Exhuming Bob 22:

Prophet, Mystic, Poet?

by

R.E. Prindle

http://www.forward.com/articles/120548/

Looking for a direction hom.

 

    Back in the early sixties a film appeared under the title: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.  It was a Jewish fable clothed in Western Americana not unlike Bob Dylan’s lyrics.

     The story line is about how to deconstruct one legend and reconstruct it to suit one’s purposes.  The gist is that once a falsehood is enshrined  as legendary truth it is impossible to debunk it.  This film and notion was obviously for goyish consumption.  As we know from experience a whole culture with a long history can be ‘debunked’ with minimal trouble if you control the media.  Thus in fifty short years Americans have gone from  being the most benevolent and generous people on Earth to the most destructive self-centered Nazi types.  Furthermore Americans were conditioned to believe it about themselves.  ‘Why do they hate us?’

     The secret was contained in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.  One of the primary agents of that change was the prophet, mystic ans seer, the very Jewish Bob Dylan.  I left off poet because at best Dylan is merely an effective lyricist.

     A San Francisco Bay Area fellow, Seth Rogovoy, has written an essay on Dylan with the above title without the question mark.  Stephen Hazan Arnoff who is the executive directory of New York’s 14th St. YMHA has written a review of Rogovoy which he subtitles ‘Jerimiah, Nostradamus and Allen Ginsberg all Rolled Up Into One.’  High praise indeed, if unwarranted.  Just as Mr. Arnoff inflates Dylan’s significance he grossly inflates that of the pornographic so-called poet, Allen Ginsberg.  Perhaps it is time to use techniques learned from ‘Liberty Valence to debunk the reputation of Dylan.

     Dylan is no prophet, he is merely topical using enigmatic phrasing to give the appearance of depth.  There is little actual difference between the topical material of Dylan and Phil Ochs.  Mr. Arnoff improbably writes:

(Dylan’s) prophetic persona is particularly resonant in his first few albums where songs like “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” sets the gold standard for prophecy in popular music.

     Prophecy in popular music?  What’s that?  Actually neither song is prophetic.  ‘Blowin” actually refers to the past of Dylan’s youth in Hibbing although topically it has usually been extended to represent the then current civil rights activities in the South.  ‘Times’ is merely a cocky know-it-all sneer at politicians who aren’t aware that the kids are alright, on the move, have a voracious apetite to eat them up.  Both songs have borrowed tunes (no crime or even sin in my estimation) and, if Rogovoy is correct lyrics cribbed from the Bible.

     As Mr. Arnoff notes, Rogovoy chooses a single critical lens- Judaism- for understanding Dylan and his work.  No fault in an essay, pointing out the Jewish influence in Dylan’s work.  Actually Mr. Rogovoy is no innovator or pathfinder, the same material has been adequately covered by numerous investigators including myself in a series of essays.

     But Mr. Arnoff  also notes there are other avenues to approach the songs that Mr. Arnoff believes are equally valid:  Greil Marcus explains him as a mystic raconteur of the secret history of the United States, coded thorugh traditional music while Christopher Ricks describes a master interpreter of classical Western literature and thought.’  (cough, cough)

     While Greil Marcus is another good Jewish boy I hardly think he is a responsible authority on anything.  He takes roughly the same approach as Mr. A.J. Weberman while the latter is vastly more entertaining.  I have to combine Mr. Marcus and Mr. Ricks.  While I certainly respect Dylan’s intelligence and acumen I would have to question both the breadth and depth of his education.

     Dylan attended high school in Hibbing, Minnesota which is a far cry from any of the leading cultural centers of either the Western or Eastern worlds.  I grew up in a slightly larger town up North than Dylan although probably not much different than Hibbing intellectually.  I keenly felt the lack of intellectual opportunites when I went out into the large world.

     There is a question as to whether Dylan graduated from high school while he never attended college.  Immediately immersing himself in folk music he left Minnesota for NYC.  There he found people with libraries of which he availed himself while boarding with them.  This was a very brief period during which he could only have picked up names and impressions such as he employed in his song Desolation Row.  His girl friend Suze Rotolo introduced him to more culture than he could have imagined from 1961 to 1965.  This could not have been much.

     During that time Dylan spent a lot of time writing songs, drinking and drugging and touring.  Not a lot of opportunity to become a ‘master interpreter of classical Western literature and thought.’  I have no idea what Mr. Arnoff means by ‘classical.’  I doubt seriously if Dylan is any authority on, say, the pre-Socratics.  If Mr. Ricks believes as Mr. Arnoff represents him I would have to question Professor Ricks’ qualifications for his post.  There’s something wrong there.

     Now, as to Mr. Marcus and his mystic raconteur of the secret history of the US.  What secret history?  Dylan says he studied the ante-bellum South from newspaper accounts in the archives of the NYC library.  This would have been over a couple of months only.  As near as I can tell he did so with an enquiring and open mind and is fully capable of making cogent observations.  This however is scarcely a secret history while being only one brief period and region.

     What Dylan has done is immerse himself in the songs of the US.  He says that when he visited Carl Sandburg it was with the itent to discuss Sandburg’s ‘American Song Bag.’  One certainly has to respect Dylan’s song knowledge and his excellent taste.  This knowledge however is well beyond Mr. Marcus’ ability to understand.   He, as far as I have been able to ascertain had nil knowledge of songs and music until he joined Rolling Stone Magazine in the late sixties.

     Up in Hicksville Dylan immersed himself in every kind of music, without discrimination.  He was fully conversant with Hillbilly as his native music.  The Carter Family was a living entity to him and not an academic study.  All those now obscure names were living legends to him and not mere footnotes at the bottom of a page.  Thus while Dylan’s Jewish influences are prominent, uppermost and dominant he nevertheless has a foot in both cultures.  His American culture is musical however, and what sounds like ‘a secret history’  to Mr. Marcus is merely the hillbilly interpretation of  ‘revenuers’ ‘white lightning’ and such.  I do not see Dylan as a ‘classically’ educated man.

     Mr. Arnoff displays his Jewish bigotry when he says:  Messianic Judaism (or Jews for Jesus) is the weakest form of interpretation for Dylan.  So far as I know no one interprets Dylan’s work through the lens of Messianic Judaism.  However it is equally apparent that Dylan was interested enough to study the topic carefully.  That says more for Dylan’s open mindedness than Mr. Arnoff’s narrow minded bigotry.  One must be ‘open minded’ n’est-ce pas?

     As Mr. Arnoff notes, Dylan always said he was ‘a song and dance man’ and I think that says as much as need be said.  Anyone who has been able to entertain a significant audience nearly fifty years now has to have a serious talent.  One should bear in mind though that Dylan appeals to a relatively small and well-defined audience he himself defines as ‘the abused, misused, confused, strung out ones and worse.’  This is his core constituency to which he ‘kvetches.’  Apparently English isn’t good enough for Mr. Arnoff.

     Dylan’s greatest song is Positively Fourth Street which is maximum kvetching.  I considered myself abused and misused when I first heard the song.  The lyrics had me slavering like one of Pavlov’s dogs when he heard the dinner bell ring.  But, like Pavlov’s dog there wasn’t really anything on the plate.  Once I passed through that phase of my psychology I lost interest in Dylan.

     While Dylan has managed to retain, recruit and entertain his audience he is far from the man who shot Liberty Valence or Jeremiah, Nostrodamus and Allen Ginsberg all rolled up into one.  I’m afraid that’s one legend that will be debunked before it’s formed.

     Kvetcher or not I still can’t listen to him.

    

 

Exhuming Bob 14:

The LAW And Bob Dylan

by

R.E. Prindle

https://idynamo.wordpress.com/2008/10/14/exhuming-bob-13-fit-4-bob-as-messiah/

http://www.forward.com/articles/14574

 

     Stephen Hazan Arnoff wrote the aove referenced Forward article titled:  Jesus, Bob: To Live Outside The LAW You Must Be Honest: Dylan’s Born Again Years Documented.

   Mr. Arnoff is very difficult to follow.  Kern writing in the comments to Mr. Arnoff’s article puts it succinctly:  Mr. Arnoff you have written a lot of words, but after reading them all, I have no idea what you are saying.

     I think part of the problem is cross cultural references.  By living outside the LAW Mr. Arnoff means Talmudic Law and not the legal code of the United States of America.  Mr. Arnoff is what I suppose he would call a ‘secular’ Jew reviewing ‘messianic’ Jews in the Jewish Forward, a ‘secular’ Jewish web magazine.

     I have no idea what Kern is but as a goy I have to read standard English words and try to put them into trans-cultural contexts.  If I make a mistake or two I hope I may be forgiven.

     I perceive the title To Live Outside The Law You Must Be Honest to mean that Dylan is living his life outside the Jewish Law rather than an outlaw to the US legal code.  This is a construction of Dylan’s line I hadn’t made but it may very well be accurate.  Depending on whether the line from ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’, read, possibly, Mary, is addressed to his fellow Jews explaining a seeming dalliance with goyish ways or in some sort of general ‘poetic’ license referring to the US legal code or societal mores, Arnoff’s understanding of the line may be correct.  As we are coming to realize Dylan’s religious conflicts appear to dominate his work.  After all anyone who believes the Bible is the actual word of God is living a religious delusion.  After he had established himself by 1966 his mother proudly informed us that Dylan had an open bible on a stand in his living room, of all places to which he hopped up regularly to check for references.  There is a C&W connection here in the song, If Jesus Came To Your House.  The rhetorical question was would he find a Bible open on the table or a Playboy Magazine.  Dylan could answer affirmitively:  The Bible.  That’s what his mother proudly announced.

     While Mr. Arnoff proudly says that Dylan was busy trashing goy, what he calls Christian, culture he fails to note that Dylan was no less disrepectful of traditional Jewish ways.  But that brings us to what Mr. Arnoff’s ostensible intent is, that is, to review Joel Gilbert’s film: The Gospel Years.

     As I understand it, Mr. Gilbert, who is Jewish trying to be a Dylan clone, made a four hour film entitled Rolling Thunder And The Gospel Years from which he abstracted the final two hours and has reissued it in the two hour version.  Acting on that information I obtained the four hour DVD while I haven’t seen the two hour film, if it is different.  I’m assuming that it is identical to the four hour version.

     As I am not a Jew my sensibilities are different than Mr. Arnoff’s who is ensconced within the Jewish faith, culture, nation or by whatever name it is going by this week.  Mr. Arnoff, ignoring Dylan’s early upbringing, see my above referenced essay Fit 4, Bob As Messiah, and psychology assumes that Dylan abandoned Judaism and turned to Christianity because:

…deep pain drives deep “witnessing” in the realm of born again Christian acolytes; that the tumult of drugs, social and political burnout and the failures of the sexual revolution left many people broken in ways that the Jesus movement- rooted in heady Southern California, where Dylan and many other counterculture heroes lived at the time- exploited to attract vulnerable souls.

     One assumes that Mr. Arnoff is characterizing Dylan as a ‘vulnerable soul’ rather than a conscious human being.  The question in my mind is who was exploiting whom.  My notions of Christianity and Judaism and their relationship to each other is obviously culturally opposed to that of Mr. Arnoff.  I believe Dylan was much more calculating, or to put it another way, had an agenda, then might appear at first glance.  His vision of Christianity and Judaism was also much different than that of the ‘secular’ Mr. Arnoff.

     Life is more complex, as are psychologies, than any of us can possibly express but we must try.  Gilbert’s full video, Rolling Thunder And The Gospel Years, seems to be such a serious attempt.

     Dylan’s life may be characterized as a downward spiral from, say, 1959 when he left home to his encounter with Jesus in 1979 when as Mr. Arnoff suggests, he hit bottom but for different reasons than Mr. Arnoff suggests.  Mr. Arnoff seem oblivious to the fact that Dylan was indoctrinated by a Lubavitcher Rebbe for his Bar Mitzvah.

     Gilbert picks up Dylan’s life from 1975 to 1981 the last few years before the singer bumped against the lower depths, and examines it closely.  Viewed from one perspective Dylan led a disgusting life from 1955 to 1979 as he groped to ind his way out of his self-confessed confusion.  A large part of his confusion was the conflict between his Jewish and Christian milieux.

     The few years between the abandonment of the first phase of his career when ‘He Threw It All Away’ and the resumption of his profligate ways with 1975’s Rolling Thunder Review after he had given birth to his brood in fulfillment of the Jewish Law to be fruitful and multiply was his only attempt to quiet his confusion.  Those few years were also years in which he studied the Bible evidently trying to reconcile his Orthodox Jewish upbringing with his surrounding Christian milieu.

     After this relatively quiet period, having fulfilled the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply, Dylan savaged his marriage so brutally that his wife had no choice but to leave him.  Incredibly in view of his behavior this astonished him so much that it caused him to reevaluate his conduct somewhat and thus ‘deep pain’ drove him into the realm of born again Christian acolytes.’

     On one level this may be true. However it must be borne in mind that at one time, or perhaps many times, his father told him that a son could become so defiled that his parents would reject him but that God could lead him back to virtue again.  This notion seems to have dominated his life from that point on so that when he hit the bottom of the divorce fulfilling his father’s prophecy he began to seek God to bring him ‘home.’  A little analysis might have been more fruitful but Dylan is a ‘true believer.’  Thus on another level it is not improbable that Dylan attempted to resolve his confusion by an attempted amalgamation of Christianity and Judaism into one faith.  One faith=no more confusion.  Not by converting the one to the other but gently leading them to one confession.  Of course, since this would obliterate the distinction between Jews and Christians the idea is as much anathema to the Jews as actual conversion to Christianity.  At that point then Dylan contravened Judaic LAW and become an outlaw to Judaism.

     Thus it appears that Mr. Arnoff accuses Dylan of both living outside the LAW and being dishonest.  This seems to be his complaint.  That combined with the review of the film being conducted by the ‘messianic’ Jews For Jesus.  The mere mention of the word Jesus throws the ‘secular’ Mr. Arnoff into a frenzy.  He excuses Gilbert on the grounds that he is merely trying for exposure for his film but can’t conceal his distaste for Mitch Glaser and Al Kashi of Jews For Jesus.

     Mr. Arnoff doesn’t seem to understand what Dylan is doing so that he is conflicted between Dylan’s ‘jewish’ work and his Jesus period.  Note I do not use the term ‘Christian.’  That is because I don’t think Dylan ever embraced Christianity but approached Jesus as a Jewish persona from a standpoint similar to Jews For Jesus; Dylan was essentially blowing smoke into the eyes of Christians.  Mr. Anrnoff complains:

     Most of the time, Dylan embodies a multi-layered approach to his subject- with wordplay, rich cultural allusions, insinuations, irony and clusters of unexplained questions.  In his writing and perforning, Dylan grasps at defining themes with ferocity and dynamism that allow renowned critics like Milton scholar Christopher Ricks (who dedicated some 500 pages to Dylan in his 2004 book “Dylan’s Vision Of Sin”) to compare his canon without reservation to that of Shakespeare and Milton.  With few exceptions including the aforementioned songs, the Christian (Jesus) period of Dylan’s work remains unconvincingly simplistic, overly literal, humorless and blunt.

     Well maybe so.  I’ve never listened to it having no interest in what I consider an unlistenable singer after Blonde On Blonde.  Whatever happened the muse walked away from Dylan after 1966 and never spoke his again.  While as Mr. Arnoff approvingly notes of the Jewish Dylan, Christopher Ricks compares Dylan favorably  to Shakespeare and Milton, I can only say that Mr. Ricks is bereft of his senses.

     Dylan wrote some nice songs, most of them on Another Side, but that’s just about as far as you can take it.  Always highly derivative, after 1966 borrowing became so explicit as to narrowly skirt plagiarism.  Indeed not a few of his contemporary folk singers openly accuse him of plagiarism.  I’m a little more lenient; hell, they’re only popular songs, not even good Country and Western.