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.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, the last of these apartments -- which numbered among their habituees everyone from Mark Twain and Norman Mailer to Marlon Brando and New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham -- has recently been cleared. From the NYT, 8/27/10: "The Carnegie Hall Corporation announced in 2007 that it would demolish the commercial and residential studios — which in their 1950s Bohemian heyday numbered as many as 170 — to create educational and rehearsal space for the hall. The $200 million project is to be completed in 2014." Took three years to clear out the last of the renters, who were in their 70s and 80s.