Monday, June 30, 2008

What is it With These Brits?

I just came across an article in the Guardian, dated June 30, 2008, by Germaine Greer. The thrust of the article is given in its heading:

Why do people think Bob Dylan was a great lyricist? That creep couldn't even write doggerel.

She's never forgiven him for delaying his Isle of Wight concert for 3 hours, and then quotes 7 lines from Visions of Johanna, beginning with

And Madonna, she still has not showed.

She then says, among other things,

"Fustian of this ilk crosses my desk every week. It's not verse, not even doggerel. Nor is it prose, because it doesn't make sense. Its combination of pretentiousness and illiteracy isn't surprising, which would be something; it's just annoying..."

You get the idea.

She then gives a beautiful eight line poem from Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, and briefly analyzes it, and goes on to praise the singer/songwriter Morrissey and how beautifully he sings his material (in much the same way that critics say Dylan sings his material.) She ends with the sentence

"The music does what the words alone cannot do. To present the words without the music is to emasculate them."

Which is an admission that she emasculated the words to "Visions." She also mentions the British poet Byatt, who has also done her share of Dylan bashing.

Which brings to mind that the British Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, singled out this very Visions of Johanna as "simply the best song lyric ever written." (The Guardian, October 3, 1999.) Motion also states, "He's one of the great artists of the century" and has a lot to say positively about teaching Dylan in the schools.

So what is it with these Brits?

As a long time Dylan fan, this is of interest to me. In the Winter, 2009 session, I am giving a Dylan course "Bob Dylan: Music, Lyrics, and Influence" in The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement at the Reuters Center of the University of North Carolina in Asheville. An article such as this is perfect for the course!

Thanks to Karl Eric Anderson's website "" for the leads to this article, and his continuing devotion to all thing Dylan.

Mel Hausner


Anonymous said...

Mel: Welcome to blog world. I found you via 'Expecting Rain'.

Greer is an idiot. How can it be that words (with music) that have so deeply moved people for so long are, seemingly, so awful? She's talking out of her hat and, as a so called 'top academic' she should know better. Still, I had tutors at university who felt the same as she did. Many of them are very minor, pretty average poets. I think it's envy. How has Greer changed the world? She has even completely back-tracked on her own extreme feminist beliefs that made her name back in the late 60s. I think she has ver little respect over here in Britain, where many of us adore Dylan's work. I, for one, consider him to be the most important artist of the second half of the 20th Century in any field. He's still doing great work today.

All the best,
Singing Bear

mick said...

Mel, you should be aware that Greer is not a Brit, she is Australian and still takes great pleasure in not being a Brit. Much as I love Dylan, I reluctantly concede that Greer has a point with the verse of Visions of Johanna that she quotes. Visions of J has magnificent lyrics up until the end, but I do find the section Greer quotes to be oddly aimless word-play, lacking the edge that characterises the four brilliant preceding verses. I disagree violently with Greer's assessment of Dylan, but I do acknowledge that there is tosh mixed up with genius in Dylan's greatest work. Similarly, in Like a Rolling Stone, the "jugglers and the clowns" verse seems to me to be way below the level of intensity and verbal power of the 3 other verses - apart from the brilliant phrase "you shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you". Similarly, in Absolutely Sweet Marie, one of Dylan's greatest lines - "to live outside the law, you must be honest" - is surrounded by several verses of what could be uncharitably described as aimless psychedelic doggerel. best wishes

Patriq Allyn said...

As someone else has pointed out, she isn't a Brit. What is with people who say what is with these [nationals]? Anyway.
Greer is a very tedious woman, who doesn't have half as much to say as she's given credit for. She has become a silly lady.

Sean McA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sean McA said...

Hi Mel, found you on too.

Cut and paste this link from BBC radio onto your browser. It's Brits praising Bob. This is only available until Saturday though, so be quick.