Perhaps that is the wrong title for this blog. After all Robert Zimmerman was a middle class boy to begin with. He left Minnesota, went to New York, met Woody Guthrie at the State Hospital, stole his shtick, went down town, changed his name to Dylan and became a famous folk singer. I must confess that I was raised to regard Bob Dylan’s song writing as the purest and most poetic folk music ever conceived of. In an attempt to encourage me to follow the folk singer road my step dad bought me a black and white Bob Dylan movie.
It was in this movie where I first started to get the hint that this guy is a real prick. It shows him in the movie giving arrogant and stupid answers to the reporters. He would twist and answer their questions in a way as to try and make them feel stupid for even being there, as though he was god’s gift to folk music intelligencia. As I watched his behaviour I realized quickly that this was a man obsessed with himself, in love with how cool he was and self interested to the max. He dwarfed Joan Baez and despite her quality she followed him around like a puppy. Any notion that he was a radical and political folk singer went out my window. People who are truly invested in changing the world would have to at some point question themselves and their behaviour. Bob loved being a star, he didn’t care from day 1 if you thought he was a good person.
Of course I have to admit that even though Dylan sounds like shit he was a great wordsmith. I am no longer convinced that his reluctantly political persona was genuine. Perhaps he did genuinely feel for the ‘Hurricane’ but he even admitted that he was not out to change the world. His political songs were a tool to create an image and sell a record, he may have believed in some of the things he said but he wasn’t trying to be a part of any movement. He was in it for Bob Dylan’s own interests. I would be fine with that if every one out there didn’t scream bloody murder every time I argue that Bob Dylan is no political folk singer.
What drives me the most crazy though is how Bob Dylan has become the definition of folk music. Every kid who picks up a guitar and decides they want to be a folk singer quickly starts to immitate Bob Dylan…and every time they do the critics say what a fresh and Dylanesque song writer he is.
There I was at the otherwise amazing Brandon Folk Festival to witness an hour of the mainstages time used up by a Bob Dylan In-The-Round. Jeff Andrew impressed me by singing his own song anyway. 5pm in the afternoon with several thousand people in lawn chairs and once again they were given Bob Dylan’s music. First of all I would have preferred to hear any one of those songwriters original material or Canadiana content first. I have a real problem with the lowest common denominator in folk music being what we are still trying to sell to the public at large. Secondly it must be understood that even people who don’t like folk music already know about Bob Dylan, we as folk singers no longer need to use this mans image or songs to further our own careers. We missed a chance to further teach people the history of our craft. We do not progress the traditions of folk by coming back to this one vampirical man. We could have taught them about Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger. We could have shown them more about Utah Philips or Stompin Tom or even Buffy St.Marie who happened to be the headlining act that weekend. Buffy is the artist out of the early 60’s NY folk scene I have the most respect for….I followed her around all weekend like a love struck puppy.
Pete Seeger was a political folk singer, he was nearly jailed during the McCarthy era witch hunts for his politics. He then spent 15 years black listed by the government and unable to garner work in the music establishment. At what point in Dylan’s career did he ever sacrifice ANYTHING for his beliefs?
If I were to call Bob Dylan a vampire it wouldn’t be all that far from the truth. He certainly sounds like the risen undead and he continues to feed himself on the lifeblood of others. Hence the article I read yesterday which inspired me to rally against Dylan today – How Bob Dylan Jumped From Counter Culture Icon to Car Salesman. He was in two seperate Super Bowl commercials, the one for FIAT cars apparently two minutes long. My only problem with the article was the fact that I believe Dylan was always a salesman giving the audience what he wanted them to see, making them believe what he wanted to them believe. Anything to turn a buck. He thinks he’s so smart for it too.
He was a counter culture icon yet I don’t believe he was ever part of the counter culture. He never was part of a 1960’s rally for peace or justice. People took his songs and used them as they saw fit, he didn’t care either way cause the records were selling. Now people have deified Bob to positions of mythology only reserved for Jesus and Ghandi. People actually get angry with me when I say that Pete Seeger was a genuine folk music hero and Dylan is a corporate music industry parasite. People are insenced by my assertions that the most famous folk singer of all time has done much to damage what folk music is really about.
To be a real folk singer you need to believe in something. You have to be part of a community. You have to tell the stories of your people. You have to be part of the people. You don’t just pick up a guitar, make up a bunch of crazy shit and get to be called the greatest folk singer of all time. I have accused Bob of being a great songwriter, but no one will ever accuse him of being a good man. The essence of folk music is lost when your self centeredness forgets what your actual responsibilities as a folk singer are. The folk singer who honors himself first is out of line with the tradition.
Finally I will say that Bob Dylan didn’t sell out recently, it was his goal from the very start. A rich man like him does not need to be in FIAT commercials, he didn’t need the money. A smarter person would have protected their image by turning down such opportunities, but Bob isn’t actually as smart as you think he is. When you boil him down he isn’t that much different than Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber. Turn around then and look at Tom Petty and look at Neil Young, they never sold their songs to commercials. They are opposed to that sort of artistic blasphemy. They are among the few left out there I consider outlaws in the music industry. They are smart men and they are beyond the control of others, they can not be used by others and they are sure to speak the truth as they believe it when pressed to do so.
Maybe you say I would think differently if I were a successful musician with the opportunity to sell out to a car commercial….but I would rebut by saying I have never chased stardom or juno’s or wrote grants or tried to get to the upper echelons of the Canadian music industry. That was never my goal. I wanted to be a great folk singer and a renowned country artist and I do it living in the mountains and not kissing people’s asses. All I ever wanted was to play good shows, get drunk and get my friends dancing. The more often the better. If thirty years from now you can call me a legend for all the great shows I have done and all the things I have stood for it would be good enough for me. It’s with a clean record I, an outlaw singer, can call Bob Dylan a class traitor.