SALMAN RUSHDIE AND BOB DYLAN 2015: THE ALLUSIONS CONTINUE

I have on various occasions charted Salman Rushdie’s frequent use of Bob Dylan references in his writings (the most recent one being on this blog regarding Rushdie’s memoir of 2012, Joseph Anton – entry for 21 October 2012)

Rushdie’s penchant for Dylan allusions continues in his novel of 2015, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (US: Random House; UK : Jonathan Cape). While far from being its author’s best work of fiction, this Thousand and One Nights pastiche does in its text evoke three Dylan songs, and this time and by contrast to the references in Joseph Anton, none of them from Bob Dylan’s celebrated 60s period, thus pointing to something resembling an in-depth knowledge of the songwriter’s oeuvre (as in fact Rushdie had already demonstrated in the multiple Dylan allusions in his novel of 1999, The Ground Beneath Her Feet).

In the new novel, Jimmy Kapoor, a graphic artist of Indian origin living in New York, is the creator of a cartoon character called Natraj Hero. We are told that ‘Natraj’s superpower was dancing’, and his name immediately evokes Shiva Natraj, the Hindu god in his manifestation as cosmic dancer. The key sentence here for hawk-eyed Dylan-watchers is: ‘Natraj dance to the bulbul tune’ (p. 65 – reference to UK Kindle edition), which, can only be an echo of the line from Dylan’s’ song ‘Jokerman’ (Infidels, 1983), ‘Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune’, Easternised with bulbul replacing nightingale. The Dylan echo is confirmed two sentences later, when Natraj is described as ‘Aka Jack of Hearts’, recalling the character whom Dylan listeners will immediately recognise from ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ (Blood on the Tracks, 1975).

Later in the novel, Dylan is explicitly namechecked, and indeed quoted, via a song from New Morning (1970), in an episode in which another New York resident, Blue Yasmeen, hosts regular epic story-telling sessions: ‘She was something of a downtown celebrity, world famous on twenty blocks, she said, at the story-slam sessions run by the ‘Day of the Locusts’ people, who took their name not from Nathanael West’s novel (which was locust singular) but from the Dylan song (locusts plural): the locusts sang, and they were singing for me’ (p. 106). So Dylan gets mentioned along with his literary antecedent, for ‘Day of the Locusts’, a song which indeed only hardcore Dylanites are likely to know or remember (and which he has never performed live).

So in this novel too, and irrespective of its merits or demerits as fiction, Rushdie keeps the Dylan flag flying .. .

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