like a Ruritanian Bob Dylan

Careful, folk/rock singer/songwriters of the world: there is a spectre haunting you. If you're:

  • eminent back home;

  • or just the first big rock guy in your language;

  • vaguely political;

  • or lyrically pretentious;

  • or mischievous;

  • possessed of bad voice;

  • or accused of capturing a moment in your people's cultural history

then look out, my foreign friend - for you are sooner or later gonna catch a comparison to Dylan. In recent times the simile has become so wild and virulent that non-musicians must be careful also:

Steve Jobs is right up there. He is, in many ways, the Bob Dylan of machines, he's the Elvis of the kind of hardware-software dialectic."
- Bono

1. "the English Bob Dylan"

Richard Thompson

Dylanesque Score: 6/10

Roy Harper

Dylanesque Score: 7/10

or even
Billy Bragg

Dylanesque Score: 5/10

1'. "British Bob" (the Scottish English Bob Dylan)


Dylanesque Score: 8/10

1''. "The Welsh Dylan" - says the BBC
(though there's plenty of Dylans there already if you ask me)

Meic Stevens

Dylanesque Score: 6/10

2. "Like a Dutch Bob Dylan or somethin"

Boudewijn de Groot

Dylanesque Score: 7/10

Lucky Fonz III (says me)

Dylanesque Score: 7.5/10

3. "The Spirited Bob Dylan of Brazil" - says New York Times

Caetano Veloso

Dylanesque Score: 8/10
(in a Latin way, obv)

4. "Bob Dylan of South Africa" - says Dave Matthews

Vusi Mahlasela

Dylanesque Score: 5/10

4'. "Like a White South African Bob Dylan"

Gert Vlok Nel

Dylanesque Score: 6/10

5. "the Greek equivalent of Bob Dylan"

Dionysis Savvopoulos

Dylanesque Score: 8/10

or George Dalaras (blech)

Dylanesque Score: 3/10

6. "Like a Chinese Bob Dylan"

Cui Jian
(sounds more like the Zhongguoren David Byrne/Colin Hay, but never mind)

Dylanesque Score: 6/10

Yang Yi

7. "Iran's Bob Dylan" - says New York Times again

Mohsen Namjoo

Dylanesque Score: 6/10

8. "The Bob Dylan of Argentina" - says Alejandro Lerner

León Gieco

Dylanesque Score: 7/10

9. "Cuba's Bob Dylan" - New York Times again

Carlos Varela
(a sentimental shill, but so is Dylan)

Dylanesque Score: 6/10

10. "The Czech Bob Dylan" - says Boulder Weekly

Robert Křesťan


Dylanesque Score: 8/10

Jaromír Nohavica

Dylanesque Score: 7/10

11. "Like the black Bob Dylan of Australia"

Kev Carmody

Archie Roach

5'. "The Bob Dylan of Australia"

Paul Kelly

Dylanesque Score: 7/10

(or there's always Nick Cave.)

12. "The Jamaican Bob Dylan"

Barry Brown

Dylanesque score: 5/10
(tho Jamaica was spilling over with this calibre of talent for a decade and a half; BB's equality among kings.)

13. "The Bob Dylan of Japan"

Yosui Inoue

Dylanesque score: 6/10

13'. "Okinawa's Bob Dylan or David Byrne"

Shoukichi Kina

Dylanesque score: 4/10
Win score: 9/10

15. Like a Chilean Bob Dylan

Victor Jara

Dylanesque score: (Got shot by government: more Dylan than Dylan.)

less epochally,

Dylanesque score: (a remarkably feminine) 8/10

16. "The Bob Dylan of East Germany"

Wolf Biermann

Dylanesque score: 7/10

17. Like an Inuit Bob Dylan

Willie Thrasher

Dylanesque score: 6/10

18. "The Russian Bob Dylan"

Boris Grebenshchikov

Dylanesque score: 7/10

18'. "Like the Bob Dylan of the Soviet Union"

Vladimir Visotsky

Dylanesque score: 5/10

19. "the Bob Dylan of Vietnam" - attrd. Joan Baez

Trịnh Công Sơn

Dylanesque score: 5/10

20. "The Bob Dylan of Rap" / "The Jay-Z of his day"


Dylanesque score: ?

21. "like Bob Dylan if Bob Dylan could sing"

Dire Straits(!)

Dylanesque score: No.


Most of the above are too earnest by half - they'd be unable to do, say, this:

But a more glaring revisionist point is that the above are mostly loads more political than he.

Bobby was not really a political person; he was thought of as being a political person, a man of the Left. And in a general way, he was, but not interested in the true nature of the Soviet Union or any of that crap. We thought he was hopelessly politically naïve. In retrospect, I think he may have been more politically sophisticated than we were.
— Dave Van Ronk

Thirty-some years, whenever I go to a march, a sit-in, or a lie-in, or a be-in, or a jail-in, people say, “Is Bob coming?” I say, “He never comes, you moron. You know? When you gonna get it? Never did, probably never will."
— Joan Baez



Hear my firstworld woes!
o they strike heinous blows:
today my fridge froze my tomatoes.

on hearing that they'd froze, no-one proposed
aught but hiring Dada so and sos -
"those the better to compose (apropos tomato woes)".

To close: my cow howls and lows
and my bull won't doze
Cos the bastard fridge froze my tomatoes!


songs of disbelief

Indie music is well if not completely captured in the feeling of discomfort with oneself. And consequently, one's disbelief in oneself, or in life. I'm not so keen on those songs at the moment. So, instead, here are some songs of disbelief in other things than the shit person you have to spend all your time with.

I did look for songs that used "belief" in the technical sense, of epistemic claim, but there's few, few. See Lennon at #7 for a quite different usage - "belief" as one's identity-defining opinions. Anyway, the really common use of disbelief is not for the assertion of falsehoods, but instead for the other incredulity - as in "I can't believe it!": the sudden gaping inability to make sense of the world (which is of course a key symptom of love).

If as a musician or other kind of person you come to pass off "I can't believe you're gone" as lyrics or other kind of self-narrative, then you've no doubt forgotten that it was "I can't believe I've found you", not so long before.

1. I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me - Billie Holiday

("You're telling ev'ryone I know / I'm on your mind each place you go ...
they can't believe that you're in love with me.")

Like much she did, this is dangerously ambiguous - subverts the titular pop cliché before it even was a pop cliché.)

2. Winter Wonderland - Animal Collective
("If you don't believe it's raining /I won't tell you that it's rainingDo you not believe it's raining just because it gets you down?
And if you don't believe in happiness / Then don't believe in happiness
Don't believe in happiness - but then you might be down
If you don't believe you're crying
/ Then don't believe you're crying
Do you not believe you're crying just because it gets you down

The boys approach subtlety via a zany romp about the crying dishonesty of most beliefs.

3. Check It Out - Nicki Minaj
("I can't believe it, it's so amazing.
I can't believe it, this beat is banging.
I can't believe it, I can't believe it

Nothing other than a drugged-up loved-up entry to da club. (Where else is the Sublime of today to be found?)

4. The Great Beyond - REM
("I can't believe that I believed that I wished that you could see...")

5. Ghosts - Billie the Vision
("I don't believe in ghosts but there's a ghost under my bed.")
cf. Moore's Paradox

6. Turtles All The Way Down - Every Time I Die
("I can't believe I thought my thoughts meant anything.")
Ah what a pleasantly silly band.

7. God - John Lennon
("I don't believe in [lots of things].
I just believe in Yoko and me.")

Included as instance of the standard nasty usage of "belief" for only those beliefs which are magical constituents of your Real True Self.

8. Oh, Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison
("I don't believe you - you're not the truth.")

Moore's Paradox again, sort of. But perhaps it's better taken as illustration of the boring but absolutely primary point that truth is a feature of language and not of the world.

9. Into My Arms - Nick Cave
("I don't believe in an interventionist God.")

Get you. A little love ditty as stand-in for the full and perfect replacement of theology that is potential in phenomenology.

10. In The Aeroplane - Neutral Milk Hotel
("Can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all")

11. Oh My God - Ronson, etc.

This song could be great - maybe if, say, Antony Hegarty took it on.

12. Don't You Want Me? - Human League
("You know I don't believe you when you say that you won't see me."


13. I Don't Want to See You - Camera Obscura
("I can't believe that I am writing this down /
and I can't believe that I've got you in a song /
I don't want to be a whining girl")
Tell it to that Human League.

14. Suicidal Thoughts - Biggie
("I can't believe suicide's on my fucking mind.")

Is this about the sole means of emotional expression of many men? (When drunk at 3am, to that one dude who probably won't call you gay for saying these things.) Or perhaps Biggie's disbelief is that he has feelings at all.

15. The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room - Flight of the Conchords
("I can't believe I'm sharing a kebab with the most beautiful girl I have ever seen with a kebab")

16. And We Thought That Nation-States Were A Bad Idea - Propagandhi
("I can't believe I'm gonna worry about this kind of shit.
What a stupid world. And it's beautiful. No regard for principle.
What a stupid world
. (1) born (2) hired (3) disposed.")

17. I Can't Believe You Actually Died - Microphones

A beautiful sentence, that - as if to say "...What on earth do you think you're doing?"


i think you'll find it's pronounced natse

"I think you get taught a set of rules and then you learn to abuse them – that’s part of what linguistic facility is. It’s about going beyond competence and understanding when you can violate conventions. We talk about rules but it really is more sensible to talk about conventions. The point is that these things will change."
- Henry Hitchings

One of the few things I'm anarchist about is language; or, properly speaking, prescriptivism in linguistics. (Another is scientific methodology.) There's no pettier a way to get me angry than correcting someone's speech from a purist high horse. This is not just because it's generally needless and unkind, but because it stems from a mistake about the nature of language: as fixed, or as logical, or as containing national essence, or as a top-down construction - when it is none of these things.

1. Claim:
Language is for the communication of ideas.

1'. Consequence: Any utterance which passes the relevant idea along is successful language.

2. Norm: The success of an utterance is more important than the correctness of an utterance.

2^9. Mad norm: Successful language is 'correct' language. This goes for grammar, spelling, and especially pronunciation.

C. entailed Anarchism: Grammar is parasitic on usage. Linguistic change is not corruption, barbarism or solecism, but often enrichment by better correspondence to the rapid cultural world. The contrary mindset, prescriptivism, is both descriptively inadequate and an excuse for classism and tiny acts of sadism. The only restriction on language should be that it succeeds.

(This is stricter than it looks, since the opposite of purism - e.g. people using new slang to alienate others - is also proscribed. It doesn't entail the destruction of standards - just clips their claws.)

(vs 1'. The content of a speech-act is not so simply independent of form as you seem to assume. The idea that eventually gets communicated is inescapably shaped by the register, 'correctness', context of the utterance and by the identity of the speaker. Your 'anarchism' is all very well, but why don't you speak lolspeak?)


However, I'm a fool if I deny that value gets lost in the faster-than-the-speed-of-precedent manic social chatternova. (Such rowdy kids!) It's mostly some useful distinctions that get blurred and eroded. Some things now used as equivalent:

  • "Jealousy" (protective anger for something one possesses) v "Envy" (covetous anger for something one doesn't)

  • "Guilt" (moral pain, from own conscience) v "Shame" (social pain from being perceived to have wronged)

  • "Refute" (disprove) v "Reject" (disbelieve, deny)

  • "I do not believe that" (~belief, so doubt) v "I disbelieve that" (denial)

  • "Awesome": we've lost the complicated transcendental horror that this used to denote. And there's no word to replace it, since we've done the same grin-job on "sublime". And "bizarre".

Since these contain good ideas, don't I want to prescribe that they get used properly? Again: no, cuz that'd be neither right nor good.