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PostPosted: Thu December 7th, 2017, 15:06 GMT 
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A book by the George Martin Lane Professor of Classics at Harvard University (I think that’s how all mentions of the book have to begin) Why Dylan Matters is a clear, concise and well written examination of Dylan’s debt to classical literature and his place as a contemporary artist.

Richard Thomas goes back to Bob’s time in the Latin Club at Hibbing High School and follows his career from there. His engagement with Dylan’s more recent work is interesting, he has lots to say about the allusions and borrowings in the writing from Time Out of Mind onwards. He also gives a very appreciative and persuasive reading of Chronicles and ends with a moving account of the Nobel Prize presentation.

I really enjoyed reading it, I even wish it had been longer and had been able to deal in greater detail with the influence of Classical literature on other artists who in their turn have influenced Dylan; Shakespeare’s love of Ovid for example. As it is though, the lucidity of the argument and elegance of construction make the book one of the very few that you could give to someone who is interested in Dylan but doesn’t know that much about him, or to that group of people (in my case small, but, thankfully, still extant) who are interested in why you are interested in Dylan - they wouldn't be put off and they'd be bound to come away with a better understanding.


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PostPosted: Thu December 7th, 2017, 15:42 GMT 
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Thanks Charles.
The way you describe it makes it somewhat enticing to perhaps suggest as a Christmas present.
With so many Bob books saturating us with the same thing over & over, I stopped grabbing them quite awhile back. Perhaps this is one to request the next time someone asks: “What do you want for Christmas?”
Although my standard answer is “World Peace” so it might be a stretch.


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PostPosted: Thu December 7th, 2017, 15:54 GMT 
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The book has received a lot of good press and I'm anxious to read it.

Richard Thomas is at Harvard, and of course, Harvard was mentioned by Bob on his first LP - "Bob Dylan", in the opening of "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" -

"I first heard this from - Ric von Schmidt. He lives in Cambridge. Ric's a blues guitar player. I met him one day in the green pastures of - Harvard University."


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PostPosted: Thu December 7th, 2017, 17:40 GMT 

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I hope it's better than that unreadable twaddle by Christopher Ricks.


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PostPosted: Thu December 7th, 2017, 18:28 GMT 
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Thanks, will check it out


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PostPosted: Thu December 7th, 2017, 18:38 GMT 
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Was gonna ask for it for Christmas but it appeared at the library and my impatience won out. Looking forward to a good read.


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PostPosted: Thu December 7th, 2017, 18:43 GMT 
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Just picked this up last night, curious to start it and see how it is.


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PostPosted: Thu December 7th, 2017, 19:39 GMT 
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I finished it last week. I think it's the first book to properly analyse chronicles as a work of fiction and to analyse the intertextual layers of Love & Theft, Modern Times and Tempest beyond just the plagiarism argument. I think it's essential reading for anyone interested in Dylan's post 1997 work. Nice to see ER get a couple of mentions too.


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PostPosted: Fri December 8th, 2017, 12:02 GMT 
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The book was reviewed in the Telegraph recently..

People are amazingly anxious about literature, especially when it comes with a capital L. We have no useful definition of the boundaries of Literature at all, and yet it brings out the border guard in us, demanding by what right a freshly claimed author craves entry. Someone is always bound to be too sentimental or too unfeeling, too moral or too immoral, too clever by half or not clever enough. The deadliest question of all, I suspect, is one of the simplest: why does this author matter? It is the sort of thing that, as Bob Dylan fans now know, even winning a Nobel Prize in Literature does not do away with.

Ardent Dylanologist Richard F Thomas’s Why Dylan Matters is a direct response to all the border guards who would seek to keep Dylan out of the literary canon. For Thomas, Dylan’s 2016 Nobel came as vindication of his lifelong conviction that “something was happening here”, and Why Dylan Matters is his chance to prove it once and for all. Being a Harvard classics professor, with commentaries on Virgil and Horace to his name, Thomas is in some sense a professional literary border guard himself – someone whose verdicts stand to carry some weight. “At last,” runs the quote by Mary Beard on the back cover, “an expert classicist gets to grips with Bob Dylan”. I suspect I am not the only person who has not been waiting with bated breath for a classicist’s take on Dylan. But it is true that Thomas is one of the few people who can claim equal authority as a Dylanologist and a traditional literary scholar – Christopher Ricks, who published Dylan’s Visions of Sin back in 2003 and oversaw the doorstop The Lyrics: 1961-2012, is probably the only other one.

Thomas’s case is that Dylan matters because he is very much like the classics themselves, even contiguous with them. He is, Thomas writes, “part of that classical stream whose spring starts out in Greece and Rome and flows on down through the years, remaining relevant today, and incapable of being contained by time and place.” There is a lot to be said for this, and Thomas brings his classicist expertise to play in proving it. Dylan does in certain ways share the same “artistic principles, and attitudes toward composition, revision and performance” as the ancients, and he even lives in a similar world – not the Roman Republic, admittedly, but the American one. What is more, Dylan knows this, and it is that knowledge that makes him a classic in his own right. Above all for Thomas, he is a self-conscious artist continuously in control of his materials, whose career has been weaving a single web of art, referential, deliberate, and exact since day one. This, Thomas argues, makes him “the supreme artist of the English language of my time”.

Such remarks make it clear that Thomas’s book is preaching to the choir. Claims like this do not win over sceptics. Dylan certainly matters – at this point, that much is self-evident. Though my own initial reaction to the Nobel announcement was that some kind of category error had occurred, I have since come round. After all, as Thomas points out, it makes little sense to permit the ancient lyric poets their “citharas”, and not permit Bob his cognate guitar. And if any modern lyricist deserves admission to the literary canon, it really is him. But at heart, Thomas’s book is for fans only; and Dylan fanhood is its own special thing.

The true Dylan fan, and Thomas certainly is one, knows their way around a catalogue that, as of 2017, includes 38 studio albums, 11 live albums, 13 official bootleg collections, and an untold number of unofficial ones. Given that he has been going since the late Fifties and has now been on his “Never Ending Tour” since 1988, it is probably not worth even trying to count this last category. Then there are the singles and EPs, 11 books of lyrics, prose, interviews… and, well, the list goes on. Which is not to mention either his paintings or his sculptures. Dylan fans, shall we say, can be a little overwhelming, and though Why Dylan Matters is apparently aimed at “everyone from the first-time listener to the lifetime fan”, Thomas is not exactly toning it down for the newcomers. Frankly, I cannot conceive of the neophyte who could make it through even a small portion of it. Even as a moderately avid Dylan listener with what I know to be a high tolerance for both fannish music trivia and textual detective work, I found it, I am afraid to say, crashingly dull.

Here, for instance, is Thomas revving up for a lengthy account of his bus tour of Dylan’s childhood hometown in Minnesota: “Hibbing is situated about 70 miles northwest of the city of Duluth, built on the rich iron core of the Mesabi Iron Range, and at the edge of the town lies the world’s largest open-pit iron mine.” Thomas, it is fair to say, is a details man – something I find more necessary in Virgilian commentary than in accounts of bus tours and concerts. I wonder if even diehard fans could take it at this level.

The real let-down of Why Dylan Matters, though, is that it disappoints as criticism. Boiled down from Thomas’s Harvard undergraduate course on Dylan, it combines its minutiae with a resolutely introductory level of literary-critical insight. The three central revelations (many times repeated) are: one, that Dylan is not writing autobiography; two, that he quotes plenty of books, classics included; and, three, that allusion is not the same as plagiarism. These are such unexceptionable points that it is hard to see the need to make them afresh – especially when so much more could be done, and when, in the first place, literary analysis is not really the appropriate mode. After last year’s Nobel Prize announcement, Christopher Ricks wrote in this paper of the danger of reducing the “triple art” of Dylan’s songs to literature. As works, they each consist of lyrics, music, and voice, forming what Ricks points out is often an “equilateral triangle”. To just read Dylan is to treat him as he was never meant to be treated. And this is exactly what Thomas does, leaving Dylan’s music to one side, as if his words too had come down, like Virgil’s, in dusty manuscripts. He is happy to scry for numerological patterns in concert sets or close-read the obscurest interview for insight, but he has not a word to say on the fact that Dylan is, above all, a writer of songs. It is hard not to feel he has missed the very reason why Dylan does matter – not because he fits an old definition of literature, but because it is worth making a new one to include him.


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PostPosted: Fri December 8th, 2017, 12:57 GMT 
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Andy Muir wrote an interesting article a while ago in Isis about Dylans future as a subject of study. He reluctantly conceded that it was probably in the English Departments that we'd find him. It's way too easy to just say that Dylan is not only a writer but a musician and a performer and that therefore any criticism that doesn't give equal weight to all these aspects is inadequate. In any event, Thomas does not "leave Dylan’s music to one side, as if his words too had come down, like Virgil’s, in dusty manuscripts", but does consider the work as songs. Love that condescending "dusty", by the way.

Why Dylan Matters is an introduction for the general reader. I'm glad it does hammer home the points "one, that Dylan is not writing autobiography; two, that he quotes plenty of books, classics included; and, three, that allusion is not the same as plagiarism." one only has to look at the discussions here to see that those points "unexceptionable" though they may be to a clever reviewer in the Daily Telegraph need to be made to the general reader in an accessible way.

Five books on Shakespeare are reviewed in this weeks TLS (the edition which contains the article on Dylan by Richard Thomas). They are all published by Cambridge University Press and are all £75.00 ($99.00) each; thay all deal with fascinating aspects of Shakepeare's work on the page and in performance, they all seem to be massively erudite labours of love, yet despite the immense and continuing popularity of Shakespeare none of them are likely to be read by a non-specialist or indeed a non-academic. Time may come when beautiful, nuanced criticism encompassing all forms of his art is written about Dylan, and the time may well come when that criticism will be appreciated, valued and intergrated into the understanding of the small coterie it reaches. For the moment though, I don't think we should knock a decent, interesting, eminently readable book about Dylan for the open-minded general reader for not being what it didn't set out to be in the first place.


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PostPosted: Fri December 8th, 2017, 13:57 GMT 

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I was traveling back to Scotland from London on Monday night. I read the full book on the way.. For me this Is a sign that it is a good read. I agree with the post above that talks about what is says about Chronicles. As well as that, It shows how much Bob knows about the Classics. Straight away I learned something I did not know about young Bob (That he was a member of a group learning Latin) . I would recommend it. The one thing I don't really get, is the title of the book. To people like us, the title is obvious, but I don't know why it would change anyone who is not a Dylan fan's view.


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PostPosted: Fri December 8th, 2017, 17:33 GMT 
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Thanks all for sharing. Will check it out


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PostPosted: Fri December 8th, 2017, 20:58 GMT 

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mjmooney wrote:
I hope it's better than that unreadable twaddle by Christopher Ricks.


It was neither, of course. An excellent book.


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PostPosted: Sat December 9th, 2017, 23:40 GMT 
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The things that matter in this world do not need a book to explain why they matter. If Dylan matters there's nothing a book need explain.

If you're just looking for more frivolous entertainment this book might matter.


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PostPosted: Sun December 10th, 2017, 05:54 GMT 
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I'm a little over halfway through and I'm really enjoying it. Lots about Homer, Virgil, etc. and I'm pleased that so far, most of the analysis has been about the 1997-2012 material.


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PostPosted: Sun December 10th, 2017, 14:53 GMT 

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Does he mention anyone else from The Simpsons?


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PostPosted: Sun December 10th, 2017, 16:03 GMT 
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Ghost Of Lectricity wrote:
The things that matter in this world do not need a book to explain why they matter. If Dylan matters there's nothing a book need explain.

If you're just looking for more frivolous entertainment this book might matter.



So if I catch your drift here, you're telling us, in written words, that the written word is a useless medium? Got it.


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PostPosted: Sun December 10th, 2017, 16:25 GMT 

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chrome horse wrote:
Ghost Of Lectricity wrote:
The things that matter in this world do not need a book to explain why they matter. If Dylan matters there's nothing a book need explain.

If you're just looking for more frivolous entertainment this book might matter.



So if I catch your drift here, you're telling us, in written words, that the written word is a useless medium? Got it.
Dancing about architecture.


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PostPosted: Sun December 10th, 2017, 16:29 GMT 
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Rodin wrote:
Does he mention anyone else from The Simpsons?

Best chuckle I've had on here in awhile! Cheers Rodin!


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PostPosted: Mon December 11th, 2017, 18:37 GMT 
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Finished it last night, it's a very enjoyable read!


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PostPosted: Thu December 21st, 2017, 03:12 GMT 

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I haven't read a word of this book; I know nothing of its content but a bit about its premise and a bunch about the author. I can only imagine how utterly worthless and laughably misguided it is.

If there's a passage describing the author's emotions when he first blasted Hard Rain ('76) wearing headphones, and how Big Girl through Idiot Wind made him want to set fire to everything he'd ever known up to that point--well then I take the first two sentences above back.

Happy Holidays.


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PostPosted: Thu December 21st, 2017, 05:16 GMT 

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I've perused it, not that carefully.

It's over-egged, both in terms of the depth of the relationship between Dylan's work and the classics, and in terms of the merits of Dylan's various "borrowings" (the author seems too quick to praise). Quite a lot of rather disparate connections are sewn together in order to make a "case"--rather unconvincingly so: Dylan visited Rome, Dylan took classics club at school, Dylan thinks quite a lot like the poet Catullus and they would surely get on famously etc. On the more obvious "thefts" (for example, in Modern Times and Love and Theft) the author does a reasonable (but not spectacular) job of arguing why he thinks they are so stunning, what their function is, and what their local as well as global effect is.

On the other hand, a different perspective on Dylan's compositions is always interesting.


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PostPosted: Thu December 21st, 2017, 15:08 GMT 
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aberhwy61 wrote:
I haven't read a word of this book; I know nothing of its content but a bit about its premise and a bunch about the author. I can only imagine how utterly worthless and laughably misguided it is.



You haven't read a word of it but you know it is worthless???

Other people here seem to be enjoying it.

I'm sure your own Dylan book is the final word on Bob, and the title of that is.......


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PostPosted: Thu December 21st, 2017, 19:18 GMT 

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I’d never waste the only life I have over intellectualizing a performing artist, let alone write a book about it. Dylan scholarship is the single worst byproduct of the great man’s career.


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PostPosted: Thu December 21st, 2017, 19:56 GMT 
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aberhwy61 wrote:
I’d never waste the only life I have over intellectualizing a performing artist, let alone write a book about it. Dylan scholarship is the single worst byproduct of the great man’s career.
...
Believe me, the author of this book isn't over intellectualizing anything. The tone is pretty casual, actually. Even though you haven't read this book, you seem very convinced of your opinion.

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