Review by Tony Attwood
I’ve had “Bob Dylan’s Malibu” by Martin Newman on my desk and indeed my living room sofa for several weeks now, pondering how to write this review. Actually more than that. Could even be a couple of months.
And if you are a regular reader here you might be a little surprised at that, perhaps having got the notion that I am not normally that short of words – and by and large I would go along with that, including when it comes to reviewing books.
But “Bob Dylan’s Malibu” is so unusual I have found myself putting it to one side, picking it up, putting it aside… Not because there is anything wrong with it, far from it, but because of the effect it has on me, and because I am not sure how to describe the book, or the effect.
I’ll start with the facts. The book consists of Martin Newman’s “experiences” with Bob Dylan in the 70s in Malibu and elsewhere. And because I don’t know where else to start I’ll describe the opening chapter. The author’s friend is wearing a jacket the author had made. A lady approaches and asks where the jacket came from. On hearing it was made by a friend the lady asks if the friend could make one for the lady, and the lady’s friend.
So ok, we are getting a multiplicity of friends. Could be confusing, but let’s go on.
All is agreed and Martin Newman, the author, goes to meet the lady and her friend. Newman makes the jacket, and through this intro gets to know Bob and Sara, helps with the design and decor of the family’s houses in Malibu (as one does), and Bob wears one of Newman’s jackets on the cover of the Basement Tapes album. For reasons unexplained Bob gave Martin Newman the jacket back and Newman auctiones it for £11,032 (a very odd price – was the auctioneer calling “I have 11,029 pounds, any advance, I have 11,030 pounds, any advance that I have….”) in 2012 in London.
In story 2, the gang go to a “Renaissance Pleasure Faire”. Bob wears a disguise but is recognised and has to be hassled out. Later they go to a Ramona Pageant but no one recognises Bob.
In story 3, the guys try to buy a vintage National guitar to give as a present to a member of the band. They meet Don who has some. Don’s son comes in and starts dancing. Bob buys five guitars.
In story 4, they go to the Baked Potato club and sit in a dark corner so Bob is not recognised. On the way out he bumps into David Blue (who played in the Rolling Thunder Review), which is nice as the guys hadn’t seen each other for five years or more.
And this is how it goes. We’re told that the Baked Potato club is still going strong, but not (in case the reader doesn’t know, and why should the reader know everything?) that David Blue died suddenly in his early 40s. Or come to that why David was important.
Plus all the way through there are pictures. A sign outside a famous night club, a wide angle lens shot of a studio, a pic of the most popular dish in the Baked Potato…
This is not a book to get if you want something that has checked out the facts and done all the research. The line “I think she has written a book about it” in the “Yoga on a rope” chapter is typical. Indeed most writers would look up whether or not she (whoever she is) had written a book about it and if so what it was called and who published it, but no… this is like the writer is there in the room, lazing back in an old time rock chair, cigarette in one hand, whisky is the other, eyes half closed, keeping the family entertained with memories. At the end of one tale one of those gathered around shouts, “Hey granddad did you ever see her again?” but granddad has closed his eyes and is nodding happily to himself, and the parents carefully usher the children out, a finger over the mouth…. Granddad’s having a snooze now…
Is this fair? I really have no idea because these stories and the pictures (“here’s a donkey that thinks he’s a dog…”) go on for a little while and then just stop. The author is living with Bruce (no surname provided) and Bob turns up in a helicopter unannounced. Oh, except the author doesn’t remember the helicopter, but two of his friends swear that Bob definitely turned up in a chopper. Turn the page.
Maybe that’s how life was for these guys. They give each other presents. They turn up suddenly, nothing is really planned. Stuff happens.
If you’ve never had a life like this, where the money is in place, and you can just hire a chopper and drop in, the lifestyle takes some adjusting to. At first it seems all a bit false and fake, but keep going, and gradually you get the idea of what a weird life these people live. Bob says, “His eyes are like lakes” and the author thinks, “Wow!” Yep, that is how it goes.
The point is, if you can stay with the book and read 40 or more pages at a time, the truly weird life these people lead does begin to make itself seem real. And that’s the point. You have to keep going and immerse yourself in the work, not treat it like a coffee table volume. I even found the typeface more than a little disturbing. But, well, us folk who write ordinary books for ordinary people, what do we know of life?
Bob Dylan’s Malibu is published by Edlis Cafe Press, Hibbing, 2021 (ISBN 9781736972304). If it makes no impression on you, you’ve either never been near that scene, or you’ve been there so long you’ve forgotten how weird it all is (or was). As for me, even the typeface was alarming.
You can read details of some of recent articles and series on the home page of this site If you want to provide an article, or have an idea for a series, or pretty much anything else that is sort of Bob Dylan-ish please email Tony@schools.co.uk We’re awfully nice people, but we don’t pay for articles. Sorry.