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Imagine you're in an art gallery. It's Paris, early on a Sunday morning. The gallery -- which is small, but well-respected -- is nearly empty. You stop at a painting -- a Modigliani portrait, say. It's amazing: vibrant, exciting.
"Now, this is great art," you say to yourself.
Next to you stands a grey-haired man, stooped over a cane, looking at you with an impish smile.
"Yes, yes," he says. He has a Hungarian accent. "Look at the textures! The colours! The form!" He looks at the painting, you do the same.
"His lines," says the old man, "they are so sure. Look" -- he points at the painting -- "this is a man who knows where he is going."
"Oh," you say, "I hadn't noticed. It's an amazing painting."
"Oh, yes," says the old man. Then, with a gleam in his eye, he leans closer to you. He smells of expensive perfume and Turkish cigarettes.
"Do you want to know a secret?" he asks.
"Umm... OK," you say, a bit unsure.
He looks around him, then says, laughing, "Modigliani never painted a line like this in his life! His strokes were unsure, searching. I painted that painting!"
The old man laughs and walks away, saying, "They paid me three hundred francs for it!"
You look at the painting. The old man is still laughing as he turns around a corner.
The old man was Elmyr de Hory, the great art forger, and he did indeed paint the painting. Is it still great art? How is it valued? The value depends on opinion, opinion depends on the expert, a faker like Elmyr makes fools of the experts -- so who's the expert? Who's the faker?
* * *
* * *
I was watching No Direction Home, Scorsese's documentary about Bob Dylan. In one section, there are some people after a concert, in England, who ask for Dylan's autograph. He refuses, because -- well he's Dylan, who knows why he does anything?
Anyway, it got me thinking. What do people do with autographs? I mean, do they keep them in a box in the attic? Do they frame them? I don't know about you, but it would have to be some pretty special fucking penmanship before I framed it and hung it on my wall. In short: I don't understand autograph-collecting.
* * *
* * *
It's May 17 1966, the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. On stage: Bob Dylan and the band that was so good it didn't even need a name. People just called them The Band.
They've nearly completed their set. For the first half, Bob was alone on stage, with his acoustic guitar and his harmonica. The crowd loved it, though there were some confused looks during the harmonica solos, which sounded almost, but not quite, parodic. For the second half, the Band joined him. Between the songs -- hell, during them, too -- , a very vocal minority of the crowd were booing. They shouted, "Sell out!" and "What happened to protest songs, Bob?! What happened to protest songs?!"
"These are all protest songs," says Bob. They aren't buying it. Bob smiles. He's a Carny at heart. Next thing you know, they'll be bringing out the geek and Atlas and the bearded lady and Mandrake and the dog-faced boy.
They've just finished playing a venomous "Ballad of a Thin Man." You could tell who Bob was thinking of when he sang, "Something is happening, but you don't know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?" They're tuning their instruments, talking over how to play the final song.
"Judas!" cries a voice in the crowd.
"I don't believe you," says Bob. A pause. "You're a liar." Then, just before they launch into "Like a Rolling Stone," he turns to the band:
"Play it fucking loud!"
* * *
* * *
Be seeing you.