September 19, 2010
September 17, 2010
Bob Dylan In America
There was a lot of hoopla and drum rolling before this book was released. A full chapter was published in Atlantic Magazine in August, the excerpt here, the excerpt there, the full treatment. Wilentz opened a website with teasers added daily trying to draw you in. A lot of talk about Wilentz being the official historian with, one supposed, full access to Dylan himself so that one was being admitted to the inside. ’Oh,’ I said to myself, ’it looks like Dylan is breaking silence, emerging from his cherished privacy through a surrogate.’
Well, I was right. Wilentz has written a major kvetch and justification. Kvetch- Jewish for bitch.
Part of the problem is against ‘wannabe Dylan writers’ polluting the internet. Not wishing to voice complaints in his own voice Dylan has Al Kooper do it for him. Something like telling an intermediary to tell the guy next to him what you think of him. Right there on the front cover face level with Dylan’s picture. Big Al is quoted:
Unlike so many Dylan-writer-wannabes and phony encyclopedia compilers, Sean Wilentz makes me feel he was in the room when he chronicles events that I participated in. Finally a breath of fresh words founded in hard-core intelligent research.
We Dylan wannabe writers are duly chastened. I read your own book, Al, and certainly felt I was in the studio with you and Mike and Bob. When you snuck over to the organ, I tell ya, it took my breath away. Nice move. Grossman was there too, wasn’t he, or was he just listening to the replay? Well, I could do the same hard-core research and writing if I had access to the archives like Sean. But, I guess that’s out of the question.
Still, I couldn’t believe that we wannabes were the whole excuse for Dylan’s emergence from privacy and I was right there, too. I could feel the tension building as Sean went through his rather laughable exercise of connecting Dylan to the Popular Front and Aaron Copland. Sean kind of has us believing Dylan was aware of Copland from the cradle untill well past his arrival in NYC while apparently sitting through the Children Of Paradise as a toddler. He gives it away when he says that Norman Raeben introduced Bob to the movie in 1974 just in time for Bob to be influenced for the Rolling Thunder Review. I think Bob must have heard Copland about the same time too.
The tension was building, my breathing becoming more labored, when near the end of the book it burst. God, what suspense. The real reason for Dylan commissioning Wilentz to write the book was this famous outburst from another noted folkish singer:
Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist and a fake. Bob is a deception.
Wow, that one really hurt. I don’t know whether Joni had bottled that up since her treatment in Rolling Thunder but I suspect so. Sam Shepard wasn’t over impressed with his treatment on the tour either. The reporter of the Joni Mitchell quote couldn’t reach Dylan for comment: According to his representative, Dylan was unavailable for comment.’ Hiding on his bus no doubt.
That was then, this is now. Dylan’s mouthpiece and official historian, Sean Wilentz, fires back. He devotes a couple dozen subsequent pages, maybe more, after referring to Mitchell by name and date. (Ooh, it’s like falling on your tailbone, you know how that smarts.)
Sean denies out of hand that Dylan is a fake; he just approaches authenticity from a different direction. He’s not plagiarizing he’s reconstructing the music that is danger of disappearing so that it will last. Apparently the folk thing that had a run from about 1910 to 1980 or so has lost its influence in the ongoing rush of the globe’s multitudes to America. The times they are, indeed, a changin’. What did they expect, that a Korean peasant was going to embrace a song they couldn’t understand like ‘I wish I was a mole in the ground?’
As Wilentz explains: Borrowing three different lines from three different writers in succession for one verse isn’t plagiarism, it’s…well…something else. Preservation. Not that I care. I don’t listen anyway. I do expect some original lyrics though. If I want to listen to some old folk songs I’ll tune in toJohnny Cash’s Delia’s Gone or maybe even put an old Geoff Muldaur side on.
Bob’s not really interested in the whole folk genre anyway; he seems to be more interested in Darky murder songs. That’s part of folk, of course, but so is the saga of Mollie and Tenbrooks and the Tennessee Stud. There’s more to folk than depressing murder ballads. Who cares if Delia got shot. I don’t. Stagger Lee’s OK.
I think something’s being lost in the shuffle here. These are songs, only songs, there’s nothing monumentally important in them. Three Jolly Coachmen and There’s A Tavern In The Town are just as important. If Bob wants to be a musicologist he’ll suffer the fate of musicologists. What do I care about musicology when all I want to do is listen to a good unadulterated tune. And when I want to listen to a good tune there are a lot of better singers around than Dylan. Geoff Muldaur, for instance. Old Lonnie Donegan sides. The Kingston Trio, Chad Mitchell Trio. Peter, Paul And Mary for Chrissakes.
Let’s get real. Bob was 1964-66 when the amphetamines rushed through his bloodstream. Since then, well…he’s got a good following and should be thankful for that. Be a musicologist, rewrite Frankie And Johnny, see if I care. If I want to quote a song as a leader for one of my essays I rewrite them myself so they mean what I want . Most of those lines have lousy meter anyway. Still, I give the original writers credit.
Dylan could rewrite a song for Joni: You’ve gotten under my skin.
The book doesn’t call for much more of a review. Slight. Can I have my money back?
Pt. IV: H.G. Wells, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Rice Burroughs And The Development Of Contemporary Sexual Attitudes
September 15, 2010
H.G. Wells, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Rice Burroughs
And The Development Of Contemporary Sexual Attitudes
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Contribution
That Edgar Rice Burroughs is one of the, if not the most, influential writers, America has produced goes without saying. The only question is in how many different ways did he do it and was an attitude toward sexual mores one of them. I think it can be shown that that is true. Was Burroughs an ideologue in sexual matters. At this point I can’t say yes or no although his attitudes seem consistent throughout his career.
A first hurdle we have to get over is whether Burroughs was some sort of idiot savant who just had the knack for writing adventure stories or was he an auto-didact who educated himself in exemplary fashion. The consensus is more along the idiot savant line which I hope I have shown in my by now voluminous writings that ERB was very well read, had a sound if not spectacular education while being an intelligent man with at least a 120-130 IQ.
I think I have shown that he was a full participant in the intellectual culture of 1875-1920 which influenced the first phase of his writing career. We know he was well read because he references hundreds of books that he read in his own pages. He tells us he read Gibbon’s Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire which is an essential for a liberal education. He tells us he read and reread Plutarch’s Parallel Lives which also is no mean achievement. Those may be isolated instances or, as I think, they are the tip of the iceberg. He was near expert on Evolution while being deeply read in esoteric and exoteric religion. The guy was a virtual marvel. His learning shows up in his writings although in a fantastic manner for enterainment purposes.
For our purposes here we can begin when his father placed him in the Harvard Latin School of Chicago. He was to spend what we would call his Junior High years there. It was there he learned Latin and possibly some Greek. He was to complain later that he learned Latin before he learned to write in English which he thought affected his style and it may have as some of his writing reads like he was translating from Latin. While he may not have qualified as a Latin scholar I’m sure that for the rest of his life he could find his way through an extensive Latin quotation. When I was in school that was considered an achievement of a high order. So ERB had a pretty decent founding in the Classics.
Now, there has been a pretty fair controvercy on ERBzine recently over how nude Martians were. I don’t think there is any question but that both men and women hang out, that is ventral and dorsal nudity. One might therefore infer that in Burroughs’ vision of an utopia the style was to be au naturel.
Was this original or did ERB, as usual, borrow from the culture, have his sources?
Let’s start at Harvard Latin School. At the time the Patriarchy was in full control of the culture. There were grumblings from both the Matriarchy and the Hetaerarchy but those were in the beginning stages of the revolt. As late as the 1960s when I was an Ancient History major you would have been thrown out of school for challenging the Patriarchal version of Ancient History, that is to say Greek and Roman. ERB then couldn’t have been given less than a 110% Patriarchal education.
Any illustrations of Greek statues he would have seen showed the genitals fully exposed unless a fig leaf had been placed over them. The Greek vases he may have seen would have shown Greek men at play or leisure with fully exposed genitals, any weapons belted on would look exactly like his Martians. They might have a wrap thrown over the shoulder for protection from inclement weather.
The phallicism, the pride in manhood, runs all through Greek art and literature. At the time men were liberating themselves from the Matriarchy with its cruel attitude toward the males. It had been discovered that the male inseminated the female so men claimed the child as theirs while the women were mere incubators or storehouses rather than the fecund goddesses of creation. Man was the creator. That was the answer the riddle posed by the Theban sphinx to Oedipus was, Man. So the psychological reaction must have been if you’ve got one, show it. Meanwhile as the man was the progenitor of a woman’s offspring, a man’s wife had to be secluded so that another man couldn’t impregnate her. Whereas in the past women were more or less commonly available to the certified they now became the exclusive possession of one man, except for prostitutes or hetaerists. The children were his.
How much, if any, of this ERB understood he at least saw a society where the men went fully nude. As the Martian children were hatched from eggs incubated in the Martian sun it sounds as though he had read Plato where Socrates expatiated on the old days when men and women were hatched from eggs. Indeed, Leda impregnated by Zeus in the form of a swan hatched two eggs that produced Castor and Pollux and Helen and Clytemnestra as two sets of twins. It’s not too far from there to Mars, don’t you think?
Around the turn of the century the Nudist movement took form in German. We tend to think of these earlier times as staid when in reality the modern world was in its birth throes. The nudity thing since the French Revolution had been slowly growing. For the Medieval Free Spirits and Anabatists nudity was a key point as it was for the Libertines and as it was adopted by the Communist offshoots of the Revolution. Men want to look at the female nude.
In Germany at the turn of the century the nudity movement jelled, an actual movement taking shape in conjunction with the Wandervogel movement. This is turn led to the development of the Nature movement resulting in the incredible Nature Boy scene in the US of the thirties and forties which in turn evolved into the Beat/Hippie phenomenon of the fifties, sixties and seventies and into today.
Burroughs would have been aware of this whole phenomenon up to 1950 endorsing it enthusiastically. Tarzan was the ultimate Nature Boy and Burroughs developed the character with that in mind. The ideal. I have no douts that Burroughs intended him as the exemplar of this growing movement. Hence the development of the Nature movement was aided, abetted and intentionally forwarded by ERB clearly linking him to the scene in Bohemian NY of the sixties and the whole Beat/Hippie scene.
So Burroughs’ writings actually promote nudism and the Nature movement throughout his career. John Carter arrives, born again, nude on Mars where he would have been unnoticeable on that account, completely blending in. Indeed, the only difference was that he was white instead of red which was a curiosity. Thus, as soon as he leaves Earth he become a nudist in what was a sort of utopian society to Burroughs.
Tarzan necessarily practiced nudity for his first twenty years, only donning his ‘fig leaf’ or G-string when he came in contact with civilization.
Burroughs always refers to Tarzan’s ‘adornment’ as a G-string in the early novels. A G-string only cover the genitals with a flap and not the rear so Tarzan was essentially nude in the jungle. He was a Nature Boy and that is the way most of his readers have perceived him.
The MGM Tarzan is the exemplar of the Nature Boy living on fruit and nuts. The MGM movies regularly show bowls of fruits and nuts while Tarzan, unless memory fails, is never shown squatting over a haunch eating the flesh raw as in Burroughs’ novels. As with Burroughs and the Nature Boys Tarzan rejects all the appurtenances of civilization except for some mechanical engineering at which Tarzan was apparently a genius. Might even have been a Nuclear Physicist even though he could barely grunt in the MGM movies.
It seems clear that there was vitually no one who hadn’t heard of Tarzan or Burroughs. Nearly everyone was influenced by the two. It therefore seems probable that the Nature Boys, the nudists took Tarzan as an avatar.
Certainly John Derek directed his movie, Tarzan, The Ape Man of the 1980s, concentrating on the sexual and nature aspects of the image. No argument there, I hope.
Now, the Bohemian scene in NYC was among other things a return to the primitive. The crowd surrounding Andy Warhol in his Factory was a bunch of savages stripped of all but the rudiments of civilization. They were the Tarzans of the asphalt jungle. The more affluent savages, the Haute Boheme lived a life of sexual abandon that Burroughs, Wells and Freud could only have dreamed of, and they did dream of it.
Once the attitude was institutionalized at Studio 54 the world Burroughs, Wells and Freud longed for was realized. It was Hetaerism and Matriarchialism on wheels, a complete overthrow of Patriarchalism. Our three musketeers would have gained easy admitance and found each in his own particular utopia. From 1880 to 1980 was only a hundred years. A short time indeed to overturn civilization.
Burroughs was a leading figure in this revolution.