February 16, 2006

I've got a net to catch the wind

Don Van Vliet, untitled, 1976

* Greil Marcus on Dylan's Master's of War. [via]. excerpt:

"In 1963, in the small world of folk music, protest songs were the currency. They said that the world should be changed, even implied that songs could change it, and no one wrote better protest songs—or as many—as Bob Dylan. It was a way of getting on the train of his own career, he'd say years later—but to the tens of thousands of high school and college students who had begun to listen to Bob Dylan because, they said, he could draw on their own unshaped anger and rage, terror and fear, and make it all real, even make it poetry, that was not how the songs felt.

"They felt like warnings the world couldn't turn away from, crimes that had to be paid, promises that had to be kept. Bob Dylan wrote songs about the nuclear war that in 1963 almost everyone was sure would take place sometime, somewhere—and in 1962, with the Cuban Missile Crisis, almost had: the war that, as Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in 1962, said in the recent film The Fog of War, came closer than even the most paranoid protest singer dared imagine. Dylan wrote and sang long, detailed songs about racial injustice, he wrote funny protest songs like 'Talking World War III Blues,' visionary protest songs like 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall'—but mostly he wrote and sang songs that told stories about the wrong inside a nation that believed it was always right: 'With God on Our Side,' 'The Times They Are A-Changin',' 'Blowin' in the Wind.' These were the songs that brought Bob Dylan into the common imagination of the nation, and those were the songs that fixed him there.
"Dylan had stopped singing 'Masters of War' by 1964. Songs like that were 'lies that life is black and white,' he sang that year. He brought it back into his repertoire in the 1980s; he was playing more than a hundred shows a year, and to fill the nights he brought back everything. It was a crowd-pleaser, the number one protest song. But nothing in the song hinted at what it would turn into on February 21, 1991, at the Grammy Awards telecast, where Dylan was to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.

"The show came square in the middle of the first Iraqi-American War—a break from round-the-clock footage of the bombing of Baghdad. 'Uncle Bobby,' Jack Nicholson said, introducing Dylan, as Dylan and his four-piece band came onstage to play one song. In dark suits, with fedoras pulled down over their faces, the musicians looked like small-time hipster gangsters who'd spent the previous ten years in the same bar waiting for the right deal to break and finally said the hell with it; Dylan held himself with authority, like the bartender.

"It was an instantly infamous performance, and one of the greatest of Dylan's career. He sang the song in disguise; at first, you couldn't tell what it was. He slurred the words as if their narrative was irrelevant and the performance had to communicate as a symbol or not at all. He broke the words down and smashed them up until they worked as pure excitement, until the appearance of a single, whole signifier—'Jesus,' 'Guns,' 'Die'—lit up the night like tracer bullets. The performance was faster, the beat snapping back on itself, then fragmenting as guitar lines shot out of the music as if without human agency—and it might have been a minute, it might have been two, it might have been as long as the performance lasted for the melody to creep out of the noise and the song to reveal itself for what it was.

"Dylan was asked why, on this night of all nights, he chose to sing 'Masters of War.'

"'The war going on,' he said.

"Why did he slur the words, he was asked.

"'I had a cold,' he said.

* Hilarious, must see, old B&W video of British troops taking LSD. (1:37)

* The Rude Pundit on Dick Cheney's blue dress. excerpt:

"The handling of Dick Cheney shooting his own wad all over the face and chest of Whittington is almost bewildering to watch. Last night, in the post-blizzard Northeast, the Rude Pundit stood behind a hunched-over old woman on a street corner who used her cane to beat at the gathered slush, as if she could somehow will the properties of icy water to not make it simply puddle back. But she kept slashin' away. The Rude Pundit wanted to scream, 'Fuck, if you can't walk through it, go around it, or just don't come out all,' but out of respect for the muttering woman, he stood there until the light changed and he could cross the other way. In other words, you can beat that shit for as long as you like, but it ain't goin' away.

"Confusing metaphors aside, what the fuck? Huh? What the fuck would it have taken for Cheney to simply say on Saturday night, 'I shot a man just for snorin' or some such shit. And why the fuck has he said nothing yet? Even some on the right, like Linda Chavez, are wondering, too (so, oh, goody, the story's valid because one of their own thinks it's fucked-up). That's why this is the blue dress, man. At the end of the day, it reveals the arrogance of the men (and the worshipful woman or two they let hang out with 'em) in the White House."
"...But the cover-up is the story, because it says so much about the Bush administration: about its savage hatred of the press, about its secretiveness, about its manipulation of facts, about its ability to blithely lie and call it truth, about its inability to be accountable for any error, about its obvious disdain of the American public.

"If you are an arrogant prick who fucks around on your girlfriend, wrecks her car, kicks her cat, and denies all of it, even if there's a foot print on her cat's ass, what do you think is gonna happen when she sees you drinking milk out of the carton? What do you think she's gonna say when you quickly pull it away and try to say that you weren't doing it? You deserve what you get, motherfucker, you reap what you have sown. For if you're willing to lie about something so mundane, goddamn, what huge, gut-wrenching lies you must also be hiding."

* "Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending." --Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


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