Jewish World Review August 8, 2003 / 10 Menachem-Av, 5763

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Love that (other) Bob!


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Bob Dylan's new movie, MASKED AND ANONYMOUS, is about to come out and baffle a whole new generation of Bob watchers. Purely by coincidence, earlier this summer, some web addict with too much time on his hands discovered that many of the lyrics on Bob Dylan's 2001 album, LOVE AND THEFT, were taken almost word for word from a Japanese oral history of a Yakuza. This immediately became big news in the real world.

The story was dropped upon Americans hungry for scandalous fodder, with the expectation (I guess) that we would be as outraged by Bob Dylan's plagiarism as we were with Jayson Blair's.

Instead the response has been a shrug, especially from those familiar with Mr. Dylan's work: "That's our Bob." He doesn't steal, you see, he makes collages, he creates allusions. He incorporates, and appropriates. He's a will o' the wisp. He does what he does. He's an orphan with a gun. In the jingle jangle morning we come following him.

From those unfamiliar with Mr. Dylan's work, the response to his borrowing has also been a shrug. "He did what? He's a Yakuza? Who cares? Leave me alone!"

Unfortunately, for Dylan fans and non fans alike, the media will never leave us alone. We will be bombarded with stories and non-stories alike until the world runs out of paper and the World Wide Web goes the way of ham radio.

But this particular non-story does expose one thing --- Bob Dylan's invulnerability to criticism. Even when he totally, you know, sucks, which is fairly often, people find something to admire in his work. Why? Because he's Bob. He's mysterious - kind of like Verlaine or Van Gogh, as Bob says. He's an enigma. He's a riddle.

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And how did he get that rep? Through the very simple trick of keeping his mouth shut. He doesn't do interviews. He doesn't issue proclamations. Can you name an opinion that Bob Dylan has on anything? No, you can't. He keeps his own counsel.

On those rare occasions when he does open his mouth, he makes very sure that you don't quite know what he's talking about. It's always something about boys in Chinese suits with flutes, or jokers and thieves, or negavity not pulling you through the failure of gravity.

Throughout his long career, he has always succeeded at failure to be pinned down. And his fans love him for it, peculiar as that is. He made incoherence hip. That's quite an accomplishment.

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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2003, Ian Shoales