catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Bob Dylan and the white picket fence

leave a comment »

So word is out that Bob Dylan didn’t really like his hippy fans

US folk legend Bob Dylan reveals in his long-awaited memoir that contrary to his renowned image as an icon of 1960’s counterculture, he was in fact an unwilling rebel who dreamt of a simple nine-to-five existence.

While a generation of hippies and counterculture rebels gyrated to Dylan’s voice and music, the man behind the lyrics reveals he felt a prisoner in his own home where he packed a Colt pistol and Winchester rifle in fear of “rogue radicals”, according to excerpts from Dylan’s memoir …

“The world was absurd … I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of,” Dylan says.

“I was fantasising about a nine-to-five existence, a house on a tree-lined block with a white picket fence, pink roses in the backyard.

Shock! Horror! Actually anyone who has ever followed Dylan’s work would have long ago realised that he’s never been a conventional leftist minstrel – otherwise he would be a tiresome propagandist rather than the great artist that he is capable of subtle insights into the human condition and great turns of lyricism, as well as the unpredictability and endless capacity to recreate himself. Also, it really isn’t all that surprising that great poets and artists turn out conservative or even reactionary though seemingly left-wing and revolutionary in their youth – the examples of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Richard Wagner come to mind.

I’m pretty sure that the sort of techno-modernist-secularist cosmopolitan libertarianism that, for example, I tend to identify with, would be anathema to Dylan. My view is that to the extent that Dylan’s politics can be discerned from his lyrics, they are an interesting hodge-podge but ultimately internally coherent sort of Tory mystic-Blakean anarchism. Funnily enough the contemporary literary figure that most comes to mind as similar to Dylan in his view of the world is Michel Houlbecq. He’s never been a slave to pieties. anyway.

Here are some excerpts from his 1964 song My Back Pages:

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
“Rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now …

A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
“Equality,” I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.

What about these lines from ‘No time to think’?

Socialism, hypnotism, patriotism, materialism.
Fools making laws for the breaking of jaws
And the sound of the keys as they clink
But there’s no time to think.

And which left-wing hipster would write a conciously devout set of lyrics like these from ‘Every grain of sand’?

In the time of my confession,
in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet
flood every newborn seed
There’s a dyin’ voice within me
reaching out somewhere,
Toiling in the danger and in
the morals of despair.

Don’t have the inclination to
look back on any mistake,
Like Cain,
I now behold this chain of events
that I must break.
In the fury of the moment
I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles,
in every grain of sand.

And his lyrics to ‘Watered down love’ probably won’t be played at any swingers’ parties anytime soon:

Love that’s pure hopes all things
Believes all things, won’t pull no strings
Won’t sneak up into your room, tall, dark and handsome
Capture your soul and hold it for ransom.

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love.

Maybe I’m reading too much into his famous Desolation Row but there’s also a hint in there of his sense of a whiff of corruption and decadence associated with the modern world (and even a slight dig at career feminism)- and this was written long before his brief conversion to Christianity:

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row …

Now Ophelia, she’s ‘neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid

To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness

Finally let’s not forget his powerful pro-Zionist anthem written in 1983, ‘Neighbourhood bully’ which would leave his Chomskyite and peacenik fans in a tizzy:

Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man,
His enemies say he’s on their land.
They got him outnumbered about a million to one,
He got no place to escape to, no place to run.
He’s the neighborhood bully …

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.
The bombs were meant for him.
He was supposed to feel bad.
He’s the neighborhood bully …

Well, he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace,
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease.
Now, they wouldn’t hurt a fly.
To hurt one they would weep.
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone,
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.
He’s made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,
In bed with nobody, under no one’s command.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

Advertisements

Written by Admin

September 28, 2004 at 12:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: