Exhuming Bob 22: Prophet, Mystic, Poet?

December 17, 2009

 

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.

    

2 Responses to “Exhuming Bob 22: Prophet, Mystic, Poet?”

  1. AJ Weberman Says:

    Don’t call America a Nazi country you fucking maggot. None of the critics you mention know squat about Dylan – only the other rock poets and myself do. And what I found out makes me sick. He is an evil dude who makes Fatty Arbuckle look like a saint. It is this blind worship that helped lead to his doom, which I hope will come soon.

  2. reprindle Says:

    Al: You’re hurting my feelings. I tried to become your Facebook friend and was developing a real affection for you. I even wanted to buy your book but for some reason you removed me as a friend, refused to sell me your autographed book and now you call me a maggot. I suppose that’s a compliment from an old garbage rooter like you so I’m not offended. But, hurt- Pal?

    Now Al, I didn’t call America a Nazi country, I was pointing out that your fellow Jews perverted a fine people into Nazis in their estimation over the fifty years. You will grant that?

    And Al, for Christ’s sake I was reviewing the reveiw of Rogovoy by Arnoff. Arnoff believes those things not me. I was criticizing him. Come on, Man, I know I’m only a worthless White boy but I want to be your friend. Be cool, Fool.

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