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A Dylan Dream Becomes Reality

Tue, 12/19/2023 - 08:54
Bob Dylan was captured by Richard Avedon in Manhattan's Central Park on Feb. 10, 1965. The photo is in a new book, "Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine," published by Nicholas Callaway.
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

Publishing a book on Bob Dylan is one thing. Making it stand out among the two thousand existing books on the iconic musician is quite another. 

And yet, it has been done. Seven years in the making, "Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine," issued this autumn by East Hampton-based Callaway Arts & Entertainment, is the essential tome on the artist's life and work in 607 pages of text, photographs, typewritten lyric sheets, hand-scrawled notes, and innumerable other artifacts that are compiled at the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Okla., which houses more than 100,000 items.

At 82, Mr. Dylan, whose late-career renaissance stretches back at least to 1997's "Time Out of Mind" album, continues an active recording and touring schedule. In 2016, the Minnesota-born troubadour donated his archive of recordings and artifacts to the George Kaiser Family Foundation of Tulsa. 

"My first thought was, one could do a book unlike anything that's ever been done," said Nicholas Callaway, who founded Callaway Arts & Entertainment 43 years ago, "because, one, artists almost never preserve their work. Second, it's very rare that an archive is created and kept together and institutionalized, and, third, it would be digitized." Very often, he said, a publisher is "faced with trying to be a combination of archaeologist and detective, and find and put it all together, and that's an enormous task." 

Nicholas Callaway, the publisher of "Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine," said the book was seven years in the making, with written and visual components intended to be in conversation with one another. Courtesy of Nicholas Callaway

"We're a cross-platform media company, and we're working with great artists of all kinds, both past and present," Mr. Callaway said. The publisher produces books in print and digital form, apps, animated television series, and immersive, location-based entertainment. "The digital world can do almost anything we can imagine, and even things we can't imagine. We create digital assets of such high quality that then we can execute them across many different media."

At $100, "Mixing Up the Medicine" might be considered expensive, were it an ordinary book. But Mr. Callaway does not do ordinary. Callaway Arts & Entertainment's "The Sistine Chapel Trilogy," limited to 600 numbered sets, costs $22,000. Every inch of the chapel was captured, at the highest resolution possible, in more than 270,000 frames. "Now," he said, "that's a bank of digital assets that we can output in whatever form, so now we're working on the virtual Sistine Chapel as a traveling digital interactive exhibition. It's the ultimate facsimile of the entire Sistine Chapel in three volumes. This enables us to see it in a way no one has since [Michelangelo] painted it."

Callaway is "unlike any other publishing company in the world," its founder said. "One of my points has been that we're living a series of technological revolutions that have fundamentally changed the course of media, how imagery and content is transmitted. We are a small company that works across all media and generally on a global scale. So, a small number of projects, but we try to do ones that are meaningful, and that will be lasting." 

"Mixing Up the Medicine" is the latest example of this tenet. "There's never been a book of this scale or depth or comprehensiveness -- probably never will be, either." Locally, it is available at BookHampton in East Hampton, E-E Home in Amagansett, and Sag Harbor Books. 

This labor of love is a natural pursuit, given all that preceded it. In late summer 1965, Mr. Callaway, age 11, saw the Beatles perform at what is now the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan (Callaway Arts & Entertainment also published "The Beatles: Get Back," a companion to Peter Jackson's 2021 documentary of the same name). "And the second concert I ever saw was Dylan, six months later at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia." He was already a fan, "because my father happened to both play folk guitar and loved the folk singers. He had bought Dylan's first album in 1962, so by the time I saw his concert I knew the first three albums." 

The singer-songwriter, he said, is "my lifelong north star as an artist, as a monumental creative figure of our time -- or of any time."

His company is also a reflection of a life immersed in art, photography, and adventure. He founded it at 27, having been published and exhibited since adolescence. "I was an artist and photographer, and a classicist," he said. "I was very serious about photography at an early age. It was a great era in photography, sort of the glory years of 20th-century photography, and I had the good fortune to study with some of the greats, like Walker Evans, Minor White, Ansel Adams. So I was on a path to be a photographer after college," at Harvard University. "Then I went off to Europe on a fellowship to do a yearlong art project, and then got a few other grants." 

He might have been an expatriate, "but I ran out of money," and then met Virginia Zabriskie, "who was starting a gallery in Paris." At 22, "I found myself running a gallery and curating, exhibiting, and publishing catalogs. We did 20 shows in two years, and every one of them was pioneering, because it was all terra incognito. It was an amazing time to be there." 

The gallery exhibited the work of luminaries including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander, Alfred Stieglitz, and Paul Strand. "I found myself at a very early age being a gallerist and a curator and a producer and a spokesperson to an international audience for art and photography." 

The photographers and other artists whose work was exhibited all wanted books of their work, Mr. Callaway recalled. "I guess I wasn't made to work for anybody. I wanted to start something on my own. And realizing that all these artists and photographers wanted books, I thought, 'Maybe I can start a publishing company.' "

He returned to New York and got started. "Our early specialty was photography," he said. "I just went after my heroes" -- Irving Penn, Georgia O'Keeffe, and her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. "I've always believed that books have a kind of totemic power to change lives. So I combined my interests in literature, in bookmaking, and in the arts by starting a publishing company." 

His passions merge in his work, as manifested in "Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine." 

The exterior and interior of the book.

"My ideal are books where the written component and the visual component are built in a conversation with each other, where neither the words nor the images dominate," he said. "I wanted to put everything I've learned in 40-plus years of what I call trying to make the printed page sing -- literally so, with this great artist. What an incredible opportunity to try to make a book where all of those elements would sing together. I hope we've done at least some small measure of justice to Dylan."

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