Saturday, December 11, 2004

Dylan on 60 Minutes

Did you see Ed Bradley’s interview with Bob Dylan on 60 Minutes last Sunday night?

One thing that struck me is that Dylan does not seem to admit to, nor take responsibility for, the social and political role he played in the 1960s. To say that he was a spokesman for his generation might be an exaggeration; but it is an exaggeration in the direction of an important truth. He had his hand on the pulse of the Zeitgeist and managed to express it in unforgettable songs. If you were young and impressionable in the Sixties, chances are good that you had you mind ‘blown’ by them.

"They were just songs," I remember him saying on Sunday night. No, Bob, they were not just songs; some of them were anthems. "Blowin’ in the Wind" was an anthem of the Civil Rights movement; "Hard Rain," which was written in October, 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis was an anthem of the "Ban the Bomb" movement. "The Times They Are A Changin’" an anthem of disaffected youth:

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
The old road is rapidly agein’;
Get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a changin’
(Quoted from memory.)

And then there were all the topical songs: "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "Oxford Town," "Only a Pawn in their Game’ (about the murder of Medgar Evers) and so many others.

I understand that the enigmatic Dylan -- the enigmaticity being in part schtick, of course -- does not like being pinned down. He didn't like it back in the '60s and he doesn't like it now. But there does seem to be an element of bad faith in his not owning up to the role he played during those heady years.

I ask myself: Why my lingering fascination with Dylan? Part of my fascination with Dylan is my fascination with my fascination with Dylan back in the Sixties. He was sui generis. Going to a Dylan concert was like going to church -- complete silence, and straining to take in every word:

My eyes collide, head on
With stuffed graveyards. . .

His claim in the interview that he wanted to be another Elvis doesn't wash. The bard cannot or will not articulate his bardness:

The man in me must hide sometimes
To keep from being seen
But that's just because he doesn't want
To turn into some machine. . .