Understanding The Myth And Music Of Bob Dylan

December 1, 2010

Understanding The Myth And Music Of Bob Dylan


R.E. Prindle

Stephen Hazan Arnoff: www.forward.com/articles/133344/


Bob Blowin' Smoke

Stephen Hazan Arnoff comes back among us to talk around Sean Wilentz’ Bob Dylan In America and Greil Marcus’ Bob Dylan: Writing 1968-2000 by which is meant Marcus’ writings on Dylan, more specifically reviews of songs and LPs.  I have read and reviewed Wilentz while having bought Marcus I flipped through it determining it was more for possible reference than reading, definitely not literature per se.

Startlingly Arnoff is able to compare the Dylan portrayed to both Homer and God.

In “Odysseus’ Scar,’ the first chapter of his study “Mimesis: The Representation of

Stephen Hazan Arnoff

Reality in Western Literature” (1953), Eric Auerbach presents the history of Western literature as a choice between two creative paths.  “It would be difficult” he writes, “to imagine styles more contrasted than those of these two equally ancient and equally epic texts.”  The first epic mode is that of Homer, a realm where the narrator  shines an overwhelmingly bright light on the characters and situations of his story.  There are no gaps in the Homeric narrative.  No details of circumstance or motivations of characters are left unexplained.

The second mode is biblical.  Here, Auerbach finds a storytelling tradition depending on gaps and fragments “fraught with background.”  For biblical literature and its narrative decendants, motivation and detail are purposely obscured so that a life of interpretation and commentary thrives continually.  While biblical scribes and their rabbinic heirs cluster around laconic narratives that leave the burden of imagination to interpreters, the Homeric mode prefers richly detailed depictions of reality in which the responsibility for imagination lies with the storyteller.

In other words the Bible, like Dylan’s lyrics, is just words.  I suppose Homer’s ‘overwhelmingly bright light’ is why the Iliad is the least understood of the world’s great literature while as much commentary on it exists as on the Bible.  Mr. Arnoff is sometimes difficult to follow.

One reason that Homer writes so will with relative clarity is that he is the prototype of Western scientific thought in which the purpose is to make things clear with an overwhelmingly bright light while the murky mythopoeic thinking associated with Semitic thought is based on supernatural hocus pocus that defies rational explanation.

Much the same as the latter can Dylan’s approach to ‘literature’ be explained.  Dylan’s movie Masked And Anonymous written by himself has his character Penelope explaining Dylan’s lyric approach to his other character Pope John-Paul II thusly as she makes little boxes with her fingers:  “I like Jack Fate’s songs because they don’t have definite sense.  They don’t mean anything except what you want them to mean.  I like that.” (or words to that effect.)

Well, Bob is Jewish as are Wilentz, Marcus, Arnoff and Auerbach so I suppose there is no reason that they wouldn’t reject precise science in favor of biblical gobbledegook.  I wouldn’t brag about it though.

Of course one can see any artist’s work through any lens one wants but one always leaves oneself open to ridicule whether just or not.  Certainly Arnoff is ridiculous as he goes on:

Christopher Rick’s “Dylan’s Visions Of Sin (Ecco, 2004) and Dylan’s own memoirs, “Chronicles, Volume One (Simon and Schuster, 2004), now share the title of “Brilliant Studies Of Dylan’s Work” because they model how Dylan- a combination of market-savvy rocker, Homeric bard and biblical seer- has carved out a place in popular culture for art “fraught with background.”

I just can’t see Dylan as more than a ‘market-savvy rocker.’  He is in no manner a Homeric bard while he definitely poses as a biblical seer.  No matter what his past he is now a mediocre country and western singer in the pattern of 50s artists like Slim Whitman and Hank Snow, who he even imitates, in Masked And Anonymous.  His band might be competent, good or, even, excellent but they aren’t playing anything out of the ordinary.

Bob Dylan is a legend only in Stephen Hazan Arnoff’s mind and those of Dylan’s die hard fans which, while numerous, are not universal.  He is the product of incessant drum beating by people like Arnoff, Marcus and his house shill, Sean Wilentz.

We are not talking Shakespeare, Homer or even the Bible.  We are talking about a market savvy ‘rocker’ who writes meaningless lyrics subject to whatever the hearer chooses to project on them.  He admits that his lyrics mean nothing.  That is neither poetry or literature.

If a ‘market savvy rocker’ can make hundreds of millions of dollars on this basis I suppose that does make him a legend for his time.  However, Mr. Arnoff, spare us the comparison with Homer.

3 Responses to “Understanding The Myth And Music Of Bob Dylan”

  1. Scott Says:

    R.E. Prindle is such a pretentious bore, with some kind of grudge against Dylan. He is not qualified to write about Dylan because he doesn’t “feel” where Dylan is coming from at all. He only can approach the subject through the intellect and has no intuitive sense of what it’s all about. You can’t argue with a person like that. It’s just a little frustrating when someone like him presents himself as some kind of authority. He is truly a pompous ass!

  2. reprindle Says:

    Wow! Scott! Thanks for that lightning quick response. You forgot to press the ‘Like’ button though.

    What do you mean I don’t ‘feel’ where Dylan is coming from at all? Of course I do. I see into Dylan’s inner being; I can anticipate his moves before he makes them. I know every song he ever listened to and then some. I was three years ahead of him. I just don’t see him as a demi-god.

    I don’t object to being called a ‘truly pompous ass’ so long as it comes from your heart but don’t you think comparing Dylan favorably with Homer is the height of pomposity? I do. Have you ever tried to read the Iliad?

    Thanks for reading my stuff, I appreciate it. Now, push the Like button.

  3. Scott Says:

    I rest my case.

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 )

Connecting to %s