Thursday, December 22, 2022

Dylan in Winter, Part II: Greil Marcus’s Folk Music

Bob Dylan, November 1961. (Photo: Michael Ochs)


Many things matter about Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs (Yale University Press; 273 pp.), Greil Marcus’s fourth—and, he has said, last—book about its subject. But your personal allegiance to Dylan in recent times isn’t one of those things. Whether you particularly value or even like the songs Marcus studies—in order of presentation, “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1962), “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (1964), “Ain’t Talkin’” (2006), “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (1964), “Desolation Row” (1965), “Jim Jones” (1992), and “Murder Most Foul” (2020)—also doesn’t matter. The Dylan we surveil in these pages is not the sum of his successes or failures, or of any reader’s likes or dislikes. He is a creative force, a dark, hunched, music-producing presence prowling through decades of celebrity and centuries of history. If you retain a nerve of commitment to anything Dylan has ever done or been, that will be your point of entry, and meanings will flow even from songs you never cared about—songs you may not care about now, except as vehicles for Marcus to do what he does best. 

Monday, December 19, 2022

Portrait of the Artist, Part II: Funny Pages

Matthew Maher and Daniel Zolghadri in Funny Pages.

In the first scene of Funny Pages, a middle-aged man strips naked and hoists himself on top of the desk to pose for a teenage kid. The boy is Robert (Daniel Zolghadri), a gifted underground comic artist; the man, Mr. Katano (played by the playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis), is his art teacher and the only adult he knows – besides the owner of the comics store where he works – who sees a spark of genius in his work and encourages him to quit school and pursue his art. Mr. Katano is a great model, but his eagerness to expose himself freaks Robert out, so after he’s finished the drawing he slips out of his mentor’s apartment as fast as he can. Katano chases after him in his car to make sure the incident hasn’t made it weird between them – as if there was the slimmest chance it wouldn’t have – and he’s so anxious to smooth things out with Robert that he swerves into the wrong lane and crashes fatally into another car. All of this takes roughly ten minutes of screen time. By the time you get to the end of this initial section you’re either gasping or howling with laughter, or maybe both. It may be the wildest opening of a movie I’ve ever sat through.