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Dreaming of Dylan
By Gary Wien
originally published: 11/27/2018
“I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours,” sang Bob Dylan in his song “Talking World War III Blues.” Mary Lee Kortes found inspiration in those words to compile a book entitled Dreaming of Dylan: 115 Dreams About Bob in which she shares several of her own dreams about Dylan as well as over 100 more from others around the world.
The title is an ode to “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” but the book is like the physical incarnation of Dylan’s “Talking World War III Blues.” In that song, Dylan shares quick snippets of dreams told to a psychiatrist - everything from being in the sewer with his lover to scaring a man at a hot-dog stand and stealing an abandoned Cadillac. He hopes to learn what the dreams mean, but it turns out the doctor had been having the same dreams - only slightly different. “I dreamt that the only person left after the war was me / I didn’t see you around”
That’s sort of the premise behind Kortes’ book. It is designed like a homemade literature magazine you could have picked up in the Village during the 60s - long before electronic typesetting and design. She weaves between short snippets and longer, more detailed dreams. Paired with more than 100 original images, illustrations, and photographs, the book is utterly fascinating and visually stunning. It reads and looks like a dream itself. Mark Melnick captured the design that Kortes imagined.
“I wanted it to have a sort of untidy, wild, and a not uniform look to it,” explained Kortes. “Because it’s a book about dreams and it’s a book about Bob Dylan. The experience of looking through it varies from page to page. I wanted every page to be a little different. I wanted a scrapbook feel and Mark got it exactly how I wanted it. He’s a brilliant designer.”
Kortes has published short stories before, but this is her first book. She’s best known for leading the band Mary Lee’s Corvette, which released several albums and a live song-for-song interpretations of Dylan’s classic Blood on the Tracks album. That release caught Bob’s eye and Mary Lee was invited to open several shows for him. This led to being fully embraced by Dylan’s devoted circle of fans. Over time people began to tell her about the dreams they’d had about Bob, which ultimately led to her curating this fascinating collection of dreams. To reach 115 dreams, she also reached out to her mailing list, Dylan fan sites, and social media sites. She received dreams from Patti Smith, Squirrel Nut Zippers frontman Jimbo Mathus, and Meg Griffin - former WNEW DJ (now on Sirius). She’s even got Dylan royalty in a dream piece by Kevin Odegard, a man whose guitar is heard on the memorable intro to Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.” The book also includes dreams from plenty of non-musicians; plumbers to poets to pastors, who appear alongside dentists, attorneys, and psychotherapists. Kortes says she wound up having to make some tough choices as she ended up with more than enough dreams to work with and the submissions kept coming.
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Some of the dreams in the book are poignant; some are disturbing; some are touching; and others are nothing short of bizarre. There are insightful pieces, funny stories, and some that are extremely dreamlike. Reading one after another will likely have you wondering why do so many people dream about Dylan?
“I think it’s because he’s been around so long and has been part of a lot of historical events and people have grown up with him or their parents grew up with him,” said Kortes. “Just the sort of degree to which he’s permeated our lives and saturated our consciousness more than anyone else. The Beatles were and are obviously omnipresent, but they weren’t together as long and haven’t made as much music. So, they’re iconic, but there’s not the volume. Bob’s in our collective unconsciousness at this point.”
One that stood out to me was from someone who had a recurring dream about Dylan for 12 years. Another was one of a woman named Linda who told Dylan that her first name was an anagram of his last. And Warren Zanes has a wonderful long piece about trying to get a good Bob Dylan out of Tom Petty.
As different as the dreams are, there are some storylines that appear multiple times. Many people dreamt of performing with Dylan until they realize they don’t know how to play. Others recall that Dylan was just about to say something profound, but they woke up before hearing it. And there are several dreams involving boats, fishing, or water. In fact, after Kortes had a publisher and the book was close to publication, she had a similar dream of her own.
“I was on a big boat, like a luxury liner, asleep in a big open room on a lower level on a mattress on the floor. Dylan called me on my cell phone to tell me it was time to get up. Then my real-life cell phone alarm went off, interrupting my dream of Dylan calling me on my cell phone to tell me it was time to get up. He knows everything.” — “It’s Time”
One of the most intriguing areas of synergy between Dylan’s music and this book is the fact that he wrote about dreams in about 28 different songs. Some offer a passing mention, while others dive into the dreams themselves, but at least seven have the word ‘dream’ in the title. Of them all “Talking World War III Blues” stands out for Kortes.
“The line in there, ‘I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours’ was almost begging for this book to be written. It made it possible for me,” said Kortes.