According to President Obama’s Rolling Stone magazine interview (the fallout of which is summarized in this Daily Caller article), Bob Dylan was aloof at a White House concert he put on for Obama. In the President’s own words:
“[Bob Dylan] wouldn’t come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that. He came in and played “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. 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.”
To me this comment is a very revealing window on the state of his mind – Obama’s that is, not Dylan’s. Apparently, one reason Obama wanted to be President was that he could invite famous musicians to perform at the White House for him and then swoon over him. And when Dylan refused to follow the program, well that just isn’t done. What a shallow egomaniac the President is! Instead of wallowing in celebrity adulation so much, why doesn’t the President spend more of his finite time thinking about the economy? As blogger Rand Simberg once put it (sorry I couldn’t find the exact post), Obama is an arrogant man with much to be modest about.
Now is Dylan a crypto-conservative as some of the Dylanologists quoted in the rest of the Daily Caller article argue? Well, certainly somebody who got baptized in Pat Boone’s swimming pool and who wrote the lyrics to the song, Gotta Serve Somebody, is hardly a doctrinaire left-wing hipster. I think the answer is that he is simply his own man - somebody who isn’t under the sway of any ideology.
But it does kind of put into new light why his fans reacted with such vehemence in 1965 when he ‘went electric’. I could never understand until recently why they reacted so strongly to Dylan for what is simply a style change. It was only when I recently read that folk music had been, since its inception, a left-wing project sponsored by the Communist Party of America that I understood the source of their anger. The folkies were pissed because they thought they detected heresy. And maybe they did! By going electric, Dylan signaled that he wasn’t going to be another doctrinaire left-wing mediocrity like Woody Guthrie - Dylan’s early hero. Woody Guthrie’s ideology (and therefore his music) was preserved in ideological amber, but Dylan kept growing and maturing. Which is why so many of Dylan’s songs are listenable today while so many of Guthrie’s songs just sound silly.