I was on the Underground the other day, clutching yet another sycophantic Dylan puff piece in a daily newspaper, and I felt compelled to scribble something down to describe my own feelings. I don’t usually write about music and probably won’t again.
This is not just another Dylan piece: the troubadour has reached 70 this year, and once again elicited page after page after page of muddled hagiography. He has also yielded the now common re-releases and bootlegged tapes that surely have long ceased to be a valuable seam of artistry.
But I suspect that the Dylan-industrial complex (© Ron Rosenbaum) would rather these decennial events were celebrating the anniversary of his death, rather than his continued existence. After all, the past is much easier to shape than the present.
The simple truth is that Dylan peaked as a musician in the ‘70s and only stirred back into life in the ’90s as a final flash of brilliance. Everything between those decades was stagnant, and now it seems we have reached his musical death rattle with an ill-judged trip to authoritarian China, a horrific Christmas album, a never ending tour where the man barely sings and plinks out of tune (and time) on his keyboard.
Not even his sarcasm retains its bite. Gone are the lines like “If I wasn’t Bob Dylan, I’d probably think that Bob Dylan has a lot of answers myself” or “if a man’s not busy being born he’s a busy dying”. Not even something along the lines of “folk music is a bunch of fat people.”
His best line in recent years was mere long-winded pomposity. In his written rebuttal to critics of his trip to China, he said: “Everybody knows by now that there’s a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I’m encouraging anybody who’s ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them.”
If they do, it won’t be about these past few years: Dylan has reached the footnotes of his back pages. To be frank, I used to care but things have changed.