Friday, October 01, 2004

of utmost literary import: Dylan memoires

Seemingly overwhelmed by the exurberance of his own verbocity, no longer. (No, not Dylan Thomas, whoever he was). Apologies for harping my brother's faux-snobbery - it happens sometimes. Luckily, he never reads this so beware, it may get worse. And to confess (damn) that listening lately to Caetano Veloso's Carnegie Hall concert and (yes), the new Beastie Boys album, among other less cultural things, has taken precedence over posting.

While waiting for an appointment the other day, I had a chance to read the few excerpts Dylan pre-released to Newsweek. Dylan, on the Real, seems to have written a very down-to-earth, nice-guy revisionist story, which will surely surprise and please as many people as it will further embitter. Imagine if Elvis were to return from the dead suddenly claiming that his entire iconoclastic image - all those stamps - had been a joke from the beginning, set up intentionally by his true self as a necessary distraction for pop-culture and "critical" leeches. One might be a little bitter; it's just a tad bit too easy, you may rightly think. The built-in antidote to this reaction, it seems, is that Dylan may have written something where just about anybody will be hard-pressed to find anything genuinely unlikable at all.

If the pre-release is any indication, Dylan has written something designed to preempt the worst excesses of this herd bitterness (which remains bitter, and envious, even and especially when it poses as praise). On Dylan's part, there is remarkable consistency in this, traceable from the time of "Don't Look Back" through that of "Masked and Anonymous." If also occasionally to a fault, Dylan has always refused to pander to an image of himself as if it was more real than reality itself. His self-interpretations are never casually complicit with the historical iconography of his image (or if they appear so, they are not without a shaker of salt). This remains true despite the fact that in recent "revelatory" books, Dylan (particularly the young Dylan) has often come off as a relentless, manipulative asshole.

Whether he likes labels or not, Dylan lives in a world of them, and has chosen to make a living largely off of playing, teasing and lambasting them. His motivations for writing this way, at this moment, are surely complex (far moreso than his prose), if also not uncontaminated by a simple desire to a)sell the thing and b) gain some kind of lever, at this stage in his life, on his own story. But what a remarkable life!
And who's to say it isn't all true? It's a work of fiction, of course, but what isn't? Recall the tone of Dylan's voice when he says, sitting next to Allen Ginsberg on a couch in the mid-60s, "That's the truth; I always tell the truth." For polite society and anti-herd mentality byt, a small victory is about to be won. Or at least there is something truly interesting for us aspiring, envious Dylanographers to read.

At first, it was merely the nomadic homeless making illegal entry—seemed harmless enough, but then rogue radicals looking for the Prince of Protest began to arrive—unaccountable-looking characters, gargoyle-looking gals, scarecrows, stragglers looking to party, raid the pantry. Peter LaFarge, a folksinger friend of mine, had given me a couple of Colt single-shot repeater pistols, and I also had a clip-fed Winchester blasting rifle around, but it was awful to think about what could be done with those things.
At first I was only able to do little things, local things. Tactics, really. Unexpected things like pouring a bottle of whiskey over my head and walking into a department store and act pie-eyed, knowing that everyone would be talking amongst themselves when I left. I was hoping that the news would spread. What mattered to me most was getting breathing room for my family. The whole spectral world could go to hell.
I missed out on Woodstock—just wasn't there. Altamont—sympathy for the devil—missed that, too. Eventually I would even record an entire album based on Chekhov short stories—critics thought it was autobiographical—that was fine. I played a part in a movie, wore cowboy duds and galloped down the road. Not much required there. I guess I was naive.

The novelist Herman Melville's work went largely unnoticed after Moby-Dick. Critics thought that he crossed the literary line and recommended burning Moby-Dick. By the time of his death he was largely forgotten.

I had assumed that when critics dismissed my work, the same thing would happen to me, that the public would forget about me. How mad is that?

link to Newsweek piece

No comments: