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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007


250 years old today. In The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia you'll find him on pages 51-55, 61, 179, 196, 215-220, 246, 256, 257, 363, 415, 451, 529, 619 and 689. There are few characters in English literature and art as wholly compelling - his work so immediately recognisable and distinctive, his life so affecting, and the fusion of art and life so powerful at bringing a whole era of London alive. If you haven't read it, I recommend Peter Ackroyd's Blake (1995). As for Dylan connections, well they may not be important in the huge totality that is Blake, but they've been mooted in writings about Dylan since at least the late 1960s, when Greil Marcus, in the San Francisco Express-Times, used a poem of Blake's to show the idiocy of A.J. Weberman's approach to code-cracking "interpretations" of Dylan; and the first edition of Song & Dance Man (1972) compared a particular Blake prose-poem passage with Dylan's sleevenotes to Highway 61 Revisited.

Blake's reputation now seems secure, but it wasn't always so. This is the entry on Blake, William, beat/hippie revival of, in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (p.54):

"20th Century social poets such as Peter Porter have recoiled from the beat/hippie revival of Blake, either disliking per se exactly those mystical qualities for which he is a New Age hero, or else simply objecting to his appropriation. ‘William Blake, William / Blake, William Blake, William Blake, / say it and feel new!’, sneers a verse of Porter’s poem ‘Japanese Jokes’. Poet and critic Fred Grubb’s misremembrance of this salvo, offered inside a book review, is pithier: ‘Blake! Blake! Blake! Say it and feel good’. Porter’s attack may have beat poet ALLEN GINSBERG in mind - a Blake fan who was almost certainly one conduit for Dylan’s absorption of Blake.

Porter and his friends are complaining as if there were just one warping of Blake’s otherwise correct and static reputation. It’s never been like that. Max Plowman, writing his irrepressible Introduction to the Study of Blake in the 1920s, felt that at last ‘the day seems to be not far distance when… apologies will be unnecessary and the complete Blake will be no longer regarded as a narcotic for numbskulls, but will stare every university undergraduate full in the face.’ "

[Peter Porter: ‘Japanese Jokes’, Last Of England, 1970. Fred Grubb: ‘Mountaineer’, London Magazine, Dec 1989-Jan 1990. Max Plowman, Introduction to the Study of Blake, London; Dent, 1927, p.2.]

And the rest of us.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Dont know if you have seen this yet:

Would be interested to hear what you think of it. Its also obvious that Greer has not heard Benjamin Britten's brilliant version of 'O Rose' in the 'Serenade for Tenpr, Horn & Strings'

5:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should add that I am a big fan of Morrissey's & regard him as a very fine lyricist (esp. on "Vauxhall & I ", which is, perhaps, his best solo album). But he's not in the Dylan league, by any standards...

On another point, have been reading Debbie Curtis' book on Ian Curtis - in which she prints all of the lyrics he wrote for Joy Division (which were outstanding)...

It struck me reading them, however, that the lyric for 'Wilderness' shows a clear resemblance to "Hard Rain"

5:47 am  

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