Kenneth Rexroth – “Bob Dylan” (1965)

July 14, 2009 at 2:34 pm (Bob Dylan, Kenneth Rexroth, Music, Reviews & Articles)

Taken from poet Kenneth Rexroth’s regular column Rexroth’s San Francisco, April 21, 1965, from the San Francisco Examiner, comes this short article on Bob Dylan and he quotes from an article that critic Ralph J. Gleason had written the previous week…


In the newspaper business it isn’t considered cricket to even notice the competition. This time I just can’t resist the temptation. Last Sunday an opposition column [probably Ralph Gleason in the San Francisco Chronicle] led off with the statement: “the winds of change, which have blown so strongly in recent years that they have sharply defined the gap between the generations, have produced in Bob Dylan the most eloquent spokesman for human justice since Thomas Paine.”

This is certainly about as rash a statement as anybody could make, but, although I don’t agree with it, I’m not interested in disputing it. What is important is that it could be made, by a mature man with a sharp ear and a sharper taste in popular entertainers, jazz, folksongs and related subjects.

I suggest you borrow your kids’ Bob Dylan records and play them over for yourself, listening carefully. This treatment will doubtless give many a conventional parent running and barking fits. Let’s hope it gives the intelligent ones furiously to think. As it says on sundials, It Is Later Than You Think. The schism of the soul, as Arnold Toynbee called it, between the generations in the USA is deeper and wider than you think.

Bob Dylan’s songs are a cry of anguished moral outrage against the mess the oldies persist in making out of a world in which all men could be guaranteed lives of peace and modest comfort if only the will existed. The social protest, pseudo-folk singers of the last generation were ultimately derived from Café Society Downtown, and they were only too obviously politically motivated. For this reason alone few people listened to them for long, least of all the young, who have sharper ears than any critic for the cooked up voice of protest.

But nobody is manipulating Bob Dylan. This is a voice from the grass roots and the heartstrings of an ever increasingly alienated youth. Only a little while ago the limits of social protest, at least amongst white singers, was the team of Peter, Paul and Mary. Now the kids put them down as, for all their good intentions, “too show biz.”

Dylan and Joan Baez draw unlimited crowds. Joan, in fact, sings in the largest auditorium available wherever she appears, and ties up traffic. And neither she nor Dylan are buying any of it at all; their attitude towards our society is simply, flatly, that it is wrong.

This is why angry letters to the editor about how the students at Berkeley should be given a taste of strap oil and made to study their lessons, show only that the writers are unaware of the profound and constant sense of outrage felt by thousands and thousands of the most articulate and sensitive and intelligent young people today.

Even if the general public is not yet aware of the meaning of what is going on, the policy makers in Washington are, and so are those in the churches. When a society starts to split, to come apart at the seams, it is in danger of foundering.

Kenneth Rexroth


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