Essays

How the Best of One Person Brings Out the Worst in Everyone Else

     I’ve been watching I’m Not There, the Todd Haynes film about Bob Dylan. It is brilliant, poetic, and very Dylanesque. Six different actors play six different identities that Dylan seems to have worn. He often purposely reinvented himself, at least partly, out of frustration at people trying to pin him down, examine him, and label him.
     I’ve always been so amazed at how people generally “look a gift horse in the mouth” in relation to great artists. They have been bestowed with astounding creations that become the stuff of the culture itself, and instead of being simply thankful, they launch into examinations of the artist as a person, inappropriately evaluating for him, stalking him, making demands, and even insulting him. Why do people dare to try to take genius apart and control it?
     When you finally come to understand Bob Dylan as a person, you should arrive at the conclusion that that is not what you were after, after all, which is what he was trying to tell us all along. If you had met him somewhere before he was famous, you may have liked him or you may have not. But making his acquaintance would not have shaped your life in the way that his art has. We have to remember that the magic of an artist is in his art. It’s so simple, really.
     Yes, of course, the art, being so powerful, draws us to the artist, and we want more and more of his art, which remains somewhat of a mystery to us, because, after all, it is magic. Mystery sticks us to things, and we want to solve it, and so we begin to try to look inside the artist as the source of the magic, in order to solve the mystery. But inevitably, what you find is that he’s just a guy who’s a great communicator, and he, himself, may not even know why. Artists have often expressed that they don’t know where their ideas come from.
     But still, we try to probe the person, who is, after all, a spirit. A spirit is invisible. You can’t see him – only his body, clothes, actions. And so we stare. And we want a piece of his physicality. But that will never lead us to the answer of the riddle we’re trying to solve, which is: Where does this amazing music come from? This poetry?
     As I said, the artist may not know. He often feels it’s a gift.
     The truth is that this kind of creation IS CREATION – the way anything anywhere is a creation. If it has beauty or truth, if it stirs you, it is godlike, and you know it. Sometimes you may find you LIVE to experience someone’s music, poetry, painting. It takes you to a higher level, and you wonder how you could have existed without it. It may take you to yourself. This is a divine thing!
     It may then inspire YOU to create, for you have been touched by something so much higher or outside of this earthly grind. Well, you have to remember that it was someone’s ART that lifted or transported you or awakened your own ability to arouse souls. The art is the magic. Poems or even just rhymes can act like spells or incantations. Combinations of words or colors or sounds or images produce effects on people, that are just as real as the science and math we studied in school.
     But the artist is just the purveyor of these effects. When you love the design of a car, do you seek out the designer in order to study him or know him?
     People have always wanted Bob Dylan to be a hero. He could have been, but he didn’t desire that role. He was moved to create music, and he did, thank God. He gave us so much music, and he’s still giving. We need to thank him and leave him alone, because he does not wish to be a spokesperson for anything.
     Emily Dickinson would love that she is so loved by the world. And she would have welcomed questions about life. But still, her art is her art. It isn’t Emily. She’s been examined to death, and she’s been found to have some interesting qualities. But none of that examination explains where the amazing wordage came from. Not really. It just came. And there it is. We should just be very glad, because she wanted us to have her poems.
     Dylan wants us to have his music. We do.
     I’ve lived with artists all my life. They are no mystery to me, although their art may be. Their ability to create amazing art is, I believe, the best thing about them. They are operating from a higher level. And some artists make living itself an art. They can be amazing to watch. But some do not. Some are alcoholics in their regular lives or insane or rude or slovenly. Some beat their wives or are terrible parents.
     Jaco Pastorius, probably the greatest bass player of all time, who created music of such great beauty, sensitivity, style, and taste and was like a wizard on stage, drove his friends so crazy and was so bad at keeping his life together, that it ultimately resulted in an annoyed bouncer accidentally killing him.
     My husband is the bass player of a well-known Midwest rock band. I’ll never forget the day that a friend of his through his day job brought his wife to a gig. We were in the backstage area, while the band was packing up. The wife, whom I was talking to, kept drifting out of the conversation, because she was watching every move my husband made – watching how he put his bass in the case, how he walked to the car, as if he were a god. She finally apologized and said, “You get to see him all the time, but this is really new to me.” She had never been so close to “fame.” It was pretty weird from my perspective.
     I always remember Julia Roberts’ line in Notting Hill. She played a superstar, and she says to Hugh Grant, “It’s not real, you know – the fame.” And I remember a magazine interview with Robert Redford years ago, where he tried to explain how strange it is to be famous – that the person everyone is talking and writing about is not you, but a fabrication that comes about from the various bits of information and supposition gathered about you. He explained that there are all these things said about “Robert Redford” but that they aren’t really talking about HIM. The public simply doesn’t know him.
     One of the most ridiculous examples of audience stupidity was the screaming Beatles fans of the 1960’s. I don’t want to be too hard on them, as they were mostly highly hormonal and emotionally repressed 12 to 15-year-old girls who simply didn’t know what hit them. But they screamed so loudly and continuously during the concerts, that no one could hear the music! Beatle George Harrison, in particular, became increasingly perturbed about this, until they were having to persuade him not to quit.
     Bob Dylan took great pains through the years to keep the public from knowing him. Naturally, though, this just created more mystique and more supposition. It’s human nature to fill in the blanks with whatever. On top of that, you have journalists and paparazzi constantly twisting and inventing just to boost magazine sales and TV ratings. Dylan has enough to do just to keep wearing his hat as our favorite minstrel, while keeping the rest of his life going in a normal way. He shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to avoid the circus.
     I think we should simply thank him for his music and let him go home.

Copyright © 2008 by Carole T. Eddington. All rights reserved.

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