What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Friday, October 14, 2016

John Leonard's "Blowing His Nose in the Wind"

Bob Dylan (Illustration by Andy Friedman)
As an antidote to all the overwrought tributes to Bob Dylan posted on (see, for example, David Remnick’s “Let’s Celebrate the Bob Dylan Nobel Win”), check out John Leonard’s acidly brilliant “Blowing His Nose in the Wind” (included in Leonard’s posthumous 2012 essay collection Reading For My Life), in which he scorns Dylan for, among other things, his rotten treatment of Joan Baez (“Bob used Joan to get famous and then did everything he could think of to ridicule and degrade her, to which she responded with a love song, ‘Diamonds and Rust,’ that would have shamed any other cad this side of Dr. Kissinger’s princely narcissism”). Leonard writes,

So now ask yourself if Dylan’s notorious indifference to the niceties of cutting a record, to the relative merits of a multitude of sessions musicians, to the desires and opinions of his fans and audience, to whether he had any business on a stage, taking their money, when he was wired out of his skull, or in a recording studio, martyrizing thugs like Joey Gallo; combined with his disdain for former colleagues, ex-friends, and previous incarnations, contempt for other artists like Harry Belafonte and Theodore Bikel who cared about causes he could no longer use, like civil rights, and surliness unto Road Rage; even his unintelligible weirdness on such public occasions as his accepting the Tom Paine award from the Emergency Civil Liberties Union in November 1963 with a monologue that empathized with Lee Harvey Oswald – “But I got to stand up and say I saw things that he felt in me,” which must be what inspired Jerry Rubin, five years later, to proclaim that “Sirhan Sirhan is a Yippie!” – well, ask yourself if some of this might have owed as much to chemicals as it did to authenticity.

For tonic relief from The New Yorker’s hyperventilation over Mr. Tambourine Man’s Nobel win, I recommend John Leonard’s great “Blowing His Nose in the Wind.”

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