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The reason why Kurt Vonnegut hated Bob Dylan

The fact of the matter is that some of your heroes simply won’t like each other. It is a disheartening notion but one that we’ve gotten used to owing to the many disheartening break-ups over ‘artistic differences’. The cultural milieu is an all-encompassing palette and some colours simply won’t blend, like the mutually exclusive boons of cheese and ice cream. 

In Kurt Vonnegut’s typically scattergun, endlessly wise and utterly entertaining memoir about life in George W. Bush’s America, Man Without a Country, he divulges a quote that speaks of the joy of music, a joy that we can all attest to:

“If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED 

FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

WAS MUSIC.”

It was a point that he illuminated further, when he described music as being “so extraordinarily full of magic,” and explained on a personal level that “in tough times of my life I can listen to music and it makes such a difference.”

For many of us, that healing power has been administered a great many times by the folk poet laureate of the people, Bob Dylan, but the literary voice of a generation wasn’t so hot on his musical counterpart. In fact, the man who dabbled in clarinet playing himself was turned off by a few forms of music. 

In a 1991 interview with Hustler, Vonnegut was asked about his musical tastes. He wasted no time in responding with, “I hate rap. The Beatles have made a substantial contribution. Bob Dylan, however, is the worst poet alive. He can maybe get one good line in a song, and the rest is gibberish.”

Aside from a modestly underplayed nod to The Beatles, he never did fully disclose his favourite records. In typical Vonnegut fashion, he was busy delving into the more disdainful side of things and embellishing his wrath with mirthful colours and curmudgeonly humour in order to spare us the cynicism.

The often mystical lyric sheets of Dylan obviously proved a little murky for Vonnegut’s taste. Interestingly enough, it is Dylan’s most unfathomable lines that he favours most himself, often touting the following verse as his own personal favourite: “Darkness at the break of noon / Shadows even the silver spoon / The handmade blade, the child’s balloon / Eclipses both the sun and moon…” Clearly, in Vonnegut’s considered opinion, this sort of thing fell the wrong side of the nonsense poetry line.

Whilst Vonnegut may well have been too preoccupied with his distaste for Dylan he has previously mentioned some of his favourite acts. Elsewhere in a graduation speech, the seminal author spoke of a love for roots music, “I would be remiss not to mention the absolutely priceless gift which African Americans gave to the whole wild world when they were still in slavery. I mean the blues. All pop music today, jazz, swing, bebop, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Stones, rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop, and on and on is derived from the blues.”

He also hinted at a love for the classics, “I like Strauss and Mozart and all that,” he said, before adding: “And I have arranged for a Strauss waltz to be played as you depart, so you can waltz the heck out of here when it is time to go. For those of you who don’t know how to waltz, nothing could be easier and more human. You go step, slide, rest, step, slide, rest, step, slide, rest. Oom, pah, pah, oom, pah, pah. Bill Gates doesn’t seem to realize that we are dancing animals.” And if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Both Dylan and Vonnegut may well be masters of their fields, who delivered unrivalled cognizance of the modern world and lifted us from the suffering of it, but if the Slaughterhouse-Five author loved a Waltz, then Dylan isn’t really going to do it for you. So it goes…

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