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What Sayeth Bob Dylan About Social Justice? - Nothing!

 It happened like clockwork for forty years. Bob Dylan would release an album and the aging flower children critics would say: “What does Bob Dylan have to say about social injustice?”

The answer was always the same: Nothing.

The man who wrote the injustice and youth rebellion anthems of a generation did so only because the market was eating up that stuff at the time. It was never his cause and he was never rebellious. “I latched on,” he said, “when I got to New York City, because I saw (what) a huge audience there was. I knew I wasn't going to stay there. I knew it wasn't my thing. ... I became interested in folk music because I had to make it somehow."

This is too rich—all the flower children revolutionaries swooning over a messiah who never wanted to save, who wrote what he did for purely mercenary reasons. And all of their own ‘prophets’ so woefully falling short in their own powers of expression. At its core, surely it shows the ‘generation of love’ to be little more than a facade.

It backfired on Dylan. He actually got stuck with being the king of people he didn’t especially care for—just like the people trying to make Jesus king and he evaded their grasp. Dylan wasn’t so adept. "I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of," he writes in his autobiography. "Whatever the counterculture was, I'd seen enough of it," He grumbles on about being "anointed as the Big Bubba of Rebellion, High Priest of Protest, the Czar of Dissent." Instead, he writes that he wanted “to have a house with a white picket fence and pink roses in back, live in East Hampton with his wife and pack of kids, eat Cheerios and go to the Rainbow Room and see Frank Sinatra Jr. perform!”

Despite the most obvious lack of social interest content, flower children are not easily dissuaded. Dylan’s lyrics are complex. They would tease something out of each album so the singer remained the messiah. He got fed up with it at one point and deliberately wrote horrible stuff to throw them off track. “I wrote that,” he said of one dog, “to get the hippies off my lawn.”

While critics held their breath searching for social justice themes, what was Dylan singing? How about ‘Don’t Ya Tell Henry?’


Yeah, I went down to the whorehouse the other night
I was lookin' around, I was outta sight
I looked at a horse and I saw a mule
I looked for a cow and I saw me a few
They said, "Don't ya tell Henry
Don't ya tell Henry
Don't ya tell Henry
Apple's got your fly"

Several verses of catching people in embarrassing predicaments. In each case, they plead: ‘Don’t ya tell Henry.’ Who was Henry? I haven’t a clue, but can it not be connected with another Dylan song of the same time – ‘Please, Mrs. Henry?’ also vaguely off-color, though nothing specific. Just a frolicking romp of a drinking song:


Well, I've already had two beers
I'm ready for the broom
Please, Missus Henry, won't you
Take me to my room?
I'm a good ol' boy
But I've been sniffin' too many eggs
Talkin' to too many people
Drinkin' too many kegs
Please, Missus Henry, Missus Henry, please
Please, Missus Henry, Missus Henry, please
I'm down on my knees
An' I ain't got a dime


Well, I'm groanin' in a hallway
Pretty soon I'll be mad
Please, Missus Henry, won't you
Take me to your dad?
I can drink like a fish
I can crawl like a snake
I can bite like a turkey
I can slam like a drake
Please, Missus Henry, Missus Henry, please
Please, Missus Henry, missus Henry, please
I'm down on my knees
An' I ain't got a dime


Now, don't crowd me, lady
Or I'll fill up your shoe
I'm a sweet bourbon daddy
An' tonight I am blue
I'm a thousand years old
And I'm a generous bomb
I'm t-boned and punctured
But I'm known to be calm
Please, Missus Henry, Missus Henry, please
Please, missus henry, missus henry, please
I'm down on my knees
An' I ain't got a dime


Now, I'm startin' to drain
My stool's gonna squeak
If I walk too much farther
My crane's gonna leak
Look, Missus Henry
There's only so much I can do
Why don't you look my way
An' pump me a few?
Please, Missus Henry, Missus Henry, please
Please, Missus Henry, Missus Henry, please
I'm down on my knees
An' I ain't got a dime

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Real Talent is in Someone Young is Almost Always Cocky and Obnoxious

I checked out Bob Dylan's The Basement Tapes from the library. These are songs recorded in his Woodstock basement around 1967 and never released. Someone spirited out a grainy tape of them and that has sufficed until, 50 years later, a producer type restored the stuff and released it properly.

I love the rendition of 'Don't You Tell Henry' because the song is sung to the accompaniment of the most oafishly inept trombone I have ever heard. "Sounds good!" Dylan happily cries out between verses at the horrid horn - they're obviously having a good time here, and good times are contagious. Somehow, crazily, it all comes together.

I learned also that 'Clothes Line Saga' in the same release was apparently a parody of 'Ode to Billy Jo,' a song all the rage in 1967 - a reference to some horrendous teen tragedy. 'Have you heard the news? The Vice President's gone mad! ... Say, that's too bad' takes on new significance in this light.

Real talent in someone young is almost always cocky and obnoxious. Recall how Amadeus ridiculed the house musician of his patron? In the Pennebaker movie Dylan does a brilliant 'It's All Over Baby Blue' in his lodgings and then-heartthrob star Donovan follows with a simple plucking of his ordinary song. "Wow, that's a great song!!" Dylan gushes. TBC_Brass_Band_Trombone_at_Jazz_Fest_2011

I don't think he is like that anymore; when he speaks of others now, he is unfailingly kind. Though mostly he is lost in a (says my son-in-law) self-absorbed haze of vodka. This is the same son-in-law who claims the ability to watch any performer and tell what drug he is on. "There's something to be said for drugs," he quips upon watching Mick Jagger's mesmerizing performance in the Scorese 'Shine a Light' movie.

In a three hour studio session, most bands would complete a song or two. Dylan would do a dozen written the week before. He'd do no more than two takes, and it was time to move on. If there were bloopers, as there are in many of them, they became part of the song, and later listeners would gripe if covers didn't reproduce the errors.

photo: TBC Brass Band (NOT the trombonist of the post)

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Enough of the 'Summer of Love' Already

If an 80-year-old visitor carries on the way he does about the Rat Pack vs the Beatles, he must positively lose it when he hears about the 1967 (or was it 68?) 'summer of love' - a time period highlighted by Woodstock. Even I, who lived through the time, tire of it, and always did. Image

At best, it was the summer of STDs. It was overgrown children kicking over the traces, as they have always done, but because it is charged with sex, rejecting the morals of their parents, it endures. That generation still trots out the phrase as though it was a glimmer of light in a dark world, a major assertion of love - and not just decadence.

Look, people have always slept around, but only with the 'summer of love' did it become a virtue. I suspect many of the current generation in which 2/3 have herpes have cursed their overindulgent elders.

I was part of the mob of college kids along for the ride, marching from campus into "downtown" Potsdam, NY. I caught a whiff of the pepper gas - man, you don't want to get near that stuff! I always thought it was phony - just an excuse to cut classes, riot, and party. That is not to say there were not sincere student protesters somewhere. But I never saw them.

It's very easy to grouse about something you don't like. Building something better is another thing entirely.

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Foo from the Foo Fighters

A brother gave the public talk and, to illustrate how times are changing for the worse, trotted out the Beatles. 'Ah, what harmonious songs, what innocence, they just don't make music like that anymore."

My parents' generation thought them a manifestation of the Devil when they first appeared.

To praise them today and condemn everything since is only to reveal you are a dinosaur. It is but a manifestation of how they stopped making good music they very day I stopped actively listening to it.

I am listening to the Foo Fighters lately and thinking them not bad. Don't forget, not all was the Beatles back in the day. Much of it was immediately forgettable drivel. Not to mention the endless riffs that the potheads would get into - all the rage then, all the rubbish now.

It is gradualism that I can put up with, and even enjoy, the Foo Fighters. I wouldn't want a steady diet of it. But some is okay. Rs-foo-fighters-v3-81f2ff59-0f23-4d7c-94c0-05cd352363db

It is a gift from my kids. I would be stuck in a time warp of oldies without them, as many persons I know are. In their teen years they began rumbling about going to concerts, and I wasn't too happy about it. So I decided to go with them. Music moves on. One must adapt. The lyrics of Ani Difranco are far cruder than those of Bob Dylan. But then, it's a far cruder age, isn't it?

(And I even notice that Beatle Paul McCartney is a guest on one of the Foo Fighter releases)

photo: rollingstone.com

 
Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)