The Disgruntled Dylanologist

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

Like A Rolling Stone: Why Obama’s invisible nation leave us feeling so alone


At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used

Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when the words, “Cuban Stimulus Package,” appeared last Friday in my RSS bin.

Considering the disastrous state of the economy both home and abroad, my first instinct was that in addition to bailing out the banking, mortgage and car industries, America was about to bailout a certain decrepit despot with whom we’ve always had a less than amiable relationship. As it turns out, the revolutionary Cuban behind this rather unconventional ‘stimulus package’ is more intent on jump-starting our economy than destroying it.

A firm believer that the current financial mess facing this country isn’t going to be solved by the crooks on Wall Street or their crooked cronies lurking the halls of Congress, serial entrepreneur and two-time billionaire Mark Cuban wants to cut the Washington fat cats out of the process altogether.

Announced on his blog on February 9, 2009, Cuban’s self-styled “stimulus plan” boils down to this. Aspiring entrepreneurs post ideas that fit 13 specific pieces of criteria (breaking even within 60 days, profitability within 90 days, no advertising, etc.). Either Cuban will fund them, or other individuals reading Cuban’s blog will take up the ideas, thereby stimulating the economy.

There is, of course, a catch.

By posting your business plan on Cuban’s blog, you tacitly agree that anyone can comment, criticize and, as Cuban himself acknowledges, “steal the idea and use it elsewhere.”

I’ll be honest. When I first heard about Cuban’s innovative, albeit unorthodox approach to fixing the broken economy, I expected it would be dismissed out of hand.

Boy, was I wrong.

As of last Tuesday, nearly 2,000 people have posted to Cuban’s blog. Sure, some have been dismissive: “We would love to present our business plan to you but not over a public domain.” Some snarky: “If I am going to start something with sweat equity and reach profitability within 60 days why do I need outside money?” But most have been supportive, even encouraging of Cuban’s experiment.

Aspiring entrepreneur Alain Raynaud summed up his support in five, succinct words: “Ask and you shall receive.” I’ll be darned if Alain didn’t post his entire business plan, front to back.

And Alain wasn’t the only one. Nearly three quarters of the people have floated some sort of an idea for Cuban (and the world) to peruse—and potentially pinch.

It’s been over 40 years since Bob Dylan sat down and scribbled those 59 lines on the back of an envelope that today stand the test of time as one of the most searing and unsympathetic indictments of American culture ever written. ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ isn’t just Dylan’s most popular song, it’s also one of his most perplexing— the ultimate ‘finger pointing’ song if ever there were one. But as the old axiom goes: ‘Whenever you point a finger at someone, there’re always three pointing back at you.’

And while the true meaning behind the song is immersed in just enough enigmatic ambiguity to merit countless articles, essays, even entire books to be written about it, after nearly a half century the song still points with laser intensity to the hypocrisy that continues to plague our national consciousness.

The sentiment sweeping the country over the last few months is that we are entering a new chapter in our nation’s history, an ‘Age of Transparency’ it’s been called. And as we make this transition the hope is that this new found openness will transform not only the way we do business in America, but transform America itself.


But there is a problem, and the problem is this. This paradigm shift in politics is not coming from the top down. Rather, it’s coming from the bottom up. Democratic lyricism may have won our hearts in November, but when the most innovative ideas are being generated by a bored billionaire best known to America as a runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars” maybe Republican pragmatism isn’t worth jettisoning just yet.

Yet the soothsayers in Washington tell us that there is no ‘Red States of America,’ there is no ‘Blue States America,’ there is only the ‘United States of America.’

“We’re all in this together,” they say, “and if we fail to pull together as a country, we’re bound to fall.”

But who are they kidding? These are the same people who told us where it’s at for eight years while they took everything from us they could steal.

But perhaps I’m confusing my disgruntled nature with nascent disdain. Maybe America did get it right this past November. Maybe we really have entered a new age of politics. Maybe our best days are ahead of us.

But even if the jugglers and clowns in Washington do decide to stop selling alibis and offer a clear direction for this country will it really solve the larger question that looms: Why in this age of transparency, a time when we’re all supposed to be pulling together do we still feel like we’re on our own?

How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

For more information on Mark Cuban’s ‘open source’ Stimulus Plan, go to blog maverick.

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

Will.i.am is no Dyl.a.n: One’s ‘Forever,’ the other just ‘Young’

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

Bob Dylan has been called many things over the years—poet, preacher, prophet, saint, sinner, survivor.

‘Sentimentalist,’ however, is a moniker that’s seldom associated with notoriously shape-shifting songwriter.

And while it’s pure speculation (and what isn’t speculative when it comes to Dylan), it’s probably safe to say Bob was feeling a mite maudlin when he sat down to write would eventually become one of his most enduring compositions.

Written as a heartfelt, almost hymnal homage to his son, Jakob, “Forever Young” has stood the test of time— an enduring rumination on the eternal, indomitable spirit of youth.

But if you listen carefully to the song (again, not to listen carefully to a Dylan song is to not really be listening at all), you realize the song isn’t as much about youth in a literal sense as it is about the boundless promise of what the future holds in store. Said another way, it’s a song about forging one’s identity. And if you can look at the song from that perspective, the seemingly sentimental “Forever Young” isn’t as much about sage, sanguine advice passed on from a father to his son as it is an acknowledgment that we need not wait for a new generation to refresh the world. That power resides in all of us, if we just find the courage and strength to tap into it. Which brings us to the ad Pepsi ran on the Super Bowl two weeks ago…

The concept of affecting change and embracing it are often thought to be analogous and interchangeable. The reality, however, is that these are two distinct and disparate ideas. To mix them up (or ‘mash them up’ as the case was with the Will.i.am-Bob Dylan ad) does a great disservice to those who are true agents of change, and those who are merely ‘catching the wave’ (to borrow the slogan from another pop soda that portends to be one beat ahead of the generational curve).

This, of course, isn’t the first time Dylan has licensed one of his songs for commercial use. And while Dylan has never gone as far as to sell flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark, he’s certainly done his part conning us into thinking we’re the one. Cadillac, Victoria’s Secret and Apple are just a few of the products to which Dylan has lent his irrepressible, iconic image.

But the Pepsi Super Bowl ad was different.

Will.i.am amassed quite a bit of political capital during the recent presidential election. His PSA for the Obama campaign in which celebrities espouse their unwavering admiration for Barack Obama while the Black Eyed Peas front man be-bops in the background is one of the most innovative and infectious political endorsements in recent memory. The fact the video was directed by Jesse Dylan, another one of Bob’s young brood, just adds to the irony of this grunt.

But the suggestion that Will.i.am has been passed the torch that will ignite a new generation in the way Dylan ignited his—something that was clearly implied when Dylan ‘hands’ his trademark ’66 shades to Will.i.am—isn’t just of-putting, it’s patently offensive. It would take a lot more than a fancy jump cut and a series of sleek song segues to accomplish that feat.

It would be easy to knock Dylan for letting Pepsi malign his pop persona the way they did. And, in all fairness, he does bear some culpability. We all Bob knows exactly what deal’s going down.

Since bursting on the scene 45 years ago, Dylan has split his time teetering between two daunting tasks—crafting his enduring music and cultivating his enigmatic image. There’s no question, he’s a master at both. For all we know, perhaps the Pepsi ad was just another piece in Bob’s ‘master plan.’ And when you think about it that way, the ad is almost forgivable. Almost.

No, the real culprit here isn’t Dylan. And it isn’t the hacks at Chiat/Day, who came up with the idea behind the ‘shades’ ad.

The fault lies squarely with Will.i.am, who even at the height of his creative and cultural prowess during the presidential campaign was never an agent of change. At best, he was a conduit. In reality, he was nothing more than a beneficiary of it.

In the final analysis, it would take a lot more than an ill-conceived ad to tarnish the iconoclastic image of Bob Dylan, whatever role he played in its creation. But I’m not sure the same can be said for Will.i.am, who should have rejected the idea of being cast as Dylan’s generational heir the moment it was proposed to him.

Yet despite the poor judgment on the part of Will.i.am, in the end he’s got one major thing going for him. He’s still young…

And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

Bob Dylan isn’t the first rock star to shill for Madison Avenue. For a brief history of the musicians who have lent their talent to the Super Bowl, click here.

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

A Dylanesque Adieu: “It’s All Over Now, ‘W'”


You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last.

But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,
Crying like a fire in the sun.
Look out the saints are comin’ through
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

On Thursday, January 15, 2009, at precisely 5:03 pm EST, a middle-aged man wearing a dark blue suit, white button-down shirt and a power blue tie stepped through a doorway, and walked down an elegant carpet-lined hallway before stopping behind a waist high podium bearing the emblem of an eagle, its wings outstretched against a royal blue background.

After taking a moment to acknowledge the appreciative crowd, the man smiled, cleared his throat and uttered the following opening salvo, “Fellow citizens, for eight years it has been my honor to serve as your president.”

Exactly 13 minutes, thirty-one minutes later, the man in the dark blue suit with the white button-down shirt and power blue tie turned and walked back down the hallway then passed through an unseen door. And just like that, it was over.

9/11, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Katrina, a collapsed economy—suffice to say, George W. Bush has presided over one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.

You’d have thought the networks would have given him more than 13 minutes. Frankly, many pundits were surprised he even got that.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a recap of 2008 in which I paraphrased Bob Dylan’s enigmatic, surrealistic, ‘Desolation Row.’ Considering how well received the piece was, for the last week I had been toying with the notion of using another Dylan diatribe, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,’ to bid farewell to our 43rd president.

When I sat down to write my postscript to the Bush presidency, however, I realized my intended Dylanesque adieu had already been written:

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last.
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.

In those two verses, taken from the first and last stanzas respectfully, resides all the angst, all the anger, not to mention a good dose of mournful lament that American has experience for the last eight years.

But the connection between Bush’s farewell and Dylan’s acerbic adieu goes deeper than the lyrical parallels. Dylan recorded “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” in Columbia Studio ‘A’ on January 15, 1965—44 years to the day of Bush’s final official appearance before the American public.

The saddest part, of course, is that it didn’t have to be this way.

Bush began his presidency with a 50% approval rating. Not bad considering he received less than 48% of the popular vote. But it only got better for Bush. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Bush’s approval rating skyrocketed to over 90%. It was an unprecedented moment in American politics—the highest popularity rating of a sitting president. Then something equally extraordinary occurred.

After only four months, Bush’s popularity began an equally unprecedented, unrelenting 7-year decline. It was truly as if someone had pulled the carpet out from under George Bush.

That ‘someone’ it turns out wasn’t so much the American public as it was the people Bush surrounded himself. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Brown, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Carl Rove, Alberto Gonzalez, Hank Paulson: each pursued policies that not only eroded support for Bush and the institute of the presidency, they pursued policies that eroded our faith in virtually facet of the U.S. government.

In his defense, Bush has become the lightening rod into which all of America’s disdain and disgust has been directed. As the Administration’s point man, it’s to be expected that the president would take a jolt or two. Yet considering the unrelenting, unilateral affront the team Bush assembled has made on every aspect of the American experience, it’s amazing Bush has hung on to as much support as he has.

Earlier in the week, George Bush told the press corps, “When I get out of here, I’m getting off the stage… one person in the klieg lights at a time. I’ve had my time in the klieg lights. I wish [Obama] all the best.” And while it came from an honest place, there’s no question there was a Nixonian ring to the refrain, as if to say: “You won’t have old ‘Dubya’ to kick around anymore.”

And while it’s probably not the last time we’ll hear from “43”, it is the last time we’ll have to listen. And I’m not sure who’s more relieved, him or us. But one thing’s for sure— we’re both better off now that it’s all over for ‘W’….

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Old Guard: Can Obama change their way of thinking?


Sixteen years,

Sixteen banners united over the field,
Where the good shepherd grieves.
Desperate men, desperate women divided,
Spreading their wings ‘neath the falling leaves.

First, let me say that I’m not a big fan of politicos. But James Carville—perhaps the most puffed up, bombastic, pretentious politico of them all—got it right when he famously opined back in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It was the economy in 1992. Sixteen years later, it’s the economy all over again.

The fact that the US economy is in the shitter should come as a surprise to no one. For the past 12 months, we’ve been sliding toward the precipice of the worst recession in 16 years.In the last 60 days, it’s only gone from bad to worse. Thirteen banks have gone into bankruptcy, the top five investment banks have died, the stock market has hit a six-year low, unemployment has reached a 14-year high.

Contrary to John McCain’s reassuring reaction to the September 10 collapse of Lehman Brothers, the fundamentals of our economy were not ‘strong.’ And it certainly didn’t help that McCain borrowed his phrasing from Herbert Hoover, who on Thursday, Oct. 24, 1929, just five days before the crash that would result in the deepest depression in world history, proclaimed, “The fundamental business of the country, that is, production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis.”

As the largest economy in the world, the American financial crisis has far-reaching ramifications. The direction of the U.S. economy doesn’t merely ‘impact’ the global economy; it decides its destiny.

It’s a big idea. It’s also a big problem. And the irony is that the problem isn’t going to go away until we change the way we do business in this country.

Yet despite the proclamations of ‘change’ that were the cornerstones of both the McCain and Obama presidential campaigns, change won’t be coming anytime soon. You already know the reason why.

It’s the economy, stupid.

Historically, the election of a Democrat has meant more jobs for Americans. History, however, is hardly consolation for the 1.2 million Americans who have lost their jobs since January.

It’s not especially encouraging for those who have jobs, either. With most 401(k)s off by an average of 40% or worse, dreams of retirement by the 50+ set have been replaced by the realization that there simply isn’t enough money in their accounts to sustain them for 10 years, much less the 20 years they’re expected to live.

Sure they can stay the course, stick it out, work a few extra years until the anemic stock market turns around. But there’s just something fundamentally wrong with the notion that what was only a year ago considered an appalling indignation by those who have toiled their entire life to build something for themselves and their families is now an umbrage those who actually have jobs would all too gladly suffer.

This past election was about change. A seismic shift, a comprehensive overhaul, a changing of the guard. It’s what we were promised, it’s what we want and, considering the perilous state of the economy, it’s what we need.

Unfortunately, change is not something the Obama Administration will be able to deliver anytime soon. It would mean the old guard would need to step down. But the old guard is like a caged animal tethered to a stake that keeps it from wondering too far from the trough.

And with their retirement pensions gone, the stock market in a perpetual downward spiral, and the potentially some of that $700 billion in bailout money might potential come their way if they just hang on long enough, the old guard is a permanent fixture on the horizon.

Contrary to what the media would have us believe, the rest of the world truly wants America to succeed. For millions around the world, America truly is a beacon of hope, prosperity and opportunity. But Eden is burning. And rather than change the old guard, we need to change their way of thinking.

Because the old guard isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Frankly, they can’t afford to…

I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes,

I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards,
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination,
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.

November 23, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Darkness at the Break of Noon: Dylan steps into the light


Advertising signs that con you,

Into thinking you’re the one,
That can do what’s never been done,
That can win what’s never been won,
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.

“Stunning…” “Unprecedented…” “Electrifying…” “Incredible…”

You’d be hard-pressed to find a superlative that hasn’t been used in the last two weeks to describe Barack Obama’s meteoric ascension to the nation’s highest office.

But perhaps no comment has been more analyzed, more categorized or more scrutinized by fellow Dylanologists than the one made by Dylan himself during his election eve show in Minneapolis’ Northrop Auditorium:

“…it’s a brand new time right now. An age of light. Me, I was born in 1941 that’s the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. Well I been livin’ in a world of darkness ever since. But it looks like things are gonna change now…”

Typically, Dylan revels in his innate ability to confound us with his cryptic, enigmatic comments. This, of course, is precisely what’s so perplexing about Dylan’s election eve proclamation. It wasn’t wrapped in a riddle. It didn’t need to be sliced, diced, dissected and redirected. It was strikingly sincere and without pretense.

As Sean Curnyn thoughtfully observed in his blog, ‘Right Wing Bob,’ a few days after the election, it was never Dylan’s intention to confound us. Nor was it his intent to offer a ringing endorsement of president-elect Obama. The notoriously irascible Dylan was simply referring to an Obama campaign button worn by his longstanding bass player, Tony Granier. But that fact was left out of most reports, who were so stunned Dylan had actually spoken that they stripped the statement of all context.

It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

His entire life, Dylan has constantly reinvented himself to keep the hounding media at bay. Whether it’s changing his name, changing his musical direction, changing his religion—the man who famously opined, ‘he not busy being born is busy dying,’ has given birth to countless ‘Dylans’ over the last 40 years.

In the months leading up to the election, one could argue we’ve seen our share of ‘Obamas’ as well. In the last 18 months alone, Obama has appeared on no few than 300 magazine covers. Ebony, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Time, Newsweek. Each caters to a different audience. Each requires a different persona be projected. Yet Obama manages to move from one to the next with an effortlessness and facility that is eerily reminiscent of another Midwesterner who’s donned his fair share of disguises over the years.


To see the many ‘faces’ of Barack Obama, click here.

In the days to come, the searing light the media that has turned on Barack Obama is only going to get more intense and more scrutinous. And as it does, things are going to change for Barack Obama. Things are going to change for Bob Dylan, too.

Forty years ago, a prescient Bob Dylan told the press he didn’t want to deny, defy and classify them. All he really wanted to do was be friends. Of course, being friends wasn’t enough. The press wanted more—we wanted more. The result? We got ‘Bob Dylan.’

And what did Dylan get? A rap he’s been trying to shake ever since— ‘voice of a generation.’

And while it’s not our cross to bear, one can only imagine that the moniker, ‘voice of a generation,’ carries a lot of weight. Certainly, it’s a burden Dylan’s been trying to free himself from his entire life.

Maybe Dylan’s admission that he’s ready to step out of the darkness and into light isn’t some confounding, cautionary tale after all. Maybe it’s not an admonishment at all. Maybe all Bob Dylan was doing November 4 was telling us whose voice he’ll be listening to now that a new generation has spoken…

While preachers preach of evil fates,

Teachers teach that knowledge waits,

Goodness hides behind its gates,

But even the president of the United States,

Sometimes must have

To stand naked.

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ring Them Bells: Change has come


Ring them bells, ye heathen,

From the city that dreams,
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries,
Cross the valleys and streams.

It’s hard to be disgruntled when everyone around you is so happy. And November 4 was unquestionably a day that brought immense joy to millions of Americas.

Whether you were among the 64,058,826 people who voted for Barack Obama, or one of the 56,500,053 who voted for John McCain, at exactly 11:01 West Coast time the mood of a country changed. For a brief, fleeting moment, we were neither Republicans nor Democrats. Conservative nor Liberal. Right nor Left. Ideology evaporated, labels disappeared, color was washed away.

The whole world was watching. And what they saw was something uniquely American. The singular, defining quality that distinguishes America from every other country in the world: ‘redemption’.

The election of Barack Obama as the first African American president didn’t eradicate the racial injustices embedded in our nation’s DNA some 240 years ago. But it did emancipate us by from the past in some communal, collective way. And African Americans weren’t the only ones who felt the lifting of the shackles. We all felt the weight lift. We all experienced that moment together.

Traditionally, these moments of collective consciousness are reserved to see us through the dark times that have befallen our nation—Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans, 9/11.

This was different. This was a moment in which we were bound together by hope and optimism, rather than brought together by horror and despair.

The closest thing this nation has come to the transformational moment we experienced Tuesday night was the defeat of the Nazis in World World II. But even that wasn’t really the same.

Yes, the chimes of freedom rang around the world, but the freedom America fought for was a deferred freedom. It would take another 60 years, and another generation, before the true tenets of freedom were extended to every American.

The headlines told the tale. And the tale didn’t need elaboration. Like all pivotal moments in history, the story could be reduced to three simple words:

To see over 700 front pages from November 5, 2008, click here.

The elevation of a black man to the presidency in this year, on this date, at this moment in our nation’s history could not have happened at any other time. Barack Obama was simply born at the right time. Born into a broken world desperately in need of being fixed.

For the last eight years, decisive, destructive partisanship has torn at the fabric of this country. On November 3, 2008, we were a nation of broken idols, broken treaties, broken vows, broken laws, broken words that should never have been spoken. On November 4, we were something else.

And while the man charged with picking up those pieces will inevitably be labeled by his detractors as a ‘empty vessel,’ a ‘blank slate,’ a ‘complete unknown,’ perhaps we can take solace in this simple fact: what better place to put all these broken pieces than in a vessel large enough to hold the limitless hope for a future that, for the first time in our nation’s history, truly feels like it can benefit every American.

Oh the lines are long,
And the fighting is strong,
And they’re breaking down the distance,
Between right and wrong.

November 10, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment