Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

What Mark Twain can teach us about Bob Dylan

The wildly varying reactions to Bob Dylan among people of different cities, different temperaments and different age groups reminded me of a passage from my favorite book, Mark Twain’s “A Tramp Abroad.”

The English-speaking German gentleman who went with me to the opera there was brimming with enthusiasm over that tenor.

He said: “ACH GOTT! a great man! You shall see him. He is so celebrate in all Germany–and he has a pension, yes, from the government. He not obliged to sing now, only twice every year; but if he not sing twice each year they take him his pension away.”

Very well, we went. When the renowned old tenor appeared, I got a nudge and an excited whisper:

“Now you see him!”

But the “celebrate” was an astonishing disappointment to me. If he had been behind a screen I should have supposed they were performing a surgical operation on him. I looked at my friend–to my great surprise he seemed intoxicated with pleasure, his eyes were dancing with eager delight. When the curtain at last fell, he burst into the stormiest applause, and kept it up–as did the whole house–until the afflictive tenor had come three times before the curtain to make his bow. While the glowing enthusiast was swabbing the perspiration from his face, I said:

“I don’t mean the least harm, but really, now, do you think he can sing?”

“Him? NO! GOTT IM HIMMEL, ABER, how he has been able to sing twenty-five years ago?” [Then pensively.] “ACH, no, NOW he not sing any more, he only cry. When he think he sing, now, he not sing at all, no, he only make like a cat which is unwell.”

Where and how did we get the idea that the Germans are a stolid, phlegmatic race?

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 11, 2009 at 20:45

Posted in Music

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