In the movie “I’m not there“, creative Hollywood artists who know Bob Dylan, and know of his singular importance in our time, want to give tribute to him. There has been no sign of his acknowledgment, of course.
It is curious, and very to the point, that the chosen title song for this movie may be the most personally significant song Mr. Dylan has ever written, and also the very one song of all of his repertoire that has not been placed on any of his albums, or posted on any of his lyric anthologies. Indeed, people cannot agree on what the lyrics actually say. The recorded version of the song very likely is an unfinished song, with filler words and phrases, to be refined later, which seems never to have happened.
Yet, it is an truly compelling and emblematic song. Written in the basement tapes sessions during his life in Woodstock, as his attempt to be a normal person, a normal husband, a normal father is slipping. He seems to be fighting and grasping with the cost of his incessant, unshakeable artistic being. The song just may be too raw, too painfully emotional for him to finish, or acknowledge, or publish.
“I’m not there” is dirge-like, with anger, blaming of others, and blaming himself. It does not resolve. There is a grinding, plodding anguish. He has five young children and a lovely wife, but he knows he can’t maintain it, knows he is going to bow out, not at all sure it will be wonderful, sensing that it will be painful, sure that others will be disappointed, and, worse, that it will be selfish. . . but he can’t help it.
Now I’ll cry tonight like I cried the night before
And I’ll feast on her eyes
But I’ll dream about the door.
I was born to love her
But she knows that the kingdom waits so high above her
I wish I were there to help her
But I’m not there I’m gone.
Legacy of Secrecy, The long shadow of the JFK assassination, Lamar Waldron, with Thom Hartmann, 2009
Democracies are new to the world stage. And the first, truly world wide power, the United States, is a democracy. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the United States had unprecedented military dominance. The US could and did topple and build whole governments the world over. Yet, according to this book – and many, many similar books – within US boundaries, criminal enterprises with government-like powers, have thrived. It is a curious and unexpected development that such a powerful nation could have had such an astonishing usurpation of its power within its own borders.
If the stories outlined in this book can be believed, rogue elements within the CIA, the FBI and the Mafia, working within, caused more national injury – including presidential assassination and forced presidential resignation – than any outside enemy could have hoped to achieve. Illegal business – drugs, prostitution, protection, gambling, and fraud, etc. – have attained the power of life and death over citizens, the ability to kill and get away with it, even Presidents.
The getting- away- with- it is the stunning story here. With shrewd involvement, calculated funding, and planned compromise of politicians and law enforcers – including the FBI and the CIA – criminal organizations have gained immunity within. And so for these authors, our democracy has become a symbiosis of the legal and the illegal, and there is a tenous balance of crossing the line and not crossing the line. Scandals are the inevitable splashes when crossing the line spills over – think Watergate, the Kennedy and MLK assassinations, Chinagate, and many others.
This book’s story is a long one, of myriad overlappings of the CIA, the FBI, anti-Castro Cubans, and pro-Castro Cubans, organized crime, and political operatives who conspire and commit assassinations, and achieve business and foreign policy manipulation.
And the investigations don’t go anywhere, because they can’t go anywhere, because in all directions compromise is to be found. Indeed it has all been engineered that way, to block the truth. The good guys do some good, and some bad, and the bad guys do mostly bad, and maybe some good, and the whole story gets partially aired in a ‘limited hangout’ that hides the collusion of government and crime.
“A mansion has many rooms, and there were many things going on during the period of the [antiwar] bombings. I’m not privy to who struck John.”
James Jesus Angleton, 31 year veteran of the CIA and Chief of CIA Counterintelligence, New York Times, December 25, 1974
“Mr. Angleton did not deny, however, that he had been named and identified by a British counterspy, Kim Philby, in “My Silent War”, a book published in 1968 after he defected to the Soviet Union.” New York Times, December 25, 1974, Helm’s Disavows ‘Illegal’ Spying by the C.I.A. in U.S, Seymour M. Hersh.
Karl Marx has convinced generations of western intellectuals that capitalism is evil. He witnessed capitalism during its early and ugliest stage, in 19th century England, and made the case that capitalism was an unavoidably diabolical exploitation of the many by the few. Alas, over the next 150 years, capitalism lifted the material well being of the working masses to a degree unimaginable by Marx in his time, sparing mainly those who decided to follow him. And yet Marx lives on.
In Das Kapital, A biography, by Francis Wheen, 2006, we meet Karl Marx the man. He is a polymath, a voracious reader, an energetic, ideophoric thinker. He is a very unappealing person. He is angry, grandiose, self-loathing, eccentric, obsessive, argumentative, distractable, litiginous, compulsive, sickly, mean, sarcastic, a severe procrastinator, and unkempt most of the time. He would not have succeeded on TV.
Das Kapital, his major work, was never finished. It is ponderous, full of literary reference, circuitous, and contradictory. It may be the most unread but revered book ever written. His most enduring point was that history had a logic, history was not just ‘one damn thing after another’, it was humans exploiting humans in an dynamic process (heretofore not understood until by him). We can all relate to that.
Marx predicted that Capitalism would degenerate into crisis. Capitalism fosters technological innovation, which increases productivity. But this has precarious effects on employment. Sometimes increased productivity creates new markets and new employment, at other times, it does not, or not soon enough. In the Great Depression, the tractor destroyed farm labor faster than the industrial economy could create new employment. Marx would have expected the Great Depression. He wouldn’t have expected its recovery with the modern social welfare capitalist state.
As the economist Joseph Schumpeter famously said: “Marx asked all the right questions, but got all the wrong answers”.
Marx revelled in his apocalyptic vision. He enjoyed the devilish, sinister story of history he was convinced that he uniquely discovered. ” Das Kapital can be read as a vast Gothic Novel whose heroes are enslaved and consumed by the monster they created“.
One of Marx’s favorite books was Frankenstein.
Das Kapital is a passionately condemns western enlightenment. He was one of many who would deride the very kind of society that allows people like him to do with such relish what they love to do – – independently think, read, and philosophize.
“one can argue that the most truly Marxist achievement of the Soviet Union was its collapse: a centralized, secretive, and bureaucratic command economy proved incompatible with new forces of production.”
Today, Marxist ideas linger on in the shadowy background of cultural studies. Here, diabolical, unconscious exploitation carries on in language, in words, in mores, in texts. Culture, now, is the exploiter. And so Marxism lives on in issues of education, religion, psychology, and family – ironically, all areas Marx considered ‘bunk’.
“I fought with my twin, that enemy within, ’til both of us fell by the way”
Human minds herd, mentally, the way animals herd in movement. A few will start off in a certain direction, and then, at an accelerating pace, the rest follow. There is wisdom in the crowd. There is madness in the crowd. We do GroupThink. We seem made to believe something when others do too.
Rare individuals, it seems, are immune to this. What everyone else does automatically, they won’t do at all. They need to be different. They don’t follow the crowd, they don’t follow fads. In fact, they often start fads. They set themselves apart. Malcolm Gladwell, in The Tipping Point, calls them Innovators, and describes how fashion marketers search for these types to foresee future trends.
All personality is strategy for social success. Being stubbornly different can be a way to avoid comparison. Combine this with a special talent or intelligence, and you can have a cultural creator, a ground breaking artist. Bob Dylan may be one of them.
Forty years on, he is still with us, still producing unpredictable, original, compelling music. A star in his 20’s, he’s a star in his 60’s. Relentlessly unique, his first act was to create his own name. He felt “born to the wrong parents”. And in all these years he has resisted explaining himself, resisted defining himself, resisted being categorized. He won’t let us have him.
To many, this has seemed contrived, a publicity stunt. It doesn’t help that he often performs badly. It seems purposeful. He almost seems compelled to now and then produce a lousy album. He accepts honorary degrees without saying anything. Those who have recorded with him will say that he is a highly practiced and skilled craftsman of the song writing, phrasing, guitar playing, and, yes, singing art.
Of all our cultural stars today, he will be the one, from our time, to enter the pantheon of singular american creative artists – artists like Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Steinbeck, Frank Lloyd Wright, Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keefe. Someday we will be quick to say to our grandchildren or great grandchildren: “when I was young I saw Bob Dylan”.
From the very beginning, he seems to have been precociously aware of the essential artistic imperative to stay fresh, stay true, unaffected, uncontrived. All of his evasions, and dodgings have served to prevent the self consciousness that can kill the art engine, steal the muse, stop the flow, make the work mechanical or predictable. Art isn’t art, after all, if it comes from the brain rather than the soul, from the head rather than the heart, from theory rather than experience.
How did he know this so young?
“They say every man needs protection, They say every man must fall, Yet I swear I see my reflection, Some place so high above this wall”
New York Review of Books, March 25, 2010, “The passions of Vincent Van Gogh“, Richard Dorment.
Vincent Van Gogh is the archetype of the troubled artist, the insane person whose insanity empowers creativity in his art. Craziness is part of being creative, so it goes. Yet, does it? In Vincent’s case, his art was a compensation, it helped make him sane, and when it was assaulted, his sanity and art were broken.
Vincent Van Gogh was eccentric, and socially very difficult. His social failures haunted his life. Life is a search by the self for effectiveness, a niche, ‘something that works’. People are driven to find a sense of mastery, a feeling that they can accomplish what they need. Vincent was no different. But he failed at teaching, at preaching, at romance, and at friendship. His only enduring connection, his brother, encouraged him to do art.
Once he focused on art, he became an ardent learner and self teacher, and he spent hours drawing, painting, and studying other artists, in circumstances of destitution and despair. And then by chance, he went to Arles. There, with his skills developed, his gifts of concentrated perception could match the rich, visual beauty of sunny southern France. He found artistic flow, and produced great works of intensity and power.
In the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg, Russia, in a small side room, with a silent babushka attendant in the corner, one comes upon Landscape with Carriage and Train in the Background, painted the year of his death, 1890. One is drawn to faint brush lines, along side the wagon wheel of the carriage, crude strokes of dark color on the whitish road. One slowly realizes they are shadows. . . on water, and the road is . . .wet! . . . And then, with a jolt, one sees that the green fields are wet, it has just rained and there is the smell of wet grass.
It is no mystery that during his time in Arles, he did many self portraits and portraits of others. He was literally building a personal self. His growing confidence led him to seek artistic and personal connection from other artists.
Unfortunately, it was Gauguin who came to visit. A misanthrope and narcissist, Gauguin had little inclination to feel sympathy or regard for others. He left his wife and family without support, to do what he pleased. Far from engaging Vincent, he relentlessly criticized him, and questioned his methods and his work. He tried to change Vincent’s expressionism, his manner of painting what he saw – the very essence of his art. Gauguin wanted egotistical symbolism, nihilistic sentiment.
After nine weeks with Gauguin, Vincent drew a knife towards him, but then retreated in panic and later cut himself. He cut off his own ear. Gauguin left Arles. Vincent eventually committed suicide.
Did the vain Gauguin need to undermine a superior talent?
In Vincent’s last painting, Wheat Field with Crows, menacing black crows descend on the yellows, reds, and blues of southern France.