Dylan Conference

BOB DYLAN

THE 1998 INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY

January 17, 1998   Kresge Auditorium

In 1998 Stanford University sponsored the first international academic conference on Bob Dylan to be held in the United States. Approximately 400 people attended this event, organized by Tino Markworth with Rush Rehm.


PROGRAM

9:00-10:00
Christopher Ricks (Core Curriculum, Boston University)
Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet


10:00-12:00          Panel 1
Moderator: Joshua Landy (French & Italian, Stanford University)

Tino Markworth (German Studies, Stanford University)
Too Much Educated Rap? Bob Dylan and Academia

Rush Rehm (Drama, Stanford University)
Only a Pawn in Their Game: Bob Dylan and Politics

Mark Gonnerman (Religious Studies, Stanford University)
The Sound of One Dog Barking: Bob Dylan and Religious Experience


13:00-15:00 Panel 2
Moderator: Robert Harrison (French & Italian, Stanford University)

Aldon Nielsen (English, Loyola Marymount University)
A Long Way from Hibbing: Bob Dylan’s Black Masque

Stephen Ronan (author, assist. producer of The Jack Kerouac Collection)
The Visionary Road: Rimbaud, Kerouac, Dylan

Stephen Scobie (English, University of Victoria)
Renaldo & Allen: Allen Ginsberg’s Role in ‘Renaldo & Clara’


15:30-17:30 Panel 3
Moderator: Susan Dunn (Humanities Center, Stanford University)

Maria Johnson (Music, Southern Illinois University)
Performed Literature: The Music of Bob Dylan

Lonny Chu (Music, Stanford University)
In the Studio: The Recording Styles and Techniques of Bob Dylan

Paul Williams (author of Bob Dylan: Performing Artist)
Seeing the Real You at Last: Bob Dylan and His Audience


Sponsored by The Stanford Humanities Center

and Dean of Humanities & Sciences, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Department of Music, Department of English, Humanities Special Program, Department of Religious Studies, Department of French & Italian

Video tapes of the complete conference are available at the Stanford University Library.

Thanks to Ron Chester, Susan Dunn, Andy Hertzfeld, Carol Langston.


Media Response

It was 1998 and the academic culture wars were still raging. On the one side were the defenders of the faith arguing that popular culture had no place in the university, that time was better spent to familiarize the students with the canonical works of high culture. On the other side were the devious postmodernists who tried to undermine the canon, leveling the field by making low or pop culture worthy of academic inquiry. While the high culture proponents argued that it was largely an aesthetic quality that made cultural artifacts part of the canon, the postmodernistas stated instead that aesthestic judgements were bogus anyway and the canon was rather an expression of power structures.

That Stanford University staged a conference about Bob Dylan at all – that was the news – and unfortunately not, how Dylan was framed (ha!) and debated at the conference. Many saw it as a victory for this newfangled postmodernist or destructionist or whatever-it-is-called movement. For example Ron Rebholz, a perfectly nice Professor from Stanford’s English Department, felt it necessary to take a public stand (San Francisco Chronicle, Jan 7, 1998) – even before the conference took place – to show that not all Stanford had succumbed to this new academic fashion. I wonder if he might not have changed his mind, had he actually come to the conference first. A closer look would have revealed that this was not case of postmodernitis at all. There was no applause from the postmodern side within academia, in fact. And that was not surprising. This was a conference about an artist who was old, and white, and male – certainly not a good posterchild of this latest academic fashion. And he was chosen because of the aesthetic quality of his work, not because of his current popularity. (It was early 1998, Dylan was still largely seen as a burned-out has-been – his first album with new songs in seven years was just released a few months earlier). And, last not least, the postmodernists ever-so annoying mantra of “race, class and gender” was also ominously missing from most of the talks.

But, while methodically conservative, the conference tried to break new ground in two ways: First, by taking Dylan seriously as an artist, and secondly, by not limiting our academic engagement to Dylan the writer. (Conference participant Christopher Ricks still rightly emphasizes this second point: “Bob Dylan is a genius – but reducing his songs to ‘literature’ is dangerous.” The Telegraph, October 14, 2016.) Instead, as the program above shows, it was purposively conceived to analyze his work from different angles, attempting a “multi-disciplinary” approach.

The academic culture wars are largely forgotten nowadays as is the debate surrounding the event. The conference did not immediately trigger a full blown academic fascination with Bob Dylan as I had hoped but it certainly helped pave the way for the numerous Dylan conferences in the last decade. (On this topic see David Cohen: “Surge of scholarly interest in Bob Dylan.” The Guardian, May 21, 2001; Evan R. Goldstein: “Dylan and the Intellectuals.” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 5, 2010; Scott Timberg: “Bob Dylan, a laureate sure, but by what measure a poet.” Salon, November 2, 2016.) I have to admit that when Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 2016, I felt a little bit vindicated, as we were among the first academics who recognized his outstanding achievements.


Unfortunately, most of the articles about the conference are no longer acccessible on the web. Here are a few links that should still work:


About organizing the conference:

Jim Harrington: “Jukebox poet. Stanford University hosts the country’s first Bob Dylan conference, focusing on the man who ‘brought poetry to the jukebox’.” Palo Alto Weekly, January 16, 1998


About the conference:

James Sullivan: “Answers Blowin’ in the Stanford Wind. Academic types deconstruct Dylan.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 19, 1998

Michael Batty: “All along the ivory tower. A recent Dylan symposium at Stanford proved that as rock fans, academics can babble with the most brain-dead metalheads.” Salon.com, January 1998


About the debate surrounding the conference:

Bill Workman: “Conference on Bob Dylan at Stanford.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1998

Michael J. Ybarra: “Tennyson, Milton and … Bob Dylan? Culture: Academics and fans alike gather to study and analyze the works of the musical legend at a first-of-its-kind conference at Stanford.” Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1998

Gina Arnold: “Dialing for Dylan. These days, Bob Dylan is more than just a pop-music superstar—he’s a star in the firmament of English literature.” Metro newspaper, San Jose, Calif., May 14, 1998

 


Media coverage following the announcement of the conference

PRINT

“Bob Dylan subject of academic conference.” Associated Press, Wednesday 7

-. Chronicle of Higher Education, Thursday 23

-. “Si studia Bob Dylan all’università.” La Repubblica, Friday 9

Elaine Goodman: “Stanford conference looks at Bob Dylan. Academic event explores singer’s lyrics, music.” Palo Alto Daily News, Thursday 8

Jim Harrington: “Jukebox poet. Stanford University hosts the country’s first Bob Dylan conference, focusing on the man who ‘brought poetry to the jukebox’.” Palo Alto Weekly, January 16, 1998

Greg Frost: “Stanford University To Host Bob Dylan Conference.” Reuters, Thursday 8

Bill Workman: “Conference on Bob Dylan at Stanford.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1998

Monday 12 (Letter to the Editor)

Michelle Levander: “Knock, knock, knocking on academia’s door. Stanford to study Bob Dylan.” San Jose Mercury News, Thursday 8

Paul Sterman: “Deconstructing Dylan.” San Mateo County Times and Oakland Tribune, Thursday 15

Krista Glaser: “Dylan conference to be held on campus.” The Stanford Daily, Thursday 8

Brian Jones & Mark Bell: “I’m a Poet and I know it. Bob Dylan Conference and Controvercy. The Stanford Daily, Thursday 15

“’The answer, my friend’: An all-day Dylan conference.” Stanford Report, Wednesday 7


WIRESERVICES (AP/Reuters), Thursday 8 and Friday 9

USA: Austin American Statesman, Cincinnati Enquirer, The Des Moines Register, Hartford Courant, Los Angeles Times, The News and Observer (Raleigh,NC), St. Louis Dispatch, USA Today, etc

Switzerland: Neue Züricher Zeitung

Netherlands: NRC Handelsblad

Germany: Süddeutsche Zeitung


RADIO (only interviews)

BBC London, Radio 5, with Marita Eager, Thursday 8

KGO Radio, San Francisco, with Kevin Patcher (two interviews), Friday 9 and Tuesday 13

KFRC Radio, San Francisco, Wednesday 14

Voice of America, with Martin Seacrest, Thursday 15

Minnesota Public Radio, Minneapolis, Friday 16


TV: CNN


INTERNET:  Gil Kaufman: “Stanford University To Hold Dylan Seminar. Professors and graduate students to study, life, times and music of folk-rock poet.” Addicted to Noise, January 8, 1998


Media coverage of the conference itself

PRINT

Karen Hunt: “Stanford program explores another side of Bob Dylan. Pop culture: Lecturers compare singer-songwriters to great poets.” Associated Press, San Jose Mercury News, Sunday 18

Paul Van Slambrouck: “Teaching Dylan at Tennyson’s Expense? A recent conference on the songwriter has spurred debate over pop culture’s place in academia.” Christian Science Monitor, Wednesday 21

La Stampa (Turin, Italy), Monday 19:

“Il caso. Stanford, prestigiosi accademici a convegno: così ha influenzato la nostra cultura.”

Lorenzo Soria: “Dylan? Si studia all’università. L’establishment si inchina al suo fustigatore.”

Claudio Gorlier: “La ballata dell’astuto intellettuale.”

Michael J. Ybarra: “Tennyson, Milton and … Bob Dylan? Culture: Academics and fans alike gather to study and analyze the works of the musical legend at a first-of-its-kind conference at Stanford.” Los Angeles Times, Wednesday 21

Dean Goodman: “Academics Debate The Real Bob Dylan.” Reuters, Sunday 18

Dean Goodman: “Dylan Fans Get Tangled Up In Academic Views.” Reuters, February 2

James Sullivan: “Answers Blowin’ in the Stanford Wind. Academic types deconstruct Dylan.” San Francisco Chronicle, Monday 19

Lisa Krieger: “Times are a-changing: Academics debate Dylan.” San Francisco Examiner, Sunday 18 (also Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Monday 19)

J.S.: “Talkin’ Bob Dylan Academic Conference Blues.” San Francisco Weekly (Riff Raff), Wednesday 21

Ginny McGormick: “Doctorate in Dylan?” Stanford Magazine, March/April 1998


WIRESERVICES (AP/Reuters), January 18-20:

The Baltimore Sun, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), The Daily News of Los Angeles, The Orange County Register, The Sacramento Bee, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)


RADIO (only interviews)

German Public Broadcasting, with Ingrid Koelle, Monday 19:

Südwestfunk 2, Kultur am Abend; Deutschlandfunk, Kultur heute;

Bayern 5; Westdeutscher Rundfunk 3

-, Chicago, Sunday, 18

JWay, Tokio, Sunday, 18

KFOG, San Francisco, with Kim Wonderly


INTERNET

rec.music.dylan: Report from the Academy, Sunday 18

Gil Kaufman: “Stanford University To Hold Dylan Seminar. Professors and graduate students to study, life, times and music of folk-rock poet.” Addicted to Noise, January 7, 1998