“Guitar Slim going down slow Play it for me and for Marilyn Monroe …”
One of our true living legends, Bob Dylan has just released his first original song in eight years. ‘Murder Most Foul’ is a seventeen-minute ballad about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and its lingering impact on the American psyche. Among the many cultural references within this extraordinary work is our MM, whom Dylan has long admired (see here.)
Marilyn never met Bob Dylan, but he’s a fan of hers (see here.) Now Bert Stern’s photos of Marilyn meet Jerry Schatzberg’s shots of Dylan in Bob and Marilyn, on display at the Galerie Dina Vierny in Paris until March 31.
Duke Haney’s Death Valley Superstars: Occasionally Fatal Adventures in Filmland (available in paperback and via Kindle)is a collection of essays about Hollywood, including ‘Golden State Girl’, which muses on Marilyn’s myth. The dichotomy of her movie presence, Haney argues, lay between her training as a model – where each pose was carefully directed to create the perfect look – and her very real desire to be an actress.
While theatrical denizens Tennessee Williams and Sir Laurence Olivier may have doubted that she was really an actress at all, Haney believes she was a great artist – the cinematic equivalent of singers like Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, whose voices may be limited in range, but unlike more technically proficient performers, are “memorable from the gate.”
Haney shared further thoughts on Marilyn in a recent interview for the Cease Cows blog.
“Sex appeal is finally a product of charisma, not beauty, contrary to the rhetoric of literalists and ideologues; and to the extent that charisma is developed, not innate, it can’t be developed in a world where people have surrendered so much of themselves to tech devices. If Marilyn Monroe had lived in the age of Instagram, I’m sure she would have wasted her gifts on selfies, and no selfie will ever endure as Monroe’s collaborations with top photographers have endured. Then, too, the Internet is intrinsically opposed to mystery, and mystery is a key component of charisma, which people are no longer capable of recognizing, it’s so scarce.”
Following last week’s tribute to Pete Seeger, here’s another American folk legend with a Marilyn connection. Bob Dylan – perhaps the most influential singer-songwriter of the 20th century – has appeared in an ad for Chrysler, screened during last night’s Superbowl. (You can watch it here.)
To the tune of his song, ‘Things Have Changed’, Bob muses on what it means to be American; accompanied by a montage of iconic images, including a laughing Marilyn, filmed at a press conference in 1956, when she returned to Hollywood after a year’s absence to star in Bus Stop.
While some of Dylan’s fans aren’t too thrilled with the advertising deal, it’s a lovely tribute to Marilyn and a timely reminder of all the things that made America great.
Monroe fans may be interested to know that Dylan has expressed his admiration for ‘our girl’ many times.
Once asked who he’d like to interview Dylan replied: `A lot of people who aren’t alive: Hank Williams, Apollinaire, Joseph from the Bible, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Mohammed, Paul The Apostle, maybe John Wilkes Booth, maybe Gogol. I’d like to interview people who died leaving a great unsolved mess behind, who left people for ages with nothing to do but speculate.’
And this quote is a favourite of mine…
‘People like to talk about the new image of America, but to me it’s still the old one – Marlon Brando, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe … I like to stay part of that stuff that don’t change.’
Speaking with Interview magazine in 1986, Bob listed Marilyn’s breakthrough role in The Asphalt Jungle (1950) among his top five movie performances by any actress. Many years earlier, Marilyn had named it as her personal favourite.
Dylan also wrote a poem about Marilyn, after seeing a photograph of her home on the day she died. It is published in his 2008 book Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric, a collaboration with photographer Barry Feinstein:
death silenced her pool the day she died hovered over her little toy dogs but left no trace of itself at her funeral
Finally, Bob and Marilyn are both featured in Gregory Blann’s ‘1962’, published in Roger G. Taylor’s 2006 book, Marilyn in Art.
Nearly all of these are genuine, in my opinion – meaning, they can be traced back to reputable biographies and interviews with MM herself. The only one I’m not sure about is the second one, regarding James Joyce’s Ulysses, which comes from the disputed Miner transcripts. (However, we do at least have Eve Arnold’s 1955 photo as evidence that Marilyn read the book – and, indeed, she later performed Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy as an exercise for her dramatic coach, Lee Strasberg.)
“Here is [James] Joyce writing what a woman thinks to herself. Can he, does he really know her innermost thoughts? But after I read the whole book, I could better understand that Joyce is an artist who could penetrate the souls of people, male or female. It really doesn’t matter that Joyce doesn’t have… or never felt a menstrual cramp. To me Leopold Bloom is a central character. He is the despised Irish Jew, married to an Irish Catholic woman. It is through them Joyce develops much of what he wants to say.”
“While she didn’t have the cocksure winking swagger of a Mae West, or the sharp natural beauty of an Ava Gardner, she somehow fell somewhere in the middle of both of those ladies…In a strange way, she is old Hollywood and still remains fresh in new Hollywood.”
And finally, Kim Morgan reposts her wonderful Playboy tribute from last year over at her Sunset Gun blog.
“Because through it all, no matter what was happening in her life, Marilyn gave us that gift: pleasure. Pleasure in happiness and pleasure in pain and the pleasure of looking at her. And great artist that she was, looking at her provoked whatever you desired to interpret from her. Her beauty was transcendent. For that, we should do as Dylan instructs: ‘Bow down to her on Sunday, salute her when her birthday comes.'”
The Mexican edition of Playboy‘s latest issue features a different cover shot of Marilyn. Meanwhile, ‘Sunset Gun’ blogger Kim Morgan, whose wonderful tribute is a highlight of the magazine special, spoke to the Winnipeg Free Pressabout writing for Playboy, and what MM means to her.
“I wouldn’t say that I was being simply protective, though I do feel loyal towards her. I think there’s more complexity to how one approaches Marilyn, whether they know it or not, which is why she remains powerful to this day. And I mentioned Candle in the Wind briefly, a well-meaning song, in opposition to the song that runs through my piece, Bob Dylan’s She Belongs to Me, even though Dylan didn’t write it for MM. But to me, that song feels like Marilyn in all her beauty, complications, mystery and art. ‘She’s an artist.’ Marilyn was an artist.”