June 8, 2008

What did Bob Dylan say about Barack Obama — and what did he mean?

At the end of Alan Jackson's interview with Bob Dylan:
My time with Dylan is up and we stand in preparation for my leaving the room. As a last aside, I ask for his take on the US political situation in the run-up to November's presidential election.

“Well, you know right now America is in a state of upheaval,” he says. “Poverty is demoralising. You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor. But we've got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up...Barack Obama. He's redefining what a politician is, so we'll have to see how things play out. Am I hopeful? Yes, I'm hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to.” He offers a parting handshake. “You should always take the best from the past, leave the worst back there and go forward into the future,” he notes as the door closes between us.
I've been listening to the words of Bob Dylan, taking them seriously, and trying to interpret them since the 1960s, so I'm ready to analyze this. In typical Dylan style, it's enigmatic. Let's study it line by line.

“Well, you know right now America is in a state of upheaval. Poverty is demoralising."

This is a broad statement about the problems and the mood in the country, with a focus on one thing: poverty. Poverty has not been a central issue in the campaign. Except for John Edwards, the candidates are careful to talk about economics in terms of the middle class and families.

Then there's the notion that poverty is demoralizing, which leads, somewhat mysteriously, to thoughts about virtue: "You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor." And the virtue is purity. Purity! What candidate has spoken about purity?

I'm seeing a swirl of left- and right-wing thoughts here. Conservatives care about individuals taking responsibility for themselves. They stress personal initiative and — particularly if they are social conservations — "virtue." "Purity" may seem to refer to the sexual virtues. To go from purity to poverty is easy for the poet. The words loosely rhyme. Maybe Dylan is bullshitting and stalling for time. (You can sing the previous 2 sentences in your imitation Dylan voice.)

But a conservative might tie purity to poverty: If you abstain from sex until you can marry and form a stable family, you will probably not be poor — if you take personal initiative and work hard. But the left-wing theme is there too. What if people can't do that because the poverty has demoralized them? There's sympathy and not judgment for the people who haven't followed the prescription for avoiding poverty.

This prelude ends with his naming one candidate, Barack Obama: "But we've got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up...Barack Obama."

"But we've got this guy out there now" is funny. Barack Obama is supremely famous at this point, but Dylan talks about him as though he's just appeared on the horizon: "this guy out there now." I think talking like that is being cagey and distancing himself from the subject of politics. But "this guy" is "redefining the nature of politics." Dylan doesn't like politics, perhaps, and wouldn't it be cool if some guy changed what politics are? Yet "redefining the nature of politics from the ground up" is a hack phrase — something the politicians themselves would say. I sense that he's putting up a wall, being vague and unrevealing.

"He's redefining what a politician is, so we'll have to see how things play out."

He repeats the redefinition idea, then reverts to the most noncommittal statement possible. We'll see what happens.

"Am I hopeful?"

I can't tell whether the interviewer pushed him with a question here. If not, then Dylan recognized the necessity of asking this. You can "redefine" something, but does anything change in the real world? And "so we'll have to see how things play out" was specifically declining to express either optimism or pessimism.

"Yes, I'm hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to."

He goes with the optimism. Not too much, though. An optimist would say "Yes, I'm hopeful that things will change." The "might" is the tinge of pessimism. And then there's the added "Some things are going to have to." Which things? And if they "have to," what does any particular politician have to do with it? Again, it's enigmatic, noncommittal — we'll have to see how things play out.

He "offers a parting handshake." He doesn't really want to talk about this. He shuts the door on his interlocutor, with one last point: "You should always take the best from the past, leave the worst back there and go forward into the future."

Why talk about the past here? "Some things" must change, he just said, but then he feels the need to bring up the past, to tell us to value the past and keep what is good. That's a conservative impulse — though not terribly conservative. He's only advising us to take "the best" from the past, while a hardcore conservative would want to keep as much tradition as possible and would believe that good naturally inheres in tradition. And yet, Dylan advises us to leave "the worst" behind, which would mean that we could continue with everything but what is shown to be actively bad — and that is what a hardcore conservative would say.

Finally, "go forward into the future." That is the most banal statement in the world. It's a ridiculous hack phrase, and maybe he meant it as a joke — because he is ousting the reporter from the room. "Go forward into the future" = Now, get out of here. But "go forward into the future" is the language of progressivism. He's swirling those left and right statements together, being enigmatic and cagey. It's a way that works for him, making him sound wise, funny, different — Dylanesque.

***

The subject of Dylan and Barack Obama came up in the comments on the Hillary post yesterday, when L.E. Lee wrote:
I was even more surprised that Bob Dylan said that he supports Barack Obama this past week. I do not remember Dylan ever endorsing a candidate for political office before.
Then Meade said:
L.E.Lee, It's widely known that, like Hillary was, Bob Dylan was a supporter of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Lee had trouble believing that, and Meade told him to look it up. It's in Dylan's book "Chronicles." This was a cue to me, because I blogged "Chronicles" chapter by chapter in 2004 — click the "Dylan's Chronicles" label — and I knew I had something on Goldwater. Yes, here:
Dylan's favorite politician: Barry Goldwater. P. 283.

Why: "[he] reminded me of Tom Mix."

Bob Dylan song that mentions Goldwater: "I Shall Be Free, No. 10."
Now, I'm liberal, but to a degree
I want ev'rybody to be free
But if you think that I'll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I'm crazy!
I wouldn't let him do it for all the farms in Cuba.
A Bob Dylan political opinion: "I wasn't that comfortable with all the psycho polemic babble. It wasn't my particular feast of food. Even the current news made me nervous. I liked the old news better." P. 283.
So, what does all this add to the analysis of his "endorsement" of Barrack Obama? I think we can say that door-closing Dylan is not that comfortable with talk about politics. In the book, that statement "I liked the old news better" got him to talking about his interest in reading history. His love of Barry Goldwater had something to do with style and cowboys. Here's Tom Mix. I can see the Goldwater resemblance. But why would Dylan say he liked Goldwater and give that as the reason? He's playing with us, hiding again, letting us know he's different from other people — he thinks with a poet's logic. Ordinary political people bother him. (So a politician who could "redefine" politics might appeal to him in a special way.)

And what do we make of the reference to Goldwater in "I Shall Be Free No. 10"? Read the lyrics. It begins:
I'm just average, common too
I'm just like him, the same as you
I'm everybody's brother and son
I ain't different from anyone
It ain't no use a-talking to me
It's just the same as talking to you.
So he's playing a character. Obviously, not Bob Dylan, who's very different from us and whom there is use in talking to, because it's not at all the same as talking to yourself. The "I" here is a comical everyman — the ultimate conformist. But then the lyrics proceed in lots of different directions, and sometimes the "I" is Dylan, but I think the Goldwater verse is not Dylan. It's a hypocritical liberal whom Dylan mocks. The liberal wants freedom for all, but is ready to discriminate against the conservative: "I want ev'rybody to be free/But if you think that I'll let Barry Goldwater/Move in next door and marry my daughter/You must think I'm crazy!"

To use "all the farms in Cuba" as the thing of great value to the character speaking these lines is to suggest that the liberal is really a Communist and to show an even darker side to his desire to repress the conservative. It's also part of the silliness and nonsense of this song, which shifts all over the place, changing points of view and flipping around absurdly.

That's just something he figured out how to do to keep us guessing what he's really talking about.
Now you're probably wondering by now
Just what this song is all about...
So if you're probably wondering by now just what his "endorsement" of Barack Obama is all about... it's nothing. It's something he said over in Denmark.

55 comments:

Ron said...

Wow, the most tea leaf reading and bloviation over a Dylan passage -- this side of a Rolling Stone piece -- I've read in years!

Kirby Olson said...

Dylan tacks about a lot and tries to cover it with a "deep" voice. He can't really think logically and coherently any better than the rest of his generation.

He tries to get by -- somewhat like the character Sellers plays in Being There, by being mostly mysterious, and turning cliches into something that sound deep by virtue of singing like Peter Lorre.

He's not capable of sustained thought, and probably can't even do basic algebra. His friends were glib idiots like Ginsberg.

They're best at getting people stirred up that something's happening. Pied Pipers, like B.O.?

Ann Althouse said...

Kirby, yeah, but he does it so well. Many others have tried to follow his ways, but they can't. It's not that easy to talk like that and be endlessly interesting to hordes of people. Logic and algebra are much easier to come by.

KLDAVIS said...

“Poverty is demoralising. You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor. But we've got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up...Barack Obama."

I parse that as, 'When people are demoralized by poverty, you can't expect them to have the purity of vision...sometimes they cling to the concept of change/Obama.'

1jpb said...

If Ann's opinion is:

"it's nothing. It's something he said over in Denmark."

Then, that long analysis was an exercise in word wasting. Very un-Dylan.

But I'd say an "A" for effort. (Grade inflation; when exactly did "effort" become accomplishment.)

Modern Otter said...

1. From what I can gather, the Alan Jackson who interviewed Dylan isn't the Alan Jackson I was hoping (perversely) that it might be.

2. There's tons to indicate that Dylan has never been as politically aligned as either his leftish admirers and his rightish detractors might have dreamed. I don't take the Goldwater remarks as anything in the nature of an endorsement. Jimmy Carter endorsed Dylan as his favorite songwriter and a good friend. Can't remember if Dylan returned the favor.

3. There are so many stories of Barry Goldwater admirers (some voters, some not)ca. 1964 whose political lives went on to take a hard turn away from conservativism--Hillary Clinton, for just one example. I'm not sure there's any connection, but at any rate I get the sense that today's Right is generally ambivalent at best about Goldwater's legacy.

L. E. Lee said...

First, I have to admit that my comment about Dylan in the other post yesterday was mostly me tweaking people (and this blog's owner in particular). I don't think Dylan was endorsing Obama last week. Instead, I think he was saying that Obama is interesting and something that is both old and new. “You should always take the best from the past, leave the worst back there and go forward into the future...” Dylan said at the end of that interview. As we all know, people have found a connection between Obama and JFK/MLK/RFK including their own personal reactions and responses to these political figures.
---------------
I forgot that Dylan had that line about Goldwater in his book from several years ago. Just as I really don't think Dylan was formally endorsing Obama, I did not think at the time that Dylan was saying he was a Goldwater supporter back in the day. He wrote that Goldwater was his "favorite politician" and "[he] reminded me of Tom Mix." I think a lot of people, no matter their politics, look back on Goldwater with affection and remember him as totally genuine. (As a side note I would add that there is a lot of Goldwater in John McCain that goes beyond the fact that they have sat in the same Senate seat. I detect some of that original cowboy "Tom Mix" in him that always seems really fake when George Bush puts on his cowboy hat.)
--------------------------
I hope no offense is taken from my original "tweak". I did enjoy this post that followed it.

LL

Ann Althouse said...

1jpb, go listen to "I Shall Be Free."

Ann Althouse said...

l.e. lee, I wasn't offended, just moved to write about something I was going to skip.

rhhardin said...

Logic and algebra are much easier to come by.

Logic or algebra is even easier.

Like death or taxes.

reader_iam said...

any better than the rest of his generation.

Dylan is not a Boomer (b. 1941). So ... which generation would that be?

Chip Ahoy said...

I was taught politics is not allowed in polite company. Now that I'm grown, I find everybody shoving their political opinion in my face. The entire world is rude, and I'm the only nice person left. I don't give a flying rat's ass about anybody's political opinion. (<-- epitome of niceness, innit?) Whenever I listen to political opinion, something stupid comes out, and I drop IQ points for having heard it. The most brilliant individuals say the most incredibly stupid political things. I despair. Why an interviewer would ask a poet such a thing is utterly beyond me. I lose respect for both. Now I've heard Dylan's direct response to a political question and now I see Dylan as perfectly idiotic. This taints his entire œuvre. When I listen to Isis or Black Diamond Bay I'll be thinking, "This was written by an idiot."

Upheaval? *makes incredulous face* Poverty? *exaggerates incredulity* Virtue? Come'on! This guy? This guy! That does it. *slams down Blood on the Tracks, stomps out*

L. E. Lee said...

Well it is nice to know that "Chip Ahoy" has not expressed an opinion on the politics of the day beyond the confines of his bathroom. How noble he is.

ddh said...

“Poverty is demoralising. You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor."

Dylan's statement echoes a famous line in the ballad "What Keeps a Man Alive" from Berthold Brecht's Dreigroschenoper. "Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral" roughly translates as "First comes the feed, then morals." You can hear the lyric at http://www.amazon.com/Weill-Die-Dreigroschenoper-Threepenny-Opera/dp/B0000026HI/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1212943370&sr=1-2.

1jpb said...

I don't see the connection between these Dylan words and the analysis here.

http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/befree.html

This text seems expressive and purposeful. Very impressive; makes me want to go to itunes, except since it's Sunday, I've decided to find a hard copy while wandering about today (after F1, the greatest thing in the world, even better when I don't need to get up at 4 am to see it.)

For the record, I fully realize that my lack of interest in Dylan is unwise (his muttering style presents some self absorbed folks from later generations an excuse for ignoring him.) Many of us mid-thirty folks are preoccupied with our own riddling musicians. I probably approach Radiohead the way you look at Dylan. I certainly have spent decades pondering some of their more clever, but not necessarily explicit, lyrics--but still questions remain.


It's Hamilton time!!!!!!!!! (What a crazy year: I'm pro BHO, and anti Ferarri.)

Beth said...

Ann, you quote two "hack" phrases and each time follow up with an assumption that he must really be doing something cagey: putting up a wall, making a joke.

Why overanalyze Dylan? If he's offering a hack phrase, a banal idea, it's because he's just as capable of being banal, and a hack, as any other performer.

rhhardin said...

Imus Dylan song parody real audio Aug 30 1998

Come gather ye all around my hospital bed


``Ain't feelin too good but at least I ain't dead
And my heart's got an infection.''

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"But "go forward into the future" is the language of progressivism."

Right, if 1972 were in the future.

Beth said...

So, he's concerned about poverty, and wants us to go forward into the future.

So, Dylan wants us to go forth and prosper?

Dude, Dylan's a Vulcan!

Ann Althouse said...

ddh said...“'Poverty is demoralising. You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor.' Dylan's statement echoes a famous line in the ballad "What Keeps a Man Alive" from Berthold Brecht's Dreigroschenoper. "Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral" roughly translates as 'First comes the feed, then morals.'"

I love that song, especially as sung in the translation used at the Public Theater in 1976 and sung by Raul Julia. I just got out my old, overplayed, scratchy copy of the album to get the lyrics:

"You gentlemen who think you have a mission/To purge us of the seven deadly sins/Should first sort out the basic food position/Then start your preaching. That's where it begins./You lot who preach restraint and watch your waist as well/Should learn for once the way the world is run/However much you twist, whatever lies you tell/Food is the first thing. Morals follow on./So first make sure that those who now are starving/Get proper helpings when we all start carving."

Something similar is found in "The Grand Inquisitor:

"But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee, and all will follow him, crying, 'Who can compare with this beast? He has given us fire from heaven!' Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? 'Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!' that's what they'll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple. ... In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, 'Make us your slaves, but feed us.'"

Ann Althouse said...

1jpb said..."I don't see the connection between these Dylan words and the analysis here. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/befree.html"

Because we're talking about "I Shall Be Free No. 10," linked in the original post. It's a different song.

Ann Althouse said...

Oddly, the other "I Shall Be Free" as recorded on "Freewheelin'" has many lyrics that are different from what he's got up on his website! For example, the website has "What do you do about Willy Mays and Yul Brynner, Charles de Gaulle, And Robert Louis Stevenson?" On the original recording, only Willie Mays is on that list of names. There are about 20 other differences.

Meade said...

So if you're probably wondering by now just what his "endorsement" of Barack Obama is all about... it's nothing. It's something he said over in Denmark.

Signature Althouseanicesque humor. Who said women can't be funny?

William said...

No disrespect to Dylan's talent, but he was always something of a poseur and a round-trip revolutionary. If the music thing didn't work out, he would go back home and manage the family business or go into plastics. He used the poor and the marginal as a bludgeon against the small virtues of his parents' generation and class. I don't think anyone who can afford their own private jet has any great insights into the lives of the poor. Some of his music expresses nothing so much as the blue funk of adolesence. And, of course, some of it is great....At the time I thought his talent was much greater than that of the Beatles or even Gershwin but Lennon-McCartney and Gershwin are the songs that express some feeling that moves forward from adolesence and it small, smug rebellions.

1jpb said...

Oh.

So, obviously Dylan's words were well considered and purposeful. Hence his "nothing" was ironic. And, presumably, Ann was being ironic too.

I missed that: too much distraction as F1 was starting while I read the post.

Trooper York said...

Worrying about what Presidential candidate Dylan is supporting is like worrying about what emperor Catullus was pimping. It’s just as relevant.

The real question is who are Usher and Beyonce supporting. Oh right. Nevermind.

John Stodder said...

What's funny to me is that CNN and others took that meandering, stalling-for-time statement by Bob as "an endorsement" of Obama.

When Bruce Springsteen or Barbra Streisand endorse a candidate, they don't leave you wondering if they do and why they do.

Bob Dylan is purely a musician and songwriter. I don't think the world exists particularly for him outside his vocation. All his other endeavors -- his book, his radio show, his Starbucks mix CD -- are all about tracing his musical and lyrical visions. One of the reasons he's so uncomfortable doing interviews -- a necessary evil for a music career -- is that he'll get questions that are irrelevant and beyond his reach. When he was younger, he would famously goof on these questions. Now he just endures them and tries to deflect them.

I'm sure he gets a good feeling from Obama, and probably is as impatient with George W. Bush as most Americans are by now, liberal or conservative. But I don't think you can hang Obama around his neck. It was just a passing comment, he's probably already forgotten he said it, and isn't too thrilled the media has churned it up into a major political statement.

As for me, as much as I get wrapped up in politics, I'd rather my favorite candidates never win elections for the rest of my life than to contemplate a world without Bob Dylan records.

P. Rich said...

Early on, Dylan was a Pete Seeger sock puppet, and Seeger was a communist/socialist/big labor kinda guy who believed in using music and the arts in general to condition the masses, a concept that came out of a Soviet committee. Then Dylan wandered off the proper path and angered his early true-believer followers. He's probably been confused and conflicted ever since.

Chris said...

Dylan in USA Today on Neil Young's impeach the president song:

"Didn't Neil Young do that?" he jokes . . . "What's funny about the Neil record, when I heard 'Let's Impeach the President,' I thought it was something old that had been lying around. I said, 'That's crazy, he's doing a song about Clinton?'"

Kirby Olson said...

I just meant that anybody who was in their 20s in the 60s seems to have loved Bob Dylan, but I wasn't 20 until the late 70s and loved other things, equally embarrassing: Uriah Heep, for instance, or T. Rex, or other stuff that when I look back I just think: eeek.

But the people of the 60s never let go of their early adulthood adulation of Dylan, but I don't know why the 60s were so great. They gave us:

The breakdown of the family via the sexual revolution and also, with this, lots of new sexual diseases such as AIDS and herpes and lots and lots of others. Why are the 68ers proud of this?

Their greatest accomplishment seems to have been to consign Vietnam to economic oblivion -- where the average Vietnamese individual today makes $324 per YEAR. Compare South Korea, where Locke took hold, and Marxism was outed.

And yet, almost all 68ers are still proud of what they did to Vietnam.

Drug use: drugs destroyed the minds of millions of 20+ individuals in the 1960s, and yet many people that you meet from that era still think this is a good thing for some reason.

Bob Dylan was their song-meister with songs like, The Times They are A-Changing, and EVERYBODY must Get STONED, and he even thought that Reuben Carter was a nice man. Nobody ever seems to change their minds about anything and think: I guess I had this wrong.

I now look back at Uriah Heep and think: oh, my, what an embarrassing thing. I think of Black Sabbath and think, oops.

But has anybody ever re-thought whether or not Bob Dylan was any good in either a moral, a political, or any other sense? I assume that they don't know what he was saying, but no one seems to question whether Dylan himself knew what he was saying. I find this odd.

matthew said...

You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor.

This line actually reminds me of a Randy Newman song lyric more than Brecht. Of course it's his version of Faust, and the line is sung by the Satan himself. (From the song You Can't Keep a Good Man Down).

Treat a man like dirt, give him no respect for who he is, expect something dirty in return...

John Stodder said...

But the people of the 60s never let go of their early adulthood adulation of Dylan, but I don't know why the 60s were so great. They gave us:

The breakdown of the family via the sexual revolution and also, with this, lots of new sexual diseases such as AIDS and herpes and lots and lots of others. Why are the 68ers proud of this?


Hold the phone! You're sweeping up a lot of cultural detritus with the same broom.

First of all, not all Dylan fans were in their 20s in the 1960s. Me, for example. I turned 20 in 1976.

Secondly, Dylan might have smoked a lot of pot for a time, but he was not a proseyltizer for drug like the Dead or Jefferson Airplane. He was a poet who wrote about a lot of things, including injustice. Maybe Rubin Carter wasn't worthy of his poetic attentions, but some of his protest ballads of the early 60s were quite moving -- "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," for example. And, he didn't invent the form. Songs like that go back hundreds of years.

Dylan was by no means a performer you can hold responsible for:

Premarital sex
Herpes
AIDS
The breakdown of the family
The current state of affairs in Vietnam
Anyone's morality but his own

You're just making a complete category error. It was the pill that made sex more easily available, although if you think our grandparents didn't diddle around before marriage, you're naive. The cultural tone was set not by Dylan, but by Hugh Hefner and the fashion industry. Vietnam was stabbed in the back by politicians and journalists, not musicians. If you look back at the hit music of the 60s, you'll be surprised by how few explicitly political songs were on the charts. Some musicians might have agreed with the antiwar movement, but they didn't create it, lead it or sing about it except on rare occasions. "For What It's Worth," which is often used to illustrate 60s protest scenes, was about a confrontation between sheriff's deputies and fans of a shuttered Sunset Strip nightclub.

Dylan, at times, reflected the cultural changes going on in the 1960s, but so did JFK, Frank Sinatra, Joan Didion and Dinah Shore. You couldn't really avoid it. By commenting on it, Dylan didn't bring it into being. And were the changes all so bad? The sexual revolution wasn't so much about promiscuity as it was about overturning hypocrisy and double-standards. The civil rights movement was long overdue; it's not MLK's fault that his successors turned it into a power base. And you don't have to be a liberal to see that the Vietnam war was a cluster-fuck of extreme stupidity; poorly planned, poorly executed, dishonestly waged, and bloody in ways that make the war in Iraq look like a skirmish. The anti-war movement wasn't really too far wrong.

Your rage also assumes the pendulum never swings back. But for the most part, it already has. You are free to keep your family intact, to protect yourself and your children from STDs, to go to church every Sunday, and to listen to Pat Boone's versions of Black Sabbath songs. The 60s did not take away your rights to live the way you want to live.

Patrick said...

I'm sorry but Bob Dylan is about as relevant today as a black and white television set.

Patrick said...

I'm sorry but Bob Dylan is about as relevant today as a black and white television set.

Ann Althouse said...

Kirby, I wasn't 20 until the 70s. Things made the biggest impression on me when I was a teenager.

Ann Althouse said...

william said..."No disrespect to Dylan's talent, but he was always something of a poseur and a round-trip revolutionary."

He was a poseur and he knew it when he was in his political phase. He stopped with "Another Side of Bob Dylan," and aside from an occasional song, he never went back. I think that was pretty authentic of him. It seems to me that he was mostly writing about personal relationships -- people that he hated or loved.

Kirby Olson said...

It isn't that I don't like his music. The last album Modern Times had some wonderful music on it. The last song is even crypto-Christian (although one song is definitely a proletarian singalong).

I guess I wonder about the malaise of the 60s -- the idealism. I am an idealist, but I can't stand idealism when it jars against reality.

It's probably true that the musicians were not completely responsible for the reduction of Vietnam to a slave-society working on Maggie's Farm for beans, nor are they probably responsible for the reeducation camps that many of our universities have become, but I think they should have spoken out a bit more against Marxism.

They seemed to enable the Marxists to get control of many of our institutions.

I'm not saying that Dylan was a Marxist.

He even argues against it, especially in his two or three explicitly Christian albums. And what can I say -- had he done more of that he would have been put out to pasture.

But now by lining himself up with B.O. there's a horrible sense I have that more crypto-Marxism is on the way to my nose. I realize I am free to raise my own family any way I want, but it's sad to watch the rest of the society sink into crazy beliefs and to have this horrible B.O. as their stealth candidate.

At least McCain knows from personal experience what real Marxism is like. Zero rights, zero legal remedies, zero concern for the welfare of anyone who dares to stand up to the system.

I think anyone who doesn't explicitly stand up to Marxism is for it.

William said...

I'd like to offer a post in support of Kirby Olson. Dylan was to the sixties and America as Weill-Brecht were to the twenties and the Weimar Republic. The Weimar Republic was a serviceable republic that made none of Germany's problems worse and even solved some of them. The artists and hard left were against it. They were opposed to capitalism and none too enthusiastic about democracy. They thought the Social Democrats were Social Fascists (their phrase). Artists like Grosz and Brecht discredited the republic. What could possibly be worse than the Weimar Republic? The Communists could have prevented Hitler from taking power if they had joined a coalition with the Social Democrats. They refused. They saw no real difference between the Nazis and the Social Democrats. After Hitler took power Brecht moved to America where he was free to further brood on the evils of capitalism. He was never distanced and ironic and biting about the evils of communism.....Dylan for all his pretensions and snottiness was a genius. His best work, IMHO, was in the sixties. His songs reflect the confusion and anger of that period and maybe something more. What his songs do not reflect, however, are the pleasures of living in America and the good qualities of Americans. I am glad to have lived in a country where the Beadles and even the Lovin Spoonful outsold Dylan. Whatever his artistry he was an unreliable character witness for America and not much of a prophet.

Meade said...

"What his songs do not reflect, however, are the pleasures of living in America and the good qualities of Americans."

William, go listen to the albums John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and New Morning and see if they don't alter your opinion. Prophet or character witness for America? He never took those jobs to begin with. But as a song and dance man, he's done pretty well. Have you noticed the way a number of readers come here to Althouse and project all kinds of things onto to her that have nothing to do with her? Same thing with Bob Dylan.

Summer Anne said...

Have you noticed the way a number of readers come here to Althouse and project all kinds of things onto to her that have nothing to do with her? Same thing with Bob Dylan.

I just want to say that this is one of the most intelligent pithy commentary I've ever read on this blog.

You guys are missing the point. Analyzing Bobby D is fun. Whether you think he's smart or you think he's vapid, his meandering commentaries are always more complicated than their face. Breakin' it down is what Dylan fans do.

Oh, and
Now I've heard Dylan's direct response to a political question and now I see Dylan as perfectly idiotic. This taints his entire œuvre. When I listen to Isis or Black Diamond Bay I'll be thinking, "This was written by an idiot."

that makes me sad. Do you really think that everyone who says something you disagree with politically is an 'idiot'? Regardless of the brilliance of their creativity or intelligence in other areas? I'm a bleedin' heart liberal and I can still recognize Mark Helperin and Tom Wolfe as amazing novelists and read every book they release.

And never, ever slam down your copy of Blood On the Tracks. That album is sacred.

Ann Althouse said...

Summer Anne is right: it's fun to interpret Dylan. I had a lot of fun writing this post.

Meade said...

Good article, Summer Anne. Thanks for linking to it.

drinneevar said...

He's only a song and dance man.

Bob Dylan said that !!!!

Pogo said...

I respect Dylan's nonanswers to political questions. Enigmatic responses are hardly the sort of endorsement a candidate desires.
Hey, it seems like Dylan might be supporting Obama. Maybe. I think.

I do not think artists have anything useful to say about politics. Balancing tradeoffs involves logic and algebra, which lack style, rarely rhyme, and frequently involve committee meetings.

While they may be adept at describing the human condition, they are more poorly equipped than a state trooper, construction worker, business man, or a socialite with a long string of pearls to answer the question, What then must we do?

Thad said...

I don't think Dylan put as much thought into his off-the-cuff quotes as Althouse's analysis would imply. This is not TEXT from Dylan we are analyzing, just some everyday speech.

And I think the most common interpretation out there is the correct one, that Dylan thinks that Obama is something pretty interesting that is a sign of hope, possibly a harbinger of needed change. That in itself is a significant statement, and it'd be absurd to ask more. He's not going to say "yeah Obama is the Messiah, give him $25 at barackobama.com." But given the whole tenor of his career--early civil rights movement involvement, engagement with black folks music and later black gospel music, marriage and children with an African-American woman in the 1980s--it strikes me as very plausible that Dylan would be intrigued and possibly even a little bit excited about the first multi-racial progressive movement in the U.S. with any legs since the 1960s, led by a biracial man.

As to his overall political sympathies, it also strikes me as relevant that Dylan performed at the Clinton inauguration in 1993 ("Chimes of Freedom"). It's not at all hard to believe he's sympathetic to the idea of genuine change, which Obama represents.

William said...

File sharing is a democratic, grass roots movement. I am surprised that singers like Dylan and Springsteen have not lent their support to this movement to equitably distribute the musical wealth of America.

gergle said...

My favorite interview of Dylan is when a smarmy reporter asks about Dylan's political messages in his song's asking how Dylan sees himself.

He replies with a mischevious grin, " I've always thought of myself as a song and dance man."

He's an entertainer. A musician.

In his biography, he talks to being not particularly political, but rather tending to raising his family. He goes to work, makes money, and comes back home to his family. His politics are private and not his gig.

Dylan, and anyone with an intellect greater than a chimp, recognizes the disconnect in American politics, Things have got to change.

To presume more in depth views into Dylan's soul, is to presume you know him. I don't, his close friends do. Dylan's magic is song and poetry. Enjoy it, and leave the belly button analysis alone.

The Deacon said...

While they may be adept at describing the human condition, they are more poorly equipped than a state trooper, construction worker, business man, or a socialite with a long string of pearls to answer the question, What then must we do?

Silly, silly caricature. You obviously have never packed into a van with four people to tour the country. Break down between gigs with minimal cash in the middle of Nebraska and see how your skills of "what, then, must we do?" add up to the task. My family seems to think I spent my 20's wasting time in my rock band just because we didn't make it to MTV, but that's because they, as the person who posted the above comment, just don't understand that running a band that travels and plays music for money is a business just like any other.
Musicians have as much right to comment on politics as anybody else. A man like Bob Dylan has probably encountered more of the world than you or I will as we travel in our little circles. The problem is that it is very hard to explain a life-time of experience in a quick closing statement at the end of an article. Why would Dylan bother trying to express himself honestly and clearly when a couple of his sentences can stir such activity as this?

Meade said...

The Deacon,
Dr. Pogo didn't say musicians haven't the right to comment on politics, he said artists' statements on politics just aren't very useful. Do you think they are?

HowManyLoads? said...

Jesus! You could go into the Olympics making leaps like that... this is one of the more straightforward things Dylan has ever said*. It's pretty simple and isn't more than it appears to be. And regarding the "Goldwater" thing, this is frequently taken out of context... he was speaking of a very specific time in his life, but you cast it as if it's an ongoing sentiment. He refers to this period as a "primitive way of looking at things," by the way.

*- "Straightforward"... here I am clearly mixing conservative and liberal values... "straightness" of course referring to the time-honored values of heterosexuality as it has come to be known in the modern age... and yet, I ALSO invoke "forwardness," a progressive value looking toward the future... it also references the phrase "straightforward into madness," making the whole sentence clearly ironic. But I also fail to seperate the two phrases, giving the indication that pure straightness is indeed "forward." Oh Lordy Lordy, what do I mean? WHAT DO I MEAN!? The answer, my friend, is blowing out your end.

Thad said...

by the way, I should have added that the comments about poverty (which are pretty straightforward--you can't expect someone to be virtuous when they're beaten down poor) might be usefully connected to a song written not 40 years ago but on his last album from 2006, "Workingman Blue's #2," containing the lines "The buying power of the proletariat's gone down/money's getting shallow and weak" and "they say low wages are reality/if we want to compete abroad." Poverty is clearly on the guy's mind, and it's interesting but not surprising that's what he referenced when asked to comment on the American scene (and not the transcripts of the last Clinton-Obama debate, or whatever).

TCB Walsh said...

Very interesting - I wrote some much less insightful comments about Dylan/Obama on my site rockturtleneck.blogspot.com - "Obama,can this really be the end?" Check it out!

Cassius said...

In the most practical sense, it probably has a little to do with his boy being active BO, and pops is picking up on it.

He is conveying it in his typical way, but the fact that he IS conveying it, is noteworthy.

Also worth noting is BO is on the record as being a massive fan. In just over seven month someone that gets ”It’s Alright Ma” will be the leader of the free world. That is progress.

hyoomik said...

Dylan: “You should always take the best from the past, leave the worst back there and go forward into the future,”

Jeremiah 6:16 (roughly)
Stop and look over the old ways, and ask, and find the one that's best, and follow it, and you will find refreshment for your soul.

turtle said...

Dylan is the single most important artist in my lifetime. I am a political moderate, albeit an extreme one. One of the things I am thankful for is that Dylan doesn't ordinarily impinge upon his art with partisan politics except in the abstract with little exception. One interesting thing about his statement about Obama redefining politics from the ground up is that it seems to show that Dylan is not really dialed in to current political events. I have been watching this election closer than any other political event in my lifetime and my sense is that Obama is the biggest phoney to arrive on the American political scene since John Edwards or John Kerry. Same stuff different year. So Bob doesn't closely follow the primary process... good. Hopefully this is because he is working on the second volume of his autobiography as well as the next season of his radio show. God Bless Bob Dylan and God Bless America!