Dylanology 101

It is in these moments ~ the subtextual ones, where Dylan himself is not necessarily revealed, but the intense web of allusions that make up his work and his popularity are ~ that I’m Not There, No Direction Home, and Don't Look Back get at just why he is, humanoid or not, an "archive of American mythology." He survives in our minds because of the shared nostalgia he has come to represent, because he is, for those of us who see identity as infinitely malleable, the secondary handhold we need. There's a throwaway moment at the tail end of Pennebaker's film in which one of Dylan's entourage, speeding away with the musician from a throng of British fans outside yet another venue's service entrance, in yet another car so dark it seems to absorb and dim the glow of the streetlamps, calls Dylan "the vanishing American." It is this elusiveness that reflects the elusiveness of a vanishing America, a spectral, idealistic place where the American promise and the American people still seem, from this nostalgic viewpoint at least, to work in unison. For anyone who has ever heard and responded to a Dylan song ~ and I would venture a guess that most people who come across this piece fit into that category ~ his mystique is as personal as it is political, reminding us of a time in our lives in which we believed that authenticity, or on the other hand the elasticity of identity, would win the day. But even in 1965 he was vanishing before our eyes, like the America which time had obliterated. "It looks like its dying," he sang, speaking to that part of us which clings to our hopes but lowers our expectations, "and it's hardly been born."


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