Bob Dylan has recently declined to travel to Switzerland to accept the Nobel Prize, and I have just learned from the BBC that he once declined to appear at the White house. The Dylanologist cited said the reason was money, as he just made 7 million doing two sets of 18 songs in California. Surrounding the Nobel Prize, there was speculation that it was that old Dylan arrogance, which I too share with him, as a systematic smart ass. But I want you to consider another possible reason.
Dylan maybe freaked out a bit when he became very great, back in the sixties, and suddenly the FBI is spying on him and someone seems to have threatened him for an appearance on stage. They wanted to make him the poster-boy for the hippie movement, and what he said and did suddenly effected not only the direction of music, but world politics, and in a way one cannot always control. Dylan graciously remained a singer, an American Folk singer, with a mission like Woody Guthrie devoted to the mission of music. He also remained a human being, setting off on a Spiritual journey that brought him to the Jewish teachers and for a while, and maybe still, even to Jesus. He was being just what he was so that he could do his proper work, rather than be distracted by the world. What appears as arrogance is a necessary defense and a humor based often upon tautology which indicated what one would need to see in order to understand him: “I am a song and dance man,” “It’s not acid rain, its just a hard rain,” etc. I think those things happened just before the cycle accident, and a bit after his sorrow over the booing of the old folkies. (He always was very sad about that, I thought inordinately). He may just not like travel, even in a big way. Why get on a plane these days? Why go be a celebrity? But to play music, rather than to take great honors in a public forum, he fearlessly appears. He is not like most men, caring foremost for wealth and fame, so when that world judges him, they are bound to misunderstand.
I have two of his songs ranked not yet in the top ten lyric poems of all time, but he is surely the only competitor with Cohen for greatest lyric poet. Well, there is Lennon and McCartney, Townshend and Waters, and perhaps Plant, but that is still probably true. Paul Simon, too. Now I am thinking that it is mere personal preference that kept Hard Rain and Sad Eyed Lady out of my top ten, since these are like prophetic, and there are probably one or two others that good that I have not fathomed.
The only time I saw Dylan was in Ann Arbor here, just before the Sixties Rock nostalgia or recognition of just how great this stuff was. Donovan once played around here at a bar, but I missed it. But Dylan stood there in his hat, while up in the seats to his left, I soaked up some great learning from his posture, like being mesmerized at the forearms of Leon Russel. Dylan then seemed a bit rusty, at the start of a return to touring or playing again. I thought Elvis Costello, who backed him up with an acoustic solo show, maybe should have had the band that night.
Winter’s not gone yet, if the wild geese fly that way
The Fool in Lear
You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows