There are two kinds of people: those who follow and those who don’t. Of followers, there are two kinds: those who stay put, and those who go somewhere. Of followers who go somewhere, there are two kinds: those who are led and those who are pushed, the latter including those who fall in holes whether pushed or not (go ask Alice). Of followers who stay put, there are two kinds: those who stay in a place, and those who stay in a particular frame of mind.
Of those who do not follow, there are three kinds: poets, prophets, and migrants. Of poets, it is said that they show us who we are. Of prophets, it is said that they show us who we should be. Of migrants, it is said they show us where to go next.
Poets, prophets, and migrants are called. They do not choose who they are, and mistakes can be made when callings are crossed, whether by the one who is called or by those doing the calling. When poets are mistaken for prophets, everyone is deceived. Cults are formed and lives are wasted.
There’s a whole lot of people in trouble tonight from the disease of conceit
Whole lot of people seeing double tonight from the disease of conceit
Give you delusions of grandeur and an evil eye
Give you the idea that you’re too good to die
Then they bury you from your head to your feet
From the disease of conceit.
Bob Dylan, “Disease of Conceit”
Prophets are rarely mistaken for poets, but when they are, they are generally neither and the poetry is awful. Though it is nearly impossible for a poet to be a prophet, either might be a migrant, whether on land, in dreams, or of the mind.
Leadership is an attribute given by those who follow to someone else, who may or not be the kind of person who follows. The truth is—leadership has nothing to do with being a follower or not. In the end, perhaps there really are only two kinds of people: those who do well when type-cast, and those who only begin to thrive when cast against type.
Notes and Credits
The photos were all taken by the author in the neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, in 2008, 2009, and 2010. The first is a photo of an art project my son did in the first grade (2009), drawing the human form. The second is the tunnel at the northwestern entrance of Prospect Park. The third is a garden scultpure in front of a house on 2nd Street, near the corner with Prospect Park West.
Bob Dylan was called to be a poet, but the people who loved him wanted him to be a prophet. It cost him, and some of those loved him, twenty years. After years of reflection, Dylan wrote that by the mid-1980s “[e]verything was smashed. My own songs had become strangers to me. I didn’t have the skill to touch their raw nerves, couldn’t penetrate the surfaces. It wasn’t my moment of history any more. I couldn’t wait to retire and fold the tent”—Chronicles, Vol. One (Simon and Schuster, 2004), p. 148.
Dylan wrote “Disease of Conceit,” in 1987 as he began to explore a new musical identity more aligned with his own sense of self and his mission as an artist. The song would be the eighth track on Oh Mercy, the album that set him on the path to redeeming his career with a whole new audience by the mid-1990s. In the fall of 1989, I saw him perform at Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan Campus in Ann Arbor. It was the third show of his I had seen at that point in my life and by far the best. Toward the end of the show – as either the closing song or the last encore – he brought down the house with “Disease of Conceit.” The poetry was breathtaking.
As for those who fall down holes …