How could he have anticipated back in 1966 with his “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” that we would at this point have a bombastic Republican presidential nominee who would arrive “with 20 pounds of headlines stapled to his chest”?
That same song seems to me, as I listen to it on an iPod while working out, to have also anticipated that moment in 2008 when another GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain, called a White House meeting on the faltering U.S. economy and showed up with nothing to suggest, sealing his loss to President Obama.
“Grandpa died last week . . . ” Dylan sings, continuing: “I knew he had lost control when he built a fire on Main Street and shot it full of holes.”
And I would guess that Dylan speaks for much of the American electorate this year with these words from that same song:
“An’ here I sit so patiently waiting to find out what price / you have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice.”
Ten years before Donald Trump built a campaign by denouncing the “false song of globalization,” Dylan sang this in “Workingman’s Blues #2”:
The buying power of the
proletariat’s gone down
Money’s gettin’ shallow and weak …
They say low wages are a reality
If we want to compete abroad …
Well they burned my barn, they stole my horse
I can’t save a dime …
The Swedish academy rightly situated Dylan’s work in “the great American song tradition.” The Nobel announcement inspired Stanford University’s radio station on Thursday to play a collection of Dylan and Dylanesque songs, including one I had never heard before. Written and recorded in 1995 by Bob Franke, “Kristallnacht Is Coming” foreshadowed in apocalyptic terms this election year’s ugly discussion about immigration. It begins with a German woman talking to a Californian about the antecedents of the Holocaust:
We never wanted to kill Jews, we just wanted them away.
And you know we gave them lots of time until Kristallnacht sealed their fate; We only wanted them to emigrate …
Kristallnacht is coming, little Mexican child,
The night of breaking glass, the night of running wild;
Run in the streets until Kristallnacht seals your fate,
We only wanted you to emigrate.
I can’t imagine even in my worst nightmare that this song could have the power of prophesy. But the Swedish Nobel jury has performed a service for us all in getting us to focus on the stark — at times grim but insightful — poetry of Bob Dylan and others working in the great American song tradition.
Jim Hoagland is a contributing editor for The Post and a visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.