Monday, April 25, 2011

"Untapped Glimmerance," or an 149-Page Acid Trip: Bob Dylan's "Tarantula"

"Things were running wild at that point. It never was my intention to write a book."
-Bob Dylan

I recently received one of the best (and most unconventional) Easter presents ever-- an original second edition of Bob Dylan's first and only novel, Tarantula. Dylan wrote Tarantula in 1966 at age 25, but after being injured in a motorcycle accident decided against publishing the book. Bootleg copies of the manuscript were passed around for years (much in the same vein as Mark Z. Danielewski's experimental cult novel House of Leaves) until the first edition was finally published in May 1971. The Surrealist-influenced (Dylan was allegedly reading Rimbaud and the Comte de Lautreamont at the time), Ginsberg/Kerouac/Burroughs-esque, stream-of-consciousness style of Tarantula is certainly not for everyone (case in point: in 2003, Spin magazine published an article on the "Top Five Unintelligible Sentences From Books Written by Rock Stars," with Tarantula heading in at #1 with the sentence "Now's not the time to get silly, so wear your big boots and jump on the garbage clowns"), but it unquestionably showcases a different side of Dylan's unmatched poetic talent while capturing the turbulent spirit and rhythm of the 1960's. Journalist Mark Spitzer called the novel "An arctic reserve of untapped glimmerance dismissed in a ratland of clichés." Others have called it something along the lines of "an acid trip that Dylan decided to record while on the toilet and accidentally sent in to publishers."

Decide for yourself after reading the following excerpt:

Guns, the Falcon’s Mouthbook & Gashcat Unpunished

aretha/ crystal jukebox queen of hymn & him diffused in drunk transfusion would would heed sweet woundwave crippled & cry salute to oh great particular el dorado reel & ye battered personal god but she cannot she the leader of whom when ye flow, she cannot she has no back she cannot… beneath black flowery railroad fans & fig leaf shades & dogs of all nite joes, grow like arches & cures the harmonica battalions of bitter cowards, bones & bygones while what steadier louder the moans & arms of funeral landlord with one passionate kiss rehearse from dusk & climbing into the bushes with some favorite enemy ripping the postage stamps & crazy mailmen & waving all rank & familiar ambition than that itself, is needed to know that mother is not a lady… aretha with no goals, eternally single & one step soft of heaven/ let if be understood that she owns this melody along with her emotional diplomets & her earth & her musical secrets

the censor in a twelve wheel drive semi stopping in for donuts & pinching the waitress/ he likes his women raw & with syrup/ he has his mind set on becoming a famous soldier

manuscript nitemare of cut throat high & low & behold the prophesying blind allegiance to law fox, monthly cupid & the intoxicating ghosts of dogma… nay & may the boatmen in bathrobes be banished forever & anointed into the shelves of alive hell, the unimaginative sleep, repetition without change & fat sheriffs who watch for doom in the mattress.. hallaluyah & bossman of the hobos cometh & ordaining the spiritual gypsy davy camp now being infiltrated by foreign dictator, the pink FBI & the interrogating unknown failures of peacetime as holy & silver & blessed with the texture of kaleidoscope & the sandal girl… to dream of dancing pillhead virgins & wandering Apollo at the pipe organ/ unscientific ramblers & the pretty things lucky & lifting their lips & handing down looks & regards from the shoulders of adam & eve’s minstrel peekaboo…


  1. i.m.h.o...

    At first blush, Tarantula is simply a great work of stream of consciousness writing and all that that accomplishes for itself and for his bringing such a style of writing to the forefront. It is practically a primer on such writing, and immediately corroborates what others who preceded him such as Henry Miller have said; that one can begin anywhere and the groove will assert itself should one allow it to. Which is the trick; to remain open to it and not think so much. It is like guiding an ocean liner; one must make broad turns without deliberation. What deliberate thinking one does is from the back of the mind, as quiet as a church mouse. This is where Tarantula shines most, for upon examination, one can see patterns, reprises of motifs, continuations and extensions, and it takes on a more decidedly poetic form. Call it an absurdist novel or an extremely long poem, or whatever you want certainly, but such labeling if need be done is served well by noting the degree and interplay of deliberation and consciousness the work can reflect.

    1. Like guiding an ocean liner, wide turns... I really like that!

  2. I tried reading it about 5 times, first when I was in my 20's, 5th when in my 60's. 5th time was a charm--it is wonderful and strange and if you read it with no expectations and simply go with its flow you will be richly rewarded.

  3. in a sunburned land winter sleeps with a snowy head at the west of the bed / Madonna. Mary of the Temple. Jane Russell. Angelina the Whore. all these women, their tears could make oceans / in a deserted refrigerator carton, little boys on ash wednesday make ready for war & for genius...

    Quite some book! Nice post.