One day I was led around an array of shanty houses on the hilled perimeter of Lima, Peru. It was August, 1972. The houses were made of cardboard with corrugated tin roofs. Tens of thousands of them, were stuck up and down and across the hillsides of hard earth and dust. In the nearly unrelenting fog that permeates Lima during the endless winter months, clothes hung to dry only get wetter. The cardboard walls sagged , damp and cold. No running water within miles. Water drawn from a barrel trucked in for a high price to these penniless people.
The day was a sunny as such a day can be in such a place and a group of school children and their teacher were there to show us their school. I was in sandals and jeans and had a long reddish beard. The children began shouting “¡Jesu Cristo! ¡Jesu Cristo!”
“No,” their teacher told them, “he is a sinner like the rest of us..”
Bob Dylan is a sinner just like the rest of us.
There is a way in which people, like me, who have listened to Bob Dylan all our adult lives, can get ourselves into an odd corner. Sometimes we talk of the irreverent Bob Dylan in a reverent way. Many people feel uncomfortable with that quasi-religious fervor. Sometimes they react. I’ve heard people dismiss others who quote Dylan. I sense their discomfort with elevating him to the status of demigod…For younger folks, a demigod of their elders’ past…And why should the next generation be burdened with the saints of the past?
Well, there are actually some good reasons to look back, despite Dylan’s own words to the contrary. To grow, doesn’t culture need both continuity and discontinuity?
Dylan has always seemed very put off by being treated as a sacred object, an idol, and has done much to disabuse intimations of saintliness. His faults are human faults, not saintly faults. But even his way of puncturing balloons of who he’s supposed to be has ended up making him seem all the more unearthly, extraordinary.
Yet it is a simple fact that his talent, his total package as a creator is extraordinary.
A friend of mine and I wanted to start an institute where the psychotherapists would exclusively use quotes from Dylan lines in their interpretations. Naturally listening to Dylan’s albums repeatedly was an essential element of the treatment. Ah, “but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
Dylan is not dead, despite the funeral timbre of some of the essays written about his acceptance speech at a Grammy thing honoring him recently. Nor is he a saint or martyr. He is a phenomenon, yes. Nobody has nothin’ to be ashamed about having his lines and whole songs etched in our heads. And nobody has nothing to be ashamed of if they’re not.
Just some damn good thoughts, damn good music. So amazingly creative work.