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You've Got A Lot of Nerve, Bob Dylan

Prior to last evening I thought Andy Ferguson's recent characterization of Bob Dylan fans as "the battered wives of the music industry" might have been over the top.

His voice gets worse with every track. You wonder whether someone left the karaoke machine on in the emphysema ward at the old folks' home. He doesn't sing notes so much as make exhausted gestures in their general direction, until at a break he falls silent and is rescued by the backup singers, who reestablish the melody in the proper key. But then he starts singing again.

I had just read his Chronicles and thought his remarks on Thucydides and Machiavelli, and his praise of Barry Goldwater might reflect deeper strains in his many marvelous lyrics. And so they may. But the Dylan I heard last night at George Mason University was a caricature of himself at his best (nothing up yet on Youtube).

The evening's consolation was my Beatrice (an ex-rock music journalist who is now an aspiring theologian) who led me through the Night of Hell with her witty commentary. She thought he was imitating Maurice Chevalier.

I thought he sounded like John Belushi's Samurai grunting out barely recognizable lyrics from his past. In this apotheosis Dylan was the Unreal Presence--someone who looked like the 20-year old named Dylan plus about 50 years (grinning all the way) but sounded nothing like him.

We heard none of his new Christmas album. But Ferguson is likely right about it too:

It's not a misstep. It's not a gag. It's an affront, a taunt. He's giving us a choice. He's saying, Okay, this is what it's come to: You've got two options. You can cover your ears and go running from the room in horror, or you can call me an enigmatic genius who's daring to plumb heretofore unexplored archetypes of the American imagination. But you can't do both.

Addendum: Here's a clip from the November 11 concert. The WaPo's description of his concert is as reliable as Pravda's Cold-War reporting on the West: Reading between the lines brings the truth to light, for example:

Dylan tours endlessly, turning up at a half-full arena or a minor league ballpark near you again and again, as if to prove he's no sage, just an itinerant song-and-dance-man. Though late-period albums like "Time Out of Mind" and "Love and Theft" have evinced a creative renewal, he's often been erratic, even indifferent onstage. Still, there's something noble in his doggedness, singing on even though thousands of shows have curdled his voice into a viscous, gut-shot croak.

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Discussions - 5 Comments

Not over the top. What I have heard of the Christmas album qualifies as abuse. It is painful and for his fans knowing he did that it must be comparable to to seeing Dylan Thomas reduced to writing for American Greeting Cards and making a bad job of it. I thought Dylan was either proving to friends that his fans would buy anything he put out ("Dylan worship is impervious to evidence.") or taking the opportunity to prove that his whole oeuvre was a hoax. In the first case, this is like the Beatles's "Magical Mystery Tour" and a self-indulgent horror or imitating Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" which is a urinal and a statement that anything an artist does is art.

Whatever. if Dylan is laughing, he can laugh all the way to the bank because not only will die-hard (perhaps their hearing is going with age and Dylan sounds ok to them?) fans buy this, but it will also be the gag gift of the year.

Whatever. if Dylan is laughing, he can laugh all the way to the bank because not only will die-hard (perhaps their hearing is going with age and Dylan sounds ok to them?) fans buy this, but it will also be the gag gift of the year.

Either way, one can say "only in America!" I have to admire the guy for that reason . . . there's something so very Tom Sawyer about it.

Absolutely. As Mr. Thomas says, the guy's got a lot of nerve. I always thought he did.

I don't know about that...I suppose if you mean he could convince you that whitewashing was fun and get you to pay for the pleasure of hard work... if listening to him is such a chore, but folks keep forking over money to hear him...Of course sometimes it might be the case that americans just have a long list of things to check off... listen to Bob Dylan, do laundry, post on NLT. I have no bloody idea why I want to visit China or India or Russia or Brazil or Spain, except that I like to travel even when it isn't a place I would like to live or stay... You have to be open to painting some fences, just to be sure you aren't missing out on a worthwhile experience. Some people I know watch every movie that comes out, and one of these even keeps massive collections on DVD of movies that he never plans to watch again... Typical conversation: Is this movie any good? him: it sucks! Me: why do you own it? him: I saw it and I didn't own it. Some folks are the same way with books, and because MP3 music is so cheap and the capacity of Ipod's so great this is more likely here.

My husband was/is a fan -- I never "got it." I am afraid we are going to end up owning this after Christmas, and worse, that I am going to have hear any of those songs done by Dylan again. Yes, there are Americans who will buy anything.

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