A series of dreams: the video – who and how.

Note from the publisher: if you are outside the UK you might find one or more of these videos unavailable in your country.  If so, it is always worth going onto your search engine of choice and simply typing in the details of the video (eg Series of Dreams, Di Gregori) and it might come up.  I can’t guarantee it, but it happens quite often.

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by Geoffrey Morrow

I thought I’d get in touch with you after many years of enjoying your vast and enduring
enthusiasm for someone I’ve also always greatly admired since my own mid-teenage
years in 1964-65.

Like many people, besides the music, I’ve long been interested in the visual
minutiae of all things Dylan and I thought I would provide you with some facts that
might interest you, by giving you а little, perhaps new, background information
regarding what is considered to be by many of us the best authorized video made for
а song in BD’s vast catalogue; А Series of Dreams.

The official directorship of the video has always been given to the then LA-based Miert Avis, who, at the time, worked for the newly instigated Santa Monica-based wing of Dublin’s Windmill Lane recording and production studios.

While the production was in fact under his directorship and guidance, I’ve always felt that the much more significant contribution to the project was provided by my old friend Charlie Whisker, whose early and newly absorbed (1990) computer animation skills and personal art imagery suffuse the entire video.

I understand that this is all a bit old, but I still imagine that you and the team there might be interested in some of the background details of this production being fleshed out а little, with information on how the vibrantly interconnected imagery came about.

First a little background about Charlie’s and my long friendship and my subsequent
association with him on this project. We met while attending art college in Belfast from
1966 to1970. We both studied painting there and have continued to be connected to
the art world both as painters, and in my case, predominantly in the art conservation
side of things.

Charlie has lived for extended periods in London, California and Ireland where he still is а well known and highly regarded artist, unfortunately now in the descending grip of early on-set dementia. In а way this awful fact over the last 6-8 years has instigated the sending of this to you. I would like more people to know of both his own art and his important contribution to the world of BD studies that still resonates for many of us through this one magnificent work of video art, before he slips further away.

We’ve both spent time in BD’s company in the past and the possibility of somehow contributing even in а very small way to his art (that presented itself when Windmill Lane Santa Monica won the job of making the Series of Dreams video in 1990-91) gave us both great happiness at the time and still does.

Charlie’s association with Windmill Lane Dublin is closely connected to both his and his ex-wife’s friendship with and the early beginnings of U2, who have recorded most of their records there. That’s а whole other story but directly connected to Charlie leaving the world of teaching painting in the Dublin art college, to his working at Windmill Lane West in Santa Monica as an artist and video animator.

In 1990 the team from Windmill Lane West was given access to BD for only а few hours
in New York City in which to shoot some useful film footage but very little of that (the B&W meat market scenes where Dylan points and laughs at а sign saying ‘Т-Bone
Automotive services’) survives in the completed video.

From that afternoon’s shoot, those few seconds were all that was considered in any way usable. It seemed to have been а calamitously blown opportunity at the time and the dilemma for the team was how now to save the project and make а video worthy of the soon to be released ‘new’ song that would be the first track of what was to be the very first triple disc of the still continuing Bootleg Series of releases.

When back in Santa Monica, all turned to Charlie in the hope that he could conjure something out of almost nothing using previously existing footage for what was considered a very important project by the whole team. That’s when Charlie called me here in Ottawa and we began to discuss what might be possible.

Sony were happy to allow the use of just about anything they had as far as already available and unreleased film footage was concerned. This led to the previously unreleased Eat the Document being provided, along with some other bits and pieces of film. It was а scramble but it was something to be going along with and sections of film that could be coordinated and aligned with the lyric of the song began to be selected out of the film imagery they had given permission to use.

There  was still а lot of song/sound running time to be somehow filled-in with relevant
visuals that would enhance the quite different and strange world being called into
vision by the lyric and slightly ominous sound of the song’s trajectory and thrust.

When Avis gave Charlie permission to go for anything he could put together, further discussions began to form into what would result in the final flow of film imagery, photographs and hand-written words in the completed video. Much of the painted or drawn background imagery (apart from well known artworks by famous painters such as Bosch or Piranesi etc.) is taken directly from Charlie’s own artwork, mostly seen as the backdrop to animated sequences in the final video.

Among photographs of our collective heroes such as Rimbaud, Lenny Bruce and Dylan Thomas were several photographs inserted into existing footage that were taken by either Charlie or myself at various times over the course of our lives. The one of Charlie sitting directly across the street from Umberto’s Clam Bar in New York’s Little Italy (where Joey Gallo had been gunned down years earlier) I shot in 1987 while we were in town for а U2 concert at Madison Square Gardens. The same image, of his head only, repeats in the mirror behind the merging and distorting faces of BD and ‘the science student’ from Don’t Look Back а little later.

On top of this shot of Charlie’s head is an inscription resembling that seen in the convex mirror background of the famous Jan Van Eyck painting of the Arnolfini Wedding, on which Van Eyck has inscribed ‘I Jan Van Eyck painted this’ as а tribute to that wonderful work, except in the video it says, ‘I Charlie Whisker painted this’.

All of the varied written inscriptions seen throughout the sequences are in Charlie’s distinctive handwriting referring to various different things. Rimbaud’s poetry as an example can be seen referenced in the sequence of coloured vowels at the end of the video in а homage to his famous poem ‘Vowels’. We were having fun with all this of course.

It wasn’t until Charlie had completed the video and sent me а copy on VHS tape that I realized that he had also slipped an image of myself into the mix. In the longer train carriage sequence about two thirds of the way in, where the 1965 BD is peering out the window from within а British train carriage from Dont Look Back footage, the outside passing landscape has been altered and changed into passing images of various things and people; from а Piranesi drawing of а dungeon to Napoleon on а White horse and Jack Kerouac smoking а cigarette.

I was delighted to find there too was a brief and fleeting image of myself passing by, holding at arm’s-length а fabricated (in being computer-drawn rather than actual) but rather real looking poisonous monitor lizard by the tail. He had taken аn earlier photograph of me from 1977 that I’d sent to him among others just after my wife and I had arrived here in Ottawa from London (where he still lived at the time) and which he had then reused all those years later for this purpose.

In short, he had not been able to resist the opportunity of embedding the both of us in this video and to this day I still get an enormous kick out of being seen in the thing for about one second. If I was а BD aficionado who loved this video at the time and still possibly did, I know I would have studied every frame of its packed overflow of references and wondered who the hell is that passing by just after Jack Kerouac and would’ve been stumped. I just thought you’d like to have this (vast and highly important) mystery revealed. So now you know. As I say, we were having а bit of fun with it.

The bald chap (Charlie) and the other one with the hair (me) will be travelling the universe
forever with our greatest hero and now lifelong inspiration. What a trip for us it’s been.

So, as I reach the age of 72 and whose daily routine still includes checking out your
wonderful website, I’d simply like to thank you for all you do by providing this little
snippet of obscure information for your files. If you would like to hear about the
afternoon I spent hanging out with BD and his crew in the cinema he later appeared in
that same night on May 6th 1966 in Belfast (smuggled in by the dear but quite recently
departed Mickey Jones, who admonished me as we passed through the stage door “Don’t tell anyone I brought you in here, OK”.) I’d be glad to relay the strange and awesome afternoon I had there observing and listening quietly from the side-lines for those few hours that are still seared into my memory of that unique day. Just let me
know. I’d be happy to do so.

As а skinny 17-year-old grammar school kid with a sketch pad under his arm and а determination to draw my God-like hero, I was close to both а nerve wracking kind of heaven and my first true out-of-body experience. And unfortunately as it turned out, and to my dying shame, towards the end of that afternoon, to be the recipient of Bob and his band’s (later The Band) quite terrifyingly confrontational displeasure. They didn’t even know I had been there for those few hours.

The concert that night knocked all new doubts (as to what strange behaviour by mere
mortals I had witnessed over that afternoon) out of my mind as I tried to absorb this new
and utterly visually altered version of an artist who was so fаr ahead of his UK audience back then as to be barely recognizable.

I hope that you and anyone else reading this will check out Charlie Whisker’s paintings
on-line and think of his wonderful contribution to this still riveting video as he himself
slips further into an uncertain future in Dublin.

Thanks for your attention and all your great work.
Geoffrey Morrow

Untold Dylan

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3 Responses to A series of dreams: the video – who and how.

  1. John McClean says:

    Very moving and enjoyable read.
    I remember staying at Charlie’s house for a couple of nights on a short trip to LA and he showed me it on his VHS player just before it got published. It was easy to see he had had such a memorable and enjoyable time making it. He just couldn’t believe they had given him access to all that BD material. it was like a dream come true for him. He was in awe. You have to remember how little information/material there was at all back in Bangor and Belfast in the sixties and early seventies when we literally listening to Dylan for hours daily. Just the albums basically. The video is the work of a very, very unique person, in fact possibly the work of a genius. And as described with a trademark handwriting. Thanks to Geoff for the article.

  2. TonyAttwood says:

    If the videos won’t show where you are it is worth doing a search, as they can often be found from a different source in different parts of the world

  3. Larry fyffe says:

    Bob Dylan: Series of Dreams-HughChaloner

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