I Hear The Clock Tick. On the corner of 57th and Madison. And it costs $2150, harmonica included


                                         Back: oris-bob-dylan-rectangular-watch-back

Up close, this Oris watch is very black and very large and very square and very manly. The picture on the back is, as I think you can see here, a poor tracing of the well-known photo. It comes in a box with a shiny harmonica and a greatest hits CD which I hope will show up on eBay soon because it’s got a lovely photo on the cover.

When I walked in the door of the Tourneau watch emporium on 57th Street and Madison Avenue, I was battered by artful bright lighting that picks out the hundreds of extravagant watch faces and then by the staff’s rapacious desire to help me. Many people motivated by obscure commitments to something or other will consider the battering a perfect greeting for this latest example of what  they will call Bob Dylan’s unfortunate sell-out to the commercial world. The rest of us can be ardently grateful to the person Tourneau contracted to assemble a small exhibit of Dylan items in the lower level of Tourneau. 

There’s a special charm in descending past all the shininess and the noise and finding yourself in a small dim chamber, surrounded by photos of Bob Dylan, album covers arrayed in a neat chronological line, two of his Drawn Blanks lithographs (one of the shakeshake mamas, and one of urgently receding train tracks), a wall showing a brief loop from The Other Side of the Mirror. So while you’re falling into the photo of Bob and Allen Ginsberg al fresco by Kerouac’s gravesite, or Bob adorably cradling his head in his arms at the New Morning sessions, or young flanneled Bob examining a record we expect he will *borrow* from the owner as soon as the photographer is looking somewhere else, or Bob leaning leanly  in a doorway during the “Love and Theft” sessions–you hear over and over “….you know him, he’s yours….” and “All I really wanna doo-oooo is baby be frenz with you…”   If you time it right, and you’re willing to tear yourself away from that 1978 photo–a favorite of yours–of Bob reflecting, and being reflected by the window alongside him you get to see the great shot of Bob tousled and grinning turning to the Newport crowd and starting the song. You could, if you wanted, do this 15 times, and no one at Tourneau will ask you to leave. And it’s all free.

Laying out album covers sounds like a cheap copout for an “exhibit”, but oh no, mon freres, I was surprised to find this oddly captivating. Just quietly lined up, each cover felt like a window into songs, performances, images, and my mind was full of the particular life of each album, and then swam pleasurably along to the next. A lot of the early ones looked like reissues, but so what.

Photos, Bob’s own artwork, the Newport footage, songs called up by the album covers. Over and over. Round and round in this dim, carpeted chamber. Wow. It felt like the general state of the inside of  my own head. I have the Tourneau watch emporium to thank for this experience, and I regret that I cannot foresee any development in my life that would allow me to be a customer of their wares.

Here’s the link to the succinct description of the exhibit on expectingrain: 





6 thoughts on “I Hear The Clock Tick. On the corner of 57th and Madison. And it costs $2150, harmonica included

  1. Idolatry, that’s big, What about “uncompromising in my esteem”? Is that less creepy? Would Harold Bloom be idolatrous of Shakespeare if he commented on The Bard’s fetchingly rakish hairline? Thank you. I’m always happy to know anyone is reading anything here.

  2. The world doesn’t have enough uncompromising enthusiasm, if you ask me. Dylan is not infallible, God knows, but what he hits a home run (and he does hold the record), its gone, and who has time to bitch about the occasional pop ups. Life is short.

    My own sense about the recent commercialization of the Dylan brand–the watch, the wine, the commercials, the non-Bootleg series Greatest Hits repackagings–is that the man has a rather devilish–and I use that term advisedly–sense of humor. It feels like it’s all coming from the guy we love to listen to not on the stage but on Theme Time Radio.

    I hope there is a Chronicles II and that it tells us about Dylan before high school and after 60.

    And that my sense of humor.

  3. masked and anonymous June 16, 2009 — 10:26 AM

    I love Dylan but also Family Guy and The Simpsons, and quite a few other things I laugh or cry at and find myself mouthing “Genius !” …

    I think the recent uber-commercialism is simply an older musician doing what they all do, looking to bolster the pension fund. Feet of clay.

    Don’t forget he was always commercial just as much as he was the middle-finger maverick … as that notorious Time article said:

    “He says he hates the commercial side of folk music, but he has two agents who hover about him, guarding his words and fattening his contracts. He scorns the press’s interest in him, but he wants to know how long a story about him will run and if there will be a photograph.”

    BTW, what do you think of Leonard Cohen ?

  4. Amen to Bob Dylan’s “devilish sense of humor” — this image is wonderfully apt since I always think he looks rather Man of Peace-ish in the Victoria’s Secret commercial. And this “commercialization” is of a piece with his Theme Time persona, I agree. It’s a level of playfulness and disingenuousness that gives the lie to any bloated postmodern theories about simulacra.

    Beatty claimed that when Bobby was just 4 years old, he would sing at family functions and mesmerize the relatives. The mother of every 4 year old Jewish child will say the same thing, and what’s important is that it’s absolutely true in every single case.

    I had the great pleasure of seeing Leonard Cohen perform in NY just a few weeks ago. This was my first Leonard Cohen concert. He came across as warm, generous. communicative, energetic. Well, frisky actually, although that is less dignified than energetic. His lyrics are brilliant, I consider what he does to be recitations rather than songs. The Traitor is one of the most intricate uses of figurative language I’ve ever encountered. The Future is as savagely witty the 15th time you hear it as the first time. Bob Dylan’s 1988 performance of Hallelujah is among the most extraordinary pieces of performed religious art, ever. When Bob Dylan sings “I stand before the Lord of Song”–he manifests? creates? summons? the lord of song. And that’s pretty much all I have to say about Leonard Cohen.

  5. Thank you for posting this link regarding Neil Young, someone reading this blog might be interested in that. I know there are sites and on-line communities for Neil Young fans, and there are other Dylan sites with discussion forums that range around to lots of other performers. The nice thing about having a little private blog like this is that one can infinitely indulge the selfish appetite for self-indulgence.

  6. Jeff Buckley’s version is sappy and lame. He can’t sing his way out of a paper bag. No phrasing. Sounds like he’s singing for his mother’s love.

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