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Why The Village Voice Was Crazy To Put Bob Dylan On Its Last Cover

Had I been eating soup when I saw the cover of this week’s farewell issue of the Village Voice, I would have spit up.

There, on the cover, is a full-page photograph of Bob Dylan, circa 1965, taken in Greenwich Village, saluting the camera in a manner which, one supposes, could be viewed as a goodbye gesture. I get that.

And Bob Dylan did, indeed, emerge out of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s, calling the Village home for the first half of the decade and then again in the first half of the 1970s. The same Village that gave the Village Voice its name. So I get that, too.

And throughout those many years, the Voice reported on, reviewed, and analyzed every move Dylan made — as did every counterculture media outlet as well as the mainstream press. How, otherwise, could Dylan have come up with the immortal opening couplet of the song, “Idiot Wind,” which went, “Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press.”

And as a loyal reader of the Village Voice for many of those years, and as a huge fan of Bob Dylan back then, some of that coverage is so firmly embedded in my mind that I remember it more clearly than what I read in yesterday’s New York Times.

Take, for example, the time the Voice sent not one but four separate critics to review Dylan’s four-hour epic film, “Renaldo and Clara,” in 1978, all four of whom trashed the movie so badly that it was withdrawn from theaters in a matter of just a few weeks. One of the reviewers wrote, “I wish Bob Dylan died.”

Or, when reviewing the album “Infidels” in 1983, the Voice cast Dylan as “the William F. Buckley of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” presumably because they totally misunderstood the song “Union Sundown” as an anti-labor screed rather than as a warning against global capitalism run amok. Or maybe it was the song “Neighborhood Bully” to which they objected — a thinly veiled indictment of anti-Semitism going back to “Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon” up until the present, when, speaking of Israel, Dylan sang, “There’s a noose at his neck and a gun at his back / And a license to kill him given out to every maniac.”

It was apparently all too much for the Village Voice when the Voice of a Generation ceased, in their view, to tread the party line.

I have fond memories of reading the Village Voice in its heyday, of smuggling it into my suburban high school like some piece of samizdat literature.

Those fond memories do not include the Voice’s coverage of Bob Dylan.

Which is why I would have spit out my soup had I been eating it when I saw they had decided to say farewell with an image of Bob Dylan.

But then again, I don’t eat soup.

Seth Rogovoy is a contributing editor at the Forward and the author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet” (Scribner, 2009).

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