The Guardian‘s Richard Williams offers a preview of the “new” “Bob Dylan” album, created along the lines of Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Woody Guthrie records — old Basement Tapes-era lyrics, new music. ‘Everybody brought their A game,’ he said. ‘But you don’t record all 44 versions of these songs in 12 days by being precious about it.’”
New York Magazine music critic Jody Rosen argues Bob Dylan is having a laugh in his new Superbowl Chrysler ad. “Dylan hasn’t recorded a protest song in decades, but make no mistake: The car ad and the yogurt ad, they’re protests.”
“When Clint Eastwood did his Chrysler Super Bowl ad, he was introduced with a silhouette, and there was never any doubt; once Dylan appears the ad does everything short of superimposing a neon arrow labeled ‘Dylan’ and directed at him. At one point, he actually goes into a guitar store, stops, and brings his face close to a rack of books with his name and pictures on their covers.”
Meanwhile, The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson argues it was a dumb ad anyway. “It’s not even the best car ad Dylan has ever made; he did a better job for Cadillac.” (And for Victoria’s Secret, for that matter.)
Like Rosen, I think this was very much in keeping what Dylan does these days. And like Davidson, I thought the ad could have been better — Even the syncing of Bob’s voice and face seemed off.
My biggest issue, intentional or not, was that the sincerity of Bob’s pitch was completely undercut by the song in the background — “Things Have Changed”. It’s a little late in the day to try and repurpose Dylan’s existential classic, and an obvious riff off the almost snide self-assurance that Good Will Inherently Prevail in “The Times They-Are-A-Changin’,” into an upbeat marketing anthem.
“Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove…You can’t win with a losing hand…All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.” Theoretically, Bob is telling us to Buy American, Buy Detroit, but all I could hear was the ode to not giving a good-goddamn about a broken world anymore. “Highway 61″ or the jaunty “Stuck Inside of Mobile” would’ve made more sense.
As making the rounds today: Forty-eight years after that trademark snare-shot first “kicked open the door to your mind,” as Bruce Springsteen once put it, Bob Dylan’s seminal “Like a Rolling Stone” gets a spiffy official interactive video. I clicked on this yesterday and didn’t even notice the lip-syncing on every channel. In my defense, I may have gone to the finest schools alright, but I only used to get juiced in them.
The Roots on New Years’ Eve notwithstanding, I’ve been derelict about posting on live entertainment I’ve seen this year, like Louis CK in Baltimore, The Motherf**ker with the Hat at Studio Theater, The Last Five Years in Shirlington, Dean Fields in Arlington and The Postal Service at Merriweather Post.
All that being said, since there’s an especially clear precedent here — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 — I shouldn’t neglect to mention I caught my tenth Dylan show two weeks ago, as part of the Americana Music Festival (with Ryan Bingham, My Morning Jacket, and Wilco). Here’s the setlist:
Things Have Changed | Love Sick | High Water (For Charley Patton) | Soon After Midnight | Early Roman Kings | Tangled Up In Blue | Duquesne Whistle | She Belongs To Me | Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ | A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall | Blind Willie McTell | Simple Twist Of Fate | Thunder On The Mountain | All Along The Watchtower | Ballad Of A Thin Man
Perhaps it’s because the setlists are fluctuating less this tour, or he’s playing a shorter set, or he’s just inspired by the bands he’s touring with, but this was actually the best I’ve heard Bob sound in awhile. He seemed animated and his voice, while always gravelly these days, sounded more mellifluous than it’s been in many a moon. “Things Have Changed” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” are always favorites, but the highlight for me this time around was finally catching Blind Willie McTell live — You can see it as well above, thanks to Joanna’s Visions.
Also, due to the vagaries of having a job and all that — the festival started at 4:30pm over in Columbia, MD — we missed Ryan Bingham’s set and all but the last song of My Morning Jacket, but here was the evening for the Wilco-inclined (who were also very good):
Ashes of American Flags | Bull Black Nova | Blood of the Lamb | Christ for President | I Am Trying to Break Your Heart | Art of Almost | Jesus, Etc. | Can’t Stand It | Born Alone | Passenger Side | I Got You (At the End of the Century) | Heavy Metal Drummer | I’m the Man Who Loves You | Dawned on Me | A Shot in the Arm | The Lonely 1
Fifty years after his first album, and eleven years after a memorable 9/11 also brought forth Love and Theft, Bob Dylan’s Tempest drops today.
Update: Been settling in with the album tonight, and it’s already my favorite since Time Out of Mind. It’s very dark — Bob’s in full-on Blind Willie apocalyptic mode. This is dead land, this is cactus land. Eliot’s in the captain’s tower & the Titanic sails at dawn.
Speaking of which, what with the 14-minute titular track about the Titanic, “Desolation Row” obviously comes to mind. But there’s a little John Wesley Harding here as well — My early favorites are “Scarlet Town” and “Tin Angel,” the latter very much a frontier tale like “Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” or “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” and the opening track and first single, “Duquesne Whistle,” is much like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” in that it doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the album. Anyways, a few listens in, I really like it.
NPR’s All Songs Considered gets their hands on “Duquesne Whistle”, the first track from Bob Dylan’s forthcoming Tempest, due out September 11th. True, there is something Basement Tapesy about it upon first listen.
As breaking over the weekend, the Coens’ next project may well be a look at the sixties folk scene in Greenwich Village, based on the life of Dave Von Ronk — above, with Dylan and Suze Rotolo — and his memoirs, The Mayor of McDougal Street. He shouldn’t overpower the story, but I do hope Jack Rollins get his due.
As part of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday celebration in the pages of Rolling Stone — the actual date is May 24th — Bono, as one of many artists picking their favorite Dylan songs, sings the praises of the magazine’s namesake. Also of note: Sinead O’Connor on “Idiot Wind”: “The way he delivers the words is fantastic. This voice just snarling, not bothering to hide anything. The rest of us are all busy trying to be nice people, when actually we’re f**king bastards underneath it all – whereas he was quite comfortable letting the bastard hang out. He was way ahead of his time on that. The only people getting close to him now are rappers.“
And Rolling Stone isn’t alone with the encomiums: See also AARP Magazine’s 70th birthday tribute, which includes comment from Maya Angelou, Bill Bradley, Michael Bloomberg, Paul Shaffer, Bruce Dern, and a host of others. For example, here’s Nick Cave:
“I was sitting, on my own, in a bar, in New York — it was the first time I’d ever been to that city — and I went over to the jukebox to have a look at what was on offer. I saw a song, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ by Bob Dylan, and thought that that was a great title for a song, so I put it on, and that, as they say, was that. I was knocked down. What I heard seemed so simple, yet so full of ideas — chilling, funny, absurd, perverse, audacious, but heartfelt and mind-bendingly beautiful. I felt like grabbing the guy next to me and saying, ‘Did you hear that song?’ I felt like running out on the street and waving my arms around and yelling, ‘Hey! Has anyone ever heard of Bob Dylan?’ It was like I’d missed the moon landing or something.
So, I started a slow trawl backwards, down the years, through the records, and it was like stepping into Aladdin’s Cave — there it was, oceans of the stuff — all the terrible love and beauty you could ever want to hear.“
Suze Rotolo, author, activist, and Dylan muse, 1943-2011. “‘A Freewheelin’ Time’ is one of the first histories of the folk music years written from a woman’s perspective…it goes beyond gossip to ask a pointed question: How did it feel? Rotolo writes the era mattered because ‘we all had something to say, not something to sell.’“
What better way to celebrate eleven years of GitM than a ninth cuppa Bob (and my first in three years)? (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) The freewheeling Bob Dylan continued his never-ending tour Saturday night at George Washington University, and while the haters are hatin’, I knew what I was getting into — Dylan croaking his way through rockabilly versions of his classics — and had a grand ole time. Here’s the setlist:
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 | Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power) | Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues | Just Like A Woman | Rollin’ And Tumblin’ | Tryin’ To Get To Heaven | Summer Days | Desolation Row | High Water (For Charley Patton) | Simple Twist Of Fate | Highway 61 Revisited | Ain’t Talkin’ | Thunder On The Mountain | Ballad Of A Thin Man
So, if you’re keeping score, that’s a full five tracks from 1965′s Highway 61 Revisited. For me, the highlights of the evening were Ballad of a Thin Man, from that album, and especially Senor, from 1978′s Street Legal — one of my top 10 favorite Dylan songs (and one I missed during Bob’s 2005 Beacon stand.)
As far as the new stuff goes, I’d rather have heard any other Time Out of Mind track over “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” (well, except “Make You Feel My Love“), and “Ain’t Talkin’,’” off of 2006′s Modern Times sounds to me like Dylan trying a bit too hard to be Dylanesque. That being said, “High Water (for Charley Patton)“, off of 2001′s “Love and Theft (is that album really a decade old now?) sounded as lean, mean, and vital as I’d ever heard it. It’s rough out there, high water everywhere…but it’s good to know Bob’s still keep on keepin’ on regardless.
“Since then, Dylan has changed, nearly died, been reborn, gone electric, gone Christian, and gone back to his roots. But this recording captures him before all of that has happened, at age 22, eager, in a hurry, and alone in a tiny room on 51st Street in Manhattan.“
Slate columnist and Dylanologist John Dickerson spends some time with The Witmark Demos. “There are secret songs that would never be published and storytelling of a kind he later abandoned. We get to sit in on the sessions where his songwriting evolved, as he takes on the subjects of love, death, and war first from one angle and then another. And some of the songs are beautiful.“
“Songs performed by Dylan on this new album include, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus,’ ‘Winter Wonderland,’ ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and ‘Must Be Santa.” Put away the Mannheim Steamroller — In order to help Feeding America, the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan will release a holiday album, Christmas in the Heart, October 13. “It’s a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone — 12 million of those children – often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I…hope that our efforts can bring some food security to people in need during this holiday season.“
“Motorists who follow Dylan’s directions, however, may take some time to reach their destination. “I think it would be good if you are looking for directions and you heard my voice saying something like, ‘Left at the next street…. No, right… You know what? Just go straight.’ He added: ‘I probably shouldn’t do it because whichever way I go, I always end up at one place – Lonely Avenue.’” By way of a friend, Bob Dylan plans to voice a satellite navigation system. Yes, please.
“Ask Muhammad All why he fights one more fight. Go ask Marlon Brando why he makes one more movie. Ask Mick Jagger why he goes on the road. See what kind of answers you come up with. Is it so surprising I’m on the road? What else would I be doing in this life — meditating on the mountain? Whatever someone finds fulfilling, whatever his or her purpose is — that’s all it is.” As a companion to Douglas Brinkley’s recent cover story on “Bob Dylan’s America”, Rolling Stone publishes excerpts from their various interviews with Dylan over the years. (I haven’t read the Brinkley article — it’s not online — but that “United States of Bob” conceit is one Greil Marcus already pretty thoroughly explored in The Old, Weird America (nee Invisible Republic) — listen to “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” for a good intro on the subject, or consider how much antebellum history Dylan was able to squeeze into three verses in “As I Went Out One Morning.”)
In other Bob news, and in keeping with the trickster on the borderlands” persona Dylan adopts for much of the zydeco-flavored Together Through Life, there’s a thin line between love and hate in the surprisingly violent new video for “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” exclusively over on IFC. “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” it isn’t. At best, you can consider it in keeping with a traditional murder-ballad-type ditty like “Delia’s Gone,” I guess. But those who believe Dylan has serious problems with women are going to find plenty of ammunition here. (And that’s before they even get to “My Wife’s Home Town.”)
“There didn’t seem to be any general consensus among my listeners. Some people preferred my first period songs. Some, the second. Some, the Christian period. Some, the post Colombian. Some, the Pre-Raphaelite. Some people prefer my songs from the nineties. I see that my audience now doesn’t particular care what period the songs are from. They feel style and substance in a more visceral way and let it go at that. Images don’t hang anybody up. Like if there’s an astrologer with a criminal record in one of my songs it’s not going to make anybody wonder if the human race is doomed. Images are taken at face value and it kind of freed me up.” On the official site, Bob Dylan talks about his new album, Together Through Life, due out April 28.
“Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide –
the chance won’t come again.” As in the original comic, two Dylan songs bookend Zack Snyder’s ambitious, admirable, and flawed adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, the critically-acclaimed tale of the rise and fall of Cold War superheroes (which I’ve now seen twice.) The first, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” comes direct from Dylan himself, and scores the impressive, easter egg-filled opening credit montage that is one of the highlights of the film. Here, Snyder has taken the world of Watchmen, fused it with some quality Bob, and made something transporting and uniquely filmic. (Fanboys and fangirls, note the original Nite Owl saving the Waynes. By the way, Dylan, US History, and superheroes — yes, this sequence is easy for me to love.)
On the other hand, over the end credits, we get a a truly terrible version of “Desolation Row” by My Chemical Romance, whom I’m not particularly familar with but who, on the basis of this cover, would seem to be derivative, talentless hacks. Now, I’m not averse to Dylan played fast and loud. To hear it done right, check out Rage Against the Machine excavating the angry heart of “Maggie’s Farm”, or the White Stripes’ live takes on “Isis” or “Lovesick”, or, of course, Jimi’s “All Along the Watchtower” (also in the movie, right where it is in the book.) But MCR have completely missed both the power and the poetry of “Desolation Row,” and just play it fast, sloppy, and nu-punk like the faux-Green Day cover band (which makes them faux-faux-Pistols) they seem to be.
If I’ve spent a lot of time here talking about these two Dylan songs at the onset instead of Watchmen, it’s because they mirror the dichotomy present in the film. In certain sequences like the opening credits, Snyder manages to catch lightning in a bottle and really bring elements of the graphic novel to life, albeit in truncated form. There are moments in the movie, usually involving Rorschach or Dr. Manhattan, where I was struck by the sheer sensation of seeing the book leap off the page. (Short plot summary for the uninitiated: In an alternate-America 1985, on the eve of what appears to be nuclear Armageddon, one of a dwindling band of ex-superheroes is murdered in (and then out of) his New York City apartment. Rorschach, a borderline-psychotic right-wing vigilante who dresses like Philip Marlowe and rasps like Christian Bale, wants to know why. It’s a dangerous question.) The altered ending notwithstanding, it’s somewhat amazing to me that we got a Watchmen movie this close to the source material, and, by all accounts, Snyder had to fight tooth and nail with the studio suits for every cynical, resolutely uncommercial facet of it.
But, at other times, Snyder’s bad habits sadly leak through and undeniably taint the end product, most notably in the gratuitous violence present here. In interviews, Snyder can sometimes come off as a geekier version of the white fratboys in Harold and Kumar. (“Dude, that’s so extreme!“) And that better-harder-faster mentality results in some serious whiffs along the way in Watchmen, when Snyder ratchets up the gore and bone-breaking at the expense of the story. However close the movie gets to gorgeously capturing Manhattan’s reveries on Mars (although I wish the Doc’s living in an endless now was better emphasized.), it basically drops the ball completely on Rorschach’s “origin” (which I quoted in my pre-movie post), mainly because Snyder sidesteps the existential horror of Kovacs’ story to amp up the violence of it. In the comic, Kovacs has pierced the veil of the sheltering sky and discovered all is blackness. In the movie, he just seems to be on a torture-porn killing spree. Same goes for a scene involving Dan (Nite-Owl) and Laurie (Silk Spectre) getting jumped by the Top Knots gang in a dark alley. It’s bone-crushingly brutal when it doesn’t need to be, actually has these two kiling people Rorschach-style, and seriously detracts from the more interesting scene it’s intercut with, that of Dr. Manhattan inadvertently exposing his disinterest in humanity in an interview with Ted Koppel.
Now, as with loud, angry Dylan covers, I’m not averse to gore or over-the-top violence when it serves the narrative. To take an example, there’s a scene involving human entrails stuck to the ceiling (don’t you want to see this now?) which is also overly Snyderish, but I think works in context. (The voiceover is making Hollis Mason’s point that, with the arrival of Dr. Manhattan (i.e. the advent of atomic weaponry), the superhero game has forever changed — it’s no longer gallantly nabbing bankrobbers and pursesnatchers with a few “Wham! Pow!” four-color blows, but something much darker and more lethal.) But Snyder’s Watchmen is unnecessarily violent at the wrong times (see also Big Figure’s henchmen), and then inexplicably goes soft at the moments when gore is virtually required. I’m referring here to the consequences of the Big Plan, which feel strangely weightless in the movie, partly because (in this cut) no characters we’ve been following are anywhere close to Ground Zero and partly because, unlike every other action sequence in the movie, it’s all very PG-13 all of a sudden. (Contrast this with the opening of Chapter 12 in the comic, which is basically several pages of horrific imagery, unlike anything we’ve yet seen in the story.) Now, I’m willing to bet dollars-to-donuts that 9/11-squeamish studio types were unyielding about the soft-pedaling of the climax here (which, by the way, is elegant in its own way even without the squid.) Still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that, while Moore and Gibbons used violence in their tale to comment on its awfulness (and the awfulness of The Plan), Snyder often just uses it because it’s like, totally extreme.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no idea how it plays to people unfamiliar with the comic, but for the rest of us, there’s a lot to like here. Even notwithstanding some godawful, cringe-inducing age and Nixon make-up (I guess everyone was busy on Benjamin Button) and one of the worst movie sex scenes in recent memory (I’m offended on behalf of Leonard Cohen), Watchmen is a better film than some of the critical pans make it out to be. Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach is especially dead-on, and is rightfully drawing most of the acting kudos right now — This should be a career-defining role for him. But Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan and, surprisingly, Patrick Wilson’s Nite-Owl are also pretty close to note-perfect. (So too is Matt Frewer’s Moloch, who absolutely nails his big moment — “You know that kind of cancer that you get better from eventually? Well, that ain’t the kind of cancer I got.”) And Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian and Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias grow on you, even if Ozy seems a bit charisma-starved compared to his comic counterpart. (As for Malin Ackerman’s Silk Spectre…uh, well, let’s just say she’s in it too.)
So, in short, I liked the movie, would recommend it to readers and non-readers alike, and thought even more of it the second time around when I was less burdened by expectations. (Yes, it’s wayyyy better than 300, and I’m looking forward to the 30-minute longer cut, which is rumored to spend more time with Rorschach’s shrink and the two Bernards.) Still, it’s hard to shake the nagging sense that the things I really liked about Watchmen would’ve made it into any reasonably faithful movie version, and that a different director than Snyder might’ve brought about a better, richer film in the end.
Still, as my old boss was wont to say: We don’t need people who get the ball to the twenty-yard line; we need people who can bring it over the goal line. And, for better or worse, Snyder got this ball over the goal line where Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, and Paul Greengrass couldn’t. Let’s give credit where it’s due: After twenty years of trying, they actually made a Watchmen movie, and it ended up being surprisingly close to the source material and not at all an embarrassment or cash grab. I presume the Rorschach types probably loathe this end result, compromised as it is in certain places. But for the rest of us, I’d say this new Utopia, however flawed at times, is close enough for government work.
Don’t get up, gentlemen — he’s only passing through: Rolling Stone gets word of a “surprise” Bob Dylan album coming out next month(!) “The magazine quotes an anonymous insider who says the 10-song set’s arrival ‘came as a surprise’ to those around the folk-rock legend. The currently untitled album reportedly centers on ‘raw-country love songs, sly wordplay and the wounded state of the nation.’“
“In the lower courts, according to a study Professor Long published in the Washington & Lee Law Review last year, Mr. Dylan is by far the most cited songwriter. He has been quoted in 26 opinions. Paul Simon is next, with 8 (12 if you count those attributed to Simon & Garfunkel). Bruce Springsteen has 5.“
With great lawyers, you have discussed lepers and crooks: By way of Ted at the Late Adopter, the NYT examines Chief Justice Roberts’ use of Dylan in court opinions. “Mr. Dylan has only once before been cited as an authority on Article III standing, which concerns who can bring a lawsuit in federal court…The larger objection is that the citation is not true to the original point Mr. Dylan was making, which was about the freedom that having nothing conveys and not about who may sue a phone company.”
“‘Actually, one of my favorites during the political season is “Maggie’s Farm,”‘ Obama said of one of Dylan’s tracks. ‘It speaks to me as I listen to some of the political rhetoric.‘” But does he like the RATM version? While doing the obligatory secrets-of-his-iPod conversation with Rolling Stone — he’s a huge Stevie Wonder fan, which explains “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” on the trail — Sen. Obama sings the praises of Dylan. (Dylan did the same of Obama earlier this month.)
“You should always take the best from the past, leave the worst back there and go forward into the future.” Take that, Sean Wilentz. In an interview with The Times (concerning his touring art show), the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan backs Barack Obama. “Well, you know right now America is in a state of upheaval. Poverty is demoralising. You can’t expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor. But we’ve got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up…Barack Obama. He’s redefining what a politician is, so we’ll have to see how things play out. Am I hopeful? Yes, I’m hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to.”
“There he lies. God rest his soul, and his rudeness. A devouring public can now share the remains of his sickness, and his phone numbers. There he lay: poet, prophet, outlaw, fake, star of electricity. Nailed by a peeping tom, who would soon discover…even the ghost was more than one person.“
Whatever happens in IN and NC, at least we’re all assured of one excellent piece of news on Tuesday: My favorite film of 2007, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, comes out on DVD tomorrow. (See also my pre-Oscar Youtube appreciation.) Due to my imminent move, I’m mostly divesting myself of extraneous possessions at the moment. Still, I’m very much looking forward to picking this up tomorrow.
They may have lost some luster due to Scott Templeton garnering one for the Whiting/Klebanow regime. Nevertheless, the 2008 Pulitzers were announced yesterday, and they included 6 for the WP, Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought in the history category and a special citation to the freewheeling Bob Dylan “for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” Well, ok then.
“Lisa Bonet ate no basil, Warsaw was raw. Was it a car or a cat I saw? Rise to vote, sir. Do geese see God? ‘Do nine men interpret?’ ‘Nine men,’ I nod.” By way of THND, Weird Al Yankovic channels Dylan through palindromes, in the manner of “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” I’m Not There, and “Royal Jelly.” (McCain palindrome via here.)
As the Oscars are tomorrow night (remember to get your entries in for the annual Web Goddess Oscar Pool), as my favorite film of 2007 got snubbed in most categories, and as I spent an hour or two last night trawling around Youtube (which reminded me, for example, how irredeemably goofy the ending of There Will Be Blood was), here are some musical clips from the year’s maligned masterpiece, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. (Note: The Weinstein Company has posted almost all of Cate Blanchett’s performance for Oscar purposes, but I wouldn’t recommend watching those clips unless you’ve already seen the movie, since they’re taken from all over the place and disrupt the careful interweaving of all 6 Dylans.)
“Ballad of a Thin Man“: There’s something happening here, but BBC’s Keenan Jones (Bruce Greenwood) don’t know what it is…other than that it somehow involves Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), Stephen Malkmus, circus geeks, and the Black Panthers.
“Going to Acapulco“: In downtown Riddle, Billy Story (Richard Gere) attends the public funeral of young Mrs. Henry. She has slit her own throat, an ominous harbinger of dark times to come. (That’s Jim James of My Morning Jacket in the Dylanesque whiteface, along with Calexico.)
“When the Ship Comes In“: Wunderkind Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) wows some kindly Middle American folk with his musical wherewithal.
(Obama silhouette pic via a friend/colleague at Peasants Under Glass, where we talked about some of the following in the comments.)
Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones? Let’s go back a few days to Friday, just after Iowa, at the 100 Club Dinner in Milford, NH: “What you need to understand about the dinner and the venue is this: it was supposed to be a Clinton room.” The Clinton advance people had secured the best tables at the front, so all the formidable Granite State luminaries who’ve backed Hillary could show their strength, and show the Iowa upstart how things work in “independent” New Hampshire. Meanwhile, the Obama voters had been shunted to the back of the room, far away from the podium, the cameras, and the action. All well and good…except it didn’t work out that way. The legions of Obama voters surged to the front just before his speech and, by most accounts, blew the Clinton operation out of the room. “‘I’m really worried about him,’ said [Beverly] Hollingworth, a member of the state’s Executive Council and a former state senator, as she headed for the door. ‘Other people have been working their whole life for change, and have made good progress. This is just rhetoric.‘” And you know something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mrs. Hollingworth?
Fast forward to this morning, where George Stephanopoulos held his usual This Week roundtable at the site of last night’s Manchester debate: Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, George Will, and Donna Brazile. For his part, Will seems to be among the “national greatness,” “Morning in America” civic conservatives — such as Peggy Noonan and particularly Andrew Sullivan — who’ve responded to Obama’s candidacy, and see elements of their beloved Reagan in his crossover appeal. (No doubt anti-Hillary schadenfreude is playing a considerable part too.) Brazile, who worked the comment desks at CNN on Iowa night, had already said her piece last Thursday, and didn’t add much this Sunday morning.
But those venerable dinosaurs of the Beltway punditariat, Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson, were virtually beside themselves that the Insider candidate seemed to be going down in flames, and soon proved themselves absurdly in the tank for Clinton. Cokie sneered at the constancy of Obama’s youth appeal: “Young people, as much as we’d like to see them active in politics, are notorious for not showing up when you need them.” She then went on to parrot Clinton’s most recent talking points. (Consider “It’s a lot of talk, when the reality is, change will happen,” or “She embodies change just by being the first woman who might be elected president.”)
Donaldson, meanwhile, got bogged down in a wish-fulfillment metaphor about the old champ wearing down the young hotshot (i.e. The Hustler, with Obama as Fast Eddie and Clinton as Minnesota Fats) and huffed and puffed with aggrieved authority, “I agree with Bill Richardson, experience is not a leper!…She’s the only one who brought up the economy, did you notice? Anyone could’ve said look, we may go into a recession here, there’s hard times. Only Senator Clinton — with her experience, if you will — managed to bring it up!” (You heard it here first, folks. Obama is too inexperienced to have considered the possibility of a recession.) “We’re always looking for the non-candidate, the non-politician, and we’d think that’d be great, Donaldson intoned. “But, George, when you have a toothache, most of the people here go to the dentist that’s drilled teeth for a long time, I think that’s where the country could turn out.” (Note here that it’s Edwards, not Obama, running the standard outsider-against-the-Washington-ramparts campaign that Donaldson is decrying.)
Now, on one hand, who cares what Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts think? Not only are they so completely invested in the Beltway power structure that it’s in their very marrow, but they’ve been living the sheltered life of the television Green Room for decades now. (So, it seems, has ABC’s Charlie Gibson, who showed last night during the Manchester debate that he thinks a two-academic family makes $200,000 a year. Uh, Charlie, try $3,000 a class.) As I know from considerable personal experience, the higher echelons in Washington invariably turn up their noses at candidates with outside-the-Beltway appeal, and tend to view them as interlopers worthy of ridicule (or, if they catch a spark, vitriol. At its most extreme, this is how you get Senator Clinton angrily exclaiming in 2000 that killing Ralph Nader “might not be a bad idea.”) In short, Sam and Cokie, like countless other members of the Washington media machine, see themselves as bastions of the Beltway order, keepers of the flame, and they don’t like any provincial outsiders upsetting the established status quo. All the more reason why Obama is causing them great consternation: “You’ve been with the professors and they all like your looks. With great lawyers, you have discussed lepers and crooks. You’ve been through all of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s books. You’re very well-read, it’s well known. But, something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is…“
On the other hand, if we peel away their affronted Beltway dismay about Obama’s upstart candidacy, Sam, Cokie, and Mrs. Holllingworth’s views speak to arguably the biggest open question about the Illinois Senator’s broad-based appeal, and the one demographic factor that most threatens his winning New Hampshire, and the nomination: the generation gap. Pulling up the Iowa numbers again: “Among all caucus-goers under age 45, a smashing 50 percent supported Obama, compared with just 17 percent for Edwards and 16 percent for Clinton. Among those under 30, Obama went even higher, to 57 percent. Among seniors, by contrast — nearly a quarter of participants — it was Clinton 45 percent, Edwards 22, Obama 18.” Obama pulled young voters out in droves in Iowa, and I think he shows every indication that he can do it again in New Hampshire and beyond. Still, as Cokie snarkily reminded us, older voters are consistent voters. And, allowing that individuals mostly defy easy groupings and follow the dictates of their conscience, the Boomers as a generation are clearly not sold on Obama just yet. So, what’s going on here?
Part of it, I think, was explained by Andrew Sullivan a few months ago in the Atlantic Monthly: “Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America — finally — past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us…If you are an American who yearns to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today’s actual problems, Obama may be your man.” Senator Obama has since furthered this line of argument himself, telling Newsweek‘s Joe Klein that he aims to move past “the dorm fights of the ’60s.” To younger voters, the culture wars that raged from the sixties to the nineties just don’t resonate. They seem like ancient history. To older voters, who lived through the experience and witnessed time and time again how low today’s GOP will sink in their pursuit of power, this past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.
This is why, Sullivan continued in the Monthly, Clinton’s methodical (some might say calculating) persona and incrementalist approach doesn’t seem to rankle older voters nearly as much as it does those under 45. “[S]he has internalized what most Democrats of her generation have internalized: They suspect that the majority is not with them, and so some quotient of discretion, fear, or plain deception is required if they are to advance their objectives. And so the less-adept ones seem deceptive, and the more-practiced ones, like Clinton, exhibit the plastic-ness and inauthenticity that still plague her candidacy. She’s hiding her true feelings. We know it, she knows we know it, and there is no way out of it.” To many older liberals and progressives, who’ve experienced one dismal setback after another since the heydays of the New Frontier and Great Society, the Clintonian brand of cautious pragmatism often seems the only viable approach to moving the country forward. Put simply, you get burned enough times, you stop using the stove. This time, irony isn’t the shackles of youth, but of their parents.
The sheer fact of Clinton and Obama’s presidential candidacies, I think, also plays a part in the wide generation gap. The great liberal and progressive victory of the Boomers, one that merits them the moniker “greatest generation” just as readily as fighting WWII does their parents, is the sweeping and (for the most part) successful cultural transformation of race and gender in American life. This is not to say that racism and sexism don’t continue to fester in America, both individually and institutionally — Of course they do, and they’re all the harder to root out for having gone underground. But, thanks to the civil rights revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, younger people tend to view race, gender, and other issues of identity as much more fluid concepts than most Boomers do. While many older voters still possess vividly etched memories of separate drinking fountains, grotesque sexism in the workplace, and fire hoses trained on children, Generations X, Y, and Z grew up sharing a multiracial consumer culture of MTV, The Cosby Show, hip-hop, Tiger Woods, Eminem, etc. Similarly, I think it’s safe to say that people under 50 are much more likely to have had a female boss at one point or another. (Counting ‘em up, I’ve worked under more women than men, and I doubt I’m in a slim minority on that point.)
Put simply, and while being careful not to overstate the case, categories like race and sex just don’t seem as defining to the youth of today. Boomers fashioned this new world through blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice, but — like Moses at the Promised Land — they can’t enter it as readily as their children and grandchildren. This is part of the reason, I think, why, anecdotally speaking, older columnists seemed so much more taken aback by Obama’s victory in lily-white Iowa. This also partly explains why Clinton seems to enjoy the strong support of older women. They remember a considerably lower and less permeable glass ceiling — and the considerable struggle it required to break it — while many younger women seem to more readily presume (as I do) that sex isn’t really a barrier to the presidency anymore.
Now, the response to an older Clinton voter to all of these arguments thus far might be something along the lines of “Just you wait…We know better than you, sonny. Obama may seem like a rock star, but we can see there’s no substance to him.” But, it doesn’t do any dishonor to older voters to suggest in return that maybe this is the moment to forsake a lifetime of dashed hopes and bet on the possibility that the time for a new, expanded progressive coalition has finally come. This is not an easy thing to do. As accomplished and dedicated a reformer as Jane Addams, part of a progressive generation for which I have great empathy, couldn’t bring herself to vote for Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and she was not alone.
Still, there’s something strikingly dismaying about watching Clinton and other members of her generation dismiss Obama’s message as merely “false hope” (a particularly vicious phrasing) and empty rhetoric. This is the same generation who recoiled from the tested, experienced establishment candidate in 1960, despite his considerable national security credentials, and flocked to the young, hopeful standard of Camelot. This is the same generation who, buoyed by the words of Dr. King, swelled the ranks of the civil rights movement, and who — disgusted by the continuance of a badly thought-out war overseas — was inspired by the moving oratory and surprising crossover appeal of Robert Kennedy.
Those leaders were all tragically taken from us, of course, two of them forty years ago this spring and summer. It’s maddening to think of how the past four decades might’ve played out had we the opportunity of their continuing leadership and inspiration. And it’s been a long time, far too long, since we’ve seen anyone on the left who can be mentioned in the same breath as those fallen leaders without hyperbole. But, look at those Iowa numbers again. Maybe, just maybe, that wheel has finally come full circle. Maybe, Senator Barack Hussein Obama is the real deal. Maybe he’s the candidate who can transcend the sad political paradigm we’ve been operating under since 1980 and bring about that long overdue progressive realignment. We’ve only seen one caucus, of course, but the game moves fast in 2008, and all the indicators seem to suggest he’s got “it.” If you’re not going to stake a chance on him now, what, then, are you waiting for?
I started this entry with a Bob Dylan song. I’ll end with another, one I listened to on Friday for the 1,000th time and “heard” like it’s the first time. (It sounds completely different when unburdened for a few moments by the ironic punchline of the years after 1968.) If it seems like GitM has become all-Obama, all-the-time since last Thursday, well, there’s a good reason for it. Right now, I truly believe we’re standing at a crossroads moment, one that could all too easily become evanescent, another missed opportunity in a political lifetime that doesn’t offer many of them. But if, on Tuesday, New Hampshire nurtures the spark set in Iowa last week, and Nevada and South Carolina kindle the blaze, we could be looking at a full-fledged progressive wildfire across the nation come SuperduperTuesday. So, to the older voters — and to any voters — who, for whatever reason, may be harboring doubts about Barack Obama, give him another look. We’re at the first hinge of 2008, and what we do in the next few days and weeks will echo profoundly throughout the next several years of our governance. The old road is rapidly agin’, y’all. So please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand, for the times, they could be a-changin’.
Charles, Cash, Curtis, Dylan, Strummer…Given the glut of rock biopics and documentaries we’ve seen in recent years, it’s well past time that influential musical chameleon Dewey Cox got his due. Unfortunately, just as James Mangold’s Walk the Line felt too staid and conventional to capture the true appeal of the Man in Black, Jake Kasdan’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story — which I saw in the days before Christmas — never really gets inside the head of the Giant Midget. Sure, it covers most of the important facts about his life — the childhood tragedy, the struggle with smell-blindness, the breakout single, the dark f**king middle period, the LSD decade, the selling out. But, while John C. Reilly does what he can as Cox (and the resemblance is admittedly uncanny), I never felt while watching Walk Hard that Kasdan actually “got” the man or his music…or his monkey or giraffe, for that matter. Given his famous father and his earlier affiliation with Freaks & Geeks, Kasdan seemed like he would be the guy to do Cox justice, but this is sadly a missed opportunity. It’s just too bad Todd Haynes was busy with I’m Not There…Once again, nearly fifty years after the fact, Zimmerman will be walking-hard away with all Dewey’s laurels.
Kasdan’s take on Dewey’s story begins just before Cox’s final performance at the Lifetime Achievement Awards — You may remember Eddie Vedder’s memorable tribute speech, and the Jewel/Lyle Lovett/Jackson Browne/Ghostface Killa mash-up of “Walk Hard” got a lot of radio run over that summer — before flashing back to that defining moment in the White Indian’s life as a boy, the famous accidental cleaving-in-two of his prodigy brother. (“I’m cut in half pretty bad, Dewey.“) Rallying to his brother’s fallen musical standard, the teenage Dewey soon finds himself thrown out of the house, married young (to Edith, as played by SNL’s Kristen Wiig), and working as a busboy at a local black club, where he one day wows the crowd with a version of his early hit, “(Mama) You Got to Love Your Negro Man.” Soon thereafter, he lands a band and a record contract, and after the cutting of “Walk Hard,” the rest is history: Cox buys a monkey, lapses into a vicious drug habit, falls for his voluptuous backup singer Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer), gets clean, lapses into another vicious drug habit…well, you know the rest.
Ok, ok, let’s go ahead and break the fourth wall. As a played-straight parody of the rock biopic genre, Walk Hard is admittedly uneven most of the time. But, it makes for a relatively amusing two hours if you’re in the mood for it. It’s nowhere near as funny as the original Airplane or Top Secret, but I’d say it holds its own with the Hot Shots flicks, and it’s miles above Scary Movie and its ilk. Yes, the film can be unfocused and scattershot (There’s even a decently funny recurring gag involving the kitchen sink.) A lot of the jokes seem like leftovers from the last Will Ferrell script, and, like Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America, Walk Hard occasionally follows the beats of its object of parody so closely that the movie loses its edge. Still, there are definitely some quality moments therein, from Tim Meadows trying not to seduce a naive Dewey into a marijuana habit to Cox meeting Buddy Holly (Frankie Muniz, inspired casting) and the Fab Four (Surprisingly, Justin “Mac Guy” Long is far and away the funniest as George, while Jack Black’s Paul is woefully bad and Paul Rudd’s John is just…strange.)
At any rate, I’m not going to give all the jokes away here, suffice to say that Cox’s black-and-white Dylan period tickled my funny bone the most. Dewey does two Dylanesque ditties here: The first, “Royal Jelly”, is a gloriously inscrutable poetic epic a la “Desolation Row” (“Mailboxes drip like lampposts from the twisted birth canal of the coliseum, rimjob fairy teapots mask the temper tantrum, O say can you see ‘em?“) [See it live.] The other, “Let Me Hold You (Little Man)“, is an un-PC The Times They Are A Changin’ screed directed at the injustice faced by all the, uh, little people. (“Let me hold you, midget man, pretend that you’re flying in space. Let me hold you, little man, so the dog will stop licking your face.“) High art it’s not, and I can’t recommend rushing out and seeing it or anything. But, for a few solid chuckles over the course of two hours, Dewey Cox and Walk Hard deliver the goods decently enough. Someday — perhaps soon, given that Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, and Drillbit Taylor are all due next year — the helium will probably leak out of the Judd Apatow comedy factory’s balloon. But Cox, thankfully enough, isn’t the canary in the coalmine just yet.