A LABOUR OF LOVE The cover of Liamy MacNally's new book on Bob Dylan, titled 'Happy Birthday Mr Bob'.
Bob Dylan will be 80 on Monday, May 24. It is hard to believe that the man who has soundtracked so many lives with iconic songs will reach such a milestone. He burst onto the music scene 60 years ago, leaving his mid-west home and moving to New York where he sought out his hero Woody Guthrie. They met five days after Dylan moved to New York. Dylan was a determined young man. One can also say he is now a determined older man!
In between, he has written more than 500 songs and recorded most of them. He has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature alongside honorary doctorates, Academy Award, Grammy Awards, Golden Globe Award, Pulitzer Prize, US Presidential Medal of Freedom and numerous culture awards from various countries.
He spends several months every year ‘on the road’ traipsing across the globe, the perennial song and dance man. Only the pandemic put a stop to his gallop as he clocked up almost 90 concerts a year. He is also an accomplished artist and wrought iron sculptor with a major exhibition planned for Miami in November. He has given his name to the award-winning Heaven’s Door whisky. The Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma will be formally opened this time next year, enabling further research into his work among 100,000 ‘cultural treasures’ in the Bob Dylan Archive.
Over the past few months, lockdown took on a gentle twist as I had the honour of collating submissions for a new book honouring Bob on his 80th birthday.
‘Happy Birthday Mr Bob’ has almost one hundred individual contributions from Irish writers, poets, singers, songwriters, artists, photographers and an eclectic mix of admirers.
Some are well known, others lesser known but all have an equal place in the book. Many hail from Westport and the surrounding area. They are a cross-section of a Bob Dylan Irish audience. They range from the young local talents of Joe Reidy and Ballina’s Michael Moloney (he of the Late Late Toy Show fame when he played alongside Dermot Kennedy) to the more mature talent of Tony Reidy, John Hoban and Charlie Keating.
National names like Joseph O’Connor, Paula Meehan, Theo Dorgan, Gerard Smyth adorn the pages with Liam Ó Maonlaí, Fiachna Ó Braonáin (both founders of Hothouse Flowers), Kevin Doherty, Oisín Leech (Lost Brothers), Dave Fanning and Brian Lally (RTÉ Country Time Show).
Tim Hailstone, who named the 2021 Irish Grand National 150/1 winner, Freewheelin Dylan, writes about his Dylan Partnership! Westport area women poets feature strongly – Roberta Beary, Sarah Billington, Reine Staunton, Mary C Reilly, Susan Kelly, Geraldine Mitchell and Jean Tuomey while local women share their thoughts on Dylan – Mary Berkery, Ger Boyle, Anne Heraty, Aisling McNally, Ciara Moynihan (The Mayo News) and Mary Reilly.
Local poets and Dylan fans also made interesting submissions. Johnny Fadgin evokes beautiful imagery in ‘To Dylan’. Ger Reidy’s take on Dylan’s ‘Sad Eyes Lady of the Lowlands’ delights. Recently published Matthew Quinn is there with Dick Bourke (who wants Dylan to play in Westport!), Guy Carleton, Stephen Cowley (‘Hurricane’ has a BPM of 135!), Colm Cronin, Connie Cullen, Charlie Cusack, Kevin Devitte, Mark Garavan and his son Stephen, Paddy Guthrie, Andrew and Robert Irwin, Seosamh and Cormac McNally, Uri Kohen, Gearóid Lynch, Tommie Lehane, Brendan McKeown (‘Haiku for Bob’), Sé O’Connell, Frank O’Reilly (who also did the book design and layout), Pat Staunton and Seoirse Swanton.
Rock legend Rory Gallagher (1948-1995) was a friend of Dylan. The book is graced with two beautiful drawings of Dylan by Rory, thanks to Rory’s brother, Dónal. A rare ticket from Dylan’s first Irish concert in Dublin on 5 May 1966 is included, and a lovely drawing by Mairéad Irwin.
“This is a project of the heart done with goodwill” is how John Hoban describes the book. The book will be launched via Zoom on Sunday, May 23, at 8pm. I am grateful to all who shared their minds, hearts and souls. Wishing Bob a wonderful 80th, l’chaim!
‘Happy Birthday Mr Bob’, published by CPR, is available in The Bookshop, Westport; McLoughlin’s Bookshop, Westport; Castle Bookshop, Castlebar; Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, Galway and online at mayobooks.ie.