lows and blues.
Eventually I began to look at what was inside the files. Quite quickly it became clear that they all contained the same material, albeit with different working titles, written by hand or typed. They were versions of what John had called The Chameleon Poet: Bob Dylan’s Search for Self 1962-1980. Clearly I knew of the manuscript. I had read a version long ago when he was working on it. I had discussed with him the ideas he explored in it. He had often referred to it, albeit tongue in cheek, in The Telegraph, had published one chapter in a Dylan fanzine and later another in The Telegraph. So, although it sounds rather dramatic, I had in my hand what I would consider to be John Bauldie’s unpublished magnum opus. Not quite The Dead Sea Scrolls but, nevertheless, as important to the world of Dylan Studies in understanding and appreciatingDylan’s work as The Scrolls were to understanding and appreciating First Century BCE Judaism.
Somehow, out of deep seated loyalty to John and my appreciation of what the work offered, I became determined to have The Chameleon Poet published. In the period since John’s death, his name and what he did vis-à-vis The Telegraph and his involvement in the The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 were continually mentioned, so it seemed to me that the world needed to see his major work and then John Bauldie would perhaps receive his rightful place at what I have called the high table of Dylan Studies. John’s quest, his challenge, had been to bring to the world the notion that Dylan’s work could be written about in the same way that Shakespeare’s, Keats, Dickens or any other major writer you care to mention could be. In fact as early as 1990 he had led the idea that Dylan’s name should be forwarded to the Nobel Prize Committee to be recognised as someune who should be awarded their Prize for Literature.
Despite all his achievements, John had never published anything of his own about Dylan’s work in mainstream publishing. He had written more than sixty-five articles for The Telegraph. He had co-edited a book of articles of his own and others from The Telegraph and followed this up with a second collection from its pages of interviews with those who had worked creatively with Dylan. Finally, just before his death, he published a book he worked on with journalist Patrick Humphries.
I discussed the idea of publication with Margaret who felt it was an important idea and suggested I go ahead. I asked close friends and some of the original Wanted Men to read the manuscript and offer thoughts. At the same time I read and reread the book until I was more than familiar with it, never doubting its importance.
So then I turned my attention to its publication and this proved to be illuminating. For someone who had been very successful in his own world to then dip his toes into another where he had no experience was not easy. Where do you begin?
I approached firms that had published the books John had co-edited with little response. I approached companies it was suggested to me might be interested. I approached those that specialised in publishing books about rock music. All to little or no avail.
It was pointed out time and time again that the book had little or no potential to make money. Somebody actually said to me in a phone call that the problem would be that John wasn’t alive to do interviews about the book. So that should see the end of republications of books by C.S. Lewis and Professor Tolkien amongst a multitude of other inklings shouldn’t it?
Despite the setbacks, I never gave up on the idea because I had faith in the book, but I did perhaps start to lack faith in my own ability to open the door. Still, one often reads about major works that had been rejected by publisher after publisher so I was still a believer.
Then a kind of coincidental symbiosis took over. In May 2017 I was in Pontefract with Clinton Heylin who had invited me to a talk he was giving at The CAT Club there. Before the talk he took me to the house of Ian Daley and Isabel Galán where, rather embarrassingly, I hadn’t realised that Ian and Isabel were owners and publishers of Route Books. I still blame that on Clinton for not telling me that Route published some of his material about Dylan. I blame Clinton for a lot of things.
The conversation turned to Dylan. Clinton told Ian I had been a friend of John Bauldie. He asked about John. It turned out that he was a fan of John’s too so to speak, that he’d been a subscriber to The Telegraph, and waxed lyrical about how he had once stood next to John at a Dylan concert in 1987.
I dropped into conversation that I had the manuscript of John’s The Chameleon Poet that I was looking to get published. Ian asked to look at it and quite quickly realised its importance and wanted to publish it. The rest, as they say, is history…
John Bauldie’s previously-unpublished work of forensic insight into Bob Dylan’s unique artistic journey.
On his untimely death at 47 years old in October 1996, not only did John Bauldie sit at the what could be called the high table of Dylan Studies, but from the early nineties, when he was invited by Dylan’s management to write the liner notes that accompanied the Bootleg Series Volume 1-3, many would attest that he was chairman of the board.
In his lifetime, John Bauldie was a giant amongst Bob Dylan fans and collectors. As the editor of The Telegraph, he was a voracious advocate for Dylan to be afforded the respect of a major artist and an early lobbyist for him to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet, despite creating the Wanted Man Study Series to encourage analysis of Dylan’s work, Bauldie never published his own full critical study, though regular subscribers to The Telegraph knew he had completed one. A few teasing extracts and a handful of mysterious mentions revealed the existence of this fabled manuscript, The Chameleon Poet, which has remained unpublished until now.
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, Bauldie’s analysis of Dylan’s work reveals a continuous journey.
Forty years on, as a Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan’s position as one of the great artists of the age is secure, fulfilling Bauldie’s vision. Now it is time to read the only full-length critical study by the foremost champion of Dylan’s art. The Chameleon Poet is a book of its time, but such is its focus on the inner journey of everyman, it’s as relevant today as it was yesterday, and will be tomorrow.
Bill Allison’s introduction sketches a portrait of Bauldie’s life and his ascendancy in the world of Dylan Studies.
‘I read The Chameleon Poet in 1981, and spent most of the rest of the decade trying to persuade John to publish it. Well, it only took forty years, but now you can read it, too.’ – Clinton Heylin
John Bauldie was raised in the northern English town of Bolton. Throughout the seventies, alongside his work as a lecturer in English literature, he was an avid collector of rare and unreleased Bob Dylan recordings. In the eighties, he established The Telegraph, a popular quarterly journal of Dylan studies, which he edited from 1981 until his tragic death in 1996. He was a staff writer at Q magazine and Mojo, edited several books, and wrote the liner notes for Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 box set, for which he received a Grammy nomination.
Bill Allison was a close friend of John Bauldie. They had a shared love of Bolton Wanderers and Bob Dylan, in that order. John often said that their lives were as intertwined as spaghetti. Bill wrote extensively for The Telegraph, and later for The Bridge. Bill lives near Blackpool with his wife, Julia, and their daughters, Lucy and Helen.
ADVANCE COPIES: We will be shipping advance copies of the First Edition Hardback of The Chameleon Poet in mid-January 2021. (The book won’t go on general release until May 2021). To be amongst the first to read it, click here to pre-order your copy.