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Monday, April 11, 2011

Further to the Dylan discussion below, I feel as though Maureen Dowd's column yesterday ought to be rebutted. Dowd thinks that Dylan should have played some protest music in China. Like many people Dowd is locked into a Bob Dylan that hasn't existed since the sixties.

The other night LCA had a friend over for dinner and I mentioned that back when I went to school one of the ways you could gauge a prospective roommate was to look at the person's record collection. Those days are long gone, although it bears mentioning that CLA once had a roommate whose iPod held only Steely Dan songs. What do you suppose is in Maureen Dowd's record collection? I'll bet she has Barbra Streisand's soundtrack from "A Star is Born", and Neil Diamond's "Hot August Night". She probably has some sort of Beatles' Greatest Hits collection, but it is probably one that is mostly Paul. She has the soundtrack to the movie "Grease". I'll bet you a nickel-- one of the nice new Lewis and Clark nickels-- that she has no Bob Dylan. None. She doesn't have "Freewheeling" or "John Wesley Harding". She doesn't have "The Basement Tapes" or "Planet Waves". She probably dated a guy who had "Biograph" once, long ago, but when they broke up he took it back. She's never heard "Love and Theft", or seen a copy of "Together Through Life".

She might have a Joan Baez album, and if she does it is "Diamonds and Rust". I'll bet that "Biograph" boyfriend bought it for her, and she hasn't played it in 30 years.

Maureen Dowd is the worst kind of square, is what I'm saying-- the kind that thinks she's "hep". This makes sense, because she is also the worst type of political columnist, too-- the kind that thinks that she's got it all figured out, and what do you know? If everyone were like Maureen Dowd wouldn't it be a marvelous world?

| Comments:
I agree Bill, Dowd is stuck in the past. When Bob Dylan's China and Vietnam gigs made the news, I was actually pleasantly surprised - that he's still alive, and singing.
 
Comments like that are supposed to be an inducement for me to pay $50 bucks a month? . Good luck with that.
 
I'll agree that Maureen Dowd doesn't know who Bob Dylan is today. Bob can do whatever he wants but for a man who claimed to revere Woody Guthrie he sure took the wrong message from the man's work.

Bob's been unwilling to connect with the troubles of the world for more than forty five years. He wrote some fine protest songs and hung it up because they put him in a position where he had to justify them. He didn't want to, and I have to wonder why. There's a blog that takes the position that Dylan is and has always been a closet conservative Republican. The writer makes various points to support that logic and presents his case well.

It's good that people respect him today and want to hear his music. He's back now, after twenty wretched years when he was lucky to write one good song an album. He hasn't done much except dig out old popular music. It's a worthwhile task I guess, the music is good. 'Good As I Been To You' is one of my top five Dylan albums. But he's completely detached from the modern world and has been since the 'motorcycle accident'.
 
"Detached from the modern world" is a fair critique, I suppose. Was Bob Dylan's music more connected to the world in 1964? I tend to think not-- this is really part of what Greil Marcus is driving at when he talks about Dylan's work as reflecting "the old, weird America". In January '64 Dylan released "The Times They Are A Changin'"-- probably the peak moment of protest-era Dylan. Eight months later "Another Side of Bob Dylan" appeared. "Another Side" includes "All I Really Want to Do", "My Back Pages", "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)", "Ballad in Plain D", and "It Ain't Me Babe". It is, in other words, a collection of songs about relationships, and I would put it to you that this has been Dylan's great subject ever since. Has he written political material in the intervening years? Of course he has. He is Bob Dylan, and the world is grist for his observations. Have political concerns been his chief focus since then? Obviously not.

My problem with the emphasis that commentators place on protest-era Dylan is that it reduces an interesting and important artist to something less than what he is. If he was still a Woody Guthrie acolyte he would be irrelevant. Hell, Billy Bragg is more interesting than that. Arlo Guthrie is more interesting than that. It is reductive to think of Dylan that way, and the reason that Dowd-- and her ilk-- do so is because their minds have calcified when it comes to thinking about music. John was the smart one (or the martyr, I suppose). Paul was the cute one (or maybe the sellout). George was the quiet one (or the spiritual one). Ringo was the funny one. Dylan was the protest guy. Miles Davis was good with Charlie Parker, but his electric stuff was too commercial, man. Woody Allen's best movies were the earlier, funnier ones. People get locked into the ideas that they had about music when they were 22, and that's the end of it. They stop listening, they don't want to think about it, and then they make a lot of sloppily reasoned arguments about who artists are, or what they should or shouldn't be doing based on the people that they were when they were 22, instead of who the artists are today.

Here's something funny about Bob Dylan: high school kids buy his records. They buy the new ones-- "Together Through Life", "Love and Theft", "Modern Times". People whose parents were born when Dylan was recording "To Ramona" can hear what Dylan is doing now, but a lot of people who thought "Desire" was a good record can't. Of all the many ways that I think it must sometimes be difficult to be Bob Dylan that may be one of the hardest: the people who have been listening to him the longest can't hear him-- they can't even really see him, and they haven't been able to for years. I'm sure he's past being bothered by it, but if you want to know why Bob Dylan might be detached from the morn world you might start by thinking about what it must be like to have been Bob Dylan for the last 40 years. The amazing thing is that-- based on his radio show-- he sees the humor in it. Bob Dylan gets it, even if a lot of other people don't seem to.
 
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