One can only imagine what Elvis Costello thinks about having his career critiqued by the most taciturn and most discriminating critic in the history of pop music, Bob Dylan. It would be of minimal concern if done via zine, vlog, or even newspaper, but Dylan’s take on his fellow showman appears in a big, fat, almost coffee-table-size book, The Philosophy of Modern Song.*
By burying his judgments in the silent tomb of a book, Mr. Dylan preserves them from being devoured by the odious thief, AI, which ingests every word spoken within range of a microphone hidden by Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and the other cannibals of pop culture.
Sure, his words eventually will be scraped by the machine and mangled into a million abuses, but, a thousand years from now, they’ll remain on the printed page precisely the way they appear today.
This being about Bob Dylan, we know better than to expect it to be simply a case of him deciding to single-out for praise his colleague’s big hit Pump It Up. Instead, the other shoe drops almost immediately – “At the point of Pump It Up, he obviously had been listening to Springsteen too much.”
Springsteen, who he? Oh yeah, Bruce Springsteen is the ultimate “next Bob Dylan!” So, why drag him into a little toast to Elvis Costello? Because that would give the thinking public something to contemplate – that vanishing cohort of people who’d rather think than swallow whole whatever mass media is produced for our consumption.
For Springsteen fans, this must sting, because none of the other 65 songs in the book is a Springsteen composition. Ouch! Just think about that – a sixtysix song survey of modern American song and it excludes the very popular hero of Asbury Park. Oh my.
“Don’t cry for me,” whispers Bruce, “I got me two Grammies for every one Bob Dylan has!”
Anyway, as if to demonstrate how like the hoi polloi he has become, there is an uncredited co-author for the piece on Costello’s song. The first section betrays the strong odor of AI authorship – it is a steaming cup of word soup, with cliche croutons tossed in for umami.
Then, following a spacious caesura, the second part sounds original and makes fresh observations – it very well may be written by Bob, but, even after 50+ years of applied Dylanology, I can’t be certain it is!
*The Philosophy of Modern Song is as much about philosophy as the first Bob Dylan book, Tarantula, is about arachnids.