"He probably had more impact on people of my generation than any other creative artist. His voice and lyrics haven't always been easy on the ear, but throughout his career [he] has never aimed to please. He's disturbed the peace and discomforted the powerful."-Bill Clinton, while awarding Bob Dylan a Kennedy Center award in 1997 in the East Room of the American White House.
"[His music] redefined not just what music sounded like but the message it carried and how it made people feel."-Barack Obama, while awarding Bob Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 in a different room of the American White House.
"Smile. Thank you. Keep up the good work. Let me shake your hand."-Bob Dylan, while receiving any given honorarium from the head of state of the United States or the United Kingdom.
When the British and Americans spend decades and billions of dollars gushing over how great someone is, what an icon of progress and change that person is, and how thoroughly that person represents the "struggle" against war and greed, that is a clue, people. A giant clue.
When someone celebrates "the times they are a changing" while the firebombing of Vietnam only increases, it's another clue. The only surprise is that it took so many years before the Imperial Seat began recognizing Dylan with something bigger than billions of dollars and constant airtime. "Our fighting blood was up, and we wanted to kill niggers...This shooting human beings beats rabbit hunting all to pieces," is the favored melodramatic quote of an American kid killing Filipinos a few decades before Dylan made everyone feel good and rebellious about killing Iraqis instead (here's a page for ya). Because Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama are completely different people.
Some might blame the baby boomers for their atrocious narcissism, but perhaps it's less of a generational thing, and more of a national one, to believe that having crocodilic guilt pangs while listening to a few nasally tunes somehow makes up for melting the flesh off ten thousand screaming rabbits. But hey, you can't blame Dylan for being a sellout--look what happened to Lennon when he refused to kiss the ring. No more record deals, and a dwindling fan base, while Dylan gets pushed around southern California by mp3 producers, so that the next generation of uncreative vocal-reverb lip-syncing assholes gets to feel "traditional" by producing enough tributary cover CDs to choke a regional amazon.com distribution center.
(Odds are, in 2045, Dame Lady Gaga is going to be cited as a driving force behind the ending of the First Iraq War, while she receives a medal from President Chip Romney.)
Consider Obama's commendation quote again: "[His music] redefined not just what music sounded like but the message it carried and how it made people feel." Damn right, it redefined how a lot of African American R&B and folk sounded, repackaging it, along with some cracker covers, into a whiteface performance that, along with Elvis Presley, TV and radio audiences in the new white suburbs were more than happy to listen to. That quote reveals Obama's intelligence, also. "How it made people feel." That's exactly what Dylan's music was supposed to do, as protest music--make people feel that it was a protest; make people feel that it was protest music. Major record labels, rich & powerful producers, and nationwide public attention, do not get showered on real protest. What Dylan did sing about (when he wasn't tracking down and covering unlicensed folk music like a musical version of the Brothers Grimm) was a vague, ephemeral sense of powerless, inactive guilt. This isn't even to mention Clinton's colossal lie, that Dylan "disturbed the powerful"--who were so disturbed that they kept making his albums, putting him on tour, quoting him in magazines, posting his picture everywhere, and inviting him to the seat of American global hegemony to recognize him with awards.
Driving your '58 Pontiac home from the office, parking in the two-car garage, eating a chicken dinner, then sleeping and returning to the office...making sure the ball bearings get shipped to the factory so the jets get up in the air so the napalm gets sprayed across the Cambodian child's carcass...
Driving Dad's '58 Pontiac to school, getting forced to study math and literature and physics, so you can put on a suit and get a boring job working for The Man, so that the ball bearings get shipped to the factory so the jets get up in the air so the DU melts across the little Muslim's carcass...
...and all the while, you're comforted by the fact that you sort of know it's "wrong," somehow. Gosh, isn't it rough being white, heading to school and the office, and putting on your favorite records to soothe yourself, while all those kids die over there? Obama nailed Dylan perfectly: it was all about how the music made the targets "feel." To hell with Asia; to hell with Africa; to hell with anything, except my own vague sense of guilt. As long as I put on my Dylan records, I'm a civil-rights crusader of the antiwar brigade, fostering justice while simultaneously contributing to blowing the hell out of all those people whose deaths make me feel bad about myself--up until I put on those very same records!
The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind. Who would've thought the bastard had it right, after all? I shouldn't need to change my behavior--I'm just a twig blowing on the wind. All those demolished Pakistani houses; all those jutting, sun-blistered bones in the Mesopotamian desert; they must've fallen over from natural causes, or something. How should I know? I was busy polishing up my trophy room. Or was it my record collection? The point is, it's not my fault. I sorta feel kinda a little bit bad for it. More later--gotta get back to the office.