The Disgruntled Dylanologist

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

‘Everything’s Broken’ in Healthcare: A long, hot summer ahead for US lawmakers

Broken hands on broken ploughs,

Broken treaties, broken vows,
Broken pipes, broken tools,

People bending broken rules.

Broken promises, corrupt politicians, racial injustice, social inequality— when it comes to the issues that have shaped America’s cultural conscience, there’s little he hasn’t commented on. Yet in the last five decades, Bob Dylan has yet to write a song about one issue that touches every American regardless of race, creed and color: healthcare.

The debate over healthcare has become the most heated and incendiary issue in recent political memory. And if last week is any indication, it’s going to be long, hot summer for US lawmakers, indeed.

Of course being jeered at, sneered at, even flat out shouted at is hardly new to members of Congress. But getting your hand slapped by a posturing colleague on C-Span in the wee hours of the night when no one’s watching is one thing. Getting an earful from an irate constituent—someone you actually have to listen to—is entirely different. And that’s precisely how members of the House and Senate are spending their summer vacation:

  • Close to 1,500 people came to the Tampa suburb of Ybor City last week hoping to hear Democratic State Rep. Betty Reed and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor state their positions on healthcare. The event quickly regressed into a near riot.
  • In Michigan, a ‘town hall’ meeting hosted by Democratic Rep. John Dingell underwent a similar metamorphosis when the forum turned into a shouting match as supporters and detractors of the pending healthcare reform bill butted heads and traded verbal barbs.
  • In Mehlville, Mo., a gathering organized by Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan and billed as a meeting on aging turned violent when St. Louis police arrested six people, some on assault charges.

Political protest has a long and hallowed place in our country’s history. And while the furor ignited by the current debate over healthcare hardly seems on par with Civil Rights, the Vietnam War or the other issues that defined Dylan’s generation, how we take care of our sick and elderly is no less important, and will have no less impact on the future of our nation.

Chances are, however, Bob won’t be turning up at any of the healthcare town hall meetings singing “We Shall Overcome,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” or “The Times They are A-Changin’” to demonstrate his allegiance for a populous that is rapidly agin’.

Instead, we’ll have to rely on the media to stir up the fervor and infuse the emotional resonance into the debate. And if you’ve been watching the nightly news over the last few days, you know they already have.

According to reports, many of the protesters have said that they’ve been urged to take action by conservative activist groups like the Tradition Values Coalition (TVC), a Washington-based conservative group who is letting citizens know when and where their US senators and representatives will be holding town hall meetings, and encouraging ‘concerned’ citizens to attend.

In response to charges that the TVC is taking advantage of those old, gray and in the way, Andrea Lafferty, the organization’s executive director, defends the promotion of the events as an opportunity for Americans to voice their genuine concerns.

“It’s summer,” Lafferty maintains. “Most kids haven’t returned to school yet, and this will be a valuable civics lesson for your children, your grandchildren, friends, and family.”

It’s ironic that the White House has shown such disdain for the demonstrations against those Democratic legislators who have suffered the slings and arrows of discontent. After all, the fact that Obama is even in the White House is largely due to his ability to mobilize over 13 million disenfranchised voters between the ages of 18 and 35 using many of the same techniques now being employed by ‘agitators.’ Funny how the fundamental, underlying right of American to assemble and speak freely becomes such a travesty when the tables are turned.

But whether the demonstrations are manufactured or an organic, grassroots reaction to the point that voters have to shout to be heard, both the White House and the media have missed the point of the protests entirely.

The issue here isn’t whether these demonstrations have been organized by special interest groups, concocted by conservative political action committees or orchestrated the pharmaceutical companies (let’s be honest— chances are all have likely played a hand in the disturbances). The issue is that the disturbance of the status quo has done exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s pissed people off.

The issue of reconfiguring healthcare has struck a nerve in the American electorate. And that nerve is only going to become more inflamed as the debate drags on. The fact that we are dealing with an issue that is far too complex for most lawmakers, much less a majority of Americans to understand, only compounds the problem.

Certainly, no one—not Republicans, not Democrats, not the media—is condoning violence or advocating the use icons that conjure up images of hate and intolerance, though these techniques have been used at more than a few gatherings. But until the media starts doing their job and really “keeps them honest” as one cable outlet so piously professes on a nightly basis, the most reliable source in the healthcare debate will remain the public, no matter how unruly they become.

There’s no question healthcare is broken in this country. And while the town hall meetings might not be the best place to have a measured, reasonable discussion on how to fix this fractured and failing system, the politicians should be thankful that their kangaroo courtship of the voters has brought their constituents out in droves.

Now they’ll be able to see firsthand how truly out of touch they’ve become…

Broken dishes, broken parts,
Streets are filled with broken hearts.

Broken words never meant to be spoken,

Everything is broken.


August 9, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Days of ‘49”: Walter Cronkite, Bob Dylan and the death of network news

My comrades they all loved me well, a jolly saucy crew
A few hard cases I will recall though they all were brave and true
Whatever the pitch they never would flinch, they never would fret or whine;
Like good old bricks they stood the kicks in the days of ‘49

Believe it or not, there once was a time when “the most trusted name in news” was more than just a pithy slogan: a time before the barrage of 24-hour news channels, a time before the Internet, a time before the incessant, perpetual stream of information that now runs across our television sets, computer screens, and iPhones like an endless, mind-numbing loop.

It was a time when the most trusted name in news wasn’t a name at all— it was man. And with the passing of Walter Cronkite on July 17th at the age of 92, we were reminded of that time.

Known for his metered, straightforward delivery, and his iconic sign-off line, “That’s the way it is,” Walter Cronkite wasn’t just the anchor of the nation’s most-watched news program. He was our Rock of Gibraltar at a time when America was awash in a sea of instability, unrest and turbulence.

The Kennedy assassination, the Apollo moon landing, Watergate, Civil Rights, the war in Vietnam. Cronkite covered them all, and did so with an accuracy and authority that hearkened back to a time when those who referred to themselves as ‘reporters’ actually engaged in the business of reporting.

Yet for all his attributes, all the qualities that made him the consummate newsman, Walter Cronkite was not without his frailties.

He cried when he read the news John Kennedy had died at the hand of an assassin’s bullet. He allowed his boyish sense of awe to spill over as he watched Neil Armstrong take that one small step for man, that one giant leap for mankind. And he tempered his disgust when he reported on a president who had put his own political aspirations ahead of a nation’s moral authority.

Walter Cronkite may not have invented TV journalism, but by the time he relinquished the reins of the CBS Evening News in 1981, he had most certainly become the epitome of it.

He also sowed the seeds of its demise.

For two decades, Cronkite had reported without bias or bravado on America’s slow and slippery descent into a civil war in far off and distant land. But when the most trusted man in America referred to Vietnam in a 1968 as a “bloody and endless quagmire that is costing both American and Vietnamese lives,” he effectively ended the era of the impartial, impervious reporter.

So did Cronkite destroy network news? Far from it. In fact, he set the bar by which network news will forever be measured. But he was held in such high esteem, his opinion so valued, that when he broke from the reporter’s credo of sticking to ‘just the facts’ by opining on Lyndon Johnson’s policy in Vietnam, he paved the way for the evening news’ transition from a factual clearinghouse into a bully pulpit.

Of course, political punditry is hardly new. Just as trusted newsmen like Cronkite reported on the stories of the day, traveling troubadours like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan made names for themselves by crafting songs that painted a stark portrait of injustice, inequity and intolerance in a way that often elevated point of view over matter-of-fact.

But can Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Arianna Huffington, Sean Hannity, Alan Colmes or the myriad of other pundits whose sole reason for existence is to pontificate and polarize really be laid at the feet of Walter Cronkite? Of course not.

But in a time when Jon Stewart can be voted the “most trusted newscaster” by 44% of Americans, beating out real newscasters Brian Williams of NBC (29%), ABC’s Charles Gibson (19%), and CBS’ Katie Couric (7%), it’s evident the pundits haven’t merely found a place alongside news—they’ve replaced it altogether.

Just as there is power in the facts, there is power in opinion. But for all he brought to network news, the moment Cronkite allowed the two to become intertwined, he unwittingly brought an end to the ‘golden era’ of TV journalism that he had come to define…

In the days of old, in the days of gold;
How oft’ times I repine for the days of old;
When we dug up the gold, in the days of ‘49.

August 2, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Here Comes the Story of the Hurricane”: Barack Obama, Bob Dylan and the man the authorities came to blame

When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road

Just like the time before and the time before that.
In Paterson that’s just the way things go.
If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street

less you wanna draw the heat.

President Obama called it a “teachable moment.” Noted African American scholar and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., pointed to his arrest for disturbing the peace in his own home as an example of “what it’s like to be a black man in America.”

And while Gates’ indignation was intended to be self referential, President Obama’s equally indignant comment that the Cambridge police had ‘acted stupidly’ in their treatment of Gates may very well have provided the first glimpse into what it’s like to be a black president in America.

During the campaign, Obama went out of his way to avoid the issue of race. And to his credit, relegating race to the back burner allowed more pressing issues like heath care, the economy, and the war in Iraq to take precedent. In fact, it was only in the midst of the infamous Jeremiah Wright incident, when the issue of race threatened to boil over, that Obama was forced to chime in on the topic. By all accounts (including those of Professor Gates), Obama didn’t just tackle the issue of racism in American, he transcended it.

But the cool, ethereal detachment Obama displayed during the campaign was decidedly absent last week as the president allowed himself to be drawn in.

And while Obama appeared to have acted impetuously when he broke from his seemingly perpetual tranquil state, the truth is that racial profiling—what many have placed at the epicenter of the Gates’ controversy—is an issue to which the president has given considerable thought.

While in the Illinois legislature Obama was the chief sponsor of a bill, which eventually became law, that requires police to record the race, age and gender of all drivers stopped for traffic violations. The data collected is then analyzed with the intent of deterring racial profiling.

And while Obama’s authoring of the racial profiling bill may explain his ‘stupid’ response to the arrest of Professor Gates, it did little to transform the incident into the “teachable moment” the president had hoped it would become. Unless, of course, the lesson was how to exploit a tenuous situation for the political and professional gain… in which case President Obama and Professor Gates both passed with flying colors.

For Obama, the arrest of Henry Louis Gates was a striking example of racial discrimination that he had hoped he could point to from a distance without have to become embroiled in the politically decisive issue. Of course, no one expected Obama to actually show his true colors on the topic. Judging from the amount of language ‘recalibration’ Obama has done over the last week, that assessment extends to the president himself.

For Henry Louis Gates, the front porch skirmish, which would have said volumes about the status of race relations in this country without Gates having to ever even have said a word, has been reduced to little more than the impetus for his next project—a PBS documentary on, you guessed it… racial profiling. And so, in both instances, what could have been a real moment of clarity was instead sadly and selfishly squandered.

Of course, the exploitation of race for personal gain is not just limited to politicians and Ivy League professors. It turns out pop stars are prone to it, too.

Certainly, Bob Dylan fell prey to the polarizing issue of racial profiling in the fall of 1975 when he championed the cause of a middleweight boxer by the name of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. The song, which maintained Carter had been wrongfully charged and sentenced on three counts of murder, played the race card in ways that would have made OJ’s defense team cringe.

And while many of Dylan’s claims, including the assertion that Carter could have at one time “been champion of the world” were clearly self-congratulatory exaggerations employed to bolster a case for injustice, in the end it hardly mattered.

The mere fact Dylan had put pen to paper in defense of the beleaguered boxer elevated Carter’s plight to mythical proportion. It did marvels for Dylan’s career, too. The song would go on to become one of his most popular; Desire, the album on which it appeared, one of his biggest sellers.

The issue of race in America may very be the most morally debasing issue our country has had to confront over our 200-plus year history. And even though Obama and Gates missed an opportunity last week to educate and enlighten on that issue much in the same way Dylan missed his own ‘teachable moment’ 35 years ago, there’s no question we’ve come a long way when it comes to our attitude on race in America.

And while those in power may occasionally play loose and free with the facts to advance the side they’re on, it’s refreshing to see the side they’re on is the right one…

How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fools hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game.

July 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Going, Going, Gone”: The Kindle, disappearing digital content and the ever-enduring Bob Dylan

I’m closin’ the book

On the pages and the text

And I don’t really care

What happens next.

Iran was back in the news again last week when a court ruled that Mohsen Namjoo, an Iranian singer-songwriter who has been likened to “an Iranian Bob Dylan,” was sentenced to five years in prison for recording music that “dishonors” passages from the Qur’an.

And while the prosecution of Persia’s own “poet of a generation” is just another glaring example of Iran’s tyrannical theocracy run amok, it turns out the sentencing of Namjoo wasn’t the most flagrant suppression of free through to have occurred last week.

That distinction goes to Jeff Bezos, founder of online book behemoth,

Last Friday, as Namjoo was learning he had been sentenced to five years in prison for “his unconventional singing” of the Muslim holy book, hundreds of Kindle owners woke up to discover that two books they thought they had bought and paid for had, in fact, only been paid for.

It seems that what Amazon selleth, apparently Amazon can taketh away. And that’s precisely what happened.

Jeff Bezos has long been a proponent of the dissemination of digital content. For Bezos, the notion of delivering content (read: the millions of books Amazon sells) to anyone, anywhere, anytime has been more than a catchy mantra—it’s been a personal mission of sorts. And with the launch of the Amazon Kindle this past March that mission was by-and-large realized. But at what cost?

Those who anted up to buy the popular e-book reader, apparently. And while Amazon’s decision to surreptitiously remove content from the Kindle was hardly the best move from a public relations perspective, Amazon did nothing illegal.

It turns out that when you “buy” an electronic copy of anything—a song, a book, a movie, it doesn’t matter—you don’t actually own that copy free and clear. It is encumbered by something called digital rights management software, or DRM.

Most of us have never heard the term, DRM, and nine times out of ten it doesn’t matter.

The new Britney Spears single, Dan Brown’s latest literary endeavor, the most recent episode of “The Office” shuffled off to our iPods— we paid for it, which presumably gives us the right to listen or watch it when we like, where we like, and with whom we like. Sort of.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, you don’t actually own digital content encrypted with DRM. You are for all intent and purposes renting it.

Again, nine times out of ten not a problem. But it can cause some serious issues when the person who truly owns that content (in this case the publisher) decides to renege on the rental agreement.

It turns out this is precisely what happened last Friday with Penguin, the publisher of the titles in question, forcing Amazon to recall the books without insomuch as a warning.

There’s no question Jeff Bezos is a visionary. But in looking to the future, even he is tethered to the fact that he must keep his content providers—aka the publishers—happy. And so when the Penguin Group decided not to offer an electronic editions of the books, Bezos caved.

Amazon’s Communications Director, Drew Herdener, issued a statement claiming that the books were added by an outfit that didn’t have the rights to the material in the first place. Plausible enough, I suppose. But the fact that Amazon can remove content at their sole discretion, effectively assuming the role of a modern-day, Orwellian Big Brother is the real looming danger. And herein enters the irony.

The two titles that Amazon effectively ‘banned’ by removing them from the Kindle with a simple flick of the switch?

1984 and Animal Farm—perhaps two of the 20th century’s most harrowing examples of the totalitarian suppression of free thought.

Kudos to you, Jeff Bezos. Your prophetic vision of a digital utopia has been fully realized. Thanks to devices like the Kindle, content flows freely to anyone, anywhere, anytime. And now we know who will be the guardian of that content. It seems 2009 will be like nineteen eight-four, after all.

Fortunately, there are people like Mohsen Namjoo and Bob Dylan—iconoclasts of change with prophetic messages of their own—who will continue to fight to make sure that whoever controls the message can never control the messenger, no matter how it may be delivered…

I been hangin’ on threads,
I been playin’ it straight,
Now, I’ve just got to cut loose

Before it gets late.

So I’m going,

I’m going,

I’m gone.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mountains in the Palm of Her Hand”: Has Sarah Palin thrown it all away?

Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand,

And rivers that ran through ev’ry day.

I must have been mad,
I never knew what I had,
Until I threw it all away.

It’s hard to believe over 40 years have passed since Bob Dylan threatened to walk away from the music business. But that’s precisely what happened in the days following the July 29, 1966, motorcycle accident that nearly claimed the singer’s life.

And while it’s unclear exactly what happened that fateful morning—the details surrounding the 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle Dylan crashed on a road near his home in upstate New York have always been sketchy at best—whatever transpired was enough to force the reclusive singer to reexamine his priorities.

In a way, the examination was long overdue.

By all accounts the ’66 tour of Europe had been grueling. And while Dylan may have had mountains in the palm of his hand in terms of his creative prowess, he was demonized nearly every night, forced to endure irate fans who were determined to deter Dylan’s new musical direction with jeers of “Judas!” on more than one occasion.

But now that the tour had come to close, Dylan was looking forward to spending some time with his new bride, fashion model Sara Lownds, whom he had secretly married the previous November.

Intent on seeking shelter from the storm, Dylan retreated to a provincial farmhouse in Woodstock. It turns out the months that followed turned out to be some of the most tumultuous of his life.

From the moment Dylan had arrived in Greenwich Village in the winter of 1963, he had dutifully carried the torch for the folk movement. And while Dylan had never masked his disdain for the moniker, “voice of a generation,” by the summer of 1966, it was evident that his audience’s insatiable appetite for all things ‘Dylan’ was beginning to take a rapacious toll on him.

The motorcycle accident hardly helped matters.

Overnight Bob was besieged with questions. Was the accident a cover for another drag-addled rock star whose addiction had gotten the better of him? Was the whole incident a carefully calculated publicity stunt designed to increase speculation around Dylan’s next creative endeavor? Would there even be another endeavor?

In the end, however, it wasn’t what had actually happened that early summer morning that kept Dylan’s legions of devoted fans up at night— it was the incessant speculation on what might have happened. Conjecture, it turns out, was the biggest contributor to a rapidly mounting mystique that all but eclipsed the notoriously ascetic artist.

Nearly 40 years later, a new conundrum has captured America’s imagination. But instead of unfolding in the solitary the woods of Woodstock, this one is taking place in the open wilds of Alaska.

Sarah Palin’s July 3 press conference in which she announced that she would resign as governor of Alaska was so surrealistic that one had to wonder if Palin had momentarily mistaken herself as Patti Blagojevich’s replacement on “I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here.”

Bar a complete mental meltdown—something that even her most staunch supporters haven’t completely ruled out—clearly there’s more to the story than the wily politician from Wasilla is letting on. But anyone who patently dismisses Palin’s penchant for the dramatic is missing the point of her decidedly populist appeal.

Ever since she stepped on that stage at the Republican Convention in Minneapolis, Palin has taken to fame like a fish to water. In hindsight, however, perhaps Palin’s aversion to being labeled “a dead fish who goes with the flow” makes perfect sense. After all, when it comes to fame and adulation, nobody drinks it in better than Sarah Palin.

Watching Sarah Palin’s meteoric rise over the last year has been a lot like watching a tightrope walker navigate the hazards of the high wire. Her ability to balance her own ego with the ever-increasing aspirations of Republican Party is a marvel to behold.

Her performance last week, in which she cobbled together a series of incongruous sports analogies in an attempt to explain how abandoning a state in crisis translates to the type of leadership she can offer a nation in peril, was definitely a swing for the fences. In the end, however, Palin struck out big time. Though time will tell how much America’s favorite MILF’s recent muff dive will tarnish her once unmistakable luminous quality.

And so we are left pondering the question: Was Palin throwing in the towel, or throwing her hat in the ring for 2012 political season?

Conjecture has always been a critical component to the ‘Dylan mystique.’ Second-guessing what’s going on inside Dylan’s brain is precisely what makes him such an appealing and enigmatic figure. If the events of last week are any indication, a speculative glimpse inside the mind of Sarah Palin is clearly a far more trepidatious trip.

But even if we were able to unravel Palin’s convoluted, incoherent ramblings, how can anyone expect Palin to move mountains for the Republican Party when she can’t even figure out why she’s walking away from them…

So if you find someone that gives you all of her love,
Take it to your heart, don’t let it stray,

For one thing that’s certain,
You will surely be a-hurtin’,
If you throw it all away.

July 17, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Romance in Durango”: A Dylanesque dilettante or Mark Sanford’s swansong?

Soon the horse will take us to Durango

Agarrame mi vida
Soon the desert will be gone
Soon you will be dancing the fandango.

It looks like it just may be time to retire the old adage, “It takes two to Tango.”

Apparently, if you’re Mark Sanford, it only takes one.

Dancing solo lat week before a room full of AP reporters, the scandal-emblazoned South Carolina Governor put his best foot forward, addressing head on the allegations of a romantic rendezvous with Argentinean newscaster Maria Belen Chapur.

Not since Bill Clinton’s contemptuous, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” declaration at the height of his own sex scandal has a politician engaged in such a virtuoso performance.

And while Sanford exhibited none of the suave, smooth moves that made Bill Clinton a poster boy of cool, ethereal detachment, the governor’s response to doing the hokey poky did share one similarity with Clinton’s infamous finger-wagging incident: both engaged in a breath-taking dance to the death.

In hindsight, Sanford’s strategy seemed sound enough. Tell the press everything, and hope that by not sidestepping the charges of infidelity the media will forgive you of your trespasses.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

In fact, Sanford’s decision to abandon the expected soft-shoe approach and come clean has completely cleared the dance floor of any prospective partners other than his own ravenous guilt.

The wife. Having had a hand in nearly every facet of her husband’s ascent to the pinnacle of South Carolina politics, no one is going to mistake Jenny Sanford for a wallflower. Yet despite her understated approach to managing her husband’s affairs, chances are she won’t be stepping out of the shadows singing Tammy Wynette’s magnanimous marital mantra, “Stand By Your Man,” any time soon.

The GOP. Members of the Republican party also seem to recognize that following the Governor’s lead is probably isn’t the best course of action, either. To date, 14 of the 27 Republicans in the state Senate, and at least six newspapers have called for the governor to step down.

The other woman. And what about Maria Belen Chapur? Exactly where does the Argentinean beauty at the heart of this whole sordid affair stand on the issue? Sanford’s hot tamale isn’t talking. Bar extradition, she’s made it clear she plans to stay put on the Patagonia.

And so, with no one willing to take a turn on the dance floor, Sanford turned to the pages of the Good Book for companionship, citing a parallel between his plight and that of the world’s most infamous adulterer. “[King] David failed, literally, and yet he reconstructed his life,” Sanford recently told reporters.

Upon reflection, however, maybe the analogy Sanford should have cited to parallel his rather precarious situation isn’t the story of David’s seduction of Bathsheba, but rather the fabled story of Jericho, in which the seemingly impermeable walls came tumbling down in ruins with the sound of a single trumpet.

Of course, Sanford didn’t need someone to blow the whistle on his indefensible indiscretions. He brought his world crashing down all on his own with his incessant pronouncements of unrequited love.

And while the press certainly amplified Sanford’s overly affectionate opines for Ms. Chapur, the real problem isn’t the intense scrutiny of media. Sanford may be the consummate politician, but somewhere along the way he overlooked his most important constituent– his wife.

There’s no question marriage is a complicated endeavor, especially for those who chose to live their lives in the fish-eye lens. But the difference between a politician like Mark Sanford and a pop star like Bob Dylan mourning the memory of his “one true love” is while the former may feign imperfection; the latter doesn’t have the luxury of disingenuous posturing.

In an odd way, it’s as if we want our artists to be broken and emotionally askew. With politicians, however, it’s different. Yes, we place them on the spotlight. But the last thing we want them to do is wither when the heat is turned up.

Mark Sanford maintains his south of the border soirée was worth the fire he’s endured. And while the “moth to the flame” metaphor is in keeping with his undaunted persistence to be with his self-proclaimed “soul mate,” perhaps someone should remind the love-struck Sanford of this simple fact—

While the sight of a moth flickering fecklessly around an open flame is indeed the most beautiful of dances, in the end it’s the moth that gets burned…

Hot chili peppers in the blistering sun
Dust on my face and my cape
Me and Magdalena on the run
I think this time we shall escape.

July 8, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I Shall Be Released”: Michael Jackson Dead at 50

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd,

Is a man who swears he’s not to blame.

All day long I hear him shout so loud,

Crying out that he was framed.

To paraphrase the American author, Henry Miller, “fame is a fickle thing.”

I couldn’t agree more. Despite having written an entire novel revolving around the ravenous impact fame has on the famous, I still don’t a clue what it’s like to walk in their shoes.

But I have spent a lot of time thinking about it.

In the wake of last Thursday’s shocking death of pop sensation, Michael Jackson, I imagine we’re all going to have an opportunity to give some thought to the fickle mistress that is fame. And here’s a place to start—

It seems that when our cultural icons are taken from us unexpectedly as Jackson was last Thursday, our impulse is instinctual: elevate them to a pedestal while simultaneously delving into the dark crevices of their seemingly perfectly sculptured lives.

I surmise with Michael Jackson it will be different. Bar a surprise discovery of John Merrick’s petrified body (whose bones Jackson attempted to purchase in 1987) stashed away somewhere on MJ’s 2,600 acre ranch, in all likelihood there are few, if any, skeletons left in Jacko’s closet. After all, a large part of the Jackson mystique wasn’t so much what he withheld from us as it was what he dared to show us.

Unapologetic and undaunted, Michael Jackson was remarkably candid about his personal life. He didn’t give many interviews, but when he did he was always revealing.

Of course, we didn’t always like what he revealed. The 2003 admission that he slept with young boys because “they need love, too,” is hardly an endearing quality, no matter how quaintly it’s couched.

And while Michael Jackson’s personal demons ultimately unraveled both his life and his art, in the end, it was his demons that gave him that transformative, angelic quality that made him so captivating.

Like a modern-day Dorian Gray, Jackson truly was ‘the man in the mirror’—self-reflective and ever-changing. But unlike the troubled nobleman at the center of Oscar Wilde’s classic 1890 novel who surreptitiously sells his soul to preserve enduring beauty and an epicurean fulfillment of the senses, there were never any shades of a dark, festering Faustian bargain with Jackson.

Truth be told, the Faust in this forlorn story is Joe Jackson, who saw not just in Michael, but in all of his sons, the deal of a lifetime and cashed in unabashedly on their vibrancy and youth.

But it would be wrong to call Jackson’s life simply ‘tragic.’ Sad, perhaps, but not tragic. Jackson lacked the fundamental quality that turns talent into tragedy—hubris. Of all the self-destructive qualities Jackson exhibited, an overweening, self-effusive sense of pride was not one of them.

Upon hearing the news of Jackson’s death, I imagine the response for most of us was closer to a knee jerk reaction than anything remotely resembling the smooth, effortless sleekness so imbued in the “Gloved One’s” now-famous moonwalk.

And therein lies the real tragedy in the passing of Michael Jackson. It was so sudden, so unexpected, so abrupt. Yet after the shock subsided, the only emotion left was an overriding sense of acceptance…as if it just had to end this way.

Like any great artist, Michael Jackson dedicated his life giving himself to others. He could have hoarded his vast talent like some chastened child. Instead, he shared that talent with the world. But in doing so, he became trapped, inexplicably linked to all the people whose lives his music touched.

Jackson lived in a literal Neverland, spending the last have of his life trying to take back a childhood he never had. But after a lifetime in the limelight, the self-professed King of Pop’s palace probably came to more closely resemble a prison.

But we can take solace that those shackles he spent a lifetime trying to release himself from have been lifted once and for all. And he is now finally free…

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east.
Any day now, any day now,

I shall be released.


BLOGGER’S NOTE: Wanna keep on keepin’ on with Dylan? Well, that’s what those links to the right are for. Or maybe you’re in the mood for a mystery? Check out BLOOD ON THE TRACKS.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Whole World Is Watching”: The revolution will be Twittered

Oh the time will come up

When the winds will stop

And the breeze will cease to be breathin’.

Like the stillness in the wind
‘Fore the hurricane begins

It’s often said history repeats itself. And while that old adage may be true, an underlying objective of this blog was not to repeat a lyric once it’s been used.

But in the aftermath of the violence that’s erupted in response to last week’s Iranian Presidential election, the lyrical refrain used to herald the wave of optimism that swept across this country last November is now an ominous, and all too fitting harbinger for one of the greatest unchecked affronts to political expression in recent memory.

The tide of history is turning once again. And while “the whole world is watching” the unfolding events in Iran, it’s what they’re saying that is most alarming.

From tepidly noncommittal:

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: “I’m closely following how this investigation into this election result will come out.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: “The elections are a matter for the Iranian people.”

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “I’m not sure if the results reflect the real will of the Iranian people.”

To outright congratulatory:

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas: “The results of the elections in Iran show the wide public support for Iran’s policy of challenge.”

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari: “This is indeed testimony of the confidence of the people of Iran in [Ahmadinejad’s] leadership qualities.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: “[A] great and important victory for people fighting for a better world.”

There’s no question what’s going on in Iran is unconscionable. But you wouldn’t know it to listen to the posturing politicians who seem more concerned with appeasement than appealing to the people who are putting their lives on the line.

And while President Obama has begun to take a more defiant view now that the protests have turned deadly, his initial response–claiming the difference between Ahmadinejad and reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi “may not be as great as has been advertised”–was hardly an indictment of the injustices being perpetrated in the streets of Tehran.

But thanks to the ubiquity of social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, we no longer need to rely on the “powers that be” to tell us which way the wind blows.

We can, and have, assessed the situation for ourselves:

From Serbia: “We from Serbia know best what it me[a]nt to live under dictatorship of few man. Just be brave, IRANIANS, brave and dont give up. Serbian people are with U!!!
Posted by Ivan June 20, 09 08:52 AM

From the US: “from Texas…please please please dont give up… You are all brave men and women of Iran and must continue on the path started last week. Be focused in a common goal…. our prayers are with you all….”
Posted by behzad June 20, 09 12:05 PM

From Australia: “I might be far away in Australia… but I will be praying for The Iranian people. I pray that they will be free. There is nothing more powerful than an Idea thats time has come!”
Posted by Nicholas June 21, 09 02:58 AM

From Greece: “I hope you will gain your freedom and Iranians will live out fascism.. KEEP ON FIGHTING, YOU ARE THE FUTURE OF IRAN!!we are with you,from greece..”
Posted by vangoff June 21, 09 01:04 PM

From Venezuela: “Lo mismo que pasa allá en IRAN es lo que ya pasó y continúa pasando en VENEZUELA. Por favor ayúdennos a salir de estos dictadores que se creen los dueños de todo. Dios bendiga al pueblo IRANI, sigan luchando por su libertad!!!!!”
Posted by Pedro June 20, 09 06:39 PM

But perhaps the most emotional appeal has come from the Iranian people themselves.

From Iran: “I will take part in the rally tomorrow. Maybe they will turn tomorrow’s rally to violence. Maybe I’m one of those who are meant to get killed… Now I’m listening to all of those beautiful songs I’ve heard in my life once again.”
Posted by freedom fighter June 20, 09 08:28 PM

Back in 1963, when Bob Dylan penned the prescient, “When the Ship Comes In,” the consensus was that television would document the great injustices of the world.

But now that the major news organizations sent to Iran have either been kicked out or under house arrest, it seems the revolution won’t be televised, after all. Instead, it will be Twittered, FaceBooked, and YouTubed.

Which, of course, means the whole world won’t just be watching, they’ll be participating, too…

Then they’ll raise their hands,
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands,

But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered.

And like Pharaoh’s tribe,

They’ll be drownded in the tide,

And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If You See Her, Say Hello”: A Dylanesque goodbye to General Motors

We had a falling-out, like lovers often will

And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill
And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart.

Unlike Bob Dylan’s 1974 wistful song of an ill-fated love affair gone awry, America’s affair with the automobile is far from over. But as of last week, GM, who for years was without doubt the most popular girl at the party, is about to find out what it means to be alone on Saturday night.

Already, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen and Hyundai have seen an increase in sales as a result of GM’s announcement that the once adored automaker has entered Chapter 11. America has always has a wondering eye when it comes to our insatiable consumption for consumer goods. But if the trend toward foreign femme fatales continues, our homegrown dance card is going to start to resemble something closer to a well-traveled passport.

Let’s face it. Relationships are complicated. And GM’s relationship with America is no exception. Since 1908, the Flint, Michigan, automaker has sparked the imagination of America for over a century. So much so that the old adage, “as goes General Motors, so goes the nation,” wasn’t just some trite expression. It was an enduring term of endearment.

For years, we were obsessed with her stylish, shapely body; her lean, aerodynamic curves; her tight, taut lines. But as time went by, we grew bored and she grew complacent. And in recent years, GM all but completely let herself go— continuously losing market share to a barrage of suitors who weren’t afraid to appeal to our vanity. And it certainly didn’t help that she was going through money like it was going out of style.

And while we’ll probably never be able to pinpoint the exact moment the bloom was finally off the rose, one thing’s certain: It didn’t happen overnight.

As recent as December 2005, Business Week was banging the drum about the possibility of a GM bankruptcy. But then-Chairman and CEO Rick Wagner blindly dismissed the rumblings, declaring that Chapter 11 was contrary to the interests of “our employees, stock- and bondholders, dealers, suppliers and customers.” A heartfelt entreaty, indeed.

But with 100,000 employees on the verge of losing their jobs, GM stock essentially worthless, and close to 4,000 dealerships on the chopping block, it turns out that in the end Wagoner only hurt the ones he loved.

There’s no question General Motors was once a great company. But like so many of those back pages we look upon with misplaced affinity and affection, maybe in the end the attraction really was only physical. Perhaps in hindsight it’s best that GM and America take a break. Who knows? Maybe the time apart will do both of us some good.

There’s always a tinge of shame associated with a failed relationship. GM, however, doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. Admittedly, the federal government’s decision to put the brakes on our relationship with GM has resulted in the fourth largest U.S. bankruptcy on record. But GM can take solace in the fact that three of the biggest bankruptcies in our nation’s history—GM, the failure of Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual—have all occurred in the last nine months.

These aren’t just trying times for GM; they are trying times for America. A shattered financial system, a real estate market in disrepair, a workforce weakened by the highest unemployment levels in a generation. History comes in ebbs and flows. GM, it seems, just got caught on the wrong side of a financial tidal shift.

Maybe bankruptcy is the best thing that could happen to GM— and frankly the best thing that could have happened to us, too.

We’ve invested a lot in our relationship with GM. Close to $19.4 billion in at last count. But even that wasn’t enough to keep the nation’s largest automaker in the black. Now the government is on the verge of putting another $30 billion into GM just to keep it afloat while management restructures. And while this isn’t the end of the road for GM, those carefree, top-down days are undoubtedly a distant reflection in the rear view mirror.

So how does all of this relate back to Bob Dylan? It doesn’t. Not directly anyway. Bob Dylan has always been more of a train guy. But despite the relative absence of automobiles in his 500+ song repertoire, Dylan is hardly immune to America’s infatuation with cars.

If you need proof that the mystique has a hold on him, too, look no further than the 2007 ad promoting the launch of GM’s Cadillac Escalade. Dylan offers not only his endorsement, but utters the closing line, “What’s life without the occasional detour?”

At the end of the day, the mental road block GM seems to having a hard times getting around is accepting the fact that maybe the only way to save the corpulent car maker is to set it free.

In an ad GM is running right now, GM says ‘they get it.’ The times have changed; they’ve changed; and now they want us to take them back.

We’ll think about it, GM. But in the meantime, don’t wait by the phone…

If you see her, say hello, she might be in Tangier
She left here last early spring, is livin’ there, I hear
Say for me that I’m all right though things get kind of slow
She might think that I’ve forgotten her, don’t tell her it isn’t so.

June 18, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hangin’ Judge Appears Before the Senate: Dylan, Sotomayor and the case for confirmation

The hangin’ judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined,

The drillin’ in the wall kept up but no one seemed to pay it any mind.
It was known all around that Lily had Jim’s ring
And nothing would ever come between Lily and the king.

Listening to a Bob Dylan song is a lot like taking a Rorschach test. Nothing really changes, yet somehow it’s different every time.

Ambiguity won’t, however, be a factor when Sonia Sotomayor appears before the Judiciary Committee later this week. Senate confirmation hearings tend to resemble more closely a litmus test than Herman Rorschach’s infamous, highly interpretive inkblots.

As it turns out, delving into the personal psyche of our Supreme Court nominees wasn’t always such a public affair. In fact, 101 nominees went before the Senate without having to utter a single word in public.

The appearance of Louis D. Brandeis before the Judiciary Committee in the spring of 1916 not only set a precedent of opening the hearings to public, it defined the modern selection process. Nominees may be inches away from joining the highest court in the land, but before they do they must first pass through the court of public opinion.

And so, for the last 90 years nearly every nominee has been called on the Congressional carpet and begrudgedly been asked to strip down to his or her briefs.

For some, it’s been tough sailing. Clarence Thomas was asked to appear 11 times before finally being confirmed in 1991 by a razor-thin margin of 52-48. For others, the seas have been decidedly calmer. Three of Reagan’s five nominees were confirmed unanimously. And while the outcome isn’t always predictable, the vetting process most certainly is.

Of course, most of the nominees have an advantage as they prepare for what is likely to be the last job interview of their career, and Judge Sotomayor is no exception. She’ll know the questions going in.

And if the past three decades are any indication, only three matter—abortion, gay marriage, and ‘judicial activism.’

On the first two issues, Sotomayor’s record is ambiguous at best. She only has one opinion regarding abortion. But never having actually ruled on the issue makes her real resolve anyone’s guess. And even though Sotomayor’s record on civil and gay rights is non-existent, gay legal activists tend to think she’ll go to bat for them should she be called to the bench. On the issue of ‘judicial activism, the Committee actually has something to go on: Sotomayor’s words.

Her 2005 off-the-cuff comment stating that, “the court of appeals is where policy is made,” might not be enough to hang the brash, opinionated judge, but it’s been enough to set the conservatives right.

In the end, however, it hardly matters how Sotomayor answers any of the questions that she’ll be asked next week. Bar an unforeseen debacle, all Sotomayor needs to do is show up, keep her responses vague and just be herself. Of course, it helps that “being herself” means being an Hispanic, a woman, and someone who, by all accounts, is not only affable but the embodiment of the American dream.

Of the 158 Supreme Court nominations sent to the Senate to date, only 12 have been rejected, seven have declined to serve and another 11 nominations have been withdrawn. The President and members of Congress long denied there is any ‘test’ for the Supreme Court gig. Yet when the locust of your success revolves around your position on three pivotal issues, how can that not be considered a litmus test?

Robert J. Bork may have gone out with a bang, appearing 12 times before the Judiciary Committee before being rejected by the Senate by a vote of 42-58. Harriet Miers might have gone with a whimper, withdrawing her nomination in 2005 without having to make a single trip to the Hill. But it’s almost a foregone conclusion Sotomayor will successfully stonewall the few Republican Senators left who can scrutinize her.

So knowing this going in, perhaps it’s time to abandon that lackluster litmus test in favor of something that actually gives us some insight into what kind of judge she’ll really be.

Instead of asking Sotomayor three questions she isn’t going to answer anyway, perhaps just one will do: “How would you have ruled in the case of Lily, Rosemary and Jack of Hearts?”

After all, if any of Bob’s songs are open for interpretation, the second song off side two of his classic 1975 offering, Blood on the Tracks, is a perfect candidate.

An allusive account centered around a card game gone decidedly wrong, if Sotomayor can untangle the twisted plot long enough to figure out just what that ‘one good deed’ Rosemary did before she died, she’d definitely have my vote…

Rosemary started drinkin’ hard and seein’ her reflection in the knife,
She was tired of the attention, tired of playin’ the role of Big Jim’s wife.
She had done a lot of bad things, even once tried suicide,
Was lookin’ to do just one good deed before she died.

June 8, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , | Leave a comment