Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Baba Di-Lan

From a book review of a new book on Bob Dylan, "Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet" by Seth Rogovoy :

...It should be said that those who labor in the vineyards of Dylanology (and I’m now working on my own take on him) owe Rogovoy a great debt for persuasively tracking so many Dylan words, lines, and allusions to Biblical sources we might not have noticed. But should we therefore expect Dylan to behave himself as a specifically Jewish artist?

Rogovoy tries to make the case that the most important thing about Dylan is his Jewishness. Even when Dylan converted to Christianity, Rogovoy assures us, he—and his songs—were still really Jewish. And for a time—after the explicitly Christian period of the late seventies and early eighties passed—when Dylan was seen on Chabad Lubavitcher telethons and then, more privately at Chabad services all over the map, it seemed like Dylan had finally found his home in the messianic Hasidic sect.

But then, somewhat to Rogovoy’s misfortune, just as this book proclaiming Dylan’s essential Jewishness was about to be published, Dylan’s label made an announcement that even those like myself, no longer easily shocked by Dylan’s choices, found shocking. Rogovoy’s Jewish “prophet, mystic, poet” was going to release a “traditional” Christmas album, entitled “Christmas in the Heart.” Yes, we all know (as Garrison Keillor churlishly reminded us recently) that Jews have written many Christmas songs, but mostly of the secular “White Christmas” sort. In this album Dylan sings real devotional songs, including “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Could there be a connection between Rogovoy’s book and the Christmas album? Rogovoy is so relentless in nailing every Dylan utterance to some Biblical or Talmudic or kabbalistic source that on some level Dylan might have known he was about to be tied to this procrustean bed of piety for good. This is more metaphorical conjecture than biographical theory. But if you watch the video of “Must be Santa” from the Christmas in the Heart album (by far the best thing on it), you see a Dylanesque guy desperately trying to flee from a Christmas party and hurling himself through the glass of the venue to escape it.

That’s Dylan: more escape artist than preacher.

And this:

For many years I worshiped Dylan. I occasionally referred to him as Baba Di-lan, Aramaic for “our gateway,” to truth and wisdom [בבא דילן]. For some reason, I always wanted him to be very deeply Jewish, whether or not he was. I felt that he saw things in their stark reality, that his prophetic vision penetrated to the core of everything and his poetic genius enabled him to share that with others.

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