The Best Is Missed Unless Pop’s Around

By John Hertz: Mr. Dylan — not Mr. Dillon — won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Loud cries of How Right and How Wrong.  I can see both sides.  I am large, I contain multitudes.

On October 13th the Los Angeles Times began, to its credit,

Well, Shakespeare he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells,
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well

Not much else was.  “Like a Rolling Stone” did come in 1965, it does run six minutes, and you could say its four stanzas are poetically surrealistic (as a friend of mine asked a restaurant waiter who offered him organic food, “You have some other kind?”), but the doors of what was possible in popular music were already open, and if the “How does it feel?” chorus is emotionally liberating, well, something is happening but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones.  Nor is Dylan the Homer of our time, except for a habit of knocking things out of the park.

The same day’s Pasadena Weekly ran a cover story on Smokey Robinson.  It began “Few artists have had a greater impact on modern music.”  My barber, who was Milton Berle’s, likes to say “I question that.”  Robinson’s songs have been superb.  He belongs in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and is.  He’s earned the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, to be presented him in November.

The Weekly couldn’t help adding “He was also pronounced ‘America’s greatest living poet’ by Bob Dylan.”  That doesn’t sound like Dylan.  Scott Warmuth says it isn’t.

Someone commented to him that when KQED asked Dylan in 1965 “What poets do you dig?” he said “Rimbaud, I guess; W.C. Fields; the family, you know, the trapeze family in the circus [the Flying Wallenda Brothers?]; Smokey Robinson; Allen Ginsberg; Charlie Rich.”

About then a Playboy interviewer — with whom Dylan either wiped the floor or performed one of the finest duets in decades — asked, after one of his poetical surrealisms (300 words long), “And that’s how you became a rock-’n’-roll singer?” to which he answered “No, that’s how I got tuberculosis.”

A.J. Budrys used to say “Always ask, Why are they telling us this?”  After all, what do you care what other people think?

I’m not unwilling to praise famous men.  Or women, but when I tried with Julian May last year she stopped me.  I have high applause for Dylan and Robinson.  Dylan has particular interest for us — not because ve vass dere, Sharlie; that’s not greatness — but because he’s fantastic.  Are you listening, Brother Thao Worra?

And I would send a message
To find out if she’s talked,
But the post office has been stolen
And the mailbox is locked.

And oh! Mama! can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again?

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6 thoughts on “The Best Is Missed Unless Pop’s Around

  1. I’m sure there are Dylan songs that I must like, but for the better part of 50 years, when asked which songs I like, damned if I can think of any, and I’m sure Bob’s okay with that. To me, he’s the song stylist that I use to get rid of an ear worm.

  2. Dylan is a mix for me. He has written some good songs, but also some that I hate with all my heart. Even worse, he spawned the guitar man that stalks picnics and parties, looking for prey to force horrible covers on.

  3. It’s a good thing we’re literate now, else the Nobel people couldn’t have given Bob the prize. Because who the hell can understand the lyrics when he sings?

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