I read an Eleanor Roosevelt quote tonight on Facebook: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.” I wasn’t the only one who “liked” it. Lots of people did. About 200 the last time I looked, with a lot of comments by people saying they do the same thing.
But let’s be honest. Roosevelt’s quote is more about having the courage to follow “in your heart what you believe to be right” than about the amount of criticism you get either way. Almost everyone, from the ones we’re friends with on Facebook to the ones we work with and live with to the ones we read about in People magazine, go through life eating shit to some extent because it’s better to eat someone else’s shit than to have it thrown at you.
When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature a couple weeks ago, there was almost as much criticism of him as there was joy. It didn’t end after the prize was announced — the fact the Nobel committee “couldn’t find” Bob (though the fans going to his shows seemed to have no problem) — added more fuel to the anti-Dylan fire. You could feel Roosevelt nodding from her grave. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Dylan won’t fit into the tight little box everyone thinks he ought to be in, so he even gets criticized for winning one of the highest honors a writer can.
Don’t worry, though. This isn’t some gushy Dylan fangasm trying to bring you in. If you don’t like him or “can’t take his voice” there’s not much I can say to convince you otherwise. (Though I will say, even if you don’t understand what’s so great about him, I’ll bet your favorite rock star does and worships at his altar).
If you still want to understand, though, how driven Dylan was to follow his heart and the price he pays for it, watch the documentary “No Direction Home,” Martin Scorsese’s incredible arc of what happened when Dylan went electric. When Dylan plugs in at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and blasts out “Maggie’s Farm” he knows exactly what he’s doing. The song is the greatest middle finger, musical or otherwise, to others’ expectations. To eating someone else’s shit. It lays out, as clearly as it possibly can, that he’s going to do things his way and his alone, and everyone else can go to hell.
While he’s stunned at the reaction he gets, it doesn’t stop him. He takes off on a tour marked by boos, jeers and death threats from those who want him to be their Bob Dylan, not his own Bob Dylan.
Most people want to live by their hearts, but they can’t. Life may be Maggie’s Farm, but at least there’s a warm barn to sleep in and you get handed a nickel or a dime once in a while. On Maggie’s Farm, even though Dylan “tries so hard to be just like I am, everybody wants you to be just like them.” Few venture out from the farm, because being “just like I am” can be a battle, even if you end up with a Nobel Prize.
And let’s face it, most of those who leave the farm aren’t going to win a Nobel. Or make a lot of money, or get their picture on the cover of a magazine. They do it anyway because their heart won’t let them be anything but “be just like I am.” There’s a satisfaction in that and the life that comes from it, and for those who are creative, what’s created out of it that counts a lot more than Ma and Pa’s nickels and dimes. Those of you who are musicians, artists, writers or do something else that drives you no matter what the price understand.
Dylan was vilified for his 1965 Newport performance. He was. Don’t let the revisionist history, even in “No Direction Home,” fool you. He was booed there and wherever he went and told what he was doing was crap. It obviously hurt him. Despite the pain, he didn’t consider stopping or changing.
Near the end of the Scorsese documentary, he’s backstage with his band before they go out and his exhaustion is obvious. In the same sequence he tells an interviewer, “I just want to go home.”
When he takes the stage, someone in the audience loudly and clearly yells “Judas!”
Dylan leans into the microphone and says, “I don’t believe you.” Plays a couple chords. “You’re a liar.”
Then he turns to The Band, smiles, and yells “Play it FUCKING LOUD.”
That’s the stuff Eleanor Roosevelt was talking about.
EVENT: Maureen will be one of a dozen mystery and crime writers reading from their works at Noir @ the Bar, 3-5 p.m., Sunday, November 6, Bull Feeney’s in Portland. Also reading will be Brenda Buchanan, Gayle Lynds, Gerry Boyle, Jen Blood, Barb Ross, Lea Wait, Bruce Coffin, Jessie Crocker, Brendan Rielly, Dick Cass and more!. Kelly’s Books to Go will be selling books at the event by all of those who are reading. Come on over for a great afternoon!
Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on Facebook at Maureen Milliken mysteries, on Twitter at @mmilliken47, and check out her website, maureenmilliken.com for information, events and to sign up for email updates. Cold Hard News and No News is Bad News are available through S&H Publishing and all online outlets. Ask for them at your local bookstore!