October 14, 2005

Do Look Back

I love the cultural backlash to the Neocon coup that is manifesting every day with greater power -- a natural wonder, a massive force of nature building up, amazing to behold.

It took a while to boil up; the rage took a while to find ways to articulate itself. Now there is a plethora of cultural expression that reasserts the values of America that used to prevail before the Torturer and His Band of Merry Thieves took over the U.S. government.

A week or so ago PBS debuted the Martin Scorcese documentary on Bob Dylan: No Direction Home. A very powerful film, concentrating on the explosive phenomenon that was Dylan from the early '60s until his motorcycle crackup in 1966. It's the story of Dylan that builds up to the climax of rock's first double album Blonde on Blonde. Then there was the motorcycle accident and Dylan vanished. And when he came back, he was cagey, elusive. He didn't want to be the saviour to be crucified and torn asunder anymore. It's a great film, a treasure trove of old footage, brilliantly put together by Scorcese.

The phenomenon is larger than life, certainly larger than the man called Bob Dylan. It's an epic. A heroic journey. On the Charlie Rose show, Scorcese said that one of the reasons he made the film was to show people a time and a situation in which artists had a motivation other than money. That's a very radical message in the post-Reagan glamourous greed era. Hopefully the film will turn some youth on to what the meaning of the Dylan phenomenon was and to remind them of historic moments when people found their power as a movement and threw off tyranny and illegitimate power.

He wasn't just this guy with curly hair and a whiney voice, but to understand that, you need to see the historical context in which he came up.

He wrote some of the most powerful anthems of the people's movements ever. When he moved on to new kinds of music, many who idolized him became amazingly hostile to him. They made him their god and when they felt that he had betrayed them, they wanted to crucify him.

Though Joan Baez tried to get him to attend demonstrations, he didn't do much of that. In an interview in the film he pushes off the label "political". He says he wasn't political, and then says, "Because you support some people in their struggle doesn't make you 'political'."

He was called the voice of his generation, and it had some truth to it. He really did channel something powerful and articulated it for masses of people who felt it, but could not delineate it.

How he meant the word "political" you can only surmise, but I think there are times when people become compelled to take action to oppose an injustice, and that is a very different thing than people who see politics and decide that's what they want to do as a career.

That we are now at such a time doesn't need to be argued, it is evident when one just looks around and sees schoolteachers and grandmothers, veterans, teachers, rappers, teenagers, punks marching in the streets to get a message across.

In the October 20 Rolling Stone the article in the National Affairs section talks about how the antiwar demonstrations span across such a broad spectrum of American life, but asks, "Is the anti-war movement too fractured to be effective?"

He talks about all the splinter groups that spoke at the rally about various causes, from Free Mumia to those protesting for the Angola Three, the Cuban Five. He says, "For much of the American left, opposing the ar in Iraq is simply a means to an end, a way to rais larger issues about the abuse of U.S. power at home and abroad. For vets and their families it's about saving lives -- their lives.

The author Tim Dickinson makes a good point, draws attention to potential problems, but ultimately what is important is that they do all agree on the fact that the war is wrong and must be stopped. It's true that it is related to practically every other issue. It cannot help but be, if for no other reason than because it is draining so much money from America. If this obvious majority succeeds in stopping this the most horrible piece of a broad agenda of multiple horrors, then it will have done the most important thing. Let them all disagree on lesser things.

I don't think it's fair to say that because someone ties the Iraq war in with other fingers of the same nasty foreign policy that it means he/she is merely using the war as an excuse to talk about other issues. But the real emergency is the war in Iraq and the similar actions in other countries on many different levels of intensity. Afghanistan is a slower burn, Iran and Syria on on burners without only a low blue flame at the moment, but the hand of the machine is itchy to turn it up.

At the same time, he makes a good point that structuring an event so that everybody representing every conceivable political cause gets a few minutes to talk about it doesn't sound like a very good way to end a war.

The broad consensus over Iraq is good. The diversity of signs tying the war to many other causes is an expression of vitality. That is what democracy is about. The Iraq war is the mother cause, where lives are being lost, and limbs and sanity... and money. Let us agree on stopping that war if on nothing else.

Another one of the many strong cultural messages to burst out lately is the movie about Howard Zinn, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. A very powerful film. Zinn makes his point as lucidly and powerful as in his book A People's History of the United States, but he brings that message to the DVD audience. "When the movement is strong enough, it doesn't matter who's in the White House," he said. "What matter is what people are doing, what people are saying, what they are demanding."

You can't be neutral, he says, "because things are going in a certain direction, and to be passive and to do nothing means that you are a collaborator with whatever is going on... "

Then there is this movie on the McCarthy era of madness and tyranny and Edward R. Murrow the CBS reporter's courage in confronting the man's demagoguery and lies. This message is coming out all over. It took a while but now it is all bubbling over. America could rise again and be a good place to live, maybe.

TRIVIAL SIDEBAR: By the way, as to D.A. Pennebaker's title for his great movie Don't Look Back, the line in the Dylan song from which it came was not originally glorifying the idea of not looking back, and certainly Dylan's art has always reveled in looking back. The line was originally "She's got everything she needs, she's an artist she don't look back. She can take the dark out of the night time and paint the daytime black."

And the line Scorcese applies to Dylan in the title of No Direction Home, is also ironic in the sense that again Dylan was putting someone else down. "How does it feel, to be on your own, no direction home, like a rolling stone?"

  • And by the way ... Jeff Gannon/James Guckert, the male prostitute that posed as a journalist at the White House and was highly favored by Bush and Rove, is implicated in the Plame crime. See IsBushWired.com: "Did the Cheney-Rove effort to discredit Joseph Wilson include dispatching a surrogate posing as a reporter, quondam male escort Jeff Gannon, to interview Wilson? And does the White House relationship with Gannon continue today? Iíve pointed out before that Gannon's blog sounds very much as if it originates from the keyboard of Karl Rove. Rife with dated turns of phrase, political history arcana, and pats on the back for Rove, it's not always plausible as the voice of a man who never wrote a word or took part in politics until his late 40s. The blog's preoccupations and elisions are also telling. Although it came into existence over Plamegate, it hasn't taken note of Rove's or Libby's fresh worries. Nor has it mentioned Judy Miller's release from jail, despite having called impatiently last summer for Miller to give testimony that the blog was somehow then sure would "clear" Rove. That was back when it looked as if it all might fall on Libby, if only Miller would talk."
  • Bush's little tete a tete with soldiers was staged -- of course -- but the real news is that ABC News said so in its headline.

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