Monthly Archives: September 2005

Clive Davis has a blog?

… And he’s linking to

Oh, alright, it’s not that Clive Davis.

It’s this Clive Davis – a writer for the Times and Washington Times, who has to declare in the first line of his bio that he is not “the record mogul, and therefore can’t be blamed for the rise of Whitney Houston.”

He must be sick of smart-aleck remarks appropos his name, so I would hope he forgives this post.

Speaking of God …

Readers of First Things, which is a cross-denominational magazine on religion in public life, would be interested to see that there is now a blog of sorts over there. Looks like Richard John Neuhaus and Jody Bottum will be speaking their piece in that space. Should make good reading.

Whether You are Right or Wrong

As I understand it, it started with a comment Ann Althouse made in the comments section of her own offhand post about the Scorsese/Dylan film. Someone named Andrew had already graciously referenced RWB‘s site as being of possible interest. Ann later said:

To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.

This comment got picked up here and then really caused a storm over at a site called Crooked Timber. Another commenter over there said “Gads, did you catch the link to an entire site devoted to right-wing Dylan interpretations?” and drove all kinds of happy readers my way.

Ann Althouse seemed a little surprised at the volume of the reaction to her comment, and attempted to clarify the thrust of her thought over here.

What is there for RWB to say? I’m glad of all the links, of-course. The debate itself over great artists being inherently right or left wing is a bit too abstract and academic to engage me. Obviously, I don’t think anyone would argue with the assumption that, empirically speaking, artistic types tend to vote liberal – if they can stomach such moderation or stoop to actually participating in the corrupt election process. (Allowed – that’s a terrible generalization.) Ann’s observations get to the notion of whether the independence and self-reliance of a great artist is inherently a kind of conservatism, and also whether left-wing ideology inherently stifles great art by demanding that it conform to a set world-view and propagate the “correct” message. (See Pete Seeger’s reaction to Dylan’s artistic growth for a small example of that – and you can see it right in Scorsese’s No Direction Home.)

But, as said before, this is all too airy for me. I mean, even if true, it’s not like Karl Rove is going to be able to go out and get those votes. “Hey, you great artists! Listen to my argument here! You’re natural Republicans!” Trying to make inroads into the monolithic self-defeating-pro-Democrat voting of the African-American population is a steep enough hill to climb for conservatives. And, let’s face it, real artists constitute a negligible demographic. “Great” ones number about, what … 48 or 49?

However, I think it’s very telling that Ann’s comment riled the online lefties so much. You see: they can’t afford to lose those votes.

As for RWB, I think I should just briefly respond to some of the mis-characterizations of my site that have been floating out there in connection with this debate. The title of the site is designed to tweak the closed-minded. And it seems to succeed in that. The site is not, however, devoted to the proposition that Dylan, or his work, is “right wing.” I think that relatively open-minded people who read the serious things here about Dylan do see that I am:
(a) refuting the long-propagated notion that his work (including the early part of it) belongs to the left, and
(b) making the case that conservatives can find much to cherish and little that attacks their own sensibilities in the work of this great American songwriter. And that is something to say, considering how rarely you could say it about other major pop-culture or rock’n’roll figures.

And Dylan, of-course, just happens to be the best of them.

What did Bob Johnston say in No Direction Home? Instead of touching Dylan on the shoulder, God “kicked him in the ass.”

If so, God’s choice of who to kick exhibited some mighty good taste. Good going, there, God.

Let Freedom Reign

Kudos to the families, bloggers and righteous citizens who have succeeded in getting the “Freedom Center” nixed from the future World Trade Center site.

No kudos at all, however, to that weasel of a governor George Pataki (Republican-in-name-only; conservative not-at-all), who allowed this disgrace to drag on for so long and cause anguish and insult to so many – waiting till even Hillary Clinton came out against it before finally pulling the plug.

Martin Scorsese’s “No Direction Home”

Since time is money (as if your life was worth its weight in gold), here’s my one paragraph review of this film: it is thrilling, for any dedicated Dylan fan, thanks to the astounding performance footage and the recent interview material with Dylan himself. You don’t want to miss it. That said, it is also not going to deliver any big surprises to anyone who has a well-rounded and well-grounded understanding of his work (though it will surprise the masses who only understand Dylan through his media caricature). So, on a scale of 1-10 measuring “essentialness,” where Dylan’s book Chronicles would rate a “10,” this film would probably rate a “3” – all the hoopla notwithstanding. Of-course there are plenty of things in life which are not essential and yet are a lot of fun. This would certainly be one of them (although the fun might be tinged with annoyance at times). So ends my one paragraph review.

At this point, having watched the film through twice, I have various other thoughts, but they won’t alter the bottom-line given above. And with all the unbelievable reams of stuff being written about this movie, I am curiously unmotivated to add my own tonnage to the pile. And struggling to grasp a single way of tackling the film is giving me a headache. There’s much that could be said, but how much of it is redundant to the knowledgeable and even-keeled readers of this site?

My first time watching it was in stages, due to personal time constraints. As a result, I was quite elated after seeing roughly the first 45 minutes. It seemed Dylan was being allowed to narrate his own story, augmented by illuminating footage added by Scorsese. It was a good model. However, you hear less from Dylan during the middle of the film, and more from those who had and have their own particular agendas. The film bounces back at the end with more stunning concert footage and a disturbing series of clips which convey just how close to the edge Dylan was before the motorcycle accident.

So, how about going at it this way: favorite and unfavorite moments.

Some of my favorites:

John Jacob Niles doing “Go Way From My Window.” This counts as perhaps the one significant thing I learned from the film. Clearly, Dylan engaged in some “love and theft” with Niles’ song and came up with It Ain’t Me Babe. But Niles, who I was not familiar with, seems to be a truly weird and compelling performer who warrants further listening.

Dylan doing Ballad of a Thin Man from the 1966 tour in England – the camera close in on him as he howls the lyrics and pounds the keys, sometimes waving his left arm in the air in the throes of some kind of paroxysm. This and all the performances from that tour are nothing short of stunning, and of-course beg the question as to why they are not shown in their entirety … or issued separately.

Dylan performing Hey Mr. Tambourine Man at Newport in 1964, at the “Topical Song Workshop,” supervised by Pete Seeger. The cahunas it took for Dylan to sing this song in that context are probably unexceeded in many similar moments of artistic confidence later in the film. He has said he didn’t put this song on the Another Side album because he “felt too close” to it. It’s worth remembering, with all the focus that is put on Like A Rolling Stone, that Tambourine Man was every bit as dramatic a departure, albeit not quite as loud.

Dylan, in the present day, reminiscing about the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, and the night they attempted to co-opt him into their scene by giving him an award. His hilarious, “I don’t think so,” is worth whatever price of admission you may have paid.

Dylan performing Maggie’s Farm, Like A Rolling Stone and finally an acoustic It’s All Over Now Baby Blue at Newport in 1965. Everyone always knew what a dramatic moment that was, but to actually see it, after all these years, is something else. It struck me – although Dylan does not say this – that Bob at the time really felt he was putting something to rest there. I think that he thought he was declaring his independence in such uncertain terms that he would no longer be persecuted by those in that audience who wanted him to belong to them. Of-course, if so, he could not have been more wrong, as it turned out.

Dylan in a hotel room in England, learning that someone had phoned in a threat to shoot him. His instant reaction: “I don’t mind being shot, man, but I don’t dig being told about it!”

Bob Johnston, Dylan’s producer for many years, observing that instead of tapping Dylan on the shoulder, God had “kicked him in the ass.” Further, “you only have to look at him to see he’s full of the Holy Spirit!” There are surely many of Johnston’s brash and sincere observations on the cutting room floor, and that’s a shame – especially considering how much self-serving Joan Baez garbage is not on the cutting room floor.

Ah, so that brings me to some of my unfavorite moments.

Uh, Joan Baez. It’s hard to pick the most annoying thing this sanctimonious narcissist says, but it’s probably when she claims Dylan once said something like this to her: “One day all these a******s will be writing about all this s*** I’m writing, and I don’t even know what the f*** it’s about.” Well, Joan wins the contest for gratuitous obscenity – something that has always been notably absent from Dylan’s work and his public speaking. Other than that, it’s just a moronic thing for her to say. Even assuming (and it’s a big assumption) that Dylan said something somewhat like that to her all those years ago, it would obviously have been a moment of self-deprecation and evasiveness – not a statement of truth worthy of being dredged up again 40 years later. Of-course Baez wouldn’t understand that, no more than she understands anything else about Dylan.

Another telling Baez moment is when she’s mourning the fact the he never joined her in political protest (“People at sit-ins always ask me if Dylan’s coming. Don’t you get it, you moron, he NEVER comes”) and then she says, well, nevertheless, he did “give us the the best anti-war songs we have in our arsenal.” Even now, all these years on, she has not advanced one inch. She still looks at those great and timeless songs merely as weapons in a political arsenal. What did Dylan say in Chronicles about his songs’ meanings being “subverted into polemic?”

Speaking of which, we’re treated to at least three instances of the song With God On Our Side being sung during the course of this film. In no instance, however, do you hear the key verse, which makes the song a transcendent one: the verse that asks whether Judas Iscariot had God on his side. People – other than Dylan himself – have been ignoring that verse for decades, and Martin Scorsese duly ignores it too.

More annoyance: Allen Ginsburg (may God rest his soul). Of-course he’s gotta be in this somewhere, but do you have to let him use up so many minutes? A telling moment is when he milks the idea that, on hearing A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, he wept, because he knew “the torch had been passed.” Give me a break. Dylan wasn’t waiting for any torch from Ginsburg or anyone else. And Allen was all of about 38 years old at that time. So eager already to pass the torch and live off of the reputation of Howl? Well: yeah.

It’s notable that now, with the release of this film, Dylan is 64 years old … and no one can name anyone who has wrested any torch out of his hands.

In the end, the greatest flaw of the film is probably how Scorsese gives in to nostalgia (complete with lots of shots of Camelot) rather than devoting the major energy of the film to a more complete look at Dylan’s work of the period.

But, I guess it’s inevitable that the Scorsese generation needed one more chance to grapple with Bob Dylan and glory in all the memories while just barely touching the realities.

As regards what people will draw from this film about Dylan’s politics: I think many will come away with the impression that Dylan insincerely took advantage of the leftist/folk/protest movement in order to gain fame, but didn’t actually mean anything he said in the songs that those people seized upon, and gladly put that aside to pursue bigger things. That, however, would be unfair. The fact is that Dylan wrote and recorded many songs with themes of justice (not owned by the right or left) and the human yearning for a higher truth, and these were gloried in by certain people who were really looking for something much more narrow, and who believed Dylan could give it to them at will. His songs stand up, way beyond the particular leftist causes of the day – and that’s why he continues to sing them. It was not Dylan who stole the opportunity for success from the leftist crowd, but rather they who attempted to divert the golden-egg-laying-goose from the path laid out for him by destiny.

I like the end of the film. After building up the image of Dylan as being under fantastic pressure, in ill health, clearly using chemicals and being harrassed by an insatiable and “stuck-on-stupid” media, Scorsese stops everything and just puts words up on the screen, stating blandly that a few days after returning from touring, Dylan was in a motorcycle accident.

Then, in silence, we see a long line of people, standing in the rain, the camera following block after block of seemingly grim crowds. Of-course we know, since we know the story, that they are not in line for Dylan’s wake – but we’re reminded that this is how the story has ended for others and surely how it came close to ending for Dylan. Instead, we’re treated to another moment from the tour: the version of Like A Rolling Stone where someone shouts “Judas.” Inexplicably to me, we lose the pictures of this performance after about a minute in favor of the closing credits.

Of-course this ending also reminds us that it was not the end for Dylan. The story of Dylan’s next stage would also be fascinating. And the other stages. How about, for comparison’s sake to the 1966 tour with all its booing, we saw the 1979 and 1980 Dylan, again confronting a loud section of his audience? Where they had always wanted him to tell them the news, and give them a message, now he was standing up and finally doing just that – and being rejected and accused for doing so.

So, why end at 1966, indeed? That’s a question that I don’t see a good answer for, unless it has something to do with this being the end of a certain generation’s heyday. And, more accurately, the end of hope that Dylan really would be their own brand of Messiah.

All that aside, I’ll no doubt be picking out my favorite moments and watching them again and again for many years to come. There will probably be more to say about the reaction of other commentators to this film, but … what was that again? Oh yeah: time is money.

You can’t take it with you and you know that it’s too worthless to be sold,
They tell you, “Time is money” as if your life was worth its weight in gold.

When you gonna wake up, when you gonna wake up
When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?

The Second Mother was with the Seventh Son

On September 4th, one Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans, appeared on Meet the Press and recounted a story which seemed to crystallize much of the anger about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. A colleague of his had received repeated phone calls from his nursing-home-bound mother, in the days following the hurricane, asking when help was going to arrive. The colleague assured his mom that help was on its way. Day after day she called, until finally, on Friday, just about 5 days after the hurricane had passed, she drowned. Broussard cried on national television as he recounted the story.

Only one problem: the story is not true, as explained in this MSNBC article titled “An Emotional Moment and a Misunderstanding.”

The mother in question died on Monday – the day of the hurricane and its immediate aftermath. And she didn’t call her son with pleadings for help: he had telephoned her, in the days preceding the storm. And she died because the nursing home owners failed to evacuate as they had been directed to do. Those owners have now been indicted in the wake of the deaths of “more than 30″ of the residents.

I am writing a post about this at all mainly to acknowledge the sharpness of one of RWB‘s readers, M.W., who, the day after what we now know to be Broussard’s grotesque pantomime on Meet the Press, e-mailed to say he felt it was extremely fishy – based largely on his astute knowledge of human nature. The story just didn’t “ring true;” how could a son sit day after day receiving such calls from his mother and not physically go to help her? I commented that, though it would not be tasteful to go after someone on such a subject, what a Kodak moment (do we still have those in the digital age?) it would be if the story turned out to be made-up.

Ahhh … but not purposefully made-up, of-course: MSNBC helpfully assure us that it was but “an emotional moment and a misunderstanding.”

And I’m sure it was – as was, no doubt, Dan Rather’s story on George W. Bush’s National Guard records last September. They get so darned emotional that they just misunderstand everything.

Simon Wiesenthal 1908-2005

Simon Wiesenthal has died at age 96. From the Washington Post:

After the Nuremberg Trials of the late 1940s, Wiesenthal remained a persistent and lonely voice calling for war crimes trials of former Nazis. This was later considered by many a remarkable achievement, coming during the Cold War when the major world powers were recruiting former Nazis to help govern countries along the Iron Curtain. There was little political will to relive World War II, and few cared to challenge that perspective.

Following the creed “justice, not vengeance,” Wiesenthal said trials of Nazis would provide moral restitution for the Jews and have the best chance of preventing the anti-Semitism that defined the first half of his life.

“I’m doing this because I have to do it,” he once said. “I am not motivated by a sense of revenge. Perhaps I was for a short time in the very beginning. … Even before I had had time to really think things through, I realized we must not forget. If all of us forgot, the same thing might happen again, in 20 or 50 or 100 years.”

On page 27 of the first volume of his memoir, Chronicles, Bob Dylan remembers. He remembers the trial of Adolf Eichmann – in whose capture Wiesenthal’s campaign had in fact played a role. Dylan’s passage on this subject ends:

The State of Israel claimed the right to act as heir and executor of all who perished in the final solution. The trial reminds the whole world of what led to the formation of the Israeli state.

The irony of the world needing a reminder, a mere 16 or so years after the end of World War II, should be apparent. Now, 60 years after the end of the concentration camps, while the holocaust is still in the living memory of some, its reality and frighteningly recent nature seem to escape countless others.

In 1997, in Los Angeles, Bob Dylan played at a benefit for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. As he said in Rolling Stone in the fall of 2001, he takes some pride in having a “song for any occasion.” He played the song Stone Walls and Steel Bars, an old tune with a prison theme, sung by the Stanley Brothers, amongst others. He played Masters of War, which might be a surprise to those who believe he only sings it in order to criticize Republican U.S. presidents.

And he finished by performing Forever Young (mp3 file of this performance is here, for a little while).

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young

It’s Unbelievable

RWB cannot have been the only one watching with a growing sense of disbelief as Mayor Ray Nagin was cheerleading the return of thousands of New Orleans’ residents to a city without drinkable water, without functioning hospitals, without a working 911 system – and to a city with toxic slime everywhere and with weakened and uncertain levees. And doing all this against the express wishes of the federal authorities to whom he had previously happily deferred when it came to the job of saving his consituents lives.

Well, yes, as I write, he has said, effectively, “nevermind – if you’re on your way, turn back, and if you’re here already, you better leave again!” This, he says, due to the risk from Hurricane Rita.

Earlier in the day he had made a crack about Vice Admiral Allen, who is leading the federal effort in the region, saying he was acting like “the newly crowned federal mayor of New Orleans.”

Point being, obviously, that it is Nagin’s view that New Orleans can only have one mayor at a time.


Tell it to the people who were piled into the Superdome and the Convention Center without adequate water, let alone food, to last even a few days. Tell them New Orleans can only have one mayor at a time.

Tell it to the children who watched as people died in those putrid conditions and were left out in the open to rot. Tell them New Orleans can only have one mayor at a time.

Tell it to all those who lost everything because of the mismanagement of funds that should have spent on making the levees impregnable, down through all these years of corruption by hack local politicians. Tell them New Orleans can only have one mayor at a time.

And yeah, while you’re at it … tell it to Snowball too.

It’s unbelievable, it’s fancy-free,
So interchangeable, so delightful to see.
Turn your back, wash your hands,
There’s always someone who understands
It don’t matter no more what you got to say
It’s unbelievable it would go down this way.

No Direction Home

The reviews are coming in for Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home, and it’s sounding more and more like Marty hit the mark and made something for the ages. RWB certainly hopes so. I’ve expressed reservations about it in the past, regarding both its potential for distortion with regard to the politics of Dylan’s work, and the fact that it was focusing only on the period up till 1966 – a period which after all has been widely covered and written about already, many times over. Reading the advance reviews, however, I think this film will be a success if it succeeds in telling that story better than it has ever been told in one place. Ultimately, the best telling of the story of Dylan’s artistic development will remain the records he made. Sit down and listen to his first 7 albums – from 1962’s Bob Dylan to 1966’s Blonde On Blonde, and you will have been carried on a musical and poetic odyssey unlike any other.

The film’s visuals and juxtaposition of the developing Dylan with the fully metamorphosed 1966 version will likely wield their power through the device of compression. It’s one thing to know that the 21 year old kid who recorded House of the Risin’ Sun in 1962 is the same person as the 25 year old who sang Visions of Johanna in 1966. It’s another to see this transformation happening in the space of a couple of hours on a screen.

Today in the New York Sun, there is a very positive review of the film, and this passage caught my eye:

There’s a wonderful scene in which Mr. Dylan performs at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival’s Topical Song Workshop, the very heart of the protest song culture. But instead of singing something topical, he brashly belts out the kaleidoscopically opaque “Mr. Tambourine Man” while Mr. Seeger – the man responsible for the maxim “it’s how much good a song does, not how good it is, that matters” – looks on, nervously tapping his foot and holding his mouth in his hands. If he’d let it go, his jaw would have dropped.

“It’s how much good a song does, not how good it is, that matters,” according to Pete Seeger. Methinks Josef Stalin could hardly have said it better. Think about that “topical song workshop” as a farm, of sorts, and you can see right away who “Maggie” is.

So, plenty to look forward to there, on many levels. I’ll be seeing it on DVD before it airs on PBS and putting my broader reaction up here, I expect. And if you order it from the link below, you’ll be doing RWB a favor.

They’ll Pinch Themselves and Squeal

The Galloway/Hitchens debate showed just what it should have showed: a blustering fraud without a conscience confronting a man equipped with intelligence, facts and a moral (if aggressively secular) center. It was all there for those with ears to hear, and there’s no doubt that any young hipsters who watched with a sliver of an open mind would have had cracks start to form in the world view with which they’ve been brainwashed. Such is the way that some mature, and others continue merrily down their way to deeper ignorance and even more impenetrable blinders.

One of the arguments Hitchens made to which Galloway had no answer (and, truth be told, he had no answer to any of Hitchens’ arguments, other than slapstick-style attacks on the man making them) was that if the anti-war lobby had had their way at every turn over the last 15 years, we would live in a world where (a) Saddam Hussein would be torturing and killing the people of both Iraq and Kuwait, and using those enormous resources to build an arsenal with which to wreak far greater havoc; (b) Colonel Khaddafy would be continuing to develop the weapons of mass destruction which he handed over to Bush and Blair last year; (c) Milosevic would have successfully “cleansed” the Muslim population of Kosovo, and (d) the Taliban would be continuing their brutal oppression of the people of Afghanistan and still giving shelter to Osama Bin Laden and his training camps.

And today, the ordinary, humble people of Afghanistan have given the world yet another example of the inherent inclination of common folk everywhere to rule their own destinies and seek a better future for their children. And, make no mistake: it is on this that we depend.

afghan election