Salon | Media Circus: All along the ivory tower

ALL ALONG THE ivory TOWER____________

All along the ivory tower


A recent Dylan symposium at Stanford proved that as rock fans, academics can babble with the most brain-dead metalheads.

BY MICHAEL BATTY | Among the rewards of listening to pop lyrics, getting them wrong ranks high. "A mosquito, my libido" (from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit") becomes "Mendocino, my burrito"; and in "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "the girl with colitis goes by." These goofs -- often abetted by the mewling, sloppy-drunk singer -- are called mondegreens. They remind us of popular music's frivolity and mercifully brief shelf life; sometimes they're even funny. But for all the public's adoration of garbled transmissions, academia seems to have done them one better. At a recent Bob Dylan symposium at Stanford's Kresge Auditorium, professors didn't just slur jingles, they slurred significance. Nowhere else, save perhaps the remotest fringes of a fan club, could Bob Dylan's nasalizing be given such soft-focus, generous scrutiny. (Not even at Wednesday's Grammys, which incongruously placed a score of black-clad young men and women behind the Old Master in an effort to demonstrate his continuing relevance.)

The symposium offered shaky pop culture theory and better praxis, the latter ably demonstrated by the $14.50 price of admission and the black and white photos of Dylan and other Village luminaries available in the lobby for $50 a pop. Ten or so presenters stroked pet theories down to the bone. Program titles like "Only a Pawn in Their Game: Bob Dylan and Politics," "The Sound of One Dog Barking: Bob Dylan and Religious Experience" and "A Long Way from Hibbing: Bob Dylan's Black Masque" promised to confuse fandom with acumen. Among the half-capacity audience, the fans were teeming, if not ubiquitous. One couple flipped through bloated chapbooks of Dylan lyrics, reading along and cuddling as songs were discussed. Elsewhere, ponytails and comb-overs were cast into stark relief by pink, reflecting scalps. Proceedings would be partisan -- boomer, by jingo -- though moderator Susan Dunn of the Stanford Humanities Department provided a brief tilt at the podium: "I'd like to ask that this be more than an exercise in nostalgia and canonization." Hear, hear -- and good luck.

The program's biggest academic name, Christopher Ricks ("Keats and Embarrassment"), a core curriculum professor at Boston University, made a case for classic mondegreens during "Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet," a treatise on Dylan's latest album, Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" and how nice it is to rhyme. "What you gain on the hearing," Ricks said of Dylan's sage verse, "you lose on the sense." Examples followed: How "ode" could sound like "owed," "hear" like "here" and "cents" like "sense." (You might ask, So what? Good for you.) Ricks put such gravity into his reading of Dylan's catchy doggerel that you'd think you were hearing a King James edition of "The Cat in the Hat." "Can you tell me what you're waiting for/Señor," Ricks intoned. "Down the street the dogs are barking/And the day is getting dark." "Do room/Do room/Do room." Ricks played snippets from "Not Dark Yet," and the auditorium filled with a voice that has only grown more bizarre, more nasal, over time, to the point where it now seems to have left Dylan's nose altogether, dangling at its tip. But Ricks was right: Dylan can rhyme.

German studies Professor Tino Markworth provided an apt assessment of most other presentations in his own, "Too Much Educated Rap? Bob Dylan and Academia" -- though perhaps only by accident. "Society is a confused series of discourses determined by power structures," Markworth said, toeing the pomo party line and lamenting the "transmission of information that obscures Dylan." The speakers had an easy time talking about anything but Dylan in their attempts to lend him context. The Tupperware mattered, not the leftovers. Markworth himself, despite the initial illusory promise of one con for every pro, only ended up huffing air into the rubbery proposition of a Bob Dylan studies program.

Drama Professor Rush Rehm's "Only a Pawn in Their Game" was devoted in turn to bitching about the Gulf War and the genocide of the Native American and quoting Noam Chomsky. "I'm dealing with a debased subject," Rehm conceded. "Politics, not Bob Dylan." Rehm's passion for outrage was enviable (as was his shame at admitting that Dylan had sold the rights to "The Times They Are A-Changin'" to the Bank of Montreal), but his thesis elusive. "We've become suspicious of folk music," Rehm dubiously proposed at one point, "thanks to the celebration of Das Folk: the Nazis."

"Labels and categories have an important heuristic function," explained Religious Studies professor Mark Gonnerman, who went on to grace Dylan with four: prophetic, apocalyptic, biblical and transcendentalist. Why? To underscore the importance of skepticism in religion, quoting some more of those allegedly elliptical Dylan lyrics: "I only asked for something that I'm gonna understand." Me too.

English Professor Aldon Nielsen chanted lyrics by blues musician Leadbelly and spoke of "metaphoricity and vocal particularity" in "Blowin' in the Wind," by way of suggesting that Dylan, among others, wanted to sound black. Regarding Dylan's electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival -- mention of which seems obligatory in any Dylan scholar's deciphering of the obvious -- Nielsen said: "Dylan's blues were no longer attired in their racial workshirt." (Nielsen was good for these one-liners. My fave: "Uncle Remus was another pure product of American race dreams.")

Stepped forward Stephen Ronan, who never took off his sunglasses and went on for an hour or nine with "The Visionary Road: Rimbaud, Kerouac, Dylan," speaking mostly about the first two, and about the keen insight offered by fucked-up outsiders in general. Dylan apparently exhibited some during a road trip, toking weed from the dashboard and uttering platitudes like, "Time doesn't exist; it's an illusion -- the other side of Dali's clocks." Don't bogart that joint. From his podium, Ronan quoted his subjects with a repertoire of vocal impressions, like a misplaced and none-too-gifted Catskills comedian.

The grand prize for casting fog, however, went to the University of Victoria's Stephen Scobie, who delivered an audiovisual book report titled "Renaldo & Allen: Allen Ginsberg's Role in 'Renaldo & Clara,'" on a 292-minute cinematic indulgence directed by Dylan in 1978. "I'm afraid this paper does assume an audience that has had a chance to see 'Renaldo & Clara,'" Scobie said. Few, if any, had. (Dylan yanked it out of circulation after critics failed to recognize his cross-platform genius.) Scobie offered meticulous descriptions of various scenes and voice-overs featuring Ginsberg -- the best of which, for its almost folkloric invocation of the pretentious, left Ginsberg bare-assed and about to be horsewhipped by a negligee-sporting Anne Waldman. During a Q&A period, Scobie admitted that he had only seen one "barely watchable copy" of "Renaldo & Clara," whose ancestor, several bootlegged generations back, was taped directly off BBC during the film's sole telecast. Rarely does one have the chance to see so much energy put into the exaltation of bad art -- akin to deducing the shape of a priceless antique stencil from a doodle found by the urinal.

Listening to these scholars -- most of whom were males of boomer age -- I couldn't help but imagine them as kids, encamped decades ago in the pall of the TV, hapless as their critical faculties weltered and eroded in the bombardment. They had acquired little immunity to the broadcast, and it left them with no means to separate the fun from the profound. This might explain the monolithic importance some mid-lifers attribute to the trappings of their youth, and the present professors' desire to hand us ornate shoe boxes in which to hoard pop culture's trifles. These men were obviously well-versed theorists who had pursued their mark in earnest. So what.

Markworth defended the day's endless paving of Dylan: "Academic inquiry does not need to reside in an ivory tower." Though overstated (and suspiciously fretful about irrelevance), this is true: Anything public -- including pop culture -- should be fair game in academia. How, then, should professors approach this bohemian adenoid they love so much? By following the example of Maria Johnson (Southern Illinois University), who initiated her presentation with an admission: "I am not a Bob Dylan scholar." So much the better. Her paper, titled "Performed Literature: The Music of Bob Dylan," cited specific examples from Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" to illuminate song craft, even as she denounced the song's sexist refrains ("You fake just like a woman/But you break just like a little girl"). Johnson, a music professor, stuck with the concrete: chord movement, monosyllabic lyrical accents, changing dynamics, denigrating content. She was certainly less passionate than the others, but more cogent and more interesting. She could observe the song from enough of a distance to describe it, hairy harping warts and all. You didn't have to like Dylan to listen to Johnson. Her half hour elapsed like half an hour. Two presenters followed Johnson -- including one doctoral student whose point seemed to be that adding reverb to Dylan's recordings made them sound different -- but she outshone them and the rest.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with fandom -- it's endearing enough, even after several hours of labored analysis. And mondegreens are healthy enough as a pastime, if not as pedagogy. But professors who cloak the heroes of their youth in obfuscation are no different from the mullet-headed Black Sabbath fans who ardently hail Ozzy Osbourne as a genius, and "Vampire Lestat" groupies who insist that Anne Rice speaks to the ages. Groom your pets in private, where you can misapprehend their importance to the fullest. Exploring their anatomy in public becomes a charmless act of haruspication -- combing through bowels for want of magic. 
SALON | Feb. 27, 1998

Michael Batty is a San Francisco writer.


[EDLIS Notes]

This review gives the most detail about each presentation at the conference. As you see, it was not written by a Dylan fanatic.

But as Tino Markworth pointed out in his summary of the conference: "That Stanford University staged a conference about Bob Dylan at all -- that was the news -- and unfortunately not, how Dylan was framed and debated at the conference."

Jukebox poet

Publication Date: Friday Jan 16, 1998

Jukebox poet

Stanford University hosts the country's first Bob Dylan conference, focusing on the man who "brought poetry to the jukebox"

by Jim Harrington

Millions of music lovers have known it for decades. Now academia is beginning to catch on.

On Saturday, Stanford University will host a day-long Bob Dylan conference, exploring the work and cultural legacy of one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. This is the first such event to be held in the United States.

The conference organizers are Stanford faculty members Tino Markworth, a Whiting Fellow in the department of German studies, and Rush Rehm, associate professor of drama. That same duo was responsible for a recent Continuing Studies Class also focusing on Dylan's career. The class proved quite popular and, likewise, the conference has drawn much attention.

"I thought it was time to do it," Markworth said of focusing academic attention on Dylan's work. "I saw there were classes on Star Trek and Madonna and said, 'Why don't we do (a class) on something that has a real quality of work.' I mean, if we do popular culture, let's do some popular culture that is worthwhile."

Although never a mega-seller in comparison to the likes of Michael Jackson and U2, Dylan is certainly one of the most critically acclaimed and durable artists in popular music history. Since his self-titled Columbia Records debut in 1962, Dylan has released an impressive number of albums that easily rank as rock 'n' roll classics. Still, Dylan will likely always be remembered foremost for his individual songs. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (from 1973's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid"), "Blowin' in the Wind" (from 1962's "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan"), "All Along the Watchtower" (from 1968's "John Wesley Harding") and, of course, "Like a Rolling Stone" (from "Highway 61 Revisited") are true pop anthems.

And that's just for starters.

"The most significant American rocker since Elvis, Bob Dylan ranks alongside the Beatles as a '60s cultural revolutionary, transforming the world not only musically, but politically and spiritually," reviewer Paul Evans wrote in The Rolling Stone Album Guide.

Discussions on Dylan more often than not center around his masterful lyrics. But, while Dylan's words factor heavily into the Stanford conference, the day-long event is certainly not limited to just that topic.

"The interesting thing about this conference is that we approach Bob Dylan from different disciplines," Markworth said. "This is really new. This hasn't been done before."

The organizers of the conference invited Dylan to attend, but he declined because he's playing a concert with Van Morrison this weekend in New York City.

Conference topics include:

Interpretations of Dylan's lyrics, presented by leading Dylan scholar Christopher Ricks, professor of English at Boston University.

The political views expressed in Dylan's songs, analyzed by Rush Rehm, associate professor of drama at Stanford.

Allen Ginsberg's artistic involvement with Dylan, described by Stephan Scobie, professor of English at University of Victoria, Canada.

A comparison of Dylan's work to that of writers Arthur Rimbaud and Jack Kerouac, presented by Stephan Ronan, Berkeley-based writer and assistant producer of "The Jack Kerouac Collection."

The musical roots of Bob Dylan's songs, presented by Maria Johnson, lecturer of music at Southern Illinois University.

The radical swings in Dylan's popularity, including the positive reception of his recent album, "Time Out of Mind," discussed by Dylan specialist Paul Williams, author of the critically acclaimed book "Bob Dylan: Performing Artist."

Dylan's first public impression--that of a skinny young folksinger, back in the 1960s, strumming a guitar with a harmonica strapped around his neck--has been the most lasting. Yet, Markworth said, Dylan's artistic contributions are definitely not limited to that decade.

"Bob Dylan's work is not just '60s work," he said. "He put out really good works in the '70s, '80s and '90s."

To prove the point, Markworth brings up Dylan's current release, "Time Out of Mind," the artist's best-received disc in quite some time. The work topped many publications' and critics' best-of-1997 lists, including that of Rolling Stone Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Still, "Time Out of Mind" likely won't sell anywhere near as many copies as the Wallflower's "Bringing Down the Horse." The Wallflowers, led by Dylan's son Jakob, scored one of the biggest hits of the year, selling millions of copies, and outdistancing the sales figures posted by the elder singers' best albums.

But sales figures and Billboard chart rankings don't tell the whole story. The big sellers don't always turn out to be the ones that make a truly lasting impact (think Milli Vanilli from the late '80s).

"I would say that (Dylan) is the one that brought poetry to the jukebox," Markworth said.

People know this.

That's why Dylan was the one rock singer recently nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature and honored, alongside the likes of Charlton Heston, by the Kennedy Center. Conversely, that's also why we probably won't see a Spice Girls conference held at Stanford anytime in the near future.

What: Bob Dylan conference

When: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17

Where: Kresge Auditorium, Stanford University

How much: Tickets are $14 general public; $6 students

Information: Call 723-4317 or 725-ARTS

[EDLIS Notes]

Here we have the article about the conference that was published by the small weekly newspaper in Stanford's home town of Palo Alto.

1998 Stanford Conference on Bob Dylan

 Bob Dylan

The 1998 International Conference at Stanford University

January 17, 1998   Kresge Auditorium

 In 1998 Stanford University sponsored the first international academic conference on Bob Dylan to be held in the United States. Approximately 400 people attended this event, organized by Tino Markworth with Rush Rehm.




9-10 a.m.

Christopher Ricks (Core Curriculum, Boston University)

Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet


10 a.m.-noon       Panel 1

Moderator: Joshua Landy (French & Italian, Stanford University)


Tino Markworth (German Studies, Stanford University)

Too Much Educated Rap? Bob Dylan and Academia


Rush Rehm (Drama, Stanford University)

Only a Pawn in Their Game: Bob Dylan and Politics


Mark Gonnerman (Religious Studies, Stanford University)  

The Sound of One Dog Barking: Bob Dylan and Religious Experience


1-3 p.m.               Panel 2

Moderator: Robert Harrison (French & Italian, Stanford University)


Aldon Nielsen (English, Loyola Marymount University)

A Long Way from Hibbing: Bob Dylan's Black Masque


Stephen Ronan (author, assist. producer of The Jack Kerouac Collection)

The Visionary Road: Rimbaud, Kerouac, Dylan


Stephen Scobie (English, University of Victoria)

Renaldo & Allen: Allen Ginsberg's Role in 'Renaldo & Clara'


3:30-5:30 p.m.     Panel 3

Moderator: Susan Dunn (Humanities Center, Stanford University)


Maria Johnson (Music, Southern Illinois University)

Performed Literature: The Music of Bob Dylan


Lonny Chu (Music, Stanford University)

In the Studio:  The Recording Styles and Techniques of Bob Dylan


Paul Williams (author of Bob Dylan: Performing Artist)

Seeing the Real You at Last: Bob Dylan and His Audience



Sponsored by The Stanford Humanities Center

and Dean of Humanities & Sciences, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Department of Music, Department of English, Humanities Special Program, Department of Religious Studies, Department of French & Italian

Video tapes of the complete conference are available at the Stanford University Library.

Thanks to Ron Chester, Susan Dunn, Andy Hertzfeld, and Carol Langston.




It was 1998 and the academic culture wars were raging. On one side were the defenders of the faith, arguing that popular culture had no place in the university, that time was better spent familiarizing the students with the canonical works of high culture. On the other side were the devious postmodernists who tried to undermine the canon, leveling the field by making low or pop culture worthy of academic inquiry. While the high culture proponents argued that it was largely an aesthetic quality that made cultural artifacts part of the canon, the postmodernistas stated instead that aesthestic judgments were bogus anyway and the canon was rather an expression of power structures.

That Stanford University staged a conference about Bob Dylan at all – that was the news – and unfortunately not, how Dylan was framed and debated at the conference. Many saw it as a victory for this newfangled postmodernist or destructionist or whatever-it-is-called movement. For example Ron Rebholz, a perfectly nice professor from Stanford’s English Department, felt it necessary to take a public stand (San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1998) – even before the conference took place – to show that not all Stanford had succumbed to this academic trend.

A closer look, however, would have revealed that this was not a case of postmodernitis at all. There was no applause from the postmodern side within academia, in fact. And that was not surprising. This was a conference about an artist who was old, and white, and male – certainly not a good poster child for this latest academic fashion. And he was chosen because of the aesthetic quality of his work, not because of his current popularity. (It was early 1998, Dylan was still largely seen as a burned-out has-been – his first album with new songs in seven years had been released only a few months earlier). And, last not least, the postmodernists’ ever-so annoying mantra of “race, class and gender” was missing from most of the talks.

But while methodically conservative, the conference tried to break new ground in two ways: first, by taking Dylan seriously as an artist, and second, by not limiting our academic engagement to Dylan the writer. Instead, as the program above shows, it was conceived to analyze his work from different angles, attempting a multi-disciplinary approach.

The academic culture wars are largely forgotten nowadays as is the debate surrounding the event. The conference did not immediately trigger a full-blown academic fascination with Bob Dylan as I had hoped but it certainly helped pave the way for the numerous Dylan conferences in the last decade. (On this topic see David Cohen: “Surge of scholarly interest in Bob Dylan” The Guardian, May 21, 2001, and Evan R. Goldstein: “Dylan and the Intellectuals” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 5, 2010).



Unfortunately, most of the articles about the conference are no longer accessible free of charge on the Web. Here are a few links that worked as of June 1, 2011:

About organizing the conference:

Jim Harrington: “Jukebox poet. Stanford University hosts the country’s first Bob Dylan conference, focusing on the man who ‘brought poetry to the jukebox.’” Palo Alto Weekly, January 16, 1998


About the conference:

James Sullivan: “Answers Blowin’ in the Stanford Wind. Academic types deconstruct Dylan.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 19, 1998

Gil Kaufman: “Stanford University To Hold Dylan Seminar. Professors and graduate students to study, life, times and music of folk-rock poet.” Addicted to Noise, January 7, 1998

Michael Batty: “All along the ivory tower. A recent Dylan symposium at Stanford proved that as rock fans, academics can babble with the most brain-dead metalheads.”, January 1998


About the debate surrounding the conference:

Bill Workman: “Conference on Bob Dylan at Stanford.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1998

Michael J. Ybarra: “Tennyson, Milton and … Bob Dylan? Culture: Academics and fans alike gather to study and analyze the works of the musical legend at a first-of-its-kind conference at Stanford.” Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1998

Gina Arnold: “Dialing for Dylan. These days, Bob Dylan is more than just a pop-music superstar – he’s a star in the firmament of English literature.” Metro newspaper, San Jose, Calif., May 14, 1998



Media coverage following the announcement of the conference



“Bob Dylan subject of academic conference.” Associated Press, January 7, 1998


-. Chronicle of Higher Education, January 23, 1998


“Si studia Bob Dylan all’università.” La Repubblica, January 9, 1998


Elaine Goodman: “Stanford conference looks at Bob Dylan. Academic event explores singer’s lyrics, music.” Palo Alto Daily News, January 8, 1998


Jim Harrington: “Jukebox poet. Stanford University hosts the country’s first Bob Dylan conference, focusing on the man who ‘brought poetry to the jukebox.’” Palo Alto Weekly, January 16, 1998


Greg Frost: “Stanford University To Host Bob Dylan Conference.” Reuters, January 8, 1998


Bill Workman: “Conference on Bob Dylan at Stanford.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1998

         January 12, 1998(Letter to the Editor)


Michelle Levander: “Knock, knock, knocking on academia’s door. Stanford to study Bob Dylan.” San Jose Mercury News, January 8, 1998


Paul Sterman: “Deconstructing Dylan.” San Mateo County Times and Oakland Tribune, January 15, 1998


Krista Glaser: “Dylan conference to be held on campus.” The Stanford Daily,

January 8, 1998


Brian Jones & Mark Bell: “I’m a Poet and I know it. Bob Dylan Conference and Controversy.” The Stanford Daily, January 15, 1998


“‘The answer, my friend’: An all-day Dylan conference.” Stanford Report, January 7, 1998


Wire services (AP/Reuters), January 8-9, 1998

Picked up by the following:

USA: Austin American Statesman, Cincinnati Enquirer, The Des Moines Register, Hartford Courant, Los Angeles Times, The News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), St. Louis Dispatch, USA Today, and others

Switzerland: Neue Züricher Zeitung

Netherlands: NRC Handelsblad

Germany: Süddeutsche Zeitung


RADIO (only coverage including interviews is listed):

BBC London, Radio 5, with Marita Eager, January 8, 1998

KGO Radio, San Francisco, with Kevin Patcher (two interviews), January 9 and January 13, 1998

KFRC Radio, San Francisco, January 14, 1998

Voice of America, with Martin Seacrest, January 15, 1998

Minnesota Public Radio, Minneapolis, January 16, 1998




INTERNET:  Gil Kaufman: “Stanford University To Hold Dylan Seminar. Professors and graduate students to study, life, times and music of folk-rock poet.” Addicted to Noise, January 8, 1998


Media coverage of the conference itself



Karen Hunt: “Stanford program explores another side of Bob Dylan. Pop culture: Lecturers compare singer-songwriters to great poets.” Associated Press, San Jose Mercury News, January 18, 1998


Paul Van Slambrouck: “Teaching Dylan at Tennyson’s Expense? A recent conference on the songwriter has spurred debate over pop culture’s place in academia.” Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 1998


La Stampa (Turin, Italy), January 19, 1998:

“Il caso. Stanford, prestigiosi accademici a convegno: così ha influenzato la nostra cultura.”

Lorenzo Soria: “Dylan? Si studia all’università. L’establishment si inchina al suo fustigatore.”

Claudio Gorlier: “La ballata dell’astuto intellettuale.”


Michael J. Ybarra: “Tennyson, Milton and … Bob Dylan? Culture: Academics and fans alike gather to study and analyze the works of the musical legend at a first-of-its-kind conference at Stanford.” Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1998


Dean Goodman: “Academics Debate The Real Bob Dylan.” Reuters, January

18, 1998


Dean Goodman: “Dylan Fans Get Tangled Up In Academic Views.” Reuters, February 2, 1998


James Sullivan: “Answers Blowin’ in the Stanford Wind. Academic types deconstruct Dylan.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 19, 1998


Lisa Krieger: “Times are a-changing: Academics debate Dylan.” San Francisco Examiner, January 18, 1998  (also Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 19, 1998)


J.S.: “Talkin’ Bob Dylan Academic Conference Blues.” San Francisco Weekly (Riff Raff), January 21, 1998


Ginny McGormick: “Doctorate in Dylan?” Stanford Magazine, March/April 1998


 Wire services (AP/Reuters), January 18-20, 1998:

Picked up by The Baltimore Sun, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), The Daily News of Los Angeles, The Orange County Register, The Sacramento Bee, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)


RADIO (only coverage including interviews is listed):

German Public Broadcasting, with Ingrid Koelle, January 19, 1998:

Südwestfunk 2, Kultur am Abend; Deutschlandfunk, Kultur heute;

Bayern 5; Westdeutscher Rundfunk 3

 -, Chicago, January, 18, 1998 

JWay, Tokio, January, 18, 1998 

KFOG, San Francisco, with Kim Wonderly


INTERNET Report from the Academy, January 18, 1998


Michael Batty: “All along the ivory tower. A recent Dylan symposium at Stanford proved that as rock fans, academics can babble with the most brain-dead metalheads.”, January 1998

[EDLIS Notes]

Tino Markworth compiled this exhaustive summary of the Stanford conference. As you can see, it generated quite a lot of coverage in the media and this blog will be reporting on the after-effects of this ground-breaking event, with the many Dylan courses that are springing up all over the world. Markworth's vision for the study of Dylan in academia is truly coming to fruition.

Conference On Bob Dylan At Stanford

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.

[EDLIS Notes]

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!

Bob Dylan : Stanford University To Hold Dylan Seminar

Bob Dylan

Stanford University To Hold Dylan Seminar

Professors and graduate students to study life, times and music of folk-rock poet.
by Addicted To Noise Senior Writer Gil Kaufman

Among topics of discussion will be comparisons of his work to the classics and analysis of his influence on and by the beatniks.

For 18-year-old Stanford University student Krista Glaser, the greatest lessons on Bob Dylan come directly from his songs.

But while the freshman said she'd rather hear the music of the folk-rock legend any day than "listen to professors and graduate students talking about his work," Glaser said the idea of an academic seminar on Dylan's work sounds intriguing. To satisfy that curiosity, she said she would consider attending the Dylan conference scheduled for Jan. 17 in the Kresge Auditorium on the campus of the Northern California university.

"Personally, I think it's a good idea," said Glaser, a contributing news reporter writing an article on the Dylan seminar for the campus newspaper, the Stanford Daily. "He's written a lot of great songs and his ability to write and sing his songs is really unique."

In less than two weeks, Dylan will go under the academic microscope when his musical career becomes the subject of the one-day conference organized by Tino Markworth, a Stanford doctoral student in humanities.

"I'm not necessarily a fan," said Markworth, 36, "but I'm fascinated by Dylan's work and I would like to be part of a movement to have his works declared part of the canon."

Markworth cited the gravelly voiced legend's nomination for a Nobel Prize and his honorary degree from Princeton as proof that this folk poet's work has finally been deemed worthy of serious academic study. "We want to deal with somebody who is popular but who also creates high-quality art, and to try and figure out how to deal with that academically," Markworth said.

The one-off 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. conference, open to the public and to students, will feature a number of different scholars speaking about a range of topics related to Dylan's 30-plus-year career. As part of the conference, Christopher Ricks, an English professor at Boston University who normally lectures on such authors as T.S. Eliot, will compare Dylan's work to classic texts; Stephen Scobie of the University of Victoria at Canada will discuss his books on the topic of Dylan's influence on and by the beatniks, including late poet Allen Ginsberg; and Paul Williams will speak on his book that looks at Dylan's performance presence, "Bob Dylan Performing Artist."

Also included in the program will be members of the Stanford faculty, who will discuss the religious aspects of Dylan's work, and music department faculty, who will discuss his recording style and the musical roots of his work. Stanford drama professor Rush Rehm will tackle the political aspects of Dylan's songs.

The event, which Markworth said is the first of its kind in the U.S., was inspired by a course that he developed along with Rehm, who has previously taught lessons on the topic for a continuing-studies program. Last semester, the University of California at Berkeley offered its own course for credit on the poetry of slain controversial gangsta-rapper Tupac Shakur. "We want to look at Dylan's work not just as poetry," Markworth said. "But also at his music and performance."

If you look at Dylan's lyrics alone, he said, it's hard to see the depth of his message. Rather, it is the way he performs his lyrics as songs that makes him a spokesman for this generation and a poet for all time, Markworth said. "If we looked at it in an ivory tower, strictly academic way, we would concentrate only on the lyrics, and it wouldn't have the same effect as an interdisciplinary conference like this," he said.

Despite a bout with health problems, including a potentially fatal heart ailment that sidelined him last summer, the past few months have brought a healthy dose of good news to the '60s icon. In December, he rubbed elbows with President Clinton as he received a lifetime achievement award at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, he racked up three Grammy nominations, including album of the year for his critically acclaimed return-to-form, Time Out Of Mind.

While Markworth said he spoke with Dylan's management about having the artist perform around the time of the conference, no such arrangement could be made, as the event conflicts with a concert in New York with Northern Irish folk-rocker Van Morrison. No matter though, he added. "We didn't really want him at the conference," Markworth said. "We wanted him to perform during the week of it. It would be a strange situation for an artist to speak about his own work like this. He's a performer, not a critic or academic." [Thurs., Jan. 8, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]


[EDLIS Notes]

Here we have one of the many announcements in the media about the Stanford International Conference on Bob Dylan that Tino Markworth organized. Having gotten Professor Rush Rehm to sponsor a course on Dylan in the Winter 1997 Continuing Studies Program, he used the success of that course to win approval for the Stanford conference, an even more prestigious event with an outstanding cast of presenters.

Another paper for the Dylan Course

She's Your Lover Now
Reviewed by Ron Chester

This Bob Dylan song was recorded in 1966 during the Blonde on Blonde period (my first-love Dylan album) and it shares its unique sound, which Dylan described in his January 1978 Playboy interview:

"The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up. That's my particular sound. I haven't been able to succeed in getting it all the time. Mostly I've been driving at a combination of guitar, harmonica and organ, but now I find myself going into territory that has more percussion in it and rhythms of the soul."

The song chronicles the aftermath of a stormy love affair, with three characters appearing in the song; Dylan, his former lover, and her new lover. Dylan alternately addresses the woman, and then the other man, while trying not to be adversely affected by his new relationship with the woman. This could be the recounting of an actual incident in which Dylan finds himself in a bar with the two others. Or it could be Dylan's musings about such a possible meeting.

In spite of being a favorite of many Dylan fans, there are only two Dylan performances of the song in circulation, both from the studio, as he has never performed it to an audience. There have been two cover versions of the song: by The Original Marauders in 1977 and Luxuria in 1988. Perhaps a study of this rarity would prove interesting.

[EDLIS Notes]

Here we have the second paper we are featuring that was submitted to Professor Rehm by one of the students in his Dylan course. It, too, can be read in full on the website of the writer. Professor Rehm awarded it a grade of A, suggesting that the writer should see about getting it published. Perhaps he would consider this has now been done, with its inclusion in this blog.

Paper for Dylan Course

Dylan's Song Sequencing in Albums and Concerts

Andy Hertzfeld 3/11/97
Music 47

I received my grade on 4/22/97: A-


The song sequencing of an album or concert can have a major effect on the overall perception and impact of the work. It is also an interesting window into the artistic values of the creator. This paper will examine Bob Dylan's typically idiosyncratic use of song sequencing in both his albums and concerts to help break free from the burden of his audience's expections. It will also discuss a number of other persistent trends.

While Dylan was evolving rapidly in the early stages of his career, each album was a distinct watershed and unique statement that showcased a new style and worldview. The first song on each album was usually an anthemic announcement of his current stance while the last song of the album tended to be a song of farewell and transition, pushing back against the expectations of his audience while freeing himself to move on to his next stage of growth.

As Dylan's evolution inevitably slowed as he matured, he no longer had the same need to use the last song to make space for radical changes ahead. He began to use the last song differently, often setting it apart from the rest of the album to enrichen the work by reflecting upon it from a different angle.

When performing in concert, Dylan likes to suprise his audience. He has a tendency to choose a relatively obscure song for the opening number, often with some special significance to the occasion of the performance. He also tends to structure his sets flexibly in a well-defined framework; some song slots are almost always the same each night while others are constantly changing. There is almost always an acoustic mini-set toward the middle of the concert, a kind of show within the show with a different emotional feel from the main portion.


[EDLIS Notes]

While we do not intend to make a habit of posting individual academic studies of Dylan's music on this blog, we decided to include just two of the papers that were submitted to Professor Rehm by students on the course. This paper can be read in full on the website of the student who wrote it.

Winter courses in Continuing Studies Program (12/96)

Stanford University

News Service




CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (415) 723-2558

Winter courses in Continuing Studies Program

From the art circles that linked Paris and New York in the opening decades of this century to everyday life in the Third Reich, to the "nervous splendor" that was Vienna at the turn of the century, almost 50 classes are being offered by the Continuing Studies Program.

Registration began Dec. 2 for the winter quarter, which begins Jan. 6.

University employees who work 50 percent time or more are eligible for a tuition discount of up to $140 per quarter. That assistance is not the same as STAP funds, and does not preclude an employee from using STAP funds for other job-related courses.

Courses include the following:


Advanced Fiction Writing, with Nancy Packer, professor emerita of English. 6-9 p.m.

Beginning Drawing, with Larry Lippold, lecturer in art. 1:30-4:30 p.m. at the Senior Center, 450 Bryant St., Palo Alto.

Essence of Italian Culture II, with Annamaria De Nicolais Napolitano, senior lecturer in Italian. 7-8:50 p.m. at Il Fornaio restaurant, 327 Lorton Ave., Burlingame. Five-week course.

Poetry Workshop, with Sheila Donohue, Jones Lecturer in poetry, Creative Writing Program. 6-9 p.m.

Quantum Mechanics, with Kathleen Thompson, physicist, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. 7-8:50 p.m. Five-week course.

The Renaissance: Discovery, Rediscovery, and Change, with Larry Ryan, professor emeritus of humanities and English. 7-9 p.m.

Russian: Beginning Language and Culture II, with Serafima Radivilova, lecturer in Slavic languages. 7-9 p.m.

Screenwriting, with Cammie McGovern, Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction writing. 6-9 p.m.

Short Story Workshop, with Laine Snowman, Jones Lecturer in creative writing. 6-9 p.m.

In the Swastika's Shadow: Everyday Life in Hitler's Third Reich, with G. Robert Hamrdla, assistant to the president, emeritus. 7-9 p.m.


Advanced Improvisation, with Patricia Ryan, senior lecturer in drama. 7-8:50 p.m.

The Brain: Chemistry and Behavior, with Karl Obrietan, research scientist, Department of Biological Sciences. 7-8:50 p.m.

The Classic Concerto, with Leonard Ratner, professor emeritus of music. 7-8:50 p.m.

Gothic Cathedrals and Great Churches of England, with Robert Scott, associate director, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. 7-9 p.m.

How to Read an American Masterpiece, with Donald Bacon, lecturer in English. 7-8:50 p.m. at the Stratford, 601 Laurel Ave., San Mateo.

Intermediate German, with William Petig, senior lecturer in German studies. 7-8:50 p.m.

International Political Hotspots, with Gerald Dorfman, associate director and senior fellow of the Hoover Institution. 7-8:50 p.m.

Introduction to Cultural Georgraphy: People and Places, with Galen Martin, alumni association travel/study program. 7-8:50 p.m.

The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, with Rush Rehm, associate professor of drama and classics. 7-8:50 p.m. Five-week course.

Paris and New York in the Early Twentieth Century, with Wanda Corn, professor of art. 7-9:15 p.m.

Women in Popular Music, with Maria Johnson, visiting assistant professor of music. 7-8:50 p.m. Five-week course.


Beginning Improvisation, with Patricia Ryan, senior lecturer in drama. 7-8:50 p.m.

Beginning Italian II, with Maria Devine, senior lecturer in Italian. 7-8:50 p.m.

Beginning Spanish II, with Alice Miano, lecturer in Spanish. 7-8:50 p.m.

Challenging Assumptions, with Jeffrey Wildfogel, consulting professor of psychology. 7-8:50 p.m.

A Fiery Shorthand: Twentieth Century Irish Literature, with Eavan Boland, professor of English. 7-8:50 p.m.

History of Jazz II, with Grover Sales, lecturer in music. 7-8:50 p.m. at the Sequoias, 501 Portola Road, Portola Valley. Five-week course.

Short Story Workshop, with David Vann, Jones Lecturer in creative writing. 6-8:45 p.m.

Virginia Woolf's Foremothers: The Development of a British Women's Novel, with Linda Paulson, lecturer in English. 7-8:50 p.m.

Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man? with Sherri Matteo, visiting scholar, office of the dean of research. 7-8:50 p.m. Five-week course.

Wise Use Movement, with Radford Hall, lecturer in urban studies. 7-8:50 p.m. Five-week course.


Antonioni: About Nothing ­ With Precision, with Leda Mussio, senior lecturer emerita, French and Italian. 7-8:50 p.m. Five-week course.

Architectural Design and Theory, with Patti Walters, lecturer in urban studies. 7-8:50 p.m.

Beginning German II, with William Petig, senior lecturer in German studies. 7-8:50 p.m.

Couple Dancing in the '90s, with Richard Powers, lecturer in dance. 7-8:50 p.m. Five-week course.

Dance Making, with Tony Kramer, lecturer in dance. 7-8:50 p.m. Five-week course.

Households in Early America: History and Art, with Edith Gelles, senior scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and Diana Strazdes, curator of American art, Stanford Museum of Art. 7-8:50 p.m. Five-week course.

Human Space Exploration, with Michael Tauber, consulting professor of aeronautics and astronautics. 7-8:50 p.m. Five-week course.

The Nervous Splendor: Vienna at the Turn of the Century, with Van Harvey, professor emeritus of religious studies. 7-8:50 p.m.

Roman Art and Archaeology, with Patrick Hunt, lecturer in classics. 7-8:50 p.m.

Understanding History, with Richard Terdiman, professor of literature and the history of consciousness, University of California-Santa Cruz. 7-8:50 p.m.

Writing After Proust: The French Novel Since the 1930s, with Marc Bertrand, professor of French. 7-8:50 p.m.



[EDLIS Notes]

This simple announcement, though we didn't know it at the time, was the first step in the eventual acceptance of Bob Dylan as a legitimate subject of study in mainstream academia. A five week course on Bob Dylan was offered in this Stanford Continuing Studies Program, in the winter 1997 term by Rush Rehm, associate professor of drama and classics. None of these courses were offered as credit courses for those working on their undergraduate degrees. Instead they were open to anyone who wanted to attend and was willing to pay the fee, including those living in the community nearby.

The driving force behind this was Tino Markworth, a Stanford grad student who was working on his doctoral dissertation in German studies at the time. It was his idea that Stanford should be offering a course on Dylan. It had been over 26 years since Dylan had been given his honorary degree from Princeton, and there had been many students from around the country who had done papers, master's theses, and doctoral dissertations on Dylan subjects, but Dylan did not appear in the catalog of courses in higher education. And in keeping with this, Markworth was not able to find any department at Stanford that was willing to sponsor a full credit course on Dylan. But it was time to get a foot in the door and he found Professor Rush Rehm, who was willing to sponsor this five-week course, open to the general public.

The course quickly filled up with many who knew and loved Dylan's work. The tone was set on the very first night when Rehm was making introductory comments about how he envisioned the studies would proceed, that is with an academic examination of his work, not simply praise lavished on the star by Dylan fanatics. Near the back of the room, a hand shot up from one of the students. In fact, this student was a star in his own right in Silicon Valley, as he had been the one many years before who had written much of the code for the very first Mac operating system, including late nights on no sleep for days to meet the production deadline. Rehm nodded to the student with the outstretched arm and Andy Hertzfeld stood up to address the professor.

"Sir, while it might be more acceptable to be considered a fan of an artist, the word "fan" is just a shortening of the word "fanatic," which refers to someone who is extremely enthusiastic about the subject of his/her interest. I find nothing wrong with that. I am a Bob Dylan fanatic. I am quite proud of the fact that I am a Bob Dylan fanatic!"

The enthusiastic fan went on to explain that he would often check on the Internet for the Dylan setlist from the night before and would get tapes of the shows and listen to them as often as he could. He then concluded by saying, "I love his music and take it quite seriously. Far better that I be extremely interested in such worthy art, rather than have just a passing lukewarm interest in its study. Thank you very much, sir."

Andy Hertzfeld sat down, as applause erupted in the classroom from the other students, along with shouts of "Yes, right on!" and such from some. If he didn't already know it, it was at that moment that Professor Rehm might have realized that the classroom was full of people who were going to take these studies seriously, and as we all discovered, there were some in that classroom who knew a whole lot more about Bob Dylan and his music than the teacher did. Rehm did a fine job of teaching the class and drawing out the knowledge of all those around him, but there was no more mention of any fanatics.