Part of the fun of BEA is the parties. I was intrigued by an invite to a May 24 reception hosted by Backbeat Books, a division of Hal Leonard, to welcome the release of the hugely revised 1986 edition of Robert Shelton’s No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (ISBN 9781617130120. $35). With the event on Bob D.’s 70th birthday, did I really expect the book’s subject to make an appearance? Not really. The author, maybe? Well, sadly, Robert Shelton (heretofore referred to as the other Bob) died in 1995. As a longtime writer and music critic for the New York Times in the 1960s, he met the young songwriter, becoming ultimately his close friend and champion. The new volume, edited and updated by British authors and media stars Elizabeth Thomson and Patrick Humphries, includes 20,000 words excised from Shelton’s original 1977 manuscript, which was the basis for the 1986 Morrow publication.
I knew no one at the party, held in the Washington Square Hotel in Greenwich Village, originally the Earle, hangout for Dylan and his pioneering gang. I sat and watched the people, many of whom were close friends and associates of Shelton’s. Just as editor Thomson was introduced, a tall, willowy woman addressed the crowd: I was friends in the Sixties with Bob and Bobby. Do I know anyone here? It seems she did not, but it was the perfect segue to the background of the restored book. Thomson spoke of her love of Dylan’s music, first brought to the attention of this English schoolgirl through recordings by other singers, particularly those of Joan Baez. Thomson discussed working with Bob Shelton initially before the 1986 Morrow book was released. It was unclear whether Bob D. had yet seen or commented upon the new book. Still, everyone in attendance at what was once the de facto headquarters of Bob Dylan and his incredibly influential peers was thrilled to be honoring both men and their near-encyclopedic collaboration.