I started reading this Bob Dylan biography yesterday, Time Out of Mind / The Lives of Bob Dylan by Ian Bell, finding a lot of it well-written and beautifully phrased. The problem is, I wish it would have been a little more “out of mind.”
To start, it deals with the ’60’s. No decade in history is more misunderstood, but blindly trusted. Nowhere to better examine this than New York City. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground were converging to weave out an indefatigable tapestry of counterculture weirdness, some of which would be misunderstood, maligned and wrongly rejected for several decades. The birthplace and lifelong home of the inimitable Walt Whitman, New York as a city of its size can’t help but forge a unique mold into the DNA of the decade. Almost undoubtedly, with the general ignorance of the Velvet Underground at the time, New York’s ’60’s legacy is one of poetry.
Early within the publication, a much debated issue in Time Out of Mind is whether or not to classify Bob Dylan as a “poet.” Bell tells, in a case of savory irony, of a case of a VMI professor actually nominating the peace-preaching musician for a nobel prize. This has happened every year since the late ’80’s, Dylan’s nomination, so far to be left emptyhanded. But regardless, it’s clear that by those who were alive back then and in tune with the cultural happenings, Dylan’s work is held as literature.
Another issue addressed in the effectively efficient and poignant Time Out of Mind, early on, is the idea of Dylan being the “defining voice of the ’60’s”… the author says something along the lines of the decade “needing a defining voice,” and having it be that of the “Desolation Row” doorman himself. So isn’t that a cute little moral care package for the holidays: a poet as the defining voice for the most reckless, tragic, bloody, gruesome decade in recent American history.
So great! Now that we’re all gathered around the fire listening to our “defining voice,” let’s take a listen to what he said. “How many times will the cannonballs fly / Before they’re forever banned.” Hmm. Time to change the subject, eh aunts and uncles?
The point is, no voice will ever finally define and unite everything. There will always be just as many rednecks as anyone, who are all about bombing the hell out of some overseas nation, dressing their daughters up in whatever the hell corporate America tells them to, watching and adhering to whatever the hell they see on TV. True, effective visionaries, ROCK AND ROLL ARTISTS, to be exact, not poets, got assassinated. Hence, ok, Dylan was a poet, not a rock and roll artist, that’s why the corporate powers abided him. Still, he’s totally defeated, and the defining voice of the ’60’s, just like all the decades preceding and following, is that of gunfire and carnage. Ian Bell is “in mind” insofar as he’ll be able to “sanely” make small talk with cohorts about the completely accepted “defining voice,” but in this his persona is totally immaterial.