Dylanologists, You Suck as Hard as Amtrak (Except for AJ Weberman)


The Nation has a longish, uninteresting review of several Bob Dylan-related books, including the Maestro's own frustrating but occasionally fascinating autobio, Chronicles, Vol. 1. The most daring insight? That yes, Dylan's novel, Tarantula, is a bigger piece of crap than the insufferable Dave Van Ronk's entire discography or tendentious politics (see below).

After that plug, read The Nation piece here.

As with every other cool, hip pop star (e.g. Joey Ramone), the left has always claimed Dylan as one of their own, yet one of the reasons that Chronicles was interesting (sparingly) was that Dylan threw in passages like this:

There was no point in arguing with Dave [Van Ronk], not intellectually anyway. I had a primitive way of looking at things and I liked country fair politics. My favorite politician was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who reminded me of Tom Mix, and there wasn't any way to explain that to anybody.

To say that Dylan, who even more than the Beatles ushered in the age of the rock star as someone who must write and perform their own music or else be relegated to second-class status, exceeds political categories is to suggest that there's anything coherent about him. Other than a fantastic willingness to alienate his audience at precisely the right time and in the right way: through relentless self-invention that has proven to be an exceptional interesting bellwether for and/or counterpoint to American society for the past 35 years. Christ, who else would have closed out the '70s by releasing arguably his finest LP, the fire-and-brimstone masterpiece, Slow Train Coming?

The one truth nestled away in Chronicles, one that other rock stars should pay attention to, is that Dylan remains a great original precisely because he openly acknowledges his influences and then goes his own way; other first-magnitude stars (think Mick Jagger, Bono, Bruce Springsteen) evince an unnerving lack of faith in their ability to be original and as a result often come off looking pathetically derivative.

Dylan's autobio is remarkably generous in the homage he pays to Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac (the final section of the book, a beautifully moving Kerouacian evocation of New York City in the early '60s, is worth muddling through the rest of the volume). And even to record producer Daniel Lanois in a long, technical discussion of the making of what everyone must agree is a middlin' Dylan LP, Oh Mercy.

Reason's Brian Doherty assayed "The Free-Floatin' Bob Dylan" here.

Back in the Suck days (wasn't that a time?), I attacked Dylanologists as the worst sort of musical navel-gazers (except for the great, insane "garbologist to the stars" A.J. Weberman) here.