"One Or Two Hard Feelings"

Sunday morning, for the second week, the New York Times arrived in print.  With a certain nostalgia, I reenacted something I had given up years ago, separating out the magazine, the book review, and the Week in Review for relaxed reading over the next few days.  The Week in Review came first, the op-eds to start.  Maureen Dowd: “Blowin’ in the Idiot Wind.”

Oh, gawd.

Another reenactment of something from years ago.

Certain she wasn’t talking about herself, I hardly dared read the column: “Bob Dylan may have done the impossible: broken creative new ground in selling out.”  Sell out?  Dylan?  First, riddle me this: When did he ever buy in?

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been listening to Dylan since 1963 and can recite from memory many of the songs he wrote up through Blood on the Tracks in 1975.  My first exposure to him was as electric (if you will pardon the word) as the first time I heard Leadbelly’s 12-string in 1961 or, four years after my introduction to Dylan, the first chords of  The Who’s “I Can See for Miles” (on WCFL out of Chicago).  All three changed my music habits, and I listen to all three today.

Dowd, I quickly saw, was doing the same thing to Dylan that was tried when he went electric, not that long after I started listening to him.  Like those of an earlier era who also wanted him to be as he was, she demands that the creature imagined as “Dylan” be a possession, not a human being in all that splendid and sordid human glory.


He’s an entertainer.  Always was.  And a poet.  Always was.

In my eyes, one of the best ever.  Not that that matters.

But he doesn’t belong to me.  Or to Dowd.  He didn’t even belong to Richard Farina (whose novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me has been a favorite of mine for forty years and more), who was married to Mimi Baez (Joan’s sister) and who competed with Dylan as a songwriter (he was that good).

Like so many others, Farina got frustrated with Dylan the higher and higher Dylan climbed–and the more and more ego-centric he became.  Farina even wrote a bitter song about Dylan, called “Morgan the Pirate” (the title comes from an Italian Steve Reeves movie).  It includes these lines:

Well so long brother let me say it’s been a ball
But as long as you’re still climbing I resign
You have been an inspiration to your image’s creation
So I think I’ll step outside and pass the time
You have been at your debuting
And you’re ready for renewing
And there’s no time for undoing just the one or two hard feelings

One or two hard feelings left behind

Perhaps the only songwriter of his generation (or, at least, of their social group) who could stand up to Dylan (Phil Ochs, though I love him, certainly could not), both in talent and personality, Farina (who died in 1966) still did not like the way Dylan had rocketed to fame while Farina remained just well-known.  As he wrote in the song:

It’s alright brother have to thank you for the fun
Don’t know how I’ll ever find my way alone
There were all the friends around you
There were some who claimed they found you
And a few who helped construct your favorite role

It is those who claimed to have found Dylan, who believed they have constructed him, who complained about him then, and who complain about him now.  In “Maggie’s Farm,” Dylan sings:

Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They say sing while you slave and I just get bored

He wasn’t kidding.

[If you are interested in responses to the specifics of Dowd’s charges, read Sean Willentz and James Fallows.]

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