Friday, December 29, 2006

looking for some bob dylan

yesterday, sarah's parents and i drove over to st. paul to see the minnesota historical society. the place was packed, with little kids all over the place. the crowds were there, we were told, to see "baseball as america," a travelling exhibition of over 500 artifacts from the baseball hall of fame cooperstown.

but i wasn't there for baseball. i was looking for some bob dylan.

dylan's from minnesota - from hibbing to be more precise. in 1960, a nineteen year old dylan left hibbing for minneapolis, where he enrolled at the university of minnesota but, um, never had much time for classes. instead, he hung out in the cafes in dinkytown, learned and played folk music, and eventually got hold of some records by woody guthrie. shortly thereafter, he set out for new york city. although dylan spent much of his career trying to escape his minnesotan roots, he seemed to return to the north country - physically and musically - over and over again.

before coming to minnesota, sarah did some online research and found me some dylan at the minnesota historical society's library. i filled out a request slip, turned it in, and five minute later found myself sitting at a desk staring at dylan's original pen-on-paper lyrics for "temporary like achilles." this is what i came to see.

the bob dylan scrapbook, 1956-1966, published in 2005, first introduced me visually to dylan's writing process. seeing some lyrics handwritten on a hotel napkin - written, rewritten; scrambled, rescrambled - intrigued me. songs seemed to stream from dylan nearly complete, but, as i learned from this book and this book, he would edit them meticulously into shape.

it was the editing process that drew me to the minnesota historical society, to the library within it, and to these two sheets of paper that contained two different drafts of what would become "temporary like achilles."


i've been thinking a lot lately about drafts and the abhorance of drafts many of my students seem to have. too many of my students think that writing is the collection of words and sentences that first gush out of their heads. editing? what's that? second draft? why? multiple drafts? please.

a beautiful lesson plan grew and unfurled in my head and i nearly ran from my desk to the librarian to ask permission to take pictures of dylan's drafts with my digital camera.


i asked if i could, um, at least make xerox copies of dylan's drafts.


i'm sure there's some reason behind this - copyright; potential damage to primary sources - but still. it seems so boneheaded. if a library holds the original, shouldn't reproductions be encouraged, thereby increasing the value of - and, more importantly, curiosity in - the original? wouldn't a jpeg distributed via the web serve to further promote the library's holdings?


it surely wasn't the librarian's fault, so i smiled, said thanks, and left the library to meet up again with sarah's parents.


Jennifer said...

If only Dylan's lyrics were more accessible, the world would be a better place. Pure, undiluted artistry.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I tend to think of my blog as a collection of drafts, though the chances the entries will edited and appear elsewhere are scant. I suppose this is why blogging is liberating for a certain kind of writer. But rather than exploring that, let's turn to your comment on students' discomfort with editing. The odd thing is how uncomfortable so many of my students are with blogging, given the fact I tell them that they do not need to edit or revise. That's not the point of the exercise.

Odd little buggers, aren't they?

david silver said...


dylan's lyrics inaccessible? wha?

Kneeling 'neath your ceiling,
Yes, I guess I'll be here for a while.
I'm tryin' to read your portrait, but,
I'm helpless, like a rich man's child.


Well, I rush into your hallway,
Lean against your velvet door.
I watch upon your scorpion
Who crawls across your circus floor.

oh. wait. nevermind. you're right.

Anonymous said...

Having grown up in Hibbing, I always appreciate people appreciating and respecting Dylan! There are many places to find Dylan "stuff", even in his hometown....

david silver said...

d - thanks for stopping by!

the next time i visit minneapolis, i'll be sure to visit hibbing. i've been wanting to for some time now but wasn't ready to brave the snow. next time, i'm there.

jini said...

it was a good day at the history center; a minnesota sort of thing to do. we had fun too, david.

Jennifer said...

Sorry, if only Dylan's -original- manuscripts of his lyrics were more accessible. There's always something to be said for seeing the original piece in it's untouched format.

david silver said...

jennifer - ack! now i see your point.

and agree with it - there is something about primary resources - seeing them, touching them, essentially beholding them - that brings new light and new understanding.

open the archives!

Anonymous said...

David, if/when you go to Hibbing, I can tell you where the best spots to visit would be to learn about Dylan's past. I even know who lives in his childhood home. Have you seen a picture of his home? I love Dylan's legend.
D again

Anonymous said...

it's abhorrence, not "abhorance", that your students have for writing drafts.

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