[Marxism] Dave Marsh on Dylan

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 1 14:34:29 MDT 2005

(Marsh is a radical rock critic.)

Counterpunch October 1 / 2, 2005
Message from Bob Dylan
A Direction Home


I found this while doing research on Dylan in 1963-64. I was writing a text 
for a book to be published next month as Forever Young, by Douglas Gilbert, 
the photographer who made some of the most amazing pictures of Dylan in the 
summer of '64.

Part of the context for what was happening was his 'renunciation' of 
politics. I went looking for what I could find about Dylan's apology to the 
Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, for making a speech when he accepted 
the group's Tom Paine award, where he compared himself to Lee Harvey Oswald 
and attacked bald politicians for being bald, and bourgeois Negroes for 
wearing suits on the platform at the Great March on Washington, and 
generally pissed on liberalism. That's a remarkable statement of its 
own-based on the transcript, he's pretty clearly drunk and trying to avoid 
what he winds up doing, which is to tell these people a certain set of 
truths about themselves and the world.

But this apology letter is more amazing than that, by half, and I don't 
think I've ever read it before. I've seen a line or two quoted here and 
there but never the whole thing. (I'd love to be proved wrong about this so 
please let me know if so.)

As a piece of writing, I'd judge it better'n any of his liner notes 
pre-Bringing It All Back Home. As to content, the stuff about coming to New 
York (and growing up in Minnesota) directly foreshadows Chronicles, Volume 
One; I don't know anything else by him that does, certainly not this 
plainly. It's funny (man, he was funny then), but then it has to be because 
in a sense, he's being more self-revelatory than he is in Chronicles, even. 
( See especially the passage about his moods.)

Most important, perhaps, it is not so much a farewell to protest politics 
but extremely political in a different way: His allegiance to the radicals 
of SNCC, and to the kids in the Venceremos Brigade, which I presume is what 
he means by "the folks who went to Cuba." Note that he mentions Selma 
almost eighteen months before Bloody Sunday-a message to those who believe 
Dylan paid only lip service to his civil rights involvements. (Foreman 
spoke to me in late 2003 about having actively recruited him as an ally for 
SNCC and several SNCC people, notably Bernice Johnson Reagon and Cordell 
Reagon emphasized that Dylan remained close to them after his protest 

The last reason finding this gave me joy, and it truly did, was that it 
showed Dylan acting out (in advance of its articulation) the principle over 
which SNCC 'broke'-that white people needed to be addressing the problems 
of white people in their communities, not trying to solve problems for 
black people in black communities. You can read a different version of the 
rest of his '60s career (at least that much) in this. Maybe of his whole 
career: Why he's sometimes seem unanchored and why he seems so completely 
on target and sometimes both at once.

Maybe I see it, a little bit, as Bob's ultimate link to Elvis: Bob able to 
articulate what Elvis never could say but always enacted. Something like that.

(The text and additional context is at the Corliss Lamont website; Lamont 
led the ECLC. See www.corliss-lamont.org/dylan.htm)

from Bob Dylan

(Sent to the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee after he received the Tom 
Paine Award at the Bill of Rights dinner on December 13, 1963.)

full: http://www.counterpunch.com/marsh10012005.html

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