Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, October 01, 2005

the Dylan cliche

Caught some of the repeat of the Dylan PBS doc tonight. In so many ways dude is such a bohemian art snob cliche.

And his star obsession -- kind of pitiful. He really has had a sheltered life, pretty much all his life. From a small-town middle-class childhood to a very brief apprenticeship in showbiz to wealthy stardom by the time he's 22. Talismanic big names pop up all through his classic mid-'60s lyrics (Belle Star, Shakespeare, Napoleon), and his autobio of last year revealed, that stuff really was a sincere expression of his inner life. I'm thinking of that rather embarrassing story of gaining strength as a kid from having made eye contact with a famous big time wrestler.

He really does represent a lot of what I hate about rock. That song "Like a Rolling Stone," widely bandied about as the "greatest rock song ever" (and what is the greatest poem? the greatest painting? the greatest verse in the Bible?) -- it's all part of my rock and roll nightmare.

In the song, Dylan is all angry and contemptuous toward a foolish upper middle class woman who's lost everything. Why is he all angry and contemptuous? Because she was foolish, because she had been upper middle class, and because she was a woman. At the time of writing and singing the song, Dylan was a rich man posing as a classless bohemian, who, like most pseudo-classless bohemian posers, came from a solid middle class background. The song really does crystalize what is so objectionable about the rock ideology -- the false angry class posing and the misogyny.

Some people might object -- no, he's not contemptuous toward the song's "Miss Lonely" because she's a woman -- he's that way with everybody. True enough, but that hardly makes his cliche bohemian snobbery any more attractive. And there's a pattern of meanness toward women in his songs -- Don't Think Twice, Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window, It Ain't Me Babe, Just Like a Woman, She's Your Lover Now, Maggie's Farm (oh, the cruelty of the matriarchy!), One of Us Must Know, Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight -- early and late.

From the point of view of art history -- cliche. It's sociologically interesting that he became so famous for it, but sociological interest does not have a 1-to-1 correlation with aesthetic interest. Not saying he didn't phrase masterfully or write many great lines and some terrific songs; not saying he hasn't been hugely influential -- all I'm saying is, the sexism and the joyless bohemian snobbery are tiresome.

(Put like a real bohemian snob!)
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