The Disgruntled Dylanologist

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

Are The Times A-Changin’ Again?: Dylan will let us know in April


Come writers and critics

Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again

It seems the writers and critics will get another chance to witness history in transition. The man who famously prophesized about a battle that was ragin’, an order that was fadin’, a road rapidly that was agin’ has got that old feeling again— a change is coming on.

The news broke with the report that Bob Dylan had contributed a song to My Own Love Song, the upcoming road picture by French filmmaker Olivier Dahan starring Rene Zellweger and Forest Whitaker. But when the confirmation of the possible existence of an entire album of new material appeared on Dylan encyclopaedist Michael Gray’s blog on January 22, Dylan aficionados heeded the call: the creative juices were flowing, the spigot was back on and soon we’d be drenched to the bone.

Of course, it was the title that excited the Dylan community most—“I Feel a Change Coming On.” And even though Bob has since settled on “Together Though Life” as the moniker for what’s anticipated to be another Dylan masterpiece, the mere mention of ‘change’ on a Dylan album, especially when that mention is made by Bob himself, is all that’s needed to get the Bobcats buzzing…What kind of change are we talking about here? A personal change? A political change? As with all things Dylan, the speculation is half the fun.

But rather than play into what would undoubtedly become an endless loop of pondering, reflection and rumination on exactly what ‘message of change’ Bob will impart this April, I thought I’d turn my attention to the messenger. Or should I say messengers…

Last November, Ben Parr of mashable.com offered an insightful take on the modern times in which we live. Titled, “5 Ways Social Media Will Change Recorded History,” the gist is this— history is no longer a thing of the past; history is now.

And in light of the recent flurry of cyber speculation revolving around Dylan’s new album, it got me thinking how different both Dylan and his body of work would have been had he come to prominence in an era when we truly had no secrets to conceal.

Here are the five tenets put forth in Parr’s article:

1) Everyone will have the ability to know what you did and who you were with on a daily basis. We all like to keep our business to ourselves, but Dylan takes anonymity to another level. Sure Bob has a snazzy new website loaded with all the ‘community’ bells and whistles. Yes, he has his own MySpace page. And while it’s uncertain if he has opened a Twitter account, as much as we’d all enjoy that ‘never ending tweet,’ there’s no comparison that “Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land / And don’t criticize / What you can’t understand,” trumps “@oldgeneration why r’t u getting this” any day. Besides, Bob’s earned the right to express himself in more than 140 characters.

2) Historical trend analysis will leap to a new level of precision. No more relying on gatekeepers and guardians whose sole source of power comes from self-preservation. Actually, Dylan would probably have liked this. As Bob himself said, “Come gather ’round people / Wherever you roam.” But whether he likes it or not, Dylan himself is a gatekeeper, a purveyor of popular culture. And as the most prolific and prescient songwriter of the 20th century wouldn’t it be a shame to have the enduring contributions of Bob Dylan overlooked in favor of lesser contrarians who have simply caught the most prevailing wave of public opinion?

3) We will not use history to learn from our mistakes, but to prevent them before they happen. In a culture where prevention prevails, there’s no question Dylan’s vast discography would have been dramatically different if Dylan hadn’t occasionally let his guard down. Some of Dylan’s best work has been an attempt to put his past indiscretions in perspective. Four words: Blood on the Tracks.

4) There is little room for hiding details about our lives. In 1995, Clinton Heylin painstakingly chronicled Dylan’s life down to the minutest detail in Bob Dylan: A Life in Stolen Moments, Day by Day: 1941-1995. It’s no coincidence Heylin hasn’t come out with a second edition. In this age of limitless access to information, we no longer need a noted Dylanologist to collect the stolen moments of Bob’s life. Thanks to Google, we can do it ourselves.

5) An ethical war over the use of this information will arise. We live in an era of ‘remix’—a time when the notion of a pure, unadulterated ‘artistic vision’ is a thing of the past. Thanks to photography websites like Flickr, and community online editing sites like Stroome, the ‘remix’ culture is no longer upon us— it’s already arrived. And if you think Dylan hasn’t got caught up in the mix, you only need to think back a few weeks to Pepsi’s recent Superbowl ad that mashed up Bob and Black-Eyed Peas front man, Will.i.am. Talk about a mangled message.

Considering the all encompassing prevalence of social media, it should hardly be a surprise that the way we came to hear about the new Dylan album is the same way we get all our information these days. Because whether it’s looking back on the monumental moments of the past, or peering head on into the mundane nature of our daily lives, in the end history is essentially a story in transition— history is change.

But in this era of excessive transparency, it’s somehow comforting to know that we can still rely on Dylan to see the forest for the trees…

It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Interested in reading Ben Parr’s complete Mashable article? Click here.

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March 17, 2009 - Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , ,

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