Deep in our collective memories are those 1970s album covers, you know the ones: a dwarf in one corner, a strong man in eyeshadow in another, and somewhere in the middle of it all, but still in the shadows and probably in a leotard, is the artist formerly known as Bob, George, or whoever it was. Their spirit lives on in Bob Dylan’s Christmas video.
Bob, well he’s always been a cussed so-and-so, and part of the game of being Bob is to do whatever your fans really don’t want, and then watch them twisting themselves around so that they can still love you in spite of it all. You go electric, you do Victoria’s Secret commercials, you grow a beard (more than once, in several different styles), you do a retro-radio show on cheesy themes, and you say 1956 as ‘nineteen hundred and fifty six’ like you’re a subway driver from the Bronx aspiring to work for the British MovieTone News. Your fans decide that, yeah, ‘nineteen hundred and fifty six’ is how it always ought to have been anyway. You do the ultimate dreadfuls: the Christian thing, an album with Johnny Cash. You do a pastiche of Bill Nighy in Love Actually and call it a Christmas album.
Bob is the ultimate bad boyfriend, always so cool because he’s so completely uncool, and always desperately desirable because he’s never what you want him to be. So to the true Bobbista this video is just great. For a horrible moment you think the dude on the squeeze-box at the beginning is Bob in his final metamorphosis (he’s got that Bob head angle, looking upwards and kind of quizzical, like a dog who’s not quite sure if he’s going to bite you or jump over your shoulder), but then you get a glimpse of Bob side-on. Yes, it’s really Bob. You think, cool, Bob hasn’t turned into an accordion artist. Cooler: he hasn’t died. (Part of being a Bobbista is turning on the radio in the morning and thinking ‘Will it be today? And will they show Renaldo and Clara on the telly? And will I really watch it again?’)
Then you realise something’s very wrong. Bob is wearing a straight-haired wig. STRAIGHT HAIR. But it’s those curls Bob, didn’t you know, that are what we’ve always really loved about you. Going straight, that really is the ultimate betrayal. But then you start to think, isn’t he actually quite sexy in that hat? And maybe the hair makes him younger, brings out the old androgynous charm. Then you find yourself thinking that you’d really like to be with him in that Disneyfied Christmas McMansion prancing around with the yuppified descendants of those weight-lifters from those 1970s album covers, and yes, why not, swinging from a chandelier while singing: ‘Must be Santa, Must be Santa’. Ah Bob, you’ve done it again. You’ve made me pollute my own mind and love myself for doing it.