Go watch the geek

by Steve

I’m pretty sure there is no need for any more words on the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. That won’t stop (m)any of us.

The singer is surrounded by reporters. When he answers their questions, their often asanine questions, they all laugh. Even though the responses aren’t funny. The reporters as straight men, set-up men. The singer as comedian. One-liner artist. Punchline-deliverer. Maybe the laughter is nerves. Maybe I just don’t get the jokes.

Some people will laugh at anything. A singer joking at a concert will always be greeted with laughter. It always makes me feel awkward. The audience willing themselves into a connection with the star. Perhaps the star willing themselves towards a connection with their audience. Or perhaps just showbiz.

I do miss singers being greeted at airports by grizzled hacks. Pained press conferences. Cryptic public statements. Even if the whole spectacle makes me feel awkward. I guess that is the point. The best artists made me uncomfortable.

I should know who would make a good modern candidate for The Singer amongst the hacks. But I’m too old to know now, just not old enough to dismiss the prospect that there might be a prospect out there. Nearly too old to wail Where Are All The Protest Singers, but not quite. I know us middle-aged/class white guys don’t hear the Protest Singers because we’re too busy listening to Dylan.

Even the outtakes.

Dylan attracts the Collector. The particular archetype. Seeking out every scrap, every hint, every clue. Even the press conferences. What does it all mean.

Search the bins. Record bins. Rubbish bins.

Bootleg culture exists without Dylan, but it is not the same. There’s not as much Dylan on the internet as you might expect, considering what the volume of recordings and footage must be. His record company must be too sharp. Or my searching skills too blunt.

Bootlegs, non-standard recordings, film clips, all part of the unauthorised narrative. All build up the picture, all make the case, make us think we’re getting closer to that connection with the singer.

The singer creates a persona. Creates a name. The official narrative. The records. The films. The shows. The myths and half-truths spun out in interviews, press conferences. The control of the story. The control of the work, the oeuvre.

The bootlegs are an alternative tale, a parallel one. Or a dialogue with the official record. I don’t know if they fill out the story or confuse it. Do they enhance the body of work, or dilute it. But they allow the audience to hear it all again for the first time. Familiar but different. Uncanny. Maybe something more truthful. Maybe some more wired, odd, weird.

Then there are the official bootlegs. The singer acknowledges the wider tale. The wider tale is tamed, controlled. Money to be made. Or made the fans happy. Same thing. Same thing? Still remove the unauthorised work. Still hunt out the unofficial work. Depends who you are. Keep digging.

Lose sight of the song, forget all the words. And it stops being art, Literature, whatever you want to call it, becomes trainspotting, trading cards, butterfly collecting.

Pore over the documents. Track the changes. Theories, meanings. Intertextuality. Inspirations. Pull at the seams, kick the tyres, roll out the metaphors, mix them. Try not to mix them. That’s some kind of study. Some kind of Literature.

Then back to the song. Pick any one. The official recording. The YouTube clip. The bootleg tape. And there is the Literature. But there is also the performance. The song. More than just the words. More than just the clues, the red herrings, the puzzles, the traps.

I don’t even know what poetry is, so I’m not the right man to tell you if a song is poetry. If performance is Literature. Pop music matters. You can stick it in a jar if you want. But I think we shouldn’t keep it in there.

Hunting out Protest Singers now. They are still there. Constructing their story, leaving behind their own trail. The collectors will be here soon, creating their own trails, tangents, truths.

Being a Collector isn’t enough. But it is something. What is the something else? If I have to spell it out. Something is happening here and I don’t know what it is. We all end up Mr Jones.