For “Freedonian Bob Dylan,” Oxygen is Blowing in the Wind

MUSZRKLIA, Freedonia.  As he looks back on a career that spans a half-century, Durz Nikolaj laughs and shakes his head at the transformation he’s undergone.  “I was a nice Byellorussian boy who wanted to grow up to join the Freedonian space program.  My dad owned an appliance store,” he says wistfully.  “I was no good at leveling washers, dryers and refrigerators and there was no money for college, so I decided to become a folksinger.”

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“How many roads must a man walk down, before he reaches 17th Street?”

 

And so he did, hitchhiking to this city, the artistic capital of Freedonia, where he scuffled for several years playing in blznikas, small coffee houses that offered him a venue in which he could hone his craft–without pay other than a free meal–in imitation of his hero, American folk singer Bob Dylan.

“When I hear him first time, top of my mind blows off!” Nikolaj says.  “I resolve to be like him–his father own appliance store, my father own appliance store.  Maybe I could bed cool chick like Joan Baez.”

But Nikolaj’s mimicry, while sincere, failed in one important respect; because of his halting knowledge of English, he didn’t realize that many of Dylan’s most stirring images were metaphors, metonyms or other figures of speech.  “In translation Nikolaj’s lyrics come across as flat,” says rock critic Miles Snibor of Earworm magazine.  “That’s because the dude took too many science courses.  He just doesn’t get it.”

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“Free-do-nia, Free-do-nia, they call the place–Freedonia.”

 

And so Nikolaj’s homage to one of Dylan’s best-known songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” is an unfortunate triumph of the literal over the figurative as the hard sciences he picked up at the Gymnasium dos Blurzkag taint the fertile images of his American inspiration.  “What is the composition of the earth’s atmosphere,” he sings soulfully to a crowd of greying bohemians who’ve followed his career through his eponymous first album to his 2014 6-CD retrospective, “The answer my friend, is nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide, the answer is these four gases.”

A similar disjunction is to be found in Nikolaj’s knock-off versions of Dylan’s protest songs, such as “It’s a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”  “It’s a soft, it’s a soft, it’s a soft, it’s a soft–it’s a soft rain’s gonna fall, without calcium, magnesium and certain other ions.”

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“This one’s going out to my good buddy . . . uh . . . Durz Ni-ko-lash.  Or something.”

 

A visit to the United States in search of the King of American folk music he loves so much ended in frustration after Nikolaj visited Worcester, Mass. based on a six-year old copy of Rolling Stone which said the Hibbing, Minnesota native would be playing there on May 16th.  Unfortunately, the issue was six years old, the most recent copy of the music magazine that he found in his dentist’s waiting room.  “This is unfair!” Nikolaj shouted when security guards blocked his entrance to the Zipper Hospital Centrum in the Industrial Abrasives Capital of the World.  “I come all the way from Freedonia, could I at least get t-shirt?”

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