It's hard to find common ground today in America — anywhere. But I reckon that diehards on both sides of the political discussion, everyone from tea party enthusiasts to President Obama supporters — could agree that Bob Dylan qualifies as America's unofficial, 21st century poet laureate. And in two new books, Dylan gets his due, Sean Wilentz's well-received "Bob Dylan in America," and the upcoming "Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus, Writings 1968-2010" by Greil Marcus.
Wilentz and Marcus, two cultural historians and inveterate Dylan watchers, well understand the man's place in American history. Regardless of who is occupying the White House, Dylan has focused on making great music and, primarily, bringing it to the American people and around the world, in the form of his infamous "Never-Ending Tour." Since 1988, when Ronald Reagan was wrapping up his second term, to today, Dylan has faithfully been out on the road.
Dylan remains as vital a cultural force as ever. In the past year alone, he has found himself seeking shelter from the storm from critics ranging from the government of China, which declined to approve Dylan's request to perform in the country, to Joni Mitchell. Mitchell launched into an apparently unprovoked line of vitriol against Dylan, with whom she has toured as long ago as the Rolling Thunder Revue back in 1975!
Dylan will turn 70 on May 24, as well as mark the 50th anniversary of his arrival in New York City's Greenwich Village folk scene. He was a star when John F. Kennedy was our president. America should appreciate him while we can and not take him for granted, while Dylan still has the ability to play concert after concert. The Wilentz and Marcus volumes are excellent places to begin. It's nice to see Bob Dylan getting his due.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column.
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