Friday, October 1, 2010
Dylan's Blue Period
In the spring of 1974, after the tour with the Band that would spawn Before the Flood, Bob Dylan showed up at a painter's studio on the 11th floor, high above Carnegie Hall on 57th Street in New York. The painter was named Norman Raeben, and he was the son of the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem; Dylan had turned to him for some Hebraic guidance.
But Dylan was also, of course, a painter himself, having done the covers for the Band's Music From Big Pink and his own unjustly maligned (well, OK, not that unjustly) Self-Portrait. So in addition to steeping himself in Raeben's knowledge of Jewish philosophy, Dylan also used their acquaintance as an opportunity to learn how to paint better. So for two months, Dylan spent all day, from 8:30 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon, at Raeben's studio, working on both his painting and his spiritual heritage.
One day Dylan painted a still life of a vase, all in blue - apparently too much blue, because Norman Raeben, who had a penchant for calling Dylan (as well as his other students) an idiot, told him the colors were all wrong. Dylan, as Raeben put it, was all tangled up in blue. I don't know how much improvement Dylan ever saw in his painting skills from all these sessions, but at least he got a song title out of them.