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A Woman for today ahead of her time

Two Dylans arrived at my door. One was a cherubic Welshman sporting a conscious Woodbine and a tie made from a scarf he stole from his sister (his words). The other was a Jewish guy from small-town USA in a leopard skin pillbox hat and a coat he borrowed from James Dean (not his words)! Both these guys linked by a name found in an obscure C14th manuscript of ancient Celtic stories – Dylan, son of the wave. Both revolutionaries in their field. One took the grey self-congratulatory poetry of the 1930’s and turned it on its head writing in a style filched from that ancient Welsh verse, took poetry out of the closeted comfort of upper-class England into every home via the radio, made it a performance art and launched the audio recording industry. The other took pop out of the grip of Tin Pan Alley mediocrity giving it meaningful topics to sing about and lyrics that were poetic and intelligent then blew away the same self-satisfied complacency of the folk world with a ‘fucking loud’ (his words) electric sound. One democratised poetry, the other pushed popular music to literary heights it never knew were possible. One was the first poet since Byron to live the life of a rockstar with all its self-destructive glamour, the other was a rockstar who has only ever thought of himself as a poet and the first to be granted a Nobel for literature. Both men hid behind multiple masks, creating and puffing their own fiction of themselves. Both lied about how they came to be. Both are geniuses in their field.

The link between Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan (also at one time known as Robert Milkwood) has been obvious and fascinating to those of us drawn to the work of both. But how significant the connection was, other than the shared name, has never really been a subject of discussion even though copious analyses and biography have been written on each of them. The assumption was that any attempt to link the two would be over-stretched and lack substance. But ‘The Two Dylan’s’ published this month proves that this is not the case, there are numerous connectors. Dylan Thomas inspired myriad scions in the music world including John Lennon, Jim Morrison and the man who poached his name (his daughter said that). Both men knew the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and the American playwright Tennessee Williams. Both loved the work of Garcia Lorca (along with Leonard Cohen). Both got a bad reception from Robert Graves. And of course, both were the offspring of Arthur Rimbaud; one was the Rimbaud of Uplands Swansea, the other said all his relationships ended up bad like those of Verlaine and Rimbaud. To write a book clearly overdue needed an author well versed in the life and work of both men - it got two. 

Jeff Towns famous bookstall at the Laugharne Weekend 2021 with poet Martin Rowson

K G Miles is an authority on Bob Dylan, curator of the ‘Dylan Room’ at the Troubadour with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the grizzled-voiced song master. Jeff Towns is a leading antiquarian bookseller known simply as ‘the Dylan Thomas guy’ with a knowledge of the bard that would fill a library. Each chapter in the book covers a different character or topic relevant to both Dylans. K G Miles provides the lowdown on Bob, Jeff Towns on Mr Thomas. That sounds like it could be cumbersome but far from it. The book provides fascinating information and insight, even for those of us who think we know a lot about one or both characters, but more importantly they do so with an light touch that makes the book an entertaining good read. A fascinating, informative, and enjoyable review of the two creative giants who made an ancient Welsh name one of the most popular on both side of the Atlantic. But you don’t have to take my word for it. The cover art is by Peter Blake who famously designed the cover of the Beatles ‘Sergeant Pepper’ album that featured both Dylan’s and several other characters relevant to them and the foreword is by Cerys Matthews. Nuff said. Go buy it.

‘Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas: The Two Dylans’ 

by K G Miles & Jeff Towns 

is published by McNidder and Grace at GB£14.99 and available from the usual sources but we urge you to shop local, small, and independent if possible.

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