The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1554 Friday, 20 August 2004
Date: Friday, August 20, 2004
Subject: Bob Dylan Ranked with Shakespeare
Posted on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2004
Bob Dylan ranked with Shakespeare
By Dan DeLuca
Inquirer Staff Writer
These days, when Bob Dylan takes the stage on his Never Ending Tour - if
it's Tuesday, he must be in Charleston, S.C. - he's introduced as "the
poet laureate of rock-and-roll."
The songwriting bard has answered to that title since the early 1960s,
when the jingle jangle of his "skipping reels of rhyme" exploded notions
of pop music's creative limitations, and in the words of Bruce
Springsteen, "freed your mind the way Elvis freed your body."
But do great pop songs qualify as great poems? That question is as fresh
as Eminem and Jay-Z, and as old as "Mr. Tambourine Man." And in Dylan's
case, the answer, according to Christopher Ricks, is not blowing in the
wind. It's a resounding yes.
That's noteworthy because Ricks is not just some rabid Dylan fan -
though he is that - but because he is one of the most eminent literary
critics in the English language. He teaches at Boston University, has
been named to the prestigious Professor of Poetry post at Oxford
University, and has published books on John Milton, John Keats, and
Ricks has just added to that shelf with Dylan's Visions of Sin
(HarperCollins), a 538-page close reading of the scribe who once rhymed
"man and God and law" with "everybody says she's the brains behind pa"
that scrutinizes Dylan's work with learned authority and an uncontained
enthusiasm for Dylanesque wordplay. The book's aim, Ricks says, is to
examine "the way in which Dylan resembles the great poets, and is
himself a great poet, if what we mean by poet is imaginative availer of
the great resources of language."
[ . . . ]
Still, he's irked that some reviewers have acted as if he must be
"dippy" because he believes Dylan's artistic accomplishments place him
in the company of Shakespeare and Picasso.
[ . . . ]
Pop music and film, Ricks says, "are the creative arts that have serious
opportunity to do what Shakespearean theater did centuries ago, when
people who were groundlings went because there is a bloody good duel at
the end of Hamlet, and lots of low humor, including obscene puns, in the
comedies. It was a Basement Tapes world."
And just as Shakespeare provided an evening of ripping entertainment
with extraordinary insight, so it is that grandly ambitious artists like
Dylan turn up with a guitar and microphone.
"At a Dylan concert," the professor says, "it's possible to have 5,000
people in a room thrilling to a common experience though they are of
quite different ages, social experiences and levels of education, and
bring to the music quite different hopes. And to have all these hopes
quite differently fulfilled. It's marvelous that such things happen."
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