EVENT REPORT. JILL FURMANOVSKY’S ‘BOBQUEST’. 6TH NOVEMBER 2001
“Furmanovsky’s pictures imagine a different language for Dylan, one that breaks free from its own history and exults in a different mix, and an alternative ‘gulsh’d’ set of possibilities. The word ‘gulsh’d’ is from John Clare who was also enclosed by fixed, traumatic and colonial forces - his editor wouldn’t let him use the word and ‘corrected’ it - he ‘corrected’ loads of things - so that Clare felt robbed of his connection to the land and his speech community. Furmanovsky modestly portrays herself as just a ‘someone’ but what happens is that this quality of being just a ‘someone’ is what she finds in her pictures of Dylan.”
by Richard Marshall
COPYRIGHT © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS
Retro-futurist Iain Sinclair asks ‘In Hackney’ -‘Does the narrative behind the making of this object matter?’ The object of Furmanovsky’s work under scrutiny this evening is Bob Dylan. Sinclair is writing about Steve Dilworth’s sculptures and calls Dilworth ‘… post-metropolitan, self-banished, making a career out of not having a career.’ His dead animals in caskets are not the brilliantly vaudeville of a Damien Hirst but are rather found objects, ‘ …They lie around, some of them, in a rusty deep-freeze cabinet. Spare parts waiting for a brass-hinged box, or carved sarcophagus, to hold them.’ And how does he fancy Dilworth answers his question about the connection between narrative and object?
He begins with a further question. ‘Is the intention of the artist absolved at the moment the sculpture leaves his studio?’ Then he continues - ‘ Dilworth’s take on this is unfashionable: he works backwards , struggling for solutions that will save him from rage. Methods of wrapping death. ... The piece he calls ‘Heart Of A Thief’ needs the legend that compliments it… Dilworth has contrived his voodoo to counter affront.’ (‘In Hackney’, London Review Of Books, Volume 23, Number 22, 15th Novemember 2001, p 22-23)
This essay is another example of Sinclair’s weirdly brilliant take on the way time can shift backwards, so that when we seem to be going forward we’re going backwards and vice versa. And there’s been a need for this process - and in ‘… remote places, the only poetry is process.’ - the commodified, franchised, celebrity status of Dylan has long been as petrified as the harsh stones Sinclair sees as powering Dilworth’s doings. What I was thinking as I took my ticket for the event was that Dylan needed someone to make a new narrative, a new voodoo out of him. When you’re given a Dilworth piece there are certain things you’re asked to do with it - bury it, for example, or take it back to a certain place in a certain circumscribed way. To the Hebrides, for example, on foot. So too with Dylan. What I was thinking was that we needed a new voodoo, treat the brand identity of Dylan as a comfort zone of a shared past we must get out of. Somehow. So I was hoping Furmanovsky was going to provide me with some magical objects, some way of getting us out of the rage of that comfort. I guess I was looking to get inspiration.
‘When she founded rockarchive email@example.com , www.rocharchive.com , in 1998 photographer Jill Furmanovsky had in mind the wealth of rock and roll material that lay largely hidden in her own vast archive, as well as those of fellow photographers in the genre. She saw this as a great opportunity to unearth a fascinating and hitherto unseen rock and roll history.
In the footsteps of collectives like Magnum, rockarchive is run very much on behalf of its photographers. Its philosophy is to accord dignity and recognition to the art of photography and maintain the rights of its practitioners. But the long term aims are wider: to promote lesser known work by high profile photographers as well as the work of up and coming photographers , to provide a valuable historical resource, to offer news on exhibitions and events and to provide links to other pertinent websites.’
So ok, I read the handout, worry about that word ‘dignity’ which seems so scarily portentious, glance at the monochrome bleach-outs of rock dinosaurs from Led Zepplin and The Rolling Stones and think that this is all a bit pompous, serious, a bit of a retro-saddo yawp. ‘Oh fuck, there’s nothing here but the commercial squeak of moral improvement, politeness and costive mystification with cash in its eyes.’ But I didn’t turn away, after all, there was free wine. Richard Williams, Andy Gill and Mick Gold are also due to contribute readings on the night. And they’re good at what they do, but what they’re doing, it’s nothing new. It’s more or less homage to the Bobster legend, a few twists to show they’re not tugging their forlocks to the myth in toto, but on the whole, there’s the same Dylan in their presentations that we’ve been having to read about for the last forty odd years.
So let’s get something clear here. Furmanovsky was going to have to be bloody good to get me to warm to anything she was doing. Steven Wells, formerly of the NME and currently writing his latest ‘Attack!’ commie anarcho-sex pulp classic ‘Holy Jo’ - had already seethed out a rant against the Rock and Dylan industry in his ‘THE NEW SCUM MANIFESTO
(The Society For Cutting Up Musos)’ In it he wrote -
‘VALERIE SOLANOS (the froth-gobbed hyper-feminist
failed assassin of skunk-haired sucker of smack-addict
cock Andy Warhol) described men (in the original SCUM
Manifesto) as "walking abortions".
She should have met the readers of Q or Mojo - or any
of the other magazines where rock music goes to die.
As this epistle is being scribbled the newstand of the
UK are weighed heavy with the Q magazine tribute to
Bob "fucking" Dylan (a burnt out, mumbling has-been
who made some half-decent rebel-folk records in the
early 1960's and has pretty much been churning out
total shit ever since).
And - get this - the foreword is written by Bono (the
smug, sanctimonious, short-arse lead singer of the
world's worst-ever band, U2).
Jesus Christ being serially raped by leather-masked
gimp hyenas! On a fucking bike! You cunts! Who buys
this turgid arsewipe? Men. Bloody men. Bloody boring
bastard fucking men with three other topics of
3) How they got from where they were to where they
are. In their fucking car.
It's a male disease. It's a combination of autism and
anal retention. It's symptoms are making lists,
alphabetasizing your "record collection" (what sort of
stunted, shitty-fingered, mouse-cocked retard
"collects" records?) and weaselly, low-level misogyny.
Because they hate women, these arses. Oh yes they do.
The whole Q/Mojo ethos is based on the ludicrous
premise that music made by or consumed by women is
"bad" (commercial, lightweight, handbag, manufactured,
disposable) while music made by men and for men is
somehow elevated to a level well beyond mere pop
Which is why, these sheep argue, useless dog-fucking
shitehawks like David Grey, Badly Drawn Boy, Alfie and
Toploader are good.
And killapopmongers like Destiny's Child, Daphne &
Celeste, The Sugarbabes and Atomic Kitten are bad.
The FACT is that Destiny's Child, Daphne & Celeste,
The Sugarbabes and Atomic Kitten make, upbeat,
life-affirming, well-written, professionally produced,
extremely hummable GOOD pop music.
And David Grey, Badly Drawn Boy, Alfie and Toploader
make 3rd rate, depressing, half-arsed, badly written
and monotonously BAD pop music.
Destiny's Child, Daphne & Celeste, The Sugarbabes and
Atomic Kitten - being "proper"
Pop bands - are ruthlessly modern and are constantly
pushing at the edges of the envelope of acceptability.
While David Grey, Badly Drawn Boy, Alfie and Toploader
churn out the same old sub-Beatles porridge that
boring men in boring clothes have been churning out
for three boring decades.
And while the girls are vivacious, up-for-it and all
look as sexy as fuck; the blokes are all unfuckable,
ugh ugh pug-ugly stinking fucking tramps.
So obviously Girl pop is inherently superior to Man
pop? Yeah? Oh no! You see what Girl pop lacks is the X
Factor and the X Factor is - wait for it -
So what is this credibility? This authenticity? This
Is it political? Is it ideological?. What - like the
Sex Pistols or Nirvana or Paul Robeson or The MC5 or
Rage Against The Machine or Public Enemy, you mean? Is
it FUCK! These arseholes haven't got a political bone
in their flabby, white pot-bellied and utterly
Is it artistic then? Are these chaps, as it were,
artists? Are they FUCK! They're corporate cocksucking
meat-puppet showbiz-whores - same as the girls.
OK, so what IS the difference then?
I'll tell you. The difference is that they've got
penises. And their fans have got penises.
Someone - oh yeah, it was me - once described the dad
rock magazines like Mojo and Q as "where rock music
goes to die". But they’re worse than that. They're a
cultural cancer. Written by rapists for rapists. The
walking abortions strike back! Their mission? DESTROY
POP MUSIC! Their weapon? SHEER FUCKING BOREDOM!
The original, inspiring, burning, mindfucking
punkrockandfuckingroll ethos of generational
kulturkampf, of pop music as existentialism plus
substance abuse, as art-as-permanent-revofuckinglution
has been ditched in favour of (excuse me while I weep
while vomiting and smashing Badly Drawn Boys fat
fucking ginger-bearded face in with a brieze-block
nailed to a cricket bat) nostalgia.
Heed this warning. There are those if us who are
willing and able to take action.
If you are seen in possession of one of these
magazines and/or a recording by on of the following
Alfie, Badly Drawn Boy, U2, REM, Radiohead, David
Gray, The Smiths, Morrissey, Sting, Toploader and any
and all other fecally adulterated purveyor of
noveau-folk or depressing miserabilism or stinking
tramp rock (we’ve got nothing against the long-term
homeless smack addicts or noisome alkies who enliven
our city streets, we just don’t want people who dress
like them to be, like, IN THE FUCKING POP CHARTS!!!!
CAPICHE!? YOU SCRUFFY TRAMP BASTARD SCUM!?)
then please be aware that you are considered A
You will be attacked. You will be hurt. We will punch
you, kick you, piss on you, fuck you in every orifice,
stub cigarettes out on your scrotal sac, make you eat
your own cock, gouge out your eyes, cum in your eye
sockets, drench you in paraffin and burn you to a
fucking crisp. Then we will take your keys, enter your
home and set fire to your precious record
"Why?" you wail piteously. Fuck YOU! You KNOW why!
You are the enemies of pop.
You are the enemies of youth.
The enemies of excitement.
The enemies of progress.
The enemies of colour.
The enemies of honesty.
The enemies of the future.
And you WILL burn in agony, in this life and the next.
We know where you live. We are outside your door now
with a tyre, a can of gasoline and a box of matches,
You have exactly 2 minutes to destroy every record, CD
and mini-disc in your possession.
And then we're coming to get you.
That's 1 minute and 49 seconds and counting - SO DON'T
JUST SIT THERE, FUCKING
There’s so much right with this diatribe by Swells that, once you know about it, you can’t be anything if not hysterically worried. Anything that threatens to turn you into a middle-browed, good-mooding, vanilla-mental nostalgia scrunch-cocked daddio is something that brings you out in cold sweats and hideous feelings of confusion and insincerity. In the back of my mind there was the feeling that the Swellsian destroyer ghoul would burst in on the all of us drinking our free wines in the plush, intimate, posh surroundings of this upper room of Fredericks Restaurant on Islington High Street and, like an updated version of Blake’s totally mental ‘Ghost Of A Flea,’ melt out our ponce eye-balls with a flame-thrower.
The cautious, pretty run-of-the-mill stuff from the three middle aged male rock hacks didn’t help settle my nerves. But then the evening suddenly changed. Dave Stewart, rum Geordie music bloke who used to be the hairy boy half of the pop band ‘Eurythmics’ stood up and started chatting to us about his relationship with Bob Dylan. He endearingly held up his i-Book to show us some video stuff he’d made of Dylan but significantly, what he managed to do was begin to wake us all up to a new kind of Dylan. In doing this he was doing what has been necessary for so, so long. Suddenly we were getting process, the stuff that went before the record.
Like I said at the beginning, the religious, high-minded, higher values mystification of Dylan as an Artist Guru has been needing to be trashed ever since it got started. Something more contemporary and more fun, like a Hebridean comedy where ‘air is trapped: the poses, the funny hats, - a pastiched Alpine excursion from the period when scholarship belonged to demented amateurs..’ (Sinclair, op cit) has been needed but there’s been no one doing it, no one even trying. Contemporary , fun-loving people tend not to even think about Dylan any more because of this. Ironically, the picture of Dylan being used to advertise the event was of a youthful, slim, sexy, feminine Dylan from the sixties wearing an all black oufit so beloved by the funky arty avant garde crowd. It’s funny. But it was taken years and years ago. Whoever it was, that Dylan isn’t around any more except in the heads of miserabilist Bobcats. Sadcats! And everyone knows it.
There’s something so very wrong with all the male writers of Dylan biographies. For example. In March 1965 Bob Dylan released ‘Bringing It Back Home’. On the cover there’s Dylan in the centre of the blurred, psychedelic bull’s-eye of the photo, stroking a grey cat. There are other objects - Lyndon Johnson on the cover of ‘Time’ magazine, an article headed ‘Jean Harlow’ on his lap, a fallout shelter sign, albums by Robert Johnson, Lotte Lenya , The Impressions and Dylan himself - but it’s the woman in red that powered rumours. Pretty soon after the album was released there were hysterical stories amongst his fans that the woman was Dylan himself. These rumours persisted even when it became known that it was actually Sally Grossman, the ultra-cool wife of his manager.
The excitement of Dylan’s sexuality and youth has always been part of his appeal. A big-hitting American male icon with the ‘little boy lost’ appeal of the Audry Hepburn of ‘Breakfast At Tiffinies’, Dylan has been able to represent the endless reach of gender and sexual politics alongside a range of the other complexities used to move merchandise. His latest CD, ‘Love And Theft’, released on the same day as New York’s twin towers were destroyed, is an impressive and jovial take on being old. His stories here are of sexuality, sensuality , lust, and desire floated on the batty tones of ageing rather than the Rimbaudian youthful pose of his more fossilised works.
What’s interesting is that Dylan has a large male straight fan base and clearly the puckish, androgynous beauty of Dylan’s early manifestations still exert a powerful appeal to this group even as it gets older and older. There’s a sense of sexuality denied in all this. And a recent book reveals a minor episode from Dylan’s early days that perhaps emphasises the covert, repressed sexual gaze of these people.
In Howard Sounes’s ‘Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan’ (Transworld Publishers 2001) we find an intriguing episode where there is a suggestion that Dylan once hustled for a time as a gay prostitute in Times square. Sounes quotes a Dylan interview from 1966 where Dylan says - ‘We would make one hundred fifty or two hundred fifty a night between us, and hang around in bars. Cats would pick us up and chicks would pick us up.’ (Sounes page 81)
Sounes also writes of Dylan’s friendship with Fred Neil, the guy who wrote ‘Everybody’s Talking’ which would later be used as the theme tune for the film ‘Midnight Cowboy.’ Dylan and another friend, Mark Spoelstra were paid by Neil ‘… to back him on stage. Spoelstra claims Neil also goosed the boys on the backside whenever they met him; while Spoelstra said to knock it off, Bob would just laugh… Throughout his life he [Dylan] would have several good friends who happened to be homosexual - the most notable being Allen Ginsberg - …’
Sounes is quick to have Spoelstra squash the notion that Dylan had a gay past. And here’s my point. Clearly the old straight boys that follow Dylan can’t be having their idol as anything other than hetro. What this episode tells us is quite a lot about the male groupies and the writers who follow Dylan. It tells us little about Dylan, except perhaps his ability to keep people off balance.
The unease of male sexuality that Dylan has sung about still haunts many of those who would appear to celebrate his honesty and toughness. But there seems to be some problem for many of those ardent male fans who seem to lack the same strength of their hero. They fearfully refuse to acknowledge their desire for the youthful Dylan. In the words of Steven Wells it seems yet again ‘Being straight is for puffs!’
And so the point of this? The point is that the straight male writers who write about Dylan construct a Dylan in their own Lacanian self-deluding, alienating mirroring image, an image without humour, without banality, rather, one that is heroic, Romantic and Universally valid.
Another feature of this bog-standard approach to Dylan is the reverence shown towards his songs, an attitude never accorded to any other Elvis wannabe. This approach tends to call his songs poetry. Now, all that reverence for his poetry is false and philistine - you read the stuff written about the work and wonder if these people ever read any poetry at all, and if they did, which poetry, who’s and what they did it for. But on the whole you feel they don’t.
Which makes their lauding of Dylan as being something like a great genius poet both stupid and pretentious. Someone once said that Edgar Allen Poe’s poem ‘The Raven’ is the favourite poem of people who don’t like poetry, and there’s something of the same idea going on with people who want Dylan to be a great genius poet. (As is the idea you’re left with even if you leave out the ‘poet’ bit of the equation. Because then you’re left with Genius. And basically, the whole idea of Genius is a repulsive and stupid idea. A couple of quick reasons for saying it’s repulsive - and there are many reasons for saying that - 1.Genius is a sexist ideal and 2. Genius is elitist. Think about it -men without genius who act in the same way as genius’s are described as eccentric, women who do the same are sneered at for acting mental. I could go on and on but won’t…. work it out for yourself.)
But here, listening to Dave Stewart, was a different take on Dylan, one that didn’t ride on the claims of genius and poet . Stewart seemed to really like Dylan and find him a richly comical, eccentric character, someone struggling to make sense of the ridiculous situation he found himself in - ie that of rock/celebrity/guru/icon figure. In place of all that gibberish Stewart’s Dylan was just an ageing, rather likeably shipwrecked character, not really getting what was going on around him, someone trying out things with a mischievous wit and narrow-eyed snake-charmer charm who nevertheless was dedicated and working hard to bring about something… ‘working backwards struggling for solutions that will save him from rage.’
Now, like William Burroughs wrote somewhere, ‘The purpose is to make it happen,’ and here you got the same sense of the energy motivating Dylan. But unlike Burroughs, this was someone who was a funny, cute and Chaplinesque figure, playing pranks, getting lost, making hilarious mistakes and getting up to wonderfully daft stuff even on stage. And it didn’t get smoothed over as the behaviour of genius. The affection Stewart showed for Dylan was for an eccentric, mental mate, nothing more and nothing less.
You’ve got to imagine the Geordie dead-pan accent when reading this stuff - it all came across as a stand-up comic routine although there were actually no jokes - just the inflections and pauses that made it a very, very funny performance.
Dave Stewart - ‘ I come from Sunderland - basically its like coming from Sector 7 North of Krallig and you got stabbed for everything basically. If you dyed your hair you got stabbed or if you had long hair you got stabbed, so I got stabbed many times and so all the time I was thinking ‘how do I escape this place and all this fucking being stabbed stuff?’ So I used to get my pocket money which was about 10p or something and I used to go straight to the railway station and you’d say ‘How far can you get with this?’
I did this every Saturday and I’d go to York, and all these different places and you just sat there all day and come back at night - just so I wouldn’t get stabbed. This was probably the subconscious beginning of my relationship with Dylan who was also obsessed with trains and he’d tell all his stories about pretending to travel around with Woodie Guthrie blah blah blah.
But then my brother bought ... I get jumbled up about my age .. I’m 49 now so I was born in 1952 so I was about 16 in 1968 so I was 13 or so and my brother bought three great records - and one was ‘The Freewheeling Bob Dylan’. And I listened to these records and I worked out that this was my way out of being stabbed - learn to play the guitar really quick - so I learned every song on that album and then, to cut a long story short, years later I was cutting an album in LA with this guy called Belmont Tench and the phone rang and the receptionist in the studio said it was Bob Dylan and so I go to the phone.
And I think it’s Belmont larking about and putting on the accent a bit. But it wasn’t, it was Bob Dylan. And he asked, you know, in that voice, if I wanted to do a film with him and I said Yeah. So we arranged to meet in a restaurant. It was a Tai restaurant and they put us in a corner, just the two of us, and he started asking a whole load of complicated questions about the film and I said ‘Why are you asking me this stuff? I’ve never made a film before.’
Any way we were there ages and we got really drunk on saki. He said, ‘Look, lets go some place that’s really great.’ So he drove for ages and I was following him in this beat up old car and we came to this place and it was like driving into a fantastic Dylan song from the ‘Basement Tapes’ era. So we get to the door and the door opens and there’s this Mexican midget in a wedding gown … and we’re having a few drinks and Dylan, he comes up to me and whispers ‘Don’t have anything out of the glass.’ So we stuck to the beer bottles!
It became apparent that what he really wanted to make was a video but he hated making videos and he’d heard that I was quite an amiable person, easy to get on with and so we ended up trying to make this video. We did one in Camden Town, it was just black and white. Another time he just rang me about midnight and said ‘Let’s make one in Camden Lock market’ and I said ‘It’s Wednesday. The market’s not on until Saturday,’ and he was saying ‘It is, it is,’ because he loves having arguments. And I’m saying, ‘No, honestly, look, I’ve lived here for years.’
But I knew he was going to come out so all I did was I rented a top hat from the BBC Costume Department and went to film round Camden Lock. I assumed he’d have other people and cameras but I found out there was only me and it was impossible to do cut away shots without another person. And quite fortunately my brother-in-law was walking past and I said ‘Get hold of a camera’ because I needed cut away shots and he said ‘I can only do twenty minutes because I’m doing my mum’s concrete floor.’ I’d got him Bob Dylan but he wasn’t in to Bob Dylan.
Anyway, I got to know Dylan really well and he got to ring me all the time and did different and strange things totally spontaneously. During this period he said he wanted to go to church where I had a recording studio and mess about not to actually record songs and then the famous interview happened. We were getting bombarded with stones at the church window with messages on them and he did the interview where he got to talking about the interviewer’s mother’s strawberry jam.
And then there was the story about him getting lost. I had a driver called Kenny, a very big black guy who couldn’t read or write, so it meant you had to stay awake all the time - a right here and a left there - you know, always giving instructions because he couldn’t read the road signs and the names of the streets - so it was very tiring because if you dropped off you could end up anywhere.
And one day I was with Dylan in the studio and Dylan said he wanted to get back to Mayfair and I said, ‘Kenny’ll take you,’ because I forgot. So three hours later we got a phone call and they’re in Luton. Bob’s been you know ‘Wow, its been a long time,’ to Kenny and eventually he’s got onto a public phone and got through to the church ‘I’m in Luton man,’ and I told him, ‘Oh God, You’re kidding! The driver Kenny, he can’t read or write,’ and he said, ‘Ok.’ So here we had one of the greatest writers of the last hundred years in the car with a guy who couldn’t read or write and they were stuck in Luton.
So Bob had to help him steer back to Mayfair. And Kenny said he was great. Dylan got up front and told him everything about his life and guided him all the way back. And rang him constantly afterwards having these great long chats from America … So on many occasions I had this kind of thing happening.
I used to go round to my mothers flat who was married to this Zen Buddhist who was a very funny guy called Julian from Brittany in France. His idea of Zen Buddhism was to drink a bottle of red wine as soon as you get up and then you’re totally in the present moment for the next three hours … he was brilliant at explaining in a very roundabout way the form of Zen Buddhism that Dylan found really entertaining. So Dylan always said, “Come on, lets go round to your mother’s’ before we go to the Church.
Julian had no idea who Dylan was. He had a great big white beard and white hair and he used to walk around Camden with a billboard saying ‘The icecaps are still melting - for more information ring this number.’ He once inherited some money and he bought this houseboat and he didn’t want to drive it he just wanted to float about on it. Which was terrible in locks. You know, he’d be just floating about and everyone would be honking their horns and he’d just stand up and say ‘Stay cool man’. He’d play chess and it’d take, you know, six hours to play a game of chess with him … and so anyway, there’s this time he’s in the kitchen with Bob and he’s telling him, ‘There’s nothing, there’s absolutely nothing. And behind the nothingness there’s nothing. You know. He’s explaining this Zen. You know, for about two hours. And Bob turns to me and whispers, ‘There must be something.’ He loved going there.
Another time I was staying with him in Los Angeles at the Forum and he asked me to come up on stage with him and play. And it was like a dream come true so I went up to play. And I was all ready to play, you know, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and all that famous stuff and he leaned over and he asked me ‘Do you know ‘Brownsville Girl’?’ And I said that I did because I knew all his songs but I said that I wasn’t sure that the rest of the band did because this was when he was touring with Tom Petty and his band. And they were all really fed up because he kept getting them to play these songs that nobody knew - some of them hadn’t been recorded, some of them hadn’t even been written yet… so we play ‘Brownsville Girl’ and it falls apart. And afterwards Dylan goes to the bass player ‘ Hey, how come you don’t know ‘Brownsville Girl’?’ and the guy says, ‘Well, you know, we haven’t rehearsed it,’ and Dylan says, ‘Hmm, man , you’ve ruined the whole thing,’ and Tom Petty comes over and me too and there we all are in a huddle and Dylan says, ‘ I can play anything you ask me to play, just name the song,’ and this is still going on you know in full view of the crowd you know… so someone there, one of the band, says, ‘OK then , play a Beach Boys track,’ and Bob starts working it out in front of, you know, twelve thousand people. Really loud and painful stuff. So when people talk about how confusing it looks like on the stage it’s like even more confusing to the band than what it appears to be like just looking in. It’s kind of mad …’
Stewart’s sketch portraits introduce a Dylan who seems to be both nutty and likeable, someone who is joking and laughing a lot. It seems a better way of talking about him than to attach some High Art flavour to him.
As Stewart Home writes whils’t attending to the phenomenon of the Young British Artists (yBa), ‘The cult of the personality is, of course, a central element in all totalitarian art. While both fascism and democracy are variants on the capitalist mode of economic organisation, the former adopts the political orator as its exalted embodiment of the "great man," while the latter opts for the artist. This distinction is crucial if one is to understand how the yBa is situated within the evolving discourse of totalitarian art. Had the "bright young things" of the London gallery scene merely copied the cultural excesses of the Nazi era, their reactionary activities would have been ghettoised within the far-Right fringe. However, the critics who theorise the yBa understand that by transforming art into a secular religion, rather than a mere adjunct of the state, liberalism imposes its domination over the "masses" far more effectively than National Socialism. The focus, especially in the mass media, must be on the artists rather than the artwork.’ (Stewart Home ‘The Art Of Chauvinism’ (1997) - www.backspace.org/everything/e/hard/text/shome.html )
Yet Dave Stewart, in talking about the artist rather than the artwork, seems to be going in the opposite direction to Home’s suggestive analysis. By using his anecdotes he begins to work Dylan away from the High Art crowd. By talking about Dylan in terms that actively show him to be slightly goofy, funny, comic, he seems to be attempting to set him in a different context to that of the usual po-faced, serious, white European Romantic one so beloved by the Dylanists.
Instead, it’s more like an Afro-Celtic-bardic pomo comic context where inflections of humour carry a radical, de-alienating organic feel within its texture. The dissenting, humorous, black thang of Dylan becomes foregrounded in this kind of vernacular routine and the attempt of the cultural czars to contain what might be said about Dylan within the fatal hegemony of a white cultural high art straight faced middle class mumbo-jumbo snob mystification is undermined. He’s not a genius here, he’s a nutter!
Which is a brilliant reformulation. We got to see some weird and funny stuff from Japan and Italy because Dave Stewart had film of it happening on his little iBook. And then Jill Furmanovsky gave her illustrated reading of ‘Bobquest: Bob Dylan on his many tours (19o98-2001).’ And it’s a funny thing but the pictures had the same anecdotal measure as Stewart’s stand-up routine. They are impressively alive to the perked up, Huck Finnish baroque suddenness of speech, of performance. They are clear, clean and definite shots. They have the abrupt force of unofficial speech. ‘Beneath and beyond the recorded jape is: process.’ (Sinclair, op cit)
So the question you ask yourself as you look at her pictures is ‘Does he believe he is Dylan?’ It raises itself as you watch Furmanovsky’s intimate, cunningly irregular shots of him trapsing through a field of mud at Glastonbury, for example, because on the one hand he doesn’t look like Dylan at that moment at all and yet we hear that at the same time as the picture was taken even Nick Cave failed to look cool as Dylan walked past him. It’s an observation by Furmanovsky which walks us in another direction to the initial one: clearly Dylan is recognised and recognisable somehow at that moment but I guess the interesting question it raises is who is this Dylan we think we recognise or don’t recognise? There’s a kind of obligation to find and not find him in the pictures. The images and their meanings are travelling out, purposefully heretical in their mixture of ‘It’s the same only different.’
There are shots where he looks like a Golem, walking-dead Jewish, other times like a squatted out Rhett Butler character parodying memories of ‘Gone With The Wind’ - ‘Frankly dear, I don’t care a damn’, other times it’s Tennessee Williams, just loads of desire - but wherever she catches him, her lens has a quality of ‘spontaneity’, of catching something unawares - qualities that readily translate the very qualities of Dylan’s live performances and the black Atlantic joke syllabics into the sometimes monochrome, sometimes colour, pictures.
The question about the belief being understood here - is Dylan believing in Dylan only within the context of the performance or not? - becomes an interesting question about the limits and extensions of Method Acting. When, like Dylan, you’re performing Dylan on more days of the year than when you are not, the question of who is in charge is a suggestive one. Perhaps when Dylan is not believing himself to be Dylan, it’s just a pose Dylan is conjuring up. Furmanovsky’s photos are photos that raise this question brilliantly. Just what does authentic mean in this context? What of the truth?
Always the pictures catch their subject just within shooting range and just before he disappears again. That’s the sense they communicate - a moving target, a stressed texture of hide and seek, impromptu snaps that counterpoint a relaxed wonder, a spontaneous innocence that reaches to some recognisable, immediate, personal matter that uncricks the stiff-necked, formal and pious rhetoric of the 60’s pictures that have grown too familiar, too far away in the over-baked rhetorical camp of High Art pomp.
Therefore Furmanovsky’s Dylan pictures are unlike the usual parade of pop-celebrity pictures. They link with the primitivist dialect of Dylan’s puckish humour and the weirdly dissenting crack of his Joycean, black Atlantic humour. You just don’t get Dylan done like this. Even when he gets looked at through the eyes of white European avant-guardist filters rather than the lame white liberal humanist or even Marxist perspective the humour gets turned into something remote and Artistic, masqueraiding as Universal Authenticity and, in the end, Eliotic-Protestant.
Furmanovsky seems to be altering that by showing Dylan unpolished, old, jaunty, rummaging about like Frenchman Frog in Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ - where that character is the anti-John Bull, the outsider who threatens conservative proprieties and decent politeness by having fun, drinking ‘…old-fashioned toasts,/And ma[king] old fashioned bows/To my Lady at the hall.’ Which is of course what Dylan’s been doing for years. And is very funny to see. And no one has caught this quality before. So Furmanovsky, who says she never had a Dylan record until the nineties, seems to have caught what’s really happening and has done something against the grain of all the heavyweight Dylanists out there. Who seem to have missed it. Which makes her photos like Muldoon’s ‘smouldering one-off spoor of the yeti/or some other shy beast/that has yet to enter the language.’ (Paul Muldoon, ‘Quoof’)
No wonder she was nervous on the night. She described how difficult it was to keep up with the roving Dylan who tours over two hundred nights a year sometimes and whose management team seem to be pathologically protective of Dylan’s privacy. But the very fact that it was difficult meant that she had to work hard and find the moment to catch the shot and she seems to have an unerring talent for picking up the bittiness of the phenomena.
She takes the culted celebrity figure and displaces it, rejecting the official order that defines it as celebrity and turns it into dreck, but grand, transgressive, cocky, Black-Atlantic dreck. It’s as in Dereck Walcott poem where he writes ‘Come back to me/my language./Come back,/cacao,/grigri,/solitaire,/ciseau/the sissor-bird…’ where Walcott is articulating the living presence of experience, where the idea of linguistic purity is merely a colonial device. So too with the way the Cult of Celebrity idealises a figure, constructs and imposes itself without recognising the messy surplus it cannot contain.
Furmanovsky’s pictures imagine a different language for Dylan, one that breaks free from its own history and exults in a different mix, and an alternative ‘gulsh’d’ set of possibilities. The word ‘gulsh’d’ is from John Clare who was also enclosed by fixed, traumatic and colonial forces - his editor wouldn’t let him use the word and ‘corrected’ it - he ‘corrected’ loads of things - so that Clare felt robbed of his connection to the land and his speech community. Furmanovsky modestly portrays herself as just a ‘someone’ but what happens is that this quality of being just a ‘someone’ is what she finds in her pictures of Dylan.
Christopher Hitchens, giving advice to a wannabe dissenter in his latest book ‘Letters To A Young Contrarian’ (Perseus Press, November, 2001) writes: ‘Picture all experts as if they were mammals.’ Now this seems to be the way Furmanovsky’s pictures work; they act as a great corrective to the overweaning power of the images used to serve up the fatuous and overdwelling myth of Bob Dylan by the experts. They give back something much more interesting, alive and grand. The Jesuitical injunction ‘Dei sacrificium intellectus’, which Hitchens directly calls ‘an immodest and hysterical desire to annihilate the intellect at the feet of an idol’ is perfectly countered by these pictures. At last we get merely this - an old, mental pop star still trying it on.
There’s one picture of Dylan she makes where he is seen over the shoulder of one of his band members. He’s got a pencil moustache and his face looks worn up and lived in. But there’s a smile that’s gleeful, sly and passionate beaming out. He looks a bit like Charles Chaplin. A bit like an snake-oil salesman. A bit like you’re favourite wicked uncle. It’s kind of sleazy, it’s kind of funny, sexy and daft but it’s endearing, humane and invents a new kind of Dylan, sweet, innocent and knowing all about it, simultaneously.
Jill Furmanovsky’s Dylan pictures have the same anecdotal energies as Dave Stewart’s organic narratives. They do the job Burroughs was talking about - ‘make it happen,’ voodoo objects like pebbles in the mouth, coins on dead eyes, rituals struggling for solutions that will save us all from rage, ‘swaddling bands around stiff black raptors.’ (Sinclair, op cit) They take us out of the comfort zone of the commodified. As such, they are probably as fine a record of what Emily Dickinson was getting at when she wrote ‘Further than Guess can gallop/Further than riddle ride -/Oh for a Disc to the Distance/ Between Ourselves and the Dead!’ (Under the Light, yet under’) and that’s fine, that’s fine enough.
Launch of www.rockarchive.com
Six of the world’s leading photographers bring together four decades of rock history
in a unique print archive
Noel / Liam glaring at each other, Kate Bush smouldering in a blue knitted leotard, Bob Dylan actually smiling, Jimi Hendrix looking shy, David Bowie in Mexico melting into a Diego Rivera painting…
Seminal moments in rock history have become familiar precisely because the
photographers were there, behind the scenes, living it along with the legends.
rockarchive.com, run by photographers for photographers, brings a unique opportunity for fans and collectors of photography to obtain rare, prime quality, signed, limited edition prints by the cream of rock photographers, images that were previously unavailable to the public.
Each contributor to rockarchive.com is making available on an exclusive basis at least five unusual or unseen images. Participants include Hendrix/Stones photographer Gered Mankowitz; Melody Maker’s Barrie Wentzell; Pink Floyd art director, Storm Thorgerson; cult photographer Matt Anker; Mexico’s legendary Fernando Aceves; and rockarchive’s founder Jill Furmanovsky. Others are set to follow.
Jill Furmanovsky founded the archive to accord dignity and recognition to the art of rock photography and maintain the rights of its practitioners. In the footsteps of collectives like Magnum, rockarchive will be self-funding and supported by the very photographers whose work is featured. But the aims are wider; to promote less high profile work as well as that of up and coming rock photographers; to provide a valuable historical resource along with text library rocksbackpages.com, to offer news on exhibitions and events, and to provide links to other pertinent websites.
rockarchive.com will be launched on 1st November 2001.
The rockarchive gallery is now open to visitors at 110 High Street Islington, London N1 8EG. Hours: Sat. 11am - 6pm or by appointment 020 7704 0598
For further info on rockarchive contact: Beatrice Hyams 020 7722 4716
For press interviews/info contact: Chloe Dunbar on 0207 586 3100.