Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bob Dylan is Human

“Bob Dylan is Human.”
By Orny Adams
August 29, 2006

Bob Dylan is human. (Insert gratuitous screeching tire sound effect here.)

I say this for two reasons: First, the hardest thing for humans to be is human. Second, most of the time, as humans we choose to believe our heroes are not human. But maybe they achieved hero status by being just that- pure human. (Super human not super hero.)

The other day, we took a break from editing my CD/DVD and headed into Studio City to try this new BBQ place. The place sold burritos. Which was a bit confusing to me, as a man who adopted the south in his college years. In other words, I am an unqualified BBQ snob now. I’ll often toss around terms like “hush puppies” to elevate my status in a BBQ discussion. Now, on my first bite, as the rib was halfway between my plate and my mouth, a glob of what gravity deemed excessive sauce, dripped onto my lap. Just missing the mere 30% of my lap the napkin covered and nailing me right on my khaki shorts. Dammit! Immediately, I excused myself from the table to go clean up in the bathroom. As I created a huge wet patch I determined would self dry by the end of the meal, I realized I was afraid to be human. I should’ve worn that stain as a badge of great human imperfection. You think I am the only person to spill food on themselves? Yet, it is hard for me to admit I am a messy eater. Too often we hide under the facade of perfection, whether we know it or not.

When I wander the cultural landscape, observing humanness, I often repeat this riddle in my head: What is the the one thing we all are, and the one thing we are all afraid of being—human. There is a fear of being human. But being human is a constant, probably the only thing you and I have in common.

Rolling Stone put Dylan on the cover of this week’s issue to coincide with the release of his new album. So there’s a 65 year old Dylan staring at me with his intense blue eyes. The same eyes, same stare he’s been giving us for over 45 years. Longer than I have been alive. Those eyes remain static in time. But now they are encased by signs of aging—wrinkles, graying eyebrows, sideburns and even gray ear hair. The picture is so tight you can see how poor Dylan is at shaving. About the most interesting thing I learned about Bob from this Rolling Stone interview. The picture is classic Dylan; a cautious glare with a slight squint, as if an unimpeded view of the world is too much to bear.

To the left of his picture are these words: “The Genius of Dylan. An Intimate Conversation.” I get uncomfortable anytime someone refers to anybody as genius. Especially in the arts, where genius is unquantifiable. Even in the case of Bob Dylan, who I consider a genius. But that is my business, my opinion, and quite debatable. My awe and adoration of Dylan is no secret. I credit him as one of my greatest influences. I even dressed like him for a while. When I need career guidance, I study his moves. He is as pure of an artist as I can think of. And yet he is human.

The myth of Dylan is even too big for Dylan. He helped chisel his pubic persona and he has done much to sandblast it. Yes, he is a contradiction. At times denying he is the voice of the 60s. But in this article claiming he owns the 60s. Not Civil Rights, not Vietnam, not free love and drugs, Bob Dylan has spiked his flag down and claimed the 60s his very own. And this reporter let this comment just drip off Dylan’s tongue uncontested. Shame on him.

I respect Dylan more when he downplays his role. It takes a strong man to deny his own myth, I’m not too sure I could do it. We all want to part of a myth. For some of us, it’s a small town myth—the guy who chugs the most beer. For others, they want to be up on the pantheon of myths. I’m not too sure when you get to Dylan’s place you even have enough clarity to know what is your myth and what is your nonfiction. A man like Dylan has basically donated his life to listeners like me. He is a soldier who sacrificed normalcy for the good of the state. Although, I don’t think he had a choice.

Stop tiptoeing! Can somebody please give Bob an honest interview? He deserves just that. Somebody who hasn’t memorized his every lyric, knows what song is on what album, what year he wore eyeliner, or who has read every interview.

Most interviews of Dylan, I won’t read. They seem overly gracious and submissive. Most people don’t know how to interview Bob. Now, in all fairness, I have never been in the room with Bob. Would probably never want to be. It’s dangerous to meet your heroes. And maybe he is masterfully adept at dodging questions and controlling an interview. But most of Dylan’s answers are brilliantly disguised mockery. He’s laughing at you. “Go ahead and print this,” he must be thinking the whole time. I base this on his early radio interviews where he would claim to have run away as a teenager and worked in a traveling circus. Bob went to college and was in a fraternity. Which is a far cry from his salt of the earth roots he wants you to buy into.

On 60 minutes a few years ago, Dylan made one his most important statements in modern times. Something about knowing he had something important inside him to share, but if he announced it, people would try to squash it. I heard this a few years too late. I think one of the missteps I took early on in my career was to point into the seats in right field and then pop out.

It seems to be a game that Dylan plays with reporters when he is bored. Something I have adopted. He told us what he expects of reporters in “Don’t Look Back.” A great glimpse into an insecure Dylan who is enviously and scornfully taping articles of his chief rival Donovan on the walls of his hotel room. In a great scene, Dylan rips into a reporter from Time magazine. (I believe it is Time, I am on a plane right now to Richmond, VA, so I can’t fact check that.) Through the lens eye of documentarian D.A. Pennebaker, we get a must see look at an artist. And I know a lot of my readers like documentaries.

I just did an interview for the paper in Richmond and the guy asked me to describe my comic voice. I said, “It’s about the unbelievable state of human unconsciousness.” I was bored. I guess those words mean something to me. They aren’t that far off from a clear, honest answer. I guess I was dodging a question I didn’t think there was a proper answer for-- that was fair to me and the readers. What I really was saying was, “My voice is what it is.” It may be one thing to you and another thing to an ex girlfriend. It’s indefinable and should be just that. Maybe we’re putting too much emphasis where we shouldn’t. It’s not about, “The voice of Orny Adams.” The guy sort of questioned the line. Asked me to repeat it. “The unbelievable what?” More than I expected of him. But he’ll print it—you’ll see. And I’m sure it’ll say something like, “The unbelievableness of the world.”

Dylan understands the value of ambiguity. He won’t just let you in. And a good artist understands that being misunderstood is a good thing. I was surprised he claimed the 60s. I bet on another day he would greatly refute such a claim. He doesn’t need to make such grandiose statements, he’s got plenty people out there to do it for him.

So once again, I read another Dylan interview and I feel I am no closer to him as a human. Dylan writes songs. Some great songs. Some brilliant songs. Some shitty ones too. But once you achieve genius status, those shitty songs are channeled into a part of most brains under a banner, “I must not be smart enough to understand this part of his genius.” Nope—they are shitty. A $100 bottle wine doesn’t have to taste good to you.

Dylan should interview himself. Did you read Chronicles? It reads as one beautiful, cohesive song. The man can write. The man has insight. He is truly gifted. It’s as if he was born enlightened. As if his struggle was in the womb.

I would like to see Dylan interviewed by a non-Bob fan. Someone who admirers the artist, but is not afraid to really ask him the questions. Someone willing to trade an honest question for an honest answer. Someone willing to go in there unprepared and let the interview take on a life of it’s own.

What makes Dylan cry? Can someone ask a simple question like that?

As I am preparing to release my first comedy CD/DVD, I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you know I am quite scared. Tediously fine combing every second of the 68 minutes for the past five months. Micromanaging every step of the way, it has become my life. It’s not easy to share this much of oneself with a mass collection of strangers. Believe me, I’ve thought about scrapping the project a dozen times. I’ve threatened myself. But that’s my own insecurity. My own unwillingness to be 100% human. My unwillingness to show my ear hair on the cover of Rolling Stone. There are moments on the DVD that my hair is all I can focus on. It is so out of sorts. I don’t hear the jokes, or see the camera work. I just see my hair. A legacy of bad hair. I purposely didn’t get a haircut because I wanted to treat this night like any other. In other moments, I didn’t nail a line exactly as I had in the past. But can anybody else really tell? That show was absolutely magical and I was fortunate to catch it on tape. And any comedian who has ever tried to make a tape, will know exactly what I am talking about. There are a host of things that can go wrong. (See my special features.)

In the end, I can only hope the project represents me. The me I see inside me. Time will tell. And if I don’t, I’ll get it right the next time. The subjectiveness of it all frightens me. The CD/DVD is supposed to represent thirteen years of hard work—if that is possible. The CD/DVD is named, but I will not share that with you at this time. The name is deeply personal. It represents self struggle and I am still unsure how to depict this in a snapshot on the cover. To be human is to make mistakes. To be human is to not repeat mistakes. To be a comedian is to celebrate and announce your own mistakes. This is nothing new. To err is human, right? When I was a kid I stuck my finger in a socket once. ONCE!

I poured all my heart into this project. Nobody on the project has slept much since we taped in March. We are conscious of it every waking second. I produced the project. I wanted to own it. I wanted to paint the exact picture I had in my head onto the canvas. And current technology allows me this freedom. I can even self distribute on the web if I choose. Originally it was going to be a simple CD. At the last minute, I threw cameras into the mix. It’s an interesting story. A story I will share with you in the liner notes. But the DVD is special to me because it was shot in an intimate club. These clubs have been my home on the road for the past decade. It is the way comedy is supposed to be seen. No crane shots, like an overproduced comedy special. The audience was there to see me, not some paid TV audience. And most special, it was all my savings could afford.

Since you made it this far, and in this day and age, I like to reward anybody willing to read, I will make a confession. No I won’t tell you the name of my CD/DVD, but I will tell you “The unbelievable state of human unconsciousness,” is something deep inside of all of us. Something so simple. Something if accepted, there would be no war, no starvation, it is the key to eradicating most human suffering. Sometimes I think I have a grasp on it, and other times it slips through my fingers. But they are not just words.

And so once again, I turn to Bob for answers-- To a man who helped me be a little bit more human. Today his new album comes out. I’ll post this, then run out and get it. Maybe it is exactly the inspiration I need to finish my project. I can obsess on a song. One time I listened to a single Leonard Cohen song over and over again from New York City, over most of this beautiful country of ours, right into Los Angeles. (Closing Time.)

*** Orny Adams is a stand-up comedian who is usually a lot funnier than what you just read.

© Copyright Orny Adams, Icrushed Productions 2006


The Actress said...

"Love's the only engine of survival." - Leonard Cohen

galittza said...

Work as if you don't need the money, love as if you've never been hurt before, and dance as if nobody is watching - Satchel Paige.

There is no love in the context of survival, only by being responsible can you love.... Knew you had it in you and what's more, you knew I had it in me, Love Gali

mj said...

I used to like Dylan until I better understood what a phony he is. He's a good writer, but his image is so fake and he can't sing. He's a middle class, educated Jewish guy who posed as a lower class country dude, and copped a fake warbling because he probably realized he can't really hold a tune.

Another thing: he always preaches about fairness and equity, yet he's part of a business and system that has reaped incredible profits to give him the wealthy, insulated lifestyle that's made him utter such phrases as "I own the 60's". How arrogant and presumptuous.

Steph said...

Hey, I can delete my own stupid comments on Blogger--I like that.

Steph said...

Do you think that "mj" stands for malicious jackass?

mj said...

no--it sits for marmalade juice.

Steph said...

Oh, I was close.

Kal Carter said...


Steph said...

Ah, nothing new in so long--I think that I'm going into withdrawals.

Milly Van said...

if you are funnier in person than you are in your blog, then you are the genius, not dylan. there is a piece on music here that you might find interesting:

Sharon R. Cole said...

Left a message on you MySpace blog and realized you had a blogger account. (blogger is my personal preference)
Anyway, loved your commentary on Dylan being human. He's my all-time favorite and Idiot Wind--well, the entire Blood on the Tracks CD--probably ranks No. 1.
I have to admit I rented Comedian again over the holidays because of your comment about being happy for four minutes and for the Glen Miller story. I've made it a point to see one of your shows in person, and realized I just missed your New York appearance. Maybe next time you're on the East coast.
Best of luck.

Jerome Mayle said...

I love your has been playing videos of your act