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Preface: As I've said, oldie writing will be dusted off and plunked blogside (at least at first; new stuff should gradually overtake i...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A quick look at the morning newspaper

Brushing aside Nietzsche's excellent warning that reading first thing in the morning is vicious, I cast my breakfast eye on the Boxing Day edition of the Edmonton Journal, fresh out of the mailbox. Lots of flyers, of course, to keep the capitalist materialism clattering smartly along (Sobey's Liquor lures me with $4 off Muskoka Brewery's "Survival Pack"--a 12-box picturing a quaint gent in a Boer War-era hat holding four bottles of their product. The Maple Leaf Forev-urp!!)
    The big story atop page-one is "Wolverine stronghold beckons researchers." Actually, considering what the oil industry is doing in Alberta, "weakhold" would be a better word. But you know how it is with journalists, journalese and rousing headlines.
   It also occurs to me that in putting GPS trackers on wolverines, our researchers are committing a rather grotesque violation of the creatures' privacy. Really, it's none of the scientists' damn business what the wolverines do and where they go, right?
   Simultaneously however, it occurs to me that it would have been (and still may be) an excellent idea to place such a tracker on Bob Dylan back in, say, 1962, with a little nano-cam at eye-level to tell us what the unrepentant bookworm is reading. Something tells me that in 1966-67 we would have seen a lot of Signet editions of Shakespeare, and overall we would suffer much less random blather from music critics and other Dylanologists.
    As to the rest of the paper, from Legislature-dome repairs to the Canadian news-story of the year (Lac Megantic inferno trumps Rob Ford's druggie adventures) let me just abscond Don Henley's summary: "Looked at the headlines/ Put me in a real bad mood." Yep.
    Toss it aside and get to work already.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bob Dylan, Mencken and the old love train

One of the side-effects of researching Bob Dylan's roots in Shakespeare is a burgeoning grok that Dylan borrows liberally from anywhere and everywhere. Another Dylanologist, for instance, has uncovered a vast trove of Hemingway (and everything else from Chaucer to Joe Eszterhas) lurking between the lines of his songs as well as throughout his Chronicles memoir, and again there is the 2011 hullabaloo over Dylan's use of photos for some of his paintings. Yet again, as noted in a previous post, "Absolutely Sweet Marie" seems to be a tarted-up Emily Dickinson, and the song itself a remarkable sort of poetic critique, with references back to her verse.
    Because of all this, as well as Dylan's listing of a truckload of influences in Chronicles, not to mention the Shakespeare-heap in the Basement Tapes that I'm STILL trying to size up (it's BIG, folks) my brain has been conditioned to look on just about every word he utters as a potential allusion. Moreover, since Dylan lists Sinclair Lewis reverently on the last page of Chronicles (and also on Blonde on Blonde--can anybody else spot the sly Lewis reference on that album?? Hint: go Mobile) last spring the suspicion popped into my head that eventually I'd trip over an allusion to H. L. Mencken somewhere in my Dylan wanderings. Didn't Sinclair Lewis, after all, dedicate Elmer Gantry to Mencken "with profound admiration"? Wasn't Dylan steeped in Fitzgerald, Hemingway and those other 20s literati with whom Mencken consorted? And the clincher for my paranoiac percolation: Dylan's translation of Shakespeare into surreal hillbilly strophes perhaps resembles Mencken's semi-comic translation of the Declaration of Independence into colloquial American.
    But that was half a year ago and despite my anticipation... nothing. Then three weeks ago I was idly plowing through my typhoon-stricken office when I happened upon the three-volumes-in-one edition of memoirs, The Days of H. L. Mencken. This combined edition of 1947 has a short new introduction which I've long loved but not recently revisited, so I dug in. Ah yes, here was his nod to the ladies:

...many letters have come from women, and... most of them, especially those relating to Happy Days, have said in substance, "I had precisely the same experience." It never occurred to me in my youth, or to any other normal American boy of the time, that creatures in skirts and pigtails saw the world as we did. Yet it seems to have been the case, and I am glad of it, for it means that many grandmothers of today, like their husbands and brothers, cherish memories of an era when the world was a great deal more comfortable and amusing than it is today. We were lucky to have been born so soon. As the shadows close in we can at least recall that there was a time when people could spend weeks, months and even years without being badgered, bilked or alarmed...

And on he satirically goes, through the range of human folly, to the punchline and conclusion:

I enjoyed myself immensely, and all I try to do here is to convey some of my joy to the nobility and gentry of this once great and happy Republic, now only a dismal burlesque of its former self.

A typically good-natured bit of misanthropy, but the jolt here for a Dylan student would be the "burlesque" Republic, which must automatically suggest Dylan's Empire Burlesque. But alas, not quite a smoking pistol to be tagged and presented as evidence in court.
    A few days later, however, a random quip by Mencken goes traipsing through my brain, as his many witticisms are wont to do: "Love is a season-pass on the shuttle between heaven and hell." (or something like that--punching "Mencken love season pass shuttle heaven hell" into Google's cyber-snouter fails to yield the exact quote). Then within seconds, the mysterious workings of my decrepit neurons upon the Mencken quip also rouse to mind, in some para-Google way, these Dylan lines from one of his classic love songs:

The train leaves at half-past ten
But it'll be back tomorrow at the same time again,
The conductor, he's weary,
He's still stuck on the line,

But if I can save you any time,
Come on, give it to me,
I'll keep it with mine.
                  (song: "I'll Keep It with Mine")

If this is a Mencken-extrapolation (I'd say it's a little short of a smoking pistol again) it's a damn good one, especially that "stuck on the line" shuttle-bit, for if Dylan knows his Mencken ($20 Canadian says he does) he'd know "stuck on the line" yields an elegant double-meaning (Dylan is very prolific in double-meanings) namely that Mencken, although his first published book was a poetic Ventures into Verse, in his later critic-incarnation he became very iffy and somewhat disparaging of poetry, which he considered a lesser art. Stuck on the "line" indeed.
    But whatever Dylan's meaning(s), the overall idea of a love shuttle corresponds perfectly with Mencken, so that now I'm almost thinking Dylan's song wasn't really a love-tribute to Nico, as I originally heard (or Judy Collins as Wikipedia has it) but a sly paean to Mencken himself. Maybe?
    If so, it certainly wouldn't be the first or last time Dylan wrote ardent verse to a member of the woody gender.

PS: I was also thinking that a reference to heaven and/or hell would really CLINCH the shuttle allusion, but nope, nothing. Then the pun hit me. I tweeted it about Dec. 9-10 @frameofmind if you can't spot it in the lyrics yourself...

PPS: The gobsmacker on Wikipedia is that the song was originally titled "Bank Account Blues" (!!!) Weird as Dylan, eh? Maybe it's me channeling that wacko Weberman (or vice versa) but I detect a few ppm of old "Tory" Mencken in that title too...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

No country for sissies or nihilists (but scammers...)

One of the more surprising items in the ongoing climate war (now raging in theatres everywhere) is a surprise-attack on the cultural front. Not content with merely blitzing the field with armies of statistics and shooting off enough assertions of causality to make Aristotle's compost spin at 12,000 rpm in his grave...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Climate change: the current epitome of the human comedy?

Trying to summarize the Hydra-headed beast that is climate change is a challenge, I'll admit.
    Although the topic is a chronic invader of my brain, and, after picking up a "News & Opinion" section of a newspaper one morning and finding the issue is rampant upon its eight pages, I can still stare at the damn computer screen for 15 minutes trying to get the familiar herd of elephants in the room into some semblance of order.
    It isn't just that the facts of global warming are mind-bogglingly complex (which they are). A huffer and puffer upon climate-science could simply point to the rapidly shrinking Arctic ice-cap, and thence to the Stockholm protesters on p.A23 with their eloquent "#debateisover" sign (hm, has the Guinness Book of World Records registered the world's first placard employing a hashtag?) and shout, grumble or quietly insist that it is clearly time to DO something. Cut the damn CO2 emissions already!
    Ah, if only the solution were so easy. Then surely some bumbling attempt, at least, would already have happened. What?--you say several bumbling attempts HAVE been attempted? My gracious, then WHAT could be the problem?
    Well, we all know the rogues' gallery: politicians beholden to big energy companies, stinking right-wing media-people and opinion-leaders also probably directly or indirectly on the payroll (that would be me, minus the followers and the payoff), misguided lay-folks in thrall to these politicians and sophists--in short everyone who can be lumped under the "denier" rubric. Refute these weaselly obstructionists, or better yet just knock them out of the way, and we will quickly get the CO2 under .400 again.
   As I say, a very pleasant vision, and there are bleak days when I wish I could subscribe to it. Beats the hell out of getting a nano-second into a "but" and getting lumped with the deniers. For thus goes and thus has gone the "debate" now declared over. Be part of the problem or part of the solution, and God's mercy on anyone who thinks there might be any middle ground in this clear-cut Manicheism.
   The Holy Grail of the climate-believers, as you probably know is an international agreement to reduce those CO2 emissions; my fundamental critique of this Grail is that we have no politician gutsy or foolhardy enough to play King Knud (aka Canute) and point out that things don't just happen because our omnipotent dictators order them to happen; and where the economic rubber meets the road, reducing CO2 in any significant way will likely necessitate some harsh and violent braking, harsher than was seen in the 2008 slowdown.
    Do this thought-experiment..

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why high culture is always counterculture, but not vice versa

Tucked inconspicuously in the back of The Mencken Chrestomathy, in a section titled...

How to profit from the dollar-standard in the arts

Heaps and heaps and heaps of paper, and sitting atop one heap for the longest time, Hilton Kramer's The Revenge of the Philistines, subtitled: Art and Culture 1972-1984.
    On the pretext of attacking and subduing the heap, I grab it and toss it onto my "immediate" heap of supposedly high-priority stuff. Neither as decisive or shrewd a move as I'm trying to make it...

Whoa! Adbusters has a grand scheme for us!

Perhaps I have a twisted sense of humor, but it always strikes me as funny that I can pick up a copy of Adbusters at Safeway. The new revolution, plunked between Esquire and tubs of potato-salad, mine for only $12.99 plus GST (the price giving a fair indication how much advertising helps with cost of the average $5.99 to $7.99 glossy; and REALLY, why doesn't everybody just round up to the dollar?)
    Adbusters has recently ditched its perverse oversize format for the normal 8x11 magazine size, but something about the last issue (some aspect of its always-fervent ideology, no doubt) annoyed me into passing it over, as I usually do. At the risk of revealing a punchy punchline without a spoiler-alert, Adbusters is solid leftie and this scoffer is implacable rightie. And maybe that is all you need to know.
    But as occasionally happens, I grab a copy...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Are essays dead?--or just a billion zombies?

The Grand Ponderits of academe frequently stroke their beards over whether the novel-form is dead, although the topic is abstruse and boring enough that it rarely hits mainstream media, and is thus easily avoided. Not given the beard-stroking treatment, however, is the question of...

...usual cliff-hanger...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

On being invalid

The day before surgery we are prepped ("pre-screening" they call it). I park in the new Edmonton Clinic and walk through the long overpass to University Hospital (proper name: Walter Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre) which affords an impressive panorama to those strolling across. Not much greenery, just a few trees and grass-patches--but along 114 Street we take in a striking array of architecture--on the left, mere feet away, is the old brick Nurses Home (title engraved on a stone lintel) now titled "Research Transition Facility" (on cardboard or plastic, in a window); on the right the huge University Hospital-complex complete with outbuildings (e.g. Clinical Sciences) surviving from the days of the old University Hospital.
    It was brick too, as are a dozen or so remaining historical buildings on the University of Alberta campus. One, the Administration Building, is visible straight to the north...

...to be continued...

...yep, this one will wander a bit, to Voltaire-on-Shakespeare among other digressions... don't go away!... wait, wait! Where are you going?...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Where is the last ditch? (or what is a metaphor for?)

    Some thoughts on the rhetoric of journalists (alternately lurid, trite, hackneyed, rich in solecisms...) with a truckload of examples to embarrass everyone and ensure that I never work in this town again...

Oh hey, here's a fresh and fairly good one from the October Mother Jones: "a continuous series of pipelines and processing plants that line the Mississippi as it twists like a busted-up slinky toward the gulf"(48, although I think both Slinky and Gulf should be capitalized)...

Ah, were but all journalist so dexterous with their words!

As I return to this germ of an essay after

Friday, September 6, 2013

Tailoring Canada's national anthem to various cranks and agendas

Picking up the August edition of our community paper Rat Creek Press, I notice a quarter-page advertisement from my MP Peter Goldring with the somewhat awkward heading, "O CANADA 'IN ALL THY SONS COMMAND'"  and arguing in nine paragraphs that: "The current anthem is politically correct and is gender neutral."
    Wow, good to see that all the bases are covered, Mr. G! But, as many a furious controversy over the national anthem has raged north of the 49th Parallel, even to violent barfights, mayhem and editorials (note to Americans: joking here) it may be worthwhile to address the burning question of the anthem's social adequacy in that cool, rational and faintly neurotic way that typifies the True North.
    Mayhaps it is even more worthwhile to address it in a ribald and iconoclastic way. I mean, this isn't the Excited States, where people get lynched for not saluting the flag. We DO get a bit choked-up about the anthem, but not to that degree...

Friday, August 30, 2013

The proper Shakespearean Hokey-Pokey

One never knows what strange brain-spasms may come when one awakes (the Dylan-Shakespeare thing, you might recall, began with a groggy, waking earworm of Dylan's "Crash on the Levee" rattling through my old brain) and this morning was no exception--just a random fact-recall: that someone had done a parody of the children's song-dance the Hokey-Pokey, in ponderous Shakespearean diction--of course a far, iambic-pentameter cry from the simple bouncing doggerel of the original.
    I also recalled that while the parody had considerable charm and humor, it rather overdid the heightened-language mannerisms and other buffooneries, and could probably be improved. After giving the dog her scheduled pain-killer, I whipped out a sheet of paper and over breakfast cereal my brain delighted me by quickly cranking out--
       Thine left foot, thrust thou outwardly,
       Thine left foot then draw in,
       Thine left foot, once again, outwardly,
       O thine foot dost thou launch into full-spirited agitation,
       Enact the dance called Hokey-Pokey, thus,
       Turn thy body round, and this compriseth sum and approbation. (etc.)

Um, okay, now to prove I haven't totally lost my Elgin Marbles...

PS: Yep, a little of the eternal revisionism the next day (jeez, actually forgot the original lyrics, which can vary a bit: http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-hokey-pokey-lyrics-brave-combo.html ).
    Polish, polish... ah, the ridiculous ways I avoid that damn Dylan article. Oh yes, here be the swings and errors of the original parody: http://www.phantomranch.net/folkdanc/articles/hokeypokey.htm

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Did I solve the mystery of "Nottamun Town" in 1998? Or...?

I was pretty sure of my solution to the enigmatic song while struggling through my second Fiction Writing class. Then came the internet, and I stumbled on the Wikipedia entry...


*usual starter-kit* (may contain a tangential note on the evolution of "Lydia Pink" to "Lily the Pink" too....)

Monday, August 26, 2013

1,001 afterthoughts on Bob Dylan's cute references

Yes, it will be impossible to get ALL the cuteness into the Dylan/Shakespeare article, so this is the spot for the overflow (e.g. what the heck Dylan's "Scarlet Town" is all about. Hint: when Dylan sings "The streets have names that you can't pronounce"--one of them is possibly 4th Street). And a few reactions to reader concerns and/or snoring.
    "Scarlet Town," by the way, may be a number of things, including a highly-coded (i.e. referential) treatise on the art of referential poem-composition...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hey, hey, it's Noam Chomsky! (and perkier stuff)

The illusion persists that intellectuals are able to choose their own paths of thought, and select their own fields of battle, but this is no more true for us professional thunkers than it is for other cops. At least 90% of our time is spent dealing with other thunkers and/or perceived malefactors who pounce upon the polity. And circumscribing their thunking is, with brutal and often tedious inevitability, what constitutes our never-ending patrol work.
    Cruising through Edmonton's Fringe Festival last week (the second-largest in the world after Edinburgh!) a gang of us over-educated folks stopped by the Wee Book Inn to browse...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Walking the dog. Just walking the dog

Taking our German Shepoid out for a morning walk is my normal start to the day, and although strenuous (she is three years old and prone to bursts of energy; I'm 60 and not) the routine is refreshing and invigorating, even something of a Zen exercise in getting attuned to one's environs.
    We live in Edmonton's inner city, so the jaunt is funkier than it would be in the suburbs (a new neighborhood pops up every week on Edmonton's outskirts--thank you, bustling fossil-fuel economy!) and one is almost guaranteed to see a hooker and a bottle-picker or two before arriving back home...

outlawed harebells, don't-give-a-crap yards

pseudo-joists, drawer w dado joints!

surprise cat-lunge

Sunday, July 28, 2013

So, is Shakespeare an anti-semite or what?

This essay was sparked by a Friday letter to National Post by a theatre professor, uttering the oddest assertion--that Shakespeare bestows no mercy upon Shylock in Merchant of Venice. But also Margaret Atwood's supremely hesitant fudging on the subject in her Payback lectures. And a book-reviewer in the Globe and Mail a few years back who called Shakespeare an "extreme anti-semite" if memory serves--this despite the fact that it was in the Globe and Mail back in the 80s that I read my first thoroughly-reasoned defense of the Merchant of Venice as being not anti-semitic. But really, who does research before filibustering nowadays?
    So, was Shakespeare anti-semitic? And is Merchant of Venice Exhibit A of the evidence?
    You would think that after 400+ years all this would be a settled question. Nope. You'd be surprised how little has actually been settled regarding any aspect of the Bard, despite ample time for scholarly tie-downs. A joke I overheard in academe nicely summarizes the situation: "All Shakespeare plays are now problem-plays."
    Perhaps the joke is a puzzler to anyone with the usual smattering of high-school Shakespeare. What the joke riffs upon is the professorial invention and maintenance of a group of Shakespeare plays that don't seem to follow the dramatic rules--Measure for Measure, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida and a few others--but whose strange qualities are perhaps more in the eye of the beholder than within the plays themselves. The professors themselves argue about which plays to categorize as problematic, and a few rebels in the prof-gang even denounce the problem-designation as fuzzy, useless and overdue for a trashing
    So. Let's grab Merchant of Venice with our heavy-duty tongs and have some fun with racism versus anti-racism, possibly the most idiotic dialectic on the planet...

(another mere starter; stay tuned)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What can't be found on the internet

As a fossil old enough to remember flip-flip-flipping through a card-index to do research, let me gladly confess to immense gratitude for the quantum leap in ease-of-hunting and plethora-of-results delivered by the digital revolution and the internet.
    When in 1993 I wrote an undergrad paper on Firesign Theatre, the transition from old-school to cybertech was just beginning and I was actually able to do both, finding (via the subject-files of the card-index) that the University of Alberta's Rutherford Library had, yes, a copy of their Big Book of Plays, and (via a scholarly CD--an intermediate method which I suspect is equally extinct now) the news that a single serious article existed on them. In a theatre journal not carried by the U of A Library system. Damn.
    Now I punch in "Firesign Theatre" to the Google search-engine and presto: "About 1,530,000 results" starting with the usual Wikipedia entry (requiring the usual additional citations), then the group's own website, extending down to the usual fan-emissions and passing mentions.
   And now today (actually July 21, as Google Blogger only lists start-date) we get the current uproar over Rolling Stone magazine's latest cover (close up of Boston-bomber Tsarnaev's face) has me thinking "great opportunity for a spot of satire.. But first the search of the topic. WHOA!!--as of Aug. 2, 82,800,000 results!! Apres Google le deluge!
   Where to start? With the caterwauling of my fellow basement-cranks? Or the measured chin-stroking of legitimate journalists? Well, how about a Canadian compromise?...
    Mallick is something of a controversy herself (yet she garners fewer than 250,000 Google hits, and only 1,294 Twitter followers--as of Aug 2 again--versus the 3,000 to 8,000 of most media personages, and let's not even mention my pitiful 342). Yes, Mallick is somewhat... surreal:
    And leftie, if that matters to you. A person could spend half a lifetime researching Mallick online if the urge struck. Alas, she wearies me quickly. I'm more interested in why Huffington Post is so blandly boring, clogging my inbox with tripe about Frankie Valli on Elvis, retiring abroad, "25 Most Ripped Men over 50" and "Aging Too Fast." Are you asleep yet? But such flummery sells to my boomer-demographic, I guess.
    Or I drift to tangential Mallick items, e.g. an online journalism busybody that sort of defends her, saying, "Mallick seems to be consistent"--at what is unspecified, although ideology seems the most likely candidate. The site's platitude-monger also yawps about "balance" in the classic style of low-end journalism critics, i.e. not specifying between what and what. Really, balance is one of the most dubious journalism virtues, usually just a screen for a writer's bias. Maybe it's just a mental illness of mine (check the Manual) but I prefer the bias of any journalist to be open and ripsnorting.

*in progress, I hope...*

Dave Edmunds, "It Aint Easy"

Monday, July 15, 2013

You can start anywhere

Popping awake between 4 and 5 a.m. usually before the alarm, is the normal start to my day. This morning there is extra impetus--it's been raining, so I have to check the rain-barrels to make sure they aren't overflowing. Luck is with me, they are barely half-full. But as I grab a few bucketfuls to water the raspberry bushes, a passer-by in the grey pre-dawn startles me with her yelling.
    She is clearly irate at someone and hurling abuse at them, but scouting her from a safe distance (and, I'm hoping, the camouflage of trees and bushes) I see she is alone and has no cell phone to her ear. It's all in her imagination, it seems, barring the unlikelihood of a Bluetooth.
    "Fuck you, niggah!" she rants, first walking one way, then turning back, and turning again. Now I'm also hoping she isn't a hooker and planted by my house, as sometimes happens. But after a few seconds she slowly saunters away, quieter now but still muttering a bit. I pour a few more bucketfuls and head inside.
   In my office, the insane mess, primarily heaps of newspapers. I grab a page from atop a pile, idly curious as to why I kept it...

... the taxi awaits, and so does the rest of this...

And now a few few days later, another quick dip into a news heap. The "Arts and Life" section of the Edmonton Journal, June 20, 2011. Big headline on top: "MuchMusic Video Awards/ Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber rule the night." Ho hum (or is that just the creaky, jaded geezer talking?)



Oh, and here is another old paper, the National Post, March 27, 2010. Big picture of Bieber on p. 1, with headline: PARSING THE CHARMS OF CANADA'S JUSTIN BIEBER.


Next they will be swaying to his sentence structure. Cheek-by-jowl with this story is a column by Conrad Black on the pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church. Probably not news (then or now) but Black defends the church, and employs his usual grand style of discourse, sonorously intoning such weighty words as "apostacize and "belligerency"--neither accepted by my auto-correct for some reason.

Then to the bottom of the front-page, where sits a curious feature on a gentleman suffering from schizophrenia who ends up presiding over a mental hospital. Hm! Maybe the most significant piece of information in the article is that schizophrenia is still something of a mystery ailment, although I'm noting that his paranoid fears about "Chinese agent" nurses sort of match H. L. Mencken's fears that the doctor who treated him for his debilitating stroke in 1948 was actually Joseph Stalin.

Enough to make you wonder about how the brain operates, and exactly how one wonders about the wondering.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Is Bob Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie" actually Emily Dickinson?

Can't believe how oddly and easily this idea came to me. As part of immersing myself in Dylan I downloaded Blonde on Blonde, and one day (in February or March?) the line in "Absolutely Sweet Marie" about "The Persian drunkard he follows me" just suddenly CLICKED. Hey, that would be Omar Khayyam!
   Now, I've known since Day One (1970s) that, in "Absolutely Sweet Marie" the "riverboat captain/ He knows my fate" is actually Mark Twain (I've read Letters from Earth etc.), and so with two scribes aboard the song/poem, another idea next-instantly occurred, namely that Marie herself might be a literary person. And simultaneously, all the nudge-wink stuff in Dylan's cryptogram ALSO clicked as being not about some slutty nympho hussy (check the standard interpretations, anywhere) but the reverse: some prim, chaste chick who scarcely talks about sex at all--"You see you forgot to leave me with the key/ So where are you tonight, Sweet Marie?" Emily Dickinson.
    But the truth is I know Dickinson perhaps only from a single poem (that one with "Because I would not stop for death/ Death kindly stopped for me"--exact wording not guaranteed). But just how I could generalize from THAT to the overall chasteness of her verse is a bit of a mystery. Maybe I read some notes in an old Norton Anthology?? Anyway, being a professional digressor (I'm SUPPOSED to be digging into Dylan's roots in Shakespeare, which itself is a digression from my Shakespeare work) I just HAD to stray into a few explorations of Dickinson, to see if I couldn't reinforce this Dylan hunch a bit.
    A couple of the results I posted a few days ago on @frameofmind on Twitter (to the usual silence, and presumably incomprehension) but let me repeat them a little more extensively here.
    When Dylan sings "I'm just sitting here, beating on my trumpet/ With all these promises that you left for me" and again "Six white horses that you did promise/ Were finally delivered down to the penitentiary" doesn't THAT suggest the hint of eroticism, ending in penitence, displayed in THIS Emily Dickinson poem about promising:
    The suspicion is strengthened by the appallingly deep scholarship in Clinton Heylin's Revolution in the Air, where Heylin reveals that in Dylan's original notes for the song, the lyric is actually "the promises you left, that (he) gave to me"
It's pretty easy to perceive an overlapping "he" in both Dylan and Dickinson, eh? And, Jesus, on Dickinson's side it's literally six stanzas/horses of percolating eroticism (by Victorian standards) before Dickinson gets to ye olde Christian penitence.
I'd say Dylan is a pretty good critic of poetry...

PS: I listed "sex" in the labels for this post, at the risk of attracting all those Russian porn surfers again. Take a hike, creeps! But nah, nobody is reading my cyber-blather, except bots methinks.

PPS: (Aug. 1) Likely it would be NSA/KGB security-bots, surveying every drop in the internet-ocean, attempting to see if this poetry stuff is terrorist or what... hm hm... just re-read that Dickinson "Promise This" poem and did a further *CLICK!* to her "Belt your eye" and Bob Dylan's "Me with my belt/ Wrapped round my head" in "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat" (also from Blonde on Blonde) ... http://www.bobdylan.com/ca/node/25814

Any deniers left?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How an intellectual clears the sidewalk

Fussily, to put it briefly.
    Which might be why the blog has suffered of late, for a dump of snow seems to have arrived every second day here in Edmonton this winter, and I seem to be constantly outside with a shovel, doing the long, long sidewalk on our corner lot, which may be the death of my writing career.
    But I do get a bit of brainwork done between times, albeit all too little, slowly, and somehow the sidewalk always seems to suffer. Snow must be cleared promptly to be done easily; if you wait, the white stuff is stomped down and glues to the walk, and/or melts/refreezes at this time of year, which is even worse. And so if I struggle, as I do, to complete my Bob-Dylan-surrealizes-Shakespeare article (hideously overdue) or skim the rags to reconnoiter the issues--getting maybe a handful of global warming items that might be the seed of something--the sidewalk is maybe developing ice-patches, injuries and lawsuits...
    Even writing the above intro has cost a half hour of potential work time in the taxi, where I spend 60+ hours a week. You just can't win. And God knows how many global-warming articles are scattered around this anarchy of an office.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Who is the "Mighty Quinn"?

The following blog-post is, for the moment, ONLY an **extended intro** cum teaser. But the entire article WILL get plunked here, maybe two or three days after making a debut in dead-wood media, thereby generating some do-re-mi for both the papers and your beleaguered racketeer of writing. Stay tuned... can't believe this stretch-essay has incubated over five months... *sigh* ...
   May, nine months... *siiiiiiiigh*...    
   July, 11 months...    
   March, 2014 19 months...
My THIRD August: Okay, sneak preview (30%?) of this stinking, overlong yet way-too-short albatross... now (Aug. 29) SENT OUT... and waiting for editorial blessing (doubtful, given 6,300 words...) Yep, as journalism it went over like a uranium blimp...
    FOURTH August (2015): Wait for the book (not the movie, because there won't be one).

Suggested call-out from article (one of a bunch):

More astonishingly, (the Beatles') "Come Together" artfully and playfully recognizes two related Shakespeare sources that Dylan uses--can you spot them?

The Shakespeare in Bob Dylan's basement    

Who is the Mighty Quinn anyway? (a rascal from Quebec??)

...and, um, why did Dylan perform a sex-change operation on him before slipping her across the border?

Now, when someone offers me a joke,

I just say no thanks,
I try to tell it like it is,
And keep away from pranks.
                          - Bob Dylan, "Going to Acapulco" 1967

Any attempt to render sense from the published lyrics to these (Dylan's 1967 Basement Tapes) songs just strikes me as against the whole spirit of the sessions.

                              -Clinton Heylin, Revolution in the Air

The why is plain as way to parish church:

He that a fool doth very wisely hit
Doth very foolishly, although he smart,
Not to seem senseless of the bob...
                 - Shakespeare, As You Like It

He got the voice that speak in riddles...

              -John Fogerty, "Old Man Down the Road" 1985

Bob is not authentic at all. He's a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.

                                   Joni Mitchell, 2010

The lights of my native land are glowing,

I wonder if they'll know me next time 'round.
                           -Bob Dylan, "Duquesne Whistle" 2012

You ain't never going to figure out what Bob's going to do next. Only God knows what's going on in his mind.
                 -Ronnie Hawkins OC, 2014

  Behold the sizzling 60s, now largely reduced to a dusty diorama of hippies, LSD and Woodstock (or in the April Walrus magazine, a rehash of the Port Huron Statement in dishwater-dull terms). But poke around the area, hotspots may surprise you.

    For starters, try a little-visited YouTube snippet of the Beatles in studio circa January 1969, messing briefly with Bob Dylan's "Please, Mrs. Henry"--just a minute-long audio-clip with a photo slapped on, but it features John strumming guitar and mock-rasping a bit of the chorus--"Please, Mrs. Henry! Mrs. Henry, please!"--a few people chatting around him, then George talking about "playing the tapes" (those famous long ago Dylan Basement Tapes) and almost-laughing, "The words!..."
    Ah yes, the words. Stuff like "I'm a thousand years old, I'm a generous bomb/ I'm T-boned and punctured, I've been known to be calm"--to quote the song's romping discombobulation (which the Beatles only toyed with, though "I Am the Walrus" approaches its zany spirit).
    What can possibly be said about those Bob Dylan lyrics? In fact two entire books have recently been devoted to the Tapes, one by senior rock-music critic, Greil Marcus, who wrote the liner-notes to the official Basement Tapes album finally released in 1975. His book The Old, Weird America wraps the songs in every tangent from "the great Harvard scholar" F. O. Matthiesson to Appalachian coal-mining history, but neither it nor Sid Griffin's Million Dollar Bash get very far into the screwball lyrics, whose mystery endures. A befuddled critic today might still echo George Harrison's speechless wonder at them. Or like Dylanologist Scott Heylin postulate they have no rational meaning. Or maybe they are "automatic writing" or "patched together out of scraps."
    The story behind the Basement Tapes is that Bob Dylan, after a July 1966 motorcycle accident and/or collapse from overwork and drugs, retreated to his home in upstate New York, and for much of 1967 recuperated by woodshedding with his 80%-Canadian back-up band from an arduous 1965-66 world tour, in the basement garage of their nearby West Saugerties house, dubbed Big Pink (and iconicized in 1968 when the band became the Band and released their first album Music from Big Pink).
    The Saugerties crew fixed up Big Pink's basement for sound-recording (another YouTube clip has Robbie Robertson recalling how this pioneer home-studio came about) and cellarside they recorded a staggering number of songs. The casual sessions (often attended by a dog named Hamlet) began with covers of old American folk tunes, and over time drifted to Dylan originals with a similarly antiquated "Americana" flavor, as well as stray tidbits from the Band, for a total of 100+ songs.
   Mostly it was done for the sheer joy of making music, although it is now credited with starting the roots-music and alt-country genres. But Dylan also had the idea of putting 14 of his songs onto a demo-tape and circulating copies for other artists to record. The Beatles, as noted, didn't bite. But another British band, Manfred Mann grabbed "Mighty Quinn" (aka "Quinn the Eskimo") from the tape and made a big hit of it (#1 in Britain).
    Which is where your Edmonton kibitzologist comes in--on Christmas 1967 at the age of 14, I received a tiny portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, and one of the songs it soon captured from the radio was "Mighty Quinn."
    Aside from being a catchy singalong song, two things stood out: first, its odd lyrics, e.g. "Let me do what I wanna do, I can't decide on my own"--huh? Actually, the end-lyric is "I can't decide 'em all" as research determined, but the correction clarifies nothing; the words remain as cryptic as the following line: "Just tell me where to put 'em, and I'll tell you who to call"--huh?? Again, the chorus of "You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn" to my young ears sounded like "You'll Nazi nothing."
   The second eyebrow-raiser was flipping through a purloined-from-dad Playboy magazine and seeing, amid more comely Hollywoodites, a photo of actor Anthony Quinn as an Eskimo with fur-edged hood in some film. Surely this was a clue, but what sort?? My Hardy Boys Detective Handbook hadn't prepared me for this at all.
   Despite being a junior music fanatic, at that age I was unaware of Dylan's authorship, and barely registered Dylan himself, despite digging his midsize hit "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35" a year earlier (which also stumped me with its chorus of "But I would not feel so all alone/ Everybody must get stoned!")
    Succeeding years, however, especially college with its discovery of the tabloid Rolling Stone, planted Dylan firmly in my consciousness, up to the mandatory heavy contemplation of his lyrics. It was a jolt, for instance, when I read Joseph Conrad's Victory and realized Pedro in the novel matched "faithful slave Pedro" in Dylan's "Tombstone Blues" (albeit Conrad's Pedro lacks a "fantastic collection of stamps/ To win friends and influence his uncle"). And a bigger triumph deducing that the highway in "Highway 61 Revisited" neatly symbolizes faith.
    But Dylan wasn't my light on the road to Damascus; critic H. L. Mencken supplied that. Still, fate delivered plenty of Dylan epiphanies to tuck into my karma, from seeing him in concert in Nuremberg in 1978, to reading a Rolling Stone item about a costume-party where attendees came as something in a Dylan song (hugely successful, e.g. a partygoer who "dressed/ With 20 pounds of headlines stapled to his chest") to debating another aficionado as to which Dylan album was best--he chose Blonde on Blonde, I voted the Basement Tapes. On such questions reasonable fanatics may differ.
    But like many of the hypnotized, I fled Dylan after his late-70s leap to Christianity. My love of literature, however, eventually led (long story) to becoming an amateur Shakespeare shamus, mainly of his lesser-known play Troilus and Cressida. Which is how I happened to wake one morning in August 2012, a week after downloading the 1975 Basement Tapes, with a peculiar line from its "Crash on the Levee" serenading my groggy brain: "You can train on down to William's Point/ You can bust your feet, you can rock this joint"--and wondered, did this refer to William Shakespeare?
    A preposterous connection. And yet the song's minimal lyrics do seem to be a distorted echo of Prince Hamlet lashing out at his mother: "Mama, don't you make a sound"--and/or Ophelia: "If you go down in the flood, it's gonna be your own fault"--although the scrambled state of the words (bookish Dylan playing hillbilly-illiterate, it seems) keeps a clear verdict just out of reach. But really, what the heck is "It's king for king, queen for queen/ Gonna be the meanest flood anybody's seen" doing on an all-American levee? Eh?
   Furthermore, as any Bobphile knows, Ophelia has already had a surreal cameo as an "old maid" in 1965's "Desolation Row." And in Dylan'sTarantula (a stream-of-anything book also from the mid-60s) he taunts a middlebrow for getting good grades in easy literature, but not in Hamlet, indicating Dylan knows its status as a enigmatic "problem play" among the profs. Again, "Shakespeare he's in the alley/ With his pointed shoes and his bells" saunters through "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" in 1966, the same year Dylan, on the European leg of that grueling concert tour, visited Hamlet's Kronborg Castle, where as Howard Sounes notes in his Dylan-bio Down the Highway, "Bob was interested to learn all he could about the fabled Prince of Denmark." So, if every auteur from Goethe to Lincoln to Kurosawa has succumbed to Shakespeare-fascination, why not Dylan? And why not another go at Hamlet in 1967?
    But while glumly contemplating how short the song is (under two minutes) and the need for more evidential verses, I notice only one song on the Basement Tapes is shorter, the rousing opener "Odds and Ends" at a mere 1:48; a favorite song among favorites, but now idly rehearsing its lyrics in my head, it hits me like a wallop: Dylan berating a lady (again) sounds like Prince Troilus watching Lady Cressida in the climactic tent-scene in Troilus and Cressida.
    "I stand in awe and I shake my face/ You break your promise all over the place" (as the song starts) perfectly describes Troilus's initial shock, the idiosyncratic "shake my face" depicting his subsequent rage and hinting at you-know-who. And the couple did pledge love-vows to each other.
    Going to Dylan's official website to verify the "Odds and Ends" lyrics delivers a second, larger wallop: the revisionist Dylan, who often tweaks his poetry in perplexing ways, has changed the intro line--instead of awe and shaken face we get "I plan it all and I take my place." This is now CLEARLY the Troilus and Cressida tent-scene.
    For those unfamiliar with the play, Troilus and Cressida is Shakespeare's reconfiguration of the Trojan War tale, borrowing heavily from medieval sources (especially Chaucer) who added a love-story to the skeleton of Homer's Iliad. In Shakespeare's version, as the long war festers, on the Trojan side Lady Cressida's uncle Pandarus arranges a tryst between her and Prince Troilus, but the day after it is consummated Cressida is traded to the Greeks in exchange for a Trojan prisoner. In a hasty farewell, Troilus tells Cressida he will come to the Greek camp and surreptitiously visit her (the plan). When a group of Trojan warriors goes to the Greek camp to watch a single-combat, Troilus slips away to, nope, not have a romantic moment with her, but merely eavesdrop--"take my place" unseen in the tent where she stays. What he sees (as per Dylan) is Cressida flirting with her Greek guardian Diomedes. Cue the jealous fury.
    Atop these two play-echoes, I recollect a third, well-known hint of Shakespeare in the Basement Tapes song "Tears of Rage"--"What dear daughter 'neath the sun/ Would treat a father so?/ To wait upon him hand and foot/ Yet always answer 'no'"--this is widely seen as a reference to King Lear. With these three items staring at me, the question naturally arose: how much more Shakespeare might be in the Basement Tapes? Maybe every wacky Dylan song on the Tapes encapsulates a nugget of Shakespeare?
    The next step is familiar: just as I consult a Bible concordance to ferret out religious allusions in Shakespeare (Troilus and Cressida is riddled with them), I now reach for a Shakespeare concordance (Google be praised!--there is one online!) to start looking for word-matches with Dylan. It is tedious slogging and 19 times out of 20 a searcher draws a blank, but slowly bits of Shakespeare begin to emerge. One of the first is the rocked "joint" from "Crash on the Levee"--it connects with (causes?) "the time is out of joint" in Hamlet. As the song contains zero indication what "joint" Dylan is singing about (let's not speculate in the marijuana direction) the word is added to our Hamlet hints, filed under wordplay, alongside a certain levy/levee pun.
    "Odds and Ends" yields even better links to Troilus and Cressida. Its chorus of "Odds and ends, odds and ends/ Lost time is not found again" resonates with the play's "Speech on Time," and more deeply with the "arrival scene" in which the traded Cressida is led to the Greek camp, where resident highbrow Ulysses proposes that the Greek princes greet her with each a kiss. Three princes, old Nestor, Achilles and Patroclus do so, Patroclus most suggestively, explicitly acting Paris embracing and kissing Helen, the very cause of the war. Next comes Menelaus, the cuckolded husband who began the mobilization of a thousand ships to get his Helen back:

Menelaus: I'll have my kiss, sir. Lady, by your leave.

Cressida: In kissing, do you render or receive?
Menelaus: Both take and give.
Cressida: I'll make my match to live,
The kiss you take is better than you give,
Therefore no kiss.
Menelaus: I'll give you boot, I'll give you three for one.
Cressida: You are an odd man; give even or give none.
Menelaus: An odd man, lady? Every man is odd.
Cressida: No, Paris is not, for you know 'tis true
That you are odd and he is even with you.
Menelaus: You fillip me o' the head.... (to ...Dylan's "You take your file and you bend my head" etc.)

   *    *     *
(main body of essay with another ton of detail) 

  *     *     *
 ...An appalling amount of stuff remains to be sorted out, e.g.the time jokes (hint: "quarter to three" in "Going to Acapulco" and its "soft gut" are both filched from Shakespeare's "Seven Ages"). Again, there's the status of Dylan's "This Wheel's on Fire" as a grab-bag of the Tragedies (e.g. "confiscate your lace" from Othello, "unpack" from Hamlet, "wheel's on fire" from King Lear and/or G. Wilson Knight's study of the Tragedies, The Wheel of Fire).
    Yet again, a half-essay must be written on Dylan deriving "I Shall Be Released" from Richard II (and how, as with "Odds and Ends" and Troilus and Cressida, his distillation proves Dylan a razor-sharp critic). Indeed, I would argue that in "Crash on the Levee" Dylan has, implicitly at the very least, solved the centuries-old mystery of Hamlet, perceiving that the play is no tragedy (as Voltaire also argued) and that Prince Hamlet is no tragic hero but a downright vicious schmuck--which is how Dylan plays him. Why else would Dylan caricature Hamlet blaming Ophelia for her own drowning? And then sneering, "You're going to have to find yourself another best friend somehow"--a downright spiteful, nay lunatic thing to say. Isn't it time we scholars stopped making excuses for the unhinged Prince of Denmark? (Voltaire notably didn't go quite so far; instead veering off into the notion that Shakespeare was a wild barbarian who ran amok over the rules of drama. The French satirist never quite caught Shakespeare's deadpan satire of nutbar Hamlet, as Dylan does)...
    *      *      *

    *      *      *
That's it for now; still less than half the essay. As I said, the whole stinking mess will get dumped here after publication...

Oh yes, the no-longer-secret identity of Quinn, not that anyone cares... the evidence is more interesting than the mere fact in any case...

Damn!--not sure WHY an end-jam of words is occuring on this blog-post (verbiage overload??) but doing a cut-and-paste to the Straight Dope page SHOULD be possible...
    (July 1, 2016, Quinn-page still there... all quiet... now an ancient, academic question, like the color of F. Scott Fitzgerald's undershorts...)