Friday, September 01, 2006

"Fish Swim...."

    "Radio is the theatre of the mind; television is the theatre of the mindless."

    -Steve Allen

    "To be avant-garde is to know what is dead; to be of the rearguard is still to love it."

    -Roland Barthes

Dylan's radio shows continue to bless the summer, with due reference to John Peel and an entire generation (an aside to Ellis: have spotted yet another, barely neutral Zion reference. Not only that, but the man reads an email from Alan Dershowitz! Anyway regarding such matters, I'm with Eric, who really says it best:
But what’s fascinating in the documentary is Dylan’s refusal to play along. My interest is not, as it is for Dylanheads, to protect the messiah from persecution so much as it is to point to the value of Dylan’s resistance to interpreting, to explaining his work. Dylan refuses to read for his audience, which is also a refusal to recognize the distinction between (passive) listener/subject and (active) artist/leader. In this sense, his “mutiny from above” (as Posthegemony called it), his refusal to interpret, is mirrored by his turn away from (obviously) protest songs. At one point in the documentary, Baez remembers that she had a grand plan for the music she and Dylan would do together and laments that her political-artistic project was never carried out. They would sing clear-thinking protest songs and draw clear political lines. In other words, Baez was advocating a sort of pop paternalism, a program in which their music would enlighten the people about the evils of racism, war, etc. It was this soft authoritarianism that Dylan turned his back on.

Love him or be underwhelmed by phases of him–and it's probably true that all the born-again stuff didn't simply go away, or not entirely, but only became suppressed to some degree–these shows are something special, and not just to borrow from Bukowski, "radio with guts." They are also a glimpse of an America (of which there have always been many) and perhaps most intriguingly from a certain distance.

One wonders about the nature of this distance, as it seems to encourage something other than sentimental attachment. It is not only that one feels far enough away from these songs to be released from the power (of fear) they once may have exercised on the collective unconscious–as always the generative force, the foundational tension that gives birth to any 'subject' (or so people say). Their cultural moment has decidedly passed and therefore, being still not purely foreign or forgotten they are said to "endure." One neither desires a return nor to forget completely. One is pleasantly surprised to be reminded of these songs, each one an act of resistance and therefore affirmation in the humble manner that only songs can be. As testimonies of the everyday, to moments of pause and of taking imperfect account, of small transcendences. But like Nietzsche said of friends, in order to preserve their force one ought to keep them close but not go over to them.

Anyway here's to the day when it doesn't take a celebrity to sell a responsible re-working of the archive, ever more accessible though parts of 'it' become. Call it nostalgia touring if you must, but for most people confronted these days by the unbearably homogenous and mantric Viacom robot playlists, or the canned music of working-class "classic rock" permanent teenage therapy, one wagers it's an education.

    "One must always reaffirm something of the past in order to avoid a relapse into something far worse. Strategic problems are therefore also essential, and always inevitable in philosophy. Philosophical concepts, sentences, discourses, or arguments are always also stratagems."


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