Sunday, December 14, 2008

From Kim Shannon -- and Kim, in this paper, has done exactly what one would hope for in teaching Freshman Comp students to look at literature from specific critical points of view: she has used her historical/biographical perspective to illuminate "Shelter from the Storm" both for herself and for the reader.

In “Shelter from the Storm," the narrator first describes himself as “a creature void of form.” Dylan has always felt a need to reject his natural identity and form his own. He then rejects this new identity in search of another one, and the cycle goes on. Ellen Willis, in Cheetah magazine, described him as “obsessed with escaping identity” (qtd. in Shelton 374). When he was a child, he rejected his Jewish heritage and his family, lying to people that he was an orphan who went around America with nothing more than a harmonica and a guitar and fended for himself. He told so many of these lies that the boundary between fact and fiction became blurred even in his own mind (Mellers 111). Perhaps the 2007 biographical film I’m Not There describes this identity crisis best, proposing that there were six “versions” of Bob Dylan, the young wannabe Woody Guthrie, the teen rebel aspiring to be the anarchist rebel Arthur Rimbaud, the protest singer, the rock star, the celebrity trying to balance fame and domestic life, and the born-again Christian, chronologically.

The transition from Woody Guthrie to Arthur Rimbaud happened after he legally changed him name from his birth name, Robert Allen Zimmerman, to Bob Dylan, and was acknowledged by new reporters while playing as the opening act for John Lee Hooker in New York (George-Warren). The evolution from Rimbaud to protest singer came with the release of the 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Salas 130). After this phase, he began to reject each version of himself as soon as the world began to accept it. He threw off his protesting adherents with the album Another Side of Bob Dylan in 1964 which rejected his protest writer reputation for a more self-centered theme (Marqusee). In addition to this, at the height of his folk career, when he was considered the “young poet-king of American folk music,” he played the ever-famous concert at the Newport Folk Festival in which he went electric at the “sacred annual congress of acoustic purists” (Cave). This completed the transition from protest singer to rock star, but after being renounced, accepted, and finally exalted for his bold decision, he retreated from the mass of followers who he had created. The legendary motorcycle accident of 1966 is said to be not an accident at all, but an excuse to escapxe the worries of the working musician (Shelton 374). It was Dylan’s way of getting away from the stress of the celebrity life and trying to deal with issues at home. This is when Dylan wrote Blood on the Tracks, when he was in his troubled celebrity phase. At this point, there was no creature more “void of form” than Dylan. He had tried all different selves and was satisfied with none of them. This was his constant “storm” that he struggled with throughout his life, and that he was finally coming to acknowledge in “Shelter from the Storm.”

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