The Parallels of Bob Dylan & The Coen Brothers

In a terrific review of “Inside Llewyn Davis” that ran in today’s New York Times, A. O. Scott concludes by quoting on of Dylan’s most obtuse lines as he compares the Coen Brothers approach to making films to Dylan’s creative strategy.

Scott writes:

One of the insights of “Inside Llewyn Davis” is that hard work and talent do not always triumph in the end. Like most of the Coens’ movies, this one sidesteps the political turmoil of its period, partly because it is a fable, not a work of history. (The public affairs of the time get a shout-out in the form of a goofy novelty song called “Please Mr. Kennedy,” a barely topical sendup of the space race and the New Frontier.) But there is nonetheless a strong, hidden current of social criticism in the brothers’ work, which casts a consistently skeptical eye on the American mythology of success.

Winners do not interest them. There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all. That observation was made by Bob Dylan, like Joel and Ethan Coen, a Jewish kid from Minnesota and, like them, possessed of a knack for conscripting the American popular art of the past for his own idiosyncratic genius. His art, like theirs, upends easy distinctions between sincerity and cynicism, between the authentic and the artificial, and both invites and resists interpretation.

So I won’t speculate further on what “Inside Llewyn Davis” might mean. But at least one of its lessons seems to me, after several viewings, as clear and bright as a G major chord. We are, as a species, ridiculous: vain, ugly, selfish and self-deluding. But somehow, some of our attempts to take stock of this condition — our songs and stories and moving pictures, old and new — manage to be beautiful, even sublime.

For the entire review, which I hope you’ll read, head over to the Times.

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About Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg is a distinguished pioneer in the online music space; Newsweek magazine called him an ‘Internet visionary.’ In 1994 he founded Addicted To Noise (ATN), the highly influential music web site. He was a senior vice-president and editor in chief at SonicNet from March 1997 through May 2000. In 1997, Addicted To Noise won Webby awards for best music site in 1998 and 1999, and also won Yahoo Internet Life! awards for three years running as best music site in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Prior to starting Addicted To Noise, Goldberg was an editor and senior writer at Rolling Stone magazine for 10 years. His writing has also appeared in Wired, Esquire, Vibe, Details, Downbeat, NME and numerous other publications. Michael recently completed his first novel, Days of the Crazy-Wild, and is currently writing a second novel.

2 thoughts on “The Parallels of Bob Dylan & The Coen Brothers

  1. Nice essay, and worth it just for the observation in the closing sentence. It’s hard work on an individual basis to rise above that description of our species, but I think it becomes a matter of objective honesty with oneself and priorities. As Thoreau said “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

    Just a heads-up, it’s Coen Brothers.

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