Sunday, 3 November 2013

Bob Dylan: Iron Man.

‘Who is this fellow Bob Dylan? He is surprises and disguises’, said Gregory Peck. One of the many things I love about Bob Dylan is his constant ability to surprise me- despite being a fan of his for over 20 years I am constantly learning new things about him. This is mainly due to his complexity and mysteriousness but also his ability to surprise and do the unexpected.I was surprised to find out a few weeks ago that Bob has been making iron sculptures. I was also surprised that Dylan even had the time to create the metal work given that he only has a month or two off from touring per year.
Seven gates welded out of vintage iron and other metals by Bob Dylan will be featured in a new exhibition, called ‘Mood Swings’, in London from 16 November until 25 January at the Halycon Gallery. The exhibition will also feature Dylan’s artwork. Dylan’s metalwork as well as his paintings show that the world’s greatest songwriter is another of those geniuses who have talent in various art forms.
At first glance it seems very unexpected. However if you think about it, it makes sense and can even be seen as Bob going back to his North Country roots- the Iron Range in Minnesota. Bob was brought up in Hibbing, Minnesota an iron mining community. Dylan said, ‘I’ve been around iron all my life ever since I was a kid. I was born and raised in iron ore country – where you could breathe it and smell it every day. And I’ve always worked with it in one form or another.’

Dylan’s working in metal can also be seen as a return to his folk roots and his early songs which voiced the concerns of the working man. This is not the first time that Dylan has explored iron in art- he has explored it in song with ‘Cold Irons Bound’ and ‘North Country Blues’. ‘North Country Blues’, an early Woody Guthrie-style song evokes the hardship of life in an iron mining community, similar to that of his hometown. ‘Cold Irons Bound’ is written in a traditional Blues style with the narrator being ‘Cold Irons Bound’, bound for the Iron Range?
There is a beautiful paradox to Dylan working in metal, a concrete material given his lyrics are so complex their meaning is difficult to pin down. Perhaps after working in the elusive field of words Dylan is enjoying working with such a physical material to voice his artist expression.
Dylan stated, ‘Gates appeal to me because of the negative space they allow. They can be closed but at the same time they allow the seasons and breezes to enter and flow. They can shut you out or shut you in. And in some ways there is no difference.’
Mood Swings opens on 16 November 2013 and runs until 25 January 2014 at 144-146 New Bond Street, London.

Friday, 24 May 2013

72 Cool Facts about Bob Dylan

In honour of Bob Dylan’s 72nd birthday, I’d like to share 72 cool facts you may or may not know about Dylan.
1. Bob Dylan is undisputedly the greatest songwriter ever bringing a sense of complexity and level of poetry to his songs previously unheard of in popular music.
2. With his distinctive gravelly, whiskey-soaked voice Dylan transformed the notion of what a popular singer had to sound like.
3. ‘The Girl from the North Country ‘ is inspired by either his hometown girlfriend, Echo Helstrom or college girlfriend, Bonnie Beecher.
4. ‘Girl from the North Country’ is Dylan’s updating of the traditional folk song, and now popular standard, ‘Scarborough Fair’.
5. Having been brought up in the 40s and 50s, Dylan is a fan of classic cinema- there are references to Bette Davis (‘Desolation Row’, Gregory Peck (‘Brownsville Girl’) and Lauren Bacall in his work (‘Tangled up in Blue’-‘ I must admit I felt a little uneasy, When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe’ references a scene in the Bogart and Bacall film, ‘To Have and Have Not’. Coincidently he received the Kennedy Center Honor the same year as Bacall).
6. Likes Indian food.
7. Barack Obama is the only President he has ever formally endorsed.
8. His first wife was former model, Sara Lownds.
9. His second wife was Carolyn Dennis, a gospel singer and former Dylan back-up singer.
10. According to his Greenwich Village girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, Dylan was introduced to pot by Ian Tyson (of Ian and Sylvia).
11. According to myth he called himself Dylan after Dylan Thomas- however Dylan disputes this in ‘Chronicles’ stating he was considering using his middle name Allen but felt D was a stronger sound than A. However he was probably partly inspired by the Welsh poet. His name, like everything about Dylan is complex.
12. Contrary to popular imagination there is no record that Dylan dated Edie Sedgwick. She in fact dated Dylan’s best friend- Bob Neuwirth, although perhaps had a crush on Dylan. However Edie’s striking image and troubled persona may have inspired Dylan songs such as ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’.
13. ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ could also have been inspired by Memphis Minnie as the song is similar to her ‘Me And My Chauffeur Blues’.
14. Dylan is modest and has little interest in awards. He turned down the Kennedy Center Honor when it was first offered to him but accepted it later on feeling it would be a good thing for his mother and children to see.
15. Wrote ‘Tomorrow Is a Long Time’ for Ian and Sylvia to sing.
16. ‘Tomorrow Is a Long Time’ is supposedly inspired by Suze Rotolo.
17. Has infinity for Scotland.
18. Has been inspired by traditional Scottish folk songs.
19. He admires Robbie Burn’s poetry.
20. He bought a house in Scotland.
21. Dylan brilliantly evoked the beauty of the Scottish highlands in ‘Highlands’.
22. ‘Don’t Think Twice’ was inspired by his relationship with Suze Rotolo.
23. Is a fan of Johnnie Ray.
24. Is a fan of Judy Garland.
25. Despite having written some of the greatest political songs ever, he is not overtly political preferring to be more of an observer of society.
26. Started the ‘Never Ending Tour’ in the 70s after his divorce from Sara Lownds and it continues to this day.
27. ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ was inspired by Suze Rotolo and her trip to Italy to study there.
28. Is a fan of Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
29. Wears the violet cufflinks Joan Baez bought him, and so beautiful evokes in her song, ‘Diamonds and Rust’, on the cover of his album, ‘Bringing It All Back Home’.
30. Dylan’s ‘With God on Our Side’ is a clever re-working of ‘The Patriot Game’ by Dominic Behan.
31. Dylan revealed he lifted the melody for ‘Titanic’ from his album, ‘Tempest’ from The Carter Family song, ‘The Titanic’.
32. Gregory Peck said at the Kennedy Center Honors that Dylan reminded me of a ‘nineteenth century troubadour’.
33. His biggest early influence was Woody Guthrie.
34. When he first went East, Dylan befriended an ailing Woody Guthrie by visiting him in the hospital.
35. One of his favourite films is François Truffaut’s ‘Shoot the Piano Player’ starring Charles Aznavour.
36. His most famous relationship was with Joan Baez. They became the King and Queen of Folk Music in the 60s.
37. His relationship with Joan Baez is beautifully evoked in her brilliant song, ‘Diamonds and Rust’.
38. The best insight into the complex and elusive Dylan is perhaps given by Joan Baez who described in ‘as you who are so good with words and at keeping things vague’ in ‘Diamonds and Rust’.
39. Is influenced by William Blake. The Blakeian theme of innocence and experience flows throughout ‘Every Grain of Sand’. Dylan’s the doorway of temptation echoes Blake’s ‘The Doors of Perception’.
40. Often references the Old Testament in his songs.
41. Influenced by classic country performers- Hank Williams, The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Kitty Wells.
42. Is a fan of Lenny Bruce and wrote a song about him.
43. ‘To Ramona’ is arguably inspired by Joan Baez. However it can also be read as Dylan’s kiss-off to the Folk Protest Movement.
44. ‘Positively Fourth Street’ is seen as Dylan’s ‘Fuck You’ to the Folk Protest Movement.
45. Richard Fariña, Joan Baez’s brother-in-law and Dylan’s friend wrote ‘Morgan the Pirate’ in response to ‘Positively Fourth Street’.
46. Is influenced by classic Blues singers such as Blind Wille McTell and Memphis Minnie.
47. ‘Visions of Johanna’ is inspired by Joan Baez. The song can be seen as a meditation on the power of the muse. Dylan often played on people’s names in song titles with Johanna being a play on Joan. There are many references to Joan in the song, most notably in ‘her cape of the stage once had flowed’.
48. References Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ in ‘Visions of Johanna’ with its focus on the power of the muse and directly in the line, ‘the nightingale’s code’ and also in the song ‘Jokerman’ (‘dance to the nightingale tune’).
49. ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ is supposed to be a play on Sara Lownds’ name.
50. Rose to national prominence and became the voice of the Protest Movement when he performed with Joan Baez at the March in Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King gave his historic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
51. Lived in the infamous Chelsea Hotel with Sara Lownds and her young daughter Maria in the mid 60s.
52. Wrote ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ about Joan Baez, with Queen Jane being a play on Joan’s status as the Queen of Folk Music.
53. Dylan inspired The Beatles to write more complex, introspective and lyrical songs whilst their popularity may have influenced his decision to ‘go electric’.
54. Wrote a song about John Lennon, ’Roll on John’.
55. Visited John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes in Liverpool when he recently performed in Liverpool.
56. His protest songs, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’’, ‘When the Ship Comes In’ were the anthems of the civil rights and anti-war movements.
57. ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ was inspired by his relationship with Suze Rotolo.
58. Dylan brought poetry into Rock and Roll when he went electric thus elevating it to an art form.
59. He provocatively ‘went electric’ at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 and was greeted by boos. However his decision to go electric influenced most of his peers in the folk community who then went electric, thus creating ‘Folk Rock’.
60. Dylan’s leather jacket, which he wore in mid 60s- perhaps even at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, is now displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, DC, alongside Muhammad Ali’s boxing glove.
61. Suze Rotolo argued much of his early greatness lay in his ability to soak up all of the ideas that were going on around him.
62. Referred to critics who accused him of plagiarism as ‘wussies and pussies’, and stated musical appropriation is ‘part of the folk tradition.’
63. Was good friends with Johnny Cash.
64. In the early Greenwich Village days, he would slot a coin into the juke box and play Judy Garland’s ‘The Man That Got Away’. He described listening to Judy Garland as like listening to the girl next door.
65. In his early teenager years in Minnesota, he played piano in Bobby Vee’s band at local gigs.
66. His work was first popularised by Peter, Paul and Mary who’s melodious harmonies were easier for the public to consume than Dylan’s own versions.
67. Won an Oscar in 2000 for Best Original Song for ‘Things Have Changed’.
68. Paid for a lavish casket for Brian Jones, the founder of The Rolling Stones.
69. In 1959, his high school yearbook photo carried the caption: ‘Robert Zimmerman: to join ‘Little Richard’.’
70. Created one of the first music videos with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.
71. Directed and starred in the film ‘Renaldo and Clara’ with Joan Baez and Sara Dylan.
72. One of his greatest strengths is to constantly evolve musically- he has evolved from Folk to Protest Songs to Rock and Roll to Country to Gospel to Blues, writing some of the greatest songs in each genre.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Bob Dylan Endorses Obama!

Bob Dylan has endorsed Obama!
This is huge. Bob Dylan is probably the best 'celebrity' endorsement you can get in that he rarely publicly supports a candidate. Dylan has even predicted Obama will win by a landslide and said he's not fooled by the media.
On Election Day his team posted the following quote from Bob on Facebook:
Here's pretty close to what I said last night in Madison. I said from the stage that we had to play better than good tonight, that the president was here today and he’s a hard act to follow. Also, that we’re not fooled by the media and we think it’s going to be a landslide. That’s pretty much all of it.
- Bob Dylan
Obama and Clinton are the only presidential candidates Dylan has publicly endorsed as far as I'm aware. Dylan played at Clinton's first inauguration. Bob performed 'Chimes of Freedom' on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Dylan seems pretty fond of Obama. He has attended two events at Obama's White House. The Never Ending Tour was stopped for Obama! The first was a concert celebrating the Civil Rights Movement with Joan Baez et al in 2010. The second was to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama in May this year. Dylan as cool as ever didn't remove his sunglasses whilst at The White House. Similarly, Joan Baez was barefoot when performing at the White House Civil Rights Celebration Concert.
I have a feeling Dylan is quite fond of Obama. He has been positive in his comments about him. Significantly, he performed with acoustic guitar when singing, 'The Times They Are a-Changin'' in the Civil Rights Concert at the White House. As fans know, its extremely rare for Dylan to play an acoustic guitar in concert, usually he plays organ and electric guitar and of course, harmonica.
Bob's son, Jesse Dylan directed the iconic, 'Yes, We Can' video, widely seen as one of the most effective political ads of all time. The video certainly captured the zeitgeist of the moment; the desire for hope and change.
This political endorsement may seem ironic given Dylan was and is still known as 'the voice of a generation' and the symbol of social protest, however Dylan fans know he has always hated this label and being boxed, and was never overtly political.
Dylan rarely attended political events and protests. He did attend the historic March on Washington in 1963 and helped to register voters in the segregated South with Pete Seeger. What makes Dylan's protest songs the best ever written is they didn't mention specific conflicts of the day but were about the timeless themes of war and peace and freedom and justice. This is what makes Dylan's endorsement of Obama so important.

Dylan receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Ian and Sylvia

Let's turn our spotlight onto Ian and Sylvia, Dylan's friends and Greenwich Village compatriots. Ian and Sylvia are one of the most influential acts to come out of the 60s Folk Movement. They have a unique sound which feels fresh today.

Ian and Sylvia's music can be summed up in two words: unique and fresh. Firstly, their sound is  unique, it's very stripped down with unusual vocal counterpoint. They were pioneers of new country, fusing a folk and country sound and combining it with the intelligent, poetic lyrics of Folk Music. They were very much a precursor to Neil Young. Secondly, each of them are great songwriters in their own right. Thirdly, unlike most of their compatriots they avoided Protest Music. Fourthly, their incredible good looks and musical bond made them Folk's romantic ideal.
Ian and Sylvia.

Now some biographical info. Ian Tyson was born in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada in 1933 and Sylvia Tyson, née Fricker, was born in Chatham, Ontario in 1940. Ian was originally a rodeo rider but after a rodeo injury moved to Toronto, studied commercial art and turned to music. Ian and Sylvia met in Toronto and began performing as a duo in 1959. By 1962 they had moved to New York City and were at the centre of the Greenwich Village Folk Scene. Ian and Sylvia married in 1964. Ian and Sylvia had a son, Clay Tyson, now a musician, in 1966. They divorced and stopped performing as a duo in 1975.
Iconic image of Ian and Sylvia.


They were signed by Albert Grossman who would infamously become Dylan's manager. Sylvia was friends with Suze Rotolo, Bob Dylan's then-girlfriend, Sylvia  credits Suze with being a major influence on Dylan's political songs.
Sylvia Tyson and Suze Rotolo.
Legend goes, Ian introduced Bob Dylan to pot! Ian  says he is taking the 5th on that but if Suze Rotolo says it was true, then it was. As friends and peers in the same group, Dylan and Ian and Sylvia undoubtedly influenced each other. Ian says he was influenced to write his masterpiece, 'Four Strong Winds' after hearing either 'Blowin' in the Wind' or 'The Times They Are a-Changin''. Ian and Sylvia covered numerous Dylan songs. Dylan, in turn, has covered Ian and Sylvia's, 'The French Girl', 'Song For Canada' and 'Four Strong Winds'. Dylan and Ian and Sylvia also covered much of the same traditional folk material.

Ian and Sylvia produced several classic albums together as a duo before forming the influential country-rock group Great Speckled Bird in 1969. They divorced in 1975 but remained on good terms. Ian returned to ranching and produced an influential country album, 'Cowboyography' in 1987. Sylvia has had success as a singer-songwriter with classic songs such as 'River Road', she is also part of the all-female folk supergroup, Quartette, and has written a novel, 'Joyner's Dream'. Ian and Sylvia were both awarded Canada's highest accolade, each became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1994.
Ian and Sylvia.

Ian and Sylvia are one of my favourite acts to come out of the 60s Folk Movement and I find their music is fresh to listen. Lets go back to what was so unique about the duo. Most importantly is their sound. As a teenager Sylvia had studied traditional folk songs and vocal harmony (her mother was a choir leader) so she chose most of material the duo covered. Sylvia’s developed a unique concept of harmony, using vocal counterpoint, rather than straightforward harmonies. Sylvia said, ‘My mother was a choir leader in the Anglican church, and I sang parts there. From that I knew traditional harmony, but I also have an ear for creating counter-melodies’ (Ian and Sylvia The Complete Vanguard Studio Recordings booklet liner notes).

Ian's background as a cowboy brought a country sound to the duo, particularly in his songwriting themes which celebrate the pastoral and the cowboy lifestyle. Ian Tyson's evocative songwriting brilliantly captures Canada's natural beauty.
Ian and Sylvia Tyson.

Uniquely both Ian and Sylvia are great songwriters in their own right. Ian's most famous song is 'Four Song Winds', one of the strongest songs to emerge from the 60s Folk Movement and widely recognised as a classic Canadian song. Sylvia's most famous song, is 'You Were on My Mind' which became a pop hit for We Five in 1965. Sylvia Tyson said 'We just tried to write real songs about real people, and I think that's possibly why they've lasted'. Rather uniquely amongst female folksingers, Sylvia was already writing her own songs by the early 60s whereas her peers Judy Collins and Joan Baez did not begin writing their own songs until the late 60s (Judy Collins wrote her first song, 'Since You Asked' in 1967). On the subject of Judy Collins, Judy had a hit in 1969 with Ian's song, 'Someday Soon' which is also considered a classic country/folk song.
Ian and Sylvia.

As Canadians they brought an exotic, fresh perspective to the American Folk Boom. Their success in the US helped pave the way for their fellow Canadians, musical legends such as Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

Unlike the majority of their Folksinger friends they did not write the seemingly compulsory Protest Song. Ian and Sylvia state there were two main reasons for this. In recent interviews Sylvia has said that as Canadians they did not feel it was their place to criticise the United States Government. Fundamentally they felt much protest music had the shelf-life of yesterdays newspapers. Sylvia points out much Protest Music was not very good music. Sylvia noted much Protest Music was very specific about the causes of the time. This important point is one of the reasons why Dylan stands out. His Protest songs focused on constant themes such as war as opposed to specific conflicts, this combined with traditional folk song structures created a timelessness to much of his Protest material.
Ian and Sylvia.
Together Ian and Sylvia represented the romantic ideals of the Folk Movement. Sylvia combines a natural classic beauty with the elegance and sophistication of Audrey Hepburn plus great literary talent and intellectual prowess. See this early Hootenanny performance where Sylvia looks distinctly Audrey Hepburn-esque, quite unusual for a folksinger! Ian had classically handsome movie-star good looks with an authentic, cowboy spirit. Its very rare for a couple to be equally attractive as in the case of Ian and Sylvia. It's been argued  Ian and Sylvia's romantic image is the inspiration for Mitch and Mickey in Christopher Guests' Folk Music satire, 'A Mighty Wind'.

Ian and Sylvia's influence is most evident in their pioneering fusion of a folk and country sound with intelligent, poetic lyrics. This is most striking in their iconic work in the band Great Speckled Bird. Great Speckled Bird comprised of Ian Tyson, Sylvia Tyson, Amos Garrett, Bill Keith, Ken Kalmusky and Ricky Marcus. Their 1970 album 'Great Speckled Bird' is considered a country-rock classic. Their influence is most notable in the work of Neil Young, particularly in his landmark album, 'Harvest'. 'Harvest' with its fusion of country and folk sensibilities, stripped down sound, intelligent, sparse lyrics and natural imagery is very reminiscent of Ian and Sylvia's work (particularly with Great Speckled Bird). Listen to Neil Young's cover of the Canadian anthem 'Four Strong Winds' here.

Ian and Sylvia were experimenting with a more country sound at the same time as Dylan ('John Wesley Harding', 'Nashville Skyline', 'Self Portrait' and 'The Basement Tapes') and its likely both influenced each other. It was around this time that Dylan was recorded rehearsing 'The French Girl' with The Band (1987). Dylan revisited the song, twenty years later in rehearsals with The Grateful Dead in 1987.

Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson, Donovan, Sylvia Tyson, Newport Folk Fest '65

Ian and Sylvia were one of the brightest lights in the Folk Music Scene and their evolution into country-rock proved to  be very influential. But most of all their music is simply good. Its definitely worth while checking them out. I would recommend Ian and Sylvia to fans of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Simon and Garfunkel as well as anyone who likes intelligent music.

Ian and Sylvia.
To learn more about Ian and Sylvia and hear their reminisces of Dylan and the Greenwich Village Folk Scene, watch this excellent in depth interview from 2011. Hear Sylvia's comments on 'The Day Dylan Went Electric' here. Watch an excellent interview with Ian here. For more information, read their biography, 'Four Strong Winds: Ian and Sylvia' by John Einarson and Ian Tyson and Sylvia Tyson. Also check out Ian Tyson's autobiography, 'The Long Trail: My Life in the West' by Ian Tyson and Jeremy Klaszus. Check out Ian and Sylvia 2010 performance of their classic song, 'Four Strong Winds' at the Mariposa Folk Festival, they headlined its first festival in 1961.

Ian and Sylvia.

Ian and Sylvia.

Ian and Sylvia, inspiration for 'A Mighty Wind's' Mitch and Mickey?

Mitch and Mickey from 'A Mighty Wind', inspired by Ian and Sylvia?


Sunday, 5 August 2012

Bob Dylan and The Folk Tradition

Many of Dylan's songs are based upon traditional folk songs, both musically and lyrically. The most obvious examples are 'Girl From The North Country' and 'With God On Our Side'. Listen to Rosanne Cash's beautiful version of  'Girl From The North Country', which is my favourite version, here. Listen to Joan Baez performing 'With God On Our Side' in 1966,  here.

'Girl From The North Country' is Dylan's updating of the traditional folk song, and now popular standard, 'Scarborough Fair'. 'Scarborough Fair' was, of course, popularised by Simon and Garfunkel a few years after Dylan wrote 'Girl From The North Country'.

Much has been written about who the Girl from the North Country is, with Dylan's girlfriends Echo Helstrom and Bonnie Beecher the most likely candidates. Arguably, the song is as much about a longing for your hometown and in Dylan's case, the North Country, as for a particular person. The North Country's bleak beauty is captured brilliantly in the song with 'if you go when the snowflakes storm, When the rivers freeze and summer ends.'

Echo Helstrom.

Dylan is working within folk conventions to create an archetypal folk song with the stock characters of a romantic heroine and a lonesome traveller narrator. Dylan was successful to this end in that he created a beautiful folk ballad, whose romance and poignancy holds up to the best work in the genre. This idea is reinforced by Rosanne Cash who described 'Girl From The North Country' as being like an Elizabethan folk song.

Bonnie Beecher.

'With God On Our Side' is a clever re-working of 'The Patriot Game', an Irish ballad written by Dominic Behan. Dylan lifts the melody from 'The Patriot Game' for his song. Listen to Judy Collins' version here. 'The Patriot Game' tells the story of a young Irish man who got caught up in the 'Patriot Game', joining the IRA and ultimately and futility giving his life in the fight. The song poignantly states the futility of patriotism.

Dylan takes this message and changes the context of the song from Northern Ireland to America. Dylan deals with war in general as opposed to a specific conflict, listing several historical wars, thus reinforcing the timelessness and futility of war and patriotism. At the same time, Dylan brings the song bang up to date, capturing the fear of nuclear war, which seemed like a very real possibility at the time. In this respect, 'With God On Our Side' is one of the most successful reworkings of an earlier folk song.

Bonnie Beecher.
Dylan is continuing in the folk tradition to this day. Regarding his new song 'Titanic' from his new album, 'Tempest', Dylan revealed he lifted the melody for the song from The Carter Family song, 'The Titanic'. Dylan said, 'I was just fooling with that one night. I liked that melody – I liked it a lot. Maybe I'm gonna appropriate this melody. But where would I go with it?' Check out Dylan's interview in Rolling Stone Magazine here.
UPDATE (16/09/12): Dylan comments on plagiarism charges, in the brilliant way that only he can:

[1] Michael Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (Great Britain: Continuum, 2006), p. 656.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Edie Sedgwick's Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat

There are three muses which haunt Dylan's masterpiece 'Blonde on Blonde': Joan Baez, Sara Lownds and Edie Sedgwick. Although there is little evidence to confirm Dylan had a romantic relationship with Edie Segwick, her iconic image and spirit reverberate throughout the album. The sheer coolness of Edie's image echoes throughout the years with thunderous electricity. Edie possessed an irresistible combination of old world charm with undefinable coolness. Vogue Editor, Diana Vreeland described Edie as 'one of the true personalities of the Sixties.' [1]

Iconic image of Edie Sedgwick.
Edie came from a family known for both its aristocratic roots and history of mental illness. Edie was treated for mental illness and spent part of her youth in psychiatric hospitals, most notably at Silver Hill in New Canaan, Connecticut. Edie studied sculpture and art in Cambridge, quickly becoming the reigning It Girl of the student scene there.

Edie Sedgwick in Massachusetts.
Edie moved to NYC. A Star was Born. Well not just a Star, but a Superstar. Edie became Andy Warhol's muse and the Queen of the NYC Underground Scene. The 2006 film, 'Factory Girl', starring Sienna Miller, is about Edie Sedgwick; it's a stylish film but is inaccurate in that it portrays a Dylan-like character as having a big romance with Edie, which is not true.

Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick.
Dylan songs where Edie comes through most strongly are 'Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat' and 'Just Like A Woman'. The latter's evocation of a fragile young woman brings Edie to mind. 'With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls' seems a perfect description of Edie. The rollicking, ironic, humorous blues of 'Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat', satirising a style conscious young woman, screams Edie Sedgwick. Edie even had a signature Leopard-Skin coat she was often seen in.

Edie Sedgwick in her signature leopard print coat.
However despite Edie Sedgwick's allure, 'Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat' owes more to Memphis Minnie, the legendary Blues pioneer. Dylan expert Michael Gray argues, 'Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat' is heavily influenced by Memphis Minnie's 'Me and my Chauffeur Blues'.[2] This is clearly evident in the version of the song on Dylan's 'Bootleg Series Vol. 7- No Direction Home: the Soundtrack'. This version of 'Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat' includes a verse which states, 'Well you can ride with me, honey, I'll be a chauffeur, Just as long as you stay in the car: if you get out and start to walk you just might topple over, In your brand-new leopard-skin pill-box hat.' This brings us nicely back to Edie who travelled everywhere by limousine.

Memphis Minnie: Pioneering Blueswoman.
As one of the most iconic figures of the Sixties, it is fitting Edie echoes throughout one of the greatest albums of the age.

See Edie and Andy Warhol being interviewed by Merv Griffin in 1965 here.

Edie Sedgwick.

[1] Jean Stein, Edie: American Girl, (New York: Grove Press, 1982),  p. 301.
[2] Michael Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (Great Britain: Continuum, 2006), p. 458.