Friday, June 11, 2004

Dylan as Poetry:Poetry as Dylan

There's a bit of an oddball article in the NY Times on a professor of literature whose written a book about Bob Dylan as a poet. I really don't understand this need on the part of Dylan fans to legitimize him by trying to give him highbrow status. What's wonderful about Dylan is that he isn't highbrow; he's deep in the folk tradition of American song (when I say folk I mean blues, folk, country, even rock n'roll; people's music, not something that comes from conservatories or formal training). The other problem is that Dylan is simply not a very good poet. He's a great songwriter (and singer too, in my opinion), his stuff doesn't work in other mediums. Take these lines from "Blind Willie McTell", probably my favorite Dylan song:

Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying this land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem

I traveled through East Texas
Where many martyrs fell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

On the page its a bit trite, a little forced and too cute for its own good. When sung, however, in Dylan's dessicated voice and with its rolling, sinister minor-key chord progression pushing upwards and then, inexorably, resolving itself, the effect is nothing short of magnificent. This song never fails to send chills up my spine. The same is true for most of Dylan's songs. Their poetry is in their melodies as much as in their words, and in their interplay with Dylan's unique voice and guitar style (inspired incompetence, perhaps, is the best way to describe it). Maybe this is why I have always found cover versions of his songs to be empty and uninteresting compared to his own versions, or why the exanguination of them in favor of the bare words on a page always fails to capture their primal power and sublime majesty.

Brother Ray Moves On

I wasn't surprised when Johnny Cash died, he'd been seriously ill for years. But the death of Ray Charles is shocking to me. I know he was 73, but I saw him play seven or eight years ago in Boston and was amazed at his youthfulness, his passion and enthusiasm. I always thought that if any great singer would play till he was in his 90s, it would be him. He was a genius and a showman and an extraordinary perforemer. I don't think there was ever a more perfect soul voice than his, lost, mournful, lusty, and at certain moments wooping upwards into an exultation of God and Woman. I loved his music perhaps more than any but Bob Dylan's. When I was playing guitar in Boston I used to do his song "Blackjack" all the time. For me, his early Atlantic sides are some of the best, most original American music ever produced. There's nothing that happened in soul music for the next twenty years that isn't in those records. The cliche is true in his case: he was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary artist. He was also a lover of Israel, a friend of David Ben-Gurion, a blind man who drove his own car and flew his own plane, an ex-junkie, and a man who claimed to be unable to function without having sex three times a day. Wherever he is now, I'm sure he's enjoying it.

God bless you Ray, and thanks.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Azmi Bishara at BGU

I just saw an interesting lecture by Arab Knesset Member Azmi Bishara at the university. He's one of the more extreme anti-Zionist Arab members of the Knesset, so I am naturally disposed to disagree with everything he says. He wasn't talking about Israel this time, however, his topic was democracy in the Arab world. He is given to demagoguery, so we got the usual rigamarole about American imperialism and the neo-con conspiracy, etc. However, he's also a very smart guy, so he did manage to say some interesting things in between bloviations. Among them, he raised this question: if democracy does come on the backs of American tanks, can I accept that? His answer, interestingly enough, seemed to be yes. This leads me to think that a lot of Arab intellectuals may never give up their anti-Americanism, but they may be able to accept the legitimacy of Iraqi democracy nonetheless. I actually came away from the lecture more hopeful than I was before.

A Great Anti-Totalitarian Dies

Ronald Reagan died today, fittingly enough, on the anniversary of D-Day. Whatever you may think of his politics, there is no question that he was a great American and an extraordinary president. Indeed, if we measure a president by the breadth and impact of his accomplishments, he must rank as one of the greatest presidents of the twentieth century. Avoid the liberal media hackjobs and go to National Review, which has a collection of insightful and touching articles, including president Bush's words from Normandy:

During the years of President Reagan, America laid to rest an era of
division and self-doubt. And because of his leadership, the world laid to rest an era of fear and tyranny. Now, in laying our leader to rest, we say thank you.

He always told us that for America, the best was yet to come. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this is true for him, too. His work is done, and now a shining city awaits him.

Sentimental eulogies aside, Reagan must be acknowledged as the twentieth centuries greatest proponent of human liberty and freedom. The anti-totalitarian par excellence. In an age when so much of the world's intellectual elite had decided that freedom was a lie and slavery blessed by the gods of history, Reagan had an instinctive understanding of liberty as an axiomatic value, and a revulsion before those who would do it violence. I believe historians will eventually fully acknowledge his role in the destruction of the Soviet Empire, and give him his rightful place as one of history's great leaders and liberators.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Read This Book

Am currently almost finished with Albert Camus's Resistance, Rebellion and Death. Its an extraordinary collection of essays on various political issues. His essays on the Algerian War and the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 simply have to be read for anyone looking for insight into what the Left once was and what a decent Left today could be.

Gefen (Slight Return)

As you can see, I've changed this blog's template to a very patriotic cachol v'lavan, enjoy.