Thursday, December 2, 2004

Bob Dylan & Eminem

  Last week I read an Associated Press story about a museum exhibit opening in Seattle.  It’s an exhibit on Bob Dylan, glorifying the songwriter for his political activism, his social commentary, his struggle against injustice, and his contribution to the American literary canon.  And justly so, I believe.  The man is a genius.

  I have been a closeted admirer and fan of Dylan’s for years.  And I think it’s time I go public.  His songs are sermons.  His message is Messianic.  If poetry and politics intersected at a single point, there you would find Bob Dylan.

  The aforementioned AP story began with a quote from a New York Times reviewer of one of Dylan’s albums.  It was from 1967.  “It will be a good joke on us if, in 50 years or so, Dylan is regarded as a significant figure in English poetry.”  The joke is on them.

  It was on Thanksgiving Day that I read this story, sitting around with my family, and it sparked an interesting conversation on the voices of our generation.  It was a conversation riddled with questions that only time can answer.

  My dad asked if, in 40 years, Eminem would be regarded with the same esteem that Dylan is today.  And I don’t know if he will.  But if it is to be, his approach and Dylan’s are decidedly different.  Dylan began his career writing and singing politically-charged folk songs, written in plain language.  Eminem began with shocking lyrics, beautifully crafted, but absent of social relevance. Only recently has he ventured into the sordid realm of politics.

  Eminem’s latest CD, “Encore,” features the song “Mosh,” which speaks out against Bush and the war in Iraq.  The video, in all its animated glory, can be seen on MTV.  Inarguably, it is a protest song, cut from the same cloth as those that earned Dylan his place in the lexicon of Americana.  And it could be the beginning of the new Em.

  But if Senator Mathers is going to become the mouthpiece of our generation, let the record show that he is something of a late-bloomer.  It’s a safe bet that his place in that broad spectrum of American societal genius will fall somewhere between Lionel Richie and, well, Bob Dylan.

  Eminem’s true value thus far has been poetical.  The fluidity of his rhyme schemes is simply unmatched.  His ability to use rhyme to establish meter is a lesson for all writers.  Never before has a writer’s work been so heavily reliant on rhyme-done-well.

  The only thing standing between Eminem and lasting legend is his perspective.  In his mind and his lyrics, he is the perpetual victim—the underdog.  That may have been true in the beginning but, after four consecutive best-selling CD’s, it’s no longer the case.  There are victims out there, and Eminem is not among them.

  What makes Bob Dylan a legend is the light he shines on injustice.  He is John Steinbeck and Gandhi.  Em ain’t yet.

  But that champion of the underdog is out there.  Next week we’ll talk about him.  I’ll see you then, here.

-From Pulse
  December 2, 2004