[sixties-l] The Sound of Protest

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon May 14 2001 - 17:13:45 EDT

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    May 14, 2001

    The Sound of Protest



    Bob Dylan turns 60 this month. It's been almost 40 years since Joan Baez
    took him on stage with her at the Newport Folk Festival, where he appalled
    just about everyone with his stridently unpretty singing voice and his
    raucous, edgy lyrics. He was then, at least in theory, a folk singer. But
    Bob Dylan wasn't interested in wistful melancholy or febrile lament. He
    sang about poverty and desperation; he sang about love's limitations in a
    voice hoarse with feeling.
    In the 1960's, like millions of other white, middle-class teenagers, I used
    to jump around in my suburban bedroom, sing-shouting the lyrics to
    "Positively Fourth Street" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" to my
    poster-covered walls and narrow bed. Bob Dylan and I were (or so it seemed
    at the time) ticked off about the same things America's vanity and
    hypocrisy and in love with the same things anarchic freedom, the strange
    beauty of the underlife, the whole haunted shimmer of a vast and dangerous
    I was not a particularly bookish child. I loved Bob Dylan back when names
    like Flaubert, Dostoyevsky and Woolf were mere rumors to me. Hearing Bob
    Dylan sing "Just Like a Woman" on "Blonde on Blonde," I had my first real
    sense of transport at the hands of a writer. I had never before heard
    anything so passionate and peculiar, so utterly itself. I was knocked out
    not only by the lithe, effortless rhymes, but by his songs' particular
    combination of ardor and cruelty; by their implied conviction that the
    yearning for happiness is a deadly serious business, and that seeking it
    may not leave your life in any shape you recognize as comfortable or kind.
    Every adolescent has heroes, and the people we love in our middle age are
    rarely the ones we loved during puberty. Bob Dylan, however, has stood up
    for me. When I write fiction, I hope not only to honor the depth and magic
    of great authors but to approximate, on paper, the jangly exaltation I felt
    when the needle touched the grooves of "Blonde on Blonde."
    Bob Dylan's most durable gift as a writer may be his obdurate, unapologetic
    intensity. He has never once been even slightly ironic. He has never stood
    to the side of anything and commented wryly. In a world swamped by irony,
    he's held fast.
    Bob Dylan belongs to a line that includes not only Woody Guthrie and Jack
    Kerouac, but Flaubert, Woolf, William Gaddis, and even Maria Callas. Like
    them, Bob Dylan is one of the slightly preposterous and wholly necessary
    figures who've risked public humiliation by making no secret of their
    passions; who've courted reputations as fools, romantics and hysterics;
    who've rambled the highways so that we in our beds could imagine them out
    there roaming a world so immense and mysterious that the only conceivable
    thing to do is try to make art of it.
    They understood that their strangeness was part of their strength, and that
    a great artist can seldom expect to come through with his or her dignity
    intact. I've tried to learn what I can.
    Michael Cunningham is the author of "The Hours," which won the Pulitzer
    Prize for fiction in 1999.

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