Dont Look Back
(No, we didn’t forget the apostrophe; that’s how the title is spelled.) You’ve probably heard of that silly old theory that somebody else wrote all of William Shakespeare’s plays. Christopher Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth, Jack the Ripper, PeeWee Herman … I dunno. Stupid. But I kept thinking, watching this for the first time since it was new, that you can’t listen to Bob Dylan talk and not wonder: Could this sneering, shallow, rude, petty, egotistical asshole really have written all those beautiful lyrics? The flaw in the argument is that, if somebody else was writing them, why would he choose this little nasal shrimp to sing them? (He claims to sing better than Caruso, and it’s true that Enrico would probably have been lousy at the blues, you just can’t picture him getting down with “Maggie’s Farm,” but still …)
And yet, how was he supposed to be? He didn’t have the wit of the Beatles, or the will to suck ass and smile of most other singers of the time, and he was living in that insane world of celebrity, besieged by crazed teenaged girls and the press, surrounded by butt kissers, seeming never to be alone, never to be in a situation where there weren’t people asking him idiotic questions or people for whom he could do no wrong.
He is a hugely inarticulate man when he speaks, and an awesome poet when he writes. And eventually I get an idea of what he’s trying to tell these people who want him to give them words of wisdom so they can pigeonhole him. He knows they are all full of shit. He denies being a folk singer, a protest singer, any genre of singer or songwriter. He is who he is, and that’s all he wants people to take him for. He has no message. (He wrote some “protest” songs, and I feel they are his least interesting efforts.) He deals in imagery and irony, and yes, plenty of anger, but it belongs to him, he will make no attempt to explain it. We’re lucky that he chooses to share it with us, and we should leave it at that. So, in a sense, this movie should never have been made, but he does have an ego, and it’s so powerful that he doesn’t care that he looks like an asshole.