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Whatâ??s Like a Rolling Stone?

Is 'Like a Rolling Stone' an existential clarion call rather than a long tirade? Does it advocate the cutting of all ties and the refusal of all comforts? That's not how I have ever heard it. It seems to me to be about someone who has had those ties and comforts stripped away, who has stood revealed as a fraud and a poser, and that Dylan is revelling in her fall from grace and favour. Isn't 'Like a Rolling Stone', from its vomited lyrics to the sneer in Dylan's delivery, the greatest put-down ever recorded? [â??Confused by Dylan? You will beâ? by Sean Oâ??Hagan, The Observer. April 10, 2005]

Sean Oâ??Hagan seems to be baffled by Greil Marcusâ??s new book about one of Bob Dylanâ??s great songs, â??Like a Rolling Stone,â? released 40 years ago. On the other hand, the lyrics arenâ??t puzzling to Oâ??Hagan, who takes the words at face value and doesnâ??t paint Dylanâ??s motives as sympathetic in any way. However, there are others who would label Dylan a poet, even a literary icon.

Herb Bowie writes in his book, Reason to Rock:

So this phrase, â??a rolling stone,â? that meant a lack of material possessions, a lack of home, a lack of belonging for the blacks who sang it, became a symbol of liberation for the rock generation. Because those who adopted it â?? Bob Dylan, Brian Jones and Jann Wenner â?? saw, and made us see, that these material ties also enslaved us, restricted our perspective, blurred our vision, dulled our senses, and blinded us to our own creative potential.

This is why Dylan asks the question: â??How does it feel ... to be like ... a rolling stone?â? And this is why millions sang along with him. For he is singing, not about the reversal of fortune of one woman, but about the transformation of a generation. He is singing this phrase because, in allowing ourselves to feel the answer to this question, we were â?? at least for some of us, and at least for some time â?? able to liberate ourselves from our position and our place, able to see through the deceit and illusion around us, and able to achieve that clear, transcendent, crystalline vision that can only be bestowed by art and artist.

Are we to accept interpretations on different levels?

Greil Marcus quotes Bob Dylan in his May 13, 2005 Guardian article, â??How does it feel?â?:

"I still feel like the same person," Dylan told the photographer Richard Avedon's collaborator Doon Arbus in 1997, talking about the milieu where from 1960 to 1965 he did his work. "One of the feelings of it was that you were part of a very elite, special group that was outside and downtrodden. You felt like you were part of a different community, a more secretive one. And this community spread out across America ... every little city you went to, if you knew who to call, what to look for, you could find ... like-minded people.

"That's been destroyed. I don't know what destroyed it. Some people say it's still there. I hope it is. I know, in my mind, that I'm still a member of a secret community. I might be the only one, you know?"

A secret community of like-minded people. Maybe even a community of one. Would this involve something more than liberation from a materialistic world, deceit and illusion? That theme isnâ??t so secretive, is it? The mystery remains,... except for those who know.

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