When in 1970 Nik Cohn and Guy Peellaert embarked on their collaboration for the Rock Dreams series with the aim of capturing the "daydreams" that had shaped popular music as a collective fantasy from Frank Sinatra to David Bowie, they chose to deal with Bob Dylan with a suite of four distinct images under the title Robert Zimmerman, His Journeys and Adventures. The ensemble was conceived as an odyssey depicting the young Zimmerman at defining turning points, from frail runaway teen to "Voice of a Generation", and from international stardom to reclusive family man.
Twenty-five years later, Cohn and Peellaert's Twentieth Century Dreams series, building on similar principles to convey the "secret history" of the past century, did not leave out Dylan. This time, the elusive folk legend was paired with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in a "dream" that encapsulated several of the musician's incarnations : the drug-hazed poet, the would-be painter, and the Jewish bard.
Could Cohn and Peellaert ever have anticipated Zimmerman's latest incarnation as the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature ? As the world impatiently awaits Mr Dylan's comments, Peellaert's works remind us that images really are worth a thousand words.
Very young and frail, Bob left his home one day and set forth to seek his fortune, with his possessions knotted in a red-spotted handkerchief and his pussycat at his heels. Then he slept in logging camps, in ditches and swamps and mudflats next to railroad tracks and inside county jails, with only his guitar to keep him company, and he journeyed all through America.
Itinerant minstrel, he sang and played as he travelled and, somewhere on the road, his eyes opened wide and his soul was filled with purpose, a spirit of crusade. From that moment forward, his path was set and he bent himself to the ceaseless combatting of tyrannies, the righting of wrongs and overthrow of hypocrisies, until peace and love should spread to all mankind. Thus, when at last he reached New York, he did not hesitate but rushed pellmell to Bleeker Street, where his message might be best understood. In bars and dimlit cellars, he sang through his nose and preached, and all who heard him were thunderstruck.
Soon his fame spread and he toured, grew rich and was worshipped. Messianic, he need only point his finger and the temples trembled before him. Now he travelled the world, a potentate, whose person was sacred, whose every word was scripture, and the multitudes flocked to see him, and touch him, and bend to kiss his feet.
However, even Messiahs must have hobbies, and Zimmerman’s was his motorbike, which proved to be his downfall. For one night, he fell off and broke his neck, and very nearly died. Thankfully, he was spared and, in time, he made his recovery. But, in the meantime his tastes had changed and age had made him mellow, so that he no longer played at potentates. Instead, he grew plump and became a Jewish patriarch, with six children and a homestead, where he sat at the kitchen table, the American dream personified, eating country pie…
When pressed to explain the ideas behind Promised Lands, Peellaert offered the following :
"Dylan had always dreamed of an ideal Israel, so this image of Chagall-esque hallucination evokes that... Of course we know Israel is far from that ideal, as are the kibbutz of the beginnings. As Dylan is hosted by Golda Meir as part of a state visit, he escapes to his room pretending to be sick and lights up a joint. Seeing him pallid, Meir arrives with a broth like a good Jewish mother. It's all a bit of a joke about Israel."