Dylan From Afar

When Bob Dylan once sang "What looks large from a distance/close up is never that big," he could have been referring to his own reputation. With Martin Scorcese's admiring biopic, "No Direction Home," debuting Monday on broadcast television, the unpredictable singer-songwriter is getting more love in the British online media than in America.

The Guardian has an editorial about how the once-skeptical culture has come to embrace the unpredictable singer-songwriter. The Times has a perceptive piece on his melding of high and low culture. The Independent has the best package of articles, "Dylan: A Special Celebration," including an excerpt from his nomination for a Nobel prize: "In words and music Dr Dylan has created an almost unlimited universe of art which has permeated the globe and, in fact, changed the history of the world."

Maybe that is what is easier to see from across the ocean.

By Jefferson Morley |  September 26, 2005; 4:35 AM ET  | Category:  Music
Previous: South Korea Nuclear Reaction | Next: Karen Hughes Catches Flak


Please email us to report offensive comments.

This useless hippie represents all that was wrong with the 60s and the music of that generation. Now that he is cashing in on his reputation, just like the other carry-overs from his generation, he hardly stands for "cause" any longer.

Posted by: Brian | September 26, 2005 09:45 AM

Most americans care most for their walmart groceries nowadays. Not even Major world events make them cringe. As long as there are "apparent sales" all is well. Let alone Culture. I think Dylan is indeed too big to be seen by Myopes.
When i was learning English some 30 years ago, Dylan's Blowing in the wind was my first english song I ever learnt. That was indeed across oceans and seas.

Posted by: Sahraoui | September 26, 2005 09:46 AM

Every generation has had a voice that resonated the collective thoughts of the time.Helping and inspiring us to think about what it is to be a human, some listen others scoffed but some of us danced too.A really great artist does some of these things,we have nothing to fear but fear itself and I for one am not half as afraid thanks to his rough voice and honest poetry.My world is always brighter in the sun and with art of all kinds around me, a good American you bet a friend to the world and those who are not afraid to listen I think so.

Posted by: craiger | September 26, 2005 10:33 AM

Europeans have always appreciated American music moreso than us. They have long embraced jazz and blues as forms as worthy as European classical music. As for Dylan, some of his contributions are not easy to see now, as his influence on songwriting, the melding of styles, etc., have become so much a standard, his music does not seem as remarkable in retrospect. As someone who is a serious amateur musician and also lover of traditional American music, one of the things he did that is so remarkable was taking traditional music styles and contemporizing them. Listen to the Moses Asch recordings of traditional American music and then listen to Dylan's early recordings. It is as if he walked right out of that era. He drew on the deep currents of our music and made it fresh.

Posted by: Don | September 26, 2005 10:45 AM

I wonder where you took the song quote from

Posted by: José | September 26, 2005 11:29 AM

Bob Dylan is another great figure from America's musical renaissance of the twentieth century. His enigmatic personal life is small in comparison with the artistic truth he used in his song. He is an inspirational, timeless figure, and a poet of eternity. We are fortunate that he is an American.

Posted by: charlie | September 26, 2005 12:52 PM

The quote is from Empire Burlesque a song titled "Tight Connection to my Heart". His music is what speaks for him foremost and he has always answered the public with listen to the songs. At the very least, his words are a tremendous contribution to not only music but literature and further often mean more to each individual. Dylan in his songs creates his own reality that ultimately says things that most have often felt but never had the words to express. I am grateful to have experienced his music and words no matter what expectations have been put on him as a public figure. Those who are dedicated fans are usually of the fanatical nature giving testament to his body of work and effect on those who decide to investigate his meanings.
"When you're lost in the rain in Juarez..."

Posted by: Susan | September 26, 2005 01:11 PM

If you doubt the incredible songwriting of Bob Dylan, listen to the 30th Anniversary Concert (recorded in Madison Square Garden). An astounding collection of Dylan material performed by some of the greatest pop/rock/folk performers of this generation.

Posted by: Robert | September 26, 2005 01:50 PM

it took me too long to replace my worn out turntable belt, but when i finally did, dylan albums were all i played. belly laughing while nodding in agreement at the same time, i know something is happening but i dont know what it is.

Posted by: muon | September 26, 2005 02:58 PM

This special should be great. I have never completely understood the Dylan appeal, but I respect him as a great songwriter.

Paul Westerberg is much better though. Go buy his music NOW.


Posted by: Adam Annapolis | September 26, 2005 04:09 PM

It's tedious to hear that an artist "changed the world" when what that really means is that an artist "changed me."

Dylan changed me. Did he change the world?

We could use some of those Dylan songs back, especially "Like a Rolling Stone." But in fact if anyone is going to change the world, or how a large number of people see it, it will not be Bobby Zimmerman. New times call for new poets.

Posted by: SM | September 26, 2005 06:17 PM

Who is better than Dylan? Who else has 40 years of original recordings. Many Dylan songs are genius, no one else could write.I can`t think of anyone, better than Dylan. Dylan never bores me, no matter how many times, i listen to his music. Dylan is the only song writer, who never bores me. I love is old sixties music....his seventies music...his eighties music...his ninties music. sure, its idiosyncratic, but its illuminating music....and, Dylan was a great singer, even if his voice isnt the best....i just wish that he still had that voice

Posted by: steve | September 26, 2005 08:42 PM

Same old tune from yet another babyboomer has been. Has there ever been a generation so arrogant?

Posted by: Dave | September 27, 2005 12:52 PM

I watched 2 hours of the Dylan special last night on public TV.

It was wonderful. Just the contrast between the sickly sweet commercial folk artists and Dylan was a pleasure.

I was a toddler in those years, not too many blocks from the Village. I'm sure my parents were unaware of the Village scene, but later we had a few of his albums around the house, and he was one of my teenage musical heros.

Dylan has always been a favorite of mine... not so much for his lyrics as for his beautiful voice. It just drives me nuts when people say "he's a great songwriter but..." People, that man is a performer. A performance artist. His voice, his timing, his power are where it is at. He could sing a grocery list and make it sound like prophecy....

He was, in those seven or so years, an amazing American character. Not perfect, not to be idolized or followed, but someone who delivered and delivers lessons in how to be human and passionate.

No, he didn't "change the world", but as the times changed, he gave them a voice. That's not too shabby.

He was and is one of the 20th century's great artists, writers and performers.

He's not for everyone... but would you trust an artist, or value an artist, who was?

I don't much care if other people agree or not, but I sure feel a kinship with those who recognize his greatness.

Posted by: Mike | September 27, 2005 12:53 PM

Ninety-nine percent of the world doesn't understand Picasso either. Or Einstein. Or James Joyce. Or Mozart. Here's the Big Secret. If you're part of that one percent, you honestly don't give a damn about what the ninety-nine percenters think about or even if they think at all.

Posted by: Bill | September 27, 2005 09:38 PM

So you think you are part of the one percent that understands Dylan? POMPOUS. That's what I think you are.

Posted by: Pierre | September 27, 2005 11:06 PM

We have a problem with heroes in this country, but none with villains. Heroes, we don't know what to do with. Villains, come sit at our table, tell us your story.

Dylan. What to do with him? Can't find no place to put him, so lets just try to kill him off, cause he shoulda died when it was good for him, or us. I remember the first time I heard Dylan publicly parodied as too old and out of touch. It was, surely, more than twenty years ago and Dylan is still around, still coughing up his bits of fractured wisdom and giving us the wisdom of his fractured world.

The music world, the pop world, the folkie world, the rock scene, and everything else that pretends to be music, has turned over so many times since Dylan hit New York in the early 60s that it is unrecognizable. What the music world does, really well, is grind up people, "acts" and spit them out to live the rest of their lives in comfortable obscurity. Dylan plays on.

Everything new is pushed out by something newer. We worship youthfulness and that means constant change. Nothing ain't worth nothing, cause pretty soon, its gonna be replaced. Change for the sake of change is not creativity, it is novelty, fad and the comfortable lie to told each new 14 year old that you are wonderful and unique, just because you are here. The world revolves around you.

Hurricane Katrina gets blasted out of the news by Rita. Pretty soon, that'll be gone too, while the suffering, pain, anger and rebuilding go on far out of sight. We can't pay attention to anything, because we are paying attention to everything, nothing.

Dylan plays on. He dances across memory with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, dredging truths from history and bringing joy and sadness for us all to see. He speaks of a time, right now, when its still a hundred years ago, or maybe its next year, when things that happened in America mattered, when we cared about each other, fought battles with the self and against everything that would enslave us and loved so deeply the hurricanes couldn't stop the pain and silence was no longer our way of screaming.

Dylan plays on. He can't be captured by a movement, a magazine, a photograph, a fad, the blink of an eye, the silence of a decade's loneliness, the craziness of an insane time of decadence, the sparkle of quickly fading fame, the truth of ageless annihilation, the laughter of puffed up critics who would speak truth but only bring themselves down, the love and, then, hatred of a woman, the slow fade into presumed irrelevance, the garbled words from the stage, a thousand concerts and more where we rage, honors and dishonors, stolen votes, wasted time or even captured inside our heads. Dylan, uncaptured, free. Dylan lives, Newsweek said. Dylan plays on.

A very long time ago, I tried to proclaim, in my ineffective voice of that moment, the idea that Dylan had done something new and something very old and no one wanted to hear me. Something more than music. Something more than words. Something more than poetry. Something burning the soul, something meaningful that could last for a very long time and help people struggle through the heartache and joys of being alive and being on fire inside the heart, with eyes that see the truths we all deny. No one listened to me then, but no matter, Dylan plays on.

It has already been a very long time since that time and people still care. More people of a certain age love Dylan now than even liked him way back when. In the fading sunlight of an early evening, we need Dylan, we need to know that we didn't miss him on the way by, we need him to know that we love his freedom, our dream of freedom, his late night escape, like a bandit slipping out the window of folk music, hippies, the sixties, the riot of the moment, looking for timelessness.

We would like to believe we understand his artistry of a life well lived and a phrase well turned, hanging out there on the radio, the radio, the public megaphone of another era, the surprise of a lifetime, my god, what's this?, scorching truth where none had been before. Everything changed, the silly season of rock/pop was gone, seriousness in style, forever. Dylan is a blast from the bright beacon where desperate men, lonely sailors, railroad strangers, highway hobos, visionary women, penniless poets, pound out the rhythm of the grapes of wrath and their searching lives and to this day, live on. A true place where lies vanish like tiny raindrops on hot pavement. Dylan. Plays. On.

Thanks, Bob.

by Doug Terry

Posted by: Doug Terry | September 28, 2005 03:08 AM

ps: Dylan is NOT a baby boomer. He's too old. Most of the big names of rock who are "from the sixities" were born before the baby boom generation, which, in itself, is merely a popular misnomer, a sociological misunderstanding that has been perpetuated by a hundred thousand newspaper quotes. I realize people are sick of hearing about the boomers. Most of what is written is either wrong or simply mythology, anyway.

Posted by: Doug Terry | September 28, 2005 03:13 AM

ps: Dylan was never a hippie.

Posted by: Doug Terry | September 28, 2005 03:14 AM

Bravo to the two previous comments. Dylan is not a baby boomer. He is a member of the silent generation, as are/were all of the 1960s rock icons. Boomers were born in 1948 and later (some demogaphers say 1946). As noted, Dylan was never a hippie. By 1968 he was raising a family, living the suburban life for the most part. Read his autobio for more.

The negative comments in this string are interesting in that they do not make any clear, coherent arguments. They use pejorative, ad hominen remarks as if that communicates something substantive ("POMPOUS. That's what I think you are";"This useless hippie represents all that was wrong with the 60s and the music of that generation.";"Same old tune from yet another babyboomer has been"). I guess that is to be expected. We no longer think through issues. We react often from a very base level, as these comments illustrate. Which is why a careful listening to Dylan's work is quite worthwhile. He offers something worthy of time and thought.

Posted by: Don | September 28, 2005 01:15 PM

I too watched the PBS show on Dylan and was both fascinated and disappointed. I was fascinated to see a part of american culture which has been reviled for years finally geting its due.

And I was disapointed with Dylan. Now with the derative part of his music, as Goethe said, all Genius borrows freely and makes their borrowings their own. But that Dylan did really not intend any particular meanings to his songs AND that he thought that the meanings of words change so that he really cannot comment on his past songs.

Both these statements put in in the category or very close to the category of "Stupid Genius" someone who liek Jackson Pollock does not know why they do something only that it looks or sounds good.

I guess I raised my expectations too high.

Posted by: Kurt | September 28, 2005 02:24 PM

Without the Kingston Trio, that "Hawaian-Calypso-Folk Group that saved Country and Western Music", by popularizing many forms of "Folk" music several years before Dylan even left MN, he would have been a post-beatnick protest poet-prophet buried in the Bowery. Amen.

Posted by: Mark Smith | September 28, 2005 05:47 PM

You can't be 45413 serious?!?

Posted by: Mary Box | August 4, 2006 12:21 AM

Bob Dylan sang in one song "the river boat captain ain't got nothing on me, obviously". It was a reference to Mark Twain. Bob Dylan, in the future will be seen as every bit as important in American cultural history as Mark Twain, perhaps even more so.

Posted by: paul doane | August 19, 2006 02:45 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company