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
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

“Holiday in the Highlands”: Bob Dylan’s Christmas a

Well, my heart’s in the Highlands at the break of day,
Over the hills and far away,
There’s a way to get there, and I’ll figure it out somehow,
But I’m already there in my mind,
And that’s good enough for now

Christmas is a good two months away, but already Jack Frost is nipping at our nose…or ears, as the case will be this Tuesday when Bob Dylan, producing under one of his favorite pseudonyms, releases his first Christmas album.

Love it or loath it, Dylan’s decision rip another page from the American songbook isn’t quite as out of place as one might expect. For just about as long as there have been Christmas albums, pop stars have perpetuated the longstanding yuletide tradition of recording holiday-themed discs. Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Phil Spector all have recorded Christmas albums. In fact, Diamond’s second helping of Christmas cheer, A Cherry, Cherry Christmas, will be released the same day as Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart.

So why have so many musicians, including those who don’t even celebrate Christmas, start roasting chestnuts over an open fire right around this time every year? The reason is simple: Christmas albums are cheap, easy to make and, if done right, they can result in a stocking stuffed with wads of cash. Dylan, however, isn’t in it for the money. All royalties from Christmas in the Heart are being earmarked for food banks in the U.S. and abroad.

Of course, just because everyone from Burl Ives to the the Beach Boys have recorded an album chock full of Christmas classics certainly doesn’t mean Dylan had to. Like many of us during the holiday season, he could have surreptitiously made a donation to his favorite charity and forgone the scrutiny this latest seasonal offering will inevitably stir.

But Dylan isn’t like the rest of us, and this isn’t the first—nor will it likely be the last—career move that will leave audiences and critics wondering what’s really going on behind those shades.

Over the last four and a half decades, Dylan has constantly reinvented himself, surprising his audience and critics alike. But of all his countless self-reinventions, his brief conversion to Christianity in 1979 has always been one of his most vexing.

And while some of Dylan’s finest songs were written during that period—“Change My Way of Thinking,” “Every Grain of Sand,” “Pressing On” to name a few—the decision to replace the Star of David with a crucifix has long been a thorn in his side. If the early reviews are any indication, Christmas in the Heart will likely have a similar effect.

Not that the notoriously indifferent Dylan is losing any shlofn over it. His decision to record 15 of the most well known Christmas classics clearly is more influenced by altruistic reasons than artistic ones. And judging from the enthusiastic and playful tone that permeates the disc from beginning to end, Dylan seems to have thoroughly enjoyed making Christmas in the Heart. Having said that, however, those who have heard the album can attest— not since Bing Crosby and David Bowie traded verses on “The Little Drummer Boy” on Crosby’s 1977 network special has the Christmas spirit been rendered more surreal.

And while many of his detractors have asked why Dylan would even make a Christmas album in the first place, if we just step back and take a look at the man in question, the answer seems self evident. This is Bob Dylan we are talking about, after all — the same person who cited flamboyant wrestler, Gorgeous George, and über oddity, Tiny Tim, as two of his biggest inspirations.

The real question, therefore, isn’t really so much whether listeners will embrace the new Dylan album as a holiday tradition or not. Truth be told, they probably won’t.

But you just never know. Like so much with Dylan, the answer remains a mystery. And frankly, Dylan probably won’t want it any other way…

It must be a holiday, there’s nobody around,
She studies me closely as I sit down,
She got a pretty face and long white shiny legs,
She says, “What’ll it be?”
I say, “I don’t know, you got any soft boiled eggs?”

October 11, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Living Outside the Law”: Is Roman Polanski’s 32-year holiday over?

She never stumbles,

She’s got no place to fall.

She’s nobody’s child,

The Law can’t touch her at all.

It’s taken 32 years, but the long arm of the law has finally caught up with Roman Polanski. Last week authorities in Switzerland arrested the infamous filmmaker as he arrived at the Zurich airport en route to a lifetime achievement award. The arrest clears the way for Polanski’s possible extradition to the United States in connection with three-decade-old sex case involving a 13-year-old girl, a bag of Quaaludes, a couple bottles of booze and a hot tub in the basement of one of the silver screen’s more notoriously lecherous leading men.

The drug addled evening resulted in Polanski being indicted on rape, child molesting and sodomy felony charges. But as salacious as the facts surrounding the case are, the act that has perhaps set off the most enduring indignation is what Polanski did next.

Fearing the judge was planning to renege on a plea bargain deal that would result in Polanski going to prison, the director fled the country, effectively embarking on a 32-year rebuke of the American judicial system.

As a result, Polanski has lived his life on the lamb for the last three decades, managing to remain just beyond the reach of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, who has never given up on bringing the dodgy director back to justice.

To hear Sandi Gibbons, a spokesperson for the DA’s office, describe it the pursuit of Polanski is not that far off from a plot line culled from the popular TV series, The Fugitive: “Any time word is received that Mr. Polanski is planning to be in a country that has an extradition treaty with the U.S., we go through diplomatic channels with the arrest warrant.” Unfortunately for Mr. Polanski, it would appear Switzerland has such a treaty.

Polanski’s unexpected detainment at the Zurich airport last week has re-ignited a firestorm around the controversial director. But in an ironic twist, the discussion has not centered on Mr. Polasnki’s guilt, forgiveness by the victim, or even morals, for that matter. Instead, the issue at the center of this maelstrom revolves around something far more complicated: celebrity.

Long before committing the egregious act of forcibly sodomizing a 13-year-old girl, Hollywood was a staunch Polanski supporter. Even after Polanski admitted to drugging and then raping Samantha Geimer, the 13-year-old ingénue in question, Hollywood remained firmly in Polanski’s corner. In Hollywood, it seemed the paradigm of justice apparently was seen through a different prism: Ignore the act, put aside the judicial wrongdoings, and look at the real tribulation here— Mr. Polanski’s own tragedy-laden life.

Throughout his 1977 trial, Hollywood came out in droves to support the disgraced director. To them—and presumably to us—Mr. Polanski’s decision to flee only made sense. After all, how could a man whose family fell victim to the annihilating horrors of the Holocaust, a man cast as the primary suspect in the murder of his own wife— how could a man so wronged and maligned ever trust the legal system to give him a fair shake?

Thirty-two years later, Hollywood has come out again. The list of supporters lending Polanski their support reads like the A-list from one of the town’s top talent agencies. And while dozens have come to Polanski’s defense, the comments of Miramax Chairman, Harvey Weinstein, and comedian, Whoopi Goldberg, were especially effusive.

Upon hearing the latest chapter in Polanski’s ongoing personal morality play, Weinstein claimed: “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion.”

Ms. Goldberg did Weinstein one better when she rationalized Polanski’s actions this way: “I don’t believe it was ‘rape-rape’.” Right, and when Whoopi was sexually molested at the age of 14 and decided to perform an abortion on herself with a coat hanger, she did that because she was only ‘a little bit pregnant.’

There is no question artists are held to a different standard. Considering the fact they possesses an incredible, almost intangible ability to shine a light on the parts of our lives that bring us vast joy and immense pain, in all fairness, they have to a large part earned that distinction. But pointing to Polanski’s brilliance as a film director does not dismiss the fact he is a pedophile, a pariah and a fugitive from the law.

Yes, Polanski’s lived the high life for the last 32 years by being permitted to travel throughout Europe unfettered and undisturbed; yes, he was all but canonized by his cohorts in Hollywood in 2002 when they bestowed on him the Oscar for Best Picture for ‘The Piano’; and, yes, he is a genius— tortured, tormented and tirelessly beset by demons.

And while Roman Polanski’s tormented past may explain his actions the night he lured a 13-year-old girl to Jack Nicholson’s Hollywood hideaway home, drugged her, and then preceeded to commit one of the heinous crimes conceivable— it in no way justifies it. Even if he is an artist…

She’s got everything she needs,
She’s an artist, she don’t look back.
She can take the dark out of the nighttime
And paint the daytime black.

October 4, 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

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

“Shelter from the Storm”: Bob Dylan comes in from the rain; finds his direction home

‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood

When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud

I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.

“Come in,” she said,

“I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

Every fall, Beloit College releases its ‘Mindset List.’ Comprised of 75 cultural landmarks, the list offers a revealing glimpse into how the roughly 300 freshmen of this small, liberal arts college view the world.

Admittedly, even for those of us born after 1991 (the year Beloit’s entering freshmen were born) it can at times be difficult to remember a world without the Internet; a world when wars weren’t fought on 52” flat screens in our living room; a world where Britney Spears wasn’t always a perennial staple of classic rock radio. But a world without Bob Dylan?

Welcome to the world as seen through the eyes of the Class of 2013.

Technically, Kristie Buble, the 24-year-old New Jersey police officer who failed to recognize the legendary musician last week should have been able to ID the iconoclastic singer. After all, Officer Buble was born in 1985, a good six years before Beloit’s incoming freshman class.

And while Empire Burlesque, also released in 1985, is hardly one of Bob’s most memorable offerings, his last two recordings—2006’s Modern Times and this year’s Together Through Life—both have reached #1 on the Billboard charts. Not to mention Bob has graced the cover of Rolling Stone—a magazine Buble has likely perused on more than a few stakeouts—three times in as many years.

In light of the fact that Dylan was found ambling aimlessly in the rain, disheveled and somewhat disoriented, the press has reveled in the reports that the 24-year-old rookie was unable to place the face of the “eccentric-looking old man” who just happened to be Bob Dylan.

To that end, much has been made of the now self referential 1965 lyric, “How does it feel / To be on your own / Like a complete unknown.” But maybe the joke’s on the J-men. Perhaps the fact that Dylan, one of the most iconoclastic people of the 20th century (and as a result one would also suspect one of the most recognizable) wasn’t recognized is the real testament to Dylan’s enduring eminence.

Because the truth is that there is another line nestled in middle of that the famous couplet that has been all but overlooked—

“How does it feel / To be on your own / With no direction home / Like a complete unknown.”

And while the lyric isn’t the most literal as it relates to last week’s incident, in hindsight it’s by far the most insightful.

Dylan begrudgingly began his career as the preeminent torchbearer for the burgeoning folk movement of the early 1960s. After going electric in 1965, he embraced the rock star status his new musical direction afforded, despite the self destructive toll it eventually took on him.

In the 1980s, he struggled with the growing enmity the burden of being labeled an ‘icon’ brought. But by the mid-1990s Dylan seemed to be at peace with himself, comfortable with the knowledge that he has spent a lifetime searching for not only for his roots, he’s spent a lifetime searching for America’s roots. And while the ultimate destination of that seemingly never-ending search still remains unknown, now more than ever Dylan seems doggedly determined that he’s headed in the right direction.

For some, the notion of being mistaken as an eccentric old man by a 24-year-old beat cop who‘s come of age in a world where “Magic” Johnson is better known for being HIV-positive than his high-flying hook shot may seem like a slap in the face to the legendary performer.

But if you step back for a moment to consider the fact that Bob Dylan can remain incognito in an era where recognition has become a direct correlation to our perceived social currency, then perhaps the ability to blend into what Greil Marcus famously referred to as an “Invisible Republic” may be the most telling testament of all to the fact that after spending a lifetime scouring America’s musical and cultural landscape in an effort to unearth the essence of the American experience, Bob Dylan has finally found his way home…

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail,
Poisoned in the bushes an’ blown out on the trail,
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn.
“Come in,” she said,

“I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , | Leave a comment