Dewey Cox is Not There

Walk Hard soundtrack takes on Robert Zimmerman

A pair of aged hippies sit on a couch. One says, "If you could be any Bob Dylan you wanted to, which Bob Dylan would you be?" Our answer: Dewey Cox. The New Yorker cartoon was probably meant to conjure Todd Haynes' kaleidoscopic, sort-of biopic I'm Not There, but intriguing as those six Dylans might seem, based strictly on soundtracks, Dewey Cox's Dylan period from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story just seems, well, Dylan-er.

Unlike I'm Not There, of course, Walk Hard is not actually about Bob Dylan. The film, which opened December 21, views pop stardom through a different kind of prism. It's a biopic spoof of one character who assumes the identities of everyone from Johnny Cash to Roy Orbison to Glenn Campbell to, most notably, Bob Dylan.

Consider "Dear Mr. President" (and compare in sound and spirit to "The Times They Are A-Changin'"). "Dear Mr. President, I am deeper than you/Listen and learn.../I stand for the midget, I stand for the Negro/I stand for the Injun, all hopped up on booze/I stand for the Jap and I stand for the beaner/I stand, yes I do, for the Christ-killin' Jew..."

The midget motif repeats on "Let Me Hold You (Little Man)": "All of the elevator buttons/So incredibly high/I stand today for the midget/Half the size of a regular guy.../I'm banging your drum, your big day will come/When they remake The Wizard of Oz."

The "Royal Jelly" Dylan sequence of Walk Hard might be the film's finest. In an even neater meta-twist, it's John C. Reilly's version of the I'm Not There version of Cate Blanchett's mid-'60s pop surrealist version of Dylan. (Still with us?) This Dylan is best expressed in Dewey Cox's song "Royal Jelly," whose lyrics and delivery are circa-1968, Blonde on Blonde-era Bob.

The song is akin to "Visions of Johanna," if "Visions of Johanna" were sung by a vapid, self-regarding idiot with a gift for mindless mimicry: "The mailboxes drip like lampposts in the twisted birth canal of the coliseum/Rim-job fairy teapots mask the temper tantrum Oh say can you see-um.../The mice with the overbite explain how the rabbits were ensnared.../I'm smell-impaired, if you care/My sense of taste is wasted on the phosphorescent orange peels San Francisco axe-encrusted frenzy.../So let me touch you, let me touch you, let me touch you, let me touch you," Cox repeats, his chorus a dead ringer for that of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," "Where the Royal Jellyyyyyyyyy gets made." I'm Not There is touted as the headier, high-concept movie, but you have to admit, Dewey serves up beautiful bullshit with the best of them.

 
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