Why we all need to be more like Bob Dylan

The legendary singer/songwriter has taken some flak in the British press for saying he likes the Stereophonics. But we should all take inspiration from his weird ideas

I have read that Crocs are now acceptable, but I’m wary about wearing them because of all the old associations. Or has their newfound trendiness overcome these issues?

Mike, by email

I have been thinking about this a lot recently, Mike, not in relation to Crocs, obviously, which are absurd, unacceptable and should only be worn by those actively trying to never have sex again. But about the associations we put on things – their cultural baggage, if you will, which I will. What prompted this weeks-long pondering was a long interview with Bob Dylan on his website. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly urge that you do so immediately. It is the most Dylan thing you will ever read in your life, so whether you love the man or find him to be an annoying self-parody, you will find all your love and/or prejudices confirmed here. For example, if you ever listened to a Dylan song and thought: “Sure, nice lyrics, but no one actually talks that way,” it turns out Dylan really does: “In my 20s and 30s I hadn’t been anywhere. Since then I’ve been all over the world, I’ve seen oracles and wishing wells.”

“I was born in Duluth – industrial town, shipyards, ore docks, grain elevators, mainline train yards, switching yards. It’s on the banks of Lake Superior, built on granite rock. Lot of foghorns, sailors, loggers, storms, blizzards.”

See? The most Dylan thing you will ever read in your life. Imagine trying to make small talk with Dylan at a party: “So, Bob, did you have a nice journey here?”

“We drove the car – an automobile, American, steady, moving, flashing trees, flickering people. Safe. Dangerous. Fast. Slow.”

“Okaaaay. Do you want a drink?”

“I’ve drunk potions and lotions, drinks on fire and ones cold as ice, goblets with maidens in caves and cups running over in enchanted fields.”

“I think I just spotted someone I know by the bar …”

Anyway, this interview got a lot of attention in the UK press because in it Dylan mentions that he likes the Stereophonics. The Stereophonics! Oh, how the British press hooted. Bob loving those tossers – ha! But I haven’t felt this much of an affinity with ol’ Bob since the time he released an album of Christmas songs, just because he likes Christmas songs. (Jews, it is well known, love Christmas songs – hell, we wrote most of the best ones.) Not because I like the Stereophonics – obviously not – but because Dylan doesn’t understand the associations Brits attach to these things, and how important they are. He has no idea that, to the vast majority of British people, the Stereophonics are tedious rockers who were once, unforgivably, rude to Adam Buxton’s dad, aka, BaaaadDad, on The Adam and Joe Show, and who became fatally overexposed as a result of performing a version of The Office’s theme song.

I’m not saying these are fair reasons to hate them (except the rudeness to BaaaadDad – that really is a crime), but they are facts. As I said, Dylan doesn’t know this, and barrels on his own merry, Stereophonics-loving way.

Crocs … unacceptable.
Crocs … unacceptable. Photograph: Cate Gillon/Getty Images

People from the US really have no idea how exhausting it is moving to Britain and trying to catch up on all the cultural associations. Sure, other countries put associations on things, but in Britain they are far more pronounced due, quite simply, to the British terror of embarrassment and saying/doing/liking the Wrong Things. When I moved here back in the 90s, I would come home from school every day completely wiped out. Not only was I having to learn who Kylie, the Stone Roses and Brother Beyond were, I had to grasp what it meant to like each one, and what kind of person I was for pledging allegiance to them. And not just bands. Movies, TV shows, pretty much any form of culture. Were you the kind of person who watched The Word or Blind Date? The Mary Whitehouse Experience or The Upper Hand? Honestly, it’s amazing I ever had time to do any homework, what with all this extracurricular work.

A few years ago, I interviewed David Sedaris for this paper and we talked about this, but he, characteristically, saw this not as a problem but as something full of potential. He and his husband, Hugh, had just bought a house in West Sussex. “I don’t know what that means – West Sussex,” he said. “If someone bought a place outside New York, I would know what that said about them. So it’s weird not knowing what West Sussex says about us. But I also kinda like that.”

We should all take inspiration from Sedaris here. Too many of us, by which I mean me, spend far too long fretting over what our external trappings say about us, apologising for our lame music when people scroll through our phones, wondering whether we’re the kind of person who would wear a pink coat or a red one. Be like Bob and embrace your weird taste with unhesitating pleasure. But, for the record, Crocs are still unacceptable. That is just an objective truth.

Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email ask.hadley@theguardian.com.

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Hadley Freeman

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