Was it What You Wanted?

by Jim Gillan



The last issue of Freewheeliní I mean. The one without my usual stream of unconscious nonsense. Well, however you might feel, even if itís only indifference, you canít change the past, but you can reinterpret it. As it happens, I simply forgot to put fingers to keyboard in time to meet the Spokeís dudline. But others might see it differently. Or not, as there was bugger all to see. But abnormal surplus has now resumed. 

So how does this grab you?  Itís from an exchange of email correspondence I stumbled across on a web site devoted to Gillian Welch, the topic being generated by a query about her religious beliefs. This poor woman attracts almost as much speculation as Bob, so no surprises that there was LOTS of scribblings, a couple of which are reproduced below. And of course Dylan gets mentioned. Hereís one:-

What if you hear a recording (or performance, or read the lyrics) of a song without knowing who the artist is?  Does the song not affect you until you someday find out who the artist is and what his/her beliefs are?
Post modern notions about texts having lives independent of their creators are very much logically grounded. Many texts from antiquity for which we have no authorial information have survived. Should we dismiss them? Can we? If an artist makes an interpretive statement about his/her creation, can we consider it authoritative? Honest? Can we take it at face value? Can we even be sure that it is poetically true? Many artists change their minds, are verbally inarticulate, are afraid of what people might think, are playful, etc.
Dylan's statements about his own biography and music, as well as about his religious beliefs, have, far from clarifying his art and beliefs (unless, for some individual readers, they have clarified things), spawned countless ongoing debates.
I also think it is very, very difficult to know whether someone is truly a "believer." Should we judge them by their words or by their actions? What does it mean to be a believer? Can we even agree on that? If you don't act according to what you think you believe or profess you believe, then do you really believe it?
Lastly, I don't think it's exclusively post-modern to create a work of art that explores beliefs different than one's own. To use the time-worn example of Shakespeare, he created characters that had beliefs of all kinds that pretty much covered the entire spectrum of beliefs and circumstances. Are we to believe that Shakespeare himself believed in all of them (if that is even possible)? One of the ancient Greek (or Roman, I forget) philosophers made the statement, "No thought is alien to me."
Art is created with the imagination, and our imaginations are able to place us in any circumstance, to contemplate any idea or feeling. Therefore, an artist can imagine himself to be anyone, and can create from any point of view. To say that a text is only valid if it's author's personal beliefs are in line with his/her text's is to denigrate the imaginative faculty, to claim that "reality" is somehow separate from and superior to "art." This is also a time-worn argument (see Plato). Make it if you like, but I personally find it to be like trying to limit the infinite (i.e. futile).
This is not to say that an artist's statement (or statements about the artist's life) might not have an affect on the reader/listener. But this effect is merely a process in the larger play of the text. All of these discussions are competing voices, voices sometimes competing with the "original" text. Our impressions of a text are constantly being re-shaped, our relationship to it re-framed. There are voices in the debate that are more or less persuasive, but no voice is Authoritative with a capital A, not even the artist's. That's the post-modern line.

And another:- 

I think authorial intention is a legitimate consideration when understanding an artistís work. Itís the artistic triangle: artist, work, and receiver. All art is autobiographical to some degree, even if itís fictional, because the work is an extension of the person (maybe this idea resonates more with Christians because if you perceive Godís authorial hand in creation, you would expect the same from the ďcreationsĒ of his creatures).
Speaking of Dylan, doesnít just about everyone find Blood on the Tracks a more poignant record for being written after a very painful divorce? Hasnít Gillian admitted that Soul Journey is a record where she ďtransparently sings about her own personal experiencesĒ? Is this a dull and unimaginative record?

Naturally(?) this got me to thinking(??) that itís got to be much simpler that all that. Brace yourselves, I have landed on a TruthÖ(???) 

Faith is like underwear, in that it is something that many folks take for granted, perhaps regard as essential, simply assume that it has to be there and cloak themselves in it just in case the unexpected and unwelcome happens.  Stick with me, there is a point to this.  I hope. 

Faith, like underwear, comes in lots of different labels, though arguably all of them do substantially the same thing, which is offer support, provide some control and act as something of a safety net. And the parallels have barely begun! Try this: Faith, like the underwear that might be found on any one shop may appear undifferentiated, but the wearer soon customises it. To explain: Faith gets interpreted to suit the conscience of the individual (if this is done by clerics itís called theology, if by the laity itís called heresy), whilst underwear is inevitably stretched and/or tucked to fit where necessary.  Both are equally elastic!  And like Faith, underwear needs to be looked after if it is to remain pure and unsullied. 

For some, Faith is as practical as a pair of boxer shorts. For others itís as uplifting as a balcony bra. Some may find it as constricting as a fully stiffened corset, or as uncomfortable as a too tight thong, whilst others find it as comforting as the famous Playtex eighteen hour girdle (now THAT really takes some believing). But ultimately itís an entirely personal matter for the individual, who may of course choose to let one or maybe others (some folks have more involved social lives than others) in on the secret. Victoriaís Secret for US readers. 

Some will always go for the plain/basic/functional - i.e. white cotton. Others might seek out extraordinarily exotic lingerie, the kind that has all sorts of seemingly impractical (but fun) bits to tighten and twang. Their theological equivalents might well be Primitive Baptists and Roman Catholics, particular those with a penchant for the old rituals. But who really knows?  As attending services is an imperfect indicator of belief or virtue, in much the same way that underwear offers little or no clue to occupation. Pole dancers aside. 

But apart from what a lover should know (and the rest of us possibly discover if an unexpected bus impacts), or hipster jeans hint at, what is up close and personal remains private. Itís sort of the same as what goes on inside the head of someone during quiet prayer. Now, Iím about the same size as a bus (and every bit as unreliable), so itís perhaps entirely understandable, though maybe less forgivable, that in an earlier Freewheeliní I went in to a fair bit of detail on some aspects of the lovely Mary Catherineís underwear. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. But she does have great legs and is something of an extrovert, so I may yet qualify for an indulgence of one sort or another. 

Anyway, just as I was losing all sense of direction (or maybe just all sense), I got to pondering on what sort of undie-grundies Dylan wears under his trousers. WELL WHY NOT? The poor bugger has been on the receiving end of just about every other sort of analysis and investigation, so itís about time it was directed at something sensible. Not that it needs many clues, because in the light of his tendency to shamble around in what often looks like cast-offs, plus the significance of his on-going religious epiphany and his tendency to question everything, itís obvious that Bob Dylanís underwear is indisputably a pair of holy old why-fronts! At least that what I believe. And if you know better, then tell Howard Sounes.