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03 June 2006

The Greatest Conservative Song

I see that John Miller has posted some additional 'conservative' songs to supplement his National Review piece on the 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs. He does acknowledge one omission I thought rather glaring - not just one that should be on the list, but should be number one on the list - Dylan's My Back Pages. In this taught, spare number, later covered by the Byrds, Dylan sends up the dominant leftist culture in academia. The clever refrain suggests he hewed to the mainstream, conformist ideology but he's now more open to other viewpoints - I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. At least that's my interpretation (always a bit dicey with Dylan lyrics). What's amazing is that the song dates from 1964 - the complete liberal brainwashing of society was only just beginning and Dylan is already fed up with it. Here's a run-thru of the song's targets:

First, he mocks activism itself:
Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin' high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
"We'll meet on edges, soon," said I
Proud 'neath heated brow
Next he seems to doubt the sincerity of equal-rights radicals:
Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
"Rip down all hate," I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
In the next verse I'm really not sure what he's getting at. He seems to be almost belittling the feminine presence in universities. At any rate, he sure doesn't seem to think they contribute much:
Girls' faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists
Unthought of, though, somehow
Egalitarianism then takes a hit:
A self-ordained professor's tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
"Equality," I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
He then takes on Maoism as he skewers the anti-professional ethos that questioned the legitimacy of authority, particularly in education:
In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I'd become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
And, finally, he ridicules idealism itself - or at least the dogmatic variety prevailing in universities and activist circles:
Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I defined these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow

Ah but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.

11 Comments:

Anonymous jimbo said...

A typical conservative tactic is to attack the messenger as opposed to actually addressing the message, therefore Dylan should be a conservative favorite since he was always about turning against anything or anyone who tried to stick on him, as seen in the Scorcese documentary about his early days. His big Jesus phase probably didnĀ“t hurt there either. I liked what Lennon had to say about that. "Serve yourself."

June 04, 2006 3:38 PM  
Blogger Intellectual Pariah said...

Your post is right on. Of course "My Back Pages" is the ultimate ex-liberal anthem. I'd only disagree about the verse beginning Girls faced formed the forward path.... I don't think it's feminism here that's the target, but a kind of self-infatuated romanticism about sexual love.

June 04, 2006 7:07 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

Yeah, like I said I wasn't too clear on that verse, I'm inclined now to lean more towards your interpretation - though it has the inconvenience of not as neatly fitting my theme!

June 04, 2006 8:12 PM  
Blogger Dennis Dale said...

I nominate Only a Lad by Oingo Boingo:

Johnny was bad, even as a child everybody could tell
Everyone said if you dont get straight
Youll surely go to hell

But johnny didnt care
He was an outlaw by the time that he was
Ten years old
He didnt wanna do what he was told
Just a prankster, juvenile gangster

His teachers didnt understand
They kicked him out of school
At a tender early age
Just because he didnt want to learn things
(had other interests)
He liked to burn things

The lady down the block
She had a radio that johnny wanted oh so bad
So he took it the first chance he had
Then he shot her in the leg
And this is what she said
Only a lad
You really can't blame him
Only a lad
Society made him
Only a lad
Hes our responsibility
Only a lad
He really couldnt help it
Only a lad
He didn't want to do it
Only a lad
Hes underprivileged and abused
Perhaps a little bit confused

His parents gave up they couldn't influence his attitude
Nobody could help
The little man had no gratitude

And when he stole the car
Nobody dreamed that he would
Try to take it so far
He didnt mean to hit the poor man
Who had to go and die
It made the judge cry

(...)

Its not his fault that he can't believe
Its not his fault that he can't behave
Society made him go astray
Perhaps if were nice hell go away
Perhaps he'll go away
He'll go away

Hey there johnny you really don't fool me
You get away with murder
And you think its funny
You dont give a damn if we live or if we die
Hey there johnny boy
I hope you fry!

June 06, 2006 2:07 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

That sure qualifies. I don't know the song though - I'm amazingly unfamiliar with Oingo Boing - I dont' think they were ubiquitous enough on the East Coast for me to know them.

June 06, 2006 8:17 AM  
Blogger Glaivester said...

Girls' faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists


My translation:

A lot of naive girls who wanted to be thought of as important, intelligent, consequential, adopted zany, self-important philosophies, and I adopted them as well because doing so got them to take off their panties.

As for "I'm much younger now," perhaps he means that he is a lot more aware of his inexperience and naivete and doesn't think he knows everything anymore.

June 11, 2006 2:18 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Glaivester, I like your take on the verse. It's tough to read too much into Dylan because he was also into forming 'clever' phrases for their own sake, not necessarily to deliver a message.

June 12, 2006 8:21 AM  
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