Bob Dylan’s Arabian Nights Moment

Today’s conversation made me wonder not only about high/low and text/music genre boundaries but also about whether American bard (and now Nobel laureate) Bob Dylan had ever felt inspired by the Arabian Nights tradition. Of course he has. In his bestselling memoir Chronicles, Dylan recounts how he met his first NYC girlfriend, Suze Rotolo (immortalized on the album cover below).

As Dylan recalls:

Right from the start I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was the most erotic thing I’d ever seen. She was fair-skinned and golden-haired, full-blood Italian. The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves. We started talking and my head started to spin. Cupid’s arrow had whistled past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard… Meeting her was like stepping into the tales of 1001 Arabian Nights. She had a smile that could light up a street full of people and was extremely lively, had a kind of voluptuousness—a Rodin sculpture come to life.

He goes to the movies to try to get her off his mind:

Movies had always been a magical experience and the Times Square movie theaters, the ones like oriental temples were the best places to see them. Recently I’d seen Quo Vadis and The Robe, and now I went to sit through Atlantis, Lost Continent and King of Kings. I needed to shift my mind, get it off of Suze for a while. King of Kings starred Rip Torn, Rita Gam, and Jeffrey Hunter playing Christ. Even with all the heavy action on the screen, I couldn’t tune into it. When the second feature, Atlantis, Lost Continent played, it was just as bad. All the death-ray crystals, giant fish submarines, earthquakes, volcanoes and tidal waves and whatnot. It might have been the most exciting movie of all time, who knows? I couldn’t concentrate.

Finally they meet up again and get together.

Outside of my music, being with her seemed to be the main point in life. Maybe we were spiritual soul-mates.”

Two kinds of magic (love and film), and Dylan associates both with the world of the Nights. Yes, it’s everywhere.

Thanks again for a spirited final discussion, you guys!  And for a wonderful semester.

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