Just a taste of how old baby boomers are getting: Who remembers when Bob Dylan's first album came out? This month marks the 50th anniversary of the album Bob Dylan -- and to celebrate Life books is putting out a new book on Dylan, Forever Young: 50 Years of Song. Yeah, a new Dylan book to join the dozens of others. Yawn.
But wait: This is a Life book, and Life has always meant great pictures. "Our photo editors Bobby Burrows and Christina Lieberman were both working with us that long ago, and are still with us today," said author and editor Robert Sullivan. "They know these photographers, they know where the photographs are buried, and they know who has the stuff that hasn't been seen yet. We went after that, and tried to distinguish the book that way."
There are a lot of photos that do make this distinction. Sullivan spend over a tenth of the book on the seven-or-so year period in Woodstock, during the late 60s and early 70s. Dylan, recovering from a serious motorcycle accident, hunkered down in the bucolic New York town to raise his kids out of the limelight. There is a series of images, for example, of Dylan with his children playing on a trampoline. Not the way most people visualize Dylan.
"The photos from Woodstock, by Elliott Landy, are really intimate and rarely seen," said Sullivan. "It's rarely seen, in part, because nobody really cared about Dylan at that point in time. They had sort of written him off, or were ignoring him. He was just recovering and then he invited The Band up to see what they wanted to do. He was putting it all back together. From my perspective, that's the most interesting stuff in the whole book, the most intimate, and also the most surprising. He and Sara were dedicated to raising a family. If you talk to Jacob, or anyone else, Bob was a pretty devoted father, which is an interesting take on the whole Dylan story. That it exists in photography was special to us. It really helped anchor the book."
Forever Young covers the span of Dylan's life, from baby pictures to recent photos shaking hands with President Obama. Sullivan's prose, while there is a good amount of it, doesn't really explore any new ground. But, that's hardly the point. There are images from Dylan's movies, from many tours, with other notables from his early Village days with Dave Van Ronk to his tenure as a Traveling Wilbury.
There are pictures of him with Johnny Cash, Sonny and Cher, author James Baldwin (who seems to be wondering 'who is this kid?'), Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bono, Jack Nicholson, and a bunch of appearances by Allen Ginsberg. "Dylan was always there," Sullivan noted, "and he was always on the fringe. People like to associate with him."
Putting a project like this together is a herculean effort (I've done a similar book on Springsteen, so I know). There are clearances to clear, photos to find, and you just don't want too much in there that everyone has seen. Of course, having the resources of Life at your disposal makes all of this a lot easier.
"We all grew up as Stones and Dylan and Beatles fans, so we kind of know where to go," said Sullivan. "Bobby (Burrows) has very close relationships with Ken Regan, Lynn Goldsmith, and all of the people who were shooting back in the day of the Beatles: Harry Benson, Robert Whittaker. Life was, in the 60s and 70s, the preeminent weekly photo magazine in the world. We were going to all of these people back then, so we know where to go now. When we go to Harry Benson on the Beatles, we say, 'Yeah, sure. We want the pillow-fight shot at the Olympia Hotel in Paris, which is one of the most famous Beatle's pictures ever, but what can you give us that people haven't seen yet?' The more we can surprise the audience, the more we can bring something new to it, the better the book is."
Sullivan, in fact, makes having a few years under his cap seem like a pretty good thing when it comes to a project like this. "We know all these guys, mostly because we're old, but Sir Paul is old, too, and Sir Mick. Because of that, we have an advantage of getting stuff that hasn't been seen."
Check out the slideshow below for images from Forever Young. Forever Young: 50 Years of Song publishes May 22 in soft cover and July 24 in hard cover.