[Dixielandjazz] Mike Royko on Bob Dylan: 1974
Thu, 13 Jun 2002 18:30:58 -0500
Some weeks back Jim Beebe wrote a note in which he referred to Bob Dylan as
somewhat less than perfect, and I chimed in caliming there was indeed less
there than met the ear. But Royko, as usual, got to the heart of the matter
back in 1974 in a column for the Chicago Daily News, a well written and well
edited newspaper now, alas, defunct. Here....s Mike..!
DYLAN THE GREAT 1/30/74
The first time I ever heard Bob Dylan sing I knew he would be a success.
He sounded exactly like Woody Guthrie, an earlier folksinger, and I
figured that if he added a few more imitations--maybe Bette Davis and James
Cagney--he would have an even funnier routine.
Then I found out he wasn't kidding around. He wanted people to take his
Woody Guthrie style seriously.
So I changed my mind and decided he would not be a success after all.
People would hoot and jeer, I assumed, when they heard Dylan, the former
Bobby Zimmerman, a middle class youth, trying to sound like Guthrie, an
authentic, callus palmed, Depression-Era dustbowl Okie.
But I was wrong. Most of Dylan's fans had not heard of Woody Guthrie.
They assumed that Dylan, and other suburban style guitar jockeys, had
created folk music.
Dylan became a great success and made millions, which proves that it is
better to sing about hard work than to do it. He became so rich that in
1966, while still a lad, he retired.
When I saw what Dylan accomplished by imitating Woody Guthrie, I really
kicked myself. I used to do a helluva imitation of Al Jolson.
Now I am filled with even more regret because I was on vacation when
Dylan came to Chicago to launch his out-of-retirement concert tour.
For one thing I wanted to see if he still did Woody Guthrie, or if he
had switched to someone else, like maybe Mario Lanza.
But more than that, I have learned that I missed one the greatest
cultural events in the history of the world.
At least, that's what I gather by reading the papers and magazines.
NEWSWEEK magazine, for instance, put Dylan on the cover and quoted a
record company executive as saying: "This event is the biggest thing of its
kind in the history of show business."
That is a lot of history, going back to the first Stone Age man who
juggled a few rocks to amuse his cavemates.
NEWSWEEK also quoted a young woman as saying: "I think he (Dylan) is the
most important musician who ever lived--more important than Beethoven."
(In fairness it should be pointed out that Beethoven lost his hearing.
Had he not done so, he might have been as important as Dylan.)
And Ralph Gleason, the noted West Coast columnist and musical authority,
wrote: "The impact that Bob Dylan has had upon the culture of the past ten
years in the English-speaking world...is extaordinary and comparable, at
least in terms of concepts and additions to language, only with Shakespeare
and the Bible."
It is hard to argue with that, especially when you consider such Dylan
It's never been my duty
To remake the world at large,
Nor is it my intention
To sound the battle charge.
I love you more than all of that
With a love that doesn't bend
And if there is eternity
I'll love you there again.
Now admit it. You've never read anything like THAT in Shakespeare or
Most of the Dylan admirers also offer the ticket sales as evidence of
his his historic return from Malibu.
They expect more than 650,000 people to attend his concert tour. They
say another 5 million pleas have been turned down.
As one critic raved: "There may not be another performance in the world
can draw like that!"
At this point I must offer a mild disagreement. While Dylan may be in
the same class as Shakespeare and the Bible, there are other popular
Take Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus. About 9 million people
saw it last year.
The Illinois State Fair drew 662,895 people, and most of the farm
creatures didn't sound as good as Dylan.
Billy Graham, without levis and boots, preached to 1,046,750 people.
But figures aren't important. What's important is that Dylan has
returned, which means that those who missed seeing Beethoven can now see the
I was interested in reading one of Dylan's reasons for coming out of
retirement. (I knew it couldn't be money, because great artists don't give
a damn about such things.) Dylan said, "Saturn has been an obstacle in my
planetary system. It's been there for the last few ages and just removbed
itself from my system. I feel free and unburdened."
I'll bet. And it must have hurt.
As for the future, Dylan said: "I am not looking to be that new messiah.
That's not in the cards for me."
I don't know if that is modesty or just a lack of ambition.