The Disgruntled Dylanologist

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

‘Day of the Locusts’: Bob Dylan, Barack Obama and the audacity of dope


And the locusts sang off in the distance,

Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.
Oh, the locusts sang off in the distance,
Yeah, the locusts sang and they were singing for me.

The story behind the second track on Dylan’s 1970 album, New Morning, goes something like this—

In the summer of 1970, Princeton decided to present Dylan with an honorary doctorate. Not surprisingly, the ever-reticent Dylan wasn’t especially high on the idea.

Until, that is, David Crosby entered the picture. In attempt to convince a distrustful Dylan to go to the ceremony, the drug-addled Crosby convinced Dylan to smoke a joint, which increased Dylan’s paranoia but apparently did the trick. Dylan was indoctorated by day’s end.

As for the ‘locusts,’ the allusion (as often is the case with Dylan) was both figurative and literal—Bob’s convergence on the quaint college town coincided with Princeton’s 17-yr cicada infestation.

This past week, a different kind of locust converged on Barack Obama as the president opened his town hall press conference to questions from the American public. 92,937 people submitted 103,981 questions and cast 3,602,695 votes in this noble experiment of political empowerment.

The top vote getters included questions related to the financial sector, jobs and the national debt. But in this time of mounting economic crisis, what was the most pungent question on the mind of the American public? Here’s a hint: It was green, but it wasn’t renewable energy.

Of course, a candid discussion on the decriminalization of marijuana shouldn’t have taken Obama completely by surprise. After all, the argument to ‘legalize it’ isn’t all smoke and mirrors. The economy would get a boost, drug cartels would be weakened and the government would make a bundle on federal taxes. But in all fairness, Nobel Laureate economists and drug enforcement agents probably weren’t the demographic dialing in.

So just how did the question of legalizing marijuana get to the top of the list?

Much of the credit goes to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which tapped into the ‘silent majority’ of pot smokers. Admittedly, the high ranking of marijuana-related questions had a distinct tinge of astroturfing. But when the board lit up in favor of putting marijuana reform on the front burner, it was cool that Obama didn’t completely bogart the question.

It didn’t prevent him, however, from nipping the question in the bud: “I don’t know what that says about the online audience,” he said joking before turning solemn. “But the answer is ‘no,’ I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy.”

Yet in all the clamor surrounding the unexpected twist surrounding Obama’s joint press conference with the mainstream press and Main Street America, a very interesting news story got lost in the haze. Just six weeks earlier, George Obama, the president’s half-brother, was been arrested and charged with…wait for it….marijuana possession, or “bhang” as it’s known in Kenya.

“If Timothy Geithner can cheat on his taxes and become Secretary of the Treasury,” brother Obama was rumored to have said, “then this should qualify me to become head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.” It seems the ability to come up with a quick quip runs in the family.

Admittedly, it was interesting to see what’s on the minds of the American people when the media gatekeepers get stonewalled. But don’t expect Obama’s “Online Town Hall” to come back around again.

Simply put, sometimes a little control over the system keeps everyone on track— especially true when that system can be so easily manipulated.

Not that Barack Obama shouldn’t take questions from the American public—just don’t be surprised if he refuses to answer them.

Come to think of it, that probably explains why Dylan fans tend not to yell out requests at his shows. The audience knows he isn’t going to play “Blowin’ in the Wind” them just someone has a burning desire to hear the song played for the millionth time.

And just for the record, next time you’re all in a huff to hear Bob play “The Day of the Locusts” live, save your breath.

Over the last ten years, Bob’s played 969 concerts, 16,062 songs, and 214 different titles—”The Day of the Locusts” wasn’t one of them…

I put down my robe, picked up my diploma,
Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive,
Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota,
Sure was glad to get out of there alive.

For a list of all the songs Dylan’s done in concert check out: http://www.fotofabini.com/Dylan/

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April 6, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are The Times A-Changin’ Again?: Dylan will let us know in April


Come writers and critics

Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again

It seems the writers and critics will get another chance to witness history in transition. The man who famously prophesized about a battle that was ragin’, an order that was fadin’, a road rapidly that was agin’ has got that old feeling again— a change is coming on.

The news broke with the report that Bob Dylan had contributed a song to My Own Love Song, the upcoming road picture by French filmmaker Olivier Dahan starring Rene Zellweger and Forest Whitaker. But when the confirmation of the possible existence of an entire album of new material appeared on Dylan encyclopaedist Michael Gray’s blog on January 22, Dylan aficionados heeded the call: the creative juices were flowing, the spigot was back on and soon we’d be drenched to the bone.

Of course, it was the title that excited the Dylan community most—“I Feel a Change Coming On.” And even though Bob has since settled on “Together Though Life” as the moniker for what’s anticipated to be another Dylan masterpiece, the mere mention of ‘change’ on a Dylan album, especially when that mention is made by Bob himself, is all that’s needed to get the Bobcats buzzing…What kind of change are we talking about here? A personal change? A political change? As with all things Dylan, the speculation is half the fun.

But rather than play into what would undoubtedly become an endless loop of pondering, reflection and rumination on exactly what ‘message of change’ Bob will impart this April, I thought I’d turn my attention to the messenger. Or should I say messengers…

Last November, Ben Parr of mashable.com offered an insightful take on the modern times in which we live. Titled, “5 Ways Social Media Will Change Recorded History,” the gist is this— history is no longer a thing of the past; history is now.

And in light of the recent flurry of cyber speculation revolving around Dylan’s new album, it got me thinking how different both Dylan and his body of work would have been had he come to prominence in an era when we truly had no secrets to conceal.

Here are the five tenets put forth in Parr’s article:

1) Everyone will have the ability to know what you did and who you were with on a daily basis. We all like to keep our business to ourselves, but Dylan takes anonymity to another level. Sure Bob has a snazzy new website loaded with all the ‘community’ bells and whistles. Yes, he has his own MySpace page. And while it’s uncertain if he has opened a Twitter account, as much as we’d all enjoy that ‘never ending tweet,’ there’s no comparison that “Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land / And don’t criticize / What you can’t understand,” trumps “@oldgeneration why r’t u getting this” any day. Besides, Bob’s earned the right to express himself in more than 140 characters.

2) Historical trend analysis will leap to a new level of precision. No more relying on gatekeepers and guardians whose sole source of power comes from self-preservation. Actually, Dylan would probably have liked this. As Bob himself said, “Come gather ’round people / Wherever you roam.” But whether he likes it or not, Dylan himself is a gatekeeper, a purveyor of popular culture. And as the most prolific and prescient songwriter of the 20th century wouldn’t it be a shame to have the enduring contributions of Bob Dylan overlooked in favor of lesser contrarians who have simply caught the most prevailing wave of public opinion?

3) We will not use history to learn from our mistakes, but to prevent them before they happen. In a culture where prevention prevails, there’s no question Dylan’s vast discography would have been dramatically different if Dylan hadn’t occasionally let his guard down. Some of Dylan’s best work has been an attempt to put his past indiscretions in perspective. Four words: Blood on the Tracks.

4) There is little room for hiding details about our lives. In 1995, Clinton Heylin painstakingly chronicled Dylan’s life down to the minutest detail in Bob Dylan: A Life in Stolen Moments, Day by Day: 1941-1995. It’s no coincidence Heylin hasn’t come out with a second edition. In this age of limitless access to information, we no longer need a noted Dylanologist to collect the stolen moments of Bob’s life. Thanks to Google, we can do it ourselves.

5) An ethical war over the use of this information will arise. We live in an era of ‘remix’—a time when the notion of a pure, unadulterated ‘artistic vision’ is a thing of the past. Thanks to photography websites like Flickr, and community online editing sites like Stroome, the ‘remix’ culture is no longer upon us— it’s already arrived. And if you think Dylan hasn’t got caught up in the mix, you only need to think back a few weeks to Pepsi’s recent Superbowl ad that mashed up Bob and Black-Eyed Peas front man, Will.i.am. Talk about a mangled message.

Considering the all encompassing prevalence of social media, it should hardly be a surprise that the way we came to hear about the new Dylan album is the same way we get all our information these days. Because whether it’s looking back on the monumental moments of the past, or peering head on into the mundane nature of our daily lives, in the end history is essentially a story in transition— history is change.

But in this era of excessive transparency, it’s somehow comforting to know that we can still rely on Dylan to see the forest for the trees…

It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Interested in reading Ben Parr’s complete Mashable article? Click here.

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