Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bob's Your Avunculus or Dylan-Thomas

Bob Dylan turns 77 today.  Rather than give a musical tribute (where do you start?--just go to YouTube and listen), let me note I just read Why Dylan Matters by Richard F. Thomas.

Thomas is a classics professor who is particularly interested in ancient Rome, and he believes Dylan is, too.  Dylan, if you didn't know, was in his high school's Latin Club, and in later years spent a fair amount of time in Rome.  Thomas sees all sorts of classical allusions in his lyrics, and whether or not you think that's a stretch, Dylan was prolix enough that plenty of these allusions are explicit.

Does Dylan need another defender?  You'd think by now everyone accepts he's a classic. But that's in the world of popular music.  After he won the Nobel Prize (and not Philip Roth), there was that chorus again asking what a rocker is doing in such august company.  Thomas believes Dylan expresses himself in such a way that he'll be remembered not just as a great 20th century performer, but like Catullus and Ovid.

He also spends a lot of time discussing Dylan's work in recent decades. For rock fans, Dylan's best years are generally conceded to be the 60s and 70s, but, Thomas reminds us, he didn't stop recording then, or being relevant.  Perhaps, though it's a tough case to make, as far as I'm concerned.

I'm not sure if Thomas entirely makes it.  But while I wouldn't say Dylan is another Virgil, he is the first Bob Dylan, and that's plenty.


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Bob Dylan is one of the greatest lyricists of all time. If there were a Nobel Prize for folk music or any kind of lyrical music, he deserves it.

But there remains a fundamental difference between song lyrics and poetry, so I don't think the Nobel Prize for Literature was the right prize for him. (For that matter, they probably should distinguish Literature from Poetry.)

I agree with you on later Dylan. There are plenty of gems in his 1980s albums -- "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar", "Every Grain of Sand," "Jokerman", "Man of Peace", "Dignity", "Silvio", "Man in the Long Black Coat" -- but you could drop 2/3 of the tracks from each of his 1980s albums without losing much.

5:06 PM, May 24, 2018  
Blogger brian said...

Bobby is a G.O.A.T. I was very glad to see him with my son, David last year. These prizes are ridiculous enough that of course he should win. Wound people have begrudged Shakespeare such a prize because he wrote plays instead of other literature? Anyway not going to argue that point too much as it distracts from the actual achievements of Dylan. He will be long remembered and his lyrics are amazingly unique. What is perhaps most interesting is that so many great lyricists who are inspired by him are more obscure. He is actually very straightforward and most of his songs are very easy to understand. This can be seen most easily when he is covered as the arrangements are often simpler. I have read that he deeply read poetry in his younger days. I imagine he still does and that he also read a lot of classical lit. Many of his songs seem to ahem from an earlier time and even are about old historical events.
Happy birthday to Bob Zimmerman Dylan.

9:32 PM, May 24, 2018  

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