Mystery Tramps

New Morning For Dylan Or I Hate Paris In The Fall
Hi, kids. Welcome back! You can leave your summer book reports on The Stranger and the cruel meaninglessness of existence so-why-even-bother? — in 800 words or less — on my desk after class. And be forewarned, anyone still pronouncing the author’s name like “anus” is simply not going to pass this class.

On a happier note, I have a fun assignment for you today: Compare and contrast the new Bob Dylan album Modern Times with the new Paris Hilton album, which is called … wait for it … Paris.

Why all those frowns? What’s that, you say? Dylan is old and in the way and smells like Vincent Price and sounds like cancer? You poor babies—what a small pillow you have to dream on. Here, I’ll get us started.

Hip irony would almost certainly dictate that we champion Paris over Dylan—that we find something au courant and zeitgeist-defining in her puddle-deep shallowness and that, conversely, we somehow find something passe and antiquated in Dylan’s depth.

Well, fuck hip irony. Sure, it’s never been hard to dismiss the cult of Dylan as a geeky sausage-party circle-jerk for overread fiftysomethings who just can’t admit it’s o-v-e-r, but at least he has a cult. I’m not sure Paris Hilton even has a fan base outside the stalkerazzi that devour her as omnivorously as they once devoured Dylan.

As Dorothy Parker once said, “If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at the people he gives it to.” Maybe that’ll be Paris’ great contribution to humanity—a redeeming act that’ll explain to future generations why we ever gave a shit­­—and close out the long overdue tab on her 15 minutes. She’ll be remembered as the once-living proof that money can’t buy everything.

Anyone expecting Paris to be anything more than a six-figure karaoke party we get to overhear from the wrong side of the velvet rope will be sorely disappointed. Hilton wanted to be a pop star because, best she can tell, it’s one more thing her money can buy. Dylan taught himself to sing for his supper, because otherwise it was just one more thing he couldn’t buy. With a voice like his, most other people would have gone hungry.

Paris’ Capri-thin pipes have been fattened like foie gras and given the finest airbrushing money can buy—double-tracked, pitch-corrected and laid into the mix at flattering angles in the same way right-swept bangs can distract from a problem nose. Like her “hot” couture wardrobe, the songs have all been bought from the biggest design houses for her to try on, accessorize and be seen in. Does this reggae jawn make my ass look big? I am so hot in this Rod Stewart song!

Dylan too spent a lot of time on his vocals on Modern Times, finding surprising reserves of emotion and expressiveness in that smoke-wrecked instrument. Unlike Hilton, Dylan got his songs the old-fashioned way—he earned them.

Busy being born, busy dying and now busy being reborn. He’s seen it all at least twice. Those lines in his face? There are entire novels in each and every one—which is why Modern Times will fit comfortably next to Love and Theft and Time Out of Mind on the library shelf where they stock uncommonly good late-period trilogies by American masters.

Already Paris is fading, like an old newspaper, to be remembered, if at all, for it’s bottle-blonde ambition, bikini-waxed soul and for setting back the cause of cluelessness at least 20 years—just when it was beginning to make some real strides.