Quite likely, Bob Dylan destroyed the vocation of "publishing populist poet" in this country.Before Dylan, we had Robert Service, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Edgar A. Guest. Since Dylan, the best popular poets have tended to be songwriters.
If the '60s were the turning point of the 20th century, Dylan may have been the axis the decade spun on. From 1963 and his gentle protest song, "Blowing in the Wind," to the electrified weirdness of "Highway 61," Dylan was on top of the times, and _ as he told us _ the times were a-changing.
Now, on June 13, 7:30 p.m. at ParkWest in Park City, the songwriter other songwriters measure themselves against will be singing a personal anthology of his best songs for a Utah audience. ParkWest will not only be "the place to be" for the local "glitterati," but it also will be the place for anyone who cares a whit about pop music.
Call United Concerts at 355-5522 for information.
Lapsing into hyperbole about Dylan is easy. Sorting through and judging his true influence, however, is another matter. He came on the scene simultaneously with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Paul Simon. And musicologists are still trying to pick apart the hodge-podge of message and melody that came with that surge.
His history is checkered and colorful. Born Robert Zimmerman in Hibbing, Minn., young Bobby took the name Dylan from Welsh bard Dylan Thomas and headed to New York City to become the heir apparent to Woody Guthrie, the working man's tunesmith.
Down the years he's gone from folk, to rock, to country, to born-again gospel and filled a dozen spaces in between. Columbia records already has over 100 Dylan songs on tape that have never been released. Whatever phases he goes through in the future, we'll be hearing "new Dylan" until after the year 2000.
As a poet, Dylan has always been a mongrel; part Beat, part surrealist, part social conscience and traditionalist. Robert Lowell, who many consider the finest poet of his generation, said of the songwriter: "Bob Dylan is alloy; he is true folk and fake folk, and has a Caruso voice. He has lines, but I doubt if he has written whole poems. He leans on the crutch of his guitar."
The idea of a singer/songwriter's guitar being a "crutch" would only occur to a publishing poet who sees language as it's own music, of course. And Dylan purists bristle at that notion of "fake folk." But Lowell's words show a certain grudging respect.
A notch down from Lowell, college English professors have been seeding snippets of Dylan's work into anthology courses for years. And Spanish Fork High School has a literature teacher, Michael Olsen, who teaches Dylan as one of the best examples of modern popular poetry.
"I think the main thing is Dylan is traditionally moral in his views," says Olsen, "whether that has to do with his Jewish background or his Christian fundamentalism, I don't know. His world view is in line with Western culture, and that helps him blend with other poets. Students relate to Dylan's work because they listen to a lot of music and his work sounds natural to them."
As an example of Dylan's art, Thomas Lyon, a professor at Utah State University, used to play "Hard Rain" to his classes.
The song is based on the English folk ballad "Lord Randall," but Dylan gives it his own surreal and _ in the end _ anti-war twist:
Where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Where have you been, my darling young one?
I've stumbled on the side of 12 misty mountains;
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways;
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests;
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans;
I've been 10,000 miles in the mouth of a graveyard;
And it's a hard rain's a gonna fall.
As a closing note, it's interesting that Dylan's work has never been as popular in Utah as it has in other places.
"I have foreign exchange students who say Bob Dylan is played more in their countries than he is in the American West," says Olsen.
And ticket sales haven't been as brisk as promoters were hoping.
But the show is definitely a "go."
Tickets are reasonable (round $15) and the outdoor setting lends itself to reverie.
Bob Dylan should be in fine form.