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President Obama presents Bob Dylan Medal of Freedom


U.S. President Barack Obama presents rock legend Bob Dylan with a Medal of Freedom on May 29 during a ceremony at the White House in Washington. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

U.S. President Barack Obama presents rock legend Bob Dylan with a Medal of Freedom on May 29 during a ceremony at the White House in Washington. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Bob Dylan in America (Doubleday, $33), by American historian Sean Wilentz, is a 2010 biography of the great Jewish American troubadour, ingenious songwriter, influential pop icon, and Nobel Prize for Literature nominee.

There have been many studies and bios of Dylan (1941-), but what distinguishes Wilentz’s work is that he examines the history around what he deems to be pivotal Dylan albums and concert performances, interweaving biography, cultural study, and American histories of politics and song as well as his own memories, to attempt to explain the lasting relevance of particular Dylan recordings and tour stops.

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A trained historian, Wilentz is adept at chasing down sources of influence, through obscure movies, composers, and singers, to Dylan’s studio releases, films, books, and radio program. Encyclopedic in its reach, the book is rife with footnotes, suffused with photos, and packed with endnotes, an index, and bibliography. It is a serious work, but its “surprises,” as such, are meagre.

One discovery is the connection between one-time Communist sympathizer and consummate American composer Aaron Copland and Dylan’s own efforts, through folk, gospel, and rock genres, to provide works of inspiration and critical reflection for “the common” citizen; to review and mix news events and historical happenings to highlight that the present, whenever it is, belongs to the past.

Another “find,” for Wilentz, is that it is Jack Kerouac’s “spontaneous bop prosody,” free-flowing poems, especially Mexico City Blues (1959), that undergirds Dylan’s “electrified” rock of the mid-1960s, moreso than the “odd tandem” between poet Allen Ginsberg and Dylan, that morphed from mentor-protégé to Ginsberg becoming Dylan’s “mascot.”

In his rendition of the making of Dylan’s landmark album, Blonde on Blonde (1966), Wilentz corrects the omission of Band member Rick Danko plus Bobby Gregg and Paul Griffin from the record credits. (Another Band member, Robbie Robertson, was another session player.)

But Wilentz also stresses the importance of Nashville sidemen— not just “long-haired New York hipsters”—to the procuring of the successful tone that Dylan wanted for this “oddly configured double album, the first of its kind in contemporary popular music,” namely, in Dylan’s words, “that thin, that wild mercury sound.”

Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue Tour of 1975-76 is chronicled as a white-face-minstrel homage to a French classic film, Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), a provision of material for Dylan’s own feature film Renaldo and Clara (1977), and a statement of his interest in the theatricality of the circus.

Dylan’s 1983 recording of Blind Willie McTell becomes the basis for a look at the development of blues field recordings, the life of the itinerant singer himself (1897-1959), the relationship between folk, gospel, and blues, and Dylan’s own profound interest in African-American history, song, romance, and performance styles.

There’s more — a lot more — in this fat, detailed book that is as up-to-date in the end as 2009. But Wilentz’s general thesis is that what makes Dylan such a wily and gifted interpreter of others’ songs and creator of his own is that he knows the history of American song, in all of its ethnic permutations and racial combinations.

In short, Dylan is not only beholden to the “archives” of people’s songs of whatever sort; he is an archivist — a historian — himself, who will quote other artists’ words, not out of plagiarism, but as a means of recuperating past art — that must not be passed over.

Wilentz defends this controversial aspect of Dylan’s method by insisting, “every artist is … a thief; the trick is to get away with it by making of it something new. Dylan … has the singular ability not only to do this superbly but also to make the present and the past feel like each other.”

As aptly researched and finely nuanced as this work is, there are many occasions where Wilentz is simply forced to guess, to suppose, to speculate. That is fine; Dylan is like scripture — available to all, but still rich with suggestion, mystery, paradox, dream, and contradiction that seem to beg explanation.

One last quibble: The book title is absolutely provincial.

 

June 17, 2012 – 4:13am
By GEORGE ELLIOTT CLARKE

  1. Joan Baez in Renaldo & Clara – YouTube

    youtube.com Feb 11, 20115 minUploaded by luckywilbury61
    Cut without song performance. Included the next part so it would be longer than a one minute video.

  2. Never Let me go (Renaldo & Clara) – B. Dylan

    youtube.com Jan 12, 20072 minUploaded by Shannan
    Never Let me go (Renaldo & Clara) – B. Dylan & J. Baez. Dhanaisha. Subscribe Subscribed Unsubscribe

     
  3. RENALDO & CLARA – Lilà – YouTube

    youtube.com May 21, 20123 minUploaded by Electromechanics
    +INFO [Sp]: http://bit.ly/LkUBZC [En]: http://bit.ly/JxAUD0 2012, Directed by Carles Gómez LYRICS: Que
  4. Renaldo i Clara a La(2) d’Apolo – Time Out en viu

    youtube.com Apr 13, 20112 minUploaded by Guillemot
    Renaldo i Clara a La(2) Apollo – Time Out en view Joan Baez in Renaldo & Araby
  5. Renaldo & Clara AL MUD’12 Physiques Disperses

    youtube.com Mar 26, 20123 minUploaded by Businesspersons
    Bob Dylan Romance In Durango From Renaldo And Clara – Acervo: Cláudio L’ esperit de la
  6. Bob Dylan & Joan Baez – Never Let Me Go (1975

    youtube.comJun 2, 20112 minUploaded by joanbaezOnFilm
    This footage was used in “Renaldo & Clara” film. JOANBAEZONFILM DVD 003 ” Sings With Dylan 1963
  7. Renaldo & Clara – Sad Lady Lowlands – YouTube

    youtube.comApr 10, 20122 minUploaded by WildBunch1776
    Renaldo & Clara. Bob Dylan Romance In Durango From Renaldo And Clara – Acervo: Cláudio Cruz)by
  8. Phil Ochs in renaldo and clara – YouTube

    youtube.comDec 22, 201130 secUploaded by BarbaryAllen
    Phil ochs appearance in Bob Dylan’s movie Renaldo and Clara, it has been told the movie was cut off when
  9. Bob Dylan Romance In Durango From Renaldo And

    youtube.comJul 5, 20114 minUploaded by claudiojornal2010
    Bob Dylan & Joan Baez – Deportee (1976).flvby absage200162054 views · Joan Baez in Renaldo & Clara 4
  10. RENALDO & CLARA – D. [AUDIO] – YouTube

    youtube.comJun 11, 20122 minUploaded by ElefantRecords
    +INFO [sp]: http://bit.ly/LfDB9K [En]: http://bit.ly/LDC93R Taken from ER-308 RENALDO & CLARA – Lilà

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President Obama presents Bob Dylan Medal of Freedom U.S. President Barack Obama presents rock legend Bob Dylan with a Medal of Freedom on May 29 during a ceremony at the White House in Washington. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS) Bob Dylan in America (Doubleday, $33) , by American historian Sean Wilentz , is …http://whatgetsmehot.posterous.com/president-obama-presents-bob-dylan-medal-of-f» more

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