Saturday, January 27, 2007

Prophet for his Generation

Christmas was wonderful. All the family at home, although the word has a special meaning here; as a location it was never home to anybody except two old people. But to their kids gathered around together (very rarely) from three other states it's sort of like home.

Many books exchanged (very informal, very little or no wrapping paper). One that has really grabbed me is called Chronicles (Vol 1). We've always known that Dylan was one of the most intelligent people of his generation, although he went to great lengths to disguise it. Just to read his lyrics you perceive the magnitude of his vocabulary.

Chronicles, the little bit that I've read so far, seems like an honest confession, what every great man is tempted to do in his latter years. "my grandmother, who lived with us, my one and only confidante" and many similarly revealing comments.

His description of the library of the apartment where he lived with a couple of other alternatives is worth the price of the book. He described in detail numerous of them: Balzac, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Thucydides, Thaddeus Stevens, Clausewitz ("he didn't look like Von Hindenberg, but Robert Burns, or Montgomery Clift" approximate quotation!).

With my limited intellectual background, I've never know anybody with that kind of intimate familiarity with such a broad spectrum of literature. In everything he was a cut above those around him.

He especially liked Balzac and Clausewitz. The first was a riot, and the second seemed to have been seriously influential in forming his values. I'll have to read Clausewitze, not from any great interest in him per se, but to help me understand Dylan.

Dylan has always led to much ambivalence, and ambiguity in my mind; my kids used to sing his songs (and those of his disciples). As pure music he's atrocious, about the poorest vocalist I ever heard-- if you're interested in serious music.

The book has a reasonable explanation of that. As a struggling young song writer he used to assemble bands to do gigs anywhere there was any money. And his bands always got stolen by somebody with more wampum. On page 44 he wrote, "it was beginning to dawn on me that I would have to play and sing by myself until I could afford to pay a band." There it is! he never saw himself as a singer, but sang in desperation-- the world's worse singer.

His atrocious voice was like a poke in the eye to serious musicians. I don't think that was his intention, but it just happened as he described it here. Of course since the forties someone has always made a hit with the teens with what amounts to a good jeer at polite society, in this case music. All too many people maintain that attitude for life, and stunt their careers (and their creativity) thereby.

It came to me that Dylan was for his generation something like Henry Miller was for mine. He liberated us from some of the chains of conventional stupidity that constantly surround us.

Reading it from the 80 year old perspective I found the book uniformly entertaining-- and enlightening. His chapter on New Orleans meant a lot to me, going over places that still haunt my youth.

For the last forty years Dylan has understood that he was a former prophet. He's always been a sad figure to me. Why can't all my heroes live good proper (and happy) lives?

I wonder who is today's Bob Dylan?

12 comments:

jez said...

For many of us, today's Bob Dylan, is, errr, Bob Dylan!

Laurie Kruczek said...

It's a good book. Read it in just 2 days cuz I couldn't put it down. I read somewhere so did Martha Stewart while she was in jail. Interesting, don't you think?

This made me think of David Bowie's "Song For Bob Dylan" as he also wondered what happened to the "former prophet." Merry Christmas!


"Oh, hear this Robert Zimmerman
I wrote a song for you
About a strange young man called Dylan
With a voice like sand and glue
Some words of truthful vengeance
They could pin us to the floor
Brought a few more people on
And put the fear in a whole lot more

Ah, Here she comes
Here she comes
Here she comes again
The same old painted lady
From the brow of a superbrain
She'll scratch this world to pieces
As she comes on like a friend
But a couple of songs
From your old scrapbook
Could send her home again

You gave your heart to every bedsit room
At least a picture on the wall
And you sat behind a million pair of eyes
And told them how they saw
Then we lost your train of thought
The paintings are all your own
While troubles are rising
We'd rather be scared
Together than alone

Ah, Here she comes
Here she comes
Here she comes again
The same old painted lady
From the brow of a superbrain
She'll scratch this world to pieces
As she comes on like a friend
But a couple of songs
From your old scrapbook
Could send her home again

Now hear this Robert Zimmerman
Though I don't suppose we'll meet
Ask your good friend Dylan
If he'd gaze a while down the old street
Tell him we've lost his poems
So they're writing on the walls
Give us back our unity
Give us back our family
You're every nation's refugee
Don't leave us with their sanity

Ah, Here she comes
Here she comes
Here she comes again
The same old painted lady
From the brow of a superbrain
She'll scratch this world to pieces
As she comes on like a friend
But a couple of songs
From your old scrapbook
Could send her home again
Come on
A couple of songs
From your old scrapbook
Could send her home again
Oh, here she comes, (oh) here she comes
Oh, here she comes (oh)"


Laurie

Lorcan said...

Thee'd get a chuckle out of the Eric Bogle song, "Sing like Bob Dylan". I'll find thee the words. I took a similar root, stopped performing live much, and began to record playing all the instruments which band members let me down on... button accordian, uilleann pipes, bodhran, guitar, flute, tin whistle, concertina, a few others. I began singing with my band, because the audience reacted to my singing, and a number of my singers refused to sing songs I wrote about people they did not care about, ( Indians and Romany people ).
Well... Rounder records made it clear, I am NOT the next Bob Dylan, Did I ever send thee my CDs? Drop me an email, with an address and I will pop a few in the mail...
Thine in frith and friendship,
lor
PS On Just Plain Foolish, there is a reveiw of two of my CDs last month...

Larry said...

Thanks,Friends. Nice to find some other Quakers with similar feelings about our friend. Laurie, years ago I was lamenting Bobby's demise as a prophet, but a young man who worked for me had this response:
"just let him be who he is".

I used to have the responsibility of shepherding hordes of broken down old alcoholics, hopefully toward sobriety. It hurts to say this, but the present Bob Dylan looks to me very much like one of those poor unfortunates.

Quite a bit of his life didn't get into Chronicles. Two in particular that I found absorbing at the time:
His brief encounter with a (supposedly fundamentalist) religious group on the West Coast, and two, his time with the pioneers in Israel.

I'm sorry that he didn't seem to have the freedom to touch on those incidents.

Laurie Kruczek said...

It is only Vol 1 ! There is still time....


I don't mind that Bob doesn't do what Bob used to do. He gave us so much those first 8 years or so, it's hard for me to justify asking for more.

BUT... if I *could* ask for more, I would hope he'd put one last acoustic album out that was just him and guitar, totally stripped down basic Dylan. Even as a seemingly broke down alky-type, he probably could pull that one off pretty well. This is my one Dylan wish.....

Larry said...

Laurie, I agree about not laying anything on Bobby. The only thing I want for him is to show some sign that he's happy, content with what has happened and enjoying his new life.

I guess I want that for everyone. For me "life began with retirement". I have joy today (for the last 18 years) that eluded me completely as a working man.

With retirement we may be privileged to jump through the ring of fire maintained by the cherub at Heaven's Gate and thereafter enjoy everything denied to mother Eve and father Adam. Wouldn't you like to see Bobby do that?

Laurie Kruczek said...

Yep. I sure would.

I used to work 2 jobs. My husband used to spend 2 hours commuting each way, each day. Not much living going on.

Now my husband works from home. I stay at home with our kids. That is, our life began when we moved back to Oregon. It's now a happy, living, loving life!

I would love for Dylan to have the same. Somehow though, I think he does.

Julie said...

I wonder too, but your commentary makes a trip to the library really tempting!

Sometimes it seems like the best way to escape the crap is to get away from the people.

isaiah said...

Today's Bobby? Try a kid by the name of Josh Ritter.

If there ever was a Bob (I don't believe even Bob knew what he was doing as Bobby)there's bound to be another right under our very noses.

No one's buying "clever" and "truth" anymore...even if it's simply for kicks...seems we've seen & heard it all before-

"Peace sells, but who's buying."
Megadeath

Perhaps our heads are up our collective arses too far now. We’ve become so accustom to the scent we don't know any better.

Bobby wouldn't stand a chance now-a-days!

It's anarchy out there-

Larry said...

Thanks again, friends. Yes it's anarchy out there, but even anarchists have some great and creative ideas that move the ages.

I'm more hopeful about the world; it's like the first century-- a trmendous yeast arising and no one knows what shaggy beast is headed for Bethlehem.

Like a typical old man I pine for the 'good ole days', but they were never that good. From the days of Adam things have gotten worse-- and better.

With all its excesses who wants to live before the Industrial Revolution. With all its excesses who really wants to live without the benefits of globalization.

God is in charge; I find that very consoling.

Thanks for shaking me out of my lethargy to add this comment.

Laurie Kruczek said...

"God is in charge; I find that very consoling."

A strong and proud AMEN to that! Everyday seems like a new worry pops up, and along side that worry, I find another miracle. God has it under control, whatever our fate. It is hopeful, as you said.

I suppose that brings us back to the topic of early Dylan... how his writing was much the same... always sitting good and bad side by side... yet it was some feel of hopefulness that seemed to shine above it all. Maybe that's why so many of us could relate to him.....

Larry said...

Thanks, Laurie; one of these days we hope to get out there (to the NW); we have family and friends.