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.

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

“If You See Her, Say Hello”: A Dylanesque goodbye to General Motors


We had a falling-out, like lovers often will

And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill
And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart.

Unlike Bob Dylan’s 1974 wistful song of an ill-fated love affair gone awry, America’s affair with the automobile is far from over. But as of last week, GM, who for years was without doubt the most popular girl at the party, is about to find out what it means to be alone on Saturday night.

Already, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen and Hyundai have seen an increase in sales as a result of GM’s announcement that the once adored automaker has entered Chapter 11. America has always has a wondering eye when it comes to our insatiable consumption for consumer goods. But if the trend toward foreign femme fatales continues, our homegrown dance card is going to start to resemble something closer to a well-traveled passport.

Let’s face it. Relationships are complicated. And GM’s relationship with America is no exception. Since 1908, the Flint, Michigan, automaker has sparked the imagination of America for over a century. So much so that the old adage, “as goes General Motors, so goes the nation,” wasn’t just some trite expression. It was an enduring term of endearment.

For years, we were obsessed with her stylish, shapely body; her lean, aerodynamic curves; her tight, taut lines. But as time went by, we grew bored and she grew complacent. And in recent years, GM all but completely let herself go— continuously losing market share to a barrage of suitors who weren’t afraid to appeal to our vanity. And it certainly didn’t help that she was going through money like it was going out of style.

And while we’ll probably never be able to pinpoint the exact moment the bloom was finally off the rose, one thing’s certain: It didn’t happen overnight.

As recent as December 2005, Business Week was banging the drum about the possibility of a GM bankruptcy. But then-Chairman and CEO Rick Wagner blindly dismissed the rumblings, declaring that Chapter 11 was contrary to the interests of “our employees, stock- and bondholders, dealers, suppliers and customers.” A heartfelt entreaty, indeed.

But with 100,000 employees on the verge of losing their jobs, GM stock essentially worthless, and close to 4,000 dealerships on the chopping block, it turns out that in the end Wagoner only hurt the ones he loved.

There’s no question General Motors was once a great company. But like so many of those back pages we look upon with misplaced affinity and affection, maybe in the end the attraction really was only physical. Perhaps in hindsight it’s best that GM and America take a break. Who knows? Maybe the time apart will do both of us some good.

There’s always a tinge of shame associated with a failed relationship. GM, however, doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. Admittedly, the federal government’s decision to put the brakes on our relationship with GM has resulted in the fourth largest U.S. bankruptcy on record. But GM can take solace in the fact that three of the biggest bankruptcies in our nation’s history—GM, the failure of Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual—have all occurred in the last nine months.

These aren’t just trying times for GM; they are trying times for America. A shattered financial system, a real estate market in disrepair, a workforce weakened by the highest unemployment levels in a generation. History comes in ebbs and flows. GM, it seems, just got caught on the wrong side of a financial tidal shift.

Maybe bankruptcy is the best thing that could happen to GM— and frankly the best thing that could have happened to us, too.

We’ve invested a lot in our relationship with GM. Close to $19.4 billion in at last count. But even that wasn’t enough to keep the nation’s largest automaker in the black. Now the government is on the verge of putting another $30 billion into GM just to keep it afloat while management restructures. And while this isn’t the end of the road for GM, those carefree, top-down days are undoubtedly a distant reflection in the rear view mirror.

So how does all of this relate back to Bob Dylan? It doesn’t. Not directly anyway. Bob Dylan has always been more of a train guy. But despite the relative absence of automobiles in his 500+ song repertoire, Dylan is hardly immune to America’s infatuation with cars.

If you need proof that the mystique has a hold on him, too, look no further than the 2007 ad promoting the launch of GM’s Cadillac Escalade. Dylan offers not only his endorsement, but utters the closing line, “What’s life without the occasional detour?”

At the end of the day, the mental road block GM seems to having a hard times getting around is accepting the fact that maybe the only way to save the corpulent car maker is to set it free.

In an ad GM is running right now, GM says ‘they get it.’ The times have changed; they’ve changed; and now they want us to take them back.

We’ll think about it, GM. But in the meantime, don’t wait by the phone…

If you see her, say hello, she might be in Tangier
She left here last early spring, is livin’ there, I hear
Say for me that I’m all right though things get kind of slow
She might think that I’ve forgotten her, don’t tell her it isn’t so.

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

‘All Along the Watchtower’: Dylan added to Guitar Hero’s set list


“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,

“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”

By 1965, Dylan had already garnered a reputation as a prankster. His mercurial nature and increasingly interpretative lyrics had resulted in a goading ability to confound critics and fans alike.

And so, when Dylan stepped onstage at Newport with a Fender Stratocaster strapped across his back instead of the familiar Gibson Nick Lucas Special acoustic guitar with which the folk set was accustomed, in all likelihood his fans were probably hoping this was just another one of Bob’s attempts to bewilder. The joke, it turns out, was on them.

And while Dylan’s defiant act of ‘going electric’ undoubtedly sent a shock of horror through the crowd, in all the chaos that followed chances are those in attendance probably failed to appreciate just how good a guitar player he really was. That’s all about to change.

And even though we’ll need to wait until later this summer until we can emulate our favorite traveling troubadour, the buzz has already begun.

That’s right, Bob Dylan is officially a ‘Guitar Hero.’

And what song did the good people at Activision, the makers of Guitar Hero, choose to showcase Dylan’s talent as an axman? “All Along the Watchtower.”

And just so you know, contrary to Bob’s lyric instructing otherwise, there very much is reason to get excited.

Sparse and restrained, “Watchtower” is the perfect song for the revised Guitar Hero format, which unlike previous incarnations allows multiple players to play a multitude of instruments.

So what makes “Watchtower” so well suited for Guitar Hero? It’s open for interpretation. Whether it’s Dave Matthews’ slow burn acoustic build, Bono’s politically infused lyrical addition, or Hendrix’s searing, Wah-Wah wig out that rightfully snagged the song the #5 spot on Guitar World’s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos, all have offered a unique, interpretative variation on this tumultuous tale of intrigue.

Interpretation, of course, is exactly what lies at the genius of Guitar Hero. And having performed the song more than 1,500 times, Dylan’s been afforded quite a few opportunities to reinterpret the song himself over the last 35 years.

But there’s another reason why this timeless classic makes perfect sense. Because just as the simple construction of the song lends itself to interpretation, so, too, does the lyrical content.

Unlike many of the “talkin’” songs Dylan was composing around this time (many of which ran in excess of 12 verses), “All Along the Watchtower” is essentially a stripped-down three-chord folk song, consisting of three tightly crafted verses, no chorus and plenty of room for solos. Yet while the song isn’t especially structurally complicated, it turns out it’s actually one of Dylan’s most complex.

The joker, the thief, the prince, the businessman, the barefoot servants, the approaching riders, the plowmen, the howling wind. It’s tough not to get lost in the cast of enigmatic, inscrutable characters scattered throughout “Watchtower’s” turbulent terrain. But buried beneath this laconic landscape is a cautionary tale that is alarmingly applicable to the times in which we live.

Clocking in at a mere 2 minutes and 33 seconds, Dylan uses his time, and his expansive imagination, wisely. The song opens and closes with two figures guarding what we are led to believe is a medieval castle. And while Dylan’s parables are often puzzling (this one is no exception), many have kept the Kafkaesque view that the castle is representative of established society’s existing power structure.

But just what exactly are the princes guarding? Are they intent on preserving the old guard? Or will they be swayed by the inevitable change brought on by the distant howling wind? And should it get too late, what happens then?

Thematically, the song also strikes a resounding chord. As the song circles back to its haunting conclusion, some have cited the final refrain of William Butler Yeats’ famous poem, “The Second Coming” as inspiration: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

And while the reference to the Irish poet points us in the right direction, in the end it doesn’t completely satisfy. Neither Dylan nor Yeats offers explanation as to the ominous outcome, leaving us instead with a sense of foreboding mediation on the looming conflict, and its potentially catastrophic consequences.

It’s only to be expected. As with all of Dylan’s diabolical diatribes, “All Along the Watchtower” works on many different levels. But at its core, the song focuses like a laser beam on a fundamental issue of the era in which we find ourselves— the realignment of human values against the established order.

And when to stop to think about it, isn’t that precisely the scenario our own newly anointed political prince must now confront?

President Obama has admitted to being a Dylan enthusiast. Chances are, however, we won’t have to worry how Barack Obama might interpret this harrowing harbinger of things to come even if he were to try his hand at the newest addition to Guitar Hero’s set list.

It turns out, unlike many of his presidential predecessors, Obama does not play an instrument. But then again, doesn’t that make him the perfect candidate for the game….

“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

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

Brought ‘Together Through Life’: Are Dylan’s new album, Obama’s first 100 days true milestones or just grist for the mill?


Talk about me babe, if you must.

Throw out the dirt; pile on the dust.
I’d do the same thing if I could
You know what they say? They say it’s all good.

Last week marked important milestones for two figures who factor prominently in this blog.

On Tuesday, Bob Dylan released his 33rd studio album, Together Through Life. Twenty-four hours later, Barack Obama crossed an equally transformative transom— his first 100 days in office.

Obama’s press conference was characterized by a cool, calm detachment emblematic of the man himself.

Stepping to the mike, he urged to press corps to take a deep, reflective breath: “Please be seated. Before we begin tonight, I just want to provide everyone with a few brief updates on some of the challenges we’re dealing with right now.”

Opening his first album in three years with a rollicking rim shot recalling an electrifying time when he was in his prime, any pretense of cool detachment on the the part of Dylan was obliterated by what can best be described as the musical equivalent of hell, fire and brimstone.

“The most important thing we now know about [him] is…that he means to confront that way of life directly and profoundly, to exchange sand for rock if he can. Whether you agree with him or not — whether you think he is too ambitious or just plain wrong — his is as serious and challenging [a figure] as we have had in quite some time.”

It turns out, Time magazine reporter, Joe Klein, was referring to the impassioned political journeyman from Illinois. Of course, he could just as easily have been writing about a traveling minstrel from Minnesota who goes by name of Bob Dylan.

Bar a few well documented missteps, the press has uniformly given Obama high marks. Their assessment of his first 100 days has been no exception. As presidential historian, Doug Brinkley, observed: “Nobody will ever be able to accuse him of being an idle man during his first 100 days. He’s clearly showing himself to be a progressive in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, with the moral core of Jimmy Carter.”

And while Obama’s legions of champions probably don’t think of the man who led them out of 30 years of political desolation as a gangly gimp with a Boston accent who can’t make up his mind which side of the street to stand on, such a character would be very much at home on the new Dylan album.

It would hard to deny that something very haunting and mysterious is happening in the border town terrain Dylan traverses on his new album. But whether Dylan’s Tex Mex influenced song cycle ends up becoming infectious part of our collective musical DNA, or just another benign addition to the Dylan discography isn’t entirely clear yet. As always is the case with Dylan, the prognosis is never that cut and dry:

DYLAN STILL THE MASTER
Sat, May 2, 2009 © Copyright (c) The London Free Journal
By DARRYL STERDAN, SUN MEDIA MUSIC CRITIC
“Well, after nearly 68 years and 33 studio albums, the master still hasn’t lost his touch. Together Through Life, like the last trio of releases in his remarkable late-career resurgence, is another layered work of genius that seems straightforward, but inexorably draws you deeper into its web with every listen.”

NEW DYLAN FALLS SHORT OF CLASSIC
May 2, 2009 © Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
By TOM MURRAY, freelance
“Good, but not great. In the end, it feels as though Dylan is in stopgap mode again, releasing a collection of OK to good songs because he feels it’s time.”

THE ROLLING STONE REVIEW
April 23, 2009 © Copyright (c) Rolling Stone
By DAVID FRICKE
“Ultimately, Together Through Life is a mixed bag of this decade’s Dylan — impulsive, caustic, sentimental, long done with the contrived details of contemporary record-making. That hardened, bleating voice is also perfect for these times: A nation drunk on hope less than six months ago now drowns in red ink and pink slips.”

Of course, you don’t need Rolling Stone to know which way the wind blows. And while nearly everyone who’s heard the new Dylan album has an opinion it, in the end Erik Thompson of Culture Bully probably got it right when he wrote: “….reviewing a new record by Bob Dylan is a bit like reviewing the Roman Colosseum (sic); you might not like the way it looks now, but there is no denying the cultural significance of the structure and the history found within. [Dylan] has indeed slayed his share of lions over the years, and that the blood of those battles still colors his music even now.”

A charismatic, youthful president’s first 100 days in office; the release of a hauntingly alluring album that recalls a century of America popular music. Considering the place these men hold in our collective cultural imagination, the dogged determination to put their respective milestones into some sort of perspective was probably, in hindsight, inevitable.


The irony, of course, is that perspective is best achieved looking back. And that’s something both have vehemently vowed never to do…

Brick by brick, they tear you down.
A teacup of water is enough to drown.
You oughta know, if they could,
They would whatever goin’ down, it’s all good.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , | Leave a comment

‘Together Through Life’: Will Dylan’s new album live on its own or is it a ‘Dead’ end?


Then she opened up a book of poems

And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century.

Dante, Rimbaud, Eliot, Whitman, Shelley, Keats, cummings, Timrod, Blake…

Bob Dylan may be the ultimate chameleon, but he’s also an avid collector. And over the years, the collection of characters who’ve appeared in Dylan’s lyrics is trumped only by the manner in which Bob has transformed those distinct, disparate voices into his own.

For Shakespeare the play was the thing. For Dylan it’s always been about the words.

I wasn’t sure, therefore, how to react to last week’s confirmation that Bob collaborated with longtime Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter, on 9 of the 10 tracks on his upcoming album, Together Through Life.

Maybe it’s a sign of the modern times in which we live. In an era where style trumps substance, the notion that our politicians, pop stars and public figures are propped up by an army of minions clamoring to craft an image that feeds our incessant need for idolatry has become all too commonplace.

But as we look out over what seems to be a vast wasteland of perpetual despondency, we’re not looking for iconoclasts to console us. What we’re really searching for is someone to break through the clutter, to give us a sense of direction, to help us find our way home. We’re looking for clarity.

In recent months, a barrage of bloggers (this disgruntled Dylan fan not excluded) have drawn parallels between Barack Obama and Bob Dylan. But then again, the comparisons aren’t totally unfounded. Dylan isn’t the only cultural chameleon out there.

Like the title character in Woody Allen’s brilliantly insightful 1983 mockumentary, Zelig, Obama has perfected the ability to conform to his surroundings. When Obama steps on stage, we see what we want to see. When Obama speaks, we hear what we want to hear. Yet the words he speaks are rarely, if ever, entirely his own.

In a time when our culture is so sanitized, where every action is viewed under such scurrilous scrutiny, the people to whom we look for inspiration can no longer inspire by example— and so they retreat to linguistics. It’s not so much what they say, but rather how they say it, by which they are evaluated.

The consensus among historians is that Abraham Lincoln was the last American president to put pen to paper. The “Gettysburg Address,” perhaps his most famous piece of oratory, clocked in at 278 words and took less than 3 minutes to deliver. But in those 3 minutes, Lincoln embodied a nation’s pain and suffering with words so enduring that they are now etched in aeternum in marble.

There have been endless comparisons between Lincoln and the man who currently resides in that mansion on the hill. But whether you like him or hate him, you cannot dismiss Barack Obama. He may not write every word that comes out of his mouth, but he is hardly an empty oratory vessel. His predecessors may have spoken to the ‘vision thing,’ but Barack Obama embodies it.

With Bob Dylan, however, ‘embodying’ an artistic vision isn’t enough. With Bob, the words matter.

The issue here isn’t that Bob wrote a couple of songs with someone else— even if that ‘someone else’ just may be the second greatest living lyricist in the English language. The issue is about purity of vision, not persuasiveness of delivery. It’s about clarity.

Dylan is coming off what many consider one of rock’s perfect ‘trifectas.’ Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times are not just high creative benchmarks for Bob, they are the gold standard by which all other musicians could, and very well may, be measured.

And so the news that Dylan collaborated with another wordsmith naturally would raise a few questions. Did he need to do it? How much of it did he do? Did he even really do it at all?

Dylan and Robert Hunter have been down this road before. The two worked up a few songs together for Dylan’s 1988 album, Down in the Groove. But these were hardly a threat to the Dylan canon, musically or lyrically. They were almost transitional, as if Dylan was in some sort of Dantesque state of limbo. As we later found out in his biography, Chronicles, he was.

And lest we forget that Dylan and playwright, Jacques Levy, wrote an entire album of songs in 1976 (ironically, in 1965, Levy directed Red Cross, a play by Sam Shepard with whom Dylan would later co-write the epic, 11-minute yarn, ‘Brownsville Girl’). And while the Dylan-Levy collaboration stands as one of Dylan’s most commercially successful endeavors, there’s no debate that the songs on Desire are all distinctively Dylan.

And maybe that’s the point.

Dylan always hated being heralded as a ‘poet,’ a ‘prophet,’ the ‘voice of a generation.’ Perhaps now we know why. Sometimes accolades do more to weight us down than they do to lift us up.

And after nearly a half century of accolades, can any of us really know the full extent of the load we’ve asked Dylan to carry.

And when you look at it from that perspective, can we really fault Dylan for wanting to share his burden—and his vision—with someone else? Even if sharing that vision does run the risk they might see if from a different point of view…

And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Obama’s Stimulus Package: A ‘New Morning’ or deja vu all over again?


Can’t you feel that sun a-shinin’?

Ground hog runnin’ by the country stream
This must be the day that all of my dreams come true
So happy just to be alive
Underneath the sky of blue

Every year on the second day of February, marmot aficionados of every make and model gather in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and wait with baited breath for a certain groundhog by the name of “Punxsutawney Phil” to emerge from his burrow. As weather folklore has it, if Phil fails to see his shadow, winter will end soon. If, however, it’s sunny and Phil does see his shadow, winter continues for another 6 weeks.

Well, my fellow Disgruntled Dylanologists, we need not wait. It just so happens Groundhog Day came early this year.

Punxsutawney Phil may not see his shadow tomorrow, but America certainly saw theirs this past Wednesday when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi emerged from the hallowed Capitol chambers and proudly announced the passage of the $819 billion economic stimulus package.

So what do the irrational idiosyncrasies of some tired, world-weary woodchuck have to do with Washington? A lot more than you’d think.

There’s no question a euphoria has been sweeping across the country in recent months. This past November, America made a deal with their elected officials, a political quid-pro-quo if you will.

The bargain was simple. Differences in point of view would be met with tempered measure; partisan decisiveness, however, would no longer be tolerated. Said another way, put your pettiness aside and get on with the business of governing.

That was the hope. The House vote Wednesday told another story. The final vote: 244-to-188. Every single Republican—all 177 of them—voted against the stimulus package. Hardly a ringing endorsement of a ‘new morning’ in America.


Let’s not lose sight of the fact, however, that $819 billion is a lot of money. The passage of the stimulus package (and it will pass in some form— that’s precisely what this whole debate is about) will not only define the Obama presidency, the programs the stimulus package will fund will define our nation’s priorities for generations to come.

Transforming our economy with science and technology; modernizing roads, bridges, transit, and waterways; developing clean, efficient energy— these are big ideas. And while big ideas necessarily come with big price tags, these programs are the most expensive public works programs in our nation’s history. How the money is spent certainly is something worth fighting over.

Ironically, the lines drawn by the partisans in Washington are not over the cost. Nor is the debate so much over the programs themselves, either. Not the big ones, anyway. We all know our country’s infrastructure is in shambles, that our education system is a disgrace and that our ability to compete in technology is severely hampered by shoddy networks and a lack of adequate resources.

The fundamental cause of partisanship, it seems, resides in the pork—those hidden programs the politicians put in to placate their political backers back home.

The fact that the American public isn’t even blinking over spending $30 billion for roads and bridges, $9 billion for public transit and $1 billion for inter-city rail must have the politicians salivating. Exactly where that money will be spent undoubtedly has them sharpening their tenterhooks.

Of course, the notion of demanding accountability isn’t such a bad thing. Truth be told, a little accountability will likely go a long way toward renewing a sense of trust and competency in our elected officials. The memory of the $700 billion that recently went to the shylocks on the Street who got their pound of flesh without having to account to a soul (accept perhaps their own— but that’s another grunt altogether) has proven far more enduring than the banks they so shamelessly ran into the ground.

Just as we have every right to hold the feet of our elected officials to fire, they have the right to demand the same accountability from the people to whom they will give the money. But rather than hammer out the details on how this massive economic stimulus package will be spent, the politicos who told us they wanted to bring a ‘new way of doing business’ to Washington are clearly still in the business of lining their pockets instead of finding ways to put money into ours.

And while this incestuous approach to governing—this “we were put in charge now let us do our jobs” mentality—has become analogous with pigs at a trough, the stimulus plan has been liken to a Trojan Horse, I would maintain our friend, Punxsutawney Phil, is better metaphor for what we can really expect from Washington.

Thanks in large part to the 1993 film of the same name, the concept of ‘Groundhog Day’ has come to mean “doing the same thing over and over.”

And while we probably won’t have to relive the next eight years in the tortuous manner Bill Murray was forced to relive the same day over and over again until he recognized the errant ways of his past, there is no question the nation economic winter of discontent is still upon us.

The good news, of course, is that tomorrow is another day…

So happy just to be alive
Underneath the sky of blue
On this new morning, new morning
On this new morning with you.

_________________________________________________

When it comes the Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil is certainly the most well known. But he isn’t the only one. A few other famous groundhogs and their squirrelly counterparts in the House of Representatives:

Punxsutawney Phil of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
Glenn Thompson (R) Pennsylvania 5th

Jimmy the Groundhog
of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Tammy Baldwin (D) Wisconsin 2nd

Staten Island Chuck
of New York City, New York
Michael E. McMahon (D) New York 13th

General Beauregard Lee, PhD
of Lilburn, Georgia
John Linder (R) Georgia 7th

Dunkirk Dave
of Dunkirk, New York
Brian Higgins (D) New York 27th


Malverne Mel and Malverne Melissa of Malverne, New York
Carolyn McCarthy (D) New York 4th

Sir Walter Wally
of Raleigh, North Carolina
Brad Miller (D) North Carolina 13th

Pardon Me Pete
of Tampa, Florida
Kathy Castor (D) Florida 11th


Octoraro Orphie
of Quarryville, Pennsylvania
Joseph R. Pitts (R) Pennsylvania 16th

Holtsville Hal
of Holtsville, New York
Timothy H. Bishop (D) New York 1st

Buckeye Chuck of Marion, Ohio
Jim Jordan (R) Ohio 4th

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

Windy City Politicians, Rainy Day Women, Senate Candidate #5


They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to make a buck.

They’ll stone ya and then they’ll say, “good luck.”
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Cigars, it seems, aren’t the only thing they’re smoking in the backrooms of Chicago.

Last week it was reported that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich allegedly schemed to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for $1 million dollars.

Again, that’s $1 million dollars for a Senate seat held by the man who was just elected to lead the free world, making him the most recognizable person on the planet.

What could this guy possibly have been thinking?

Maybe in a time when it’s become a national pastime for politicians to see how many zeros they can put behind the next bank bailout, mortgage mark down or cash-and-carry plan for the failing car industry, Governor Blagojevich thought six zeros was a bargain. Maybe Blagojevich thought it was his duty as governor to uphold Chicago’s longstanding tradition of political corruption and scandal.

Or maybe Blagojevich is just an idiot.

Mental competency aside, anyone with a shred decency knows there’s a larger problem here hanging like a hazy cloud of smoke over this whole sordid affair. In one fail swoop, one governor’s half-baked scheme to sell-out democracy somehow managed to further retard the electorate’s already ailing perception of our political system.

To Blagojevich’s credit, this Wiley politician from the Windy City’s North side wasn’t completely impervious to the fact that most people don’t have $1 million cash just lying around. According to FBI wiretaps, Blagojevich would have been willing to have made do with any one of the following:

  • a substantial salary for himself at a non-profit foundation or organization affiliated with labor unions;
  • a spot for his wife on a paid corporate board;
  • promises of future campaign funds;
  • a Cabinet post or ambassadorship

Four, count ‘em four ways to commitment a felony. How considerate of the governor to give his Senatorial suitors so many ways to further debase the public’s trust.

In this season of giving, however, it seems Old Saint Nick isn’t the only one ‘making a list and checking it twice.’ Blagojevich had a list of his own. And that’s where it starts to get really interesting…

According to the FBI, prominent Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi held a meeting October 31 during which Blagojevich claimed he’d been approached by a representative for an unnamed “Senate Candidate #5” who offered cash in exchange for the Senate seat. On Wednesday, it was revealed that Jesse, Jackson, Jr., was that candidate.

Jackson spokesman Rick Bryant says that while Jackson did discuss the Senate seat with Nayak, he never asked him to do—or give—anything. The notoriously talkative Jackson has said even less. Interesting.

It’s also started to get interesting for Barack Obama.

The president-elect also insists he hasn’t had any contact with the Illinois governor regarding his vacant Senate seat. But Obama has yet to give his transition staff the same clean bill of health—and perhaps with good reason.

As it turns out, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s incoming chief of staff, is a rough-and-tumble politico in his own right. But until Emanuel assumes his new position on January 20, he will continue to represent the good people of Illinois’ 5th congressional district. And can you guess who held that job before Rahm? That’s right—Rod Blagojevich.

For the Obama team to expect us to think that the paths of Emanuel and Blagojevich haven’t crossed, and crossed repeatedly—especially considering the fact Emanuel was charged with securing his new boss’s old Senate seat for Obama family friend, Valerie Jarrett—we’d all have to be smoking something.

And while it’s definitely rained on Jarrett’s political aspirations, it seems she’s traded an umbrella for a golden parachute. Just before the Blagojevich scandal broke, Jarrett’s name was withdrawn from the running for the Senate seat. Shortly thereafter, she was named ‘special adviser to the president.’ Interesting.

I would imagine our fair Bob is watching all of this with some interest as well.

From unequivocal disdain of the flatfoots on Fourth Street,

Yes, I wish that for just one time;
You could stand inside my shoes;
You’d know what a drag it is;
To see you

to unapologetic enmity of those who have mastered the art of war profiteering,

Let me ask you one question;
Is your money that good;
Will it buy you forgiveness;
Do you think that it could

Bob Dylan has always held the feet of the media and the men who manipulate it to the fire.

Dylan once famously claimed, “I don’t write political songs.” But in light of the sheer disregard for justice exhibited by Rod Blagojevich, Dylan need not concern himself with chronicling this particular crisis of faith. There’s enough here to launch a thousand politically minded minstrels.

Besides, if you’re looking for a Dylan song to bookend this cockamamie case of political corruption and mind numbing incompetence, all you have to do is turn the clock back 42 years…

Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone.

They’ll stone you when you are walking home.
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave.
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave.

In 2008, however, those words are less whimsical social commentary and more reflective of the massive political drubbing a certain governor from Illinois is about to rightfully endure.

December 15, 2008 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

World Gone Wrong: Beyond Bushworld


We live in a political world,
As soon as you’re awake,
You’re trained to take,
What looks like the easy way out.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we live in a political world. The fact that we’re in the final throes of perhaps the most contentious presidential campaign in 40 years is a daily reminder that America is at a crossroads.

Those days are numbered, however. But before we pick a new direction for the country, it only seems fitting to review the signposts of the last eight years.

In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been. And for the last eight years, we’ve been in a place called ‘Bushworld’.

Bushworld, a look back:

For a closer look at Bush’s world, click on the map above.

Divisive Politics. Bush has spent more money on focus groups than any other administration in U.S. history. In Bushworld, we don’t need to see or feel. Instead, we have polls and pundits to tell us what’s real.

Diminished
Privacy. Bush has signed more laws and executive orders amending the Constitution than any other president. As a result, wiretaps, surveillance, and undisclosed data mining are now a daily ritual. In Bushworld, we may live in a time where men commit crimes, yet thanks to a barrage of Bush lawyers the real criminal’s face remain hidden.

Eradication of Human Rights. Bush is the first president to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from both the elections monitoring board and human rights commission. In Bushworld, we throw the wisdom of the world’s nations in jail, and let those whose patriotism we question rot in a Cuban cell.

Destruction of Economic Markets. Bush’s economic advisers smugly presided over the highest number of bank failures and home foreclosures ever. In Bushworld, money doesn’t talk, it swears. And by doing nothing as the economic markets collapsed, Bush told the American middle class to go screw themselves.

Invasion of Sovereign Countries. Bush has dissolved more international treaties than any president in U.S. history, ensuring American is able to travel anywhere we want. In the months leading up to the removal of Saddam Hussein, Bush claimed that everything that was his was ours. In Bushworld, however, you run the risk you might hang yourself there if you bring enough rope.

Squandered Political Capital. In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush turned a nation in mourning into the most resented country in the world. In Bushworld, it makes more sense to close an open door than to have a world where peace is welcome.

For the last eight years, America has witnessed the systematic dismantling of our venerated 200-year old political system by George Bush’s brand of ‘come hell or high-water’ politics.

And while Bush’s critics have done their best to tag the pugnacious Texan as nothing more than a highly functioning moron, Dubya is hardly some run of a mill Tweedle Dum to America’s Tweedle Dee.

The Grim reality is that he’s actually a lot closer to Humpty Dumpty. Sadly, however, it’s America that’s taken the tumble.

The biggest challenge facing the man who steps into the Oval Office on January 20, 2009, won’t be whether he has the resolve to put American back together again. It will be the frightening realization that while Bush and his fawning, sycophantic advisers were trying to create a world in their image, they may have pocketed a few key pieces when they realized their idyllic worldview wasn’t coming together quite the way they had planned.

There’s no question we live in a world gone wrong. But just because things are wrong now doesn’t mean they can’t be put right in the future.

Let’s just hope the next president can reassemble a foreign policy that has been spread too thin, a financial system that’s been stretched too far, and a domestic agenda that has shortchanged freedom in the name of ‘liberty.’

Of course, that’s assuming the next president can actually find all the pieces. We all know what happens when the vandals get hold of the handle…

We live in a political world,
Where courage is a thing of the past,
Houses are haunted,
Children unwanted,
The next day could be your last.

October 26, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment