The Disgruntled Dylanologist

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

‘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.

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August 30, 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

Abraham Lincoln: Only a Pawn in Their Game

And the Negro’s name,
Is used it is plain,
For the politician’s gain,
As he rises to fame

It’s not that hard to see why the media went out of their way to connect last Sunday’s Inaugural Celebration Concert at the Lincoln Memorial with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

From the eloquent articulation of a dream by a preacher-turned-political activist, to the realization of that dream by an equally eloquent community organizer-turned-president, you couldn’t have orchestrated a more defining set of bookends to mark a more transformative period in American history. Frankly, the media would have been castigated had they not connected the dots.

The most obvious comparison between the March on Washington and last week’s Inaugural Celebration Concert centered around geography, specially a pristine pool that begins at the base of the monument erected for our first president and ends roughly a mile later at the base of a stone temple consecrated for the man who served as our nation’s 16th commander in chief.


But to compare King’s address to the 250,000 people who assembled at the Lincoln Memorial on 23 August 1963 with Sunday’s concert simply because Obama was blessed with a crowd of similar size on that same, hallowed ground is not only ill founded, it does a disservice to the dream.

The truth is that the March on Washington wasn’t a celebration at all. It was a conflict narrowly averted. While King had reached a peace with the “Big Six”—as the six prominent civil-rights leaders were called—SNCC and CORE, two of the more militant factions of the movement, saw the March as a way of challenging what they believed to be a lack of support for civil rights by the Kennedy administration. For them, the speech King planned to deliver erred on the side of appeasement, rather than accountability.

Said another way, when King stepped behind the podium that warm August day he was stepping into a battle—both literally and figuratively.

Last Sunday’s Inaugural Celebration Concert, however, was anything but. So concerned about “how far we’ve come as a country,” the organizers allowed a emphatic sense of harmony to reduce this star-studded 3-hour event to nothing more than a cavalcade of stars burning brightly against a carefully lit marble backdrop.

And in all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Obama’s inauguration, the media fell into the same seductive trap as the rest of us. They got caught up in all the hoopla, and in the process failed to place the true measure of King’s prophetic proclamation on race in America in its proper context.

No disrespect to Steve Carell, Kal Pen, Jack Black, Marisa Tomei and Ashley Judd—all fine actors indeed—but it was painfully clear their involvement was more of a repayment for their financial contributions to the Obama campaign than a true recognition of an investment in any social cause beyond perhaps which Inaugural Ball they planned to attend.

And then there was the entertainment. The 1963 March on Washington featured performances by Marian Anderson, Mahalia Jackson, Josh White, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Each of these artists played a vital role in shaping and redefining not just civil rights, but human rights.

Yet with the notable exception of Stevie Wonder and Pete Seeger, the biggest role the performers who graced the stage Sunday played in the civil rights movement was their ability to recall the past trials and tribulations of the artists and activists who actually attended the 1963 March.

Bono, Bruce and Beyoncé are all compelling entertainers to be sure. But endearing homage does not equal the contributions made by those who actually affect change, no matter how heartfelt thei accolades may have been.

Let’s be clear. Drawing a historical parallel between Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama is perfectly in bounds. The MLK “I Have a Dream” speech has been taught in social studies classes for the last four decades, and rightly so. It remains a pitch-perfect piece of oratory given at precisely the right moment in history. Obama’s ascension to the highest office in the land is equally monumental—a moment of mixed gravitas and giddiness not just for ‘Black America,’ but a moment of immense gratification for all Americans.

So if I’m not taking issue with King, Obama or the events that elevated and celebrated their place in our nation’s history, what then am I taking issue with? Actually, it isn’t the media’s linking these moments together that’s raised my ire, it’s the monument.

The Civil Rights Movement has often been compared to a game of chess. This past Sunday’s event, though light in substance, was dead on in terms of design.There was a Bishop (Rev. V. Gene Robinson), a King (Martin Luther King III), and a Queen (Queen Latifa).

But what about the pawn—the very centerpiece of this ungrateful grunt? I would submit the pawn in this 200-year-old game was none other than the man at whose feet they stood.

Yes, that’s right. Abraham Lincoln was a pawn in Obama’s game, just as he was a pawn in Dr. King’s March on Washington some 46 years before. Polished up, propped up and pimped out.

Yet despite the transparent attempt to manipulate and maneuver his memory like some paonic piece on the chessboard, in the final analysis perhaps this grunt is for naught. I doubt Lincoln would have minded the part he ultimately played in what is unquestionably the most overdue endgame in American politics…

On the stone that remains,

Carved next to his name,

His epitaph plain:

Only a pawn in their game.

January 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 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