Dylan at a performance in France in 2012. Pic/AFP
Let me declare first that I like Bob Dylan. I do. I’m also happy that song-writing has won a Nobel. Who gets this, better than us, a country whose great poets also wrote our most enduring film lyrics? This might even start to make books readable again.
But, OMG, I am now, through social media having to relive the scars of boredom inflicted on me by a particular type of Dylan fan in my youth. You know the kind I mean, na? The ones who, post their second rum-paani, needed little persuasion to take out their guitar and yet again, with Blowin’ in the Wind or Masters of War, instantly fill the air with indifferent singing and political worthiness. A self-congratulatory solemnity would escalate to moist bliss in the room, a shimmer of high-minded world-changingness, the singer’s face transported perhaps to his past life, where he fought in the Spanish Civil War. Of course, so what if he worked in advertising by day? It was a ceremony of self-anointment, this Dylan thing, declaring singer and listeners counter-cultural, radical, Che’s bhai-log, Dylan Da’s little bros. As for sisters? Well, these singers were mostly dudes competing for the noble prize, who loved the sound of their own voices. Blow-hards in the wind, we secretly giggled. In their political framework, feminism was politics lite at best, and chicks - weren't supposed to, give you shelter from the storm or something, right? In this light, there’s a certain symmetry that Dylan wins a Nobel in a year when it hasn’t gone to a single woman.
Before you make kachumber of me, yes, I know, #NoAllDylanFans. It’s just that there’s a certain reverent, unquestioning type of character whose devotion is actually religious — but who refuses to accept that religion has any place in society. Who castigates fanatics but doesn’t see his own fanaticism for Dylan (or any such substitute from a progressive canon) as prophet, not artist. It’s not about loving the artist, but artist as political accessory in a template — thoda daadi, thoda dada, thoda Dylan and Bob’s your uncle. For this type of fan, Dylan’s greatness lies in his once-proximity to a set of political causes and there’s little simple rapture in or complex engagement with the lyric or music of his work. For this kind of fan, most art is judged by this proximity to political claims, rather than on its own terms. Worse, these folks refuse to let you enjoy Dylan any other way (though we still manage to).
Even as musicians, they seem unable to move forward from this replay of Dylan’s political hits and the alternative Marlboro Man ruggedness it automatically confers, to crafting a music of their own — inspired and individual. Dylan himself evolves into many different types of artists over time, as Todd Haynz’s brilliant movie “I’m Not There” expresses — but these followers don’t and haven’t.
It’s not fair to judge Dylan by these fans because it gets in the way of enjoying his diverse brilliance. Over time I am glad I have managed to, though he is not my biggest favourite and all. With the Nobel perhaps a whole generation might come to a remarkable artist without this flattening (and enforcing) political filter. May be it’s what Dylan meant when he sang, ‘I shall be released’.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com