[Marxism] Bob Dylan

David McDonald dbmcdonald at comcast.net
Mon Oct 10 11:12:24 MDT 2005

Nice piece, Louis.

I think you are way dismissive of Dylan's turn to lyricism. I would single
out Blood on the Tracks, which has a ton of fabulous songs on it, a hit rate
for "hits" that equals many of his albums from pre-Blonde on Blonde period.
(No quarrel with your judgement that Blonde on Blonde was the apex of his

>From Blood on the Tracks, 1975, I find the following great songs:

	1. Tangled Up in Blue
	2. Simple Twist of Fate
	3. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
	4. Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts
	5. If You See Her, Say Hello
	6. Shelter From the Storm
	7. Buckets of Rain

These songs are totally apolitical, some are ballads but most are just
lyrical. "Buckets of Rain" is one of my favorite all time songs.

You are the last person I would have expected to demand that Dylan's work be
judged or remembered primarily on its "committment to social justice" and
otherwise dismissed. Fine with me if you want to single out that portion of
his life because for a little while he had that weird almost unheard of
actual creative connection to real popular culture (sorry, I've been reading
Faulkner again) as it seethed about in the early and mid-sixties. I agree
with that and no doubt it is the most interesting part of his life and
historically and culturally the most significant, but in no way does

"The records he made afterwards were inferior to earlier efforts. He also
went through some bizarre religious conversions that left his fans bemused
if not disgusted."

really say anything at all informative or worthwhile, and it is arguably
inaccurate as I have just maintained in brief about "Blood on the Tracks."
Furthermore, why do you consider one religion more bizarre than another? I
see no evidence one way or another. And why is serial religiousity more
worthy of disdain than other forms of religiousity? I don't have a problem
with it myself. I fear I would find myself mystified by the plethora of
choices and absence of real-world validation for any of their claims, were I
to become a believer of any sort. So what if Dylan changed my mind about his
choice of religion? Nobody judges that marriages have to last a lifetime
anymore to be good or worthwhile or at least not "bizarre," so why does
changing religions make such a big wave? And I certainly don't think you can
dismiss an album with arguably 7 great songs on it as "inferior." "Not to
your taste" would probably be a step toward accuracy.

But more important than this, it is easy to often find some song that
retains a bit of the early spark with words, that incredible imagery-making
talent, that just flat nails something, and takes it somewhere else, in post
Blonde on Blonde Dylan.

Here are some good songs from sometimes crappy albums, including during the
"bizarre religious conversions" phase:

"I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" from John Wesley Harding, 1968
"Lay Lady Lay" and "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" from Nashville
Skyline, 1969
"If Not For You," "Times Passes Slowly" and "Winterlude" from New Morning,
1970 (BRC phase)
"Knocking on Heaven's Door" from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, 1973
ALL the songs on Desire, 1976 (Goddam!)
"Every Grain of Sand" from Shot of Love, 1981 (BRC phase)
ALL the songs on Oh Mercy, 1989
"Delia" and "Two Soldiers" from World Gone Wrong, 1993

All information in the last paragraph from:


I think one could argue that the lyrical love song is a more enduring theme
in Dylan's work than social protest. Maybe that ability to sustain love and
write about it in increasingly personal terms is the real arc of Dylan's
career. It certainly is another real arc in his career. Maybe it helps
explain why he is so sweet and generous in his old age, as you have amply
demonstrated through your quotes. If you re-think the wonderful explanatory
letter he wrote after his speech to the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee
from the point of view of the overall trajectory of his career, it's obvious
that for whatever reason Dylan could not stand to be a public person. He
could not abide having a persona. The Tambourine Man didn't go that way.
Maybe he just couldn't  "have" politics any more.

I don't see that the last paragraph of your essay gets you a thing. It's
casual dismissal of decades of work as "inferior" is unjustified when you
look at it in detail, and isn't that what you're supposed to have done when
you tag someone's work in a public review? It detracts from the seriousness
and the sensitivity of the rest of the essay. It is an apparently casual
judgement open to real question added onto the end of a perceptive and very
worthwhile and thought-through essay.

And besides, you should give the guy a break. Ansel Adams once wrote that it
was a good year if he took 10 successful photographs.

I am happy to see one of "us" attempt to encompass the 1960's culture and
its not-yet-duplicated interweaving of cultural and political revolt, and
that super-special period when culture was revolt and revolt was culture.
Dylan rode that wave from 1962 to 1968.

Here's a description of my favorite poster of the time: a cartoon with a
skinny con-man type with a little pencil moustache, a bright yellow fedora,
yellow suit, in profile, chin up, giving a twist to the 'stache. Caption:
And remember kids, when yer smashin the state, keep a smile on your lips and
a song in your heart.

David McDonald

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