Painting this famous album cover, I was playing all the Bob Dylan canon, and then it ended on “My Tambourine Man.” On one, I ended it, I was going around and around, and the word “free,” it was finishing the word “free” with “Mr. Tambourine Man” playing. And I’m like, “Oh my god, that’s what this is, that’s the key.” Dylan, hypothetically, is free. Or they, as a couple, are free. And he is Mr. Tambourine Man. So, I was thinking I should call it “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
I felt with a lot of these popular images that we’ve seen them again and again, thinking about how Warhol and how he made people into posters, stamps, and icons. I always thought growing up Elvis was “Fat Elvis,” that he was a joke, but at one moment, watching the famous ’68 “Comeback Special,” I realized, that this was a real person, a real person who helped to change culture (even though he colonized culture and it was based on the blues music and all the bad politics of it!). But I think Elvis was in general a good person–Amazing Grace.
Elvis was an artist who deals with ideas of appropriation, what Elvis liked is the cheesy song that he could recode and reinvent. He appreciated lyrics that are cheesy because they’re so accessible. But to me, it’s his voice! He was the crooner of the twentieth century, because it’s so moving. I love the Beatles, I love John Lennon, I love Bob Dylan. But Elvis, the music moves you. Judy Garland, same thing, where it moves you. She’s channeling like a method actor. James Dean supposedly saw Judy Garland perform live and was knocked on his feet. He was like, “How does she do that? I want to be able to do that! How can you do that?” Because she was channeling all of her life into it. Her life is “Over the Rainbow.” It’s always about getting to the other side; the hope is always there. She became that.
But with Bob Dylan, what I totally respect, is that he did change music in many ways from the Elvis and Judy Garland tradition. Coming from Woody Guthrie and folk singing, he’s the auteur who wrote his own music, performed his own music, wrote poetry as a visionary. For Joni Mitchell, in a documentary I viewed about her, she mentions that he was the first singer songwriter who used the first-person pronoun—it was “I” about “you”—singing personal songs. It was the first time that she’d ever heard somebody say “I” about “you” and to be able to speak in the first-person about her own self in a song.
I grew up with this album, like everybody did. This was the spirit of New York and being a bohemian artist. Everything came from looking at that cover. The woman in the image is his girlfriend Suze Rotolo was also really embedded in politics and activism movements, and taught Dylan to be political, who, although following the tradition of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Guthrie and singing for the proletariat was never really that directly political. That was also about that collaboration, specifically talking about civil rights new stories and icons, and bringing that specifically into the world.
It was from looking at this cover while listening to Dylan that helped to form in my conscious the Idée fixe
of moving to New York and becoming an artist, hopefully with a significant other who shared my bohemian artistic spirit. As I used to walk through this same block on slushy, snowy winter days in my leather coat from Soho to the East Village to teach at NYU and SVA I would think of this cover, how it, and everything it represents, helped to form my life and my artistic ideology. David Davis was a great art supply and stretcher making company, and I always thought their Maroger medium, and more was blessed from the legacy, and Karma, this wonderful gallery in which I am now proud to belong, also began in this area (along with Warhol’s loft Basquiat lived in, Rauschenberg’s studio and much more). Sometimes dreams come true and looking at the warn album as a kid in my waterbed in the 70’s in Colorado, I could only dream that at one point and time I would be a successful artist, teacher, and activist who lived with his still-married husband for 25 years in New York City….
Also, listening to his oeuvre Dylan still serves as a living model of the greatest artist, who never sold his soul for Rock and Roll, who changed art and culture, and never compromised his art and politics that were fused into one visionary voice that keeps growing, despite ups and downs, mostly great “ups” after changing art history, winning a Nobel Prize, and still making amazing relevant and pertinent art and music.