Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rock Criticism Difficulty

"It is difficult to be a critic; people expect you to explain things. That’s all right if you don’t know what’s going on… you can make up almost any clever-sounding explanation, and people will believe you. But if you do understand a poem, or a song, then chances are you also understand that you’re destroying it if you try to translate it into one or two prose sentences in order to tell the guy next door “what it means.” If you could say everything that Dylan says in any one of his songs in a sentence or two, then there would have been no point in writing the songs. So the sensitive critic must act as a guide, not paraphrasing the songs but trying to show people how to appreciate them.

One problem is that a lot of people don’t give a damn about the songs. What interests them is whether Joan Baez is “Queen Jane,” or whether or not Dylan dedicated “Mr. Tambourine Man” to the local dope peddler. These people, viewed objectively, are a fairly despicable lot; but the truth is that all of us act like Peeping Toms now and then. Dylan himself pointed this out in a poem on the back of Another Side. He wanders into a mob, watching a man about to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge: “I couldn’t stay to look at him / because I suddenly realized that / deep in my heart / I really wanted / to see him jump.” It is a hard thing to admit that we are potential members of the mob; but if you admit it, you can fight it; you can ignore your curiosity about Dylan’s personal life and thoughts, and appreciate his generosity in offering you as much as he has by giving you his poems, his songs. In the end you can know Bob Dylan much better than you know your next-door neighbor, because of what he shows you in his songs, and stop treating him as though he lived next door."

                                                                                                     Paul Williams, Crawdaddy,  August 1966

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