52 Poems, Week 44: Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? (Yeats)
52 Poems, Week 45: Bridge Morning (Sally Thomas)

Sunday Night Journal, November 4, 2018

There was a time when I could not have imagined being indifferent to the release of a new Dylan album. But it was a fairly short time, only five years or so in the last half of the '60s. Nashville SkylineSelf-PortraitNew Morning, and Planet Waves pretty well cured me of Dylan-awe. Not that those were all bad--I think New Morning is pretty good. (At least I used to. I don't think I've heard it for decades.) But they didn't matter to me. My cultish fascination with Dylan, the conviction that "he was never known to make a foolish move," was gone. 

So when Blood on the Tracks came out in 1975 I didn't pay very much attention. When reviewers said it was great I thought yeah, right. Not only did I not rush out to buy it, I didn't even hear it for a while, when a friend insisted that it really was very good and played it for me. And it was. I was pleasantly surprised. But still, my reaction was something like "Pretty good for a post-'60s Dylan album." Something like the way I thought of the post-Beatles work of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Apparently I bought it, because I have it. But it's certainly not on my Favorite Albums Ever list.

Over the years I heard people acclaim it as a masterpiece, even calling it his best album. Puzzling. There's no accounting for tastes, but I didn't understand how anyone could rank it with those '60s monuments. I suspect it has something to do with age. If I'd heard it at 17 instead of 27, it might have made a bigger impression on me.

With the release of More Blood, More Tracks, a 6-CD collection of variant recordings of the songs that made it onto the album, I've heard more of that talk. So I listened to the album again, for the first time in many years. And it is good. Very good. But my basic opinion hasn't changed. It's definitely a high point of post-'60s Dylan, but on a level below, say, Highway 61 Revisited

I'm puzzled by the market for these multi-disk collections of outtakes etc. from famous albums. Twelve versions of "Buckets of Rain"? I can imagine it would be interesting to hear these once, maybe even twice, to see how the songs developed in the studio and all that. But I have no interest in owning it, especially at a price well over $100. 

Then again, I did pay $100 to see him live a couple of weeks ago, so who am I to talk?

I notice that the 6-disk set includes only three takes of my favorite track, "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," which also is unlike every other song on the album in that it's not a direct personal statement. I don't know what to make of that. 

*

In the Department of What Is Actually Happening: two recent pieces in The American Conservative struck me as significant. First, this one by Rachel Lu: "Men and Women: Should We Just Call the Whole Thing Off?"

Relations between the sexes have always fascinated me--I mean intellectually, philosophically, as well as practically and personally. Sometimes I think I might write something substantial on the subject, and by "substantial" I mean at least a lengthy essay. But chances are pretty good that I won't, so here's Lu on one thing I would discuss:

The truth is, women do feel more vulnerable than men, in public, at work, or in social gatherings. That’s because, in a very real sense, we are. We shouldn’t treat all men as likely aggressors, but men should be expected to conform to behavioral standards that serve, among other things, to help women feel safe. That’s always been a major function of gentlemanly behavior, without which men and women rarely find one another bearable for very long.

Women's vulnerability seems almost frightening to me. It's elemental and physical. It's not only the basic physical weakness relative to men, but the vulnerability, both physical and emotional, to and of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing--the enormous risk of sex. I've been paying attention to feminism since the early '70s (it would be an overstatement to say studying it), and I've thought for a long time that some part of feminist anger comes from this vulnerability, which seems more profound than any of the specific identifiable injustices of human arrangements. Those are many, it's true, and many of them can be ameliorated (and have been). But prior to that is a vulnerability that's intrinsic to human biology and psychology and can't be erased. 

Camille Paglia once said something to the effect that many women feel that the sexual revolution has not been a good deal for them. (I'm paraphrasing from decades-old memory but I think that was the idea.) It liberated them, but it also broke down structures of custom that, though confining, had also served to protect them. And (said Paglia) part of the drive for establishing explicit rules and procedures governing sexual consent is an attempt to re-establish some of those protections.

I think she's right. And I think Rachel Lu is right that there is much to be said for the old notion of gentlemanly behavior. Good men respond to feminine vulnerability with respect and an impulse to protect. And men who exploit and abuse it should be disgraced in the eyes of other men. That's not a capital-S Solution, but it would help. In the world of male sports, cheaters are held in contempt. The same should be true of a man who would, for instance, take advantage of a drunken young woman, to say nothing of the kind of active extortion reportedly practiced by the likes of Harvey Weinstein.

One defect in the gentleman's code is that it frequently (mostly? always?) applied only to women of the man's own class, excluding those who for whatever reason were not considered respectable--that is, worthy of respect. But a real gentleman would treat the both the Duchess of Cambridge and Stormy Daniels with courtesy and respect.

The other piece, by Michael Vlahos, bears the dispiriting title "We Were Made for Civil War." It's a consideration of the present state of division in this country, and it's pretty pessimistic. It's a bit lengthy by web standards (3000+ words) and I don't agree with everything in it, but I think it's all too accurate in its assessment of the current situation, accurate enough to be worth reading.

I've been saying for some time that we're in a sort of non-violent undeclared civil war. As Vlahos says:

...even though these two divided visions of America have been opposed for decades, and so far have controlled the urge to violence, there is in their bitter contest a sense of gathering movement toward an ultimate decision. In no way is this more clear than in the 2016 election and ongoing political conflict. This divide is no status quo “agree to disagree,” but rather two moral armies moving towards a showdown.

Moreover, and worse, it's a religious conflict:

Red and Blue already represent an irreparable religious schism, deeper in doctrinal terms even than the 16th-century Catholic-Protestant schism. 

He doesn't elaborate on the doctrines involved, and I guess I won't try to, either, in this brief note. But I don't think you can understand what's going on unless you recognize that aspect of what's happening. If you want to define "religion" fairly narrowly, you can call it a quasi-religious conflict, but it's effectively religious. In any case it's a struggle between fundamentally irreconcilable views.

This may all seem alarmist, but I agree with Vlahos that to fail to take the situation seriously is to keep moving toward the showdown. I, of course, as people who have read this blog for a while know, think the way to avoid it is to reduce the reach and power of the central government, to give control back to state and local governments regarding some of the flash-point issues. The big problem now is the one Vlahos identifies: the belief on each side that the other represents a dire threat to it. And that comes straight from the belief that whoever controls the national government can and will force the opposition to submit. This bomb needs to be disarmed.

I think it's important for Christians to recognize this state of affairs--signs of the times, wise as serpents, etc. But even more important is to avoid getting caught up in the war mentality, not to allow oneself to demonize and hate the other side. Hate is against the Law.

*

If all that's depressing, or if you didn't get the reference in the title of Rachel Lu's piece, watch this. Guaranteed mood-elevator. Or, if not, the fault is in you.

*

 It's about this big.

ThisBig

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Same size as the moon!

That Rachel Lu article is very good. There's a statement in the article that reminds me that Kaley Cuoco, who stars in Big Bang Theory, at one point said in response to a question about whether she considered a feminist said, "Is it bad if I say no? I was never that feminist girl demanding equality, but maybe that's because I've never really faced inequality... I cook for Ryan five nights a week: it makes me feel like a housewife. I love that. I know it sounds old-fashioned, but I like the idea of women taking care of their men." She had to eventually apologize and retract that statement.

I haven't read the other article yet because I'm too distracted at the moment to read it carefully, but just glancing at it, it makes me think about my review of Killer Angels.

AMDG

I'm not even shocked that she had to apologize. It's the way things are now.

I think what I liked best about Lu's piece is that it's so level-headed. You don't see that every day, especially on this subject.

I just went and re-read your Killer Angels review, and yes there are definite connections. In particular this: "It seems to me that the Civil War was not so much a political battle, but a battle between cultures..." and the rest of that whole paragraph.

In case you don't have time to read the Vlahos article: he doesn't predict widespread violence, much less all-out war. It's hard to come up with a scenario that involves two armies. But he thinks it could get pretty ugly. As there are already signs of.

By the way, or p.s.: in case it isn't clear, in that paragraph about Christians and "the other side", I'm not assuming that Christians are on the "Red" side. There is a strong tendency for that to be the case, and there are good reasons for it, but it's definitely not always so. There are sincere small-o orthodox Christians on both sides.

And, obviously, not on either side.

I don't know. Blood on the Tracks is, I think, his best album post-John Wesley Harding, and there are times I think it might actually be better than the great 60s albums, at least in certain respects.

It doesn't have the wild, visionary quality of Highway 61 and Bringing It All Back Home, but it's not trying to either. Dylan left that kind of songwriting behind in the late 60s and was trying to write more disciplined songs, songs with intelligible meaning, and he was mostly unsuccessful at first. Blood on the Tracks is, I think, his chief triumph in that later, intelligible manner.

Sometimes I'm inclined to think that it's actually relatively easy to write a song like Subterranean Homesick Blues, but hard to write a song like If You See Her, Say Hello. At those times I wonder if Blood on the Tracks might be his best record, all things considered.

In any case, I'm really keen to hear the new Bootleg Series set. I already listened to a 10-song sampler, and loved it.

That's all very reasonable, but...in the end it does come down to taste, and BotT just doesn't, for the most part, move or excite me very much. It's certainly more polished than the great '60s albums, but not as brilliant. I would almost agree that it's his best since John Wesley Harding. I like Time Out of Mind better, but it's more uneven. Likewise Oh Mercy.

Well, it's hard to assign a stable rank to such good albums, but I agree that all of the ones you mention deserve to be in the conversation.

I'm still not finished with the article, but "kinship" reminds me of something I am reading. During one of those interviews with Peter Seewald, Cardinal Ratzinger the topic of brotherhood came up in some context, and Ratzinger says that we need to remember that the first story of brothers in the Bible is a murder, and that we also find that in other cultures, for example Romulus and Remus. The more I think about it, you see that everywhere: Set and Osiris, Thor and Loki, Joseph and his brothers, Jacob and Esau, Ishmael and Isaac, Shem, Ham and Japeth. Brotherhood isn't necessarily love and peace.

AMDG

I know, it's a horrible pattern.

Craig, these rankings are a game, not to be taken too seriously, but they sure are fun. I'm not sure why. I know people do it with music and literature. I guess they do it with the visual arts, too.

Time Out of Mind is probably my favorite Dylan album. There are so many good ones that the arguments tend to become silly, I suppose, unless someone gives a shout-out to World Gone Wrong as being his best or something like that.

Well, not *best*, but... :-) I do rather like it. In a way it doesn't count though since it's all folk songs.

Kind of surprised you put Time Out of Mind that high. I like it a lot, too, as I said, though I sometimes think it should be co-credited to Daniel Lanois. It wouldn't be the same without his arrangements and production.

Yeah, it is silly, but still fun.

Hi, I agree with Craig. I have listened to the 60s albums since around the age of 12, and I'm guessing I was about 15? when Blood on the Tracks came out. I liked them equally at the time. It was his first good album since John Wesley Harding. It was much better than Desire. I find 'Desire' embarrassingly 'direct,' whereas the clear but indirect songs of lost love in BOT are more 'poetic'. This is the thing: after 40 years, I still listen to BOT with pleasure, but it would take a lot for me to listen to the whole of Highway 61. The reason is exactly what Craig says,that Blood on the Tracks has intelligent meaning. I still love the mid-sixties albums, but they seem to lack 'aboutness', except about the taste of self-consciousness on drugs. I will take crickets talking back in forth in rhyme over painting the passports brown.

Intelligible, unintelligible, drugged up introverted or whatever, the great thing about the mid sixties albums is the humour. They have a great sharp wit. I especially like the wit of Blonde on Blonde.

Of course I get 'that' feeling when I hear the opening bars of 'Like a Rolling stone,' but do I want to sit in the car, or cook dinner, listening to Highway 61? Very rarely.

I have tried and failed to get the Bootleg Blood on the Tracks. It arrived a couple days ago and I ripped open the cover with great anticipation though surprise that it was so big. I had ordered the vinyl album by mistake, and I don't have a record player. It has to go back before I can get the CD. Im looking forward to it a lot, I must admit.

I like Rachel Lu's writing very much. She's a balanced, measured person. I haven't read this piece yet. I spoke at a conference yesterday and wrote the paper for it the day before.

My favorite Dylan album is the Christmas one.

AMDG

Inconceivable!

I think the '60s albums are very often brilliant in a way that Blood on the Tracks isn't. The surrealistic imagery frequently misses but for me it works more often. And when they do they have an emotional power for me that most BotT doesn't. "My love, she speaks like silence..." BotT seems prosey in comparison. Now that I think of it, this is a little unusual for me, because I tend to prefer the low-key to the flashy.

But really it's the music that makes the biggest difference. Even if the lyrics were just la-la-la I think I'd still find the earlier albums more memorable.

There is a lot of humor. "God said 'You can do what you want, Abe, but...'"

I hope Tidal gets the complete bootleg because I would like to hear it. So far all they have is the single-cd version.

Hail, fellow procrastinator.

Yes, Grumpy says well what I was trying to say. But for me that preference for BoT is intermittent; other times I prefer Blonde on Blonde and its kin!

There is some humour on BoT too:

Buckets of rain, buckets of tears
Got all them buckets coming out o' my ears

I sometimes sing that to my kids as an illustration of Dylan's songwriting prowess; it is met with sighs and pitiful looks. What am I doing wrong?

I just cringe every time I hear that line.

I have to admit that some of "Idiot Wind" strikes me as funny, nasty as it is.

Like the verse that ends "I can't help it if I'm lucky"

Yes I laugh when I hear I can’t help it if I’m lucky

Good photo!

Thanks. I like it. :-)

I listened to the take of "Idiot Wind" that's on the single-cd. I think I like it better than the official release. It's more subdued, less angry, at least in tone. I think there are some interesting lyrical variations, too, although I don't know the original well enough to say that for sure.

GUTHW = Grand Universal Theory (of) Horton Wrongness. I can't get involved in unpleasantness on Facebook, but I did want to applaud this phrase that you came up with there. :)

Glad you enjoyed it. :-)

Goodness. What did I miss?

AMDG

Somehow I thought when you said you weren't going to have these conversations on Facebook that it would look different than it does.

AMDG

[sigh]

This time I'm going to quit, I really am.

I like this new version of "Idiot Wind" too. If I'm not mistaken, it's the same version that appeared on the third disc of the very first Bootleg Series (Vols.1-3), although I'd have to play them sequentially to be sure of it.

BoT has an interesting recording history, which will no doubt come out on this new Bootleg Series. It was recorded and finished in (I believe) New York; then Bob went home to Minnesota for Christmas and had second thoughts; he decided to rent a studio in Minneapolis and re-record all the songs. And those later sessions, I believe, are the ones that were eventually released as "BoT". Now we're getting to hear the original New York versions. I think.

Yes, that was my understanding, too.

I had totally forgotten that "Idiot Wind" is on that bootleg. Or "bootleg". I own that one and think it's very much worth it for the songs that were never officially released. There's some real gold there. I see "Idiot Wind" is described as "Original New York studio session" so it could be the same one.

Still haven't made time to read Rachel Lu's piece! Ten puppies is exhausting!

I see why I bought the vinyl 'More Blood'. The eye catching offer for the CD is 114 dollars! You can get the CD for less but that must have caught my eye and I unthinkingly went for 25$, which was the vinyl. I returned it and decided to go high tech and bought the MRP. I'm listening to it and I love it.

I didn't mean to say the classic Dylan albums were funny and the later ones not. Just that the 'intelligible' feature of the mostly unintelligble mid 60s songs is the humour. Of course the tone and emotion is intelligible.

I have a second class relic, a letter from Bob Dylan's secretary giving me permission to quote 'God said to Abraham kill me a son, Abe said man you must be putting me on' in my second book, on humour in the bible

It says something like 'Bob says that's fine.'

That's so cool.

$25? Surely that's not the whole 100 or so tracks that are in the cd boxed set? I have hundreds of vinyl LPs but they're all antique. I'm glad to see the vinyl revival but have not been interested in buying any of the new ones. When I finally looked at some in a store a year or so ago I was stunned by the prices. $25 and up for a single disk. I suppose it's not actually more than the $3.99 I paid in the '60s if you adjust for inflation.

I've bought a lot of both new and old vinyl since I got my turntable out of mothballs over a year ago. One of the draws of new LPs is that they often include a download coupon for the album, and sometimes even a CD copy. You do see some new releases that are $25 and over, but I've found most to be in the $17-$23 range.

One of the weird things is that since a CD can hold a lot more music than an LP, some of the single CD albums that are being reissued on vinyl are necessarily double LPs. A related but probably not unexpected result of the vinyl resurgence is that many new single albums are coming out that are only 35-45 minutes in length, rather than the 50 plus common on a CD. To my mind that can be a good thing overall, as the shorter records tend to be more focused and contain less filler.

I've bought a few records that I recall my parents having when I was a kid, and that I liked back then. One of the things I noticed about them is how short they tend to be -- usually around 15 minutes per side, very seldom longer than 20.

I remember paying $2.50 for some of my LPs. Of course, you could get a Krystal for 10 cents or maybe 12 by then, it's probably about the same relationship now. Not that I have bought a Krystal--that's like White Castle--in more than 20 years.

AMDG

I may be remembering early '70s prices instead of mid-'60s. But if I remember correctly the first LP I ever bought with my own money was Ian & Sylvia's first album, in 1964 or 1965. I had to choose mono or stereo, and stereo was a dollar more, so I got mono. I think it was $3.99 for mono and $4.99 for stereo, but I could be wrong. That was in a little small-town record shop which probably had relatively high prices and probably didn't survive much past the '60s. $2.50 would have been quite low even in the mid-'60s. Maybe that was a sale price.

"...many new single albums are coming out that are only 35-45 minutes in length, rather than the 50 plus common on a CD. To my mind that can be a good thing overall, as the shorter records tend to be more focused and contain less filler."

Indeed. That's been a complaint of mine since the appearance of CDs. In the beginning they were way more expensive than LPs, and part of the justification for that was that they could be 60-70 minutes longer. So pretty soon that got to be the default length, and to my taste many of them were just too long. Not that many pop musicians can keep things interesting and varied for over an hour at once. And not just the album as a whole but there was/is a tendency to have songs drag on and wear out their welcome with too much repetition etc. I think the typical 40-45 minute length of an LP suits pop music better for the most part.

Also the break between the two sides was often a feature rather than a bug. When I was taping LPs so I could listen to them in the car I'd often put side 1 of LP1 and side 1 of LP2 on one side of the 90-minute tape, then the other two LP sides on the other side of the tape. That often worked very nicely.

"pretty soon that got to be the default length, and to my taste many of them were just too long."

Yep, it was like a lot of single albums were the equivalent of an old double album, which were not particularly common back then.

It would have been 1963 or 64. There was only one place that had them that cheap. It was a Walmart-y kid of place.

I am glad turntables are making a comeback. I think about all the ways we have listened to music since then, and most if them defunct or getting that way.

AMDG

Cassettes and 8-tracks are now hip. I can't see them coming back to the extent that vinyl has, though, because they're such a fragile medium

Ah yes. That wonderful moment when you take the cassette out of the player and part of the tape stays in. Not to mention seeing ribbons of some tape you really couldn't afford waving from the bushes in the front yard, or intermingled with somebody's toys.

AMDG

I am listening to the Grateful Dead album that Mac wrote about a while back. I listen to it in the car all the time.

I am always pleased when I put a new CD in and it shows an under 50 minutes playing time on my player. All of the things Mac says above are true, but the bloating of music by pop stars is really the worst. A "double" album should be a rare and wonderful thing, or at least it used to be.

And speaking of what's hip, CDs really are *not*. When I hear them mentioned now (other than here) it tends to be sort of dismissive. Like a band saying "We still have some older fans who buy CDs." But I was recently given a CD which made me realize just how enjoyable it can be to have notes and art work.

Glad you like that album, Grumpy. Do you skip "Feedback", though?

Sometime before too long I want to hear a few other Grateful Dead albums from the early '70s that are supposed to be good. I don't think I heard anything of theirs after American Beauty, which came out in '71 I think and which is very very good.

Janet, re the fragility of cassettes: have you seen this?

https://goo.gl/images/ATshpe

And variations on this:

https://goo.gl/images/aaKxkL

That's funny. Fragile as they were, they were, before tapes there was no way to listen to your own music in the car--or books! Once my father had a car with a little turntable in it. It was less than ideal.

I like CDs, but then, I haven't got anything portable that I can put much music on.

AMDG

Tapes were very fragile, its true. And once the 'tape' got pulled out they seemed irrepairable. I never found it THAT annoying at the time, because all the technology back then was more fragile and breakable, because it was physical. Most of my records were scratched from dropping the needle etc.

There was one year, maybe 1996 or so that was a centenary for Purcell, Handel and Bach. BBC Radio three outdid itself with a weekly series on the history of British music that was fantastic for an ignoramus like me, and great quantities of the Three composers, who are my favourites. The very best was a live recording of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in a reorchestrated version by Handel. Anyhow, I taped everything from the whole year - the history, the opera, masses of concerts. I had it all on about 15 tapes and I was still listening to it at the time I came to the USA (December 31, 2010). I brought my radio which also had a tape deck with me. There are ways to plug it in, but it plays at the wrong speed so it all sounds funny. In the end I abandoned and threw away the tapes. I suppose I could have bought a new tape recorder in America, but in 2011 it really was an antiquated piece of technology.

Im going to be the last person on earth listening to CDs! I listen to them in the car, recirculating them from the house. I needed a new set of shelves for my collection which has grown too large for its current housing. I couldn't find anything in the new furniture shops and I don't want to buy it on line because assembly. In the end I bought some more or less suitable shelving from an antique shop run by a gay couple who are ordinarily very friendly, having carried large pieces into my house on several occasions. This time when I explained the use for the object the owner struggled to keep a straight face and carried it out to the car for me like he was dealing with an old lady.

Mac, I almost never skip a song. Sometimes it is hard - I have a John Denver collection with four or five good songs and some real vomiters, and there I am severely tempted. The thing is that it makes hearing the good songs much more enjoyable if you listen to the whole compilation straight through. I nearly always do that. I think I know the song you mean, but I just endure it. The dogs do not like it either.

"Feedback" is 7-8 or more minutes of just that--guitar feedback noise. I don't usually skip tracks either but it's more OCD than any musical consideration.

What a shame about those tapes! I still have a cassette deck as part of my stereo and still use it, though not all that much.

A car turntable--wow.

While CD sales are dropping in pop and rock music, I believe that they still do fairly well in the classical and jazz markets. Those are both niche markets though. Could be that CDs eventually end up as something of a specialist thing.

Not sure why cassettes and 8-tracks are making a comeback. Besides the fragility, the sound just wasn't all that good. It was okay for the car, but no one that I knew ever listened to tapes on their home stereo unless there was no other way to hear something.

I'm pretty sure it's mainly a hipster fashion thing. Well, nostalgia, too, among those whose teenage years included a lot of tape swapping, taping CDs, making mixtapes, and such. For cassettes anyway. For 8-tracks I think it's just kitsch.

Makes sense.

The comments to this entry are closed.