Monday, September 1, 2008

You've Got a Lot of Nerve

The other day, I picked up a copy of Michael Gray's Song and Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan, a book that I had read many years ago. This one was a first edition, and I was surprised to readon the jacket copy that Gray was only 25 years old when he wrote it. He seems like such a fuddy-duddy, but reading the book with that in mind, I now see evidence of his youth: He seems determined to hate on everyone who doesn't measure up to being Dylan, which means everyone who isn't Blake or Browning or John Donne (or, of course, Zimmy). Any non-Dylan personnel from the world of popular music rate a sneer.

So he slags the Beatles ("The process whereby their work functioned engaged no individual consciousness: it was 'dealing in the known and the cheap'...") and Leonard Cohen ("often paddles in the maudlin"). He derides some of the greatest American songwriters of the pre-rock 20th century, writing, "He has chosen a medium we are unused to taking seriously: an inseparable mixture of music and words - and we grew up finding this a cheap and trivial formula. Thank you, ... Gershwin and Porter." He lumps together "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and My Fair Lady as suited solely for teenyboppers.

I was twenty-five once, and I probably thought it would make the case for my heroes' genius if I simultaneously asserted that their counterparts were all jackanapes and chowderheads. I also probably had never heard "Miss Otis Regrets." I hope in later editions Gray made emendations indicating that a world exists in which both Bob Dylan and Cole Porter can be geniuses.

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