By Jay Parini
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Additional info for American Writers, Supplement XVIII
This is why such a miscellany of major literary figures—including John Ciardi, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Frank Kermode, Stephen Spender, John Clellon Holmes, Anthony Burgess, Kenneth Rexroth, John Berryman, Philip Larkin, and Robert Lowell—all found it necessary at one time or another to take up the question of Dylan as a poet. In the 1960s and 1970s the question became a variety of litmus tests for one’s position within a fracturing literary world. Writers hastened to define themselves in relationship to an accelerating avant-garde—sometimes oscillating between positions, as in the case of Norman Mailer, who initially declared, with characteristic truculence, “If Dylan’s a poet, I’m Equally a symptom and an idiosyncrasy of the way in which Bob Dylan entered into, then occupied, the center of popular culture, the placement of Dylan within a literary rather than a musical canon had by this time become routine.
Dylan began each show with a solo acoustic set, always warmly received, followed by an electric set with the Hawks. During this second half of the show he would trade barbs with hecklers in 26 BOB DYLAN by the songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson to join the director Sam Peckinpah in Durango, Mexico, for the filming of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, released the following year. Dylan wrote a score for the film and played the minor role of Alias. The film was poorly reviewed, though Dylan’s music for it found an appreciative audience.
The best moments in the film are abundantly surprising, even luminous, and, for Dylan, unusually revealing. Sara and Bob Dylan divorced in June 1977. Many of the songs on the January 1976 album Desire, especially the directly confessional “Sara,” are occupied with the troubles as well as the felicities of their marriage. The following decade was difficult for Dylan, even by his own account. In 1979, only a few years after pervasive speculation that he had magnified his Jewish heritage into a variety of Zionism, Dylan confused fans by becoming a born-again Christian.
American Writers, Supplement XVIII by Jay Parini