September 07, 2004

SoCal Series: COEXIST

Today's post is the final group of photographs from my recent trip to Southern California -

While traveling, I picked up Christopher Ricks' new book "Dylan's Visions of Sin." Ricks is the newly elected Oxford Professor of Poetry. He has a shelf worth of books to his credit including analyses of the works of Milton, Keats, Tennyson, Beckett and T.S. Eliot. Here, he accords Bob Dylan's lyrics the kind of respect and investigation given those earlier masters.

It is a thrilling read and a great traveling companion.

My return from California shortly preceded the Republican convention here in New York. While the GOP was meeting inside Madison Square Garden, it was apparent that there was another convention, often described as a "protest," taking place outside in the streets and parks. I would imagine this dynamic, though I can't speak from firsthand experience, bore similarities to the times of the 1960's when Dylan's cultural impact was at its apex.

How does an artist function in a polarized atmosphere?

In "Desolation Row," Dylan slyly references the title of a traditional folk song, singing:

And everybody's shouting
"Which Side Are You On?"

From page 30 of "Dylan's Visions of Sin," Christopher Ricks:

Dylan didn't like to bad-mouth a song that was in a good cause. But he knew, even back then in 1963, that this "two sides" business was averting its eyes and its ears from too much. So before long he was hardening his art.

[In a 1966 Playboy interview, Dylan says:] "Songs like 'Which Side Are You On?'...they're not folk-music songs; they're political songs. They're already dead."

[Finally, an exchange found in "Bob Dylan in His Own Words" from December 16, 1965:]

Q: What does the word protest mean to you?
A: To me? Means uh...singing when I don't really wanna sing.

Q: What?
A: It means singing against your wishes to sing.

Q: Do you sing against your wishes to sing?
A: No, no.

Q: Do you sing protest songs?
A: No.

Q: What do you sing?
A: I sing love songs.

Posted by mark at September 7, 2004 03:30 AM