Book: Peter Doggett: There’s a Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars, and the Rise and Fall of the ?60s
Publisher: Canongate, 2007
I Shall Be Released?So Get Off My Back!
?. . . a lesson has been taught which will not be learned. It is that one should not try to found a revolution on musicians; because the delicate instrument of their body can all too easily be damaged, they are all prone to desert.?
Grace Slick, as quoted in There’s a Riot Going On, by Peter Doggett
In the summer of 1971 A.J. Weberman was in Greenwich Village rooting through Bob Dylan’s garbage. Dylan’s wife, Sara, stuck her head out a window and screamed, among other things, ?Get the hell out of my garbage! You filthy animal!?
Later that day Weberman was walking down a nearby street when a cyclist stopped in front of him, grappled him around the neck, punched him, knocked him down, and started thumping his head against the pavement.
Some locals chased the attacker away. A local street person, assuming this was a mugging, asked, ?Did he get much money??
Weberman, still amazed, sputtered, ?That was Bob Dylan!?
Earlier in the book Doggett describes a meeting at a commune of radical leftists at which peasant-skirted women flitted anxiously in and out of the kitchen while the men pounded the table with their fists and demanded that their dinner be served.
This image is not only a startling reminder that the radicals were no different in kind from dear old Dad (this ?revolutionary? climate was the perfect incubation zone for the women’s liberation movement) but also presents the perfect analogy for the attempted conquest of art by politics: political types pounding the table yelling at creative types to hurry up and deliver their revolution.
Weberman was the founder and leader of the Rock Liberation Front, whose manifesto was ?Helping the movement through culture,? and of the Dylan Liberation Front, whose goal was to draw Dylan out of what Weberman saw as an overly self-absorbed phase in his career. He had been exploring Dylan’s refuse, as he had done on many occasions, in search of concrete, publishable evidence that Dylan had betrayed the counterculture.
Weberman had for years devoted his time and resources to compelling Bob Dylan to lead America’s youth into a glorious revolution, and dumpster-diving had been only the tip of the iceberg. We owe a heap of thanks to Weberman for so thoroughly?and sometimes hilariously?revealing the error of his decade’s ways.
There have been many attempts to psychoanalyze artists through an examination of their work, with no success, and for good reason; shrinks would be better off psychoanalyzing an artist’s cultural context.
The mistake lies in seeing the artist as the personification of his or her creative works, a mistake that led an entire generation to claim Bob Dylan as their very own peasant-shirted messiah, much to Dylan’s exasperation.
Simply put, Bob Dylan was not just expressing himself in his songs, he was also expressing the deepest responses and longings of the world he lived in, a world that may not have completely lined up with his own beliefs and values. And so it is with all artists who are authentic and sincere.
Failure to recognize this simple truth can have disastrous results for artists and also for the social activists who try to commandeer art’s content. Many who observed or emerged from the counterculture in the ?60s believed the movement’s failure was rooted in the failure of musicians to rise above the temptations of stardom, but this misses the point; the movement didn’t fail because musicians sold out?it failed at least in part because its agenda was all but forced onto the shoulders of people who had no business carrying it.
Music has the power to transform the way people think and feel, so It’s pointless to demand of musicians that they join some political activity in order to change the world?they are already doing that in their own way.
There is nothing wrong with artists taking part in political activity that resonates with their personal views, but a society that demands this of them is an oppressive one. Such a demand is necessarily part of a patriarchal agenda that aims to reduce to a commodity a thing which is essentially a pearl beyond price, its aim to bring art into the service of power instead of rightfully subjugating power to the dominion of beauty.
There’s a Riot Going On manifests eight of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for books well worth reading: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it confronts, rebukes, and mocks existing injustices; 3) it renews my enthusiasm for positive social action; 4) it gives me tools enabling me to respond with compassion and efficacy to the suffering around me; 5) it is about attainment of the true self; 6) it harmoniously unites art with social action, avoiding both seclusion in an ivory tower and slavery to someone else’s political agenda; 7) it stimulates my mind; and 8) it poses and admirably responds to questions which have a direct bearing on my view of existence.