On Swedes, sex, and Bob Dylan

Perhaps we’re going to have to go back and listen to more of Bob Dylan’s music because we think we might have done it wrong the first time around. We might’ve been too focused on the “not war” part of the “Make Love. No War” message of the day.

Of course, back then we mostly heard an anti-war, anti-establishment theme in Dylan’s music. But it was teaching people about sex, an essay on Salon points out today, earning today’s coveted “must-read” recommendation.

“I’ve decided not to wear my purity ring anymore,” I told my mother one day when I was 18. I’d gone swing dancing and in the course of one night had had two guys ask what my ring said, and I’d had enough. I didn’t want to talk about my lack of a sex life anymore. I didn’t want it on display. I took my ring off and shoved it in a box in my closet.

Mom tried to talk me out of it. “Maybe you could get a different ring if you don’t like that one anymore,” she’d suggested. She was worried. Maybe she feared this marked the beginning of a change. But taking off my purity ring wasn’t the beginning of my sexual revolution.

That started with Bob Dylan.

The same year I took off my purity ring I discovered Jack Johnson. But the fact that I’d mostly traded in my Christian praise-pop for “secular music” was no sign that I was now the wild tart I’d been warned against becoming. I mean, I still deleted all of the more blatantly sex-themed songs by Johnson so that they wouldn’t even accidentally show up if I was listening to my music on shuffle.

Jack Johnson was a gateway. I began to investigate more singer-songwriters, working backwards through music history until finally, luckily, I found my way to Bob Dylan. “Lay, Lady Lay” was one of his first Dylan songs I heard, and the sensuality of the song was far from subtle: “Lay, lady lay / lay across my big brass bed.” But I didn’t delete this one. Instead, I hit repeat.

In church and at home, sex outside of marriage had always been chalked up to rampant hormones, a lack of self-control, and lust. “Don’t be friends with non-Christian boys,” my youth pastor had once informed the girls at church. “All they want out of you is sex.” Unless a guy offered a ring and his last name, his desire for you was deplorable. But even if marriage was part of the package, sex wasn’t seen as all that important. “People put too much emphasis on attraction. Just don’t marry anyone who makes you go ‘ew,’” had been my mother’s advice.

Point taken. We don’t see an anti-Vietnam War message in Lay, Lady Lay.

Dylan, by the way, has still not responded to the Nobel’s committees announcement that he’s the recipient of its award for literature.

Per Wastberg, who chairs the Nobel Committee for Literature 2016, described Dylan’s lack of response to the accolade as “rude and arrogant,” CNBC reports, proving that the Nobel committee had absolutely no clue what makes Bob Dylan Bob Dylan.