The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tarantula

A Bad Literary Joke



I've always considered Bob Dylan to be one of the great poets of modern times. Some people have said he's not really a poet but a songwriter. Yet from a historic perspective there is really no distinction, since originally all poetry was intended to be sung. In fact all good poetry (except free verse) should be able to be set to music, whether or not the poet ever actually composed any.

In any case it is very possible to consider many of Dylan's songs as musical poetry, especially things like Mr. Tambourine Man or some of the stuff from Blood on the Tracks. It was this admiration for Dylan's songwriting that made me glad to have the chance recently to read Bob Dylan's first book, the intriguely titled Tarantula.

Alas, to my surprise the title is the most interesting part of the book, which overall is an unbearable, incomprehensible bore. The Wikipedia has this to say about this "novel" which I would contend would be better described as just a collection of words.

Tarantula is an experimental novel by Bob Dylan, written between 1965 and 1966. It employs stream of consciousness writing, somewhat in the style of Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg. One section of the book parodies the Leadbelly song "Black Betty". Reviews of the book liken it to his self-penned liner notes to two of his albums recorded around the same time, Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited.

This is not accurate, the liner notes on those albums were far superior to anything in Tarantula. Nor is the comparison to Kerouac justified, his stream of consciousness novels were never this sloppy or obscure. The Wikipedia continues:

Dylan would later cite Tarantula as a book he had never fully signed up to write: "Things were running wild at that point. It never was my intention to write a book." He went on to equate the book to John Lennon's nonsensical work In His Own Write, and implied that his former manager Albert Grossman signed up Dylan to write the novel without the singer's full consent.

It's good to know that Dylan didn't really intend to write a book, because he didn't really write one. The one comparison between Dylan and Kerouac that is accurate is that the worst insult ever hurled at Kerouac, delivered unjustly by Truman Capote, does in fact apply to Dylan, "That's not writing, that's typing." Nor is it fair to compare Tarantula to the witty and intelligent John Lennon book, since Tarantula is neither. The book is an obvious rip-off, a bunch of nonsense Dylan typed up to justify a contract he never wanted to fulfill in the first place and then released by a greedy publisher just to make a quick buck. Again from the Wikipedia:

Although it was to be edited by Dylan and published in 1966, his motorcycle accident in July '66 prevented this. Numerous bootleg versions of the book were available on the black market through 1971, when it was officially published. In the early 21st century, it was translated into French

The "early 21st century" reprinting was no doubt done for yet another round of rip-offs designed to cash-in on the 2003 release of Dylan's second book, the infinitely superior Chronicles.



In sharp contrast to Tarantula, Chronicles shows Dylan to be every bit as good a writer as one would have hoped. In that book Dylan writes with passion and insight about subjects he cares about, and leaves one wishing he would write more.

But one would never wish for another Tarantula. In 2003 Spin magazine did an article called the "Top Five Unintelligible Sentences From Books Written by Rock Stars." Dylan came in first place with "Now's not the time to get silly, so wear your big boots and jump on the garbage clowns."

But is the book really completely worthless? In a literary sense yes it is, although socially it may have had some value when first released. No doubt many people bought it simply to carry it around and look cool while sitting in coffeehouses pretending to read it. Hey, books have been purchased for much worse reasons, and by less deserving authors.

Proud Turnout



I continue to be impressed by the great turnouts reported nationwide for the "Tea Party" protests against the increasing deterioration of our liberty and financial security. Despite the attempts by some major media and the political class to downplay the protests, you can be sure that today in the White House and the halls of Congress they are trembling. I was especially impressed by the turnout in Springfield, as reported by Tony Mateaus. Check it out here.

And of course Deadhead Ann was right on target:



I had no idea how important this week's nationwide anti-tax tea parties were until hearing liberals denounce them with such ferocity. The New York Times' Paul Krugman wrote a column attacking the tea parties, apologizing for making fun of "crazy people." It's OK, Paul, you're allowed to do that for the same reason Jews can make fun of Jews.

-Ann Coulter


Clean Past

I saw this old fashioned washing machine at the Carriage Shops in Amherst. It had a date on it of 1888.



Better Than Jail

On King Street today I ran into my friend Alex. He was in rehab with me. The device on his leg is to allow law enforcement to monitor him.



You may think he looks young to have already been through drug rehab, but frankly I was surprised to see in rehab the number of people at twenty who had been through drug horrors I didn't experience until I was 40.

Today's Video



Members of the Amherst band ZEBU bounce to explore the strange while doing a Marvin Gaye cover.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeeze Tommy, I got my copy of Tarantula at Johnson's Used Books in '74 or '75, (along with my copy of 'On the Road'):what were you reading, that overly-deterministic right wing Ayn Rand stuff?

I always thought 'Tarantula' was unreadable.....