Bob Dylan, High Water. This is a late-career Dylan gem from Love and Theft (2001). A tribute to Charley Patton. Demonstrates Dylan's mastery of the arcana of Americana. Our greatest and deepest singer-songwriter. Here is some fairly good analysis by Kees de Graaf:
“I got a cravin’ love for blazing speed, got a hopped-up Mustang Ford, jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties overboard. I can write you poems, make a strong man lose his mind, I’m no pig without a wig, I hope you treat me kind, things are breakin’ up out there, high water everywhere”. When the world is under threat of being wiped out, one may expect that man will repent. But that is usually not the case. On the contrary, in the Apocalypse, the low natural tendencies of man seem to thrive like never before. The saying “let’s eat and drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32) rings true. This is expressed in various ways in the song. First in “a cravin’ love for blazing speed”; the word ‘craving’ indicates that this love for blazing speed has something of a compulsion neurosis. The words “A hopped up Mustang Ford” in combination with “craving love” and “blazing speed” is a brilliant pun. A Mustang Ford is said to be a “speedy car, but “speed” is also a drug for which you may be “craving”. So you may be “craving” for the drug “speed”, but you may also have a craving love for blazing “speed”” – that is for driving very fast. The reason why the Mustang Ford is called “hopped up” is because it is a very “speed-y”, fast car. By the way, speed (methamphetamine) is a dangerous and unpredictable drug, sometimes lethal, representing the fastest growing drug abuse threat in America today. Speed is a potent and addictive central nervous system stimulant, closely related chemically to amphetamine, but with greater central nervous system effects. “Hopped up” means ‘high’ or ‘stoned’, the word is derived from “hop", a nickname for heroin and/or opium, but it can refer to the effects of any drug. . . .
My favorite verse:
Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew You can't open up your mind, boys, to every conceivable point of view They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway 5 Judge says to the High Sheriff, "I want them dead or alive" Either one, I don't care, high water everywhere.
Nosiree, Bob, you can't open up your mind to every conceivable point of view, especially when its not dark yet, but it's getting there.
Karla Bonoff, The Water is Wide. I listened to a lot of Bonoff in the early '80s. She does a great job with this traditional song.
Bill Monroe and Doc Watson, Banks of the Ohio. Joan Baez's version from an obscure 1959 album, Folksingers 'Round Harvard Square.
Similar theme though not water-related: Doc Watson, Tom Dooley. Doc and family in a BBC clip.
Standells, Dirty Water. Boston and the River Charles. My mecca in the '70s, the Athens of America, the Hub of the Universe, etc. A great town to be young in. But when it comes time to own property and pay taxes, then a right-thinking man high tails it for the West.
Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water. A beautiful song. May it provide some solace for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Henry Mancini, Moon River. This was Jack Kerouac's favorite song. Ellis Amburn, Subterranean Kerouac (St. Martin's 1998), p. 324:
One night he [Kerouac, during a 1962 visit to Lowell, Mass.] left a bar called Chuck's with Huck Finneral, a reedy, behatted eccentric who carried a business card that read: "Professional killer . . . virgins fixed . . . orgies organized, dinosaurs neutered, contracts & leases broken." Huck's philosophy of life was: "Better a wise madness than a foolish sanity." They drove to a friend's house in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and on the way, Jack sang "Moon River," calling it his favorite song. Composed by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, "Moon River" was the theme song of the popular Audrey Hepburn movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. Sobbed by a harmonica, later swelling with strings and chorus, the plaintive tune's gentle but epic-like lyrics describe a dreamer and roamer not unlike Kerouac.
Indeed they do. A restless dreamer, a lonesome traveller, a dharma seeker, a desolation angel passing through this vale of mist, a drifter on the river of samsara hoping one day to cross to the Far Shore. Here is another version of the tune with some beautiful images.
Doc Watson, Moody River. A moodier version than the Pat Boone hit. Clever YouTube comment: "It might be a little early in the day for an Am7." But this here's Saturday night and I'm working on my second wine spodiodi. Chords minor and melancholy go good 'long about now.
John Kaag in Harper'stells a fascinating story of William Ernest Hocking and his library, and he tells it well. (HT: Seldom Seen Slim) No bibliophile could fail to enjoy it.
And this raises one of life's greatest mysteries. Why do some of us value good books above bread while others of us are indifferent to them? A harsh answer tempts me: the latter are human only in a biological sense. But I warn myself not to succumb to misanthropy.
We boomers are one self-absorbed generation, further evidence of which fact is a post like this. You are a boomer if you were born between 1946 and 1964. Call the elder half of that cohort the true boomers, or the classics. Call the second half the shadow boomers, or the reboots. Take this test to see where you fall.
I'm talkin' 'bout my generation. If music is the sound track of one's life, then you must admit that we boomers have the best soundtrack of any American generation.
Spencer Case thinks I need to expand my musical horizons. I don't disagree. He writes,
O.K. here are my five picks for good folk/rock music within the last ten years.
First, "The Wrote and the Writ" by Johnny Flynn, an artist I've just discovered. I chose it because of the syncopated guitar and the outstanding lyrics.
Second, "Right Moves" by Idaho's own Josh Ritter. Ritter been one of my favorites for about six years. He isn't instrumentally out of this world like some of the other artists here, but he's a great songwriter. It's hard to find a representative song for him for a first exposure, but this seems like a safe bet. Third, "Simple as This" by Jake Bugg, another new discovery. Great lyrics.
Fourth, "Don't Need No" by Punch Brothers. I've seen these guys live and they are amazing.
Fifth, "Big Parade" by Lumineers. These guys are from Denver and actually, they are quite popular now. So not everything on this list is obscure.
As far as I'm concerned, these artists prove good music is alive and well, if under-appreciated. Interested to hear how you think they stack up.
It's good stuff, Spencer. I enjoyed 'em all. Here are some obscure tunes/renditions I think you'll enjoy if you haven't heard them already. I won't make any invidious comparisons. It's all good.
I don't usually recommend anything from Slate, but Fred Kaplan's Killing Conspiracy is a must-read. The money quote:
. . . If horrible events can be traced to a cabal of evildoers who control the world from behind a vast curtain, that’s, in one sense, less scary than the idea that some horrible things happen at random or as a result of a lone nebbish, a nobody. The existence of a secret cabal means that there’s some sort of order in the world; a catastrophic fluke suggests there’s a vast crevice of chaos, the essence of dread.
As the old adage has it, “Big doors sometimes swing on little hinges.” John F. Kennedy’s murder was a big door—had he lived, the subsequent decades might have looked very different—and Lee Harvey Oswald was a preposterously small hinge. The dissonance is wildly disorienting. It makes for a neater fit, a more intelligible universe, to believe that a consequential figure like John Kennedy was taken down by an equally consequential entity, like the CIA, the Mafia, the Soviets, Castro … take your pick.
We are beings who seek Deep Meaning in all the wrong places.
The 1963 March on Washington now lies 50 years in the past. Those civil rights battles were fought and they were won. What could be achieved by legislation and government intervention was achieved. Unfortunately, the civil rights movement gradually transmogrified into a civil rights hustle and grievance industry as the original ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr. were betrayed by race hustlers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. And now look at the mess we are in. But it was a time of great and inspiring music. Here are some of Dylan's singular contributions.
John F. Kennedy was assassinated 49 years ago today. Here is The Byrds' tribute to the slain leader. They took a traditional song and redid the lyrics. The young Bob Dylan here offers an outstanding interpretation of the old song.
I was in the eighth grade when Kennedy was gunned down. We were assembled in an auditorium for some reason when the principal came in and announced that the president had been shot. The date was November 22, 1963. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was seated behind my quondam inamorata, Christine W. My love for her was from afar, like that of Don Quixote for the fair Dulcinea, but at that moment I was in close physical proximity to her, studying the back of her blouse through which I could make out the strap of her training bra . . . .
It was a tale of two nonentities, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. Both were little men who wanted to be big men. Oswald, acting alone, shot Kennedy. Ruby, acting alone, shot Oswald. That is the long and the short of it. For details, I refer you to Bugliosi.
Tomorrow is the 57th anniversary of the death of James Dean. When the young Dean crashed his low slung silver Porsche Spyder on a lonely California highway on September 30, 1955, he catapulted a couple of unknowns into the national spotlight. One of them was Ernie Tripke, one of two California Highway Patrol officers who arrived at the scene. He died in 2010 at the age of 88. But what ever happened to Donald Turnupseed, the driver who turned in front of the speeding Dean, having failed to see him coming? His story is here. In exfoliation of the theme that "speed kills" I present the following for your listening pleasure:
Both passed on this last week, Helm at 71, Clark at 82. Here is part of a fine tribute to Helm:
He was a river of American popular music. Whatever you call it, roots music, Americana, R&B, rockabilly, gospel, country soul, he kept its rhythm and sang it as well as any American musician ever has. We heard all of it in that soulful howl of his lamenting the missing Ophelia and the soul-crushed Confederate soldier, and the temptations and ravages of the road.
[. . .] We’re a hell of a musical country. We’re a people with a soundtrack. The wind whistling through the pines and jackhammers tearing up concrete, guitars and fiddles in the subway, hip-hop on the corner, blues down the alley, “a saxophone in some far off place,” a flute in the desert.
Whatever levees we build between us, by color, class, creed or politics, the river overflows them. In the city, out in the country, on the plains or in the projects, we pine and dream and cry and love to some strain of American music that is connected to every other strain of American music. Levon showed us that, and made us want to sing along with him on his ramble.
About four or five years ago you wrote about an American writer and thinker, perhaps an academic philosopher, who published, I believe, two books and seemed to disappear. You had difficulty finding information about him online. I believe you said he had an interest in East Asian thought. His “career” was eccentric by conventional standards and he seemed to be something of a loner.
This post examines Richard C. Potter's solution to the problem of reconciling creatio ex nihilo with ex nihilo nihil fit in his valuable article, "How To Create a Physical Universe Ex Nihilo," Faith and Philosophy, vol. 3, no. 1, (January 1986), pp. 16-26. (Potter appears to have dropped out of sight, philosophically speaking, so if anyone knows what became of him, please let me know. The Philosopher's Index shows only three articles by him, the last of which appeared in 1986.)
I don't know whether Potter is the man Kurp had in mind, but the former does satisfy part of Kurp's description. In any event, the Richard Potter story is an interesting one.
I recall talking to him, briefly, in the summer of 1981 at Brown University. I was a participant in Roderick Chisholm's National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar, and Potter, who I believe had recently completed his Ph.D. at Brown, sat in on a few sessions. My impression was he that he was unable to secure a teaching position. I also recall a slightly derogatory comment I made about the Midwest and how one might have to go there to find employment. Potter's mild-mannered reply was to the effect that he preferred the Midwest over other geographical regions. His name stuck in my mind probably because of a paper on the paradox of analysis he co-authored with Chisholm and because of the F & P article mentioned above. See here. But then he dropped out of philosophical sight.
A few years back, I did a search and he turned up again as a George Reeves and Superman aficionado. So here is part of the rest of the Potter story. Here is Potter's George Reeves site.
Man attempts to enter swanky restaurant. Maitre d' informs him that coat and tie are required. Man returns to car, dons coat, and tries once more to enter. Maitre d' says that a tie is also necessary. Man returns to car, opens trunk, takes out jumper cables, and arranges them around his neck. Heated discussion ensues, but maitre d' finally relents: "OK, you can go in, but just don't start anything!"
I remember exactly when and where I heard this joke. It was June of 1995. I was headed from Phoenix to Charlottesville to take part in an NEH Summer Seminar on the Philosophy of Science at the University of Virginia. As I was 'motorvatin'* in my '88 Jeep Cherokee past Knoxville, Tennessee on Interstate 40, old Paul Harvey (1918-2009) came on the air and told the above joke.
Now you know the rest of the story.
*'Motorvatin' borrowed from Chuck Berry's Maybelline.
Check out this H-D promotional video. A celebration of individuality by people who dress the same, ride the same make of motorcycle, and chant in unison.
"Some of us believe in the Man Upstairs, but all of us believe in stickin' it to the Man Down Here."
But without the Man there would be no roads, no gasoline, no science, no technology, no motorcycles, no law and order, no orderly context in which aging lawyers and dentists could play at stickin' it to the Man on the weekends. The Man is discipline, self-denial, repression, deferral of gratification, control of the instinctual. The Man is civilization discontents and all. Without the Man there would be no one to stick it to, and nothing to stick it to him with. Adolescents of all ages need the Man to have someone to rebel against.
Still and all, after watching this video, what red-blooded American boomer doesn't want to rush out and buy himself a hog? Get your motor runnin', head out on the highway . . . .