The Two Dylans: KG Miles and Jeff Towns, McNidder & Grace
This is a book about connections, some fleeting and tenuous, others less so, between Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas. Given that these two cultural icons never met each other (Dylan Thomas died in 1953), the idea for this book was always going to be a big challenge. The first chapter sets the scene by describing the moment when, 10 years later, Robert Zimmerman took the decision to change his name to Bob Dylan out of admiration for the work of Dylan Thomas.
At this point both are described as ‘Rock ’n Roll Poets’ but quite what is meant by this term is never defined and it is the first time I have ever heard this description applied to Dylan Thomas. The change of name is perhaps the only direct connection between the two which leaves the reader wondering what the rest of the book is about. The answer to that question is a lot of common denominators (authors, actors, poets, singer/songwriters, musicians and composers) that act as creative links between the two. To this extent it is less about Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan and more about the artistic community both here and in the US that one or other of them moved among during the their lives.
Areas of particular interest to me included the section on the Welsh poet Idris Davies and how the authors use his poem ‘The Bells of Rhymney’ as a thread to run with through the rest of the chapter, to stitch together a string of connections and coincidences. I was also interested to read about Bob Dylan’s affinity with the life and work of Arthur Rimbaud, the projected opera that Dylan Thomas was set to work on with Igor Stravinsky and President Jimmy Carter’s role in ensuring that a memorial to Dylan Thomas should be placed in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey.
The material is well researched and well presented. The Dylan Thomas content of the book has been written by Jeff Towns and the Bob Dylan content by KG Miles, both acknowledged experts in their field. The names that grace the chapter headings: Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, Charlie Chaplin, Henry Miller, Federico Garcia Lorca, TS Eliot, Igor Stravinsky, Johnnie Ray, Patti Smith, etc., give an idea of the scope and diversity of the connections that are explored with enthusiasm in this book. A great deal of detective work has gone into the research and the authors are to be commended for the depth of their exploration and almost forensic examination of the facts.