Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Bob Dylan: the Television Commercials

For the second week in a row, I’m offering up a different sort of Dr. Bob Prescribes (DBP) post.  Yesterday’s Music History Monday marked the private ceremony, held on April 1, 2017, during which Bob Dylan received his Novel Prize for Literature.  Typically, if I were to follow my usual modus operandi in today’s DBP, I would now be prescribing for you my favorite Bob Dylan album (or albums).

Bob Dylan in 1965: a taciturn, razor-thin super-hipster
Bob Dylan in 1965: a taciturn, razor-thin super-hipster

But circumstances force a confession: with the exception of “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits,” (pictured above), I don’t own any of Dylan’s albums.  In fact – and I trust his will not affect your good opinion of me – I’ve never been much of a Bob Dylan fan.  And while I recognize and acknowledge his greatness, I personally have never thought much of his attitude, his voice, or even, with a few exceptions, his songs.

Okay, color me a barbarian; you wouldn’t be the first. I can handle it.

But as for the various “personas” Dylan has concocted/projected over the course of his 60-plus year career: those personas have always fascinated me.  Cool to the point of detachment, Dylan is, in fact, a middle-class Jewish nebbish from Hibbing Minnesota crossed with a dustbowl Okie, Beat poet, Nashville ‘cat, Born Again evangelist, Delta Bluesman, with a little bit of Charlie Chaplin thrown in to round things out. 

Despite all of his “mythologizing” (lying?) about himself and his life, from the beginning of his career, Dylan has consistently projected the image of a taciturn super-hipster who would claim that his songs do his talking for him. 

(In in 1967, the 26-year-old Dylan told a reporter from Time magazine:

“I got nothing to say about these things I write. I don’t write them for any reason. There’s no great message. I mean, if, you know, you wanna tell other people that, go ahead and tell them, but I’m not going to have to answer to it.”)

Dylan circa 2016
Dylan circa 2016; well, at least he still has his teeth

And the evolving Dylan “looks”: from the razor-thin, frizzy haired, chain smoking, jeans-wearing counter-culture hippie of the 1960s to someone The New Yorker’s David Remnick compared to a miniature:

“Vincent Price wearing Hank Williams’s clothes, [a] pencil mustache, [and a] white Stetson.”

According to the playwright and author Sam Shepard: 

“Dylan has made himself up from scratch. That is, from the things around him and inside him. Dylan is an invention of his own mind.” 

That is indeed the truth.  But given his outsider, anti-establishment, hipster iconoclasm, perhaps the very last reinvention anyone expected from Bob Dylan was as a corporate pitchman.  (In fact, “huckster” would not be too strong a word!)…

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