The Disgruntled Dylanologist

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

“It Takes a Train”: Warren Buffett invests in America; Bob Dylan’s dream


Don’t the moon look good, mama,

Shinin’ thro
ugh the trees?
Don’t the brakeman look good, mama,

Flagging down the “Double E”?

The train song is one of America’s most important musical genres. It’s also one of the most enduring. Over the last 150 years, the train song has formed the bedrock of the American music experience. And of all the enduring American troubadours, few are as partial to a good train song as Bob Dylan.

Whether it’s the tale of a wayward woman forced to live outside the law by jumping a railroad gate to escape a persistent suitor (“Absolutely Sweet Marie”); a luckless sot who casts his last fated lot by flagging down the ‘Double E’ (“It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”); a stranger bound to ramble through the ice, sleet and rain to get back to God’s golden shore (“Man of Constant Sorrow”); or the slow distant rumblings the coming of the Lord (“Slow Train Coming”)— trains are an integral part of the Dylan landscape.

The word ‘train’ appears in no fewer than 39 Dylan songs. The word, ‘railroad’, in another half dozen. And when Bob paid homage to Johnny Cash (a one-time mentor and fellow train aficionado) on the 2002 tribute album, Kindred Spirits, the song Dylan chose to serenade the country music legend was none other than “Train of Love.”

Warren Buffett, it seems, also has a thing for trains. So much so that last week the celebrated financier paid close to $35 billion to acquire the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the nation’s second largest railroad.

And what exactly you may ask is the correlation between the famed ‘Oracle of Omaha’ and the traveling minstrel from Minnesota? In a word: America.

Bob Dylan’s songs have always been about the American experience. Sometimes that portrayal has been dark, sometimes it’s highlighted our better angels. But it’s always been honest. And for Bob, nothing is more honest and uniquely American than riding the rails. There’s just something about trains that captivates him.

Maybe it’s the way the pipes and pistons glisten in the evening sun, their slow, methodical churning filling you with the promise of a new beginning. Maybe it’s the smell from the burning coal as it fills the nostrils of the passer-byers after rising up through the smokestack and out into the night. Or maybe it’s sound of the conductor’s whistle as it splits the night in two.

As for the people who ride those trains, Dylan has nothing but admiration for them. Clearly, he revels their sense of adventure; embraces their sense of longing; covets the freedom they effortlessly embody.

One gets a sense Warren Buffett probably feels the same way.

After news broke of Buffett’s recent purchase, he jokingly replied: “This is all happening because my father didn’t buy me a train set as a kid.” Of course, Buffett’s billion-dollar investment in the Northern Burlington Railroad was more than a sentimental journey back to his childhood.

Buffett may have been playing the field when he stepped up to the table and rolled a pair of ‘box cars’ last week. But if history is any indication, don’t count on him crapping out any time soon.

“It’s an all-in wager on the economic future of the United States,” he said last Tuesday when asked about the investment, the biggest ever for his Berkshire Hathaway investment company, “I love these bets.”

The Administration probably loves the wager, too. After all, what president wouldn’t like a $35 billion cash-infused validation of their economic policy, especially a policy as contentious as the recent Obama-Pelosi-Reid $787 billion dollar stimulus package?

Buffett puts on no airs about his admiration of Barack Obama. But by purchasing the Burlington Northern, Buffett laid his cards on the table for all to see. And you don’t need a Tarot reader to decipher the Oracle of Omaha’s latest pronouncement: America is back on track.

The logic behind the purchase is, like so many of Buffett’s investment decisions, strikingly simple. As U.S. commerce recovers, so too will demand to move goods around the country. And the largest mover of refrigerators, clothing and TVs? Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

And make no question, Buffet’s affirmation in America’s future couldn’t have come a better time. Abroad, we are on the verge of committing as many as 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan. At home, we find ourselves still picking through the economic debris brought on by the worst financial shit storm to hit this nation in the last 60 years. Frankly, it’s all just about enough to make you want to pack up our knapsacks and ride that nonstop mailtrain all the way down to Acapulco. Just don’t count on Buffett’s recently acquired railroad to take you there.

Because while the Burlington Northern may haul corn, coal and a host of commercial goods, one thing it doesn’t haul is passengers. So if you still feel compelled to hop a train bound for nowhere and leave your worries behind, perhaps a Bob Dylan song might just be the ticket.

Lord knows, you’ve got plenty to choose from…

Well, I wanna be your lover, baby,
I don’t wanna be your boss.

Don’t say I never warned you

When your train gets lost.

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

“Man of Peace”: Barack Obama wins prize based on noble intentions


He’s a great humanitarian, he’s a great
philanthropist,
He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how
you like to be kissed.
He’ll put both his arms around you,
You can feel the tender touch of the beast.
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.

In recent months, Barack Obama has been called many things— a saint, a sinner, a savior, a scourge. But just as Obama is not the literal Second Coming, he probably isn’t Satan either.

According the five-man Nobel Peace Prize committee, however, Barack Obama is a man of peace.

The irony that the world’s most prestigious peace award has been bestowed on the newly-minted president— a man who has yet to stop any wars, right any innate injustices, or dismantle any of the world’s arsenals hasn’t been lost on anyone.

But considering military escalation in Afghanistan is all but inevitable, the Iranian mullahs are allowing the beheading their political rivals and North Korea is nearing nuclear proliferation with each passing day, no one doubts we need someone to stand up for peace. It’s just that the selection of Barack Obama has more than a few people scratching their heads.

But he beat them all. One hundred and seventy-two individuals, 33 organizations— a total of 205 nominations. The most ever.

In the past, the coveted peace prize has gone to monks, martyrs, social activists, scientists, former Communists, and environmental conservationists. However, it seems this year it went to a man whose biggest accomplishment to date was restoring some semblance of dignity to the presidency simply by not being George Bush.

In light of the global backlash over the decision, however, apparently dignity does not a dignitary make.

Even Obama was ill at ease when he heard the news. Not since Bill Clinton was asked about a certain blue dress worn by a certain intern by the name of Monica Lewinsky, or Richard Nixon was questioned about a certain group of ‘plumbers’ sent to fix a ‘leak’ in a certain Watergate hotel has a sitting president seemed so uncomfortable.

Unlike his predecessors, however, Obama did not bring the decidedly awkward moment upon himself. That distinction belongs to the five-man Norwegian Nobel Committee that nominated him just 12 days into his prescient presidency.

Of course, in all the hubbub over Barack Obama’s merits as a man of peace, one true man of merit was overlooked…

This year marks the seventh time Bob Dylan has been nominated—and passed over—for a Nobel Prize. The reason for the repeated slight is, like just about everything related to Dylan, a bit of a mystery. Most music critics agree that Dylan is perhaps the most profound wordsmith in modern music. Yet Dylan’s repeated nomination has yet to cement consensus among literary authorities, who are plagued by the nagging question as to whether song lyrics qualify for literature’s most prestigious award.

The irony, of course, is that the lyrical nature of Barack Obama’s words, rather than quantifiable results of his actions, was probably the largest contributing factor leading to Obama receiving this year’s prize.

To his credit, Obama publicly acknowledged that he didn’t deserve to be in the company of the past Peace Prize winners. And though it seems unfathomable that he would have rebuked the esteemed Nobel committee, Obama did have an alternative: Turn it down.

As Ross Douthat in The New York Times noted in his assessment of the brouhaha following the Nobel announcement, saying ‘no thanks’ to the premature honor would have offended no one but the Norwegians who selected him. It would also have sent a clear signal to Congress and world community that Obama is finally willing to relinquish the thorny messianic crown that, as Douthat accurately observed, has both accompanied—and impeded—his presidency.

There’s no question a large part of Barack Obama’s success—and a major factor contributing to the ‘pushback’ he has experienced in recent months—revolves around this daunting duality. On the one hand, there is Barack Obama ‘the myth’; on the other, Barack Obama ‘the man.’ The problem is that these qualities are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. Rather, there are inextricably intertwined.

Without question there’s a mystique that imbues Barack Obama. And judging from their unanimous decision, the Nobel Peace Committee has fully bought into that mystique. But by confusing the notion of aspiration and accountability, the Committee has done a disservice to the Nobel Peace Prize as well as their latest laureate.

By awarding Barack Obama this year’s prize, the Committee effectively debased the criteria upon which the prize was founded. It is not enough simply to set the table for peace; you must serve up the meal. The only thing Obama brought to the table was the Kool-aide. And the Committee drank it up in spades.

And while the fault lies mostly at the feet of the Nobel Committee for this evident blunder, the culpability is not theirs alone. By accepting the prize, the nascent US President allowed himself to be placed high atop a tenuous pedestal like some conquering Roman hero. And now that Obama has ascended to that precarious perch, he’s handed his opponents the perfect segue to make the case that the Emperor has no clothes.

Come to think about it, maybe Dylan ought to be thankful the Nobel Prize Committee keeps passing him over…

He got a sweet gift of gab, he got a harmonious tongue,
He knows every song of love that ever has been sung.
Good intentions can be evil,

Both hands can be full of grease.

You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.

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

“Talkin’ Glenn Beck Paranoid Blues”: Leninists, Tyrants and Bolsheviks, Oh my!


Well, I was feelin’ sad and feelin’ blue,

I didn’t know what in the world I was gonna do,
Them Communists they wus comin’ around,
They wus in the air,

They wus on the ground.

They wouldn’t gimme no peace. . .

Dylan was right. It really doesn’t take a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows. Apparently, TIME magazine beats the age-old weathervane any day. Because regardless of how you feel about him, the man gracing the cover of this week’s TIME is the embodiment of America’s current temperament— divisive, paranoid and extremely pissed off.

Like him or hate him, one thing is for sure: Glenn Beck certainly has a point of view. And anyone who has listened to Beck’s syndicated radio show or watched his popular FOX news program knows he isn’t afraid to share it.

Steeped in a reverential respect for the past and the lessons history teaches us about the perils of present day America, Beck’s ‘historical’ hysterics have become a staple of his daily diatribes.

It probably wasn’t the intent of the editors of TIME magazine to embark on a journalistic jihad like the one instigated by Edward R. Morrow in the mid-50s when the fabled newsman went head-to-head with a certain sanctimonious junior senator from the state of Wisconsin. But intended or not, there is certainly a correlation connecting that self-promoting politician of a bygone era and this present day, ever-pontificating pundit.

And while the notoriously rabid Red-baiter wasn’t always the most forthcoming with the names of those who he claimed were out to destroy America, Glenn Beck doesn’t suffer from that same affliction. Glenn Beck’s “enemies of the state” list seems to be constantly growing, and Beck isn’t afraid to call them out.

Just three weeks ago, Beck claimed his first victory in his ongoing battle to purge the White House of ‘unsavory characters’ when he forced green jobs czar, Van Jones, to resign after branding the Obama confidante a communist and a radical.

This past week, Beck further perfected the art of demagoguery when he used his bully pulpit to oust Yosi Sergant from his position as Communications Director of the National Endowment for the Arts. Again, Beck led the charge after learning that Sergant hosted a conference call in which the four core areas of the Obama recovery program—health care, energy, environment and educational review—were allegedly promoted to a select group of liberal-learning artists. The presumption, and the central tenet of Beck’s tirade, was that supporting the “Obama Agenda” through hip, urbane art would result in a big, fat check from the federal government.

The NEA has long been a target of the Right. And Beck’s indictment of Sergant’s involvement in the conference call certainly pulled no punches. And while Beck masterfully tapped into the growing sense of paranoia that is permeating this country, the fact that he actually raised several good points only made the story more menacing. A few of the more salient—

• From the moment the story broke, the White House claimed it had limited knowledge of Sergant’s call. Yet Buffy Wicks, a ranking office in the White House Office of Public Engagement, was actually on the call. So much for plausible deniability.

• Shortly after Sergant tendered his resignation, it was revealed that the White House had actually scheduled a second conference call with a different arts group. So much for Sergant’s claim that his actions were unilateral and without approval.

• In a last-ditch effort to distance himself from the call, Sergant briefly claimed a third party by the name of the Corporation for National Service sent out the invitation. Yet when Michael Skolnick, the organization’s political director, has gone on the record that both the White House and the NEA asked him to bring the artist community together. So much for Sergant’s claim the NEA was merely a conduit for the call, rather than the impetus behind it.

And lest it be overlooked, a principal factor in Sergant even getting the NEA job in the first place is due to the fact that he persuaded Shepard Fairey to create the iconic Obama HOPE poster during the 2008 campaign— precisely the type of artist-political agenda alliance he was allegedly promoting on the call in question.

Considering the fact Yosi Sargent resigned just over a week after Beck’s allegation that the administration was using the NEA to effectively blackmail the artistic community into promoting the Obama agenda, there’s no question Beck struck a chord in a country already wracked with suspicion and mistrust.

The fact the best the White House could come up with in response to that charge was, “We regret any comments on the call that may have been misunderstood or troubled other participants. [A]nd we will take all steps necessary to ensure that there is no further cause for questions or concerns about that commitment,” hardly assuaged that suspicion.

In baseball vernacular, Glenn Beck is batting a thousand. When it comes to his pitch to the American people that there are certain people in the government determined to destroy our way of life, he is two for two. But Beck best be careful.

In his preface to breaking the Yosi Sargent story, Beck alluded to his penchant for the past. But as any student of history will tell you, the past has a tendency to repeat itself.

And despite his success—or perhaps because if it—Glenn Beck is very close to assuming the mantle of another self-righteous demigod culled from one of America’s darkest chapters in American history…

Well, I fin’ly started thinkin’ straight When I run outa things to investigate. Couldn’t imagine doin’ anything else, So now I’m sittin’ home investigatin’ myself! Hope I don’t find out anything . . . hmm, great God!

September 27, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Lawyers, Lepers & Crooks’: Can Dylan’s Thin Man trim the fat on Wall Street?


You walk into the room

With your pencil in your hand

You see somebody naked

And you say, “Who is that
man?”

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the first in a series of dominoes that led to the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression. And while we’re still reeling from the implosion of AIG, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and the half dozen other ‘too big to fail’ financial institutions that did receive government bailout funds, the fleecing the American middle class continues.

Something’s happening on Wall Street, and you don’t have to be a financial whiz to know what it is: good, old fashion greed.

Despite the enormous losses suffered by the recipients of the TARP funds, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch—two of the most high-profile beneficiaries of the federal government’s fiscal benevolence—still managed to justify dishing out more than $9 billion in bonuses.

And how’s this for fancy financial footwork? Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan Chase actually paid out more in bonuses than they made the entire year. Goldman Sachs, for example, earned $2.3 billion, paid out $4.8 billion in bonuses, and got $10 billion in TARP funds.

It’s no secret the big Wall Street firms conspire and collude to keep their year-end cash outs at the highest levels possible. But it’s one thing when you’re playing with ‘other people’s money’; it’s something else entirely when that ‘other person’ turns out to be the guy next door who just lost his house.

But it gets worse. Not only did 4,800 Wall Street employees pocket bonuses worth more than a $1 million on top of their exorbitant salaries, it turns out it wasn’t enough. According to a recent survey, 46% of those newly-minted millionaires were “dissatisfied” with their bonuses. And are you ready for the kicker? Nine in 10 had been working on Wall Street for five years or less.

And while none of our behemoth banking institutions were untouched by what, in hindsight, amounted to the financial equivalent of a ‘perfect storm,’ last week’s reminder that the government was unwilling to bailout Lehman Brothers was a frightening reminder of how choppy the seas still are.

It should hardly come as a surprise that Congress would capitalize on this rather auspicious anniversary to turn the spotlight not on the problem, but rather on themselves— which is precisely what they did in typical grandstanding fashion.

Positioned as the first piece of a larger, more comprehensive legislation endorsed by President Obama to increase oversight over financial institutions, last week the House voted on a bill that will restrict how Wall Street executives will get paid in the future.

Billed as a ‘bold, decisive action,’ the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Unless, of course, the old expression, “A day late and a dollar short,” is modified by roughly 365 days and somewhere around $700 billion.

Enter Ben Bernanke. Recently nominated to a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Bernanke is preparing to cash in a little currency with the president by sidestepping the Congressional pomp and circumstance altogether. Bernanke’s plan is refreshing simple: take Wall Street’s bull market by the balls by placing regulators directly inside banks to monitor (and one would assume reject) excess pay packages.

And while the precise job description has yet to be fully fleshed out, this disgruntled Dylanologist knows just the man for the job.

Dark, menacing, boorish and brooding, he is one of the most enigmatic characters from Dylan’s canon of bizarre and none-too-usual suspects.

His identity has long been in dispute. When asked in a 1965 interview, Dylan offered a response that was as cryptic as the character in question: “He’s a pinboy. He also wears suspenders. He’s a real person. You know him, but not by that name…”

The president is on the right track introducing regulatory reform for Wall Street. But identifying the problem won’t necessarily solve it.

What we need is someone who’s well connected, someone who can move effortlessly among lawyers, lepers and crooks. Someone who will keep his eyes in his pocket, his nose to the ground, take copious notes, click his heels and do exactly as he is told. We need a man on the inside looking out; not outside looking in.

And who exactly is this inscrutable urchin? This puzzling patsy set up to take the inevitable fall?

Let’s just say his eerie, shape-shifting presence made John Lennon feel suicidal, evoked Adam Durtiz’s desire to be someone else, reduced David Byrne’s description to a detached third person account.

That’s right, Dylan aficionados, it just may be the man who saves the American financial system is none other than the inscrutable Mister Jones.

After all, everyone knows the best way to catch someone with questionable morals is to recruit one…

And without further notice
He asks you how it feels

And he says, “Here is your throat back

Thanks for the loan”

September 20, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Shot of Love’: Joe Wilson or Barack Obama— who’s the real Judas in this Dylanesque smack down?


Don’t need a shot of heroin to kill my disease,
Don’t need a shot of turpentine, only bring me to my knees,
Don’t need a shot of codeine to help me to repent,
Don’t need a shot of whiskey, help me be president.

It’s been a brutal summer for health care. Yet despite the barrage of lawyers, guns and money that have been thrown atop this increasingly combustible pyre, the debate rages on.

At the center of that debate is Barack Obama, the man whose central campaign plank in the recent presidential election was to bring affordable health care to all Americans. Judging from amount of animosity the discussion has engendered, if anyone needs a shot of love right now it’s Barack Obama.

Appearing before a joint session of Congress last Wednesday, President Obama laid out his case for universal health care. It was the first time the country has had an opportunity to hear the president get into the nuts and bolts of his proposal. And considering it very well may be his last, there’s little question Obama chose his words with infinite precision.

The same, however, cannot be said for Joe Wilson, the Republican Congressman from South Carolina, who impetuously yelled “You Lie!” when Obama said extending health care to all Americans would exclude the insuring of illegal immigrants.

And while Wilson’s contempt for Obama may have caught America by surprise, those diligent Dylan fans in observance were struck by something else entirely— the eerie resemblance to the infamous 1966 concert in Manchester, England, at which a disgruntled folk fan called Dylan, “Judas!” for ‘betraying’ the movement.

And while Keith Butler’s comment certainly struck a chord in the otherwise unflappable singer, Dylan’s indignant, ireful response was pitch perfect— “I don’t believe you. You’re a LIAR!!” he snarled before quickly turning to The Hawks and defiantly instructed them to “Play fucking loud!”

It was in that moment that the folk singer became a rock icon.

In the aftermath of last Wednesday’s incident, the press has had a field day. Sadly, however, the debate over health care has gotten lost in the weeds.

Perhaps this was Wilson’s plan all along. As a former immigration lawyer, Wilson knows all too well that while the president’s bill expressly forbids insuring those who are in this country illegally, just because illegal aliens don’t have a health care option available to them doesn’t preclude their employers from purchasing it for them—driving up the costs for all Americans.

But by vilifying Wilson in the press—effectively casting the South Carolina congressman as Judas—we have all been misled.

In the end, it just may be Obama—not Joe Wilson—who ends up playing the role Judas as a result of this unfortunate incident.

Our 9-month love affair with the poised 44th President of the United States has made us susceptible, vulnerable and over-trusting, not only of him personally, but it has forced us to turn a blind eye to the lurking, malevolent agenda of those who will soon be an integral part of the larger health care debate.

Obama very well may have the best interest of the millions of uninsured Americans in this country. The vultures, however, are circling. And the moment we give Barack Obama the unconditional love he so desperately craves by passing his legislation without thoroughly vetting it, the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies and the malpractice lawyers will descend on us like the Roman guards in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Joe Wilson may no longer have a place at the table as a result of his ruefully inappropriate comment. His ‘betrayal’ of the president, however, has taught us all a valuable lesson:

It’s one thing to admire the men and women who lead us; falling in love with them is, however, the kiss of death…

Doctor, can you hear me? I need some Medicaid.

I seen the kingdoms of the world and it’s makin’ me feel afraid.
What I got ain’t painful, it’s just bound to kill me dead
Like the men that followed Jesus when they put a price upon His head.
I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Let Me Die In my Footsteps’: Ted Kennedy steps out from his brothers’ shadow


The meaning of the life has been lost in the wind
And some people thinkin’ that the end is close by
“Stead of learnin’ to live they are learning to die.
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground.

Of Rose and Joe Kennedy’s nine children, only three were ever truly destined for greatness. But with the death of Joe, Jr., the chosen child lost at sea in 1944, and the senseless slaying of John in 1963, and then brother Bobby five years later at the hand of an assassin’s bullet, the mantle of greatness was laid at the feet of the most unsuspecting Kennedy.

And while few had expected great things of him, he ended up surprising them all. In fact, he probably even surprised himself.

After the death of his more charming, more charismatic brothers, the last remaining son of Rose and Joe Kennedy could have retreated behind the whitewashed, perfectly mended fences of Hyannis Port. Instead, he stayed in Washington, staked his ground and found redemption by extending a hand to save those who—not unlike himself at the time—could just as easily have fallen through the cracks.

Without question, Ted Kennedy was a complex and conflicted soul— a rake, a womanizer, a drinker, a man who will forever be tainted by the names Mary Jo Kopechne, William Kennedy Smith and Michelle Cassone. But over the course of his half century in the US Senate, Kennedy by-and-large abandoned his aberrant ways and developed into a skilled politician; a child of privilege who became the trusted guardian of the poor, the oppressed, and forgotten.

Ted Kennedy stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves. Like the misunderstood, eternally misplaced Holden Caulfield, Ted Kennedy could always be counted on to stand at the edge of cliff and catch those who needed a helping hand before they disappeared into the abyss.

In addition to being a defender of the underprivileged, he was also an adept deal-maker; a man who made things happen. And if the was one thing Ted Kennedy wanted to make happen in his lifetime it was assuring affordable healthcare for all American citizens.

If there is any question that Kennedy’s passion for healthcare reform was simple political posturing, simply watch his speech at the 1978 Democratic Mid-election Conference. Kennedy’s impassioned plea is on par with any of the better-known speeches made by either of his two better-known brothers.

Moments after the announcement that Ted Kennedy had succumbed to his bout with brain cancer, the following made its way across the popular social media sites:

In lieu of flowers, pass health care reform.”

It’s quaint, it’s cute, it’s unquestionable heartfelt. And in the hours immediately following the news of Ted Kennedy’s death, it was the most re-twitted message on the internet.

And while it would be expected that liberal-leaning sites like ‘Political Packrat’ and ‘Radio KOS’ would jumped on the propaganda bandwagon, it was surprising that NBC Evening News anchor, Brian Williams, bought into the transparent ploy. But that’s precisely what happened last week when he, too, repeated the 8-word mantra as a way to remember Kennedy.

The irony, of course, is that Senator Kennedy would have reveled in the shameless use of his name to advance healthcare reform. After all, not a week had passed after the assassination of President Kennedy before Ted took to the airwaves to tell a nation that passage the pending Civil Rights legislation would be a fitting way to remember his brother’s untimely passing.

The tactic worked. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

But whatever role the unabashed evocation of the fourth fallen Kennedy’s memory plays in the looming debate over the president’s pending healthcare reform, Ted Kennedy can finally rest in peace knowing that he has finally stepped out from behind the long shadow cast by his more formidable brothers.

John and Robert Kennedy were two of the most exciting and vibrant politicians of the modern era. But after tolling in the trenches for an issue for close to 47 years (longer, it turns out, than either of his brothers lived) maybe the real takeaway here is that in the end endurance and experience can trump youth and vigor.

It’s not out of the question. Just ask the man behind the never-ending tour. At this pace, he’ll likely outlast them all…

Go out in your country where the land meets the sun
See the craters and the canyons where the waterfalls run
Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
Let every state in this union seep in your souls.
And you’ll die in your footsteps
Before you go down under the ground.

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

‘Time Passes Slowly’: Dylan, Obama distance themselves from Woodstock

Time passes slowly up here in the mountains,
We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains,
Catch the wild fishes that float through the stream,
Time passes slowly when you’re lost in a dream.

Over the past few weeks, there have been no shortage of articles written about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. And certainly one of the most interesting is Jon Pareles’ story that appeared in Sunday’s New York Times two weeks ago.

Ironically, what made the article so striking wasn’t so much what was said about the Woodstock generation of 1969; it’s what wasn’t said about the Obama Nation of 2009. As Pareles observes: “Woodstock was as much an endpoint as a beginning, a holiday of naïveté and dumb luck before the realities of capitalism resumed.”

And while he draw no direct parallels drawn between the 400,000 people who went up the country 40 years ago August 1969, and the two million people who descended on the National Mall this past January, the correlation certainly exists. Just don’t expect the White House to make the connection anytime soon.

For the hundreds of thousands who stormed the gates of Yasgur’s farm, Woodstock was always more than a 3-day music and arts festival. For them, it was a movement that had been growing for the better part of a decade. And by the time they got to Woodstock, they were literally a half a million strong.

But it wasn’t just the artists and attendees who viewed Woodstock through rose-colored glasses. Thanks to the film released by Warner Bros. the following year, that’s the way most of the world saw it, too.

Of course in process of condensing 72 hours into a 4-hour film the studio would release, a lot was left on the cutting room floor. And it’s those forgotten pieces that tell not only the real story of Woodstock, but offer a cautionary tale for the newly anointed president.

So enamored are we with the mythology of Woodstock that we tend to overlook the fact that the promoters of the fabled 3-day festival completely lost control of their creation. The result? The site was declared a national disaster site less than a day into the event. And while Obama had the winds of generational change at his back last November, he, too, has walked smack dab into a national disaster. And just as the concert promoters had to be bailed out by the federal government, the Obama Nation has suffered the same fate to the tune of of a $787 stimulus package intended to assauge the beleaguered economy. The only difference is that while the Woodstock crowd got a free concert, the Wall Street looters who brought this country to its knees are the ones who got a free ride.

And what about the corporate greed? Again, the similarities abound.

In the case of Woodstock, the moment the contact high wore off, the feel-good euphoria sparked in those three days of peace, love and understanding immediately gave way to a perpetual commoditization. Not only the sense of community Woodstock engendered, but an endless quest to commoditize the Woodstock name itself.

Similarly, Barack Obama has suffered the same fate. His name, his likeness, his promise to renew our faith in our government and ourselves has become fodder for a seemingly endless supply of T-shirts, bumper stickers and faux campaign buttons. Said another way, in the months since his election, Barack Obama has become more than a president; he has become a brand. The commoditization of the Obama Nation has begun.

Just as that iconic image of that lone white dove on the guitar neck will always evoke a sense of idyllic idealism, Shepard Fairey’s equally iconic image of Barack Obama will be used for generations to come to evoke a similar sense of sanguine certainty that things will get better.

Much has been made over those who graced the stage at Woodstock. After all, the event wasn’t the only thing mythologized over the last 40 years. Similarly, much has also been made of those who did not grace Woodstock with their presence.

Among the biggest stars not to trek through the mud and the sludge was Bob Dylan. Apparently, Dylan gave some thought to making an appearance (he was living in the neighboring town at the time, after all). But ultimately, Dylan couldn’t seem to get past his animosity toward the fans who had crowded in on his newly adopted domestic lifestyle by constantly dropping by his house at all hours of the night. Of course, the excuse Dylan himself gave was much more pedantic: his son was sick that day.

Whether it was overzealous fans or a child on the mend, in the end Dylan probably made the right decision not to attend Woodstock.

Sure, Woodstock transformed many of the artists who performed into cultural icons. But by 1969, Dylan was already an icon. And besides, part of the reason Dylan retreated to Woodstock in the first place was to shake that ‘voice of a generation’ label the folkies had pinned on him. What could he possibly have gained from being lumped in with 400,000 people whose biggest claim to fame 40 years later is that they managed to make it through three days mired in a cow pasture filled with mud and manure?

And so, as we peer through the purple haze of the past and peel back the layers of the Woodstock legacy, perhaps the real legacy of Woodstock has as much to do with excess as with idealism.

Interesting how history really does tend to repeat itself …


Time passes slowly up here in the daylight,

We stare straight ahead and try so hard to stay right,
Like the red rose of summer that blooms in the day,
Time passes slowly and fades away.

August 23, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘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 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