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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, April 07, 2011

I like the idea of a panel about Bob Dylan and the Law more than a lot of what the reality of such a thing consists of. Let's face it, "Hurricane", for all that it rocks along, is not a very sophisticated take on the state of race relations and justice. "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" isn't really either, but it can at least be said in its defense that "Hattie Carroll" was written by 22 year old at the height of the Civil Rights movement. "Hurricane" is Bob Dylan for people who like protest song Dylan best, but protest song Bob Dylan is, more or less, just Phil Ochs. Nothing wrong with that, but Phil Ochs is a footnote. Dylan grew past that, and pretty quickly. By 1966 he was throwing off lines about the law that are far more insightful. Part of the problem maybe a cramped view of the law. The first rule I set for myself in composing my Lawyers in Movies class was that at least half of the movies we used had to be about something other than criminal law, and Fordham would have done well to have applied a similar approach. The reason Christopher Ricks' "Dylan's Visions of Sin" is an engaging read is because Ricks was not so literal-minded.

I mean, c'mon Fordham, don't be squares. Bob Dylan is, by his own admission, a song and dance man. Give him his due: when the Dylan mood is upon you, do you play "Hurricane"? Or "Hattie Carroll"? Or, heaven help us, "Silvio"? Surely not. How much better would this discussion have been if someone had talked about "All Along the Watchtower" as a metaphorical analysis of the relationship between artists and their intellectual property? And damnit, why do discussions about Dylan always seem to overlook his later work? (Except for "Hurricane", I guess, a song from the 70's that was a throwback to 1964, and which is, in any event, 36 years old.)

It would not be hard to do a better panel about Dylan and the law is what I'm saying.

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