Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album (Part 1)

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Seth Rogovoy, author of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet, is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

jewish authors blogMy new book, Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet (Scribner) — a critical biography of the rock poet that examines his life and work through a Jewish prism — hasn’t even been officially published yet (that happens next Tuesday, Nov. 24), but already I’m getting used to having to address the question on everyone’s minds: But what about the Christmas album?

Last month, Bob Dylan released Christmas In the Heart (Columbia), a collection of fifteen popular and obscure seasonal numbers, featuring hymns, carols, and novelties, including “Winter Wonderland,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silver Bells,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and “The First Noel.” Like anything and everything Bob Dylan does, the effort has been examined under a microscopic for clues as to what it says about Dylan’s state of mind and, not the least, for any indication of his ever-elusive religious beliefs.

Down that road, my friend, lies trouble.

bob dylan by seth rogovoyTrying to mine any biographical truth about Bob Dylan from his songs or actions is a fruitless, hopeless task. And I say this after having written a full-length book that sort of attempts to do just this. But I make clear in my book that, in spite of all my efforts to divine some sort of truth or message from Dylan’s work, ultimately the work stands on its own, and any attempt to draw conclusions about the artist himself — a man who in word and deed has always made it clear that nothing is clear and that obfuscation is in itself one of his greatest talents — is destined to fail.

This is a man, after all, whose greatest cinematic achievement is a film called Masked and Anonymous, in which he plays a fictional character named Jack Fate, an old rock star who sings songs that we know as Bob Dylan songs. And a guy whose essence was perhaps best captured in a film by Todd Haynes called I’m Not There, which took its title from a Bob Dylan song that had never been officially released (until it was included on the film soundtrack album).

Are you beginning to see the challenges one faces in trying to wrap one’s thoughts around one of the most enigmatic artists of the last half-century?

Seth Rogovoy is the author of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet, due from Scribner on Nov. 24, 2009. Please visit Rogovoy’s official website.

Posted on November 16, 2009

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