Monthly Archives: September 2005

The Direction Home: the 60's

“The conscience of our generation,” who “has his finger on the pulse of his generation” and who “changed the way we [again, our generation] think”–These are the phrases that I heard over and again during the four hours of Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan documentary on the PBS American Masters series. (Scorsese is so skillful a movie maker he could probably make even me look like an “American Master”!)

It’s interesting that Dylan came from Minnesota, the same state as Scott Fitzgerald and his creation Jay Gatsby. Dylan (born Zimmerman) is nothing if not Gatsbyesque. Like Gatsby, Dylan believed he had been born in a strange land (the rural town of Hibbing) and was thus compelled to spend his life trying to find his way home and, like Gatsby, Dylan’s “home” was New York City where “anything can happen…even Gatsby.” As James Gatz, the poor farm boy, recreated himself as Jay Gatsby, the aristocrat, Bob Zimmerman, the middle class Jewish son of a small businessman, recreated himself as a wandering minstrel/poet like Woody Guthrie.

After watching Scorsese’s film, I thought of Nick Carraway’s comment on Gatsby as having “turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams.” Similarly, Dylan emerges from this apotheosis all right, but the foul dust that still floats in his wake is another matter.

That foul dust was on display in the narcissistic, self-righteous ramblings of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Peter Yarrow, Alan Ginsberg and other ruins of the 1960’s. They convey the idea that the 60’s was greater than fifth century Athens or the Italian Renaissance or Shakespeare’s London, and all because the smartest, most sensitive, most caring and engaged (as opposed to the most spoiled and pampered) generation in the history of the world was alive and “young.” Dylan, for the most part, doesn’t go along with all that, if what he says in the interview that he did for the film is to be believed.

So, what this film and most of the self-congratulatory comments about it reveal is that the 60’s are not dead and that the true believers back then are still true believers today. And if you think about it, you can hear the voices of Seeger, Baez and Ginsberg in the voices of Maureen Dowd (who seems to know about nothing but pop culture), Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and all the others in the media and in show biz whose only direction home is back to the 1960’s: Vietnam, Watergate, and the self-righteousness of their youth.

Hurricane Katrina? Investigate the Media

Hugh Hewitt and Mark Steyn discuss the media coverage of New Orleans.

Hewitt on the Jim Lehrer show last night in a discussion of the Katrina coverage:

Well, Keith just said they did not report an ordinary story; in fact they were reporting lies. The central part of this story, what went on at the convention center and the Superdome was wrong. American media threw everything they had at this story, all the bureaus, all the networks, all the newspapers, everything went to New Orleans, and yet they could not get inside the convention center, they could not get inside the Superdome to dispel the lurid, the hysterical, the salaciousness of the reporting.

I have in mind especially the throat-slashed seven-year-old girl who had been gang-raped at the convention center — didn’t happen. In fact, there were no rapes at the convention center or the Superdome that have yet been corroborated in any way.

There weren’t stacks of bodies in the freezer. But America was riveted by this reporting, wholesale collapse of the media’s own levees they let in all the rumors, and all the innuendo, all the first-person story because they were caught up in their own emotionalism. Exactly what Keith was praising I think led to one of the worst weeks of reporting in the history of American media, and it raises this question: If all of that amount of resources was given over to this story and they got it wrong, how can we trust American media in a place far away like Iraq where they don’t speak the language, where there is an insurgency, and I think the question comes back we really can’t.

Warmth, Playfulness, Informality, and Cheerful Camaraderie

Jonathan Kozol, one of the people who helped to destroy public education, is still beating the same dead horse. He doesn’t seem to realize that his side won: the schools are still run by liberals who disdain “mere knowledge” while they devise and promote an endless number of recycled “innovative” methods (the No Child Left Behind Act notwithstanding).

Kozol seems to think the schools ought to be like the old socialist summer camps.

Bob Dylan and the Monumentalisation of Pop

Is Bob Dylan a “genius” who changed the world? This article sums up my feelings about the man. I was once a fan: I saw him perform three times back in his glory days. But I think very few of his songs have stood the test of time, and many of them sound embarrassingly bad today.

I think Bob Dylan’s mythic stature among the 60’s generation has less to do with his “brilliance” and more to do with that generation’s excessive self-regard.

An excerpt from Mark Hudson’s Daily Telegraph article:

Dylan is current only in the sense that he’s always been current. The adenoidal folk rocker’s heyday may have been a good four decades ago, but his status has remained huge. Yet Martin Scorsese’s marathon biographical documentary has created unprecedented excitement around the sixty-something singer-songwriter. The sense of awe it has generated and the apparently universal consensus on Dylan’s “greatness” mark a new phase in pop’s cultural dominance and in the unreality of the claims made for it.

…Yet even the best pop music can sustain remarkably little in the way of critical analysis – let alone the endless reinterpretation to which the classics are subjected. But what’s worst about the creeping monumentalisation of pop is not just its inherent absurdity, but the way it threatens to smother this music’s fragile charms altogether.

We live in a world run by people who came to consciousness during pop’s 1960s golden age. Often significantly younger than Dylan, they not only understand the iconic significance of the Fender Stratocaster guitar, they actually own one. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the new film’s “lost footage” from Dylan’s crucial mid-1960s period should have created excitement. Yet there’s something about our “air guitar” establishment’s endless valorisation of the sounds of its youth that is slightly creepy.

I’m not anti-pop, or even anti-Dylan. His Like a Rolling Stone is one of my favourite pieces of music. Or it was until the American rock critic Greil Marcus decided to write an entire book about it and a panel of rock and film stars voted it the cultural artefact that has most changed the world.

There’s something about the very nature of the pop song that makes it unsuited to this kind of clumping endorsement. Pop’s roots are in the mercurial joys and anguishes of adolescence. Like a Rolling Stone may be as good as pop gets lyrically, but Dylan’s warning to a slumming rich girl doesn’t add up to much without his whinily splenetic delivery and the joyous rhythmic surge of the original recording. Once you start weighing it down with a mass of critical baggage, the sparkle goes.

…Dylan is undoubtedly a genius, but he’s a pop genius. He’s got more in common with Kylie Minogue than with Beethoven, and like all pop geniuses he has manifestly failed to carry his greatness into the starker territory of middle age.

The Arabs' Terrible Affliction: An Addiction to Failure

A retort by Fouad Ajami to the uninformed natterings of the anti-war left.

The Mandated Retroactive Compensation Industry

Tales from the groves of diversity.

Stop the War, Impeach Bush, Destroy Israel!

The Washington anti-war demonstration brings out the loonies.

Stuck on Stupid

If only we had a president who talked to the media like this.

Cindy's Other Son

What else hath Bush wrought? Thanks to Allan Caplan.

The Gallic Variation of "Psycho"

Europe and the dead mother routine.