The Early Years of the
Bob Dylan wearing a top hat in Philadelphia, 1964. Photo © Daniel Kramer
The exhibition “Bob Dylan: The Rock Explosion 61-66” at the Cité de la Musique in Paris admirably fulfills a double purpose by providing a nostalgic look back (even though Dylan warned us not to) at the singer’s early years, while introducing him to younger generations and placing his development in the context of the folk music revival and his dramatic split with it when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, shocking his folkie fans but winning new ones.
This is no in-depth analysis of Dylan’s career but a kind of easygoing overview of one part of it. Interestingly, the crowd last Saturday afternoon was split almost evenly between aging hipsters and trendy young people, an indication of Dylan’s continuing appeal.
The show starts with an entertaining gallery of black-and-white photos by Daniel Kramer, who followed the rising young singer around with his camera, capturing the strange beauty of his baby face and his cocky arrogance. Some show a lighthearted, joyful, even goofy side that we don’t usually identify with Dylan, as in the picture of him ironing Joan Baez’s hair.
Having followed Dylan’s career pretty closely over the years and seen all the films, documentaries and wonderful interviews in which he inevitably confounds the press with his oblique answers to clichéd questions, the only thing new for me was the last part of the show, which covers his visits to France during the period. I discovered that he had a crush on Françoise Hardy and that he hung out with Johnny Hallyday, of all people – not exactly the most avant-garde of French singers. One would have expected him to be more of a Serge Gainsbourg aficionado.
Speaking of Gainsbourg, the Cité de la Musique’s show on his career a couple of years ago was much richer and more inventive than this one, truly plunging visitors into his world. While the Dylan exhibition includes plenty of photos, recordings (the friend I went with was almost in tears as he listened to “Like a Rolling Stone” on headphones), film clips, guitars and other artifacts that once belonged to various rock stars, it was hard to see the relevance of a shirt once worn by Elvis Presley, for example, and another by a member of the Kingston Trio (a tiny guy, apparently). It is amusing, however, to see little Bobby Zimmerman’s high-school yearbooks (he belonged to the Latin and social studies clubs, and his dearest wish was to play with Little Richard) and photos of his first teenage concerts with a band called the Golden Chords.
While it is great fun, the exhibition has a canned, Hard-Rock-Café feel to it that seems inappropriate for a character as idiosyncratic and enigmatic as Dylan, whom French writer Alain Rémond called the “electric Rimbaud.” It just doesn’t capture the weirdness of the man.
The title of the show, by the way, is something of a misnomer – didn’t rock explode in the 1950s?
Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais: 3, avenue du Général Eisenhower, 75008 Paris. Métro: Champs-Elysées Clemenceau. Tel.: 01 44 13 17 17. Open Wednesday -Monday, 10am-8pm; until 10pm on Thursday. Admission: €12. Through July 16, 2012. www.rmn.fr.
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© 2012 Paris Update