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Bob Dylan's America Journey 1956 - 1966 @ The Skirball Center
Photo by Mac(3) via Flickr
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that there really just isn’t any new information about Bob Dylan out there. No groundbreaking insight into his cryptic lyrics, no new facts uncovered about his lineage, no crystallized understanding of his place in history. And yet the knowledge that no such nuggets are likely available doesn’t stop me from hoping, from dreaming, that the next Bob Dylan exhibit out there might contain just one of the above.
My hope wafted ahead of me like a haze of westside smog when I made my way into the Skirball Center’s “Bob Dylan’s America Journey 1956 – 1966,” but by the end, I was forced to acknowledge that the winds of un-clarity had once again blown. Zimmie was as much of a mystery walking out of there than he had been walking in.
Despite its lack of breaking news, though, the exhibit is still interesting and fun. It starts with relics from his teen years in Minnesota - including a copy of his high school yearbook, which OK, that's fucking cool - and uses similar items that either belonged to him or were associated with him to track his early career.
In addition to his yearbook, the Skirball managed to get their hands on one of his guitar-plus-harmonica doohickeys, some of his books and notebooks, and a lot of original flyers, posters and pamphlets from early shows, particularly during the Greenwich Village years.
Alongside the bits and pieces of lighthearted nostalgia, facts are posted about the cultural and political landscape during which he released certain albums. Of course we all know that our nice Jewish boy was a topical songwriter, and so I assume the idea was to provide a little depth by linking his music and "the times." But the link isn't made, nor is the history relevant enough to cast new light on what may have been subtly influencing Dylan's songwriting, so it reads as what it is - filler.
In my opinion, the most exciting part of the whole thing - and yes, I am about to shamelessly expose myself as the Dylan-loving nerdlette that I am, in case I haven't already - are the handwritten lyrics. I'm not sure how easy those are to get; for all I know Dylan himself sells them on eBay. But I had never seen them before, so I hovered over their little glass cases, ogling them, for a long time. I read and reread the impenetrable poetry of songs like "Gates of Eden" in Dylan's own handwriting, and yes, I did try to imagine what it would be like to have words like that come through your body and out onto paper.
Surprisingly enough, I didn't quite figure it out.
The final piece of the exhibit was conceived either by a cruel prankster, or someone who has a very twisted sense of how far to take Boblove. A room was provided therein for visitors to sing along with, play along with, and remix Dylan songs. I'm sorry to say that the song room was not only painfully embarrassing, at least to someone like me who regularly experiences extreme verguenza ajena (that's Spanish for embarrassment for others), but, I would say, completely irrelevant to Bob Dylan's American Journey. I was reduced to strapping on a pair of headphones, pretending to remix "Ballad of a Thin Man," and praying that my co-visitors' off-key (and not in a good, "Hey Mr. Tambourine Man" kind of way) voices wouldn't reach me through my self-created aural respite.
I mean really - we don't need to BE Bob Dylan. We just want, inexhaustibly, to know about him.