January 07, 1998 | By Bill Workman, Chronicle Staff Writer
1998-01-07 04:00:00 PST STANFORD -- Scholarly admirers of folk-rock legend Bob Dylan will stage an academic conference at Stanford University to explore Dylan's legacy, not only for his work as an artist but also for his role in late 20th century culture.
"We think it's time Dylan be given his proper place in the academic canon," said Tino Markworth, a Stanford doctoral student in humanities and an organizer of the January 17 conference.
"A huge shadow has fallen over Dylan that views him just for his music, but this will be an attempt to break him out of that shadow," he said.
Stanford's Dylan gathering is billed as the first of its kind in the nation, although a similar conference was held in the early 1980s in Great Britain. It failed to develop any interest in establishing Dylan studies as a mainstream academic discipline.
Markworth said the nation's English professors have been especially reluctant to welcome Dylan into the ranks of writers worthy of critical literary analysis.
Stanford English professor Ron Rebholz is no exception. "It's outlandish," he said. "I may be an old fogy, but I just don't think the lyrics of Dylan are the stuff that warrants serious study."
The all-day conference at Stanford's Kresge Auditorium will feature a series of panels of Dylan experts from the United States and Canada, with academic backgrounds in religion, drama, music, literature and political science.
They plan to talk about the interpretation of the rebel rocker's lyrics and their influence on contemporary affairs; comparison of his poetry and other writings with the works of Beat Generation icon Jack Kerouac; the literary links between Dylan and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg; and the radical swings in Dylan's popularity since his emergence as a counterculture idol in the 1960s.
The announcement of the Stanford conference follows the lifetime achievement award given to Dylan last month by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where he sat with President Clinton and his family.
The citation for the award called Dylan "perhaps the single most compelling presence in American popular music and foremost songwriter of our time." Markworth said the Stanford conference has been in the works for several months. It was inspired by a well-received course on Dylan that drama professor Rush Rehm, another conference organizer, gave through the university's continuing studies program.
Here we have Tino Markworth beating the drum for the Stanford conference he had organized. Looking back, we can now see that the conference did a lot to get Dylan "his proper place in the academic canon."
Old fogy Ron Rebholz has since then moved on to being a Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at Stanford, after teaching there since 1961. In academia that means he has retired, or at least no longer gets to decide what artist "warrants serious study."
The times they are a-changin', old boy!