QuickMuse at 14th Street Y

1. Antonio Sicurezza and Susanne Kirchgasser, who met Rick Moody in Italy and moved to New York 4 months ago. 2. Ken Gordon and Stephen Arnoff give up the goods.

Last night, poet David Lehman and novelist Rick Moody turned up at the 14th Street Y to talk about Bob Dylan. The two writers had participated in a man-to-man QuickMuse session and their mandatory inspiration was a rare photograph of Dylan and The Band jamming with Cher. (QuickMuse, run by Ken Gordon, gives writers 15 minutes to compose on topic and records every key stroke therein; afterwards, the whole thing can be played back in warp speed.) For the sake of this post, I will sabotage whatever online reputation I could have had and admit that I know very little about Bob Dylan both biographically and musically. Not nothing, but still not.

I had never been to the 14th Street Y before and as venues go, I wasn’t expecting anything particular. What I — and Rick and David and everyone else except the Y staff — was not expecting was for there to be some kind of Top 40 jazzercise class going on in the next room. So, Dish readers, here is an unprecedented opportunity for you to be there without having been there. Crank some Katy Perry and Taio Cruz out of your laptop and let’s press on.

1. David Lehman. 2. Matt Cunha, Jessica Madison, Christine Kanownik, and Kate Angus, along for the ride.

Ken Gordon’s brief intro consisted of a survey (that he called a quiz — interpret away, and if you want to vote/test take, go crazy in the comments section). Here it is: Do you think Bob Dylan is:

A god/genius

A very mortal but talented singer songwriter

An artist who’s way, way past his time

The great Satan of contemporary music

I was in the front and couldn’t see the hands as they went up, but I had the feeling that “a” came in right behind “none of the above,” as chosen by people for whom almighty Dylan couldn’t possibly be reduced to a phrase. This was my first clue that I had no business being there, unless you count Katy Perry as a clue that no one should have been there.

1. Point counterpoint. 2. Rick Moody and artist Laurel Nakadate.

We watched the playback of David Lehman’s poem “The Jerk” (which is fascinating, and you can check it out here). Lehman, who has 14 publications to his own name and is the editor of a dozen other things including The Oxford Book of American Poetry, came as endearingly prepared as a professor to the first day of class. He read from an autobiographical section of his book, A Fine Romance, about beloved Jewish American songwriters (Dylan among them), and a poem that Lehman said he tried to write in Dylan’s style, but ended up writing in Auden’s style. As Lehman went on, I basked in the glow of listening to someone with an encyclopedia in his brain, with the nice feeling of not having to try and compete.

That lasted until Rick Moody’s turn. After we watched his QuickMuse playback, he said, “The sad truth is that, like Bob Dylan, I have prepared nothing. And I have nothing to read. And nothing to say. [pause] I’m depending on you to ask some questions.” That went over like a supposedly low-fat cake at a Weight Watchers meeting. The questions that followed were my second, third, fourth, (…), and tenth clues that I had no business being there. It turns out people who attend events about Bob Dylan know a trucking lot about Bob Dylan.

1. Stephen Hazan Arnoff, Executive Director of the 14th Street Y. 2. The 14th Street Y has lots of Dylan stuff.

The highlight for me and probably no one else was Moody’s point that Dylan’s music came after Dylan’s lyrics, that the lyrics were the half that mattered and could stand on their own against whatever odd melody Dylan elected. Lehman, who included the lyrics to “Desolation Row” in the Oxford Book of American Poetry, agreed.

The dance class stopped, of course, as people were putting on their coats.

–Kai Twanmoh is a regular contributor to Electric Dish.

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