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In I’m Not There, Todd Haynes imagines six different versions of Bob Dylan. Some people say that’s five too many. We say Haynes is lazy. His film barely scratches the surface. Herewith, Bob Dylan No. 10: Turkish Dylan.
When Bob Dylan revealed that he was partly of Turkish descent, a strange sense of relief came over Turks everywhere. To understand this, you have to understand that for many years Turks had secretly fantasized about finding an international celebrity who might have been at least part Turkish. The Greeks had Telly Savalas and Elia Kazan. Arabs had Casey Kasem and Doug Flutie. The Iranians had Andre Agassi. Even the Albanians had the Belushi Brothers. True, the Turks had Ahmet Ertegun, who practically helped invent modern pop music, but we didn’t want The Guy behind The Guy behind The Guy. We wanted The Guy. The closest we’d ever come was a gal: Isabelle Adjani, whose Algerian father was rumored to have actually been Algerian-Turkish. (We thought we had Tchéky Karyo at one point, but he was merely born in Turkey, it turns out. Like Joe Strummer.)
Needless to say, Dylan was a big get for us. The connection was almost impossibly tenuous, but it came from the man’s own mouth. As he wrote in Chronicles, Vol. 1:
Originally, [my grandmother had] come from Turkey, sailed from Trabzon, a port town, across the Black Sea — the sea that the ancient Greeks called the Euxine — the one that Lord Byron wrote about in Don Juan. Her family was from Kagizman, a town in Turkey near the Armenian border, and the family name had been Kirghiz. My grandfather’s parents had also come from that same area, where they had been mostly shoemakers and leatherworkers.
My grandmother’s ancestors had been from Constantinople. As a teenager, I used to sing the Ritchie Valens song “In a Turkish Town” with the lines in it about the “mystery Turks and the stars above,” and it seemed to suit me more than “La Bamba,” the song of Ritchie’s that everybody else sang and I never knew why.
Like we said: tenuous. But we’ll take it. —Bilge Ebiri
Earlier: Bob Dylan No. 9: Sandler Dylan
Bob Dylan No. 8: Pop Genius Dylan
Bob Dylan No. 7: Dr. Seuss is Bob Dylan