April 21, 2005

Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen

* The Nation on Bob Dylan. [via] excerpt:

"But if there is one group with whom Dylan currently resists association despite, or perhaps because of, his formidable contribution, it's the 1960s counterculture. When the brash young Dylan of '65 quipped, 'You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,' he might have thought he could make it into Bartlett's (he did), but how could he have predicted that, just five years later, three allusively named Weathermen would set off a bomb on Manhattan's West 11th Street and accidentally die in his name? And when it did happen, and self-styled 'Dylanologists' were digging through his trash, chanting outside his apartment and parachuting into his Woodstock home, how could he have felt? Hardly like a member of Woodstock Nation. Mike Marqusee's Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan's Art is sensitive to this incongruity. Years before the Weathermen, Dylan marched with SNCC and was an opening act for Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech. But his period of political engagement was but a sliver of time (albeit glorious), from 1962-63. And he has since admitted, in Chronicles, to having a soft spot for Barry Goldwater and has still refused to take a position on the war in Vietnam or, more recently, Iraq.

"The cover of the book has Dylan getting his Guthrie on circa 1963, complete with a plaid work shirt, tattered jeans and a waterfront in the background, just waiting to unite some workers of the world. Marqusee writes like a professional journalist but isn't out of his depth when he busts out the Adorno and Marcuse. He's an anguished, aging New Lefty who wants to let Bob be Bob but wishes he'd crawl out his window a little more to fight the good fights. Dylan, of course, is the last person who ever wanted to be a voice of a generation, as he told Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes last winter, and as he says repeatedly in Chronicles. But Marqusee and Dylan are also keenly, painfully aware that the moment for Dylan to be that voice has long passed anyway, even if some stray, incoherent remarks before a subpar performance at Live Aid twenty years ago did help raise millions of dollars for struggling American farmers. Dylan may have allowed Bank of Montreal to use 'The Times They Are A-Changin'' in 1996, but the songs of that 1962-63 period continue to provide a soundtrack to civil (and, in the case of the Weathermen, uncivil) disobedience. At a recent protest in the streets of Taipei, the words of Dylan still resound, even as they are somewhat lost in translation: 'How many rocky roads must the people of Taiwan walk, before really achieving democracy?'"

* Wolcott: Meet the New Pope, Same as the Old Pope. excerpt:

"So if Pope Benedict XVI continues to stigmatize homosexuals and condemns condom use, resulting in the further spread of AIDS in Africa and elsewhere, he's cool with that? He'd prefer consistency and message discipline over sanity and compassion?

"Why am I even bothering to raise the questions? Of course, he would. Floodwaters could engulf both coasts, and [New York Daily News writer]Michael Goodwin, wearing a snorkel, would applaud Bush and Cheney for remaining steadfast in denying the existence of global warming."

* David Berman answers reader questions over at fittedsweats:

Q: Why do some adults speak of dessert in a mock-naughty tone that's usually reserved for sex? -- Wanda, Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.

DCB: Yes, you'll never hear people talk about appetizers in those terms. Sweet Adultery Eggrolls or whatever. I think this contribution to closing remarks, is purely the work of women 50 and older who do not work. No longer able to bear children, they themselves, in post-prandial hallucinations dream up the cake canyons and sweater covered hills that cause the planet where dessert turns people on.


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