AUTHOR: Andrew Ferguson, senior editor at The Weekly Standard
THESIS: Bob Dylan is atrocious, his latest Christmas album is abominable, so why are people still praising him?
LENGTH: 2,477 words of bewilderment
WHY BOB DYLAN FANS ARE LIKE BABY HUEY DOLLS: "when you punch them--punch hard, punch with all your might--they bounce right back, grinning the same frozen, unchangeable grin"
REACTION TO DYLAN'S MANY MUSICAL ATROCITIES: "the fans pull their chins and think hard. Then they pop right back, Baby Huey-like, and start explaining"
WAYS TO DESCRIBE DYLAN'S SONGS: plagiarism, "adenoidal voice mumbling unintelligible lyrics," "songs of surpassing idiocy," "artistically egregious, in poor taste, inept, schlocky, or otherwise incompatible with his reputation for genius"
WHAT THE FANS SAY: "Dylan was simply wandering in realms of the spirit the rest of us hadn't yet reached"
THE LONE VOICE OF REASON: "the unillusioned Greil Marcus, who opened his review with a reasonable question ('What is this s--?')"
PRAISE FOR THE LATEST ALBUM: "jarringly slick, with sleigh bells and gossamer strings and cooing girl singers--as if Dylan had chosen to lift the backing tracks from an Andy Williams Christmas special circa 1968. Oozing just beneath his asthmatic croak, the arrangements give an effect of overwhelming creepiness. His voice gets worse with every track. You wonder whether someone left the karaoke machine on in the emphysema ward at the old folks' home. He doesn't sing notes so much as make exhausted gestures in their general direction, until at a break he falls silent and is rescued by the backup singers, who reestablish the melody in the proper key. But then he starts singing again."
WHAT ANDREW FERGUSON WISHES HE HAD: "a Free Baconator coupon for every time [Dylan]'s been called the greatest American songwriter"
THE LAST WORD:
Dylan not only copyrights his stuff, he publishes it under the auspices of the particularly ruthless copyright enforcer BMI, and then without apology he cashes the royalty checks from songs that depend on lyrics that aren't his and melodies he didn't write ... To cite the most lucrative instance, Dylan copied the tune of "Blowin' in the Wind" from an old spiritual called "No More Auction Block."
... Is there any length of slack the Dylan die-hards won't cut him? ... Absolutely not. Whenever I hear extravagant praise for Dylan--I wish I had a Free Baconator coupon for every time he's been called the greatest American songwriter--I can't help but think, yow, what would these guys do with a truly great American songwriter? Someone who uses more than five chords and writes tunes that range beyond six steps on the chromatic scale? I like to think that if they ever listened to Ned Rorem or Virgil Thomson, or Cole Porter or Hoagy Carmichael, they would be overwhelmed and delighted by hearing the real thing at last.
But of course they wouldn't be. They have heard "Night and Day." Dylan worship is impervious to evidence. It begins and ends in experience and memory, personal and generational ... Boomers are particularly vulnerable to the ... conceit, with an overlay of pompous allusions half-remembered from our American Studies class.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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