More than 2,000 books have been written about Bob Dylan, but this one is different.
East Hampton publisher Nicholas Callaway has managed to land an extraordinary deal to help design and publish Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine, a new, 608-page panoramic view into Dylan’s life, based on the artist’s own vast archives — which in recent years became accessible to scholars and just last year to the public.
A lucky few got a first look at this groundbreaking new tome last month at Bridgehampton golf club, The Bridge, owned by Rob Rubin, who also had a hand in ushering Dylan’s archives into the public eye. Callaway and Rubin have been friends since their Phillip Exeter days.
Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine, set to be released October 24, features more than 1,100 images, many being published for the first time, as well as previously unseen draft lyrics spanning Dylan’s six-decade career, and 30 original essays focused on a spectrum of cultural treasure from the Bob Dylan Center, a museum containing Dylan’s archive in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The book is being published in 75 countries and in four different language editions.
The party featured a number of heavyweights in the world of Dylan scholarship, including Mark Davidson and Parker Fishel, who wrote and edited the volume, Bob Dylan Center director Steven Jenkins, Dylan archivist Mitch Blank and Sean Wilentz, an American historian who serves as the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University. Sadly absent from the event were Dylan’s well-loved, longtime manager Jeff Rosen, and historian Douglas Brinkley, who wrote an incisive new essay for the book.
Callaway has followed Dylan’s career since he was very young, but became enamored with the artist during his first Dylan concert in 1966 at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.
“I was 12 years old,” Callaway recalls. “I had already been a fan since the age of eight … but when I saw him live … it was life changing, even at that age. So for me, to be the publisher of the book is the highest honor and privilege I could imagine.”
Callaway says he and his team at Callaway Arts & Entertainment, a publishing company with offices in East Hampton that specializes in design, production and publication of illustrated books and multimedia content, dove headlong into the project.
“There has never been a book that comprehensively encompasses his whole life and work,” Callaway says. “So this is the long-awaited Dylan bible.”
The Nobel Prize-winning singer-songwriter is one of rock’s most fickle figures. He spent the first half of his career going to great lengths to protect his privacy and his process — rehearsal and recording sessions, outtakes and unreleased songs — from obsessive fans and rapacious bootleggers. He has spent the second half of his career going in the opposite direction, beginning in 1991 with the debut of the “Bootleg Series” — extensive outtakes, alternative versions and live versions of his work that ended up on the cutting room floor.
The ongoing series opened one new window after another into how some of Dylan’s best-known work grew from sketches of songs into final tracks.
In 2016, Dylan announced the sale of his personal archives, a massive collection of memorabilia — more than 100,000 items — that none of the legions of Dylan scholars, academics and superfans even knew existed. Like most Dylan fans, Callaway was fascinated by news of this secret Dylan stash, purchased by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and Oklahoma’s University of Tulsa.
“But it was only during COVID when most people were locked down and distracted that I reached out to the Bob Dylan Center and inquired about the possibility of publishing with them. And it turned out that they were just beginning work on the book. So it was good timing and good fortune.”
Callaway says that when he learned that Rubin, his old friend, was also involved with the new book, he was thrilled.
“He was really one of the godfathers of the sale of the archive, and advised the Center on the architectural firm that was chosen [Olson Kundig] to build the Bob Dylan Center,” Callaway says of Rubin. “Plus, Bob is a very significant force himself, as an arts patron and as a cultural historian … so it just turned out that it all seemed to make sense.”
Rubin says he advised the Dylan Center founders to think differently about the design of the center.
“I think from the beginning my elevator pitch to the Tulsa people has been, ‘this is a civic project, not a tourist attraction,’ and I think the book is very much in that vein of a civic project.” He was more than pleased to host Callaway’s big book reveal.
“If you’re looking to corral the chattering classes,” Rubin says, “what better time and place than the Hamptons on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend?”
Dylan himself is no stranger to the South Fork, having rented homes on Nichols Lane and Lily Pond Lane in East Hampton in the early 1970s.
The artist wrote lyrically of those summers with his family, and of the Hamptons, in his 2004 postmodern memoir, Chronicles.
“East Hampton, which was originally settled by farmers and fishermen, was now a refuge for artists and writers and wealthy families. Not really a place but a ‘state of mind’…I started painting landscapes there,” he writes. “There was plenty to do. We had five kids and often went to the beach, boated on the bay, dug for clams, spent afternoons at a lighthouse near Montauk, went to Gardiner’s Island — hunted for Captain Kidd’s buried treasure — rode bikes, go-carts and pulled wagons — went to the movies and the outdoor markets, walked around on [Sag Harbor’s] Division Street — drove over to Springs a lot, a painter’s paradise where de Kooning had his studio.”
A behemoth of a book and a must for Dylan fans, Mixing Up the Medicine ($100) will be available at Bookhampton in East Hampton, as well as other local bookstores.
“[It] takes you right inside his creative genius, and you’ll feel as though you are there with him as he is writing,” Callaway says. “That is what this book is attempting to do.”