Rick Moody

These lines are written at 5 AM on Thanksgiving, which means that they are written in hopelessness and in an abject state of sleepless longing for something meaningful among the cultural detritus around us. Write a punctuation mark, give up hope. Write a period, despair completely. What you find in a photograph of Bob Dylan jamming with Cher is, on the one hand, that there is hope, because a kid from Minnesota can come to New York with just a love of the music of a forgotten America and conquer the world, and yet on the other hand it is also abundantly apparent that there is no purity, and all is contaminated, and those who would have purity are like the almsgivers who rend their own garments in the temple in Jerusalem. Cher stands for everything that Bob Dylan occasionally is. She also has, on occasion, a nice voice, so deep, so resonant. I don't think she has sung a single meaningful song. Not one. Upon traveling in Italy in 1999, I couldn't go anywhere, in Puglia, without hearing Cher, auto-tuned, singing "I Believe." In what should we believe? We should believe that Bob Dylan knows exactly what he's doing, and that his oscillations between the sincere and the completely contaminated are coherently navigated by an intelligence that is fierce, slightly cynical, and totally provocative, and that these are balanced by an intuitive understanding of spirituality in music. One wonders, in a photograph of Dylan jamming with Cher (and with Rick Danko like a ghost looking away from the action), what song they were playing, and what "jam" would mean for Cher in this moment. Wailing like Yoko over some twelve-bar blues? Covering a classic by the Carter family? OR Blind Lemon Jefferson? And does Bob Dylan ever become embarrassed by the need to wear sunglasses indoors and at night? I am embarrassed for him. I am embarrassed by the sunglasses. And the eyeliner at advanced years. And the white face paint during the Rolling Thunder tour. On the other hand, at moments when one wishes to condemn Bob Dylan for changing his surname or for all the albums between DESIRE and GOOD AS I BEEN TO YOU, which is rather a long stretch, you have to remember the astonishing achievements of the middle sixties, and the way in which he continues to make the lost indigenous music of America safe for the kids who think that the auto-tuning on "I Believe," by Cher, sounded kind of cool. This contradictory set of characteristics has a Beckettian cast to it. Indeed, though we often think of Dylan as though he is a Chaplin or a Keaton (humorous and utterly without discernible affect), he is more like a character from Beckett--complex, paradoxical, dressed in rags, forsaken by God--than his is like a silent film star. I'm thinking of "I can't go on, I'll go on," from the Beckett trilogy, as a sort of matrix sentence for the Bob Dylan who would jam with Cher. There we have a paradox that leads to an indomitable truth: make a punctuation mark, give up all hope. Apply fingers to frets of guitar, forget everything you ever knew about music. Salute the flag, damn America eternally. Sing with Cher, make history for the American song.  

QuickMuse recommends: