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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Thursday, April 19, 2007


Last thoughts on Minneapolis... There was too much good stuff to be able to catch all of it. Talks and discussions not mentioned in Parts 1-3 but caught and really enjoyed included these:

Day 2: the session from several contributors about "Dylan, Black Female Singers, Love and Theft", which was not only intrinsically interesting but also fun and so refreshingly relaxed; the contribution of Robert Reginio of the Dept of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on "Blind Willie, Charley Patton, and Nettie Moore: The Problem of Race in Bob Dylan's Late Albums", which was squeezed under the umbrella of "Endless Highway: Dylan's Routes to Southern Music"; and the entire session on "Planet Waves: Dylan in Global Perspectives", inside which were three very different but equally strong presentations - C.P. Lee's robust look back at, and broad context-setting for, Dylan's reception on tour in the UK in 1966; Mikiko Tachi's nicely diffident but wry and very funny account of Dylan's reception in Japan in the 1960s-70s, and then art critic Thomas Crow's brilliantly delivered, forceful account of how central Andy Warhol had been to Dylan, because he was there, a comparable and therefore rival embodiment of radical cool, in the New York City of the mid-1960s.

Day 3: Christopher Ricks gave a terrific, tremendously likeable talk about Dylan and trains; someone e-mailed me afterwards to say they'd heard that Ricks criticised my own work in the course of the talk and how did I feel about that - and I answered completely truthfully that I felt absolutely fine about it: his criticisms had been honest, delivered with courtesy and grace, and offered entirely legit critical disagreement. He also said that they were only necessary because in writing about Dylan's work, mine was always there, a presence to be contended with. Anyway he was funny, gracious and so lively-minded that it was immensely pleasurable to listen to him. Also well worth hearing was Dave Engel's powerfully delivered talk on "The Political World [of] Bob Dylan's Hibbing", though he was, unfortunately, cut short due to time constraints; and some of "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down: [Contemporary] Songwriters Discuss Dylan's Legacy" (I wasn't able to stay for all of it).

Good Things Regrettably Missed: Days 2 & 3: Alessandro Carrera's widely-praised talk about Dylan's reception in Italy (he's the Italian translator of Lyrics and Chronicles Volume One), which people said was very funny; Dave Marsh's talk "Direction: Home", which I was told had been moving (and in any case I'd like to have heard him speak - and this was the only time I've met him). I'd like to have heard Stephen Scobie talk on "Writing an Imaginary Biography of Bobby Zimmerman", having heard him speak at the start of the conference in Frankfurt in early 2006, and to hear Gordon Ball's talk "A Nobel For Dylan?" - I've read the transcript, and I found it extraordinarily detailed, thoughtful, well-judged and articulate. (Again, he and I had not met before, but his company was one of the great pleasures of the conference and the bus tour to Hibbing.)

I wished too I could have caught the talk with the best title of the whole conference: author, film and music critic Devin McKinney's "Hotter than a Crotch: Bob Dylan at the Borderline of Sleaze", David Pichaske's "Bob Dylan 'And the Language that He Used'"; and Robert Polito's "Bob Dylan's Memory Palace" - this last one of three presentations under the general subject heading "Open the Door, Homer: Bob Dylan the Epic Poet".

Anyway, it was a tremendous event that must have taken a vast amount of work to organise, and was done with much flair. Also pretty special was the extra Minnesota-centred material added to this leg of the touring exhibition Bob Dylan's American Journey 1956-1966. This still runs at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, admission free, until April 29. Ten more days: catch it if you can.


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