Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dylan on a Sunday

Joni Mitchell was interviewed recently and had some unkind things to say about Dylan. To wit.

"Bob is not authentic at all. He's a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I."


I'm not a Dylan can do no wrong kind of guy. I write about Dylan, not because I think he's the greatest, but because he's interesting and provides the occasion for commentary on so many different topics.

One of those topics is identity and self. Who is Bob Dylan? Is he the real deal, or a fiction? Is that really the way he sings, or was this simply the stylings of an opportunist? Is he a prophet of conscience or a social chameleon, trying on positions like socks? Joni's not the first one to take the side of "fake" in the great Dylan debate.

These ways of framing the discussion, however, miss the point for me. There's not one of us who don't live in relation to some narrative, some account of ourselves, that is a selective telling. This is a complex enterprise, especially at the level of authorship. We are co-authors of that narrative, but make no mistake, all of us author an account of ourselves that we in turn perform.

It's possible to play a role that doesn't correspond at all to the facts on the ground, and thereby to betray trust in others who depend on our authentic performance. And to the extent that authenticity has to do with the capacity to integrate more and more details of our life, the good and the bad, it is possible to label a performance inauthentic that radically compartmentalizes, etc. But Dylan has been doing this long enough now in relation to others that this is who he is. This isn't Miley Cyrus being Hannah Montana. The former Robert Zimmerman is Bob Dylan.

But beyond all that, why would Joni Mitchell feel the need to say something like this? Even if she believed it, why would she say it? It is so un-generous. And that's a big deal to me, especially from someone like Mitchell who has enough accolades of her own to be generous with others without any fear of diminishment.

This is not a defense of Dylan. Maybe Mitchell is right. Maybe he killed her cat at some point and this is evening the score. Maybe we all need to be protected from Dylan's pernicious fiction. She's merely being a thoughtful public servant. And maybe this need is so great that she is willing to take the hit for appearing petty and mean-spirited so that we might all be better. Perhaps.

This is the thing for me. Having just turned 50, I am thinking a lot about who I want to be at 60 and 70. And I want to be generous. While I want to be discerning and insightful, I want to make sure that I'm making room even in the categories I choose as interpretative lenses. I want to honor the miracle of the ordinary, that people make meaning out of the simplest things and even out of poorest performances. I want to be better when I'm older.

I'm afraid I couldn't tell a very convincing narrative that this is who I've been to this point. But I've seen it in others. I know what generous of spirit looks like. And I think I'm beginning to see how that might be me as well.


anthony schlagel said...

I'm sorry to hear that.
The truth is under the rug somewhere.
They say humans are the best.
I don't know I don't know.

John Pilecki said...

Maybe, just maybe ... in light of the two singers' sporadic professional relationship over the years, including the covering of each other's songs and sharing of stages and causes - a little bit of promotion in the vein of "negative publicity is better than no publicity"; Joni particularly has not received this kind of media/blogoshere attention in a long time, if ever, and maybe, just maybe, received wink-and-nod permission from the quirky, generous nature of a comrade who knows a thing or two about keeeping a career alive after almost fifty years .... maybe, just maybe.

Mark Love said...


if that's the case, glad to do my small part.

Pete said...

I think this comment was blown way out of proportion. It was a toss-off from Joni, guys. Wasn't a big deal. Of course Dylan is fake - it's a fake name, for a while, it was a fake voice. Who cares? He still put himself in a pretty unattainable place to write those songs. As for the plagiarism counts, he's guilty on that too. The guy has lifted newspaper articles, songs, quotes from novels. So the hell what.

happytheman said...

Don't consider myself a Joni scholar but I did stay at a Holiday Inn and have read four books on her, blogged Joni lyrics for the 40 days of Lent and have been a card carrying member of the JMDL since 1993 which runs Joni's official website.

All that to say is that her comments have generated a lot of discussion on the list. Joni has a tendency to pull some crap out of her head. She said Jackson Browne beat up Daryl Hannah though the cops said their is nothing to collaborate that. She rips on Canadian Female artists, they dub the next Joni Mitchell like their drunken Karaoke singers, aka Sarah Mclachlan, etc...

During the Dylan, Mitchell & Van Morrison concerts many people yelled at Joni to get off the stage which she wasn't happy with but yet was the constant professional. As regard to her not being in the spotlight she has won more grammy's then Bob has since 2000 (5-3).

No excuses she was "out of line" and has a tendency to do that. I think she has always struggled with being labeled the best "female" singer songwriter and if you read articles the equality thing has been a tough road for her.

All that to say in the words of Joni "God must be a boogie man"

happytheman said...

oh and this:

let's boil this down....Dylan male Gemini....Mitchell female