Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Little Red Book

One of our readers mentioned Dylan, and a "cabin in Minnesota," holed up and writing an album. "Blood on the Tracks," I assume. Let me tell you the story of "The little red book." Sounds like a nice Christmas story, eh? It must have been around 1992. I was living in Brooklyn; in a little storefront I called "the bunker." A friend of mine, named Steve, called up and told me about an investment banker who lived up the street. The cat had a treasure trove of rare Bob Dylan manuscripts. Steve asked if I was interested in seeing the stuff. Of course. It involved having dinner with the investment banker and his family, so they could ascertain if I was safe enough, or worthy enough, to view the rare goods. I went over to this swank apartment, near Norman Mailer's place in Brooklyn Heights. I sat down to dinner with the banker; his wife and kid. Pleasant folks. "Pass the mash potatoes." Etc. I passed the test, because after dinner he seated me at a large table; then went to unlock the safe. He brought in the goods on a silver tray. One piece at a time. I think the first manuscript was the hand-written words to "Blowin' in the Wind," with Dylan's notes and changes in the margins. Out came more early songs, napkins and matchbooks; then recent road journals. Actually they looked like diaries; they contained Dylan's road sketches and notes on life and gigs. Who was sleeping with who. It seemed too personal for somebody else to be looking at, so I handed them back. I was beginning to feel funny about it all. How did this guy get the stuff, and where did it come from? I can only imagine Dylan had been ripped off, throughout his career, by hotel maids, roadies and friends. But here it all was. Probably purchased for hundreds of thousands. Then he brought out the red book. The high point of the collection. It was a little notebook with a red leather cover. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. This was the book in which Dylan worked on most of the lyrics to "Blood on the Tracks." All the songs were in there, plus about seven extra that have never seen the light of day. They were scrawled in very small handwriting on every page. The book was glowing in my hands; on fire. I felt like I was holding the Gospel of St. Thomas, dug up from a cave in Egypt. "That's the book," said the Banker. "I've confirmed it with sources like his ex-girlfriend, Carol. Dylan would go up into the attic of his Minnesota farm house every day and write lyrics in this little book. Lyrics to 'Blood on the Tracks.' It's priceless." Yeah; well about that time I needed fresh air. This same banker also collected rare medieval tapestries. It was all about the collection; not the songs. Medieval tapestries and Dylan lyrics. Worth about the same on the high-end market. Adios Brooklyn Heights. Last I heard, Dylan's people had contacted the banker…he was persuaded to give back or donate the collection to a museum. My hand is still burning; and don’t ask me what those seven rare songs were. I'm in San Diego…."still on the road, headed for another joint." And that, my children, is the story of the little red book.


Saddle Tramp said...

Sacred Objects [ cont'd ]

Tom, thanks for doing the right thing.
Just a few days ago I heard a BBC interview with Laura Garcia Lorca, the niece of Federico Garcia Lorca. She spoke in an intelligent, sensitive and poignant fashion explaining her objection to the planned exhuming of the mass grave where her uncle is believed to be buried. She showed understanding of the feelings of the other families involved but cited her fear that his skull might end up being broadcast all across YouTube.
His words run all through her and that is where he is, not in that grave of a darker history near Granada . . .

-ST In the Valley of the San Joaquin surrounded by Tulare and Delta fog with thoughts of two Chinese sisters of mercy. Mei Lei and Mei Quon who work, sleep and eat in a single room working 14 hours a day with never a day off. Somewhere in Oregon. They with innocent hearts and guilty hands. Mine . . . both are guilty. They came a long way from Beijiing to bring me some comfort . . .

editor said...

Strange, the power of artifacts.

Does touching the notebook change the song?

Why does the heart pound and the breath come short at Gettysburg or Ford's Theater?

There's Mystery there.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Tom,
Great story. I agree with ST in commending your actions in doing the Right Thing.
It is one thing if these items were gifted by Dylan to a trusted and worthy "Keeper of the Flame" as it were. But something seems a bit off about such items belonging to a mere treasure hunter.
Glad to read the Little Red Book is now in the hands where they can be appreciated by all who care.

Saddle Tramp said...

More lost documents . . .
Just picked up " Hollywood Foto -Rhetoric " at the Turlock, CA Border's Books and Some Music Store at the Monte Vista Shopping Center while on my way to Hilmar and down that Los Baños Hwy yesterday. It is the collaboration between photographer Barry Feinstein & Dylan. Stories of Dylan & Feinstein taking Dylan's famous managers Rolls Royce cross country, attending Holy Roller revivals and such . . . got it on sale.

Trail note: Companion piece to the BBC Laura Garcia Lorca interview was interviews with a band of young travelling minstrels criss-crossing England singing traditional songs, sleeping in the woods and living off the land and the kindness of strangers. As for me, depending on the kindness of strangers . . . or not.
On another note Monte Hellman's 1971 classic film
" Two-Lane Blacktop " with James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, Warren Oates and along for the ride, Laurie Bird,has been reissued in a deluxe DVD package by The Criterion Collection. Too bad we didn't have TR back then to add to the soundtrack. Another one for us blacktop junkies . . . and it don't get no better than an Ol' 55. Tom Waits in the supplements. Adiós. Gotta roll . . .

-ST Elko, Nevada.

Saddle Tramp said...

LOST WORKS [ cont'd. ]

" And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks "

" A lost Kerouac book! A lost Burroughs book! " from the afterword in which James Grauerholz also mentions "Burroughs moving from his New York ( Bunker ) to Lawrence, Kansas, at the end of 1981 . . . "
The novel took hold from a friend of Burroughs being involved in a stabbing murder . . . Burroughs and Kerouac collaborated on the novel each writing alternate chapters.
Now, some 60- odd years later it reemerges for a glimpse
of the early Beats.
And yes Editor . . . always leave some mystery, otherwise what is tomorrow for.

-ST Borders - Bakersfield, CA
Inexileonroad. The road got me there . . . and the
road got me away from there as well.