Bob Dylan was just given the Nobel Prize for literature. I’m not certain on the criteria of it all…how a songwriter wins an award seemingly reserved for poets and dramatists and novelists….but what the hell. Dylan’s footprint is the size of continents….and words are words, whether they appear on pages….in scripts, or are shouted out from a million beer-soaked microphones over the last 50 years. Dylan works the language like a painter works a canvas…and to the pissy high-brow novelists and their recent snarky tweets….all I have to say is go fucking write something as good as “Every Grain of Sand” and maybe you’ll win an award someday too. It ain’t his fault your 500 page novel isn’t as cinematic as “Tangled Up In Blue.”
This day and age I look for good news like this. It means somebody has balls….even if it may just be a roomful well-read old Swedes swilling martinis. But I’ll take it brother. I’ll take it. I live in a land of stupid……a place where the only respite from blowhardism is earbuds jammed into the side of my head and the volume set to 11. Northeast PA has increasingly become the place where brain cells go to die….so I don’t just reach for proof of intelligent life, I scratch and claw at it like a dying man trying not to tumble off one of our endless mountains.
Bob Dylan. Recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. That is badass.
Dylan single-handedly took “I want to hold your hand” and changed it to “how does it feeeeeeel!”. He made it ok to jam the entire world into a 3 minute pop song. Every single songwriter who came along after Dylan owes him thanks….and most of the ones who were here before him subsequently developed that glazed look…..like ducks hit over the head. Early retirement beckoned…thankfully.
When the prize was announced Dylan was preparing for yet another show in yet another town in yet another theater on yet another tour….and true to form he said nothing. No press conference. No social media post. No official statement. He just pulled his hat down over his eyes, played his show, got on his bus, and headed for his next one. He’ll talk it when he receives it….unless he’d just rather they mail it to him. That would be rock and roll. But I suspect his love of words will get the better of him, and he’ll wish to somehow address the controversy of the selection in his own, unique, byzantine way. Because, it’s easy to forget, it’s not his prolonged silences that intrigue us as much as what builds up in his head between them. To put it another way…the world listens when he talks precisely because he’s not popping off every 6 minutes about what everybody else is popping off about.
Bob Dylan does not do mundane.
I’m hearing the same silly “can lyrics be poetry?” argument. To which I always reply, “why would they want to be? I fucking hate poetry.”
Really, does it matter? If the goal is to move the listener, then Woody Guthrie is our Keats.
Nobody living / can ever stop me / as I go walking / that freedom highway
Nobody living / can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me….
You got anything better than that? I’ll wait while you peruse your Shakespeare.
There would not be a Dylan without Woody….so work it out for yourselves.
Bob Dylan changed the world. He altered the landscape. He changed the conversation. He crashed a party he wasn’t invited to. He taught us our own songs before he started creating his own. And when his own got so wild they needed electricity to be harnessed, alone with his polka-dot shirt and his sunglasses he created rock and roll 2.0…where nothing was off the table and you no longer needed forks and knives to cut something. That wild, mercury sound was its own scythe….and finally his brilliant wordplay met its match……like Ali being defined by Frazier.
That sounds pretentious as shit I know. But, hell….NOBEL PRIZE yo! Maybe I am reading a little too much into “Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar”, but I ain’t gonna apologize. Because it’s only rock and roll. And I like it. It’s poetry too. It’s novelistic (even if that’s not a real word). It’s drama.
Words. Read them Sing them. Chant them. Memorize them. Scream them. Do they inspire? Do they demand reckoning but don’t insist on blood? Then they are literature.
In a bit..
When did we get so scared?
And more importantly, are we even afraid of the right things?
Because fear breeds ignorance as much as ignorance breeds fear. It can scramble brains so much that synapses stop firing….and what you’re left with is two half drunk partisan dimwits, both unburdened by pesky facts, trading insults on somebody else’s Facebook post. The very definition of depressing.
What’s clear to me is that to a rich man, all poor people look the same.
That’s clear to me even though I’m not always, or even often, the smartest person in the room. I’m Lake Woebegone average, but I can see, I can read, and I can listen. Ain’t that all it takes?
May I wander a bit? Because what I’m getting at requires verbal wandering.
I’m a descendant of 1840s famine Irish. I’ve lost track of how many “great’s” come before the “grandfather”…but there is a direct, traceable lineage back…..from counties Mayo and Sligo. The Flannery’s and the Loftus’s were starving, so they had to get out. To stay meant eternal rest.
It gets a bit murky here…..some arriving in New York harbor, and others possibly slipping over the border from Canada in a slightly less legal fashion. Freedom from want is way more powerful than any wall. Dig under. Climb over. Or blow a hole through. Whatever works. As Springsteen sang, “God, hunger is a powerful thing.”
They were met not with open arms, but with open hostility. The normal kind. The kind those that look different and act different and speak different are often met with. “No dogs nor Irish need apply”. Of course the fact that those doing the judging were themselves immigrants was ironic, but as a nation we don’t often do irony well.
We made our way to anthracite country, because as it turned out that there were some jobs that the Irish were welcome to. We might die from black lung or a cave-in or self inflicted liver disease trying to forget the first two, but we weren’t gonna starve to death. Assimilation would come not from knocking on doors, but from kicking them down. So be it. It did come, and our story is not much different from other ethnic groups. Only the places and names change…but the narrative remains as straight as Route 66.
So now we were “Americans” somehow….maybe helped along by blood spilled on both sides of Civil War battlefields. Dying has always been great ethnic PR, unless you happen to Indian of course.
And now, just like the rest, we went from being judged to being judges.We might be the bottom of the totem poll….but look at this sorry lot crossing over. They seem willing to cut the totem poll down!
And so it went. And so it goes. America is a strange place. The rest of the world finds it…crawls all over the place killing the original population, develops amnesia, and somehow thinks they sprouted here whole….like a European potato plant.
We learn our lessons. Then we forget our lessons. Then we fail our lessons. Then we teach our children.
And we go from laughing nervously about George Wallace to possibly electing Donald Trump president.
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
As long as there is somebody to blame, then it can’t be our fault. That’s the logic of a 4th grader, coincidentally the language level of a Trump stump speech.
It sucks to be poor anywhere. It especially sucks to be poor in America, a place that claims to value work but actually values wealth. Two distinct things those. It’s also a place that likes its rich people to be white. Actually, it likes its poor people to be white too….because they are the only ones who will still vote for the rich white ones.
To be black or brown is to be an outsider. To be poor and black or brown is to be invisible…until they need your votes, or you start getting all uppity and demanding and saying your lives matter. All Lives are supposed to matter of course, but the cops only seem to be shooting the unarmed black ones….so…what’s a poor boy to do? Words matter too….or at least they used to until Trump claimed to have “the best ones”….and half the nation seemingly agreed with him.
Fear is that moment you snap the light on….and things you can’t quite make out scurry across the floor out of sight. It’s what your mind conjures up….that’s where the maximum badness resides. Reality has become what charlatans tell you it is….so if they say our nation is under siege by random people dressing as clowns, then we are. And if they tell you that all these unarmed black men getting shot by cops were really threatening thugs with hidden guns buried in their waistbands, then so goes the world. Fight the power and all that, but don’t make a big fucking deal out of it and block traffic.
I have no more right to judge an inner city black male being harassed by cops than I do a Syrian refugee fleeing relentless terror, Because I am not a black male, nor am I a Syrian refugee. Are you?
What I am is part of a clan that came to this country for the same reasons….because we were promised better days….a place where a man could hold his own in a fair fight. A place where when you turned on the light, the floor didn’t move.
In a bit..