Idol Chatter

catedylansm.jpgBob Dylan is, for my money, the poet of our generation, although Allen Ginsberg is a close second. And both figure in the new film “I’m Not There” about his life, his music, and most of all his protean self.
Universally acknowledged as the pre-eminent poet/lyricist and songwriter of his time, he was prematurely elevated by the media–which he despised–to the role of spokesman, yet the reclusive Dylan wouldn’t admit to having any particular message nor to being a poet. “I don’t like the word,” he said. However, his biting, often cryptic lyrics served as a running commentary in capturing the mood of my generation.

Todd Haynes’ fine film almost does justice to those large claims, and is a genuine work of art: not a mere biography nor hagiography, but a look at the many selves of the man. More than Picasso, with his lengthy career and multitude of periods and styles; Dylan is elusive, chameleon-like, trickster-like. Dylan could be facetious, angry, gnarly and downright contrarian, refusing to be pigeon-holed. Repeatedly rejecting the easy Sixties label of mere folksinger and writer of protest songs, he retorted: “All I do is protest!”
A real shapeshifter, Dylan remains impossible to grasp, either as a person or as an artist. Except for the fact that he pokes us awake, into a new way of seeing and being, which is the purpose of true art, however confusing it may sometimes seem.
Coltrane said once told another jazz musician that the main problem with his music was that he was too fast for the audience. This was Dylan’s problem, too—for instance, at the infamous incident at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, when he was booed for going electric and for selling out, which continued for some years afterwards. But who can tell an artist to slow down, stop experimenting and evolving, and keep reprising, year after year and decade after decade, the old favorites which we have liked? As in nature so with art: what doesn’t grow, dies. Ezra Pound famously said that the artist is the antennae of the race, which naturally sticks out far ahead and senses first what is coming down the road.
If Shakespeare got it right, that “all the world’s a stage and all the people players,” it is through playing our roles consciously that we find our true role here in this world, helping each other put on this show. With a large vision and wide angle lens, we can see ourselves projecting a movie with 6.6 billion actors without losing our focus. As one of the six actors who portray Dylan during his stages of life, the stellar Cate Blanchett steals the film. This is worth seeing it.
–Written by Lama Surya Das

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