Dylan: A Santa Claus Now?

Bob Dylan Christmas in the heart

Despite the fans that have come to know and love him (if only for his eccentricities), Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart could have, in a much more curious vein, been as surprising and controversial as Dylan going electric during the turbulent and mesmeric idealism of the 1960s. Audiences first became acquainted with the mercurial side of their new-found folk idol when, at the ’65 Newport Folk Festival, he teamed up with the like of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper and performed his first professional electric set; a shock to folk music purists.

Reports, more based in legend than in fact, state that Dylan’s electrifying betrayal of his fans’ folk pure devotion was met with boos and assorted ridicule, while others claimed that the negative reaction was due to the poor sound quality at the Festival. In any event, it was the first of many acts of betrayal (if changing with the times and discovering new forms of musical expression are acts of betrayal) in a career that has now spanned five decades. However, I believe that Dylan, at 68 years old, is far too old to change and to discover and, it could be said, betray us any longer; what was once innovative has now become merely self-defeating.

Even as I write this, I’m listening to Christmas in the Heart. I think it’s fair to say that the album could, with a few imbibitions of strong eggnog, be viewed more as a good-natured effort rather than a serious accomplishment; the whimsical nature of a musical legend rather than that of an accomplished artist. If this wasn’t Dylan, his gravel-syncopated vocalizations gravitating through such Yuletide standards as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Here Comes Santa Claus,” it would have a been a Christmas novelty recording  at best (up there with Christmas With Alvin and the Chipmunks )…at worst, it’s utter junk.

At LaLa.com (now defunct), comments on Christmas in the Heart range from the devotionally favorable to the less devotionally disdainful. Here are a few:

I like to say that Bob Dylan is like coffee; he is an aquired taste, but there is a reason Starbucks does so well.  So I guess this is Dylans Starbucks Christmas blend, and I for one, love it! [tyler s.]

What a great holiday treat, who knew Bob was such a festive merry making kind of guy?!  Has he found Jesus again?  At first yes it was strange to hear his voice sounding so gravelly but the more I listen, the more I love it. It’s the spirit these songs are sung in that matters. Yay Bob!  Thanks and ho ho ho !!! [Miss LuLu]

On the other hand:

Thank you for single-handedly making Christmas creepy, Mr. Dylan. [Rebecca M.]

This is what I’d play at Christmas if I were suicidal.  Sorry Bob, you’ve sucked the last bit of good cheer out of these carols.  Whatever you have to do to make the next buck, I guess. [Lisa K.]

As for myself, I was able to make it to the 8th track, “O’ Come All Ye Faithful,” before giving up and going to the Blonde on Blonde album to recapture memories of seasons when Christmases were merrier and when Bob Dylan’s worst offense was in going electric while only enhancing his greatness and not his foolishness.

Originally posted: 12/14/2009