Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Kids Are Alright: More Dylan Papers

Just as a reminder, these are Freshman Comp papers from students at a state college -- a very good state college, but they aren't English majors at an Ivy League university. So keep that in mind as you consider the question of whether today's kids are capable of writing and of thinking analytically. This is from Pam Ousley:

Rotolo herself expressed in her novel A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties that Bob Dylan had “something about him that broadcast an intensity that was not to be taken lightly.” This intensity is characteristic of both the famous and the music-making, but probably more the latter. Musicians – unlike actors, for example – are obligated to create a persona that is reflected in their lyrics, sound, appearance (Rotolo recounts that “Bob chose his rumpled clothes carefully” on the day the pair was photographed for the cover of Freewheelin’), and actions. Any movement away from the established persona is evaluated by the musician’s fans and may cause rejection by existing followers. This pressure is enough to create paranoia of any external force – such as a lover, family member or band member – that has the power to repress or overshadow the musician’s persona. There is also proof of Dylan’s need to stand alone in the very fact that very little has historically been known about Dylan’s lovers as individuals, rather than as Dylan’s carry-ons.
All of this biographical data is relatively meaningless without reference to Bob Dylan’s songs, where he presents it with more truth – in terms of his own feelings, not necessarily in terms of accuracy – than can be found in the media. There, in the lyrics, lies the psychology of Dylan as affected by his life and fame. First, let us look at “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again,” a song on the 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. Without even researching the song’s intended meaning, it is obvious to the listener that it is about feeling immobile in a small town environment. The characters and setting, though seemingly familiar to the songwriter, are dream-like in their phantasmic vagueness. In the song, Dylan states that he has “no sense of time,” a characteristic of a dream state, whether induced by drugs or sleep. But the dreaminess of the song is no indicator that the content of the song is irrelevant to Dylan’s life. In fact, it is indicative of the true meaning – Dylan got in trouble with the law for marijuana in Mobile, but if he had been in Memphis, there would have been no disagreement because it was friendlier to the music culture. Throughout the song, Dylan travels through numerous stages to reach a final resting point, when he succumbs to his environment and his illusional perspective. He has given into the dream, foregoing any introspection into his personal problems. Freudian analysis of this state of mind becomes particularly necessary at the very end, when the conscious mind of the songwriter has chosen to shroud the latent meaning of the dream even more opaquely.

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