One infamous Dylanologist says Dylan’s aloof behavior toward Obama during White House concert explained by racism; other Dylan expert ‘strongly disagrees’
If there is just one thing to glean from President Barack Obama’s chat with Rolling Stone editor Jann Werner, perhaps it is this: Bob Dylan hates black people.
At least that’s what one of the most infamous and controversial “Dylanologists” said in an interview with The Daily Caller.
In the long heart-to-heart between the president and the Rolling Stone magazine editor, Obama recalls his encounter with the living legend, who played at the White House for “In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement” in February:
“[Bob Dylan] wouldn’t come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that. He came in and played “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I’m sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him.”
While Obama went on to say that Dylan was “exactly as you’d expect he would be,” for the ridiculed subculture meta-celebrity Dylanologist, A.J. Weberman, that behavior was just Dylan’s racism shifting from cryptic lyrics to cryptic gestures.
Having spent years laboriously decoding the messages hidden in Dylan’s songs and poems, Weberman says he’s seen an uncomfortable pattern, one that he says explains Dylan’s aloof behavior toward the president. (Weberman claims to have created and mastered the art of literally digging through Dylan’s garbage for evidence, “Garbology” to professionals.)
“[Dylan’s] hatred for blacks seems to have overtaken his desire to, you know, receive this kind of prestigious welcome,” said Weberman, who also remarked that the mere appearance of Dylan at the Obama White House is insignificant.
“[Dylan will] show up for anybody, for the Pope, doesn’t really matter. He’s looking to add another notch to his career as a performer.”
In an interesting interview, Weberman methodically decoded several Dylan songs for TheDC, which he believes proves Dylan’s dislike of African Americans. The author of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol,” “The Hurricane,” and “The Times They Are A’ Changing,” is, says Weberman, a pretty big racist. You just have to read between the color lines.
For TheDC’s benefit, Weber interpreted revealing sections of Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles: Volume 1 and described several songs which support his “idea [that Dylan] doesn’t like blacks” before decoding the more popular song,”Subterranean Homesick Blues”:
And then I looked at another song, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” where it’s also racist embedded meaning. And he says, “the pump don’t work, ’cause the vandals took the handles.” The pump, pumping money into the economy, giving blacks money, doesn’t work ‘cause the vandals, the liberals, took the handles. The ax handles, like Lester Maddox used to give out pickaxe handles in his chicken place to beat blacks so the whites can beat up blacks over the
head with them. Get it?
“Yeah,” said TheDC. TheDC actually meant to say “no.”
Up Next: The other side of Bob Dylan: he’s more conservative than his liberal appropriators let on
There’s an entire cottage industry built around deciphering, explaining, and creating the Bob Dylan. Editor of ISIS magazine — the “longest running Bob Dylan magazine still in print” — Derek Barker says there are over 500 books and pamphlets written about Dylan available in more than 26 languages.
Sean Curnyn’s extensively updated website Right-Wing Bob attempts to frame Dylan as more conservative than some would have you believe. Specifically, he’s set up the site to “challenge persistent fallacies regarding the Left’s ownership of Bob Dylan.” A frequent contributor to the New Ledger, Curnyn’s defense of a conservative Dylan has even appeared in The National Review.
So what is Curnyn’s take on Dylan’s behavior toward Obama?
“In a way, it’s refreshing that President Obama merely confirmed that Dylan had kept his distance, rather than trying to fabricate a false intimacy, which is something which happens a lot when you’re talking about Bob Dylan and the Left,” he said in an e-mail. “His history with presidents shows a pattern of liberal Democratic presidents and/or candidates embracing and/or endorsing him, with him being merely courteous in response …”
As for Republicans, Curnyn said Dylan isn’t — to the dismay of the left — critical of them; quite the opposite. Curnyn said Dylan’s favorite politician in the 1960s was Barry Goldwater and the famous protest singer even called Richard Nixon, “one of the most misunderstood people of the twentieth century, often maligned, but obviously capable of great humanity.”
As for Weberman’s assertion that Dylan is racist, Curnyn said he “strongly disagrees.”
Curnyn loves and genuinely cares about Dylan’s music. It’s why he writes so extensively on the subject, he said. But he also continues to write because so many other people love Dylan who have “this general and consistent preoccupation with knowing what Dylan thinks or believes about certain things.”
“People down through the decades have talked about it, written about it and made assertions about what Dylan believes or whose side he’s on … I’ve just tried in my writing from my own point of view, to set the record straight.”
So the interpretations of the Bob Dylan are as varied as the man’s persona and its significance as important as a Rolling Stone interview. As Dylan’s Medicine Man would say: My advice is to not let the boys in …
Laura Donovan contributed to this story.