by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
As Bob Dylan celebrates his 80th birthday this week, Kyle Smith of National Review Online notes an interesting piece of the singer-songwriter’s legacy.
As the children of the Sixties tried to crown Bob Dylan their poet laureate, he refused. “I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y’know,” he said in 1965. Dylan was the rare celebrity who downplayed the worshipful titles offered him — poet, visionary, and especially spokesman for a generation. After his early 20s, he carried no banners, he led no movements, and he scoffed at all attempts to exaggerate his importance. He didn’t even play Woodstock, although he lived there. Dylan barely took notice of the upheaval around him, much of which was choreographed to a soundtrack he created, like a stone-faced silent-film star who strolls through mayhem with his nose in a book. …
… Looking back, it’s amusing how completely he has defeated all efforts to define him, and it’s hilarious that, based on only a handful of songs in his huge catalog, Dylan accidentally created the template for the socially engaged progressive celebrity. Today a hack comic like Jimmy Kimmel offers more grandstanding about politics in a single week than Dylan did in his entire career. (But then, Dylan has talent.) While America was engulfed in civil rights, Dylan was immersed in the Civil War. When hippies surrounded his house in upstate New York begging for guidance, he booted them off, then moved to Malibu so he could be alone, abandoning his would-be flock.
In 60-plus years of interviews, Dylan has swatted down all efforts to take him seriously with deadpan gnomic utterances. Asked in a December 1965 press conference, “What poets do you dig?” he gave the following answer: “Rimbaud, I guess; W. C. Fields; the family, you know, the trapeze family in the circus; Smokey Robinson; Allen Ginsberg; Charlie Rich — he’s a good poet.” (That’s another difference between Dylan and Jimmy Kimmel: Dylan is funny.)