With the announcement that Bob Dylan (+ Dawes) will play Barton on April 14th, students went bonkers with excitement. After one day, the Facebook event had over 1,000 attendees. Some would call this heartwarming—a younger generation paying respect to one of its elders. I call it an epidemic.
Faux Dylan Mania is a remarkable yet common psychological phenomenon. It can be traced to a related syndrome, Dylan Projection Disorder (DPD), which first appeared in the late 1970s after Dylan’s conversion to Christianity. Feeling abandoned, Dylan’s largely non-Christian fanbase began looking for ways to minimize, and eventually deny Dylan’s conversion. The delusion was powerful, with Dylan winning his first Grammy in 10 years for his gospel song “Gotta Serve Somebody”. (Realizing they were duped, they mocked him for the next two years with “Best Inspirational Performance” nominations.)
Realizing that his poetic and evangelistic reach (and record sales, if you believe he cared) would suffer, Dylan fed confusing information to his fans, saying “I’ve never said I’m born again” and that he belongs to “the Church of the Poison Mind”. The objective observer saw that this was typical independent Dylan, who was distancing himself from the evangelical movement, but fans fell headlong into Dylan Projection Disorder and believed that the old Dylan had returned. He never did. Dylan continues to incorporate religious themes into his lyrics, even releasing a Christmas album in 2009.
DPD is classified as a projection disorder because sufferers ascribe a false persona to Dylan which suits their ideological need to be seen as intellectual children of the 60s. For this group, Dylan is the perfect hipster chieftan. Dylan was indeed a part of the civil rights movement, but his lyrics were sufficiently vague that a broad progressive message was stretched over them. Dylan was a projected character from his earliest days: he had much to say, but it was not leftist; rather, it was conservative. Don’t believe me? This should suffice:
“I had a primitive way of looking at things and I liked country fair politics. My favorite politician was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who reminded me of Tom Mix, and there wasn’t any way to explain that to anybody. I wasn’t that comfortable with all the psycho polemic babble. It wasn’t my particular feast of food. Even the current news made me nervous. I liked old news better.” (Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles 2004)
“I really wasn’t so much a part of what they call ‘the Sixties.’” Even though you’re so identified with it? “Evidently I was, and maybe even still am. I was there during that time, but I really couldn’t identify with what was happening.” (Rolling Stone 2012)
The true genius of Dylan is that his identity is hidden in plain sight. Bob Dylan is the most universally praised conservative on Earth. Reading contemporary accounts of Dylan in this light is extremely gratifying. For example, President Obama suffers from DPD too: “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music… I remember, in college, listening to Bob Dylan, and my world opened up.” Actually, Barry, you were just looking for validation, and you projected onto Dylan. He was singing for wisdom and respect, not progressive politics.
Obama recounts Dylan performing “The Times They Are A-Changin’” at the White House in 2010: “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.” Despite Dylan’s snub, Obama displays classic DPD: “I thought: That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.” Obama awarded Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom two years later. Dylan on Obama: “Look, I only met him a few times. I mean, what do you want me to say? He loves music. He’s personable. He dresses good. What the fuck do you want me to say?”
I hope you’re starting to realize that Dylan has grown to coyly appreciate being misinterpreted. He knows that his very existence is a seed of contradiction embedded within the liberal consciousness.
Though times have a-changed, the pathology of Dylan Projection has remanifested in a new generation. Faux Dylan Mania (FDM) incorporates all the symptoms of DPD, but appears in a wider population of casual music consumers. “His music has been inspirational for over 50 years and we’ll all be able to take something away from his visit”, proclaims one afflicted student. What inspired this student? Perhaps it was Dylan’s anti-Vietnam activism, as the Cornell Daily Sun notes: “much of Dylan’s music has become emblematic of the Civil Rights Movement and of protests against the Vietnam War”. Ah, the deep delusions of FDM. From 1968:
Probably the most pressing thing going on in a political sense is the war. Now I’m not saying any artist or group of artists can change the course of the war, but they still feel it their responsibility to say something.
Dylan: I know some very good artists who are for the war.
Well, I’m just talking about the ones who are against it.
Dylan: That’s like what I’m talking about; it’s for or against the war. That really doesn’t exist. It’s not for or against the war. I’m speaking of a certain painter, and he’s all for the war. He’s just about ready to go over there himself. And I can comprehend him.
Why can’t you argue with him?
Dylan: I can see what goes into his painting, and why should I?
My feeling is that with a person who is for the war and ready to go over there, I don’t think it would be possible for you and him to share the same values.
Dylan: I’ve known him a long time, he’s a gentleman and I admire him, he’s a friend of mine. People just have their views. Anyway, how do you know that I’m not, as you say, for the war?
If you’ve read this far without having an existential crisis, you are cured. Love him or hate him, you are now equipped to understand Bob Dylan.
I’d like to thank the Cornell Concert Commission for allowing Dylan to invite himself to Cornell. Dylan’s choice of a college tour is notable—I leave it to the reader to see why.
Lucas Policastro is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published on the Cornell Insider.