Monthly Archives: April 2006

Too Much of Nothing

Probably won’t be blogging much till early or mid- next week due to unnamed circumstances. Feel free to enjoy these pictures of my dog Billie, looking appropriately unimpressed.


Dylan to Play San Sebastian

In the Basque region of Spain, the terror group ETA recently hung up their semtex. Dylan, who will be touring in Europe at the time anyway, has agreed to play an open-air free gig on July 11th. The BBC:

Musician Bob Dylan is to give a free peace concert in a Basque region resort, according to organisers.

Dylan is lined up to play the show in San Sebastian on 11 July to mark last month’s permanent ceasefire by the Basque separatist group Eta.

Ramon Etxezarreta, councillor for cultural affairs in the city, said Dylan, who last toured Spain in 2004, was on board for the event.

The concert is planned as part of the city’s jazz festival.

Dylan is due to play an evening set on San Sebastian’s Zurriola beach.

It is reported that the artist has requested the event not be turned into a political occasion.

Well, good luck with that, Bob.

This other site reports it this way:

Bob Dylan will give a free pacifist concert in Spain’s Basque region, where the population is hoping for peace after the armed separatist group ETA announced a permanent ceasefire in March, press reports said Friday.

A “pacifist concert”? What does that sound like?

Dylan’s dislike of labels is vindicated every day, and ironically he continues to be pursued by them.

Anyhow, a very nice gesture by Dylan and hopefully a fun time will be had by all.

Another Film Opening

“United 93″ has debuted. Todd Beamer’s father, David, has written a fine piece for today.

I plan on seeing the film, but it won’t be this weekend. I know that the following has been said before, but I’ll reiterate it for my own sake: What occurred on United Flight number 93 on September 11th was not just the moment that Americans began fighting back against the jihadists. It was the moment that we won. They expected Americans — comfortable, life-loving, spoiled Americans — to cower and hope for the best in the face of their hijackings. In a real way, their whole war plan is based on those kinds of assumptions about the mettle of ordinary Americans. And you could hardly have a more genuinely random sample of Americans than occupied United 93. Yet, when these passengers realized what the score was, though their hurried telephone conversations with people on the ground who were themselves just beginning to realize what was really happening on that morning, they did not hesitate or seek excuses for inaction. Backs against the wall, they stepped forward and fought like the very bravest soldiers. This war has taken some twists and turns, and will take many more. But it’s clear that when Americans know the score, they will step up, and they will act and they will defeat this enemy with a righteous ferocity every bit equal to this enemy’s blind hatred. All that remains to be worked out is at what cost, to everyone, this war will be won. It would have been better had more aggressive steps been taken earlier against al-Qaeda, and the heroes of Flight 93 were still with us living their peaceful lives. It will be better likewise, I believe, if we continue to anticipate and prevent and preempt further aggression by the same enemies, rather than waiting for their own initiative to force our hand. Either way, though, they lose. That’s what we found out on September 11th itself, and it’s just one of the things we have to be eternally grateful for to the passengers and crew of United Flight number 93.

In the deep green grasses and the blood-stained wood
They never dreamed of surrendering, they fell where they stood

More Neil-ing

A couple of responses to my previous post venting about Neil Young. Mario agrees with my sentiments, and points out the irony of people like Springsteen who benefit in spades from capitalism while urging people to vote for the party that offers “warmed over socialism.” Also:

I’m not buying it and apparently most fans are saying no as well. Did you know Bruce did not sell out Convention Hall for 4 dates to rehearse this new mess of a CD? Imagine the look on his face that Asbury Park is not bowing at his altar, tickets are still available! He better get use to this because the Seeger Sessions CD and tour have a clear message: Red State Fans Need Not Listen.

Richard (who also blogs) makes some points regarding Neil Young and political songs generally:

It’s extraordinarily difficult to write topical “political” verse that doesn’t fall short of interesting politics or good verse. Dylan somehow managed the two with a few of his “protest/’finger-pointing songs'” and uncannily steps into the universal even with a piece as topical as “Who Killed Davey Moore.” It’s a rare thing, and even Dylan stumbles – “Neighborhood Bully,” or “Sundown on the Unions,” being cases in point – though even they have their merits (or am I too much of a fan to see?). It’s the stepping into the universal that makes the grade.

Neil Young’s topical work never seems to step up. “Cortez,” as good as it is doesn’t quite make it, and it’s the phenomenal guitar work that ultimately carries the song; and “Let’s Roll,” is just plain awful. (“Find the Cost of Freedom,” is terrific, but Stephen Stills gets credit for that.) Admittedly I’m not as familiar with Neil’s work as I am with Dylan’s, but he’s never been an artist I’d look to for any political depth in lyrics. And I’m not sure who he’s preaching to. From the lyrics I’ve had the patience to read – not many considering the awful slow scroll on his website – its to previously converted teenagers. There’s no depth there.

But I don’t think Neil is pandering, I think he’s leading from the heart, which is something we want from our artists, but mature artists temper with some clear thinking.

True, I guess Neil probably isn’t pandering, as such — he likely really believes the idiotic things he’s writing. Lord save us.

Clive Davis quotes a little of my rant and then makes the case for Randy Newman as proving you can be “left-of-centre, anti-Bush and intelligent.” I haven’t heard Randy’s recent stuff, though I’ve always liked him and he can certainly concoct songs with sufficient levels of irony that prevent them from coming across as screed.

Straying from the Sunny Side

Neil Young. I really wish it weren’t necessary to comment on this. I wish it hadn’t happened. The overwhelming feeling evoked, seeing the stories about Neil Young’s forthcoming Bush-bashing album, is sadness. When Bruce Springsteen threw his weight publicly behind John F. Kerry in 2004, there was no particular surprise in hearing his own personal politics. What was surprising was that he would in effect subjugate his music to a party political cause; that he would go ahead and willingly alienate those fans who held a different political opinion. Well, I was never that much of a Springsteen fan, so, for me, the pain was limited.

Now Neil Young has basically joined the Barbra Streisand club as well. “I’m a filthy rich entertainer, living in a showbiz bubble, who feels I can tell ordinary American people what they should think about political issues, foreign policy, how to conduct a war, what it means to be an American, and what’s right and wrong.” Thanks, Neil. We really appreciate it.

If this humble website has a theme, and of-course it does, it’s not that Bob Dylan is “right-wing,” since, of-course, he has never and would never declare himself to be such a thing — no more than he has ever declared himself to be “left-wing.” Rather, this site lauds the fact that Dylan’s music can in fact be appreciated and enjoyed by people who do happen to call themselves “right-wing;” contrary to what you would glean by reading characterizations of Dylan’s music in the mainstream media. It is unashamedly a thumb in the eye of those who for decades have perpetuated the lie that Dylan, or his music, is inherently left-wing. Dylan is to be enormously admired for the fact that he never gave in to the temptation to be a “leader,” and to take the laurels that the left would have had him wear, and to subjugate his music to any kind of party politics. The only integrity he’s been interested in is integrity to his art — not to any ideology.

Would that people like Springsteen and Neil Young, who obviously learned so much from Dylan in other ways, had absorbed that lesson as well.

In the end, anything I could say in specific criticism of Neil Young’s new anti-Bush songs would be rendered completely redundant by one thing: perusing the lyrics of those same songs. So, herewith is an extract from Neil’s new song: “Living With War,” exactly as presented on his own website, capitalizations and all.

I’m LIVING WITH WAR everyday

I’m LIVING WITH WAR in my heart everyday

I’m LIVING WITH WAR right now

And when the dawn breaks I see my fellow man

And on the flat screen we kill and we’re killed again

And when the night falls I pray for PEACE (visualize)

I join the multitudes

I raise my hand in PEACE

I never bow to the laws of the thought police

I take a holy vow

To never kill again

To never kill again

I’m LIVING WITH WAR in my heart

I’m LIVING WITH WAR in my heart and my mind

I’m LIVING WITH WAR right now

Don’t take no tidal wave

Don’t take no mass grave

Don’t take no smokin’ gun

To show how the west was won

But when the curtain falls, I pray for PEACE

Try to remember PEACE (visualize)

In the crowded streets

In the big hotels

In the mosques and the doors of the old museum

I take a holy vow

To never kill again

Try to remember PEACE

(… and yes, it goes on)

I’m sure relieved that Neil Young won’t be killing again — I don’t know about you. And as for his stand against the “thought police;” well, what an act of jaw-dropping courage. (And with Dubya’s poll numbers in the 30s too.)

Just reproducing these lyrics like this, I felt like I was doing something almost unspeakably cruel to Mr. Young. And yet, if you’re going to put yourself out there and foist your whimsical political beliefs on people who just want to listen to your rock’n’roll music, then you’ve gotta be prepared to risk the fact that someone might actually pay attention to the words.

Neil: you need help. Maybe you can find a liberal eight-year old somewhere who could write some more persuasive polemic. We’d all sure appreciate it. Thanks, a lot, for making me unable to ever listen to Heart of Gold or Old Man or anything else you’ve ever done without thinking of the above insipid and ludicrous Bush-hating, left-pandering garbage. Yeah, you’ll get some headlines out of this — you already have. Is it really worth it?

It’s just genuinely sad.

Keep On the Sunny Side ( WEATHER )

Themes, Dreams and Schemes

Well, yesterday I had the good fortune to get an e-mail from a friend with info on how to access the “press preview” version of Dylan’s first “Theme Time Radio Hour” for XM — the one where the theme is “weather.” Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to write much if anything about it until May 3rd, on the principle that more than enough cats have been let out of the bag in advance — why should I contribute to that? This morning, I turn on the old computer machine and see the same access information splashed on the top of the popular Expecting Rain web site. So much for cats in bags! (I don’t know if XM has taken that file down at this point or not.)

Still, I’m going to limit myself to a few observations rather than a blow-by-blow account. (No matter how many descriptions of the show you read, by the way, it doesn’t replace hearing it.) Number one and above all: it’s a pure delight. Dylan has possibly found his true calling, and not a moment too soon. Back on the day it was first announced, I predicted it would be “a blast,” and “a music-lover’s paradise,” and, of-course, Bob is right again.

A few other random notes:

  • A little more crowing: Dylan makes exactly the same point about Dean Martin and Elvis, relevant to “I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine,” as I made in a previous post when much of the play list for the show was initially reported. While of-course I’m certain that Dylan reads RWB faithfully, I will not accuse him of plagiarism on this, as the show was obviously recorded before my post. It’s just that “great minds” adage, I guess, and I’ll live with it.
  • On this one perhaps I’m sensitive (but it’s my job after all): a Reuters advance report about the show referred to Dylan making a number of “pointed but low-key comments about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans.” If the writer of that self-contradicting phrase was trying to imply that Dylan was being pointedly critical of someone (like the evil George W. Bushitler who blew up the levees and laughed while everyone died), then listening to the show should dispel that notion. Dylan’s comments on New Orleans and the hurricane are the perfectly natural ones of someone who has great affection for that city, as well as the music and musicians that have come from there, and who is sympathetic to the rough time that part of the country has endured. There is no criticism, pointed or otherwise, of anyone.
  • Right before playing “Raining in My Heart” by Slim Harpo, Dylan quotes Saint Basil (hey, today is Sunday, after all): “Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger.”
  • The final song of the show is the Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side.” Dylan doesn’t introduce it — just lets it play. Many fans will be familiar with Dylan’s quote, from an interview in the late 90s:

    “All my beliefs come out of those old songs, literally, anything from ‘Let Me Rest on that Peaceful Mountain’ to ‘Keep on the Sunny Side.’ You can find all my philosophy in those old songs. I believe in a God of time and space, but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back toward those songs. I believe in Hank Williams singing ‘I Saw the Light.’ I’ve seen the light, too.”

    I’ll just draw this connection as well: Dylan, while referring to songwriter Johnny Mercer on the XM show, happens to mention the song “Acc-ent-uate the Positive” (cowritten with Harold Arlen). A great story of Dylan’s childhood (as recounted in Robert Shelton’s “No Direction Home”) is how, when he was 4 years old, he amazed family and friends by being able to sing that song, and everyone who heard it told his parents, basically, “Wow — your kid’s a genius!” It’s a very different kind of song to the Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side,” and yet, it’s kind of the same song too. “Serve God and be cheerful,” as Dylan writes in Cross the Green Mountain. Now that’s an adage that’s difficult to live by all the time, but very good to aim for, is it not? It’s also one that Dylan is clearly keeping in mind a good deal in his public offerings these days. Chronicles was notable for its generousity to all and sundry. Dylan’s wonderful new radio show is staking out the same territory: lift up what’s good, the music that you love, and don’t waste any time on knocking people down or on bitterness of any stripe.

These shows are going to be an unbelievable treasure for posterity, and a unique and powerful musical education for those lucky enough to hear them. And they’re going to be an awful lot of fun too.

Let us greet with a song of hope each day
Though the moment be cloudy or fair
Let us trust in our Saviour away
To keep us everyone in His care.

Keep on the sunny side
Always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us everyday
It will brighten all our way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.

Getting warmer

On a day when there was news of a Duke University study that casts severe doubt on the global-warming-doom-mongering, there are also posts about climate change today from Clive Davis, commenting on a refreshing BBC program on the subject, and Richard John Neuhaus who has stepped into it at First Things.

Religious leaders who have jumped on the global warming bandwagon frequently say that we have to be willing to make radical sacrifices. But it is the poor of the world who will be required to make the greatest sacrifices. It may be a relatively little thing for an American to give up his SUV, but it’s a very big thing for somebody in Niger to give up his hope for a square meal each day. It is not bold and prophetic to call for sacrifices, whether here or in the global South, that no political leader could possibly embrace. It is moralistic self-indulgence.

More Theme Time

A preview of Dylan’s new radio show has been heard by journalists — or at least by Reuters, as reproduced here by MSNBC.

In a preview recording of his show that debuts on May 3, the singer/songwriter/author is by turns playful and spooky, topical and historical, eager to share his favorite stories and records — and clearly having a ball.
Fans have long combed through Dylan’s vast catalog of songs, his quirky, guarded public statements and even his garbage for clues to just about anything, and this show will be no exception.

He gives them plenty to work with, studding his show with self-referential jokes, including several proud mentions of his native state of Minnesota.

But at another point he observes, “We seem to be playing a lot of songs from New Orleans.”
Thus, he makes a number of pointed but low-key comments about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. [Ed: what do you think Reuters is trying to imply there?]

And thus, Muddy Waters sings “Blow Wind Blow”; Jimi Hendrix, “The Wind Cries Mary”; Frank Sinatra, “Summer Wind”; and Dean Martin (with a Dixie brass band), “I Don’t Care If the Sun Don’t Shine”.

Also aboard are Judy Garland, Irma Thomas, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, calypso’s Lord Beginner, Fats Domino, the Spaniels, the Staples Singers and the Carter Family — quite a varied group.
Dylan also tells the story of Johnny Bragg, sent to a Tennessee penitentiary for rape in the 1940s, when “rape could have meant just looking at a white woman in the wrong way.” While a convict, Bragg formed a singing group and had a hit called “Just Walkin’ in the Rain.”

“A sad story. A beautiful song. ‘Just Walkin’ in the Rain.’ The Prisonaires,” Dylan announces.

Dylan obviously loves these people and songs, savoring the names of the musicians — and sometimes their wives — and fondly reciting favorite lines. He even quotes Stevie Wonder in Italian. Wonder did a number of foreign-language versions of “A Place in the Sun.”

That Dino track is currently available on a very fine CD called “Swingin’ Down Yonder.” Of-course Dean’s version of that was no doubt a big influence on one Elvis Presley’s rendition later in the 1950s. Elvis owed more than a little to Dean generally, it would seem.

The Sinatra track, “Summer Wind,” is available on Frank’s slightly odd 1966 album “Strangers in the Night.” The title track is, to me, a drag. “Summer Wind” on the other hand is a powerhouse tune and doesn’t get old no matter how many times it blares over the local bar’s jukebox. Most of the rest of the album is also pretty fun, years hence — it’s Sinatra’s final great collaboration with Nelson Riddle, and the driving arrangements featuring a big organ sound provide a unique setting for Frank’s singing. (It’s funny: I had thought Dylan might play Sinatra doing “Ill Wind,” from “In the Wee Small Hours.”)

Still can’t wait for Dylan’s show — though at this rate the entire content of it will be known before it actually airs.