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Sunday, April 5, 2009

‘Day of the Locusts’: Bob Dylan, Barack Obama and the audacity of dope

And the locusts sang off in the distance,

Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.
Oh, the locusts sang off in the distance,
Yeah, the locusts sang and they were singing for me.

The story behind the second track on Dylan’s 1970 album, New Morning, goes something like this—

In the summer of 1970, Princeton decided to present Dylan with an honorary doctorate. Not surprisingly, the ever-reticent Dylan wasn’t especially high on the idea.

Until, that is, David Crosby entered the picture. In attempt to convince a distrustful Dylan to go to the ceremony, the drug-addled Crosby convinced Dylan to smoke a joint, which increased Dylan’s paranoia but apparently did the trick. Dylan was indoctorated by day's end.

As for the ‘locusts,’ the allusion (as often is the case with Dylan) was both figurative and literal—Bob’s convergence on the quaint college town coincided with Princeton’s 17-yr cicada infestation.

This past week, a different kind of locust converged on Barack Obama as the president opened his town hall press conference to questions from the American public. 92,937 people submitted 103,981 questions and cast 3,602,695 votes in this noble experiment of political empowerment.

The top vote getters included questions related to the financial sector, jobs and the national debt. But in this time of mounting economic crisis, what was the most pungent question on the mind of the American public? Here’s a hint: It was green, but it wasn’t renewable energy.

Of course, a candid discussion on the decriminalization of marijuana shouldn’t have taken Obama completely by surprise. After all, the argument to ‘legalize it’ isn’t all smoke and mirrors. The economy would get a boost, drug cartels would be weakened and the government would make a bundle on federal taxes. But in all fairness, Nobel Laureate economists and drug enforcement agents probably weren’t the demographic dialing in.

So just how did the question of legalizing marijuana get to the top of the list?

Much of the credit goes to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which tapped into the ‘silent majority’ of pot smokers. Admittedly, the high ranking of marijuana-related questions had a distinct tinge of astroturfing. But when the board lit up in favor of putting marijuana reform on the front burner, it was cool that Obama didn’t completely bogart the question.

It didn't prevent him, however, from nipping the question in the bud: "I don't know what that says about the online audience," he said joking before turning solemn. "But the answer is 'no,’ I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy."

Yet in all the clamor surrounding the unexpected twist surrounding Obama’s joint press conference with the mainstream press and Main Street America, a very interesting news story got lost in the haze. Just six weeks earlier, George Obama, the president’s half-brother, was been arrested and charged with…wait for it….marijuana possession, or “bhang” as it’s known in Kenya.

“If Timothy Geithner can cheat on his taxes and become Secretary of the Treasury,” brother Obama was rumored to have said, “then this should qualify me to become head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.” It seems the ability to come up with a quick quip runs in the family.

Admittedly, it was interesting to see what's on the minds of the American people when the media gatekeepers get stonewalled. But don’t expect Obama’s “Online Town Hall” to come back around again.

Simply put, sometimes a little control over the system keeps everyone on track— especially true when that system can be so easily manipulated.

Not that Barack Obama shouldn’t take questions from the American public—just don’t be surprised if he refuses to answer them.

Come to think of it, that probably explains why Dylan fans tend not to yell out requests at his shows. The audience knows he isn’t going to play “Blowin’ in the Wind” them just someone has a burning desire to hear the song played for the millionth time.

Video: Obama gives the straight dope on legalizing marijuana

And just for the record, next time you’re all in a huff to hear Bob play “The Day of the Locusts” live, save your breath.

Over the last ten years, Bob’s played 969 concerts, 16,062 songs, and 214 different titles—”The Day of the Locusts” wasn’t one of them...

I put down my robe, picked up my diploma,
Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive,
Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota,
Sure was glad to get out of there alive.

For a list of all the songs Dylan’s done in concert check out:
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