I read last week in one of Seattle’s weeklies (the Weekly, as a matter of fact) that a local female writer seemed to agree with other fans who compared so-called "rhythm & blues" performer Beyonce with Bob Dylan. Yes, that Bob Dylan who I saw in concert thirty years ago when there were still some people around who remembered his 1960s heyday. I recall I was somewhat disappointed in his “updated” version of his classic hit “Like a Rolling Stone,” but otherwise I couldn’t help but react ecstatically after every song; I mean, this guy was a part of history. I have to confess that I was convinced that the Weekly writer was simply a “Queen B” fanatic who never even heard a Dylan song in her life, for she would know the shame of even making such a suggestion.
Frankly, Dylan wrote his own mind-bending songs that changed the nature of song lyrics, while Beyonce only writes "substantial" lyrics for her lesser recordings, when she isn’t “sampling” the songs of her betters. Look, she impresses some people with that annoying, weird vocal gymnastics style, and she looks good on stage and in videos. But Dylan would be embarrassed to express the kind of self-important drivel that Beyonce exudes: “I’m more powerful than my mind can even digest and understand.” “Queen B” is so self-obsessed that she told GQ magazine last year that she has a “temperature-controlled archive room” in which she stores her interviews, home movies and photographic images. This for a performer (not "artist") who for all her success will likely become a footnote in the history of popular music, while Dylan will at least merit a whole chapter for his impact.
Beyonce is the kind of person who would probably be relegated in Dylan’s world to that person he is addressing in his Sixties hit “Positively 4th Street,” a self-important person who claims to be his “friend” now that he has become famous, but the narrator only sees him as a “drag.” Beyonce has been called a “hero” of the feminist movement, but I think it is more about her “badass,” conceited self-obsession and “attitude.” Do the following lyrics sound “Dylanesque” to you?:
“He popped all my buttons and he ripped my blouse/ He Monica Lewinsky-ed all on my gown/ Oh Daddy, Daddy, he didn’t bring the towel/ Oh baby, baby, we better slow it down.”
Nah, he’d rather
“I get filthy with that liquor, give it to me.”
Actually, that was Beyonce again. Dylan would probably say something like
Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you? People called beware doll you’re bound to fall, you thought they were all kidding you. You used to laugh about everyone that was hanging out. Now you don’t talk so loud, now you don’t seem so proud, about having to be scrounging for your next meal.
You never saw the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns when they all did tricks for you. You never understood that it ain’t no good, you shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you.
Princess on a steeple and all the pretty people drinkin’ thinkin’ that they got it made. Exchanging all precious gifts and things, but you better take your diamond ring, you better pawn it babe.
Like I said, “Like a Rolling Stone” is a classic for a reason: It is actually great. And the artist who wrote the song is indisputably great. Now, in regard to Beyonce, despite what her legion of fans who find her work “relatable” in the sense they share her obsession with self—well, that’s a completely different matter altogether. I suppose like many successful performers of the past, she is a product solely of her own times—and in my “humble” opinion, far inferior to the talent that Dylan shared time with during his peak years.