Something about the way Bob Dylan’s “Pressing On,” his 1980 gospel ode to unfettered belief, has always spoken to me. I’m not particularly religious. In fact, I’m not religious at all. I’m an atheist. And yet, as my plane circled Charlottesville, Virginia, the song hit my playlist, and I couldn’t help but be filled with a mixture of spontaneous emotions.
Dylan’s gospel hymn, springing from the album Saved, is the musical high point of his religious album trilogy. The trio of works arrived following the folk artist receiving dour reviews for Street Legal (which, creatively, remains, in my opinion, the nadir of his career). During the subsequent tour to promote the record, in a Tucson hotel room, Dylan experienced, what he claims, was a vision of Christ. He soon became a born-again Christian, and like other points in his career, turned back against his previous musical style.
The singer-songwriter’s conversion wasn’t a put-on, or a vain attempt to recapture the attention he lost. It was a full-throated embrace of a journey he needed to undertake. You can hear his fervor on a track like “Pressing On” where he balances the line between an evocation to God and a thumbing of the nose to nonbelievers (which can generously be read as an audience incredulous and outright hostile to his newest passion). “Many try to stop me, shake me up in my mind,” proclaims Dylan. And later on he steels himself by advising, “Shake the dust off of your feet, don't look back.”
I’m sure this already reads as navel gazing, or certainly an outlandish parallel (that is comparing my leaving Twitter to a religious and artistic conversion, or even including myself in the same breath as Dylan). But as my plane started its approach into Charlottesville, I couldn’t help but consider the events of the last week that caused me to make my decision (or if I’ll ever return).
I’m sure many will trace my resolution to leave Twitter to Elon Musk. His presence indeed did have an impact. But there were other factors. Because, honestly, I was fully prepared to stomach remaining on that platform even with his incessant trolling. So what broke me? Why did, as I mentioned in what might be my final tweet, I “reverse course”?
“I’m tired… I thought I needed a night’s sleep. But it’s more than that” says Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis. I have the sinking suspicion that Twitter won’t devolve under Musk. At least, not in the conventional sense. Rather, it’ll go back to embracing what it’s always been: toxic. You can say the right-wingers have a big hand in the dysfunctionality of the website. I unfortunately see toxicity in nearly every part of the platform: Grifting users who are ready to define themselves as “anti-Musk,” much in the way they did with Trump is one possible outgrowth. Feeds where venting unconsciously becomes a way to chase to clout, is another possibility. As is an increase in traffic in the hopes of combating a common enemy, which will no doubt fill my feed. I actually think Musk knows exactly what Twitter is, and is ready to exploit it. I came to Twitter to discover a community, but I don’t know how much community is left.
Last night, as I watched a couple low-budget action movies, in the dark glow of my living room, I diligently refreshed my Twitter feed more times than I care to admit. At that moment, Film Twitter felt like a waste land, and November seemed like the beginning of the cruelest month of all. There were three genre of Tweets that sprung up: Users sharing happy memories of their time on the website, people debating the importance of blue checkmarks, and a couple of movie prompts.
During my last refresh, I had my Tucson hotel moment: That tired feeling of looking at Twitter probably isn’t going away. The Film Twitter community is slowly crumbling, the current movie conversations that are happening are incurious, at best — I’m exhausted complaining about it — and I’d rather not be consumed by not-too-subtly veiled subtweets. Most of all, the general audience is dwindling, and I don’t trust myself to close the app. Better to burn out than to fade away? This is the way Twitter ends. Not with a bang but a whimper? Insert whatever quotable quote you want. But I’ve seen the future of Twitter, and it is not me.
So as the wheels of my plane hover just above the ground, I have allowed myself to discover a pervading solace from “Pressing On.” Indeed, the spirited clanking of the piano’s rapturous keys, backup singer Clydie King’s soul-bending notes erupting from the edge of something unrecognizable, Dylan’s rhapsodic pleas that push me forward with the force of a plane’s landing are overwhelming in how much they speak to me right now.
As I said on Twitter, I don’t know if I’ll ever return to the platform. I’m still writing, writing that I’ll share through my Substack. I also still have exciting projects on the horizon. I hope I will catch you soon.