Sunday, November 30, 2008
Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
Can't help but wonder what's happenin' to my companions,
Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it'll take to bring
All their earthly principles they're gonna have to abandon?
Who knew a song written nearly 30 years ago would be so relevant three decades later? I don't think any of us would put it past Bob Dylan.
Now, the last I want to do is knock the arts. Artistic expression—in whatever form it bubbles to surface—is something that should be praised, protected and preserved.
So why am I out to tear the arts a new one? Because there is a slow train coming, my fellow Disgruntled Dylanologists, and it ain’t running on coal—it’s running on oil.
The future is bright in the Persian Gulf. The horizon, it seems, is even brighter. Because in the months to come, oil derricks won’t be the only structures rising up from the white-hot Arabian sands.
In the last year alone, nearly every member of OPEC has commissioned a ‘cultural arts’ center. Shining, sparkling, glowing celebrations of the world’s artistic heritage in a land formerly awash in sand dunes.
First, there’s the King Abdulaziz Center, a sprawling, 400-acre compound consisting of a museum, library, theater, cinema and more. And here’s the best part… the whole thing is dedicated to one, singular objective: The history of oil in Saudi Arabia. This, of course, makes complete sense when you consider who’s footing the bill—Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company.
And then there’s the newly-commissioned Louvre Abu Dhabi, set to open sometime in 2012. Let’s be honest. Most of the world couldn’t find Abu Dhabi on a map if they tried. And while the city has been in existence for nearly 3,000 years, it wasn’t even on the map until 1958. Guess what they found in 1958? (HINT: What’s black and gold and greases the palms of politicians the world over?)
No museum, however, is more impressive than the Museum of Islamic Art, which opened last week in Qatar. But it isn’t what the Museum of Islamic Art houses that’s so impressive— it’s where it houses them.
One of the guidelines for the project enacted by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei was that his 376,740-sq.-ft. museum rise from its own island in the Arabian Gulf in Doha Qatar. An island in the middle of an Arabian oasis. It drips with irony, not to mention $1.6 billion in oil money.
Listen, I’m not coming down on the OPEC nations for wanting to celebrate the arts. And I’m certainly not criticizing them for wanting to preserve their own cultural heritage. The fact that anyone is willing, much less able, to make an investment in the arts in this day and age is something we should all stand up and take note of. And that’s precisely my point…
A large part of the reason that arts funding is being cut faster than a punk in a back alley knife fight in America and abroad is that the world economy is in shambles. Money that should be spent on schools, roads, education, and the arts is being siphoned off at an alarming rate to fund a war to protect the countries who are crippling us in the first place.
I guess there’s an upside to the fact that Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Qatar are building monuments while the rest of the world build ships and boats. At least we’ll know everything that’s important to us will be safe when the deal goes down.
The irony, of course, is that we certainly had plenty of forewarning. Bob saw that slow train coming nearly 30 years ago...
All that foreign oil controlling American soil,
Look around you, it's just bound to make you embarrassed.
Sheiks walkin' around like kings, wearing fancy jewels and nose rings,
Deciding America's future from Amsterdam and to Paris
And there's a slow, slow train comin' up around the bend.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Sixteen banners united over the field,
Where the good shepherd grieves.
Desperate men, desperate women divided,
Spreading their wings 'neath the falling leaves.
First, let me say that I’m not a big fan of politicos. But James Carville—perhaps the most puffed up, bombastic, pretentious politico of them all—got it right when he famously opined back in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
It was the economy in 1992. Sixteen years later, it’s the economy all over again.
The fact that the US economy is in the shitter should come as a surprise to no one. For the past 12 months, we've been sliding toward the precipice of the worst recession in 16 years.In the last 60 days, it’s only gone from bad to worse. Thirteen banks have gone into bankruptcy, the top five investment banks have died, the stock market has hit a six-year low, unemployment has reached a 14-year high.
Contrary to John McCain’s reassuring reaction to the September 10 collapse of Lehman Brothers, the fundamentals of our economy were not ‘strong.’ And it certainly didn’t help that McCain borrowed his phrasing from Herbert Hoover, who on Thursday, Oct. 24, 1929, just five days before the crash that would result in the deepest depression in world history, proclaimed, "The fundamental business of the country, that is, production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis."
As the largest economy in the world, the American financial crisis has far-reaching ramifications. The direction of the U.S. economy doesn’t merely ‘impact’ the global economy; it decides its destiny.
It’s a big idea. It’s also a big problem. And the irony is that the problem isn’t going to go away until we change the way we do business in this country.
Yet despite the proclamations of ‘change’ that were the cornerstones of both the McCain and Obama presidential campaigns, change won’t be coming anytime soon. You already know the reason why.
It’s the economy, stupid.
Historically, the election of a Democrat has meant more jobs for Americans. History, however, is hardly consolation for the 1.2 million Americans who have lost their jobs since January.
It’s not especially encouraging for those who have jobs, either. With most 401(k)s off by an average of 40% or worse, dreams of retirement by the 50+ set have been replaced by the realization that there simply isn’t enough money in their accounts to sustain them for 10 years, much less the 20 years they’re expected to live.
Sure they can stay the course, stick it out, work a few extra years until the anemic stock market turns around. But there’s just something fundamentally wrong with the notion that what was only a year ago considered an appalling indignation by those who have toiled their entire life to build something for themselves and their families is now an umbrage those who actually have jobs would all too gladly suffer.
This past election was about change. A seismic shift, a comprehensive overhaul, a changing of the guard. It’s what we were promised, it’s what we want and, considering the perilous state of the economy, it’s what we need.
Unfortunately, change is not something the Obama Administration will be able to deliver anytime soon. It would mean the old guard would need to step down. But the old guard is like a caged animal tethered to a stake that keeps it from wondering too far from the trough.
And with their retirement pensions gone, the stock market in a perpetual downward spiral, and the potential some of that $700 billion in bailout money might potentially come their way if they just hang on long enough, the old guard is a permanent fixture on the horizon.
Contrary to what the media would have us believe, the rest of the world truly wants America to succeed. For millions around the world, America truly is a beacon of hope, prosperity and opportunity. But Eden is burning. And rather than change the old guard, we need to change their way of thinking.
Because the old guard isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Frankly, they can’t afford to…
I don't need your organization, I've shined your shoes,
I've moved your mountains and marked your cards,
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination,
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Advertising signs that con you,
Into thinking you're the one,
That can do what's never been done,
That can win what's never been won,
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.
“Stunning…” “Unprecedented…” “Electrifying…” “Incredible…”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a superlative that hasn’t been used in the last two weeks to describe Barack Obama’s meteoric ascension to the nation’s highest office.
But perhaps no comment has been more analyzed, more categorized or more scrutinized by fellow Dylanologists than the one made by Dylan himself during his election eve show in Minneapolis’ Northrop Auditorium:
“…it’s a brand new time right now. An age of light. Me, I was born in 1941 — that’s the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. Well I been livin’ in a world of darkness ever since. But it looks like things are gonna change now…”
Typically, Dylan revels in his innate ability to confound us with his cryptic, enigmatic comments. This, of course, is precisely what's so perplexing about Dylan’s election eve proclamation. It wasn’t wrapped in a riddle. It didn’t need to be sliced, diced, dissected and redirected. It was strikingly sincere and without pretense.
As Sean Curnyn thoughtfully observed in his blog, ‘Right Wing Bob,’ a few days after the election, it was never Dylan’s intention to confound us. Nor was it his intent to offer a ringing endorsement of president-elect Obama. The notoriously irascible Dylan was simply referring to an Obama campaign button worn by his longstanding bass player, Tony Granier. But that fact was left out of most reports, who were so stunned Dylan had actually spoken that they stripped the statement of all context.
It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.
His entire life, Dylan has constantly reinvented himself to keep the hounding media at bay. Whether it’s changing his name, changing his musical direction, changing his religion—the man who famously opined, ‘he not busy being born is busy dying,’ has given birth to countless ‘Dylans’ over the last 40 years.
In the months leading up to the election, one could argue we’ve seen our share of ‘Obamas’ as well. In the last 18 months alone, Obama has appeared on no few than 300 magazine covers. Ebony, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Time, Newsweek. Each caters to a different audience. Each requires a different persona be projected. Yet Obama manages to move from one to the next with an effortlessness and facility that is eerily reminiscent of another Midwesterner who's donned his fair share of disguises over the years.
To see the many 'faces' of Barack Obama, click here.
In the days to come, the searing light the media that has turned on Barack Obama is only going to get more intense and more scrutinous. And as it does, things are going to change for Barack Obama. Things are going to change for Bob Dylan, too.
Forty years ago, a prescient Bob Dylan told the press he didn’t want to deny, defy and classify them. All he really wanted to do was be friends. Of course, being friends wasn’t enough. The press wanted more—we wanted more. The result? We got 'Bob Dylan.'
And what did Dylan get? A rap he’s been trying to shake ever since— ‘voice of a generation.’
And while it’s not our cross to bear, one can only imagine that the moniker, ‘voice of a generation,’ carries a lot of weight. Certainly, it’s a burden Dylan’s been trying to free himself from his entire life.
Maybe Dylan’s admission that he’s ready to step out of the darkness and into light isn’t some confounding, cautionary tale after all. Maybe it’s not an admonishment at all. Maybe all Bob Dylan was doing November 4 was telling us whose voice he’ll be listening to now that a new generation has spoken...
While preachers preach of evil fates,
Teachers teach that knowledge waits,
Goodness hides behind its gates,
But even the president of the United States,
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Ring them bells, ye heathen,
From the city that dreams,
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries,
Cross the valleys and streams.
It’s hard to be disgruntled when everyone around you is so happy. And November 4 was unquestionably a day that brought immense joy to millions of Americas.
Whether you were among the 64,058,826 people who voted for Barack Obama, or one of the 56,500,053 who voted for John McCain, at exactly 11:01 West Coast time the mood of a country changed. For a brief, fleeting moment, we were neither Republicans nor Democrats. Conservative nor Liberal. Right nor Left. Ideology evaporated, labels disappeared, color was washed away.
The whole world was watching. And what they saw was something uniquely American. The singular, defining quality that distinguishes America from every other country in the world: ‘redemption’.
The election of Barack Obama as the first African American president didn’t eradicate the racial injustices embedded in our nation’s DNA some 240 years ago. But it did emancipate us by from the past in some communal, collective way. And African Americans weren't the only ones who felt the lifting of the shackles. We all felt the weight lift. We all experienced that moment together.
Traditionally, these moments of collective consciousness are reserved to see us through the dark times that have befallen our nation—Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans, 9/11.
This was different. This was a moment in which we were bound together by hope and optimism, rather than brought together by horror and despair.
The closest thing this nation has come to the transformational moment we experienced Tuesday night was the defeat of the Nazis in World World II. But even that wasn’t really the same.
Yes, the chimes of freedom rang around the world, but the freedom America fought for was a deferred freedom. It would take another 60 years, and another generation, before the true tenets of freedom were extended to every American.
The headlines told the tale. And the tale didn’t need elaboration. Like all pivotal moments in history, the story could be reduced to three simple words:
To see over 700 front pages from November 5, 2008, click here.
The elevation of a black man to the presidency in this year, on this date, at this moment in our nation’s history could not have happened at any other time. Barack Obama was simply born at the right time. Born into a broken world desperately in need of being fixed.
For the last eight years, decisive, destructive partisanship has torn at the fabric of this country. On November 3, 2008, we were a nation of broken idols, broken treaties, broken vows, broken laws, broken words that should never have been spoken. On November 4, we were something else.
And while the man charged with picking up those pieces will inevitably be labeled by his detractors as a ‘empty vessel,’ a ‘blank slate,’ a ‘complete unknown,’ perhaps we can take solace in this simple fact: what better place to put all these broken pieces than in a vessel large enough to hold the limitless hope for a future that, for the first time in our nation’s history, truly feels like it can benefit every American.
Oh the lines are long,
And the fighting is strong,
And they're breaking down the distance,
Between right and wrong.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Oh the foes will rise,
With the sleep still in their eyes,
And they'll jerk from their beds and think they're dreamin'.
But they'll pinch themselves and squeal,
And know that it's for real,
The hour when the ship comes in.
In two days, America will pick a new president. The reality, of course, is that the man who will lead us into the new millennium has already been chosen.
Brought out of Africa, blessed in the cornfields of Kansas and baptized in the warm waters of the South Pacific, he came with a simple, prophetic promise: Make right a world that has gone decidedly wrong.
And while there are those who will dismiss this assessment of our next president as nothing more than bombastic hyperbole, there is no denying the fact that the press has anointed Barack Obama a modern-day political messiah— David to the world’s Goliath, the man who will save America, and in doing so, just may save the world.
The time is right for a savior. For the last 40 years, America has been in the wilderness. In March of 1968, Lyndon Johnson, covered in the blood of 50,000 men, was crucified for his trespasses in Vietnam. Twelve years later, a born-again peanut farmer from Georgia turned the other cheek when 52 Americans were taken hostage in Iran. But in ‘doing the right thing’ Jimmy Carter let a ragtag band of religious zealots cast a stone that shattered America’s resolve for years to come. In 1992, America thought they had found a man who could transform a nation that had spent a decade teetering on the precipice of Babylonian excess. But instead of restoring our faith in our better angels, Bill Clinton succumbed to the temptations of the flesh and he, too, was banished.
And then He came.
Little is known of Barack Obama’s early years. Once he answered his calling as a community organizer in his 30th year, however, he quickly began to change people to his way of thinking. His opponents portrayed his philosophies as radical, even dangerous. But he triumphed over his adversaries, and wrote of his trials in a book he titled, Dream from My Father— a memoir that chronicled a father who abandoned him at his time of need, yet someone whom he has always kept close, especially in moments of doubt.
Many are bothered that the pundits are so overwhelming behind Obama. Yet as any student of history knows, there are two sides of history: the right side, and the wrong side. But we are not talking about that pedantic, petty, “you are either with us or against us,” mantra the Bush Administration has perpetrated against the American people for the last eight years. This is different.
For George W. Bush the decision is simple.
For years, we have been like a ship lost at sea as our moral and ethical bearings have given way to greed and gluttony. But the tide is about to turn, and the hour is rapidly approaching. And while the pundits may be on the right side of history, the pundits have gotten it wrong.
Electing Barack Obama as the first African American president isn’t about standing on the ship’s bow and shouting that Pharaoh’s days are numbered. It’s not as black and white as that. There are larger factors at play. And when the history books are written, it will become apparent that the decision to cede the moral direction of a nation to a man about whom little is known but much has been entrusted was never our decision to make in the first place.
What happens in the days that follow is, however…
Then the sands will roll,
Out a carpet of gold,
And the ship's wise men,
Will remind you once again,
That the whole wide world is watchin'.