Johanna Parker wrote:
Of course, I'm being subjective. I don't get it and seems wrong to me, but I'm not the arbiter of who gets to love what. That mid-60s work is so obviously thrilling to me that of course I don't understand this. I always wonder if some younger people don't feel the same because they weren't around to be shocked to death when those albums came out, but instead found them after all the music that followed by others had been influenced by him, so the uniqueness of Bob's work then is hard to imagine.
But wouldn't that mean that the shock was of greater value than the actual art - that once you get used to it, it doesn't stand up in the same way as before? I do think his work remains unique, it's not like those influenced by him ever reached those heights.
No! The shock was that rare thing where you are presented with not only an innovation (which he was) but also a talent that surpasses almost everything you've been exposed to. I don't think I ever 'got used to' his work from that period, no matter how much I've heard it or others have worked off of it. It's innovation and it's greatness as art
are both intact for me.
The obvious comparison for me is with Shakespeare. In this way. I studied literature for a long time. My knowledge of Shakespeare was only a glancing blow from a few required things I read in high school and college from teachers who had no particular insight into him, so I never much cared about him or spent any time trying to understand him. I preferred reading other people. Then there came a time when I was studying in a program that placed tremendous emphasis on Shakespeare, taught by people whose mission on this earth was to devote their entire lives to studying, researching and teaching Shakespeare. That program was probably the great revelation of my life. I hadn't understood Shakespeare when I read loads of work that came after him and was influenced by him - I didn't really know any better, so I didn't think I lacked an understanding or perspective about how essential and profound Shakespeare was. Once I had spent a fairly long time focused on Shakespeare,
with the help of some great teachers, I was shocked by how great Shakespeare was in many ways - his innovation,
his influence upon everyone that wrote after him, and most of all, I was shocked by the size and variety of his talent. The variety and size of his talent would still be shocking right now even if no one had been influenced by him. He stands alone. There has been no greater writer, and possibly there never will be. He's important 'in addition' because of his tremendous innovation (which transformed almost all of subsequent literature) and his vast influence - because he's essentially inescapable through his place in the canon of literature. But if Shakespeare had been a minor writer in terms of fame and influence and I had only accidentally happened upon him by picking up a book in a library - I would have been no less shocked by his talent.
I'm a couple of decades into a Shakespeare obsession now and I never
'get used to' Shakespeare. I can't even imagine what that would entail, there is so much there and I am always finding new things as I read and reread him. A lifetime is not enough to adequately study him. And I'm also shocked
over and over by his work, even things I've read hundreds of times - because of the beauty, depth, complexity, originality, innovation. No writer has said as much about what it is to be human or the meaning of life. It's endlessly shocking that one person managed to create what his work contains. It's like hundreds of people wrote that work, not one person.
He's unimaginable - the how and the why. No one who wrote after him has ever diminished him. Familiarity with him and rereading him over decades does not diminish him. New innovative writing by others does not diminish him. It sounds ridiculous to say this but Shakespeare really was all that - the greatest writer who ever lived. And it takes time and work
to understand why that's true. In our time, most people don't understand that from a surface or casual reading of him, which is why he has fallen out of favor. That's a shame, but it doesn't diminish him. I saw a documentary Al Pacino made about performing Shakespeare where he told a company of actors that those who appear in his plays have a more profound understanding of Shakespeare than the scholars who study him. I don't believe that. I think they may have a different kind of understanding, but I doubt it's even more profound. I think the commonality that Shakespearean actors have with Shakespearean scholars is the amount of time and work invested in understanding him.
Any real investment in Shakespeare is going to pay off, how ever you come by it.
Bob's not Shakespeare. But this is a way for me to explain how yes, Bob's achievement still shocks me, I don't get used to him and his early work still stands up - in fact, I think it's better than when I heard it during the time it was released. My affection for that work may be influenced by the time and the age I first encountered it. But if I just enjoyed the nostalgia, I think i'd know that by now. I perceive that about lots of other things. I think what's real is that the work he did in the mid-60s really is great. And shocking even now.
Plus as someone added, look what came after! JWH, BOTT! It really makes you slap yourself upside your head.