Monday, November 01, 2004

The answers are still blowin' in the wind

Today's grauniad has a condensed version of Bob Dylan's Chronicles.
I wanted to cut a record. But not a 45. I went down to play a song for Woody Guthrie. "You brought that song to life," he said.

I'd been in a motorcycle accident. I just wanted out of the rat race. Journalists, promoters, fans: they were all calling me the tortured conscience of America. I never planned to be an icon. I was just a singer writing songs that made some kind of sense to me. Outside the wind was blowing.

People told me what my lyrics meant. It was news to me. One album was supposedly intensely autobiographical. Let them think so. I knew it was based on a bunch of Chekhov short stories. I just wanted to escape with my wife and raise my kids like any other American.

Mike Marqusee gave an excellent review in the Guardian
The Dylan of these chapters is a true believer in the religion of folk, which "exceeded all human understanding, and if it called out to you, you could disappear and be sucked into it." He claims that the old songs taught him there was nothing new on this earth. History was cyclical: societies emerge, flourish, decline (but "I had no idea which of these stages America was in"). Here he seems to be reading back into his youth some of the attitudes he struck later on. The young man who wrote "Hattie Carroll", "With God on Our Side", "Masters of War" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" was a poet of urgency, and he would have found the fatalism of the later Dylan far too pat. "I had a primitive way of looking at things and I liked country fair politics," he insists. "My favourite politician was [rightwing] Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, who reminded me of Tom Mix." Maybe, but this "primitive" also dissected the political psychology of the fallout-shelter craze in "Let Me Die in My Footsteps", lambasted anti-communist hysteria in "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", and explored the link between race and class in "Only a Pawn in Their Game".
I like the comment about Barry Goldwater. All part of the "don't follow leaders, follow parking meters" approach to life. Chronicles should be read alongside Mike Marqusee's splendid Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan's Art whilst listening to the man's music.

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