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.