Category Archives: General

Age of Light Update

Back in the year of our Lord two thousand and eight, on November the fourth, Barack Obama was elected to the presidency of the United States. Bob Dylan happened to be playing a show in Minnesota that night, and came back for his final encore obviously having heard the news backstage on how the electoral contest was going. He introduced his band as he normally did and then made some off-the-cuff comments, which were covered back then in this space in excruciating (although highly accurate) detail.

So, in total, he said:

I wanna introduce my band right now. On the guitar, there’s Denny Freeman. Stu Kimball is on the guitar too. Donny Herron as well, on the violin right now, playin’ on the steel guitar earlier. George Recile’s playin’ on the drums.

Tony Garnier, wearin’ the Obama button — [applause] alright! — Tony likes to think it’s a brand new time right now. An age of light. Me, I was born in 1941 — that’s the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. Well, I been livin’ in a world of darkness ever since.

But it looks like things are gonna change now …

Change was the thing: it was “hope and change,” the theme of Barack Obama’s campaign, as older readers might remember.

Dylan’s remarks caused quite a hoopla, hailed ’round the world as an optimistic endorsement of the new president, who would clear away all of that post-Pearl-Harbor darkness for Bob and for everyone.

We took a different view here, as expounded upon in that post way back then. In short we thought Dylan was being ironic and philosophical rather than triumphalist.

Things always change, of-course. And things have changed. An age of light? With all respect to Tony Garnier’s touching optimism, I think there is now probably exactly no one who would say the past eight years have been an age of light (albeit that we may have wildly varying reasons for saying so).

I was greatly struck, and still am, by Bob Dylan’s performance at President Obama’s White House in February of 2010 (just one year into that presidency), billed as a “Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Era.” He showed up and played only one song, “The Times They Are a-Changin'”; not as a celebratory duet with Joan Baez (who was also there that night) but in a new, spare, and quite melancholy arrangement.

There’s a lot that could be said, on January 19th, 2017, but it would be way too much. Those times, they sure just do keep on a-changin’. (And that I can tell you.)

Stick with me, baby

RWB has left the buildng. However, you can search the archived content of this website via the search box below.

The Times They Are A-Changin'

I’m moving all regular operations over to my other website, The Cinch Review. It will now include a category I’m calling Dylanosophy; just to be different, and because it might describe the best of whatever it is I do in that regard. I’m doing this because (a) it’s long past time to put all my internet scribblings in one place and (b) my motivation to comment on everything happening in the Dylan universe is just not strong enough to justify this venue any more. Too often I would be repeating myself, which I don’t like to do — it’s all in the archives somewhere, and I don’t have any plans to take down the archives (although I’ll probably move a few items over to the new spot). I’d like to do Dylan-related things only when I have something to say, rather than trying to keep up-to-date for no other reason than keeping up-to-date.

I’m enormously and sincerely grateful for all the eyeballs and support I’ve received here, and I hope whatever bizarre mix of things I continue to launch into the ether will meet your fancy in one way or another.

Goodbye is too good a word, so I’ll just say … bookmark this! Look for new writing in various categories including: Commentary, Reviews, Dogs and Dylanosophy.

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Masked and Anonymous

Just a passage from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s deeply inspiring book, Man Is Not Alone.

God is unwilling to be alone, and man cannot forever remain impervious to what He longs to show. Those of us who cannot keep their striving back find themselves at times within the sight of the unseen and become aglow with its rays. Some of us blush, others wear a mask. Faith is a blush in the presence of God.

Some of us blush, others wear a mask which veils spontaneous sensitivity to the holy ineffable dimension of reality. We all wear so much mental make-up, we have almost forfeited our face. But faith only comes when we stand face to face — the ineffable in us with the ineffable beyond us — suffer ourselves to be seen, to commune, to receive a ray and to reflect it. But to do that the soul must be alive within the mind.

Responsiveness to God cannot be copied; it must be original with every soul. Even the meaning of the divine is not grasped when imposed by a doctrine, when accepted by hearsay. It only enters our vision when leaping like a spark from the anvil of the mind, hammered and beaten upon by trembling awe.

I noted that particular passage for its (pre-)echo of Dylan’s concept of humans as beings who go around wearing masks, as in his 2004 film.However, it is soaring and galvanizing writing irrespective of any potential Dylan links. And every page of the book is like that. Quite amazing.

Odds & Ends

Thanks to Chris P. who writes in response to the last couple of posts:

I don’t know. I think Lenny Bruce is more irredeemably dark than the Doors and much more pretentious to boot.

Could be — I don’t know a whole lot of Lenny Bruce’s stuff, to be honest. But my thinking is that at least everything he did was premised on his role as a comedian, rather than a “poet” as in the case of Jim Morrison.

Where do you end up if you take lyrics like the following seriously? From The End:

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain
There’s danger on the edge of town
Ride the King’s highway
Weird scenes inside the gold mine
Ride the highway West, baby

I’m sure I’ll get hate mail from someone on this, but that kind of bilge only works for me if I assume that it’s a big put-on. Then, it’s actually pretty funny. But if anyone thinks he’s a serious poet, then — putting aside any argument about the aesthetic quality of it — it’s surely terribly dark stuff. Lenny Bruce might have said some of the most awful things at times, but at least it was supposed to generate a laugh.

Going back to the comparison of Bob Dylan to veteran jazzer Dave Brubeck, who is still touring at the age of 90, one distinction does come to my mind a little tardily. That is, while you can go see someone like Brubeck in an intimate and civilized setting and truly hear every nuance of what he’s doing, that tends to be a lot more difficult with Bob. It can be hard to pick up on the subtle variations and improvisations of Dylan’s latter day live performances when you’re seeing him in some hockey or basketball arena, with thousands of people and the speakers blaring at high intensity. So I think that’s a cause of some of the angst out there.

Thank you to those who’ve been shopping through Amazon links on this website — there was a substantial surge after my Cyber Monday appeal and it’s appreciated! As ever, if you enter through a link on this site, or by using a search box like the one below, then a small but welcome commission goes to RWB for any purchase you ultimately make during that same session on Amazon — at no additional cost to you.

They say it’s Cyber Monday

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So, whether you’re considering buying Bob Dylan: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 , the new Man Gave Names to All the Animalsbook illustrated by Jim Arnosky, Hannah Montana Forever, a new Vicks UV 99.999% Germ Free Humidifier, or a FRIGIDAIRE 26 Cu Ft Side by Side Refrigerator (all great stocking stuffers) then start your shopping here and force that old liberal Jeff Bezos to give RWB a pile of cash!

And thanks as ever for stopping by and reading.

Bob Dylan: book writing machine

It’s being reported by Crain’s New York Business that famed literary agent Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie is shopping a list of proposed books by Bob Dylan to the publishing world, including a follow up to Chronicles: Volume One. Those at Simon & Schuster are reputedly unhappy because the two proposed sequels to that memoir were supposed to be published by them.

In addition to a new Chronicles, however, Wylie is said to be shopping a a book of poems, a book that tells the background stories to some of Dylan’s songs, and a Continue reading “Bob Dylan: book writing machine” »

Johnny Cash: Ain’t No Grave

The daily article at “On the Square” over at First Things today is by Yours Truly, and it’s on the new Johnny Cash album, which is titled Ain’t No Grave.

Even by itself, “I Corinthians 15:55” will make most listeners grateful for the album’s existence. With months left to live, and in the shadow of the death of his wife, June, this sweetly melodic composition, played like a chamber-piece from the hills, is simultaneously his faithful testament and urgent prayer, and so asserts a spirit that was never very far from his work during his half-century in show business. Continue reading “Johnny Cash: Ain’t No Grave” »