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Bob Dylan: Gotta Serve Himself

Blogeague and fellow musician Jordan Bloom wonders if Bob Dylan’s receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom isn’t

just an attempt to freeze a certain image of the man in the public’s mind. You know, the Dylan all of us hear first, the blowin-in-the-wind, times-are-changin’ Dylan, the one who brings “ancient traditions into the modern age,” as the disembodied voice from the C-SPAN feed said.

I’ve written quite a bit about Dylan over the years, so I’ll eagerly take Jordan’s bait — especially if he’s going to defend Dylan’s early-’80s recording output. His association during this period with one of my guitar heroes, Mick Taylor, is just about all it takes for me to second such an apologia.

More substantively, I join Jordan in his frustration over how Dylan is pigeonholed by the likes of Barack Obama.

To be sure, I have little doubt that, despite comically painstaking efforts to believe otherwise, Dylan is temperamentally progressive — at least in the sense of being, as he put it in a Martin Scorsese-directed public-television documentary, affirmatively “on the side of people who are struggling.” In the same quote, Dylan insisted this didn’t mean he was “political,” by which I took him to mean partisan.

It’s highly unlikely that Dylan is a closet Ted Nugent. Yet the picture that Obama apparently keeps of him — that of Woody Guthrie’s torchbearer — is probably equally as glitchy.

Dylan has tried mightily to unload his mid-’60s baggage, even to the point of professing himself a born-again Christian in the late ’70s. As critic Joel Selvin remarked in an intriguing documentary about this period, it’s hard to imagine Dylan assuming a posture that was more antipathetical to the ideals of the Woodstock generation.

Filmmaker and Dylan enthusiast Joel Gilbert, who directed the aforementioned Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years, asserts that this period is both musically underrated and a key to unlocking the overall enigma that is Dylan. I agree on both counts. Dylan’s embrace of Christianity and Jerry Wexler-produced R&B and gospel was of a piece with his scandalous “plugging-in” with the Band: It was Dylan’s way of rebooting his muse.

Ultimately Bob Dylan has no other agenda than to look after his own creative well-being.

In that vein, don’t even try to tell me “Solid Rock” didn’t rock:

about the author

Scott Galupo is a freelance writer living in Arlington, Va. In addition to contributing to The American Conservative, he writes for TheWeek.com and reviews live music for The Washington Post. He was formerly a staff writer for The Washington Times and worked on Capitol Hill. He lives with his wife and two children and writes about politics to support his guitar habit.

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