What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

The irony of Bob Dylan.

Mr. J. H. Kunstler, of the Peak Oil theory fame, reviewed Bob Dylan’s first volume of memoirs some time ago. Dylan fans (of whom I doubt this website has in abundance) will find in it some insight and interest, though I only link to it reluctantly — not least because of Kunstler’s penchant for profanity. If you don’t know or like Dylan, or are repelled by the deliberate if rare use of oaths or vulgarity in critical writing, the essay will probably just fatigue you: so I’ll offer just a couple points for your notice.

(a) Kunstler concludes with a statement that I endorse, with two caveats: “The great records of the great years endure. The body of Dylan’s songwriting work is every bit as formidable as the novels of Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have no doubt that Dylan will go down as the most important artist of my generation.” Now the natural reaction to a statement like that about the Sixties generation is a terse “that aint saying much, brother,” muttered under the breath. That is my first caveat. The second is, of course, that Dylan is not “of my generation” but the preceding one. Nevertheless, Dylan stature is assured, in my view. Whether the genre of rock n’ rock, which he pioneered, mastered, expanded, and bewildered, will secure a similar stature in the tableau of human art, is another question altogether: one of which I must confess my own agnosticism.

Now Kunstler, while clearly a connoisseur of exaggerated polemic (take a gander at his primary blog, the title of which I will not reproduce here, if you doubt that), is not a writer particularly given to exaggerated encomia.

(b) Kunstler confirms what was only a rumor to me before: that Dylan records in this volume of memoirs that his favorite politician in the Sixties was Barry Goldwater. Let that sink in.

It is hardly a revelation to learn that Dylan has gamely rebuffed all attempts to award him the title Spokesman of a Generation; or that he has generally resisted granting his “protest” songs over to Leftist iconography. But it does come with some surprise to discover that his actual political tendencies in the 1960s were toward a politician like Goldwater. Kunstler does not neglect to emphasize his astonishment, and he is plainly a man of the Left.

(c) With all this is mind, I am prepared to offer a qualified Conservative endorsement of Dylan:

Given that the counterculture of the Sixties, which tried to set up Dylan as its spokesman or poet-laureate, has conquered and is even now solidifying its preeminence in our society, there is a special and marvelous irony to note.

All the sneering revolt that churns through the great anthems of Dylan’s best work, “Like a Rolling Stone” being perhaps the most well-known exemplar; all the defiance, the fury of impudence; all the challenge thrown vaguely at some contemptible oppressor —

You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

How does it feel?
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

— all this may be justly hurled with equal passion against the generation, now leading our country toward ruin, which wanted it as its slogan, and which unjustly hurled it against the basically sound social order preceding it.

And Bob Dylan himself may have even meant it that way.

Comments (6)

How delightfully unexpected. Well, you've got at least one Dylan fan here. I've been a fan almost from Day One.
Back in the day, I met several of the personages Kunstler mentions, as they came through Ann Arbor: Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Joan Baez, Dave Von Ronk, among others of that ilk. I never met Dylan. But I did see him up close and early on, when he performed in the auditorium of my high school, in 1964.
I liked Dylan's memoire a bit better than Kunstler. Dylan describes the Village and the period about which he writes to perfection. I don't need to know about his love life.
Dylan always had a need to reinvent himself musically. In this, he resembles Miles Davis.
I like Dylan's later music much better than Kunstler does. I almost never listen to the drug-engendered stuff from the 'sixties any more. The album Slow Train Coming, which Kunstler mentions in passing, and the album Saved, from the heart of Dylan's Christian period, contain some of the best "gospel" lyrics that I've ever encountered. I read a magazine interview that Dylan gave, many years ago. In that interview, Dylan recounts how, when he was at a personal "bottom," he encountered Jesus. You listen to these two albums, and you believe him.
I launched my blog, in part, by introducing myself through disclosing the three big heroes of my formative years, of which Dylan was the third--and last. If interested, go here, and take a look around.

Well how about them apples, as my mom would say. The auditorium of your high school in 1964? Wow.

I agree that Kunstler gives short thrift to Dylan's later work. Nashville Skyline is a beautiful album, despite (or even because of) total reinvention of Dylan as a simple singer singing of simple things. I can see how it threw the hippies for a loop: just when they were getting really fired up in 1968, Dylan goes and releases a country album utterly bereft of political content. Desire, too, is a fine album, and the story of how he found the violinist whose presence dominates it is worth repeating: Dylan was driving around New York City, saw a woman with a violin-case, jumped out of the car and asked her to come up to the studio. Turns out she was a really gifted musician. Amazing. Even Dylan's latest album, Modern Times is excellent, and justly deserving of the praise it has received. He's still got it.

It did not surprise me that Kunstler dismisses the Christian-inspired albums; the man has rarely had a good word for the religion of the Cross. But I'm with you, Rodak.

I heard Dylan play live back in September -- my first Dylan show. We were pretty astonished to hear him play all these old songs -- "Memphis Blues," "Watchtower," "Highway 61" -- with such a different feel to each. It was a overall a very good show.

I've seen Dylan live only three times. At my high school in 1964, when he was still a solo, all-acoustic "folk singer"; at an out-door amphitheater in Michigan, in the summer of (I think) 1981; and finally at Madison Square Garden, on the tour he did with Tom Petty in the late '80s.
I think that the last two albums he has put out are among his best ever.
I hope that we see volume two of the memoire; but I'm not counting on it.

An excellent and satisfying piece. To think that Dylan has been tweaking the sensibilities of the Sixties generation all along - well, it doesn't get much cooler than that.

I meant to mention that I consider Dylan's greatest lyric to be "Sweetheart Like You" from the generally unheralded album Infidels. The song, which by my interpretation, is a stroll through a conception of Hell, contains such memorable lyrics as:

They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings;
Steal a little and they throw you in jail,
Steal a lot and they make you king.

Infidels also includes the haunting song, "I and I", which is so "religious" that it always makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.


Another Dylan fan chiming in. Rather shamelessly, I might add.

As long as you are looking at the influence of Mr. Dylan, perhaps you might want to take a look at my new novel, BLOOD ON THE TRACKS.

It's a murder-mystery. But not just any rock superstar is knocking on heaven's door. The murdered rock legend is none other than Bob Dorian, an enigmatic, obtuse, inscrutable, well, you get the picture...

Suspects? Tons of them. The only problem is they're all characters in Bob's songs.

You can get a copy on Amazon.com or go "behind the tracks" at www.bloodonthetracksnovel.com to learn more about the book.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.