There’s a book by Terry Southern. The margins are thick, lots of white space, less than a hundred pages of goings-on. It’s called The Magic Christian, a name which is a whole hearted misnomer at face value.
The little white novel is said, though verified to what degree – I can’t be sure, to have been the book that Bob Dylan used to have with him all the time as he was getting cleaned up and, however nominally, faith-based. He’d carry it under his arm maybe as a pretense, or maybe because he was leafing through it for a third or fourth time, who’s to say? But I thought reading it might give some insight further into his elusive character.
As it turns out, the book is a thousand surprises. It hardly carries my curiosity page after page to find out how the absurdities of this character, Guy Grand, will come to mean anything at all. My curiosity, you see, is strong. And it’s not quenched by a monotonous plotline with no peaks in the action, or in my below-sea-level of intrigue. It’s just that, too many pages of this Guy Grand and his antics without explanation begs some questions. The protagonist is strange. No, it’s something more than that, further off the charts than your day-to-day out of place person. If I knew him, I’d hear people call him out of his mind, and say he’s lost his marbles. Insane! Ridiculous! Unbelievable! Asinine! We, today, wouldn’t tolerate his games for even a second. Yet he carries on in these frivolous pranks of his, unexplained, and without clear motive or resolution.
I can’t tell if he thinks they’re a good idea. Or if he thrills at fooling America’s brightest bulbs. Why doesn’t he earn a reputation for failure? Can his money really buy such a clean slate time and time again?
For example, to simplify the particulars of my favorite trick: he buries hundreds of thousands of dollars, in bills, deep within a city block-long pile of warm manure and urine mixture. And after painting a sign that says “free money”, he pays off the police to turn their heads for the morning, gets on a plane, and flies across the country to his home. No motive as far as I can tell, just a lot of money and some kind of unearthed desire towards the impossible. And the chapter, of course, ends without the faintest explanation.
The “Magic Christian” doesn’t appear until the final few chapters of the novel. It’s a boat. A yacht or Titanic sort of enterprise that Guy Grand buys, as he does repeatedly to large corporations and organizations throughout. Passengers have to apply for a spot on the cruiseship. It’s only for the most elite. But, there’s an element of facade to all of that, because Guy stows away half a hundred outcasts and weirdoes below deck, for release among the pristine passengers a few days into the trip. He creates a plot of kidnapping and abuse through this video feed of the boat’s captain which, as planned, pushes passengers to see the mental health doctor aboard ship, who must be in on the plot. But, for what, I cannot discern. Guy Grand, himself, is on the boat as it turns into total chaos, but he just ignites protests among the unknowing passengers. On and on it goes, until the boat returns home and Guy, as he has done for each prank thus far, pays off anyone who knows the truth in order to keep things hush hush.
So why this clustermess of a story under the arm of this legendary singer-songwriter? I toyed with the idea that he sees some tongue-in-cheek parallels between the facade and the truth of Christianity, but I can’t even find the details to put together that simple theory. I could be Dylan’s sincere view of Christianity, unreflective of Christ in any way, which would explain a pretty little thing or two. It could also be that the whole situation lacks a single connection, and I’m tearing my hair out for nothing. The book has nothing to do with Christians, Dylan’s never read it, he never even carried it like they say. But. I can’t shake a feeling that there’s something beneath the vanity of Guy Grand’s ideas. I can’t get at it just yet, and can’t fathom how Dylan had it figured out.