Ron Radosh

Bob Dylan's Strangest Birthday Present

Last week, Bob Dylan turned 70, and his birthday was met with a new tribute album, a two page layout in Time, and undoubtedly, scores more articles that I missed.  That week, two new books about Dylan appeared, one by Daniel Mark Epstein, and the other by David Yaffe.  One of the best analysis of Epstein’s book, unfortunately hidden under a firewall, is in the current issue of National Review, and is written by an editor who lives in Germany,  Webster Younce.

But one thing Dylan certainly did not expect is this rather strange and unbelievable article in an Indian newspaper, The Hindu, written by an Indian journalist named Ranjan Dasgupta.  I know nothing about the paper or the author, but for good reason, I suspect that either the author or the newspaper is close to those in India who are still left-wing socialists or Communists.

I was alerted to the article by a writer who follows Dylan closely and writes about him a lot, Sean Curnyn, who dealt with this in his own recent blog. The author claims to have scored an interview with Dylan, where it was conducted and when he does not say. But there is good reason to believe no such interview ever took place. The quotes from Dylan do not sound like him, nor do the sentiments he supposedly expresses to the author resemble anything Dylan has said recently in scores of legitimate interviews.

Referring to Dylan’s recent appearances in China, according to Dasgupta, Dylan said “This was the concert of a lifetime. I admired the Red Revolution and China is a nation to look up to.” Dylan admired Red China in the time of Mao? Why do I not believe this for one moment? And talking about his early song “Maggie’s Farm,” Dylan purportedly said: “My personal favourite is I will be working in Maggie’s farm no more. Through this I brought out the plight of a deprived and exploited peasant in the American countryside who was ignored by Hollywood and the world. This song, I feel, is the hymn of farmers and peasants through the globe. Even Paul Robeson complimented me for my creation.”

Sure, Dylan referred to “exploited peasants” in America, and considers the song “the hymn of farmers and peasants through the globe,” and was thus congratulated by the late American African-American Communist singer, Paul Robeson.  Dylan conceivably could have been introduced to Robeson and his music by Pete Seeger in the early 60’s, but no one has ever recorded their meeting or talking before, and that Robeson would have liked that particular song- knowing his recorded music and what he gravitated towards, is even more unlikely.

The rest of the supposed comments by Dylan, such as those about the Beatles, are so vacuous that anyone who believes he said these words knows little about Bob Dylan. And if you believe that the one person Dylan considers “The greatest singer to musically convey the voice of people the world over is Paul Robeson,” then, as Curnyn writes, “I have some prime real estate in North Korea to sell to you.”

That sentence might actually have been written by the late hack folk music “critic” Irwin Silber, the editor of Sing Out! who publicly scolded Dylan for selling out, becoming introspective, instead of writing leftist protest songs beloved by Silber and the Communist Party. And those who have read Dylan’s Chronicles know that he had little love lost for Silber.

And oh yes, according to the writer, Grammy awards mean nothing to him. That is why he has accepted them heartily and has even performed at their ceremonies. Curnyn, who thinks the entire thing is a fabrication meant to depict Bob Dylan as a hard-line Communist- a joke for anyone who knows his music and his lyrics- thinks it also could be a joke or a scam. His concern is that if it is not officially corrected as a fable by  Dylan’s management, others will down the pike quote these words as really having been said.

I personally doubt this was some kind of a joke, and prefer the explanation that a Hindu leftist writer sought to use the occasion of Dylan’s concerts to use his name for propaganda purposes.  How ironic that just as someone is doing this, the representatives of the hard Left are beginning what will undoubtedly be a new range of attacks on Dylan before his concert in Tel Aviv on June 20th.

On any account, I don’t think this is the kind of birthday greetings Bob Dylan was expecting.