Now let’s canonise Dylan

bob_dylanYes, I know Bob isn’t a Christian. But you’re not going to be a stickler for such inconsequential detail, are you?

He’s popular, he’s cool, the young (and those who pretend to be) love him – what more do you need? If The Times says he’s a saint, he is.

And if you say he isn’t, you’re jealous. There’s no other possible reason for anyone to take issue with Dylan receiving any accolade, be it canonisation or the Nobel Prize.

Brian Appleyard certainly thinks so: “Come gather round, people, and admit it: the haters and doubters who believe Bob Dylan should not have been honoured are jealous.”

Brian is a sixtyish writer who dresses like a twentyish copywriter, no doubt to appear cool. That sort of thing seldom works: those with taste are more likely to wince at such stylistic solecisms.

However, dressing like a young Neanderthal is just about excusable. Thinking like one isn’t, and that’s where Appleyard errs.

Rather than throwing ad hominems at people whose taste is superior to his own, Appleyard should go through the exercise I suggested the other day: looking at Dylan’s verses and judging them as poetry. He may find it’s possible to despise such anti-poetic doggerel for purely aesthetic reasons, without committing a deadly sin.

Here are a few examples, plucked out of the website of ‘Bob Dylan’s Best Lyrics’. If these are his best, I shudder to think what his worst might be:

“You that build all the bombs// You that hide behind walls// You that hide behind desks// I just want you to know// I can see through your masks”

Modern poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, and in fact vers libre is par for its course. But Dylan obviously thinks that ‘masks’ rhymes with ‘desks’, which isn’t so much libre as inepte.

But never mind the form, feel the content. These lines are the blabbering of a 10-year-old with learning difficulties. Forget poetry; these effluvia don’t even qualify as clever doggerel.

“Idiot wind blowing every time you move your teeth// You’re an idiot, babe// It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe”

Lyrical poetry, it’s been a-changin’ since “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…” ‘Teeth’ and ‘breathe’ don’t rhyme either, but that’s their problem, not Bob’s. But what’s this obsession with blowing wind? Dylan must suffer from chronic flatulence, and his sublime poetry is a profoundly oblique reference to it.

“Every man’s conscience is vile and depraved// You cannot depend on it to be your guide when it’s you who must keep it satisfied”

Perhaps I was too generous earlier, when comparing Dylan to a 10-year-old with learning difficulties. Even that hypothetical lad wouldn’t sink to such pseudo-philosophical depths, unless helped along by a handful of hallucinogens.

“Yes, I wish that for just one time// You could stand inside my shoes// You’d know what a drag it is to see you”

One has to be as perceptive as Appleyard to discern the existential angst so expertly, if deceptively, conveyed by these lines. The rest of us might think this is just a modern barbarian spouting offensive gibberish.

The Academy’s “job is to seek out and reward a plausible candidate for the best work of the age, wherever and whatever it may be,” explains Appleyard. “Certainly the word literature is a restraint but it is pretty loose and getting looser.”

Quite. It’s getting so loose it’s disappearing up its own rectum. Literature is what anyone says it is: graffiti in a public lavatory, Dan Brown’s novels, ‘Off the pigs’ poster, Bob Dylan’s lyrics. If a pickled cow is art and deafening cacophony is music, why can’t Bob’s doggerel be poetry? The times they are a’changin’, and never mind the commas.

To support this astute observation, Appleyard approvingly quotes Salman Rushdie, that living vindication of fatwa: “The frontiers of literature keep widening, and it’s exciting that the Nobel prize recognises that.”

Expansionem ad absurdum, if I’ve ever seen it. The frontiers of everything keep widening, Salman and Brian, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Moral frontiers are now wide enough to accommodate homosexual marriage, euthanasia and abortion on demand. Social frontiers are pushed out to welcome puddles of vomit on pavements every weekend. Political frontiers have expanded to contain mass murder, surrender of sovereignty and Tony Blair.

In matters cultural especially, widening usually spells diminution – certainly these days, when our civilisation is collapsing all around us. Adding fruit and veg may constitute a welcome dietary expansion; adding poison and human flesh doesn’t.

Rather than slinging mud at those who don’t swap intellectual integrity for vain pretentions of cool, Brian ought to buy himself a tweed jacket and start thinking like a grown-up.

Then perhaps he’ll realise that at a time like ours it’s the moral duty of every educated man to be a cultural reactionary – fighting rearguard action against the barbarian assault spearheaded by the likes of Bob Dylan and encouraged by the Nobel committee.

That may delay their triumph, if not prevent it. But above all, a resolute stand against modern perversions may save one’s own soul. You know, that thing Appleyard and Rushdie probably don’t think exists.

2 thoughts on “Now let’s canonise Dylan”

  1. Of course it may be pertinent to find out whether BD ever wanted to be a saint or a Nobel Prize winner.
    Wind has been a common trope in literature through the ages but it was Harold Macmillan (obviously not a weather man) who unwittingly gave rise to an avalanche of the ‘wind of change’ trope that his imitators did not understand the origin of. Meanwhile, it had become obvious that Harold could not predict the disastrous way the wind was blowing in Africa, where nationalism was fraught with difficulties in countries that had (like Belgium) boundaries not of their choosing. It is perhaps a coincidence that Dylan Thomas (BD’s muse) recently had his footsteps retraced by a real weather forecaster. Or was it a cunning trick by the BBC to milk more interest out of their old fraudulent protégée?

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