Monday, May 22, 2006

No Direction Home

The Big Pink, 2005, Oil on Panel, 12x16

Forgive me for what I am about to discuss, especially if you are a Bob Dylan fan and already know everything about him and his music. I was born in 1964, in Albert Lea, Minnesota and raised in Rochester, not too far from Dylan's hometown of Hibbing. I missed the hoopla involving his rise to fame, his going electric, the motorcycle accident and his dropping out and settling in Woodstock (my favorite place ever) to raise a family. My first real memory of him was hearing the song "Tangled Up in Blue" and then at some point seeing that clip of him singing it, where his face is painted white. SInce I was still a straitlaced girl from the midwest, I was pretty much thinking nut job when I saw that. When I was in college I met a guy whose first words to me were: "I know every Bob Dylan song" He was devastated when I said I didn't really know who Bob Dylan was (that relationship didn't last too long). He then proceeded to sing almost every song ever written by Dylan and after hearing 'Like a Rollingstone" I finally knew who he meant. What can I say? I was a rock and roll kind of girl, raised on AM radio and disco.

So I met Doug when I was 23 and he was 31. HE knew Bob Dylan and his music and history very well. So I listened to more of it but never got to the point of understanding the cultural references to his work. About two years ago Bob Dylan did a concert in a nearby town and since nothing like that ever happens around here, Doug stood in line for 4 hours (which was like going home to the mother ship for him, standing in line for tickets like that) to get tickets. The concert was incredible despite the fact that we had to take the kids (no babysitter to be found, EVERYONE was at the concert), and I didn't have my glasses on so I spent the first half of the concert watching the guitar player, thinking he was Dylan until Doug told me that he was off to the side at the keyboards. Oh, ok. Well, he sounded amazing and I became a fan. I started listening to his music all of the time and finally Doug and I had music to listen to that we both liked. In fact, for Christmas that year, we both got each other the same gift; the book, "Chronicles", by Bob Dylan. (that was the second time we bought each the same gift, about five years earlier we had bought each other an Antiques Roadshow calendar, are we soulmates or what?)

Anyway, why am I writing about this? I watched the documentary about him "No Direction Home" Saturday night and I realized that now I really love him. There were many clips of his 1966 concert tour through Europe and England, the tour when he "went electric" and had The Band (who I also L-O-V-E) playing back up. The tour where they were constantly booed and heckled. What was really amazing to me though, were the interviews and press conferences that he gave during the tour and his total discomfort with the really stupid questions asked of him by the media. I think we have gotten so used to having celebrities and performers give such rehearsed answers to the most inane questions, that it is almost shocking to see an artist not wanting to talk about what they do. I loved that he didn't and couldn't explain how he wrote his music and how he didn't think that he wrote protest songs, though so clearly his songs had that effect. And I especially respect him for the fact that he didn't just keep writing and performing the same things over and over. When he finished saying what he had to say, he stepped away and tried something different, despite incredible criticism and contempt. I know he was considered by many to be a sell out but I just see him as an artist who grew and developed and changed his manner of expression.

In the 60 Minutes interview he did awhile back, he said that he didn't feel that he had it in him anymore to write songs that were as magical as his early work. He said, "You can't do something forever. I did it once and I can do other things now. But I can't do that." When I heard that I immediately thought, of course he could still do it. But after thinking about it for a bit I thought that maybe it's ok that the intensity wanes after awhile and an artist can still be productive but in other ways, as Bob Dylan has been. He is still a compelling performer, he writes and he now has a radio show that has gotten good reviews. I think that his evolution is worthy, not contrived.

So I want to keep his words and his example with me. I want to keep pushing myself, to not do what others expect of me, and to not place so much meaning or importance on what I do (there are others who can and will do that if my work is ever considered to be important), but to just express my thoughts and feelings and enjoy that process. I can't, nor do I want to convince people like my work. Whoever comes to the party, will come. That's all.

PS. While his earlier work makes my heart sing, "Time Out of Mind" may be my favorite album. It's depressing and bitter and it brings me down, but in a good way. Gotta love that.



I was raised on Bob Dylan, and his music has always moved me. I like the pink barn.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Aaron, Glad you have resurfaced! I did that painting in the midst of my obsession with The Band. I have always wondered if the person who bought it, ever made the connection.

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of two of my favorite artist inspirations...

Georgia O'Keefe:
"I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to and say what I wanted to when I painted as that seemed to be the only thing I could do that didn't concern anybody but myself - that was nobody's business but my own."


Alice Neel:
"The minute I sat in front of a canvas I was happy. Because it was a world, and I could do as I like in it."

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks, Anna, for providing those quotes. They are just perfect and I am reminded again about what strong women those two were.

Ed Maskevich said...

Now you're talking my generation.The first time that Dylan performed at Monterey (that was the same year Jimi Hendrix burst upon the music scene)he was booed offstage. People didn't know what to make of his music or his sound. I've always liked his stuff and The Band, from big pink.

In high school my senior class did not want the processional music to be pomp and circumstance. We fought bravely to have Dylan's Rainy Day Woman 12 and 35. Needless to say, we lost the battle.

If he would've stayed put, musically, he would've been a failure. Like any good artist, Dylan knows that to stand still and not keep moving means a slow decay. Go back and listen to Hwy 61 and hear musically what it's like to try and catch a ride down that road.

So, crank up Dylan on the stereo and keep pushing forward down your road, Tracy. At the end you'll find you've had an interesting ride.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Ed, I suspected that I'd hear from you if I wrote about Dylan :-) I love HWY 61, and it's easy to hear in those songs that he was changing. Too bad you didn't get Rainy Day Woman. My HS never would allowed such "blasphemy" either!

Anonymous said...

Tracy - what a very lovely piece you have written here. You are a gifted writer as well as a gifted painter. You should send it to an 'Arts' magazine/journal ... I bet it would be published.

The pink barn is great too ... one of my favourites so far.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks, Lesly, for the lovely compliment about my writing. I think gifted is a bit strong:-), but I do rather enjoy writing and have really liked doing this blog. Not sure about publishing, although if I ever say never, I usually end up doing it at some point!

tlwest said...

Lovely Mood in Your painting! I am 45 and never got into Dylan I think its because I never stopped long enough to listen LOL

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi TL, Thanks for the compliment on the painting. I love to hear that someone likes the mood. And it's never too late to fall for Dylan!

Karen Jacobs said...

He said, "You can't do something forever. I did it once and I can do other things now. But I can't do that."

That's the part that resonated with me. Especially as it relates to my own art style(s). There came a time when I knew one phase was over and I'd darned well better find another... and I did. The trick is knowing when.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi KJ, You are right, knowing when to shift gears is the real trick. I looked at your blog and look forward to reading through it. And I LOVE your work!

Thanks for commenting.

Tracy Helgeson said...

I love the "No Direction Home" CD too! I gave it to my husband for his birthday and we save it for listening to in the car, with no kids to give us a hard time. "The Last Waltz" is also good for car trips too.

Loved your story about the Rolling Stone covers hanging in your rooms. When I was in college everybody was into Bob Marley, Jim Morrison and Billy Idol and Boy George. Good combo huh?

Thanks for visiting and I am glad you enjoyed the post. Have you seen him perform?