Adam Zero's ramblings and rants on popular music, culture, politics, folklore, religion and related skullduggery.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

No Direction, Period

The much-hyped Martin Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan's early career to 1966 has arrived on U.S. airways, thanks to PBS' American Masters.

I'm not sure what the point of this series is, beyond heaping homage and glorification on hand-picked American Artists, and then communally basking in their glow. After all, we as Americans "created" them. Don't we deserve some of the credit--if only sitting passively through documentaries informing us of the importance of these "Masters"?

So it is with Bob Dylan--via Scorsese. The hype is through the roof on this one. "The Best Film About Anybody," one headline screams. Another says this is Scorsese's best picture.

As Dylan himself wrote on the back of one of his albums, "Whaaat?!"

There is nothing that unique or informative about the Dylan opus--shown in two 2-hour installments. Dylan's own playroom attempts at film hold more stylistic interest. No, despite the hype, this is not on the level of Raging Bull or Taxi Driver (to be honest, Dylan's just not as interesting as Jake LaMotta or Travis Bickle). No, unlike Werner Herzog who has made some truly visionary documentaries that complement his fictive work, Scorsese has yet to turn that corner. His attempt at documentary is garden variety--"newly found" vintage clips interspersed with candid interviews with friends capped with "authorized" words by the man himself. (Is there a reason why some of the musicians interviewed have to be holding their instruments awkwardly, as if they were an extra appendage--e.g., Pete Seeger?)

We wander through the familiar narrative of Dylan's life--the us-vs.-them agon of hipster and folkie. The hero-artist performing for booing audiences. The genius typewriting late into the night, fed by any number of cross-indicated stimulants.

The upshot of the film seems to be: "golly gee whiz, Dylan wrote all these amazing songs, suffered to such for it, he must be a Genius or something." He's touched by the holy spirit (according to producer Bob Johnston) or a shaman (according to Allen Ginsberg). Or he's the supremely talented dope (according to Joan Baez, who seems closest to the voice of sanity in this thing).

What you don't get from Bob himself is any key admissions. Like, "sure, man, going electric at Newport was pure gold publicity-wise." Or, "I was a real asshole to Joanie for not letting her play on my Britian tour after she'd virtually created an audience for me." Or, "I don't know why I can't write songs like I used too--maybe it was just the drugs, after all." Or, "I was so stoned at the time I can't remember what I saying in that clip and, frankly, I'm a little embarrassed by it now."

No regrets for the D-man.

Of course there's no mention of drugs--although during the last third of the second installment he looks so wired you only have to guess what he's abusing. It'd be interesting if someone had explored the "shaman" claims with the obvious drug-use to explore how Zimmerman morphed into Dylan (and the degree to which the latter was a creation of mind-altering chemicals). But that clearly would have been too arcane for American Masters. We like our mysteries simple. "Funny looking little feller's a genius, by God!"

Or if someone had looked at the possibility of obsession/compulsion in Dylan's lyrics that border on mental illness. (The first version of "Like a Rolling Stone" had fifty verses--I mean, when this guy hates, he hates.) Joanie gives a nice insight to the writing of "When the Ship Comes In" to Maynerd-Krebs-like Zimmy being refused a room by a provincial hotel desk-clerk.

I wish someone had had the guts to explore Dylan's sense of revenge and even cruelty in his lyrics. Is the anger in "Like a Rolling Stone" justified in the same way that it is in "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"?

And why did Dylanophiles respond so warmly to such anger? Did they want to blame the culture for their own lack of place in it--watching Bobby Z shadowbox with the straw men he had created for their solipsistic destructive amusement?

While Dylan was being called "Judas" at the Manchester City Hall, he wasn't damning the Vietnam War or showing solidarity with writers behind the Iron Curtain. He wasn't taking sides anymore (except for his own, which he had pretty much taken from the beginning, one thinks.) (Sure, he would revisit topical song occasionally for George Jackson or Hurricane Carter, but he never seems to have sustained much public interest in any cause after 1963.)

Dylan's revolution was a non-revolution. Contrary to Allen Ginsberg's pronouncements, the '60s was not the world's first bloodless revolution. It wasn't a revolution at all. The baby-boomers didn't change the world, just enlarged their sense of entitlement and self-absorption, retiring to the suburbs in SUVs and plugging in their iPODS.

Dylan playing with straight-laced and -tied reporters hardly amounts to a revolution (btw, the Beatles are much more entertaining in their interviews than Dylan, who looks more blank/stoned/tired than magisterial in his non-answers to stupid questions). In fact, you want Dylan to have the guts of a John Lennon who could claim the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus" and really tell the press what he thought about them, their society, etc.

But then Dylan was always better with straw men than real men. One of the best clips is a "confrontation" between Dylan and a nitwit interviewer/cameraman who wants him to pose for a picture by putting his glasses arm back in his mouth. Geninuses of the time nibbled on their glasses, I suppose. Dylan, of course, refuses, and tells the man he can put the glasses arm in his mouth if he wants to.

What's the point? Dylan is holding a press conference and obviously wants press. But he wants to play the game his way. He's smarter than the system. The stupid pressmen. He's not going to nibble on his glasses arm. He'll show them. But then the situation peters out.

What's the point?

Maybe it's that Bob was always better with a typewriter than the spur-of-the-moment. (I guess, the Holy Spirit needed the Corona in the room--something solid.)

Or that when it came to image-creation, Dylan preferred to remain an "auteur"--whose authority Scorsese referentially (slavishly?) maintains.

As for the fellow musicians interviewed, it's odd that only Mickey Jones gets on-air time about the famous/infamous 1966 tour. You don't hear from the living Band members (such as Levon Helm, who quit because of the booing--his voice would have been an interesting one to hear). I was a little bit startled by Mickey's appearance until I recognized him as the bearded character actor in Home Improvement and any number of TV and movie parts. (Mickey, by the way, made a home-movie the '66 tour which he's selling on his website.)

So, we get yet more hype about the much-hyped Dylan who answers questions for the camera now, almost amiably, wanting to build his legacy or some-such dream and be compared to Picasso or Shakespeare or some other eternally protean visitant of the Holy Spirit/Muse.

We are told that he is our man for the ages. The boomers can soak themselves in reflected glory and join in the orgy of self-satisfaction. ("Our guy, right up there with Mickel-angelo!")

Who knows, maybe it will happen for him. Maybe, several hundred years in the future people will look back at the '60s as we look back to the Italian Renaissance and make incredible pronouncements about pop music's achievements, crowned by Bobby's. They'll recognize that he bested the zealot-folkies and the stupid pressmen and the Blue Meanies.

He fought the forces of popular music and beat them at their own game.

"Like a Rolling Stone": number one on the Billboard charts, baby, NUMERO UNO! With a song that was A-R-T!

Maybe, if the Gods who rule over things like public TV see fit, it will happen.

But as the Boy-Bard himself once said, tomorrow is, regretfully, a long time. And neither he nor we will be around to enjoy the sweetness of that final revenge and self-justification.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Plague . . . .

Check out this story.

Seems the workers at a Newark bio-terror lab can't account for three mice infected with the plague bacterium.

Just think: mice, New Jersey and Plague. We've hit the trifecta.

From 9-11 to New Orleans, the national consciousness is a little jittery. This is just what we need--the good old-fashioned plague. Killed about a third of Europe in the 14th century.

Of course, we've got antibiotics now and Medicaid. And the Federal Government (who lost the mice in the first place) to protect us.

Homeland Security probably needs to add a new section--one to protect us from ourselves. I know there's probably a very rational explanation for the experiment with plague. Probably counter-terrorism. It makes sense, but then a "goof" like this . . .

It almost makes you think there is a conspiracy among the illuminati or freemasons or somebody to reduce the planet's population. Like AIDS coming from Army experiments.

I was reading a very weird interview with Jimi Hendrix included in David Henderson's funky biography. Jimi, circa 1968, is speaking in very ethereal terms about religion and vibrations and ET's and talks about something "heavy" coming down thirty years from then.

That'd make it about 2008.

He says it's something that will effect the whole planet.

There's nowhere we can hide.

I suppose the poor folks in New Orleans have learned this. I suspect the rest of us will be learning it too some time in the near future.

I just hope it's not the plague.

Thanks, Government.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

New Orleans: Blame the French

It's easy to ignore that something truly epic is happening.

A city of over half a million is no more.

We talk of rebuilding. We talk of the French Quarter reopening in time for Mardi Gras. We grasp at straws.

Or we point fingers in blame. Bush. "Brownie"--his inept FEMA head whose sole qualification for the job is that he roomed in college with the previous FEMA head. Governor Katherine "What Should I Do Next?" Blanco. Mayor Ray "no more goddamned interviews" Nagin.

It's a like a perfect storm of incompetence and negligence.

Oddly, there's at least one player no one wants to finger. And that's the Big Muddy itself. "Old Man," as he used to be called by the Natives and by Faulkner.

It's the largest river in the United States. It wants to move. To save New Orleans from "the Big One" we have leveed the river all the way up to Iowa. In the 1993 floods, countless suffered upstream to spare New Orleans.

We want to blame global warming. Fine. Let's create more fuel-efficient, less oil-dependent modes of transportation. (Don't look to Bush and Cheney for these answers.)

We want to blame the loss of wetlands which can soak up the storm surge. Fine. Shut down the beachfront developments. (Just don't look to politicians whose milk-money is supplied by big donors who are making money and creating "job growth" out of the building boom.)

We want to blame government. Fine. But the point is, Old Man doesn't recognize our authority--especially when Queen Katrina comes ashore.

There's something elemental at work here. We are not in control. Maybe because we can watch the events unfold on cable TV, we think we have control, like the eye of God sitting in the stadium box, but we really don't.

There's nothing more pathetic than anchors roaming devastated areas looking for "stories." Being able to put an event into a "story" implies control. While people are still being rescued and/or drowning, Anderson Cooper and Christian Amanpour bloviate on the loss of cell phone connectivity on some dry spot in the French Quarter.

A relatively informational analysis segment with past FEMA honchos is stopped short to cut to a segment at the NO airport where a lost dog has been rescued and adopted by an evacuee.
(According to the Analects, when Confucius learned that the Royal Stables had burned, he asked how many men had been killed, he did not ask about the horses.)

Meanwhile Foxnews is running damage control for W. How many times did they show the hundreds of schoolbuses half-flooded by the waters--buses supposedly reserved for the city's highly thought-out and implemented evacuation plan?

Highly adroit and analytical rappers like Kanye West self-appoint as our nation's frontal lobe. The chorus becomes deafening: "Let's blame somebody, let's blame somebody!" (And we wonder why we have the worst education system among industrialized nations.)

The ancients of this continent used to sacrifice victims to satiate the powers of Nature. Aztec, Mayan, Mississippian. I'm not suggesting we revert to this but . . . it might be a whole lot easier than the finger-pointing, politicization and grievous acrimony that will be unleashed in the coming months. Katrina's second storm.

As far as blaming anyone, I nominate the French. They're easy to hate and they built the damned city in the first place--where no city should ever be.

I know we can get Foxnews--now if we can only get Kanye and CNN on board.