Exhuming Bob XXX

Part I, A Review

Masked And Anonymous

by

R.E. Prindle

     Dylan has made several attempts at movies over the years beginning with Don’t Look Back and Eat The Document, experimental films not too far removed in style from the movies Andy Warhol was turning out.  It would have been amusing if Dylan, the star of his own movies and Edie Sedgwick, star of Andy’s movies, had actually paired up on the screen as Bobby and Albert had promised her.  But it was not to be.  Dylan’s next effort was the much maligned Renaldo And Clara.  I haven’t yet seen either the short or long version, but I am prepared to sit through the four and half hour long Renaldo.  Dylan must have been trying to out Warhol Warhol.

     Dylan found it easier to write songs than shepherd his ideas through a feature film.  Then in 2003 he teamed up with director Larry Charles to film his version of a Hollywood rock n’ roll film.  He and Charles take responsibility for writing it.  Someone had to.

     The movie is wholly autobiographical although as symbolical as Dylan’s songs and to a lesser extent than his memoir cum novel, Chronicles, Vol. I which was published a year later.  Thus the movie can be seen as a prolegomena to the book.  Masked And Anonymous was not successful grossing only a half million dollars in its first run.  The fans did not come out in legions.

     The action of the movie merely complements Dylan’s state of mind, his psychology.  That psychology is expressed through the symbols.  First, then, it is necessary to provide some background so that the visual aspects of the movie can be understood.

     There are two childhood events in his life that control the action.  These two events shattered Dylan’s self-esteem while putting him into a permanent state of depression.  Bear in mind I make no judgments, I merely search for reasons behind the facts.  Dylan had his problems and we all have ours.  The difference is that we didn’t try to impose our problems on the world.  Dylan did and largely succeeded.

     Dylan discusses his problems with his mother and father in the movie through the medium of his alter ego and hero of the movie, Jack Fate.  When I write Fate you can include Dylan.  As fate would have it a revised and expanded edition of Robert Shelton’s biography No Direction Home was released this Spring of 2011, revised and edited  by Elizabeth Thomson and Patrick Humphries.  It weighs five pounds and includes tens of thousands of words excised from the first edition which have been edited.  These include some reminiscences of Suze and Carla Rotolo.  Suze, who passed away this year,  was, of course, Dylan’s first main squeeze in New York.  In speaking of Suze Dylan invariably says that she was fearful.

     The fact was that beneath whatever exterior Dylan chose to show there was this dark foreboding of death and destruction, his depression.  He talked of dying before he was twenty-one.  The underlying savagery of his hatreds, much of it misogynous, that disfigured his work from Ballad In Plain D to Like A Rolling Stone and the hateful songs of Blonde On Blonde made Suze and Carla tremble.  It was that savagery that appealed to Dylan’s fans of the time.  It was what appealed to me.  The hatred by and large originated with his mother and father.  As Fate says of his mother- she never loved me.  Dylan’s birth upset her plans for her life.  When Dylan was told this as I imagine at about twelve it had a devastating effect on his life turning white to black.

     His parents liked to portray him as an ideal boy but even a cursory reading of any of his biographers indicates a troubled kid who was in hot water as often as not.  Walter Eldot, the Iron Range journalist, said that he was not the kind of boy admired on the Iron Range.  So his life soured at twelve because of his mother’s disclosure of her feelings.  And then, sometime later, Dylan doesn’t say when, perhaps after the incident when Dylan hit a kid while riding his motorcycle, his father told him that a son could become so degraded that even his own father would disown him.  These two statements from his mother and his father had a devastating effect on him.

     One reaction was that his parents became dead to him; Dylan, or Bobby Zimmerman as he was then known, became an orphan in his mind from that time forward.  He no longer considered himself a Zimmerman but began seeking a new name, a new personality, a new identity.  Thus whether he adopted the name of Dillon first changing it to Dylan later doesn’t matter when, he was trying to escape the dead boy walking, Bobby Zimmerman.

     Thus, when he got to New York he claimed to be an orphan, Nobody’s Child, who had been on the road from the age of twelve performing in circuses, singing on street corners and what have you.  Fairly common, actually, not that unusual.  A lot of people try to escape being themselves.  In New York, probably seeking a new family, Dylan slept on a lot of other family’s couches.

     As a young boy Dylan escaped his reality like many of us escaped our reality, by listening to singers and the songs they sang on the radio.  Dylan was born in ’41 so while he may have vague memories of old time radio by the time he came of age in ’54-’55 the Top 40 format, full time teenage record radio was the norm.  Dylan grew up in a real backwater in Hibbing, Minnesota further North even than Duluth, a planet away from what was going on in the country.  Worlds away from what was happening in New York, Chicago or LA, the three major record break out markets in the US.  Dylan may not have even ever heard of Doo-Wop before he reached New York, if even then, as the sound was finished by 1960.  Allan Freed had been busted before Dylan probably heard of him.

     Instead Dylan was raised on Country and Western- and polka music.  He picked up the megablasters from  down in Louisiana and Texas on his radio at night.  He knows all the great country tunes and singers.  While he frequently praises Hank Williams he patterns his current Western persona after his major influence, Hank Snow.  It’s a toss up as to who was the greater, Williams or Snow but like Dylan I prefer to listen to Hank Snow.  Some great stuff and a terrific singer.

     Now, 1949.  Hank Snow released a song called Nobody’s Child that was to have a profound effect on Dylan.  The song isn’t in his solo corpus but he did record the song as a member of the his supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys.  George Harrison was in this group and oddly enough the Beatles had recorded a version of the song in 1961 as a backup band for Tony Sheridan.  So with the Wilburys three great strands of popular music came together.  A sample of the lyrics:

Nobody’s Child

–Coben- Foree

As I was slowly passing,

An orphan’s home one day,

I stopped for just a little while,

To watch the children play.

Alone a boy was standing,

And when I asked him why,

He turned with eyes that could not see,

And he began to cry:

I’m nobody’s child,

I’m nobody’s child,

Nobody wants me,

I’m growing wild.

Oh, yes, people come for children,

They take them for their own,

But they always take some other child,

And I’m left here, alone.

     Dylan came by the song through Snow while my approach was through Lonnie Donegan.  There you have the source of Dylan’s orphanhood.  Dylan then converts his facts into symbols for his movie Masked and Anonymous.

     The movie opens with a tremendous blast of red flames that represent his mother’s revelation, then there is the tremendous explosion of Mt. Ste. Helen’s  blowing its top, representing his father’s revelation, then an enormous flood washing away his Zimmerman identity followed by images of man’s inhumanity to man.  Dylan then became imprisoned in his own mind.  Orphaned and imprisoned, masked and anonymous.

     Thus in the scene that introduces Jack Fate he is incarcerated in an underground jail reminiscent of the infamous Black Hole Of Calcutta.   He is released for one reason; he is needed to perform his music for a benefit concert.  The implication is that the only time Dylan can feel free is when he is on stage; hence, the Never Ending Tour.

      Wearing his cowboy suit and hat in emulation of his early C&W heroes and carrying his guitar he sets out as ‘The Drifter’ for the Big City.

Part II follows in the next post.

2 Responses to “Exhuming Bob XXX: Pt. I, A Review Of Masked And Anonymous”

  1. Jane Says:

    Great insight! Love to read more analysis of this mysterious man!

  2. reprindle Says:

    Thanks, Jane. I’ve got forty some essays on Dylan. If you liked what you read you might like my Slum Goddess Of The Lower East Side or you could click the Bob Dylan tag on the side bar and choose what you like. Thanks, again.

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