Bob Dylan has been getting a lot of attention lately, for various reasons (he has to pay for that family somehow), but let's get something straight: He is not a poet. He is a pop musician, albeit a literate one with a fascinating life story. Calling Dylan a poet places you in the same boat as that sycophant hippie reporter in "Apocalypse Now" who slobbers over the idea of Kurtz, "he's larger than life, he's a poet-warrior, man, you just don't understand." Needless to say, this boat is sinking and it's you who doesn't understand.
You are missing the lighthearted ironic undercutting that is, finally, our only chance of survival. Indeed, from what I hear (this blog is only concerned with rumors) there's enough clichéd genius-worship to go around in Scorsese's latest. I haven't seen it yet (this blog only comments on things it hasn't seen or read), but if it's true that Scorsese is doing icon-restoration work (indirectly, of course, while pretending to do precisely the opposite) then that's a shame. And shame on anyone who buys the script and starts talking about how this film redeems Dylan by placing his "childish antics" in context! Dylan suddenly needs redeeming from his performance in "Dont Look Back?" I mean fucking forget it man, if you didn't get him the first time you're not about to now. My guess is he just kind of signed off on the thing and said to Scorsese, "Go ahead; here's the stuff. I don't need it anymore." Which is great, in a way, because if one can resist the imposition of pat narratives there's a
whole lot of fascinating "stuff" he's succeeded in keeping secret, and it's only a matter of time before it surfaces anyway.
One last time: this from "Radiohead, or the Philosophy of Pop:"
All of us lovers of music, with ears tuned precisely to a certain kind of sublimity in pop, are quick to detect pretension, overstatement and cant about pop–in any attempt at a wider criticism–precisely because we feel the gap between the effectiveness of the music and impotence and superfluity of analysis. This means we don't know about our major art form what we ought to know. We don't even agree about how the interconnection of pop music and lyrics, rather than the words spoken alone, accomplishes an utterly different task of representation, more scattershot and overwhelming and much less careful and dignified than poetry–and bad critics show their ignorance when they persist in treating pop like poetry, as in the stil-growing effluence around Bob Dylan...(Mark Greif, n+1 magazine)
This is why it matters little whether Dylan was right or wrong about Hurricane Carter, or whether "Neighborhood Bully" is a racist song or not, or whether he's read Edna St. Vincent Millay. The philosophy of pop is finally something other than this (and thanks to n+1, with a healthy unacknowledged dose of Agamben, we now know what this is).
More on Dylan from Dan Green and Ellis Sharp, and nicely from Hamlet's Dreams on 60's nostalgia.