October 13, 2016

"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."

Wrote Bob Dylan in his great book "Chronicles." I don't know if the Nobel Committee included that book in its reasons for giving him their big award, but I loved "Chronicles" and blogged it in detail, chapter by chapter, back in 2004. You can find all the old posts with the "Dylan's 'Chronicles'" tag.

Ah! That tag got me to a 2013 post reacting to a NYT piece by Bill Wyman (not that Bill Wyman) about how Bob Dylan could win the Nobel Prize for Literature. I said:
It's hard to believe Bob Dylan would like the Nobel Prize. It's just a topic to write articles about and to get traffic flowing wherever they're published. Remember the backstory to the song "Day of the Locusts":
"Sara was trying to get Bob to go to Princeton University, where he was being presented with an honorary doctorate. Bob did not want to go. I said, 'C'mon, Bob it's an honor!' Sara and I both worked on him for a long time. Finally, he agreed. I had a car outside, a big limousine. That was the first thing he didn't like.... When we arrived at Princeton, they took us to a little room and Bob was asked to wear a cap and gown. He refused outright. They said, 'We won't give you the degree if you don't wear this.' Dylan said, 'Fine. I didn't ask for it in the first place.'..."
Anyway, I was thinking about that line "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke," as we were talking about the old aphorism "Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel" (which I attributed to Racine, and a commenter said was really from Horace Walpole). Bob Dylan also sings about getting a letter in which he was asked how he was doing: "Was that some kind of joke?" But there's more to comedy than jokes, so his contempt for jokes shouldn't mark him as a nonthinker, even if we take the old Walpole saying as gospel.
But back to that Dylan quote in the title. That's from Chapter 5, the last chapter of "Chronicles," blogged here (where there are links to the posts on the earlier chapters).
How people felt about Communists in northern Minnesota: "People weren't scared of them, seemed to be a big to-do over nothing." P. 271....

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.
I went back to that post in June 2008 when I was trying to figure out what Bob Dylan meant by something he said about the presidential candidate Barack Obama. He'd said (to an interviewer who'd asked him to comment on the upcoming 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.
What did I say back then, back before Barack Obama actually did that thing of being President? Considering the material I'd dug out of Chapter 5, I said:
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.


EMD said...

It's fun to realize that Dylan was never what the crowd (especially in the late sixties) wanted him to be.

rhhardin said...

Dylan seemed dismissive of Joan Baez.

War on woman.

buwaya puti said...

Well, this is my problem with literature that doesnt bloody well come to a point and be done with it.
All this wordsmith sneaking around is just a PITB.

Back in the day they did give the prize to dramatists and historians too. Mommsen got it. If you have really good writers about these days, they are writing history.

Laslo Spatula said...

I obliquely referenced this in a comment to the previous post --
"Local Man of Color Listens To Bob Dylan at Bar" -- but isn't Dylan appreciation essentially the province of white people?

Isn't the love of Dylan essentially White Elitism Signaling?

Isn't the love of Dylan white people self-reflecting in the satisfying ornate textual elaboration of their own self-regard?

Isn't the love of Dylan white people freeing themselves, guilt-free, of black influence?

Sure, he plays some blues-based songs, but only in his later, post-classic years has he not played them white-on-white. That is a Blonde on Blonde reference, white people: I thought you'd like that.

I am Laslo.

buwaya puti said...

Real white elitism signalling is reading the Iliad to your kids.

I signal, I signal.

buwaya puti said...

Dylan isnt terribly elitist, not really. Its elitism for the 10% not the .01%

Fair enough, its the Nobel after all, if that isnt elitist signalling there isnt such a thing.

Back in the day they gave it to Kipling, who was far more popular in his time than Dylan. Not a lot of people thought he was elitist, quite the opposite.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

If there were a Nobel Prize for engineering then Bob Dylan would have won it years ago for inventing that thing you wear around your neck that holds the harmonica.

William said...

Prior to the birth of Bob Dylan, John Milton was generally considered the greatest English poet after Shakespeare. It is instructive to recall that Milton was an apologist and propagandist for Cromwell and his crimes. So was Andrew Marvell for good measure. Napoleon had Lord Byron, Goethe, and Beethoven of in his corner........Where did the idea ever originate that poets and composers have some great insight into politics and events? If anything, they're demonstrably dumber than railway lawyers and haberdashers.

Laslo Spatula said...

buwaya puti said...
"Dylan isnt terribly elitist, not really. Its elitism for the 10% not the .01%"

10% is more than enough.

But I am referring to how the Bob Dylan Obsessive Secret Handshake Club may perceive themselves in musical taste.

By the way: I do love Bob Dylan. Just putting a context out there like a pinata.

I am Laslo.

buwaya puti said...

Good point. Neither Tolstoy nor Maxim Gorky (who is these days underappreciated) had sound political instincts. Granted, Gorky did figure things out, a bit late in the day.

Ref. Orlando Figes, a historian who should by rights be up for this prize.

Beethoven did realize his error and switched sides, even before he had to.

BDNYC said...

Bob Dylan's word are usually strange and nearly incomprehensible. I'm not sure even he understands what he's saying half the time.

robother said...

Bob Dylan, Barry Goldwater, Kinky Friedman. Actually there are a lot of American Jews who love America, the Old Weird America.

Rocketeer said...

I was never that familiar with Dylan and have learned what little I do know through this blog. But the way I've come to my understanding of Dylan's relationship with/opinion of the culture of his heydey is to analogize it to Picasso's relationship with/opinion of Pollock.

Rocketeer said...

If anything, they're demonstrably dumber than railway lawyers and haberdashers.

Ezra Pound comes to mind.

William said...

I think what's really cool about the award is that Dylan is probably a bit freaked out by the whole thing. My sense is that he does what he does for himself more than for his fans or the public at large.

I also think that he's a humble, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person. He's not ego-driven nor is he self-aggrandizing like so many in the "entertainment" industry. No megayachts for Bob.

I'd love to have been in the room when he was contacted about the award. His reaction would have been classic!

Fernandinande said...

Eric the Fruit Bat said...
If there were a Nobel Prize for engineering then Bob Dylan would have won it years ago for inventing that thing you wear around your neck that holds the harmonica.

That would be Les Paul.

Goody said...

I thought his book was great, and confirmed for me that he didn't take himself as seriously as his fans did. I mean, some of hiis stuff could have been written by Dr. Seuss, yet people just assumed it was "deep". Case in point: You used to ride on a chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat."

Earnest Prole said...

You can’t talk about Bob Dylan’s politics without talking about his 1963 dinner speech, at age 22, where he offended the assembled members of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (the cream of the American left) by declaring his independence: “There's no black and white, left and right to me anymore; there's only up and down and down is very close to the ground. And I'm trying to go up without thinking about anything trivial such as politics.” The outrage is described in Martin Scorsese’s “No Direction Home.”

David said...

The speech--if he gives one--should be interesting. No toadying.

Personally I would have preferred James Baldwin for No Toadying.

But he's not here anymore to give the speech.

I particularly like Dylan as part of The Traveling Wilburys. It's a band that was good at replacing dead guys with live guys. I'd like ir if Dylan's speech were sung, especially with The Wilburys. I doubt the Nobel Committee would like that. They are sort of like Princeton.

I wonder how the "real writers" from the USA feel about this?

GWash said...

Yay Bob.. Bob love ! Thanks Bob (if you're reading this) for all of the songs, poetry and insights i would probably not come up with on my own... Next Stop - Song and dance man hall of fame !

coupe said...

Dylan would accept a Nobel prize, mainly for the money. He is not shy about his love of money.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

My attempt at humor fell completely flat but I learned something awesome so I'm going to put all this in the win column.

David said...

" Actually there are a lot of American Jews who love America."

Like most of them. Even Barbra Streisand "loves America" even though she has a very incomplete understanding of it.

What does "love America" mean? I love my wife and my children and my dog. I am not always thrilled that I live with them. I am always very happy that I live in America. Talk about privilege. Even with Trump or Clinton likely to become president.

robother said...

"What does "love America" mean?"

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that anyone who leaves or threatens to leave if a single election doesn't go your way doesn't love America. I would say the same about a libertarian CEO who renounces his US citizenship or changes his corporate domicile for a lower tax rate. There are a lot of people on both coasts who, due to Leftist internationalism or libertarian capitalism, have a purely conditional relationship to the USA and its culture, that I would never call love.

FullMoon said...

robother said... [hush]​[hide comment]

Bob Dylan, Barry Goldwater, Kinky Friedman. Actually there are a lot of American Jews who love America, the Old Weird America.

Yeah, but, "they don't make Jews like Jesus anymore".

BN said...

It's not just that he's for white people only (Hendrix excepted). It's a certain type of white people, the too-cool-for-school white people born in the 40s-50s. Who are now in charge of the schools, and of the Nobel Prize Committee.

I like Dylan fine. I just don't see him as standing out above a host of other singer song-writers of this era.

Earnest Prole said...

Dylan would accept a Nobel prize, mainly for the money. He is not shy about his love of money.

If you're going to traffic in stereotypes, can't you work in something about his nose? It's like you're just phoning it in.

BDNYC said...

Barry Goldwater wasn't Jewish!

Mac McConnell said...

Have great respect for Dylan, Nobel Prize not so much.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Go easy on Coupé, he's a wet-brain.

Robert Blair said...

Prole, I think Coupe did good ... notice the very subtle "shy", as in "Shylock"?