Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


‘Murder Most Foul’ by Bob Dylan. Part Two.

The front cover to ‘ Rough and Rowdy Ways’ (RRW) appears to feature the shot of a’ juke joint’, that most mythopoeic of American 50/60s venues, that sustained black music, and enjoyment of same, through those decades. In particular, these joints provided a link to pre-rock and roll, doowop, r n’b and other ‘race music’ that Bob Dylan would have consumed in his pre-fame days, both live and through the jukebox (which one punter can be seen sampling on the album cover). JFK, on the rear cover, offers a ‘white’ alternative narrative, and Dylan explores both.

Kitty Empire, in her largely positive review of the new album in The Observer of 21/06/20, herself a post-baby boomer (born in 1970) tried this comment on for size:

“Is it a last baby boomer hurrah?”

As I suggested in the previous blog, maybe she’s right. No-one else from this generation seems able to step up to this particular plate, but the ‘generation-identity’ industry is now up and running, and beyond parody - the war babies, the boomers, the millennials, Gens X, Y and Zee. As the Duke said: “there simply are two types of music, good and the other kind”. Obfuscating this by a certain ‘ageism’ (which some journalists are trying to promote, through inter-generational ‘splitting’, one tactic of which is to encourage mutual projective processes, involving envy and resentment) do not reflect well on Empire - if one were to continue of the theme of age, one might well ask why a 50-year old is still reviewing pop music? As a millennial, what right does she have to be commenting on south Korean K-Pop, the music of an entirely different generation? No fool like an old fool, as they say.

 Luckily, I am above such petty passive-aggressive stuff. Ideally.

‘Kitty’ Empire, however, won’t let it lie:

“Were it not for the presence of bluesmen, jazz men and rock and rollers, Dylan, a one-time quaker of the social order, would emerge as a rather square and fusty autodidact. He remains mired in the groups of the 20th century and longer ago, an unexamined position of high boomerism”.

This is attention-seeking journalism, and taken from a position of asinine condescension. For a start, Dylan was a ‘war baby’, born in 1941 (so-called ‘baby boomers’ spanned 1944-1964), so please get your socio-cultural stereotypes accurate, Ms. Empire. Bob Dylan is 80 years old next year, so some degree of ‘fustian’ is to be expected. But ‘fustian’ also implies a degree of ‘pretentious speech and writing’, according to Wiki, so I’d like to call out Kitty Empire’s use of ‘square’, a term which was becoming outdated even by 1970, the year of Kitty’s birth, thus demonstrating her own fustiness. So come on, expecting a 79-year old to be writing songs that demonstrate 2020 gender-identity awareness is a daft and condescending as an journo approaching a review of the world’s most famous songwriter without her own ‘agender’.

‘Twas ever thus. ‘Desolation Row’, for example, mixed modern rock/pop/blues references with more arcane ones, all “…fighting in the captain’s tower”. So nothing to see here. Empire’s comments about the perceived lack of female referencing is woke genderising personified. Dylan has always referenced women, from Hattie Carroll onward, and his love songs are world famous, for good reason. There are few songs as complex and resonant of lost love as “Tangled Up In Blue”, to take just one small example. The BTL comments to Empire’s review are most interesting, but I’ll finish with Alexis Petridis, another critic who is also hovering around the 50th birthday milestone, and his more measured assessment of RRW:

“This isn’t perhaps the most comfortable communique to issue in the middle of a global pandemic, but then the man behind it has seldom dealt in soothing reassurance” (5-star review in the Guardian of 13/06/20).

Just think back to 1962′s ‘Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. Dylan’s ‘boomerism’ is far from ‘unexamined’, and it remains as relevant and powerful as it was in ’62, however Kitty Empire wants to spin it.

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby