Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan.
What do these three figures have in common? They were all popular figures of mid-century American culture, worshiped in their time, who have since risen to the divine level of pure icons – worshiped as something not entirely human. But only one of them is still alive.
(integrated) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGxjIBEZvx0 (/ integrated)
Bob Dylan – Homesick Underground Blues
There are of course other differences. Dylan has become a much more icon on his own terms than Presley or Monroe, and his talent as a songwriter is not really in question. But it’s still weird to see the announcement of a new Dylan biopic with Timothée Chalamet. How many people become the subject of two separate biopics – not to mention two Martin Scorcese documentaries – in their lifetime? And although Chalamet seems to be able to do an excellent job with the role, he will compete with the six performances by six different actors – including three Oscar winners – which were apparently necessary to capture the polymeric essence of Dylan in I ‘ m Not There.
Promotional poster for “I’m Not There”
The new film, with the working title Going Electric, will cover the era of Dylan’s life in the mid-60s, when he made a controversial transition from acoustic folk music to an electric guitar and a rock and roll hug . It’s pretty much the same plot as Cate Blanchett’s portion of I’m Not There, but with a film all by itself this time, with director James Mangold of Walk the Line at the helm. It’s a promising project, and I’m sure I’ll go see it and probably leave with a new appreciation for Bob Dylan’s life and work … But I will still think he is overrated.
If you presented me with one of the many Dylan albums that I had never heard before, and it immediately became my favorite album, and I listened to it repeatedly for a week in a row, then I would always think that Dylan was overvalued. People revere him as a mythical figure – the ancestor of lyricism, protest and cigarettes while wearing sunglasses. A breathtaking 2016 article in The Guardian, describing a surprising turning point in Dylan’s career, claimed that he “had always liked to transform his own iconoclasm into the idea of iconoclasm”. What an amazing revelation …
It’s that kind of empty and empty adulation that annoys me when I think, not of Dylan himself, but of his idolaters. And maybe it’s not that they are more absurdly devoted than the staunch fans of David Bowie, Paul McCartney or Taylor Swift, but that they occupy positions of authority that allow them to exercise their fandom on the rest of the world.
It may be time for me to admit the real source of my resentment – the original offense that this latest announcement brought to the surface. In October 2016, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami was to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and I was ready to have mixed feelings about it – he’s a very good writer, but I don’t like his work as much as the do – but then the Nobel committee launched a curve and announced its selection of Bob Dylan … for literature!
In the photo: a real literary figure
I don’t care how much you love Bob Dylan – his work is not literature. The committee commended Dylan for “creating new poetic expressions in the great tradition of American song”. In other contexts, he has been placed alongside timeless poets such as Keats and Rimbaud, but as this same article in the Guardian (a defense of the Nobel selection) points out, his words are not as effective when they are allowed to fend for themselves on the page – “words and music cannot be separated.” Another way to say this is that his words are not actually poetry – or at least not great poetry.
If they really wanted to award a Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan, they could have created a new prize for music or abandoned the prize for literature in favor of a broader category of “arts”. Hell, they could have given him a peace award for his protest songs, and it would have made more sense than many of the recipients of that award. But literature? They could just as easily have given him the price of medicine for the healing of all our hearts.
His songs do not transcend music and his person does not transcend humanity. He is not a god, and it does not take six people to represent him on the screen. Hopefully Going Electric, when it comes out, will humanize Dylan, rather than adding to his exaggerated myth. Until then, I will be here to bathe in all the delicious hatred that this article is about to receive.