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Does it matter? I don’t suppose he cares …

“There’s nowt so queer as folk …” was, from my personal recollection, a famous catch-phrase of actor, radio presenter and most of all professional Yorkshireman Wilfred Pickles (1904-1978), despite – interestingly – it not being included in the list of them in his Wikipedia entry.

Whilst I’m on the topic, Pickles was most well-known for his radio show Have a Go which he translated to television in the 1950s as Ask Pickles.

I should perhaps add here that the personal recollection of Pickles to which I refer is not that personal.

I came to it because it was mentioned in the pages of Fast Fury (Stanley Paul, 1961), the autobiography of Yorkshire and England fast bowler Fred Trueman of whom at the time I was an obsessive fan whilst serving my time as a prep school boy incarcerated in a seaside establishment in the East Sussex town of Seaford.

But I digress.

My point is that, not only is there nowt so queer as folk, there’s also nowt so queer as the capacity of individual arts, theatre, dance, music and and literary critics to review the same piece and/or assess the same exponent and then come up with directly opposite or contrary conclusions as to their merit.

As a non-worshipping fan of Bob Dylan – that is to say, someone who whilst regarding Dylan as one of the all-time great musical figures to emerge from popular music (however one defines that) does not by any stretch of the imagination regard him as a superhuman demi-god – I can personally either take or leave a significant proportion of his enormous catalogue of songs.

Having said that, I do feel that Dylan is a fascinating artiste and character. In my front room bookcase Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One (2004), his autobiographical memoirs of his early career, has a prominent pride of place and is a compelling read that I enjoy returning to from time to time. Furthermore in No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, Martin Scorsese’s award-winning 2005 documentary – which I recorded and watched on my television earlier this year – the interviews with Dylan reveal him to be a highly-perceptive and intelligent but quirky individual.

There do exist Dylanologists for whom the former folk music hero and warbler can do no wrong – I need go no further than mention the name of A.J. Weberman, whose devotion to all intents and purposes virtually amounted to stalking. As from time to time the music magazine Rolling Stone used to report with glee, Weberman spent large amounts of his time in the 1960s and 1970s hanging around – and (when he could) rummaging through the contents of – Dylan’s domestic rubbish bins in a bizarre search for hidden meaning in his songs, eventually coming to the absurd conclusion that many of them were in fact written directly to or for him (Weberman).

Today I wished to provide Rusters with a link to a Zoe Williams interview with R.F. Thomas, the New Zealand-born professor of Classics at Harvard University who has just published a book called Why Dylan Matters (Harper Collins, 2017), that appears today upon the website of The Guardian – see here – WHY DYLAN MATTERS

I was drawn to it only because earlier this month I came across a review of said book in the pages of the Daily Telegraph – I am afraid I cannot provide a link to it here because these days on the Telegraph‘s website readers have to take out a subscription to the newspaper before gaining online access to some of its articles, which (since I buy a physical copy of the Telegraph almost every day) I refuse to do on principle.

However, the thrust of the Telegraph‘s review was that only a Dylan worshipper could possibly claim that Bob Dylan was worthy of being awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Whilst acknowledging Dylan’s significant contribution to American music and culture, the reviewer made the point that his lyrics were inevitably tied to his vocal delivery of them and therefore, for good or ill – as words displayed upon the page, devoid of any context of music and/or being sung – were immediately revealed to be of minimal literary quality.

As I was trying to hint above, ultimately in such things you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Is Bob Dylan some sort of god, or is (as Monty Python might say) just “a very naughty boy”?

Or perhaps it is just his cross to bear that – having reached a ripe old age (currently 76) – the fact that he is not just still alive but still recording occasionally and restlessly touring the world playing concerts somehow detracts from our ability to give him the credit he deserves?

Maybe Joni Mitchell got it right in her seminal ditty Big Yellow Taxi (1970):

Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got/’Till it’s gone …”

[Mind you, of course, on that occasion she was singing about the authorities paving paradise and putting up a parking lot, not Bob Dylan].

One day – hopefully a long, long way off – His Bobness will be no more and it will be interesting to see how the world judges him then.



About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts