In which I have some questions
Great news, the man I’ve been thinking about and talking about and listening to all summer is embroiled in scandal. I’d intended to lay low on this album’s birthday for once in my simp life, but if I see one more post of the cover image I’m gonna slide off my chair and under the table. You cannot ambush me with that image a propos of nothing. It shorts all my circuits.
Anyway, do whatever art-from-artist separating you need to do, because I’ll be articulating some issues I might have latently had for a long time with the song everybody’s listening to today—inevitably first, because it’s the first—and thinking wow, it IS a good song, it DOES hold up after all these years, etc. And I reread Rhian E. Jones’s excellent essay “You Shouldn’t Take It So Personal: Bob Dylan and the Boundaries of Rebellion” expressly for this purpose. (Actually, not expressly; I also remembered as I read how very validated and seen it makes me feel. We love writers who care about the stuff we care about. Mr. Jones might be clueless, but Ms. Jones knows what’s up.)
The essay is from the 2017 collection Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them, and Jones primarily analyzes “Like a Rolling Stone.” The best song about Schadenfreude until, well, Avenue Q’s “Schadenfreude.”
I cannot say anything about this song that has not already been said, including sharing whatever Personal Story I’ve got, because it is not the most interesting of the Personal Stories out there. In lieu of all that, what I will do is ask a few things of the singer/narrator. And, if I’m honest, of us.
What is your relationship to this person? No, I didn’t ask who she is; everybody’s got their own guess at that, and it’s beside the point. Why do you, personally, have a stake in her current status, to the point that you feel obligated and/or entitled to comment on it? Did you have a fling that ended acrimoniously? Or is she simply such a public figure that she is commodified? Fair game, you might call her?
What is your endgame? Just to make her feel worse about herself than she probably already does? Do you even know how she arrived at her situation? Maybe an attempt at independence that didn’t go according to plan, and now she’s independent by necessity rather than by choice, but at least she went for it because she has to find some way of obtaining agency in a world that withholds it from her at every turn? Do you know? Do you?
Would it be correct to assume that you don’t expect her to answer all your rhetorical questions? Do you take kindly to being addressed with rhetorical questions? Is this right here your idea of a good time?
If this girl really is as down on her luck as you purport her to be, aren’t you sort of punching down? Shouldn’t it be all the more reason to leave her alone?
Is it just that you hate everyone? Is that it? You’re not a misogynist, you’re a misanthrope, and you’ll go after any individual who irritates you enough no matter their gender identity?
WHY did you take it out of waltz time?? It’s like you don’t even want us to have FUN.
Why have we chosen, to bear the title of greatest pop song ever, a song about putting a girl down?
Ugh. I’m still listening, aren’t I? Shut up.
Image: outtakes shared by @QueenCityJamz on Twitter. If the album had been released today, all of these would be on Instagram. I am here for the sassy cocked hip from the guy in back; he looks about to do the Bend & Snap.