Monthly Archives: June 2008

A reason for being

I received an e-mail from another critic, and it’s one which I feel like answering, although I’m very pressed for time today. I’ll be AWOL for the next week or more, so it’s kind of like a now or never thing.

I’m happy again to note that people who disagree with me nonetheless read this website (potential deep-pocketed sponsors take note!). The e-mail takes me to task not only for Dylan-related matters but also for broader issues of politics and religion. Those will be amply addressed in other contexts as this election year progresses. I’d mainly like to address the correspondent’s central point that the “raison d’etre” for this website is false, because no one characterizes Dylan as being of the left anymore. He says:

While you might not be trying to ‘Steal Dylan for conservatism’, your arguments claiming otherwise evince a standard conservative trope: asserting a false premise which you can argue against, tearing up your straw man with relish, then, dextrously, hoping no-one will notice, claim that your small and spurious victory proves a larger point.

Case in point: your recurring justification for your blog: you are an antidote to the myths propagated in the media that Dylan stands ‘fullsquare behind a basically leftist agenda’ and that he’s been ‘caricatured’ as a leftist ‘for three decades in the media’.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what you’re talking about here. I would be interested if you were able to provide some quotes from the last ten years, say, in which Dylan has been caricatured as a leftist. As a ‘nasal folk singer’, as he was identified on Page Six of the New York Post, for sure. I remember SNL sketches from the eighties in which he was depicted as an addled, incomprehensible relic from the Sixties. But as a spokeperson for leftism, no.


So: your basic premise that Dylan is portrayed continually, in a vast conspiracy by the liberal media, as a leftist, is non-existent. The raison d’etre of your blog, its great mission, is false.

The e-mail is signed “Mel,” but the e-mail address says “Bruce.” (If it’s you again, Springsteen, don’t you have better things to do?)

Anyhow, I have to thank my correspondent for setting the bar so low, given how pressed for time I am today. He requests “some quotes from the last ten years … in which Dylan has been caricatured as a leftist.”

Well. I guess it’s somewhat understandable that someone who is himself of the left would not particularly notice the ways in which the media commonly assume that Dylan and his work are essentially of the left. I used to respond in this space to many of these instances; these days, I let most of them go. It gets boring for me, frankly. (And I think the frequency of the references has somewhat declined in the last year or two, although I’m not taking credit for that.) But when you are yourself a conservative who is also a Dylan fan, as I think many readers could attest, you notice these things all the time, and it grates on you to no end. (It might even drive you to launch a website.)

So, without further ado, just a few examples:

As addressed here, the Seattle Times characterizes It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) as “a classic anti-war song.”

As addressed here, the U.K. Times characterizes A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall as Dylan’s “anti-war classic.” (Yes, there’s a theme here. For one thing, I thought the quickest way of finding a couple of examples in the database was to go the “anti-war” route.)

As addressed here, Greil Marcus gave a talk — one he repeated in other venues and the general text of which is at this link — in which he discussed particular performances by Bob Dylan of Masters of War as if they were directed purposefully towards Republicans (in particular George W. Bush).

Finally (since I must really get going today) there was the episode in 2006, heavily covered in this space, where the Christian Science Monitor, in a story related to the release of Modern Times, casually quoted Bob Dylan describing himself as a “62-year-old Jewish atheist.” The quote — which was made by an entirely different human being — was erroneously attributed to Dylan by a reporter who told me that it just sounded like something Dylan would say. The editors also obviously saw no need to question it, or even to source it. Were it not for the vociferous demands for correction which came directly from the owner and operator of this very website, I believe it is highly doubtful that it would ever have been corrected. (Link to correction here.) It would have gotten out there in the ether, like other false quotes, and been regurgitated by other outlets ad infinitum. Indeed, none other than the VOA did regurgitate it shortly afterwards. That outlet also made a correction after communications from yours-truly. (You’re welcome!)

So, the above are just a few instances in which Dylan, and his work, have continued to be characterized in ways which suit the world-view of individuals on the left, but which do not stand up to scrutiny. (I should also point out that the above sources are not isolated wackos; they are sources widely considered to hold authority.) Yes, I do consider it to be “caricaturing”. I’m glad that I’ve often pointed it out and sometimes mocked it and on certain occasions even gotten it corrected. It may be a humble raison d’etre, but in between I try to do some other things too.

And now, with thanks to Bruce, I really have to vamoose.


Finally. The U.S. Supreme Court rules on the 2nd Amendment, and upholds an individual’s right to bear arms (i.e. they agree to the curious assertion that the sky is blue). Details are continuing to break, but the single opinion of the majority is written by Scalia, so it’s safe to predict that it’s going to be good.

RWB is traveling later today and for the next week, so don’t have much time, but, since it’s what we do here, click here for a flashback to something written in this space long ago around the issue of Bob and guns.

Addendum: The opinion is in pdf form at this link.

The obligatory “Barack Obama endorses Bob Dylan” post

From Jann Wenner’s interview with Barack Obama in Rolling Stone:

You were endorsed by Bob Dylan a few days ago. What’s that mean to you?
I’ve got to say, having both Dylan and Bruce Springsteen say kind words about you is pretty remarkable. Those guys are icons.

Do you have any favorite Dylan songs?
I’ve got probably 30 Dylan songs on my iPod. I think I have the entire Blood on the Tracks album on there. Actually, one of my favorites during the political season is “Maggie’s Farm.” It speaks to me as I listen to some of the political rhetoric.

Obama joins a long line of politicians who’ve endorsed Dylan. Despite Wenner’s assertion, I think the record remains that Dylan hasn’t endorsed any of them.

Just a random musing on Obama here: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a political scientist for that matter, to observe that many in the Democratic Party have been looking for a new Kennedy ever since JFK left the scene ahead of schedule. Young, eloquent, dashing; a candidate of generational change. You could see some of this in the surge for Gary Hart in 1984, and you could see some of it in what certain people wanted and hoped for Bill Clinton to be. But the whole Kennedy-surrogate syndrome has never come so close to total consummation as it has with the candidacy of Barack Obama. It didn’t even need Caroline Kennedy to write her endorsement of Obama in the NY Times ( “A President Like My Father”), but that certainly demonstrated the extent to which the mantle has been passed on quite consciously and without reservation.

In researching something else today, I happened to run into a speech of JFK’s, and it’s what brought all this to mind, because in reading it I couldn’t help wonder at the comparison between Kennedy and Obama, and by extension the Democratic Party of then versus today.

The speech was given in Boston the day before the 1960 presidential election. Excerpts are at this link; my own excerpts below. Kennedy is drawing distinctions between his policies and those of the Republican Richard M. Nixon. You might well call it the “peace through strength” speech.

Mr. Nixon believes that peace can be achieved through conferences and commissions, through meetings and good-will tours through special missions and propaganda gimmicks. But words and gestures, talks and visits, will not bring peace in the future, just as they have failed to bring peace during the past 8 years.

We face a ruthless and implacable enemy bent on world domination. An enemy supremely confident of its ultimate victory and willing to seek that victory by whatever method seems likely to succeed.

The Soviet Union recognizes and respects only one obstacle to its ambitions and that is the strength of its opponents; only a strong and vital America can convince the Communists that any attempt at armed aggression will cost them too dearly to be worth the gamble; only a strong and vital America can maintain the leadership of the alliance of free nations. Only a strong and vital America can maintain the leadership of the alliance of free nations. Only a strong and vital America can become the model of Democratic progress to the newly emerging nations who are looking for guidance and for help.

Therefore, if elected, I pledge myself and my party to begin work immediately on a program to achieve peace through strength.

First, we will strenghten our military power to the point where no aggressor will dare attack, now or in the future. Two days ago an independent study made for the Department of the Army concluded that unless we acted immediately we might “become a world power inferior to the U.S.S.R.” But America must not become inferior to any nation. For an inferior America endangers peace and the survival of freedom. Therefore, we will build a mobile retaliatory force incapable of destruction by surprise attack, and modernize and strengthen our conventional forces so as to deter limited war.

He goes on to talk about also strengthening America economically. Some of that rhetoric you could imagine coming out of Senator Obama’s mouth. But all of the above, I think, you could never imagine Obama saying, or, for that matter, anyone in a leadership position of the modern Democratic Party. It’s been a long, strange trip indeed.

New Dylan albums galore

Music writer Neil McCormick blogs that Bob Dylan has a new album ready for release, and that “in some windowless room deep in the bowels of SonyBMG in London (quite possibly surrounded by armed guards) executives are locked in listening to playbacks while management discuss what to do with it….” That’s a pretty amusing image. What would they be discussing? Whether the world’s ready to hear it — kind of like the Third Secret of Fatima? (I have often suspected that the record company execs have sat on some of Bob’s stuff that was just too mind-blowing to be released to the public.) (OK, I am kidding.) (Mostly.)

Neil believes he is talking about an album of new material, obviously, but naysayers are already speaking up and accusing him of being confused by the predicted release of The Bootleg Series, Volume 8 in the fall. However, even that album qualifies as a rumor, in that I don’t know of any official press release or source for the story (it is written about on the Searching for a Gem site here.) It’s an easily believable rumor, mind you, in that it posits a two-CD set of outtakes and rarities, stretching from 1989 through 2006. It would, in other words, be a natural follow up to the original Bootleg Series (Vols. 1 – 3) which ended at 1989 and with the Oh Mercy outtake Series of Dreams. This new one is said to begin with additional outtakes from that album.

Of-course, if McCormick is right, and there really is an album of new material, then it would bring to mind those rumors 6 months ago and more that Bob Dylan was in the studio with the producer Rick Rubin. Those stories essentially bit the dust when everyone realized that Rick Rubin was actually recording an album with a different guy named Dylan — first name Jakob. People, including me, put the rumors down to wires getting crossed.

So, boil it all down, and as of today about all you can say is (that’s right): Nothing is revealed.

Dylan officially becomes Supreme

I’m not aware of this happening before. That is, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice citing the words of Bob Dylan in an opinion. (Via Kathryn Jean Lopez at the Corner; thanks to Lyle for the tip.)

And it is gratifying indeed — I’ll make no bones about it — that it comes not from one of the long-haired lefties on that court, but from none other than Chief Justice John Roberts, nominated to that position by President George W. Bush in July of 2005.

The Dylan reference and quote comes in Roberts’ dissent in the decision announced today in Sprint Communications v. APCC Services. I’m not knowledgeable enough to give a thumbnail of the issues involved, but apparently the core of it was whether APCC (a collection agency) had standing to sue Sprint, in a situation where they (APCC) apparently did not stand to gain financially at all. In a 5-4 decision, the court found for APCC’s right to sue. Chief Justice John Roberts said the following in his dissent (link to full pdf file here), which was joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito.

The absence of any right to the substantive recovery means that respondents cannot benefit from the judgment they seek and thus lack Article III standing. “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone, on Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965). To be sure, respondents doubtless have more than just a passing interest in the litigation. As collection agencies, respondents must demonstrate that they are willing to make good on their threat to pursue their clients’ claims in litigation. Even so, “an interest that is merely a ‘byproduct’ of the suit itself cannot give rise to a cognizable injury in fact for Article III standing purposes.” Vermont Agency, supra, at 773. The benefit respondents would receive—the general business goodwill that would result from a successful verdict, the ability to collect dial-around compensation for their clients more effectively—is nothing more than a byproduct of the current litigation.

So there!

Nice one, Mr. Chief Justice.

And, I might add, I’ll gladly take citations of Bob Dylan lyrics over the penchant of some other judges to cite foreign law in their opinions. We’d all be a whole lot safer relying on Highway 61 Revisited rather than on the opinions of a judge in Zimbabwe, or even Canada, if you ask me.


Wow, a third Sunday post. Making up for lost time, and also maybe for the fact that I’ll have to be taking another blogging break shortly (if not sooner).

The Gospel reading in many Christian churches today would have been from Matthew, Chapter 10 and included these words from Jesus:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will.

But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

The Dylan reference that Jesus is making there is of-course from Every Grain of Sand. The closing lines of that song, as he always sings them these days, are:

I am hanging in the balance of a perfect finished plan
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.

There’s a nice performance from 2002 on YouTube:

The always-inspiring preacher at a local chapel this morning didn’t refer to Bob’s song, but did refer to a song with a lyric written in 1905 by Civilla Martin, called His Eye Is on the Sparrow.

Since I’m going for broke with YouTube clips today, here is old fave and YouTube sensation Ysabella Brave doing her special karaoke thing with that song.

In the garden again

There’s an audio recording hosted on YouTube, augmented by stills and word balloons (and rather odd animations), of Bob Dylan performing In The Garden at Radio City Music Hall in 1988. (Thanks to David for the tip.)

I’ve written before about his performance of that song, on all four nights of a residency at that New York City venue in 1988, and about the very pointed — though also humorous — introduction he gave each time he played it.

It went something like this (from the 10/17/1988 show):

“You know this Amnesty Tour is going on [That was a tour undertaken by various rock and pop luminaries in support of Amnesty International -ed] and I was very honored last year they chose a Bob Dylan song to be their theme song — ‘I Shall Be Released’ that was. This year they surprised me again by doing another Bob Dylan song as their theme song — they used ‘Chimes of Freedom.’ Next year, the Amnesty Tour, I think they’re going to use ‘Jokerman.’

Anyway, I’m trying to get them to change their mind. I’m trying to get them to use this one.”

[Plays In The Garden.]

In the Garden is a song that’s very explicitly about Jesus Christ, of-course. The historical significance, for those of us who care about such things, is that this came well after the purveyors of conventional wisdom had said that Dylan had turned his back on the kinds of beliefs he expressed during his “gospel period.” Infidels had come out in 1983. Empire Burlesque was out in 1985. Some believed that both of those albums contained evidence of Dylan “moving on,” if not rejecting outright things he’d been singing about from ’79 to ’81. We’d also had Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove — albums which weren’t commonly seen as being particularly significant, and in any case certainly didn’t make anyone write stories about Dylan finding God again.

So, in late 1988, Dylan gets on stage and makes these remarks before playing his no-holds-barred, back-to-the-wall gospel number. I think the remarks, and his pointed repetition of them night after night, speak for themselves. The odd thing is that although he did this in such a dramatic and public way, it basically doesn’t feature when narratives on the subject are written by those who like to think that Dylan rejected his Bible-based faith sometime after 1981. Also left out is how the 1986 “Hard to Handle” concert video begins with a performance of In the Garden, along with another pointed verbal introduction to it by Bob. It’s all very odd.

The question is: If Dylan didn’t spurn these beliefs in the early or mid-80s after all, then when did he do it? Look at his work. Does the Oh Mercy album contain good evidence of godlessness? Ring Them Bells, anybody? How about Under the Red Sky? Well, I guess only God Knows the answer to that one.

His next proper album of originals wasn’t until 1997’s Time Out of Mind. Some hear it as a meditation on mortality and lost love. It can also be heard — as Ronnie Keohane has eloquently expounded — as an anguished but ultimately faithful dialogue with the Lord.

Does 2001’s “Love and Theft” reject God somehow? I hear some cryin’ to the Lord, but you’d have to show me where the rejection might be.

How about the most recent Modern Times? Let me see:

You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies
And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down

One can hear a continuing dialogue in many songs if one listens for it, but surely nothing resembling a rejection.

It is for this and other reasons that I was pretty comfortable remarking to ABC News that I didn’t think anything Dylan had done since his “gospel period” has particularly clashed with the outlook on reality expressed in the songs he wrote during that period.

People will bring up the subject of interviews where Dylan has sometimes side-stepped questions related to religion. I tend to think that the 1988 declarations from the concert-stage count for a lot more, because the stage is, after all, his domain. It’s where he is willingly being public and putting himself out there. An interview, perhaps with a highly skeptical journalist, may not be a context in which Dylan wants to try and express matters of inscrutable faith. And I’m not sure you can blame him.

While I was prayin’

From 1999, on YouTube, here’s Bob Dylan and his band kicking off another gig with Somebody Touched Me.

The famed critic Terry Teachout tackles Bob’s radio show, “Theme Time Radio Hour,” in the Wall Street Journal, and his appreciation of it is right on the money.

Part of what I find so engaging about “Theme Time Radio Hour” is that it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom about radio in the 21st century. Teenagers and college graduates are less likely to listen to radio nowadays, a decline that media consultants attribute to the rise of the iPod, which allows its owners to choose from thousands of previously downloaded songs at will instead of settling for whatever a disc jockey cares to play. The assumption is that under-40 listeners are now choosing to withdraw into gated communities of musical taste, behind whose electronic walls they listen only to what they already know they like. That’s how most of the hundreds of existing satellite-radio channels work. Each one is devoted to a narrow stylistic sliver — show tunes, New Age, old-school hip-hop, even 24/7 Led Zeppelin — so that when you tune it in, you know just what you’re getting. Not so “Theme Time Radio Hour,” which gives you what Mr. Dylan thinks you ought to get. Nor is his taste predictable: He likes nothing more than to throw musical curve balls, and if you don’t like the song he’s playing now, all you have to do is wait three minutes for the next one to come along.

Letter to the editor

There were quite a lot of e-mails in response to the “Dylan endorses Barack Obama” story. Here’s one from a reader named Allan that touches on a lot of things at once, so I’m printing it all. (Bolding is mine.)

I have read your posts for quite some time (why Im not sure, because I think blogs are quite ridiculous, but then again, so are the people that read them and worse the people who respond) . Probably the only reason I read it is because it combines Dylan w/ politics which is always an interesting subject. And I initially agreed with you that Dylan is always Pigeon Holed as a liberal. However with your recent post I had to respond. I have not read the actual article in question and did not even know it was done. My point to this is not necessarily to argue with you, and quite honestly, I don’t expect a response nor do I expect you will read this as Im you get your share of emails. So to the point…

I agree that withdrawing from that article that somehow “Dylan endorses Obama” is quite the stretch, and quite frankly wrong. What Dylan does say is that America is in need of change and that here is a guy offering that. Dylan even goes so far as to say he’s hopeful for change. Now I dont want to blow your conservative mind away, but Dylan isnt endorsing the republican party either. In case you havent noticed change would involve doing away with the status quo, namely 8 years of George W and republican rule. So I guess I’m agreeing with you part way about the article but your also trying to put your own spin on it as well. And that is the thing that disappoints me the most. It initially seemed to me when I discovered your website that you got that Dylan cant be claimed as anyones spoke person. The problem is you have committed the same crime through your website, trying to steal Dylan for conservatism.

In response to your constant mention of Dylan’s “favorite politician” Barry Goldwater, did Dylan say that? Yes? But lets look at the context in which he said it. He made the remark during a period of general distrust towards the media and to people trying to “claim” him. At that point he was being asked ridiculous questions to which he started giving equally ridiculous answers. I could find examples to quote but quite frankly Im not that much of a freak to do so. This email is where I draw my line in taking part in IBCS (Internet blogger conceited syndrome) Lest you forget it was also dylan who wrote :
“Now, I’m liberal, but to a degree
I want ev’rybody to be free
But if you think that I’ll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I’m crazy!
I wouldn’t let him do it for all the farms in Cuba.

Post that the next time you want to mention Barry Goldwater.

And lets not forget that Dylan played live for Clintons inauguration. How many republicans has he done that for? ANd to play your game lets analyze it a little bit. Clintons inauguration came at the end of republican rule in the White House following Reagan and Bush administrations which arguably was not the brightest spot in Americas past. And dont give me that fall of communism stuff, the SU was well on its way to collapse before Reagan came along.

I’m sure you will blow this off as a rant from some whacked out liberal. But to be honest I dont consider myself Conservative or Liberal, and I hate the terms. In my opinion, part of Americas problem is has become so divided over those two terms thanks in part to media organizations capitalizing on that divide. People dont even know what those terms mean. And to be honest those words are nothing more than tools. So please dont think I’m looking to pick a fight, though I’m sure you’ve gotten worse emails than this.

Well actually I always appreciate hearing from someone who disagrees with me on many things but who nevertheless has regularly read my little website, and who takes the time to take issue in a reasoned manner.

There are some issues of fact to deal with, but in responding to this I want to first go to what I think is the core issue: that I’m “trying to steal Dylan for conservatism.” I wouldn’t put it that way (not surprisingly). Firstly, I’d challenge anyone to find where I’ve made any bland statement about what Dylan’s politics are — as opposed to what they are not. I’ve never said that I think he votes Republican, or that he supports George W. Bush or anyone else (we’ll get back to Barry Goldwater).

Fundamentally, in dealing with Dylan’s politics, I believe that I’ve maintained that he is not the leftist he has been caricatured as for decades in the mainstream media, and further, that his work contains themes that are arguably best appreciable by people who in this day and age would be characterized as conservative. It’s not my fault that belief in God, belief in the Bible, and an understanding of human nature flowing from those two things are now considered to be the sole province of conservatives in 21st century America. (Some may have a similar sense of human nature absent a well-defined belief in God, but that’s another subject.) It perhaps has not always been so. I am neither the historian nor the political scientist to say, but of-course these terms — liberal and conservative, left and right — vary in their meaning and usage by time and place. Bob himself has expressed that point explicitly in an interview or two, and any serious thinking individual ought to face up to the limitations of such labels. A “conservative” in Moscow in 1985 would have been rather different to a conservative in Washington D.C. at the same time; likewise, a “conservative” in Tehran would have little usefully in common with a self-described conservative in the U.S.A. at this moment. They’re all just words, just labels, which, separated from issues of substance, hardly get beyond the clanging of cymbals. Nevertheless, achieving anything in politics requires alliances with like-minded folk, and labels appear to be unavoidable both for creating such alliances and for carrying on public debate. I didn’t start it, but I find it impossible to be so precious as to pretend that they do not exist, or that I’m floating somewhere so high above it all that I can’t be bothered to dirty my hands with such terms. Dylan can do that; he is a genius and an artist whose contributions to humanity were already incalculable thirty years ago or more. What does it matter whether he votes or not? Me, I’m a more humble example of humanity, and, for what it’s worth, I feel like I need to take a stand on the issues of the day — in order to justify my existence, you might say.

While I don’t care whether Dylan votes, I do nevertheless care when, based on a flawed interpretation of song or a misrepresented remark, he is portrayed as being full square behind a basically leftist agenda. It’s simply question of truth, and the truth about anything is sacrificed only at our peril. I am very aware of the absurdity of arguing about the opinion of someone who is walking around and breathing and can speak very well for himself, and yet, people do argue about it. Witness the worldwide conflagration regarding these most recent remarks about Obama. People care, for some reason, what this guy, Bob Dylan, thinks — in particular about politics. (Also about religion, of-course.) His seeming elusiveness appears to fan the interest. So, while I would ideally limit myself to observations about his work, I can’t just put aside remarks in interviews and such like that those on the left inevitably seize upon to maintain that he agrees with them. He doesn’t agree with them. He doesn’t agree with me either, I’m sure, but clearly I believe that my reading of his remarks is fairer and more on the money than his standard leftist interpreters.

Let’s go to a few issues of fact as expressed by my kind correspondent, Allan. He says — following on from what Dylan said in the Times about how things have to change — that, “In case you havent noticed change would involve doing away with the status quo, namely 8 years of George W and Republican rule.”

Is that what Dylan’s referring to? Is it Dubya that’s bugging him in particular — were things a lot better before Dubya? Let’s go back to 2001 (pre-9/11), and an interview with Robert Hilburn in the LA Times:

I am not a forecaster of the times. But if we’re not careful, we’ll wake up in a multinational, multi-ethnic police state — not that America can’t reverse itself. Whoever invented America were the greatest minds we’ve ever seen, and people who understand what the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are all about will come to the forefront sooner or later.

So, after eight full years of the Democrat President Bill Clinton, and in the first year of Dubya’s presidency, apparently Dylan wasn’t all that happy with the status-quo in America. Maybe he’s thinking on a level beyond the occupant of the White House? Could it be? The question for today is whether he thinks that Barack Obama better represents the kind of minds that created the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. That’s for Bob to decide (I can’t think for ya!). I do know what I think on the matter at this point, and it is at variance with that. Mind you, John McCain is certainly no John Adams.

As to Dylan’s fear of a “multi-ethnic police state” — which is very well illustrated in his film “Masked and Anonymous” — it’s conceivable that he sees Obama as someone who might break down the ingrained divisions and identity politics that afflict the political scene in America today. Many have seen Obama that way. What the reality may be is another question.

As for Dylan playing at Bill Clinton’s inauguration (i.e. for the man who can take you from crayons to perfume): please. I would have happily played if I were asked, just as I’ll happily play at Obama’s if asked. It’s an honor to be asked to play for the President of the United States. The thing only has political meaning if he were asked to play at a Republican’s inauguration and he explicitly refused. That’s it. To maintain otherwise is to promulgate a foolish canard.

Now to Goldwater: I think that my correspondent Allan mixes up the context of Dylan’s statement that Republican Senator Barry Goldwater was his favorite politician. Bob stated it only in 2004, when “Chronicles” was published — long after the “period of general distrust towards the media and to people trying to ‘claim’ him,” surely. And Dylan was referring to the period around 1961/62, when he felt this way towards the conservative Goldwater but was unwilling to tell anyone in Greenwich Village about it.

This context ought to shed light on that verse from Dylan’s song, I Shall Be Free No. 10, which is supposed to be my undoing.

Now, I’m liberal, but to a degree
I want ev’rybody to be free
But if you think that I’ll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I’m crazy!
I wouldn’t let him do it for all the farms in Cuba.

First off, I hope we all can stipulate that Dylan is being funny here. It’s a joke song. (The next verse goes: Well, I set my monkey on the log / And ordered him to do the Dog / He wagged his tail and shook his head / And he went and did the Cat instead / He’s a weird monkey, very funky.)

The question with the Goldwater verse is who you think the joke is on. You can maintain that the joke is on Goldwater, if you like. No one can prove you wrong — you can laugh at whatever you find to be funny. To me, however, the deeper and better joke in this verse is on the liberal ( “to a degree”) who wants “ev’rybody to be free,” but distinctly draws the line at freedom for a conservative Republican like Goldwater. That kind of person just shouldn’t be free, you see. Not for all the farms in Cuba! A funny kind of tolerance, no?

This verse was brought up in rebuttal right away when Dylan’s “Chronicles” came out, by people who would like to maintain that Dylan was effectively lying in the book; reinventing his past self for some reasons of his own. I never saw it that way for a moment.

It makes me happy to share with quite a few others a view of Dylan’s work — and even an acceptance of his personality — that doesn’t require the belief that he freely lies and contradicts himself in order to deliberately mislead and confuse people. He’s a human being, of-course — he fumbles and falls and doesn’t always express himself perfectly. But the great consistency in his body of work, its very steadiness and the way that it’s rooted in timeless truths, the way that the years pass and yet the songs do not become out of date — this is something for which he deserves great credit. It’s what distinguishes his work from so many of his contemporaries. And it is something that I find that the more conservative-minded fans tend to get about Dylan. He’s not six or seven different people, as Todd Haynes might maintain (however entertainingly). He is one fascinating artist, greatly misunderstood and misrepresented by a ravenous popular media and bounced around in an agenda-driven popular culture. He’s just done his thing. Others have reacted strangely and dramatically to it. It’s an ongoing story.

Well, I was going to quote a few more e-mails in this post, but this all seems enough for the moment. And congratulations if you got through the whole thing.