Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bob Dylan, not a folksinger, not a counterculture Czar

... He sang his censored set, took his pile of Communist cash and left.

“The Times They Are Not a-Changin’,” noted The Financial Times under a picture of the grizzled 69-year-old on stage in a Panama hat.

“Imagine if the Tea Party in Idaho said to him, ‘You’re not allowed to play whatever,’ you’d get a very different response,” said an outraged Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch.

A 22-year-old Dylan did walk off “The Ed Sullivan Show” when CBS censors told him he couldn’t sing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.”

But he’s the first to admit he cashes in.

David Hajdu, the New Republic music critic, says the singer has always shown a tension between “not wanting to be a leader and wanting to be a celebrity.”

In Hajdu’s book, “Positively 4th Street,” Dylan is quoted saying that critics who charged that he’d sold out to rock ’n’ roll had it backward.

“I never saw myself as a folksinger,” he said. “They called me that if they wanted to. I didn’t care. I latched on, when I got to New York City, because I saw (what) a huge audience there was. I knew I wasn’t going to stay there. I knew it wasn’t my thing. ... I became interested in folk music because I had to make it somehow.”

“Folk music,” he concluded, “is a bunch of fat people.”

He can’t really betray the spirit of the ’60s because he never had it. In his memoir, “Chronicles,” he stressed that he had no interest in being an anti-establishment Pied Piper and that all the “cultural mumbo jumbo” imprisoned his soul and made him nauseated.

“I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of,” he said.

He wrote that he wanted to have a house with a white picket fence and pink roses in back, live in East Hampton with his wife and pack of kids, eat Cheerios and go to the Rainbow Room and see Frank Sinatra Jr. perform.

“Whatever the counterculture was, I’d seen enough of it,” he wrote. He complained of being “anointed as the Big Bubba of Rebellion, High Priest of Protest, the Czar of Dissent.”

Performing his message songs came to feel “like carrying a package of heavy rotting meat,” he wrote.

Hajdu told me that Dylan has distanced himself from his protest songs because “he’s probably aware of the kind of careerism that’s apparent in that work.” Dylan employed propaganda to get successful but knows those songs are “too rigidly polemical” to be his best work.

“Maybe the Chinese bureaucrats are better music critics than we give them credit for,” Hajdu said, adding that Dylan was now “an old-school touring pro” like Frank Sinatra Sr. ...

via Blowin’ in the Idiot Wind -


Ann said...

Maureen Dowd concludes her piece on Dylan writing:

"Maybe the songwriter [Dylan] should reread some of his own lyrics:

I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul."

Clifford Coonan of the Irish Times (April 11th) has slightly different slant on Dylan in China:

"Dylan has become a lot less overtly political in recent years, but he is also a master of ambiguity."

At the concert in China "The ministry of culture reportedly snapped up 2,000 of the 18,000 seats. ...

Five years ago, when the Rolling Stones played in Shanghai, the authorities asked the band to cut five songs from their repertoire because of their sexually suggestive lyrics, a request with which the band complied. 'I’m pleased that the ministry of culture is protecting the morals of the expat bankers and their girlfriends that are going to be coming,' said singer Mick Jagger.

Wei Ming, manager of the promoting company, Gehua Live Nation, said: 'Bob Dylan has a far more influential status than other foreign performers in China, and the social and cultural impact is greater.

'Beforehand, we thought that his audience would be small, that not so many people would be into Dylan here in China, but we were completely wrong. It’s not a niche audience, he has a mass following here in China,' said Wei. ..."

Despite however Dylan truly feels or is, it's the image that he created of himself that's being consumed. And, image is truly revolutionary.

Ann said...

Jon Wiener in Nation magazine (April 14, 2011) says "Bob Dylan did not sell out to the Chinese government when he performed in Beijing on April 6" as Maureen Dowd charged.

Wiener says look what Dylan did sing in China:

"'A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall'...

'Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden'

'Ballad of a Thin Man'

'Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?'

'All Along the Watchtower'

'Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth'"

Wiener quotes Sean Wilentz, Princeton historian who wrote "Bob Dylan in America,":

"the people charging 'sellout' are 'clueless.' 'Apparently, unless Dylan performs according to a politically-correct line, he is corrupt, even immoral,' Wilentz wrote at The New Yorker blog. 'He is not allowed to be an artist, he must be an agitator. And he can only be an agitator if he sings particular songs. ...

... to demand that an artist make an incendiary statement is the worst kind of armchair moralizing,' Wilentz said in an interview on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles. 'And what was the result of Bjork doing that [that is, chanting "Tibet, Tibet" at the end of her concert]? Foreign acts were not allowed into China for a long time. And it didn’t help Tibet. I don’t think anything Bob Dylan could have said onstage would have helped Ai WeiWei [the Chinese artist who has been arrested]. But the songs he sang were about the kinds of oppression we live with [yes, "we," Americans and Chinese, are "oppressed"], the kinds of difficulties that are out there — political, and not political. That’s what he [Dylan] does."

Xeno said...

Good points. Often if you want to change something big, you have to first get inside so you can pull the right levers. Think of Obi Wan and the Death Star.