Sooner or later Bob Dylan will pass away and millions of our fellow citizens will ask, “Who was Bob Dylan?” The media will be full of obituaries, photographs, interviews and documentaries and the vast majority of us will ask, “What’s all the fuss about?”
We learned yesterday that the producers of the popular primetime BBC1 quiz show Pointless had asked a sample of 100 people to name a Dylan album – and only 4 could do so. A university student on yesterday’s show couldn’t name a single album and had to stand dumbfounded and helpless whilst her father racked his brain to come up with an answer.
Is it just me who finds this level of ignorance truly staggering? Here we have a contemporary artist, arguably a genius, whose 30+ studio albums and countless live albums and compilation albums have sold in their tens of millions throughout the world, whose songs have been covered by just about every major recording artist, whose songwriting and lyrics have been a major influence on generations of musicians since the early 1960s – whose work is now unknown and unimportant as far as the young people and in fact the majority in our country are concerned?
“How does it feel –
To be on your own
A complete unknown –
Like a rolling stone?”
It gets worse. Most of us can’t name a Leonard Cohen or a Van Morrison album either. Not one. A few of us know “Moondance”. The gentleman on yesterday’s show thought “Astral Weeks” would be a “pointless” answer. We didn’t get to find out whether it was because to his (and to my own) amazement “Nashville Skyline” was “pointless”.
Art is a subject in our national curriculum. Do we expect the history of art to be part of our children’s education? Music is also in our national curriculum. Should we expect the history of music to be part of the curriculum?
As far as our young people are concerned the 1960s – the era of civil rights and the international struggle for equal rights – is pretty much ancient history. It’s an era that conservatives would like to forget, or to erase from our collective memory. Dylan (as well as Cohen, Morrison, and others) was a major influence on the culture of the USA, Britain and Europe throughout that time. Do our young people have a right to have access to his (their) work? They won’t find it on Radio 1 (or find Dylan on Spotify) – so how do they discover it for themselves? Maybe we think they should be brought up on Hiphop, Britpop, Coldplay, Beyonce, Beethoven, Bach & Elgar.
Or maybe we can think again about the purposes as well as the content of our systems of education.
Let our Secretary of State say what she likes about the utility of the arts – the rest of us have a duty to take a more enlightened approach.
“No reason to get excited”,
The thief – he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour is getting late”
Art and artists are not pointless. Neither is arts education.
The Albums of Bob Dylan: 1) http://www.bobdylan.com/us/albums
“Dylan’s lyrics have incorporated a variety of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences. They defied existing pop music conventions . . . “
“Dylan is always several steps ahead of his interpreters: just when they seem to have him surrounded, he reveals a new side”