Dennis O’Neil, Bob Dylan, and Temporary Disreputability


I don’t know how or from whom I learned of Bob Dylan. My patches of memory reveal that I was living aboard an aircraft carrier. I must have gone into a city (Boston?) and bought a copy of The Freewheeling Bob Dylan, then taken it to a tiny office below the flight deck, put it on a kiddie-sized turntable somebody had brought aboard, and listened and liked.

Another memory patch: a shipmate, a kid I barely know, typed the lyrics to Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” and put them on my desk, where I found them later. I have no idea why he did this – he owed me nothing – and I wish I’d been more grateful at the time.

Then some years when the misfits and rebels were constructing a counter cultural matrix from activism, folk music, rock and – yes – comic books. Not a lot of it was openly seditious (except for some of the politics) but virtually all of it was anti-establishment. The nonconformists were not looking for a corporate ladder to climb, nor a cozy nest in suburbia, nor a wife who would supply an acceptable number of scrubby offspring. Whatever that was, we didn’t want it, though I’m not sure why. There were probably a lot of different reasons; everyone carries their own burden. But sometimes the burdens can be shared.

Always, there was Dylan, sometimes figure, sometimes ground, but always, one way or another, present. He acted in a western and was the subject of a documentary film, he performed on Saturday Night Live, he published a memoir, and he wrote songs and made records and toured. He refused to be labeled the voice of his generation, but, I’m sorry, that’s what he was to me and myriads of others.

Now, we rebels are aged, not as spry as we once were, maybe not as attuned to whatever’s revolutionary these days..

I was a comic book writer and editor, content enough to be a bit disreputable in a somewhat disreputable business. But disreputability is temporary and ours faded over the decades, and eventually, without my much noticing it, comics had parity with other narrative forms. And Dylan’s combination of music – some folk, in there, some country, some rock – and his inimitable lyrics, found a home in the tonier venues. Comic books and Bobby D, occupying separate spheres, but related by time and circumstance.

Last week, Dylan was awarded the ultimate establishment accolade, the Nobel Prize. Does this mean that, at long last, we rebels have succumbed to respectability? Maybe. Probably. I guess that the answer is blowin’ in the wind.