April 6, 2009

Bob Dylan on Barack Obama: "He’s like a fictional character, but he’s real."

From an interview with The Times Online's Bill Flanagan:
First off, his mother was a Kansas girl. Never lived in Kansas though, but with deep roots. You know, like Kansas bloody Kansas. John Brown the insurrectionist. Jesse James and Quantrill. Bushwhackers, Guerillas. Wizard of Oz Kansas. I think Barack has Jefferson Davis back there in his ancestry someplace. And then his father. An African intellectual. Bantu, Masai, Griot type heritage - cattle raiders, lion killers. I mean it’s just so incongruous that these two people would meet and fall in love. You kind of get past that though. And then you’re into his story. Like an odyssey except in reverse.

BF: In what way?

BD: First of all, Barack is born in Hawaii. Most of us think of Hawaii as paradise – so I guess you could say that he was born in paradise....

BF: What in his book would make you think he’d be a good politician?

BD: Well nothing really....

BF: Do you think he’ll make a good president?

BD: I have no idea. He’ll be the best president he can be. Most of those guys come into office with the best of intentions and leave as beaten men. Johnson would be a good example of that … Nixon, Clinton in a way, Truman, all the rest of them going back. You know, it’s like they all fly too close to the sun and get burned.

63 comments:

rhhardin said...

Obama is a fictional character who pauses on function words and operators.

It's perfect for WKRP management.

Meade said...

I like the end of that interview:

BF: Are you a mystical person?

BD: Absolutely.

BF: Any thoughts about why?

BD: I think it’s the land. The streams, the forests, the vast emptiness. The land created me. I’m wild and lonesome. Even as I travel the cities, I‘m more at home in the vacant lots. But I have a love for humankind, a love of truth, and a love of justice. I think I have a dualistic nature. I’m more of an adventurous type than a relationship type.

BF: But the album is all about love – love found, love lost, love remembered, love denied.

BD: Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it.


Very dylanesque.

ElcubanitoKC said...

Obama Sr. did not look like a Masai, but he may have had some Masai in him. However, it is less likely that he had any Bantu, since most Bantu expansion into Easter Africa happened to the South of present day Kenya.

Jesse James, Quantrill and Jefferson Davis were Confederates. Does Dylan consider the Bushwackers, Confederate outlaws and burners of Lawrence, heros?

He's a genius...

ElcubanitoKC said...

Alright, correction time, the Kikuyu seem to have a Bantu origin. He got that right.

ElcubanitoKC said...

And Jesse James was from Missouri, not Kansas

tim maguire said...

That's a surprisingly smart snippet. Much better than I expected after reading the title.

Peter V. Bella said...

Many years ago, Elvis was giving one of his very rare interviews to several reporters. He was asked a political question. His response:

"Honey, I'm just an entertainer..."

I like Dylan and his music. He is a great songwriter and entertainer. Why would anyone take any political opinion or statement from an entertainer seriously? Last week it was Mo Def. Who will be the next expert from the show business world to express some far fetched opinion?

ricpic said...

Bill Clinton left office a beaten man? That judgement alone makes Dylan an ignoramous. Clinton was and is a conscienceless monster who left office pleased as punch with himself.

ElcubanitoKC said...

...and no one should pay much attention to what I write on Monday morning. I hate Mondays...ugh

AllenS said...

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the vacant lot.

fcai said...

"What in his book would make you think he’d be a good politician?

BD: Well nothing really..."

There you have it. And now we are living it.

Obama is not Kikuyu. His father was Luo. Kikuyu, at least the ones I have known, were Christian/animists, not muslims. Obama is a muslim who bows to the Sunni spiritual leader.

Balfegor said...

Bill Clinton left office a beaten man? That judgement alone makes Dylan an ignoramous. Clinton was and is a conscienceless monster who left office pleased as punch with himself.

He said, "in a way," which I think is probably accurate.

Beth said...

Dylan's been reading Joseph Campbell.

mariner said...

It sounds like he's smoking some real good weed.

William said...

Obama is personable and pleasant. There is nothing very much to dislike about him. What drives me crazy is not Obama, but his supporters. They have that mad gleam in their eye of vegans who tell you that tofu, properly prepared with bean sprouts and ginger, tastes better than BBQ. In her column yesterday, Maureen Dowd mentioned in passing that Obama was a great writer. She didn't try to justify the statement; she just presented it as a self evident truth.....Obama is Tom Cruise. He can imitate a charismatic leader or a great writer, but when he goes off script it doesn't hold together. He has mastered the mannerisms of an accomplished leader, but the substance is lacking.....Well, it could be worse. If Hillary had won, Dylan would lie across his big, brass bed and tell us what a selfless heroine she is. An overpraised Obama is marginally less annoying than an overpraised Hillary. The consolations of philosophy.

srfwotb said...

I thought his bit about Southern gothic later in the interview was interesting.

Dave said...

"Why would anyone take any political opinion or statement from an entertainer seriously?"

Why would we not consider any political opinion from anybody, whether they are an entertainer, singer, lawyer, bricklayer, etc?

A person's vocation says nothing about the validity of their opinion.

MadisonMan said...

Dave, before I reply, I'd like to know what you do for a living.

traditionalguy said...

Pres. Obama can be the best President he can be all day long and we will back him up. But Presidents are not empowered to sell out the Constitutional form of government we inherited in order to create a Socialist Dream World where everybody pretends to be entitled to be paid for being alive and smling. Bob Dylan is a Poet who can see things like Walt Whitman could see things, but Walt Whitman always worked and lived in a real economic capitalist system in an America where you had to be compete and produce something besides votes for a Government Mob.

Sheepman said...

I'm crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog
Talking to myself in a monologue
I think what I need might be a full length leather coat
Somebody just asked me
If I registered to vote

jdeeripper said...

Bob Dylan is a cultural fraud. He's a no talent hack who was elevated to cultural significance by other no talent White Americans.

Same goes for Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Andy Warhol.

Every generation does this. Meanwhile better more talented people are marginalized.

Joe said...

Dylan did write some good tunes, even if he couldn't sing them worth shit. Regardless, he is undeserving of the accolades given him.

I agree with your assessment of Ginsberg, Burroughs and Warhol. I'd add, brace yourself, Dali to the list of cultural frauds. Recently saw a show about Dali's house--the man was a master of the tacky.

Lem said...

This is a different Dylan than the one I saw with Bradley’s 60 Minutes just a few years ago. (sorry, I'm working and I can't link streams)

Unlike Hitchens, I don’t pretend to understand Bob Dylan. (I know, I'm no Hitchens either)

But what little I got from the film “I’m not there” is exactly that.. Whenever people think they know where Dylan is he’s not there.

This may have been Dylan once again just blowing smoke.

AJ Lynch said...

JDee:

I thought the Tarzan books and movies were pretty good.

traditionalguy said...

jdeeripper...Dylan was so not a fraud, that while everyone wanted Dylan to be what they were used to, Bobby just kept changing and keeping his creative genius up on the stage with him. Enjoy him and forgive his re-creating himself every 7 years or so. The jealousy factor always surrounding a Dylan discussion is like that around Christopher Columbus who made doing something new and valuable look so easy that it made everyone mad that they hadn't thought of it first themselves.

John Stodder said...

I'm stunned at the yahoo-ism on this thread.

I mean, really? Bob Dylan is an entertainer who should keep his opinion to himself? He's a "cultural fraud?" He can't sing? He's high? He's "undeserving of accolades?" An "ignoramus?"

I loved the snippet of the interview Althouse posted. He's exactly right about Obama. Obama's a great story. And he's absolutely right about the presidency, which is why the histories of the rise and fall of US presidents captivate readers. At the level from which Dylan looks at things, the idea of someone with Obama's personal history maneuvering his way into the White House, and then what will happen to him in this unforgiving place is the stuff of an epic poem, or perhaps a novel that combines Willa Cather, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and, oh, somebody like Herman Wouk.

I don't care where you are politically. If you're a liberal or a conservative or a socialist. But if you don't get why Bob Dylan is the greatest American artist of his era, then everything else you say or think probably tends toward the flimsy.

Sheepman said...

I can understand someone not liking Dylan - sometimes he gets on my nerves and I've listened to him more than any other musician (and will most likely continue to do so in the future).

But to say that Dylan has no talent is just plain ignorance. It like saying Shakespeare was a hack or Picasso couldn't paint.

Who are your favorite pop/rock artists? The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Eric Clapton? They, and many others, were/are in awe of Dylan. If he fooled them, and well over 90% of those who matter in popular music, then Dylan has to be a rare genius to carry out such a fraud.

AJ Lynch said...

I like Dylan more every year. To me though he has been a slowly acquired taste. I just never got him as the brilliant creative genius (sorry if that upsets your universal mandate John Stodder).

That said, there are some artists I love (Doors, Zevon, Stones, Cocker, Sly Stone) and some I hate (Grateful Dead and The Who).

jdeeripper said...

John Stodder said... But if you don't get why Bob Dylan is the greatest American artist of his era, then everything else you say or think probably tends toward the flimsy.

Bob Dylan is THE iconic American cultural fraud of his generation.

He lacked talent, lacked charisma and he was ugly. Maybe that's why he became important to some people, he was not the kind of guy whose presence inspired envy. He wasn't a threat.

I can't explain it but then again I never used drugs.

Lem said...

I can't explain it...

Rush says that Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.

Maybe Dylan does the same for the untalented ;)

(btw - I have Dylan on my Ipod, Im not a Dylan hater)

ElcubanitoKC said...

I like some of Dylan's songs, like All Along The Watchtower. As AJ Lynch says, he's an acquired taste as well. However, I find what he said pretentious and silly to say the least.

Jeremy said...

jdeeripper said..."Bob Dylan is THE iconic American cultural fraud of his generation. He lacked talent, lacked charisma and he was ugly. Maybe that's why he became important to some people, he was not the kind of guy whose presence inspired envy. He wasn't a threat. I can't explain it but then again I never used drugs."

It sure as hell sounds like you do drugs.

Jeffrey said...

The definitive Enlgish-language reference guide on music is The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians. The article on Bob Dylan in the New Grove begins by declaring flatly that Dylan is "the most significant figure in post-World War II popular music." jdeeripper simply has no idea what he's talking about.

Lem said...

In that 60 minutes interview I remember Dylan saying that he’d purposely put out bad records and people would lap it up just as well as the one he considered good.

I also remember him saying something to the effect that he didn’t consider himself anything special, that he was just a guy playing the guitar.

John said...

I had backstage passes to the Bonnoroo Festival in 2007. On the walls in one of the backstage tents were pictures of past acts at Bonoroo. One of the pictures was of an obviously star struck Jeff Tweedy standing next to Bob Dylan back stage. What was funny about the picture was Tweedy was wearing a lanyard with a large, laminated all access pass on it. Dylan wasn't wearing any kind pass or badge. At some point they probably tried to give him one and Dylan was like "fuck it I am Bob Dylan, I don't need no pass". It just struck me how some people are just stars.

John said...

JD ripper,

Bob Dylan wrote, recorded and threw away better songs than most pop stars will ever write. Listen to the song "No Body Can Sing the Blues like Blind Willie McCoy" sometime. That song is incredible and Dylan didn't even put in the album he was working on. It came out later on one of the bootleg CDs. Same goes for "Lay Down Your Weary Tune". 60s folk rock bands like the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas and the like would have given their left nut to write a song like that. Dylan wrote it in about three hours, recorded it in a couple of takes and forgot about it. He just wrote that many songs.

Dylan also wrote pop songs that other people did. The old Manfried Man song "Mighty Quinn", that is Dylan. He wrote others such as All Along the Watch Tower. He also wrote lesser known songs that have been covered by other artists to great effect. Listen to Emmy Lou Harris' cover of "Every Grain of Sand" sometime. It is beautiful.

Bob Dylan is one of the great pop song writers of all time. Only Willie Nelson can touch him in terms of longevity and influence. You may not like his voice, but you can't question his talent without looking pretty stupid.

John said...

I defy anyone to give an example of a song explaining what it is like to be in love with one woman who won't have you but with another woman as a substitute better than Visions of Johanna.

Jeremy said...

Dylan much like Guthrie, is a poet.

Anybody who tries to typecast him as a pure musician or singer is missing the point.

People will be listening to him and enjoying him long after we're gone.

Synova said...

Hey, President Obama wants to help me with my mortgage. He actually called me today while I was at the grocery store trying to decide if a bag of chips was too much of an extravagance.

Or rather, an auto-call recording made by a young woman with a pleasant voice telling me how much Obama cares about my mortgage came in on my cell-phone.

Who pays for this? Is he paying for this with all his left-over campaign money?

And why the H*LL does the government have my cell-phone number?

Lem said...

As a song writer sure nobody comes close but as singer?

John said...

Lem,

Granted Dylan is not Marvin Gaye or Paul McCartney. But his voice is better than people give him credit for. Beyond that his lyrics can be amazing when he wants them to be. Sometimes he is just throwing words up on the wall to see what sticks. But other times he can have real meaning. A song like Forever Young is just magic.

Peter V. Bella said...

And why the H*LL does the government have my cell-phone number?

To track your every move of course. Be careful about taking help with your mortgage. If you do not spend your money responsibly- giving to the Darfur campaign or some such drivel- you will be fired from your household, your children sent to camps, and your home confiscated.
And for God's sake, do not pay yourself a bonus!

AJ Lynch said...

Synova:

Most of us the guys have your cell number. We are just trying to work up the nerve to call you.

Fortunatey Meade has been nice enough to conduct classes for us on how to meet chicks.

Jeremy said...

Synova - "And why the H*LL does the government have my cell-phone number?"

You're kidding, right?

They bought it, and contract out the actual calls or mailings from a service (Info U.S.A. / US Data / Hoovers) that specializes in telephone numbers, addresses, etc.

It's the way our businesses do business and without these companies commerce would disappear.

The call you got is probably related to the program (Mortgage Assistance Program) to help those who are under water with their mortgage, offering lower rates or assistance in getting a refinance to keep them in their homes versus eviction and foreclosure.

I think most people in that situation are looking for whatever help they can get.

John said...

"Most of us the guys have your cell number. We are just trying to work up the nerve to call you."

I tried to but my wife threw out the number before I had a chance.

BJM said...

This thread reads like a Dylan song.

John Stodder said...

The album that Bob Dylan put out that was supposed to be "deliberately bad" -- "Self Portrait" -- was a strategem to scare away the political radicals and hipsters who thought they owned him back in 1970 or so. He figured, correctly, that if he sang songs like "Blue Moon" and "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know About Her" they would stop expecting him to lead the revolution. It worked. But now, 40 years later, I find "Self Portrait" very enjoyable.

Dylan's greatness stems from his love for America. I'm serious. He is at heart a folklorist. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of virtually all forms of folk and pop music that emerged from this big country and he brings all of that into his songwriting. But he is also the quintessential singer/songwriter, the model for Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Jackson Browne etc., so in that sense he is a contemporary artist, except few of his peers are capable of writing songs as brilliant, poetic and emotionally true as "Visions of Johanna" or "It's All Over Now Baby Blue," or "You're a Big Girl Now" to name three of dozens. His singing? What is singing but phrasing? His instrument can be harsh (but not always, as "Nashville Skyline" shows), but his phrasing keeps him in business -- even today, when he is putting out some of the best albums of his career despite unholy amounts of phlegm, his singing is phenomenally expressive. That's why he keeps getting played. There is something in the way he phrases his songs that is artfully artless, natural and yet intelligent.

Oh sure, Dylan has put out a few weak albums. It's hard to listen to all of "Street Legal," "Empire Burlesque" and "Knocked Out Loaded." His live album with the Grateful Dead is awful. He had a bad '80s except for the superb "Oh Mercy" and "Infidels." But his overall body of work is outrageously great.

If you're a fan or not, I recommend reading his book "Chronicles, Vol 1." Interesting book in that he manages to be candid yet elusive. The structure is odd. He relates episodes of his life, skipping ahead years and decades to get to the episodes he wants to relate. But the early chapters demonstrate his passion for American music and explain better than any critic what Dylan's all about.

Sorry to be harsh on the haters. But I simply don't see how anyone who truly loves America could disregard Bob Dylan. Along with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Peggy Lee and Brian Wilson -- Bob Dylan's music is inseparable from America.

John Stodder said...

My list at the end of my last comment omitted Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. Apologies to the cracker elite!

Synova said...

Jeremy -- It's a privacy issue. I get a call saying it's from President Obama and it's a government vs. private citizen privacy issue. Also... am I to think that my personal financial and mortgage information is being accessed by someone? I'll accept a call from my bank. Not from Obama.

It's a cell phone issue... some people get charged for incoming calls. And who is paying for the calls on that end? Taxpayers?

And lastly... it's incredibly rude to robo-call a recording. If someone is going to interrupt my day, I expect a real person on the other end of the line. And since I doubt I'm the only one who will refuse to do any "commerce" with anyone who robo-calls me with a recorded message... it's not a necessary element of modern commerce.

Privacy Act information, my personal information, can only be used by the government for the purposes that it was collected for. Which is NOT calling me on my cell phone.

Now, I should have listened to the whole thing, but I'm betting that it wasn't a call to inform about government programs because I'm betting that it wasn't a tax payer funded, government call at all, but a perpetual campaign "call your congressman" political activist organization call.

Which pisses me off even more.

You know who robo-recording-calls? Scammers. And Obama is a scammer. So I guess that's in character.

Meade said...

"Apologies to the cracker elite! "

Apologies accepted!

Seriously, nice short essay on BD, JS.

John said...

John Stodder,

You need to put Willie Nelson on your list. He loves America and expresses it in his songs every bit as much as Dylan. His work is just as brilliant. As good as a song like Visions of Johanna is, a song like "Pretend I Never Happened" about leaving his first wife, is just as good. Like Dylan, Nelson could write a song in three hours and forget about it and it would be better than mortal song writers could write in a lifetime.

Willie, in his prime, was also a much better life performances were much better than anything Dylan has ever done. Listen to his life record Willie and Family in Reno in 1978 or the 1975 live at the Austin Opera House recordings. They are this amazing combination or rock, blues, swing, gospel, and raucous jamming. Nelson was in his prime everything the Greatful Dead tried to be only better and with more swing.

Peter V. Bella said...

They bought it, and contract out the actual calls or mailings from a service (Info U.S.A. / US Data / Hoovers) that specializes in telephone numbers, addresses, etc.

It's the way our businesses do business and without these companies commerce would disappear.


They bought it? With taxpayer money? Talk about waste, fraud, and irresponsibility. The government bought private information with public funds? Hmmmm? Maybe we should fire the CEO of the government for fiscal malfeasance, just like the CEO of GM was fired.

If US business ran and wasted as much money as the government they would all be bankrupt.

fcai said...

Speaking of fictional, did you read where Obama said that he doesn't speak "Austrian"? Is he the least intelligent person to be president, ever? What a moron. Everyone knows that Austrian is what they speak in Australia.

John Stodder said...

You need to put Willie Nelson on your list.

I embrace multitudes. Willie's on the list.

And he puts me in mind of Hoagy Carmichael, who also belongs on such a list.

John Stodder said...

That live in Reno records sounds great.

All I have of Willie is a best-of. I'd appreciate a short list of essential CDs, actually. If you don't want to put it here, I can be reached at stodder dot john at gmail dot com.

I should also say thanks to Meade. A kind word from Meade is like a nod from royalty now!

Ern said...

I've been waiting more than forty years for Bob Dylan to say or write something that made any sense. This interview didn't break the string.

John said...

John Stoddard,

Willie hit his prime in the early 70s. He had a run of amazing records. Begining with Yesterday's Wine, which is a concept album about a man sent back to earth by God as "imperfect man" since perfect man, Christ, had already been sent. Can you imagine being Willie's A&R man and trying to sell that idea to country radio in the early 70s. That record has some real classics, Yesterday's Wine and Me and Paul most notably.

Then he did "Phases and Stages", which is a concept record about his divorce. Has some fantastic songs you never hear.

Then after that is Shotgun Willie, which many consider to be his best record.

Then of course is Red Headed Stranger which for a long time was the highest selling country record ever.

Those four really are his four best. I would also reccomend the Naked Willie where he stripped down his Nashville Songs from the early 60s and redid them like he always wanted to but couldn't at the time.

Tietro is really good. He redid a bunch of his old songs with U2 producer Dan Lanois. It is real moody and different but has all the lyrics and phrasing of the great Nelson songs.

Lastly, Milk Cow Blues, a blues record he did in the early 2000s is quite good. A great cover of Bob Wills Sitting on Top of the World on it.

Mutaman said...

You judge a society by what it contributes to the rest of world. We must be doing pretty well, we gave the rest of the world Bobby Dylan. Of course we also contributed a lot of morons, many of who post here.

jdeeripper said...

You Dylan cult followers are like the Obamadroids. So Dylan is comparable to Shakespeare, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Peggy Lee and Brian Wilson?

Don't forget Homer, Tolstoy, Dickens, Handel, Mozart, Ray Charles and Sarah Vaughan.

Sure and Obama is a combination of Jesus, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, MLK, JFK and Sidney Poitier.

John said...A song like Forever Young is just magic.

You are seriously out of your mind. This guy is a total fuckin hack. Lyrically, musically, vocally.

Mutaman said...You judge a society by what it contributes to the rest of world. We must be doing pretty well, we gave the rest of the world Bobby Dylan.

If Al-Qaeda said Bob Dylan was the reason they hated us I would say they were justified.

Graham Powell said...

I think the thing about Dylan is that he really just writes songs for himself and doesn't give a shit what anyone else thinks. He doesn't just play the same old songs night after night.

I also think that's why he keeps "reinventing" himself. It's not a conscious image makeover, he just gets bored and finds something new to interest him.

Similarly, and as others have mentioned, I think he's not interested in Obama as a man or even a President, but as a story. This sort of story is Dylan's raw materials.

Mutaman said...

"If Al-Qaeda said Bob Dylan was the reason they hated us I would say they were justified."


I'd also say that, like you, they have really shitty taste.

veni vidi vici said...

"But I have a love for humankind, a love of truth, and a love of justice. I think I have a dualistic nature. I’m more of an adventurous type than a relationship type."

There's a word for folks who love humanity but don't particularly like people.

traditionalguy said...

Veni Vidi Vici... What is your word for Bob Dylan's type? My thought is that Dylan tries to communicate verbally what he sees people saying and doing and feeling and he tries to help people by using that talent with words set to music. But he is so scattered among so many life experiences that he fails to stick long with one person or to one vision of life around him. So what do you call that?