Dylan’s latest paintings are coming into the world under the title of “The Beaten Path” and are, according to those in the know (my wife, art history major Norma among them) are a departure from his previous, more impressionistic “Drawn Blank Series.”
On Nobel Eve, with snow in the forecast and the identity of who will be delivering Dylan’s address at 10:18 p..m. the next night still a mystery, I met Ann and Pelle at MIVA Gallery for champagne, olives, canapés, and a viewing of fifteen assorted Dylan prints as well as Ed Finell’s photographs of Dylan at the Los Angeles Forum when he went on tour with the Band.
Finell, a Los Angeles-born expat who has lived in Sweden for years, was smoking a cigarette out front by a red ceramic pig and in front of one of his Kodachromes of Dylan. We compared notes on what the Electoral College might be doing back in the States and then started talking Bob. Over the course of the next hour, between his conversations with the twenty or so people who milled in MIVA, he told me some great off-the record stories about the various rockers he has photographed over the years (I can share that Keith Richards came off very well, Mick Jagger tends to run with his fellow “LVs”—lead vocalists, as Finell explained to me, and that Dylan once asked Finell if he could take pictures with his Leica).
Dylan’s latest paintings are coming into the world under the title of “The Beaten Path” and are, according to those in the know (my wife, art history major Norma among them) are a departure from his previous, more impressionistic “Drawn Blank Series.” MIVA had a few from both phases, and I sided with those who preferred the brighter, more recent works steeped in popular culture references—wigwams in Arizona, movie marquees and taco stands in East Los Angeles, fuzzy dice on rear view mirrors—to those depicting roads, railroad tracks, or swimming pools. It was nice to be that close to more pieces of Dylan, more of his art that got people talking and, yes, disagreeing. They were a bit out of my current price range, as were Finell’s photos. But I have them in my head and on my cell phone.
Ann, Pelle and I then walked for ten minutes to the apartment of Torsten Sundberg, the ninety-year father of Ann’s colleague Steffan who also works the Nobel events. He will be escorting Patti Smith to the Concert Hall and the Banquet, which I took about as close as I’m going to get to Patti. Torsten, a terrific looking man with a great head of hair and a greater chuckle, invited us in and up into his attic turned library. He was playing Leonard Cohen’s final album, You Want It Darker, and shared with me that he believed Cohen “more of a poet than Dylan.” In the course of our conversation I asked him if he was a musician and he said, “No. I would like to be but am not talented that way. What do you Americans call love that is not answered?” I thought about that for a long ten seconds and could not do his poetic question translational justice. I offered, “sad” and Torsten laughed generously. He showed me his library and told me that it was such a delight to pull a book from a shelf and find a letter from fifteen years ago stored within. He translated some of the quotes he had taped to the shelves. They ranged from Jean Genet to Winnie the Pooh. A river of book love and whimsy ran through them all. He read me the opening paragraphs of his current favorite book, Norton’s Filosofiska Memoarer in which a dog tells his story philosophically. I read him a few Billy Collins poems and happily gave him my copy of Aimless Love, but not before taking a picture of a stanza of “(detail)” that I particularly love: “This was enough, this fraction of the whole,/just as the leafy scene in the windows was enough/now that the light was growing dim,/as was she enough, perfectly by herself/somewhere in the enormous mural of the world.” We spent a few minutes speculating about who would read Dylan’s address to the Swedish Academy, and I scored major points when I suggested that President Obama would be perfect. “Yes, he has such a wonderful voice,” Torsten said. We promised to write one another.
Steffan (who has a laugh to match his father’s and a fondness for House of Cards), Ann, Pelle and I headed past the Concert Hall with its Christmas lights and Carl Milles’ statue of Orpheus, toward a dinner of fish stew, movie talk, and watching Patti Smith sing Dylan’s “Changing of the Guards” on YouTube. As I sang and danced with Patti, another night turned into early morning. It was Nobel Day. And the snow would soon be softly falling faintly on the Laureates, the citizens of Stockholm, and me.