Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Art of the Cover - Bob Dylan's "Bringing It All Back Home" (1965)

Simply a stunning and iconic shot, probably the greatest piece of Dylan cover artwork - no small accolade when many of Dylan's album covers in this peerless period had some really powerful and timeless imagery. This, of course, comes from Dylan's fifth studio album, "Bringing It All Back Home" released in March 1965 on the Columbia label.

A wonderful cover that's a visual metaphor for the complex nature of the 1965 version of Bob - a 'snapshot' of what were then his influences, his priorities, his artistic spirit, his beliefs.

An innovative, cryptic and indeed very new type of album cover that fits perfectly with the rather 'schizophrenic' nature of the album itself (half electric, half acoustic) where Dylan clearly sets out on a new course, distancing himself greatly from his past work and persona. Musically he distances himself from the acoustic; stylistically he distances himself not only from the protest songs he had become synonymous with, but from the 'Folk Movement', more broadly; lyrically he distances himself from his rather linear former style as he begins to really explore more personal, intimate, poetic and abstract lyrical territories and themes.

The photograph came about after Dylan spent the summer writing and recording at the Woodstock home of Dylan's then manager, the controversial Albert Grossman. Bob would some five years later have a terminal falling out with Grossman and would, decades later, in Scorcese's "No Direction Home" documentary describe Grossman as "...kind of like a Colonel Tom Parker figure . . . you could smell him coming.” !! (Ouch!!! .. You can semse the level of respect Bob has for him in the end! There are, of course, rumours that Dylan's finances were seriously exploited by Grossman during the 8 years of their 'relationship'!)

The focal point of the great erotically-charged photograph by Daniel Kramer features Grossman's young and beautiful wife Sally (she was then 25 - almost 15 years younger than Grossman!) lounging languidly and sensually, cigarette in hand, regaled in ravishing reds (symbolising feminity and sexuality ... perhaps too, creativity - the Muse of fabled Grecian lore), on a chaise longue, with Bob seemingly crouched at her feet in a rather submissive pose!

Sally told Mojo magazine a few years back that - rather prosaically! - she took part in the shoot because ... "I was around, and Bob just asked me to do it." As for the stunning red dress, she said; "I don't think I've worn it again."

The now widowed Sally, who runs Grossman's Woodstock-based Bearsville Records, added; "It's amazing to be on an album cover that people remember 30 years later." I'm sure that it is!!!

BTW, the chaise longue in the photograph was a wedding gift to the Grossmans from the late Mary Travers of 'Peter, Paul and Mary' - a band that were another notable client of Grossman's.

Sensual Sally sure looks great, but she's far from being the only interesting thing in the shot.

Yap, artifacts with special meaning to, and particular influence on, His Bobness are scattered around the room / frame. These include a very eclectic array of LPs from the likes of soul/gospel outfit The Impressions ('Keep on Pushing'), the father of the Blues Robert Johnson ('King of the Delta Blues Singers'), sitar superstar Ravi Shankar -India's most famed musician, much beloved of the Fab Four .... and Norah Jones daddy, to boot! ('India's Master Musician'), Austrian classical singer Lotte Lenya ('Sings Berlin Theatre Songs by Kurt Weill') and folk/blues contemporary, influence and Dylan pal Eric Von Schmidt ('The Folk Blues of Eric Von Schmidt'.)

Visible behind Sally is the top of a shot of Dylan's head from the cover of 'Another Side of Bob Dylan' (a reference to where Bob's been artistically - although it now very much represents his past, it's a past that's not forgotten.) Under her right arm is the January 1st, 1965 edition of Time magazine with Lyndon B. Johnson on the cover (symbolising change. A new year. A new time. A new Bob.) and Bob's harmonica resting on a table ('put to one side') with a fallout shelter sign reading "capacity 80" (Symbolising the Fifties. The past. Fear.) leaning against it.

Above the fireplace on the mantle directly to the left of the painting is the Lord Buckley album 'The Best Of Lord Buckley' (Eccentricity. Poetry. Abstraction. Humour.)

The very, erm ... 'idiosyncratic' Buckley - and indeed most of the artists referenced in the shot - would feature on Bob's 'Theme Time Radio Hour' show many decades later, illustrating the level of meaning he ascribed, and still ascribes, to these figures.

Also on the mantle are some interesting looking artifacts, though it's real hard to make them out. A drawing of a sad clown (Bob?), sits above a picture of roses (a piece of occult symbolism?). On the left is what seems like an ancient relic of some sort (a depiction of a musician?) and a candlestick that, in the shot, appears like a piece of religious (Christian) iconography. On the right is a painting of I'm not sure who (is that Byron?) and on the far right , seemingly, another a piece of religious iconography.

Dylan sits forward holding a cat (Sexuality. Occult symbolism?) and has an opened magazine resting on his crossed leg featuring an advertisement on cult cutie Jean Harlow's Life Story (Sexuality. The media machine.) by the columnist Louella Parsons (symbolising the hounding of Bob by the media, perhaps.)

All shot in a vibrant, spaced-out, mid-zoom, 'fish-eye' style by Kramer. ... Gorgeous!!

A final piece of trivia ... the rather large cufflinks Dylan wears in the picture are a gift from Joan Baez, as referred to in her 1975 hit "Diamonds & Rust", as well as in her 1987 autobiography.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm Sally Grossman as a muse or temptress?
Funny and ironic as Dylan soon came to realise that her most unphotogenic husband Albert was literally screwing him out of millions.

When he was recalibrating his craft at Woodstock thinking hard on his exploitation by Mr Grossman Bob was penning his anger into songs like "Wheels on Fire" and "I Shall Be Released".

Wonder what Dylan thought about this clever cover shot then.

Albert's trophy young woman in red like a dominatrix cigarette in hand and Dylan- the cash cow- in a crouch at her feet. I can imagine just looking at this shot would have inspired a few songs.

stupid and contagious said...

Great comment.

Yap, there's some weird S/M stuff and multi-layered metaphor going on here, alright!

Sally is so f*cking hot though!!

Anonymous said...

There were rumors in the mid-60s that the woman in the photo was Dylan in drag, probably contributed to by Sally Grossman's jawline. Someone could look at the psychology of Grossman choosing a wife that had some physical similarities to his big moneymaker.

stupid and contagious said...

Haha! There is something of a vague similarity there, now that you mention it!!

Maybe he just coudn't get enough of f*cking Bob!

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