Introduction ~ why here, why now?
I put here a photograph of a very-young Dylan because it seemed fitting because Dylan is, and always will be, forever young, though as i write this i'm listening to "It's not dark yet..." and i can't help but note the change between the Dylan we knew then and the Dylan we know now. At least, musically.
But Dylan is nothing if not change - and this I mean in the best sense. He keeps us guessing. He is anything but "Judas." Dylan never betrayed us because he never claimed to be anything other than himself - and whoever that is we cannot really say because as Dylan himself has said, he refuses definitions. As he said, "I define nothing. Not beauty, not patriotism. I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be."
So it is then, that we take Dylan on his own terms, without definition and in doing so, we are surprised as we moved with him from album to album - for as we have all of us noted, Dylan is never the same from each album - each has its own style and sound, depending on Dylan's mood and also, who the producer was at the time and where the album was produced. All of these things contrived to give each album its own unique sound.
At his core, I imagine Dylan is largely the same person he always has been. Sure, like all of us he has grown and matured, but in a way, he always seemed to me an old soul; somehow ahead of the rest of us. But then again, we all know it's hard to pin Dylan down and one has to ask ones'self, why the need for definition anyway? We all remember the reviewer who asked Dylan "Are you a protest singer?" to which Dylan replied, "All I do ever do is protest." You should find the footage of this in our video section as an out-take.
As i've written before and as you'll read here, there are so many complexities here and yet at the same time, Dylan remains remarkably simple in some ways and by simple i mean in the best way ~ down to earth, yet still complicated, like nesting dolls, one inside the other inside the other. As he said, "I embrace chaos, though I'm not so sure it accepts me." He's right. Dylan is okay with the chaos that surrounds him. He seems to have made his peace with the myth (and the myth that he, let's face it, largely created), but are we okay with that? Have people made their peace with who Dylan is, or are we constantly still trying to pigeon-hole him, fit him neatly into a social-register. Trouble is (for some) is that Dylan does not fit into any social register and never will and good for him. I've heard people say he is a 'sell-out' for doing various advertising stints, but hey, when did Dylan claim that he was more than the bottomline? When did being a "song and danceman" become more than being, like most things, more than a business? Yes, Dylan has clearly become a huge social phenomenon - there is no getting around that. He wanted that. He was largely responsible for that and to claim ignorance of how he got there would be to be disingenuous on his part, for Dylan set-out to become the Bob Dylan he is today. In short, he set-out to become famous and he succeeded. This is where we get into self-mythologizing and the stories he told, made of whole cloth, but so what? He did what he felt he had to do and it worked. Voila!
Dylan never ceases to amaze us with his various incarnations, though at the core, it is always him - always our Dylan (everybody wants to lay claim to Bobby, as was noted in the documentary "No Direction Home"), though i wonder what gives any of us any right claim him as our "our Dylan" when after all, he is as he has often said and tried to maintain, some privacy for himself and a life of relative normalcy while at the same time knowing that, as he writes in Chronicles, "that fate was or is looking right" at him. You cannot seek and accept the amount of fame that he has accomplished in his life-time while at the same time expecting a 'normal' life (or ordinary would be a better word). Not to say that Dylan does not deserve his privacy: he absolutely does and we should respect that. Only that it seems unreasonable to think that if he continues to put himself out there as he does - and i love him for this - that he will be loved and sought after. It's all part of the deal. One thing that perhaps Dylan didn't count on, like many or any star, is that when you do become a huge success as he set-out to be (and he did), you give-up some of these rights - it's just part of the deal. It may not be 'right' in some philosophical sense, but it's just the way it is. Is that frightening at times? No doubt it is. Chaotic? Sure. And as I've written here, I think that Dylan has long looked for that "soft place to fall" - some "shelter from the storm" and God, how many of us, how would I, offer it to him - If i could, I would offer that soft place to fall anytime. I would catch him. I will be there, just as you will, would, when the deal goes down.
Dylan has been one of the most reclusive and shy performers we have every known; uncomfortable before the camera, shy at times - shy, an interesting word, derived from the Scottish word Blate, which is almost untranslatable and means, or is similar "to sigh", but as Milton said of the shy, they are also coy, and shy, like the coy, "will bashfully yield." Dylan is all of these things, or when he wants to be he is. He is coy, bashful, yielding when he wants to be, forceful yes, and one definition I found of shy, which we can all agree Dylan is, (and I found this after much searching) is this term: Shy is also a term for "a backward lover." That's a definition I will leave you to sort out.
One wonders, how can one be so fated for stardom, for success as Dylan always knew and worked damn hard to get and was right, to be so prescient and yet not expect that you would to some extent become a sort of public figure? After all, he pursued this doggedly, even asking after his intial shows, if there was anyone "backstage" waiting for him. He wanted to know if anyone cared enough to be there, and why not. It's what performers do; it means you've made it. Dylan wanted this. He got it, then loved it, then was conflicted, as any normal person would be, especially at such the young age he was, still then in his late teens. What I do know, and what I find unbearable and unbelievable from all of the interviews I have seen, is that so many journalists expect this young performer to have all of the answers to questions that even they do not have the answers to. Hell, I studied philosophy most of my life and I don't know the answers - and Dylan - well, no doubt is a thousand times smarter than I am, but at twenty or nineteen years old? Is it any wonder he responded with any hostility at times?
Let's leave the grand questions to John Lennon who, unlike his friend Dylan, was more sure he had it all figured out when frankly, I'm not so sure he did. It's not a snap on Lennon, it's simply the truth. None of us has it all figured out and it's absurd to expect anyone, including Dylan, to know the answers to such lofty equations and while we have imposed on various roles - Poet, Prophet, Folkie, Peace Singer and more - Dylan - he remains, ultimately, a man, a great singer, song-writer, but profoundly, and thank god, wholly human.
Dylan never said he has all the answers. It's funny then that so many of the answers can be found in his songs. Joan Baez laughs in No Direction Home when she says we'll be analyzing his songs years from now (as Dylan told her in the sixties and laughed, saying even he did not know what they were about), yet somehow, in them, there is still something almost prophetic. You can't listen to a song like "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall" and say it means nothing. The same holds true for many Dylan songs and the list is too long to put them here - You know them all too well.
But the lines in "It's Not Dark Yet" - Shadows are falling." and feel like my soul is turning to steel, i've still got the scars..." "there's not even room enough to be anywhere/it's not dark yet/ but it's gettin' there." More, "Behind every beautiful thing/ there's been some kind of pain." These are tales of a hard life, or a hard second part of life anyway, perhaps a life and all it's problems that come with success - the price of success.
Has anyone been as great? I don't know. Does it matter to us? Is it important? His songs now - his love songs - are they written to or for anyone? One would think Yes, but as a poet, I also know that poetry can be made of whole-cloth; pure fiction that we pull from thin-air, so why not the same for Dylan of his songs? As a poet myself, I can tell you, we are, just like songwriters, we can be the best liars of all, for we must spin and weave tales from nothing. The handwriting is in the air.
Anyone who has a way with words can spin a good story and if anyone has a real talent with this it is Dylan. He seems to not always need a muse or an inspiration to write, though he admits in No Direction Home that both Bonnie and Echo "brought out the poet in me". It's said that "Girl from the North Country" is written for either Bonnie or Echo. So maybe there is a seed of truth, but perhaps not even that. Perhaps a passing thought. I don't know. He remains mum on the subject as a general rule and private as one would expect of a shy person. Frankly, I don't care either way as long as he is happy, and these days, he seems happy. "Modern Times", his latest and a great album, is by far the most upbeat I've heard from Dylan in a while.
In 2005, I remember distinctly reviewing that Campagnelli show and feeling that Dylan was still looking for that soft place to fall as I noted earlier on in this introduction. He sees "nothing in everyone's eyes." I wonder what he would see in mine? I wonder if he'd even bother to come here and look . There's a scene in Eat the Document with a French girl with whom Dylan is frolicking on the balcony of his hotel room. She is 'entertainment before lunch' or some such. You figure out the rest. Call me romantic but what she missed, if I guess correctly and I imagine I do, is that she would be like any groupie - worshipping at the altar of her god and maybe that's okay. Certainly it was okay for him. Maybe I would have been as well - but all I wanted, and this is where I think I would have hit where she would have missed - would have been the chance to begin counting those endless brown curls. I said begin... because I would never have planned on stopping. I would want more than to be a groupie. That, I would not settle for. If that's what you got, no thanks, keep it anyway.
The best I can only hope is that Dylan would make some kind of contact because this very writing is a form of contact and a way of reaching out as a serious journalist and dylanologist who is not only a critic, but who is lecturing on Dylan in New York this Winter. I am also an established poet, but here again, I am ascribing a label - I am speaking "poet to poet", which likely, he would hate. Perhaps the closest we will ever come to truly knowing Dylan (apart from being with him in any real way and even then, i wonder, as i suffer the own syndrome myself ~ the old guardedness when it seems too many want some piece of you or demand too much is instantly in place: walls erected...) is to know him through his songs. So the closest we may come is through his own writings, his songs, and his book "Chronicles."
I too am a shy person. Every test labels me the introvert (INTJ or some such). It's easy for me to write here, to hide behind a computer screen or put forth what I choose to put forth - this too is a sort of veneer, the way Dylan seemed to be honest, or honest enough, but all of this is a contrived effort to make you believe you are close by giving you just enough information that you never question that you "know" the person - in this case Dylan (or me for that matter) gives you just enough to feel that you 'know' the person. You accept the information you are given. It is a smart wayof keep you at arm's length; a sleight of hand.
Perhaps I have interviewed enough musicians by now that I see different ways of being. Also photographers and filmmakers tell us something (look here soon for a one-on-one with D.A. Pennebaker). We know people yes, though them and their work, but also through who they know and how they interact with the world, and most importantly, with the information they give us - their legacy. Dylan gives us a lot. And he keeps on giving, most recently through his XM Radio program.
There's clearly a lot to say about Dylan - and we try to keep up and keep the most important things in our Articles section. We also have an Images section and a Video section. You can also Contact us if you would like to contribute to Bob Dylan on Tant Mieux. We've also added a brief bio section, and while most of you no doubt know this information, you never know. More, if we're missing anything or you would like to make additions, please use the Contact link on that page and be in touch and let us know! the
Dylan bio can be found here and was contributed by Tant Mieux Dylanologist, Evander Lomke.
Of course, I've rambled here. There's a lot to say, and with Dylan, no easy, clear-cut way to say it. The answers perhaps, or some of them, reside in his lyrics; more than this however, we have to take Dylan at his full - as he is, which is quizzical at times perhaps because he doesn't want to be truly known. We can search, but I don't think any of us can truly promise the answers - or definitively say, "I am right." Not in this case; not unless it is a matter of fact. Thanks to all who contribute to Tant Mieux, Dylan - So Much the Better. If you would like to become a contributor, use the Contact link and let me know! And thanks to our contributors now, and thanks Evander for the biography - an invaluable addition.
Stay a while, and feel free to contact me at any time.
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