Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I'm A Dylan Tragic, Who The Hell Are You?

Senator Helen Coonan is the Federal Communications Minister (for now). Her address is senator.coonan@aph.gov.au. I urge everyone -- here in Australia or overseas -- to write to her and insist that when cross media laws go on the block a provision is inserted which forbids the new owners of Fairfax publishing any more than, say, three Bob Dylan and/or Bob Dylan-fan bashing articles a year.

That seems fair. Sure it's a deep cut to their usual hectic pace but think how it will free up space for less hackneyed topics.

Seriously, non-Sydneysiders may think I am exaggerating. I am not. It really is an obsession with the Sydney Morning Herald, when Bruce Elder is unavailable they swipe an article from overseas like today's by London Telegraph hack Sam Leith. Read it if you must. It is such a lazy article, even for the Smartarse Anti-Bob genre. It has absolutey nothing new to offer.

Dylan can't sing - check. [1]

Books with pretentious names have been written about Dylan - check.

"Bobsessives" treat Dylan like god - check.

Old hippies need to get a life! - check

Dylan made some bad albums in the 80s - check.

No really, those albums really sucked - check

Mention something obscure like Shot of Love just to show what a real pro you are - check.

And, can you believe, he actually became a Christian? - check

String together some unsupported generalisations on those topics and you too can be published in the city's journal of record.

In the interests of full disclosure: you won't be surprised to know I qualify as one of these much-maligned "Dylanologists." I have all the albums, some singles and promos, some bootlegs, the movies, about a dozen books (Marcus, Heylin and others but no Motion or Ricks), posters, t-shirts, ticket stubs, photos. I travelled to Germany solely to see Bob. I even went to Tamworth. I love Masked and Anonymous. And every month I go to Dylan "meetings" with fellow tragics here in Sydney. I am not middle aged or a man, or a middle aged man, but I suppose the SMH would say the exception proves the rule.

So blogger.com may not be as august a forum as our nation's oldest newspaper but if I may I would like to put our side of the story. This is not to defend Bob Dylan, if you don't like him, fine, whatever. That just means more room on the rail for me. This is to defend us.

Simply put, whenever I read these articles I never see myself or my friends reflected. Clearly all these journos have had the terrible bad luck of meeting only the most boring of sad bastards among our ranks, and not the other 98% who are pefectly well adjusted socially and not only that, are some of the most interesting, caring and hilariously funny people you could ever meet.

And when I say "funny" that includes a very healthy sense of humour about our own obsession, rather than being the dour boffins of the popular journalististic (lack of) imagination. According to Leith and the others in the SMH, for us joking about Bob is heresy. Not so. In fact, it is almost complusory. After all, who better than a real "Bobcat" to make jokes about Bob? Believe me, we really know where the bodies are buried. If the worst Leith can come up with is Shot of Love, he just ain't trying. [2]

I have no empirical evidence for this but based on my knowledge of the world of Bob obsession around the world, I suspect the "gatecrashers, spooks, trespassers, demagogues" Leith refers to (and Bob writes about in Chronicles) are not the same people who are in the top rank of devotees today. The sort of fervour which motivates freakery like that tends to burn bright then flicker out or move on. It is too rigid to survive the hairpin turns of Bob's career. I could be wrong but I imagine those people dropping Bob as soon as someone more ambitious in the role of Saviour came along (like, say, Charlie Manson.) In 2004 in fact they are more likely to resent him for his unwillingness not to change or to answer their call. You need a sense of humour to be a Bob fan, which is an anathema to that kind of self righteousness.

Yes, we love to scruitinise the lyrics and his life. Yes, we love to argue about the relative merits of the '66, '82, '87 and 04' versions of The Ballad of Hollis Brown. Yes, we follow him around on the "Neverending bloody Tour", analysing set lists and harp breaks, deciphering his instructions-by-eyebrow to Tony and argue, oh how we endlessly argue, about the drummers.

But you know what? We do it because it is a bloody load of fun. We do it for the same reason footy fans paint their faces, dye their hair team colours, make silly banners, scream their lungs out and abuse the ref. Sure, you can sit back and cooly observe the play but that, surely, misses the point. There is a place for Richie Benaud, but also for the Barmy Army.

Every sporting league in the world has a Roosters/insert appropriate AFL team here. Collingwood?/Yankees/Man Utd -- a team everyone else loves to hate. [3] We have Joan (Oops. Sorry.) Why?

Because it makes it more fun. It's more fun to watch a big game surrounded by passionate supporters and friends than it is to stay at home by yourself. So, we Dylan Tragics also congregate to support each other and recap the match. So do cricket tragics, political tragics, Jane Austen tragics, blogging tragics and Australian Idol tragics. And, thank god, I say for people who are actually passionate about something.

We do it, too, because of the other people involved. I have friends on three continents other than this one because of our shared passion and a warm and welcoming circle here. And I have enjoyed some of the richest moments of my life with them. I still remember a place called Green Valley, where ... oh, sorry. Wrong emotional speech, but you get my meaning.

We do it too, because we can. Almost uniquely among popular musicians, Bob provides constant fodder for discussion. He has been releasing new material and playing dozens of live shows a year for over 40 years. What he is doing now is very different than what he was doing 10, 15, 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Bob has been academically and intellectually pummelled constantly from every angle and has emerged intact, always with something new to offer. No amount of overanalysis can scratch his surface. Well, we can scratch it, but we can't leave a mark. His own self has never been lost. He can cope with Christopher Ricks.

This human attraction to obsession and tribal formations, I'm sure there is a vital evolutionary reason for it (I'm sure someone knows). At any rate, it isn't us who need to "get over it", it's the journos who find something offensive about the way other people choose to make the most out of their lives.

The SMH is welcome to attend our next social gathering (As is everyone else: Monday, Oct 18th, Clare Hotel, Broadway, 7pmish) and get the facts. That, at least, would be a new angle.

[1] Oh and by the way, what's wrong with the sound of a digderidoo? Some people like it, you pommy tosser. Did the SMH endorse this insult to our iconic indigenous instrument?

[2] Sure, it's no Planet Waves, but any album which includes "Every Grain of Sand" and "The Groom's Still Waiting At the Altar" is hardly without merit.

[2] Joke: What three British football teams have swear words in their names? Arsenal, Scunthorpe and Manchester fucking United.

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