“I Ain’t Going to Work on Maggie’s Farm no More”

I haven’t written any Bob Dylan posts for a long while, and I wouldn’t have written one today, except that the dryer broke. That meant—with my wife looking on approvingly—that I would be spending precious time hanging stupid wash on the line! It’s ridiculous!

Of course, as I was doing so, the lyrics of Maggie’s Farm came to mind:

Well, I wake up in the morning/Fold my hands and pray for rain

I got a head full of ideas/That are drivin' me insane

It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor

I ain’t going to work on Maggie’s farm no more.

This prompted me to investigate further in (of course) Wikipedia, where....gasp!....I discovered that the most bedrock and undisputed fact in the musical universe is, in fact, not so!

Bob Dylan rose to fame on the strength of his folk ballads. We all know that. We also all know that he reinvented himself, and has done so several times since. We all know that, at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he was roundly booed, and we know the reason why: he went on stage with electifried sound, and the snooty purists there stuck up their nose at anything not acoustic. I mean, we all know this!

We all knew wrong! It is another “Everything You Thought You Knew About Such and Such is Wrong” headline. I am coming to think that there is no reason to accept anything anymore. If a pitch is not to your liking, just lay back like Casey and wait for one that is. Unlike Casey, you will get more than three. You will keep getting pitches until the cows come home. Just wait for one you like. Everyone else does—why should you not as well?

They booed because they didn’t like the electric guitars? No, they booed because the sound was terrible and they couldn’t hear the words! Look at what Pete Seeger (termed Dylan’s harshest critic that day) said:

“There are reports of me being anti-him going electric at the '65 Newport Folk festival, but that's wrong. I was the MC that night. He was singing 'Maggie's Farm' and you couldn't understand a word because the mic was distorting his voice. I ran to the mixing desk and said, 'Fix the sound, it's terrible!' The guy said 'No, this is what the young people want.' And I did say that if I had an axe I'd cut the cable! But I wanted to hear the words. I didn't mind him going electric.”

It was all a lie! The folk people didn’t mind him going electric that night. Someone else on the program had already gone electric and nobody had lost their cookies over it. This is just the result of some revisionist falling over himself to paint a titanic “Clash of the Cultures” when in fact there was none! “Bob’s going electric?” is more like it, “Well, what d’ya know? Wish we could hear the words.”

Now, if this is a big lie about a bedrock and undisputed fact, it must be conceded that it is not a big lie about a very important bedrock and undisputed fact. (Unless you are a musician, in which case it overshadows everything else) “Who cares?” is a reasonable reaction. However, though trivial—or maybe it is even magnified because it is trivial—it serves to illustrate the quicksand that those of critical thought stand upon as they presume to instruct those less mentally disciplined. As with the Christian ministry, the “ministry” of conveying human knowledge is carried in earthen vessels—humans. In fact, not just “earthen vessels,” but sievelike earthen vessels that leak most of the water before it ever gets to you. In fact, worse than sievelike earthen vessels that leak most of the water before it ever gets to you, but sievelike earthen vessels that leak the most of the water while various yo-yo’s are replenishing the supply with their own water, which turns out to be contaminated—so that what finally gets to you is not the real water at all.. I mean, if you can’t believe that the folk singers booed Dylan because they were elite and snooty, what CAN you believe?

This is only the beginning of the woes for ones who suppose that critical thinking will save us. For the ones steadfastly filling the leaky vessels are not the careful and wise ones, intent upon safeguarding knowledge. As often as not, they are yo-yos and liars, concocting their own version of events so as to sway viewpoints their way. Sometimes they are deliberate frauds. More often they are sincere persons truly doing their best but, since we are all molded and skewed by our own individual experiences, one must analyze in detail even the most mundane and obvious statement—in this case that the folk singers were shocked at Dylan changing the genre. With him, there is almost nothing that has been related accurately. Even his supposed leadership role as a counterculture icon is all wrong.

Are people inclined to analyze in detail even the most “mundane and obvious” statement? You know that they are not. But even when they are, the fact remains that nobody has the resources to do it—the disposable time of any given individual is very, very small. For many, it is effectively zilch. Plus, there is much to compete with that disposable time, and most often entertainment wins out over research. Stacking the odds even more is the habit of some to hide matters in a barrage of irrelevance (that is not to say that THEY regard it as irrelevance), muddying the waters, to the point where people say: “Ah, to blazes with it! They’re all liars anyway!” When this happens, as the saying goes, “the terrorists [to human knowledge] have won.”

And yet those of critical thought strut around on the world stage as though their grasp on the “facts” makes them invincible. It is as Jack Nicholson said to Tom Cruise in the movie: “You can’t handle the truth!” We leak away the true facts in no time at all, and compensate for it by tapping the minds of pillars who have also leaked away the true facts. 

Alas, “critical thinking” will not save us. It may even make matters worse, for who has not noticed that those who harp with greatest tenacity about critical thinking invariably assume that they have a lock on the stuff? One of our first conclusions as to critical thinking ought to be that we are not very good at it. Nope. It is the heart that will save us—not the head—the heart refined by spiritual principles that are true, that have emanated from a Higher Source, that have the greatest odds of mending the earthen, leaky, flawed vessels that are us.


Now, as long as we are at it with my hanging clothes on the clothesline until the repairman comes—if he comes, because when this post is written I will explore fixing it myself—I fixed the dishwasher, after all, when it did not heat, so maybe the dryer will also surrender its secrets to me, even though I still remember that time decades ago when I scorched the clothes in an attempt to fix another recalcitrant dryer. At any rate, Dylan’s Clothesline Saga comes to mind (I am done with ramifications to critical thinking; read on only if you care about Dylan):

After a while we took in the clothes

Nobody said very much

Just some old wild shirts and a couple pairs of pants

Which nobody wanted to touch

Mama come in and picked up a book

An' papa asked her what it was

Someone else asked, what do you care

Papa said well, just because

Then they started to take back their clothes

Hang 'em on the line

It was January the thirtieth

And everybody was feelin' fine


The next day, everybody got up

Seein' if the clothes were dry

The dogs were barking, a neighbor passed

Mama, of course, she said, hi

Have you heard the news he said with a grin

The vice president's gone mad

Where? downtown When? last night

Hmm, say, that's too bad

Well, there's nothing we can do about it, said the neighbor

It's just something we're gonna have to forget

Yes, I guess so said ma

Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet


I reached up, touched my shirt

And the neighbor said, are those clothes yours

I said, some of them, not all of them

He said, ya always help out around here with the chores

I said, sometimes, not all of the time

Then my neighbor blew his nose

Just as papa yelled outside

Mama wants you to come back in the house and bring them clothes

Well, I just do what I'm told so I did it, of course

I went back in the house and mama met me

And then I shut all the doors.

It took me years to realize that this song is a parody of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Jo,” which dominated the charts in 1967. That song revolves around a horrible tragedy—Billy Jo jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and what hidden and unnamed inner torment might have caused him to do that? The event is related in the first person at a rural Mississippi dinner table, where it must compete for attention with the most banal and ordinary conversation of the adults. It is a “teenage self-pity song,” as Garrison Keillor would have put it.

In Dylan’s parody, the conversation is even more banal, and the “tragedy” is outright ridiculous:

Have you heard the news he said with a grin/The vice president's gone mad

Where? Downtown When? last night/Hmm, say, that's too bad

Well, there's nothing we can do about it, said the neighbor/It's just something we're gonna have to forget

Yes, I guess so said ma/Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet

and Bob sings it in the most laid-back and uninterested drawl that is a hoot in itself. He really is pretty clever. Alas, I can no longer find it on YouTube. There is a pretty good version of it from The Roches, but to a purist, such as I used to think they were at the Newport Folk Festival, only original will do. It may even be that the song will get increased recognition in a modern context, from political zealots, on account of it underlying tragedy: “The Vice-President’s gone mad.”


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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)

(Note to self: cover Lise’s anecdote)

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Bob Dylan Croons With the Best of Them - Who'da Thunk?

So here I am checking out “Fallen Angels,” Bob Dylan crooning the classics, and …. He is amazingly smooth of voice. He reminds me of Jimmy Durante, himself a fallen angel – though not one included in the album. This is Bob Dylan we’re talking about, whose voice has grown so raspy that I imagine he will die halfway through some of his songs, and even when a hear them for the sixth time, I imagine the same.

When fallen angel Frank Sinatra fell many years ago, Dylan’s fellow musicians said nice things about him, the way they have to. What would Dylan say? I wondered. Probably nothing. Or maybe something brief like ‘sayonara.’ Hopefully not something crass, like “another one bites the dust,” but you never knew for sure, for a much younger Bob savaged Donovan and mocked the Time reporter in the Pennebaker film.

Instead, he graciously said “Sinatra influenced me in ways I didn’t realize.” His full-of-himself days are behind him. And now he does a tribute album to that same music, and it is worthy of the genre. Dylan has thus far released five discs covering songs of the crooners.

Sinatra packed out the Blue Cross Arena years ago when in his seventies. He forgot a few lines. “ah, well, what the hell” he shrugged as he chugged along, the fans forgiving, the band not missing a note.

“I am finding these great songs to be a tremendous source of inspiration that has led me to one of my most satisfying periods in the studio. I’ve hit upon new ways to uncover and interpret these songs that are right in line with the best recordings of my own songs, and my band and I really seemed to hit our stride on every level with Triplicate.” [released March 2017] – Bob Dylan

Image result for frank sinatra

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Bob Dylan Riles a Journalist

Bob Dylan took his tour to Beijing, but the authorities wanted to look over his play list first. Maybe there would be some songs they didn't like. So Bob figured he could live with that. He submitted his songs, and the authorities crossed out a few. He couldn't sing Desolation Row, for instance. But so what?.....Dylan's written hundreds of songs, and he mixes them up with each new concert. So he played his show with about 30 songs, like he always does, and the government was happy, he was happy, his musicians were happy, and the attendees were happy, just like my son and I were happy when we went to his Rochester concert at the Gordon Field House.

But columnist Maureen Dowd, from the New York Times, was not happy. “Bob Dylan may have done the impossible: broken creative new ground in selling out,” she fumed. Lately China has taken to jailing outspoken dissidents, she pointed out. They've not been nice to people too assertive in demanding change. But if Bob Dylan had stuck it to them, Maureen thinks, singing famous ballads like “The Times They Are a-Changing”.....Spirit of 60s well, doubtless 1960's flower-power would engulf the country, a new age of Aquarius would descend, and all would be peace and love in China, just like it is in...um...the United....uh...States, the land from which Dowd writes.

Now, Dowd picked the wrong ox to gore, as far as I'm concerned. Isn't Bob Dylan my favorite musical entertainer? But Dowd is a journalist and, yes...I admit it, I have mixed feelings about those folk. Aren't they direct descendents of that kid from school who was always going "to tell"? None of us could stand that kid. This was true even when there were things going down that deserved telling. That kid just had a strange personality, a little too given to sucking up and holding center stage.

Plus, journalists are too often subject to an unreasonable faith that humans, and especially human governments, have the answers to world problems. And that if you just shine the light of journalism upon this or that unsavory circumstance, those circumstances improve. Filling the public's “right to know”.....that's all that is lacking for peace and happiness to prevail! Thus, even good ol Joel Engardio, who's made the most honest documentary examination of Jehovah's Witnesses I've ever seen, left his JW upbringing as a teen, and pursued journalism, because he didn't want to wait for an improved world. He wanted to make it happen now, through journalism. Look, it's true that when you shine a bright light, the cockroaches vanish. But they don't cease to be cockroaches. They just go somewhere else. Put them out of commission, and it's like the Bullet used to say about swatting flies: kill one fly and fifty come to the funeral.

Lee Chugg used to reflect on how Awake's reporting, written by peers, could capture the actual views of whatever peoples it covered. Newsweek would send its own wildly over-educated correspondents into the barrios of this or that country, and the locals would tell them anything they wanted to hear. No one wants to be thought ignorant, and if reporters framed everything in terms of human solutions, political solutions, residents played right along. Probing a certain fellow, (I saw this recently on a BBC item) the man answered that he had faith in God. “Yes, yes, you have faith in God,” acknowledged the reporter, eager to get this useless bit of trivia behind him, but what about politicians? Do you have faith in politicians?” “Some politicians, but not all politicians,” was the reply. Ahh....now we're talking! Human efforts! And the interview proceeded from there, the BBC reporter having established the groundrules. Awake would have pursued his initial answer, taking for granted the general uselessness of politicians.

Common people today tend to liken governments to the unchangeable heavens, just as they did in ancient times. Regularly, that metaphor appears in the Bible. It fit perfectly then. It fits almost as well today. From the heavens back then would descend any sort of weather, blessing you one moment, cursing you the next, and you couldn't do anything about it. It's little different today in most parts of the world. Even in more democratic countries, it is mostly illusion that "the heavens" can be significantly changed, but people buy into that illusion to an astounding degree. I don't think Bob Dylan does. And I don't. And Jehovah's Witnesses don't.

But Maureen Dowd does, I think. Now, isn't Dowd one of those aging flower children from the 60's, you know, the decade of love, who remember fondly those days of war protest, getting stoned, love the one you're with, and bringing down Nixon (whom the Chinese like)? Ahhh...those glorious days when policemen were called “pigs.”* Those reveling youth of the '60's idolized Dylan, and Dowd does not take his betrayal lightly. “The idea that the raspy troubadour of '60s freedom anthems would go to a dictatorship and not sing those anthems is a whole new kind of sellout,” she mutters.

*a taunt that lasted until policemen themselves defused it, turning it into a badge of honor: PIGS = P(ride) I(ntegrity) G(uts) S(ervice)

But in all her Dylan-worshipping fervor, did she never notice that Dylan denied being a god? He never embraced the “spirit of the '60s,” much less try to lead it. Rather, he wrote the songs he did because people ate them up. “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." I almost (but not quite) think he regrets doing it, because he was so successful that the beatniks and sycophants back then seized him and tried to make him king. Now, they tried to do the same with Jesus, and Jesus escaped....

Hence when the men saw the signs he performed, they began to say: “This is for a certainty the prophet that was to come into the world.” Therefore Jesus, knowing they were about to come and seize him to make him king, withdrew again into the mountain all alone.      John 6:14-15

.....but Dylan wasn't so adept. He actually got stuck being king for a few decades, the leader of a movement he never liked! "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!”

Alright, alright. So he did walk off the Ed Sullivan show when Ed wouldn't let him sing the John Birch Talkin Blues (sending Maureen Dowd into an ecstatic swoon, no doubt). He was 22. In a huff over artistic integrity, most likely, and intrigued that his lyrics could so rile a guy three times his age. But in 1974 he said "It's never been my duty to remake the world at large, nor is it my intention to sound the battle charge."

Gasp!......is this to say that Bob Dylan doesn't care about injustice? My guess is that he does, but he also has the presence of mind to know it has little to do with human governments. Is there injustice in China? I don't doubt it for a second. It's the notion that there's not injustice elsewhere that's the rub. Different people suffer different forms of injustice, that's all. Human government doesn't stamp out injustice. Instead, it removes the hat of injustice from this head and puts it on that one. If there are things disagreeable about the Chinese system, there are also things agreeable, so that on balance, it's just another form of human government, with both strengths and weaknesses. Is it gauling to have one's freedom restricted by “guy's at the top?” Doubtless, it is. But the other side of the coin is that expressed by H. L. Mencken: "Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." Overall, human rulership is a mess. “Man ruling man” is the problem, rather than the specific form such ruling takes.

Or is it that the freedom human governments are able to grant is such a tiny subset of overall freedom that it hardly seems worth getting obsessed about? After all, a relationship with God points one toward freedom from death, and sin. I'll take those freedoms any day to the lesser freedoms humans (unreliably) promise. Oh, I suppose, like Dowd, I should rail about the Chinese authorities, because they are communist, and communists tend to ban Jehovah's Witnesses a lot, and that's who I am. It makes no sense at all for them to do this, but it happens nonetheless. If you want people guaranteed not to rebel or protest, fill your country with JWs. If you want your taxes paid, if you want your laws obeyed, if you want your people to be honest, to work and to mind their own business, fill up with JWs. Let them meet and speak about their faith, and they're happy. All other matters they keep in perspective.

The 1990 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses tells of a Canadian Witness child who was tested with regard to flag decorum. JWs don't salute the flag – an item that riles many a nation. She and another child were summoned separately to the principal’s office, where they found a Canadian flag draped across his desk. The non-Witness child was told to spit on the flag, and she did so, notwithstanding that she saluted it every day. Spitting must be okay….her teacher had told her to do it.  The Witness child was brought in and told to do the same. She would not do it. They tried to coax her. Since she didn’t salute, there’s no reason not to spit, they suggested. She held her ground. No, spitting would be desecrating the national symbol, she explained. Jehovah’s Witnesses respect the flag, though they do not worship it. Results were announced in class. Apparently, it was part of some civics lesson.

Now, the Western media – let us choose Dowd as it's representative – is obsessed with freedom from authority. If the U.S. establishment went down 50 years ago, maybe now is the time for China! Does Dowd swoon over memories of the '60s? Are Woodstock posters hanging in her home somewhere? Look, I lived through the '60s, just as she did. I always thought they were phony, and this is long before I became a Witness. Perhaps they weren't phony everywhere, but where I was, on the campus I traipsed, it all seemed just a big reason to party, to riot, to escape the “tyranny” of anyone who would tell us what to do. I followed fellow students, as did everyone, when they trekked into “downtown” Potsdam NY to vent their outrage over the war and stuff in general. I caught a whiff of pepper gas – man, you don't want to get remotely near that stuff! – when the police turned up. It was a wild party gone bad. Maybe there were sincere, mature protesters somewhere. I assume that there were. But I didn't see them.

Many a young person must have cursed their parents for bringing in the “spirit of the '60s.” For the '60s meant an explosion in STDs. Why is herpes widepsread today? Blame the spirit of the '60s. Look, people have always slept around – don't kid yourself – but it was not till the '60s that the changing world embraced sleeping around as a positive, a value to be passed on to the next generation. The '60s brought in a massive refocus on our “rights.” Not bad in itself, one might argue, but it was accompanied by a corresponding loss of interest on responsibilities. I can well understand how the Chinese government might want to safeguard citizens from that. It's not just old guys who want to secure their place at top of the heap, which is the only explanation Western media can imagine. “Generally the Chinese people are happy,” says one fellow who lives in Beijing, who I found somewhere on the internet, and, for the life of me, cannot find again, though I've tried. “Generally they are proud of China; and generally they think more change and freedom are needed. It will come because most of them want it, but they also want stability. It has been rough here the last 100 years or so, and people value the positive things while seeing the need for more.”

You know, I can't quite picture those government authorities sifting Dylan songs, trying to ….um....separate the sheep from the goats. All Dylan lyrics mean something, I suppose, but judging just what they mean is no piece of cake. Seldom are they political. But if you're a critic who can see things only that way, they can usually be teased for some political meaning. “That which is crooked cannot be made straight,” is the Bible statement regarding human governmental systems which might most readily represent his views. His lyrics are “hard on bosses, courts, pols and anyone corrupted by money and power.” They're “infused with subversion against all kinds of authority, except God.”

God comes out in the clear. Good. Bob's not starry eyed over human government. He knows injustice goes far beyond political systems. I like all this. Bob Dylan's not like Randy Newman. He's more like.....um....well.....me.


Read ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’     30% free preview

Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!


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And You Know Something is Happening But You Don't Know What it is.

When one year rolls into another, every blogger with even an ounce of social responsibility prepares a summary of the prior year‘s great events. Bloggers with more than an ounce actually wait until the year is over before posting their list, in case something happens during the final days of the old year. For example, the 2004 tsunami that took a quarter million lives struck December 26. Those impatient bloggers who just couldn’t wait and had to be the first ones out with their list missed it completely.

We at the Whitepebble Historical Society positively reek with social responsibility. That’s why the final days of 2007 were firmly in the can before I posted my list, just in case something should happen in those last few days. As it turned out, nothing did.

Now….the big Rochester event of 2007 is that Mr. Jones died, the same Mr. Jones that Bob Dylan sang about in Ballad of a Thin Man:

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, "Who is that man?"
You try so hard
But you don't understand
Just what you'll say
When you get home
Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?


Turns out that Mr. Jones was a real guy and he lived in Pittsford, not ten miles from my house. I had no idea. Until I read it in the Democrat and Chronicle Nov 13th, that is, and found that  Jones was a dorky kind of kid back then, a know-it-all most likely, and probably from the suburbs, ill-prepared to interview the inscrutable Dylan, yet given exactly that assignment by Time magazine back in 1965 at the Newport Film Festival. The young intern probably pitched a lot of  pseudo-hip questions at Dylan, and Bob threw it all back in his face the way he likes to do or at least used to.

Mr. (Jeff Owen) Jones went on to do a lot of things, the D&C reported, even working at that newspaper for awhile.  All his relatives said nice things about him at the funeral, how he was a regular guy and all, and how he finally settled in as a film professor at RIT (I wonder if he was at the concert) before he died of cancer at 63.

Regarding Dylan’s 40-year-old portrayal of him as an over-educated fool, the stuff music critics were made of back then (and now?), Mr. Jones had long been philosophical. After all, he reflected, Dylan was right enough: something was happening back then and no, he didn’t know what it was. Dylan appeared with electric guitar the next night at the folk festival, roughly the equivalent of farting in church. Wasn’t it just after that he released Like a Rolling Stone, the greatest song of all time according to Rolling Stone Magazine? Besides, Mr. Jones wasn’t even that uncool. He drove a Volkswagen. And he played the harmonica himself, just like Bob!

Jones’ death can’t be good news to the singer/songwriter. Weren’t they around the same age? And aren’t I not too far behind them? Bob is conscious of his mortality. Aren’t we all?

I see people in the park forgetting their troubles and woes
They're drinking and dancing, wearing bright colored clothes
All the young men with their young women looking so good
Well, I'd trade places with any of them
In a minute, if I could……..

The sun is beginning to shine on me
But it's not like the sun that used to be
The party's over, and there's less and less to say
I got new eyes
Everything looks far away

Highlands, from Time Out of My Mind, 1997

After putting this mortality interpretation on Dylan's words, I came across a source in which Bob denies that's what he meant. Rats! It reminds me of that scene from Up the Down Staircase (the book) in which a kid gets an 'F' for misinterpretting a poets' words. He tries hard to change his grade, but to no avail, even when he brings the poet himself to school and the poet says yes...the kid was right, that is exactly what he meant by his line! The kid's only bittersweet consolation is to know he's changed school policy; from then on the school only asks questions about dead poets.

And so I too am going to leave my interpretation right where it is. You'd think a songwriter would be able to interpret his own songs!

Other things happened in Rochester last year too, at least I think they did, but the reason I led with Dylan is because I have learned that if you want readership to go off the charts, you mention him. At least that’s what I discovered in October when I went to his concert at the Rochester Institute of Technology's Gordon Field House and posted about it afterwards. One of those Dylan fan sites picked up the post and I got over 1000 hits in a day. The only other time I even came close to that was when some anti-Witness forum site latched on to my blog and all participants had to take several looks and bat it around for days on end. Only, whereas feedback from my Dylan post was positive, feedback from the sorehead site ran more along the theme of  “can you believe this jerk!?”

I told Moristotle about my findings and he promptly put it into practice, sprinkling Dylan throughout his posts, whether it fit or not. I did the same for awhile, referring to Richard Dawkins and Bob Dylan, Ronald Reagan and Bob Dylan, Pope Benedict and Bob Dylan, and so forth. And now I’ve allowed him to top my 2007 great events list. Will lightning strike twice?

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At the Bob Dylan Concert

The machine spit out two tickets.  The Dylan concert was just one week away. “Wow, these are awesome seats, “ exclaimed the attendant. “I don’t know how that happened.”

I did, of course. It was on account of clean wholesome living. But why rub her nose in it….just one individual person? I kept my mouth shut. Better to post it all on the internet later.

I don’t go to many concerts. My wife, Mrs. Sheepandgoats, made me go to an outrageously priced Josh Grobin concert a year or two ago, but other than that, I can’t remember the last time I went to one. A couple of times with the kids, maybe, when they reached the age where they wanted to see this group or that group and I wasn’t real happy about it so I thought I would go along myself to hear what they were listening to, much to their embarrassment. That's how I found myself listening to Weezer at the Water Street Music Hall. Wasn't I the only grown-up there? Oh, and there was that Ani DiFranco concert a few years back that I attended with my daughter and son-in-law. Is Ani the next Bob Dylan? She's every bit the poet and innovator he was at that age. Her lyrics are a bit cruder, but then....it's a cruder age, isn't it?

Also, free concerts don’t count, such as the ones the city sponsors each year for the Lilac Festival. This year it was Maria Muldaur.

Bob Dylan is not a kid anymore. He tours a lot; his calendar lists 98 gigs in 217 days in Europe and North America. Doesn't he also host an XM radio show? I’ve never heard him live, not even last year when he made the rounds of minor league baseball stadiums, a cool idea if ever there was one. (Frontier Field in Rochester) His body of work is pretty broad by now, so I figured the time was right. I went with my son. Gordon Field House on the RIT campus. The attendant was right; ours were good seats, center stage, 5 rows back. I could have hit Dylan with a shoe and knocked off his hat had I wanted to.

For some reason they also let in the Democrat and Chronicle music critic, whom I haven’t trusted ever since he trashed Alanis Morrisetteonly because Alanis wouldn’t give him an interview. Had she paid her dues yet, so that she could snub The Critic? There was venom in his consequent review, so it seemed to me.

Sure enough, he trashed Bob Dylan as well, trying to make me mad. Dylan growled through his songs, he asserted. They were “incomprehensible.” People tolerated his old songs well enough, he groused, but got impatient with the new material. Actually, I  (5 rows back) hadn't noticed that. Frankly, the old & the new sound pretty much alike. Dylan doesn't have much range in his voice anymore, and he's rewritten his old material so he doesn't need range. That he can do so & get away with it (he did, handily) is testimony to his versatility. Seemed to me that everyone was pretty enthused and got more so as the night wore on. But if you came with your old Dylan records under your arm, looking forward to sound-alikes, you might have been bummed.

Furious, I came to Bob’s defense, and told off that Critic on his own blog. But to my chagrin, some sorehead bloggers also chimed in to agree with him. Ah, well…

I was slow to warm up to Dylan’s music. Highway 61 Revisited, with its Kafka-like lyrics, logically loose yet emotionally tight, did nothing for me until I revisited it years later. Then, the more I learned of Dylan, the more interesting he seemed. Any number of times he changed genres, without regard for what role he was “supposed to” play or who might be put off. He started as a folk singer, and the folk singing crowd soon imagined they owned him, so he was roundly booed when he first appeared with electric instruments. And you should have heard the born-agains when he released Slow Train Coming. He’d been saved! But by next album or two it was clear it had all been a ruse, or a short lived fad at best. He just wanted to play with that kind of music! Some of those born-agains tossed him right back into hell.

He broke the three minute song rule with impunity; he’d write songs however long he wanted to write them, sometimes five minutes, sometimes ten, sometimes more. He'd put ten syllables where there was only room for three, and get away with it. The media people would pound him with prying questions. He’d feed them nonsense, but they wouldn’t find out till later it was nonsense. When they complained he was being uncooperative, not answering their questions, he protested. He was cooperating; it's just that they were asking the wrong questions.  In this way he was able to raise a family in relative peace, and you get to know him through his work, not by what silly entertainment writers say about him. He fares well that way, for his lyrics paint him as a modest guy who values what is right. Has he ever penned anything mean-spirited?

Even now there’s some report about his treating his grandson's kindergarten class to a live show, just for fun. The boy brings him there for show-and-tell, I guess. I think I would ask him to do the same were I the teacher. "Hey, why don't you bring your grandpa in for show and tell?" But the classmates don’t quite know what to make of him. A source told the New York Post newspaper: "The kids have been coming home and telling their parents about the weird man who keeps coming to class to sing scary songs on his guitar”

Usually artists on stage will banter with the audience. Dylan didn't say a word to anyone. That's not to say he wasn't obliging. When they brought him back for an encore, he let loose with, not one, but two numbers, on top of an already generous concert. And then he appeared once again with the whole band to acknowledge applause, swaying back and forth himself. A few months after his concert, he again made newsin Rochester, in a roundabout sort of way.

Streaming out of the gymnasium onto the parking lot, we all had to make way for the Bob Dylan bus; actually two buses, the first towing a trailer. Headed to the next gig in Pittsburgh, getting an early jump.

Update here:



What Good Am I,  by Bob Dylan

What good am I if I'm like all the rest,
If I just turned away, when I see how you're dressed,
If I shut myself off so I can't hear you cry,
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don't do,
If I see and don't say, if I look right through you,
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin' sky,
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep,
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don't try,
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I've had every chance and yet still fail to see
Bridge: If my hands tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die,
What good am I?

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)