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December 22, 2013 / Erik Ritland

Sour Grapes: Wayne Coyne on Bob Dylan

Wayne Coyne is right that Bob Dylan is an anti-social curmudgeon. But…so what?

This week Flaming Lips’ leader Wayne Coyne criticized Bob Dylan in an interview with Rolling Stone. I’ve been talking to Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) about his Bob Dylan/Wilco tour,” he said, “where I think the public has an idea of ‘that must be like a party every night!’ I don’t think being with Bob Dylan nowadays is a party. I think he probably doesn’t talk to anybody and I think it’s kind of just the opposite.”

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Wayne Coyne looking dignified as always.

Anybody who knows anything about Bob Dylan knows that he’s never been a party guy. He’s always been reserved and kept to himself. That’s his personality. So what? This is a non-point that Coyne mistakenly thinks has some weight to it.

When Rolling Stone mentioned that James said he didn’t meet Dylan the entire tour they were on together Coyne continued his criticism: “I think someone should say that for once. It doesn’t mean his music isn’t very powerful, but I think Bob Dylan’s been kind of a curmudgeon and I think there’s a contingency of people out there who don’t want to say that.” What contingency of people don’t want to say that? That Dylan is a curmudgeon has been clear since he first broke in to music in the early ‘60s. He’s never been an outgoing, social person. I don’t know of anybody who follows Dylan with any seriousness that doesn’t know this.

Coyne goes on to compare Dylan to Miley Cyrus: “We pick on Miley Cyrus, who’s 17 years old. We pick on her, but someone like Bob Dylan, we just protect him even though he’s sitting there, in all actuality, not really trying very hard.” I’m not entirely sure what his point is here. Is he comparing Cyrus’ attempts at getting attention by being as controversial as possible with Dylan keeping to himself? On the contrary more celebrities should take their cue from him and keep to themselves more. Cyrus is doing whatever she can to get attention; Dylan does what he does, dignified, solely for the sake of his craft. How is there any comparison? (Note: I’m not condoning how our culture, who creates messes like Cyrus, is treating her, but that’s another story).

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Dylan.

Coyne’s only criticism that is possibly legitimate is his claim that Dylan “in actuality (is) not trying very hard” Even this, though, is hard to substantiate. Dylan’s last few albums are an eclectic mix of sounds and styles including jump blues, old-fashioned country western, classic American folk, country blues, and even swing and Sinatra-style crooning. He takes his influences, both musically and lyrically, and creates something new out of it, as he’s always done. He continues to tour endlessly when he could easily sit around and collect royalties. He continues to move forward for no reason other than dedication to his craft. This is the opposite of “not trying very hard.”

In the end Coyne’s criticisms come off as sour grapes because he’s offended that Dylan ignored his friend. This quote makes that point clear: “I would say, it’s his loss ­to be there with Jim James and his crew, and to be there with Wilco, and not get in on that. I’m like, ‘It’s your loss, buddy.’ I’d say they could have got rid of Bob Dylan and just done a tour with Wilco and My Morning Jacket and it would’ve been great.”

This brings me back to my original point: so what? Why does it matter if Dylan doesn’t want to hang out with the bands he’s on tour with? Touring, like recording, is about music, about what is created. It’s not at all about interpersonal dynamics with bands you’re on a bill with. Coyne needs to understand that not all people are as gregarious and outgoing as he is. And, more importantly, that how outgoing one is doesn’t have any bearing on what they create.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

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