The Big Nowhere

Rudy Wurlitzer's Rediscovered Trilogy and Bob Dylan Revisited

by Rodger Jacobs

17 December 2009

Photo (partial) of the Nevada desert found on The Fur Trapper.com 

Down the Comic Book Trail with Bob Dylan

Down the Comic Book Trail with Bob Dylan

“No one knows Bob Dylan,” Rudy Wurlitzer told me earlier this year, “absolutely no one.”

In the July 2009 installment of the Deconstruction Zone (“Rudy Wurlitzer, Bob Dylan, Bloody Sam, and the Jornado del Muerto”) we explored the intersection between the careers of Wurlitzer and shape-shifting songwriter and performer Bob Dylan in the early ‘70s via Sam Peckinpah’s revisionist western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Wurlitzer penned the screenplay and Dylan appeared in the film as the enigmatic character of Alias).

cover art

Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan’s Songs

Bob Dylan

(W.W. Norton)
US: Nov 2009

It was with amusing synchronicity then that the reissue of Wurlitzer’s Flats and Quake should end up on our desk for review in the same month that Bob Dylan Revisited dropped into our lap for consideration.

Presented by publisher W.W. Norton and Company as “a standing testament to the universality and transcendent vision of Dylan’s American music”, Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan’s Songs, is nothing more and nothing less than reinterpretations of the lyrics of 13 classic Dylan tunes by leading contemporary graphic artists, many of them French. Unfortunately, attempting to appreciate the work on display in Bob Dylan Revisited is like visiting an art gallery without a guide or trying to understand Dylan’s own baffling persona without a fleet of psychiatrists at your side.

“No one knows Bob Dylan,” Rudy Wurlitzer told me earlier this year, “absolutely no one.” A very apropos comment from Wurlitzer, considering that we just spent the last 3,000 words briefly exploring the implosion of self and self-identity, a topic that no meaningful analysis of Dylan’s life and career could possibly hope to avoid.

“Americans are spoiled,” Dylan declared to an interviewer in the late ‘70s, “they expect art to be like wallpaper with no effort, just to be there.”  (Speaking at a press tour for Renaldo and Clara,  1976.)

Oddly enough, Dylan’s sentiment employs the precise verbiage this writer would use to describe Bob Dylan Revisited, a work sanctioned and approved by the artist himself and Sony Music. There are some outstanding artists onboard such as Dave McKean of Sandman fame in an epic, operatic interpretation of Dylan’s Desolation Road, and Gradimir Smudja’s sepia-toned, semi-documentary approach to Dylan’s ballad Hurricane is certainly memorable, but, as the man said, writing about art is like dancing to architecture and to compound matters there is no there there in Bob Dylan Revisited.

Bob Dylan Revisited just lays on the page like yesterday’s dead fish wrapped in the Sunday Funnies; there are absolutely no artist bios in the book and no creative or mission statements from the 13 artists. It is well-known that the gifted Dylan is a difficult and controlling public persona, so one cannot help but wonder if his endorsement came at the cost of overshadowing the artists involved in the creation of the book, keeping the focus entirely centered on the man and his lyrics.

As much as I admire Dylan – his music forms a virtual soundtrack to my life – this promising book reeks of a vanity project that seeks to downplay the artistic contributions of others while further promoting an artist who needs no further promotion and who most certainly did not arrive at his mythical status all by his lonesome. (Interestingly, Norton credits Bob Dylan as the author of the book.)

“They’ll rebuild all of this and we won’t remember it happened,” a refugee says in Wurlitzer’s Quake. “That’s the way of this country. Thank God, my dear, that we can’t remember who we are, what we come from.”

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