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Nearer to Me Than Thee

Notes on Bob Dylan fandom

November 25, 2008

Once upon a time, during college, a friend of mine house-sat at her cousin’s super cool artsy loft. A bunch of us visited one evening and sat around the place, basking in our proximity to greatness. Well, proximity by association anyway on account of the cool pad belonged to a one-time girlfriend of Bob Dylan, made extra famous by her appearance on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

Six degrees of separation? Hah! I span half that distance to reach Mr. Dylan, and my nearness bestows special status and a whole lotta insight. I, Sara Ivry, by dint of befriending someone related to someone who used to live with Dylan, am uniquely qualified to add my five cents on that living legend. And by that same dint, my thoughts are deep, man, so listen up to them.

Here’s what: “Love Sick” cures what ails me. I’d enjoy little more than to sing “Hurricane” while drinking a hurricane at karaoke if only it were a choice on the damn playlist. And “Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright,” is, well, quite alright with me.

But the Talmudic parsing of every incident from the annals of Dylan’s life must stop! (This very website now has one, two, three, four essays about the songwriter). Why do we need to keep repeating that he went through various religious phases? Who cares that he dated Joan Baez? Are there any subscribers to Dylan-mania who don’t already know that? What’s more, does it change your feeling about the music to possess such information? Is your appreciation deeper?

And when I say “you” I mean principally men, since they overwhelmingly are the ones to write about Dylan, to make their female friends listen over and over to particular songs in the zealous way I used to listen to Paradise Theater when I was in junior high, to talk about his shattering and profound influence on the very notion of civilization. He seems to be more God than even George Burns.

Sure, I acknowledge his importance in contemporary American music. I see he’s a bridge between genres, that he is a searcher, that he is the American dream—come here, reinvent yourself. Do it again if it pleases. And then once more again, this time with a smile. This comes out in his songs, their lyrics and motifs. Can’t we let them speak for themselves? And if we cannot possibly, then lets let Dylan’s prose do the trick. He has, after all, written one memoir already.

Besides, there are other people to parse. Where are the volumes of deserved exegesis on my beloved Thom Yorke? Maybe, if I add up the numerical value of the letters in the word Radiohead they equal the word for Shekhinah! The truth is I like what I like notwithstanding the biographical details, and yet in Dylan’s case they are so pervasive—scratch that, invasive—that having not read a single book on him, I nevertheless know more about the dude than I do my own grandfather. (Lets not even get into the film accounts).

Dylan is like that most unmanly of foods—tofu. He takes on whatever characteristics you want him to. Every group yearns to claim him as his own. Good for the Jews! Good for the Minnesotans! Good for the harmonica players! Yes, sure, good for all of us but unless someone has an inside line that Dylan is secretly addicted to General Hospital or rolls with Paris Hilton every third Monday in a white hummer while blasting Black Star through the windows, there is surely nothing left to say.

Sara Ivry is the host of Vox Tablet, Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast. Follow her on Twitter @saraivry.

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