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May 6, 2011
Press Articles :: Journal North Dylan Show Interview


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If you go:
WHAT: “Happy Birthday Robert Allen Zimmerman,” photographs by                             David Michael Kennedy, Lisa Law, Baron Wolman and Guy Cross.
WHEN: Reception 5-7 p.m. Friday, May 20. Through June 25.
WHERE: Andrew Smith Gallery, 122 Grant Ave.
CONTACT: 984-1234.

Retrospective captures down-to-earth singer, honors his 70th birthday
By Kathaleen Roberts / Journal Staff Writer on Fri, May 6, 2011

As a photographer for Spin magazine, David Michael Kennedy had already shot Bruce Springsteen, Muddy Waters, Iggy Pop, Ozzy Osbourne and a galaxy of rock royalty.
But, in 1985, he got the call that would crown the peak of his career. Spin’s publisher, Robert Guccione Jr., asked him to photograph Bob Dylan for the cover.
You can see the results of that meeting at Andrew Smith Gallery, 122 Grant Ave., when “Happy Birthday Robert Allen Zimmerman” opens with works by Kennedy, Lisa Law, Baron Wolman and Guy Cross on Friday, May 20, in honor of the songwriter’s 70th birthday on May 24.

Now living in El Rito, Kennedy was 35 when he and his assistant schlepped all of his equipment from New York to Los Angeles. He remembered Guccione’s warning that Dylan wanted no Hollywood entourage, no glamour and no fuss.
“So I was the perfect person, because I’m so not that,” Kennedy said with a laugh. “My studio in New York was like something out of Northern California or New Mexico.”
Relying on pure instinct, he dumped his assistant at the airport.
“I decided the best way to deal with this is just two people,” he continued. “He was very pissed.”
So Kennedy drove the car to Dylan’s house on Zuma Beach, where a security guard checked him through the gate. From there, he followed a winding brick driveway up to the songwriter’s house.
“I felt like it was the Yellow Brick Road,” he said. “It was like I was going to see the Wizard of Oz.
“I was scared to death,” he continued,” because it’s BOB DYLAN. How often do you meet someone like that?
“How do you talk to someone of that caliber? Do you get down on your knees and bow? That’s not going to work.”
The songwriter walked up to Kennedy’s van barefoot and said, “Hi, I’m Bob Dylan.”
“I said something like, ‘No s___,’ ” the photographer said.
Fueled by a heady combination of nerves and excitement, but grounded by instinct, Kennedy managed to keep the atmosphere personable and low-key. When Dylan asked what they were going to do, Kennedy asked him to help unload his photographic equipment, explaining that he had recently undergone back surgery.
“He liked it; I think he did,” Kennedy said. “An awful lot of the people I worked with who are famous, they liked it when we treated them as human beings. We didn’t kowtow to them or make it a big deal.”
The two drank a beer and chatted. Dylan grabbed a stepladder and helped Kennedy hang the canvas backdrop for the studio portraits, both of them sticking gaffer tape to their pants to hold the canvas in place. They worked for about four hours. Then, Kennedy spotted Dylan’s Harley Softail and shot the singer sitting on his bike.
“It became just like we were hanging together,” Kennedy said. “All of a sudden, it becomes more of a collaboration. I think most people are more comfortable when they’re included in the process.”
“We did the portrait shoot and had a few beers,” he continued. “He took me to his painting studio and showed me his paintings. At the end of ’85, nobody knew he was a painter; I certainly didn’t.”
Later in the afternoon, they relaxed in the singer’s backyard while he picked out riffs on the guitar.
“I got to hear a whole lot of rough cuts and tapes. He was playing stuff that was rough and didn’t have titles yet.
“We talked about me as much as we talked about him,” Kennedy continued. “We talked about photography. He looked through the lenses a couple of times.”
After they said goodbye, Kennedy noticed a clutch of marble Greek statues in the yard. He returned to the door and asked the songwriter if he would pose with them. Dylan was gracious.
“My memory isn’t good; that’s why I make photographs,” Kennedy said with a laugh, “so I can say, yeah, I was there.”
Later, the singer’s sort-of manager Jeff Rosen called, saying Dylan wanted one of the pictures with the statues for himself. Never before shown publicly, the print will be in the current show.
“I was kind of embarrassed,” Kennedy said. “Jeff called and started asking about this one picture they wanted. I immediately thought they wanted it for promotional use, so I started talking numbers, but they said, ‘No, he wants it for himself.’ So I said, ‘I’ll make him one and send it to him.’ ”
About a year ago, Rosen called and asked for a print of Dylan in his painting studio. The picture is being used to promote the European tour of Dylan’s artwork.
“I always tell people it’s very important that we have fun,” Kennedy said. “If we have a lousy time and make good pictures, we can never get back the lousy time.”
Today, Kennedy is working on a series of Americana he shot while driving across the country in an Airstream Trailer. A New Mexico resident since 1986, he still looks back on his day with Dylan as a career watershed.
“There were so many great people,” he said. “But Dylan definitely was the highest. I grew up on his music. His music was a major part of my life.”