Bob Dylan: An Artist

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Broken lines broken strings
Broken threads broken springs
Broken idols broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken 

(“Everything is Broken” 1989)

If you’re traveling the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine.

If you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see if she has a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds.

Please see if her hair hangs long
If it rolls and flows all down her breast
Please see for me if her hair’s hanging long
For that’s the way I remember her best. 

(From “Girl from North Country” 1963)

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their marks
Made everything from toy guns that sparks
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the President of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.

(From “It’s Alright Ma I’m only Bleeding” 1964)

In the dark illumination
He remembered bygone years
He read the Book of Revelation
And he filled his cup with tears

When the Reaper’s task had ended
Sixteen hundred had gone to rest
The good, the bad, the rich, the poor
The loveliest and the best

They waited at the landing
And they tried to understand
But there is no understanding
On the judgment of God’s hand

(From “Tempest” 2012)

I had a moment of confusion last week when I heard Bob Dylan was going to receive the Nobel Prize in literature, people were making a big deal about it. In a world where it seems that the big bad orange one has taken control of our news feed, with his racist, sexist, heart-sickening, hate-spewing slander,  and almost anything else he can, for his pathetic attempt to bring the world to his knees, the thought of the truest of troubadours winning the Nobel Prize can only be thought of as good news. But my confusion stemmed from the fact that I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal, since I had it in my mind that Bob Dylan already had one.

I mean wouldn’t he have by now? No, I soon found out like the rest of everyone else, this honor had not been bestowed on him, so yes it was reason to celebrate. Bob Dylan has been the recipient for every recognition that a singer/songwriter, or rock star, or musician could ever ask for, the Nobel Prize was surely just another trinket he could hang on his mantle, which is probably the reason he doesn’t really seem to care. It’s true the honor probably means more to us than it does to him, and that’s just fine. Dylan is on tour as he usually is, doing what he has done since he was first put on record in 1961, at first a young Woody Guthrie wannabe, singing, adapting from a variety of folk and blues styles, then changing his tune as time went by from a voice of his generation (something he didn’t really want to be), to an electric guitar rebel with commercial ambitions, getting in an accident with his motorcycle, only to come back crooning in a laid back country sound, singing duets with Johnny Cash.

By the end of the 60s, The Beatles had broken up, their later music would be heavily influenced by Dylan’s more poetic verses rather than the more poppy tunes of Beatlemania. However by the time when peace, love, and understanding seemed like a thing of the past, John Lennon would spew out the lyric “I don’t believe in Zimmerman” (Dylan’s real last name) which felt like a closing of the door the America’s greatest rock poet.

But Dylan is an artist, I’m not sure he was ever looking for relevance, instead I think he was just following his muse whatever it might be. He may have floundered in the early 70s, but came back with his confessional album “Blood on the Tracks” inspired by his failed marriage to Sara Lownds. The album was full of brutal imagery of relationships ending, but there was also tenderness, and romance in the lyrics….

He woke up the room was bare
He didn’t see her anywhere
He told himself he didn’t care pushed the window open wide
Felt an emptiness inside to which he just could not relate
Brought on by a simple twist of fate.

He hears the ticking of the clocks
And walks along with a parrot that talks
Hunts her down by the waterfront docks where the sailers all come in
Maybe she’ll pick him out again how long must he wait
One more time for a simple twist of fate.

(From “A Simple Twist of Fate” 1975)

Suddenly I turned around and she was standing there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
“Come in,” she said,
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

Now there’s a wall between us something there’s been lost
I took too much for granted, I got my signals crossed
Just to think that it all began on an uneventful morn
“Come in,” she said,
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

(From “Shelter from the Storm” 1975)

Dylan followed that up with “The Basement Tapes” which were unreleased songs he recorded with The Band in 1967. Then continued with his album “Desire” introducing a new sound with a haunting violin and back up vocals from Emmylou Harris. Hearing some of Dylan’s concert outtakes in this period, he seems the most possessed and excited by his own songs, what I wouldn’t have given to hear him live back then.

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Time would ride on again, Dylan would follow his muse, this time taking him to unexpected places, he would find God and release some religious songs. Call it a flight of fancy, but some of the songs have a deepness to their core.

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There’s a dying voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair.

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
In the fury of the moment I can see the master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

(From “Every Grain of Sand” 1980)

For some, the 1980s weren’t Dylan’s greatest period, waiting for inspiration but still doing his thing, the sin was that it was not that memorable. Was he washed up? He came back before, could he again? In 1989, he teamed with U2 producer Daniel Lanois and made his best album in years “Oh Mercy”, a low-fi feeling full of political rage, love sick turmoil, and lyrical imagery. Dylan, who has often been thought of as a political musician to me always felt more powerful when he was singing a love song whether it was about being in love, or losing the one you love. In “Most of the Time”, he hearkens back to the time of “Freewheelin’s” “Girl From North Country” and “Blood On the Tracks” “If you See her Say Hello”, as a lament for a lover who is gone.

Most of the time
I’m clear focused all around
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground
I can follow the path
I can read the sign
Stay right with it when the road unwinds
I can handle whatever
I stumble upon
I don’t even notice she’s gone
Most of the time.

Most of the time it’s well understood
Most of the time I wouldn’t change it if I could
I can make it all match up
I can hold my own
I can deal with the situation right down to the bone
I can survive and I can endure
And I don’t even think about her
Most of the time.

By the 1990s, Dylan had what most people consider his death album “Time out of Mind” again produced by Lanois. Was Dylan dying, the lyrics proved that it was a possibility.

Shadows are fallin’ and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep and time is runnin’ away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writin’ what was in her mind
I just don’t see why I should even care
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.

(From “Not Dark Yet” 1997)

“Time out of Mind” looked to be the swan song people might have been hoping from him. This was it, the final curtain, he will die a legend, there isn’t more to be said. But maybe Dylan thought that was too fatalistic for him. People love a good story of a rock star, either dying too young, or fading into music eternity. Dylan seemed like the latter, but he had more to say.

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In 2001, Dylan began producing his own records starting with “Love and Theft” that brought back a rockabilly mentality to his tunes, it felt quick and jammy unlike his more refined studio work. This was the way he wanted to music to feel, quick, improvised, off the cuff, yet the lyrics still stood out.

Every step of the way, we walk the line
Your days are numbered, so are mine
Time is piling up, we struggle and we stray
We’re all boxed in, nowhere to escape

City’s just a jungle, more games to play
Trapped in the heart of it, tryin’ to get away
I was raised in the country, I been working in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down

(From “Mississippi” 2001)

Dylan made more acclaimed albums, “Modern Times” and “Tempest” which had a touching ode to his old lyric mate, and in many ways musical kindred spirit John Lennon.

I heard the news today, oh boy
They hauled your ship up on the shore
Now the city’s gone dark
There is no more joy
They tore the heart right out and cut it to the core

Shine your light,
Move it on,
You burned so bright,
Roll on John

(From “Roll on John” 2012)

There is so much more. “A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall”, “Masters of War”, “When the Ship Comes in”, “Chimes of Freedom”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Sara”, “Joey”, “Cold Irons Bound”, “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”, “Love Sick”, “Working Class Blues”, “Tangled up in Blue”, “Mr. Tamborine Man”,”Blind Willie McTell”, THE ENTIRE “BLONDE ON BLONDE” ALBUM.

Dylan has always been like an illusion to me like I have to ask if he’s real, because he never seems to be. I saw him three times in concert, all three times he never said a word to the audience, he sang his songs, and left the stage as if he was just passing by telling his stories and moving on. It seemed like he only needed the audience in order to have someone to listen to him. He has kept his mystique, books, movies, documentaries, and other songs have been written about him, yet he is gloriously aloof from our reality. In Todd Haynes’ definitive music bio about Dylan “I’m Not There” where multiple actors including a woman and a small black child play him, some of the stories in the film come from fact, others from myth, most come from his songs, that’s where his truth lies. Martin Scorsese got closer in revealing a true person with his four hour documentary on Dylan “No Direction Home” which chronicles the singer’s rise in the 60s to his temporary fall in 1968 after his motorcycle crash. Scorsese seems to have gotten close enough to find Dylan has been a broken man, and someone who once got lost in his own legend. But Dylan is too much the showman to ever reveal his true self too much. He has always been that man who has separated himself from reality. In my favorite song about Dylan by David Bowie, it becomes clear that there are two people in him, and there is only one we will ever meet.

Oh, hear this Robert Zimmerman
I wrote a song for you
About a strange young man
called Dylan
With a voice like sand and glue
His words of truthful vengeance
They could pin us to the floor
Brought a few more people on
And put the fear in a whole lot more

Ah, Here she comes
Here she comes
Here she comes again
The same old painted lady
From the brow of a superbrain
She’ll scratch this world to pieces
As she comes on like a friend
But a couple of songs
From your old scrapbook
Could send her home again

(From David Bowie’s album “Hunky Dory” 1970)

So what is the truth? In the songs of course. Dylan has always been there in my life from the first time I blared “Blonde on Blonde” in my CD player at the age of 18 knocking my socks off and my life would never be the same.

This year we lost Bowie, we lost Prince, Gord Downie has cancer, BREXIT happened, Trump will not go quietly into the night, it has been agreed by everyone, 2016 is the worst year in recorded history. But the shining simmering hopeful idea that Bob Dylan now has a Nobel Prize for literature, meaning he is still out there, he’s still chugging along 70 plus years old, and if that’s all we get for good news in this rotten year, then let’s take it. Dylan will continue to make music and if anyone happens to listen I’m sure he’s fine with that, if you don’t listen well I’m sure he’s fine with that too, but there’s comfort knowing he’s out there doing what he has always done. It’s a reminder that artists only need their art to keep them fulfilled, artists are the ones who find the truth in life, and in the bleakness this year has brought, it’s up to the artists, as Bob Dylan once sang to…”Keep on keeping on.”

 

 

Things I Learned From The Movies: Tokyo Story

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I’ve learned a lot from the movies, so I wasn’t sure exactly at first what I wanted to write about for this Blogathon. Looking back at some of the movies that had a tremendous impact on me and my way of life, there were so many to choose from. I could easily have talked about how “Sullivan’s Travel’s” taught me the transcendental power of laughter, or how films like “Chinatown” or “No Country for Old Men” taught me that there is evil in the world and sometimes no matter what you do to prevent it, bad things happen. Conversely I could have also written about films like “Schindler’s List” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” which taught me that one person can make a difference. I could’ve gone on about the films of The Marx Brothers which taught me that anarchy can be a very potent weapon in the face of repression, or films like “Superman” or “Seven Samurai” taught me how heroism itself no matter what the situation can bring out the best in you even if it’s only seen as a public service. I could easily write about any of these films and their impact on how I see the world, but it for me there is no second choice, there is really only one. A film that kinda brought me back to life by showing me just how beautiful, heartbreaking, and delicate it can be. Its director and his body of work inspired the name of this blog, so there’s really no question, I must write about “Tokyo Story.”

An elderly couple go visit their children in Tokyo but when they get there, the children are too busy to spend much time with them; the couple then return home where the mother dies and then the children must make the trip for her funeral. In a nutshell that is the entire plot of “Tokyo Story”, which is something director Yasujiro Ozu didn’t spend much time worrying about, but with this simple premise he was able to make a masterpiece.

“Tokyo Story” is really about a universal truth: the passage of time, how we grow, make new lives for ourselves, and sometimes move apart from the people we were once close to, that’s usually the way life is, and as Ozu depicts it in “Tokyo Story” it’s something inevitable and profoundly sad.

The elderly couple the film focuses on live very far away from their children, we get the sense they don’t get to see them as often as they want to. They still have their youngest daughter who lives with them, she takes care of them but eventually even she will have to leave the home as well. For the couple, the trip to Tokyo is something they have been looking forward to, we get the sense that, to them it could be the last time they see all of their children.

When they first get to Tokyo, they are greeted by their oldest son who is now a local doctor and is married with children, and their oldest daughter who is also married and runs her own beauty salon. The grown children are seen running busy lives and sometimes they are depicted as just not having enough time for their parents, and sometimes they are seen as seeing their visit as a nuisance. Ozu doesn’t really judge his characters in any way, there aren’t any real villains in his films, a lot of the scenes depicting the children as rather selfish or even ungrateful are to me painfully real.

The children do find ways to keep their parents occupied and entertained during their trip which usually doesn’t include spending any time with them. The one person who does take the time to be with them is their daughter in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara). Noriko was married to the couple’s second son, who is referenced as being missing for eight years since the war and presumed dead. Noriko is very kind to them, she is seen asking for the day off from her job so she can take them sight seeing.

Even though Noriko does show the couple kindness, the children still feel they can’t keep bothering her with their parents, so they decide to send them to a spa outside of Tokyo. Even though the spa is seen as a luxury to the children, the parents are annoyed by the loud music and constant noise by the younger guests, they stay one night and decide to return to Tokyo. It’s here in the smallest of moments when the mother struggles to get to her feet and says she feels dizzy, we sense that all is not right with her.

Ozu’s running theme in nearly all of hi films is the dissolution of the family, this usually has to do with children moving away from their parents, getting married, and finding lives of their own. Once you get to know his films,( and if you’re any kind of a film lover you should) you will see these types of scenarios played out time and time again. Very often you see similar visual motifs show up in an Ozu film, he placed his camera usually three feet from the ground, which was roughly the same height a person would be sitting on a traditional Japanese tatami mat, it gives his scenes an observational perspective. Ozu also very rarely moved his camera, it’s usually kept secure on a tripod, he also never goes in for a full close up on a person, only going as far as a medium close when focusing on a character. It’s as if he’s trying not to influence your feelings on the film, or the people, big emotional scenes aren’t very common for Ozu, he aims for a mundane reality, but he able to find beauty in it. The compositions in each shot are wonderfully put together and precise, Ozu loves doorways, which thanks to Japanese building architecture creates frames within frames, we seeing these people as living portraits of every day life.

But I’m here to talk about what “Tokyo Story” has taught me, and I can’t whittle it down to one defining idea. I first saw it when I was in my mid-twenties, a time I thought I had seen everything cinema had to offer. I had exhausted my library of Hitchocks, Truffauts, Kurosawas, Bergmans, Scorseses, and Spielbergs to name a few, I felt I understood every film out there. But Ozu introduced me to something very profound, and something no other filmmaker has duplicated for me, no matter how much I would love their kinds of film. Ozu, starting with “Tokyo Story”, showed me with no compromises or any manipulation whatsoever that life is full of small tragedies. In the simplest way I saw for the first time in film life as it is, full of the many subtle moments of joy and sadness we take for granted in our own lives. The idea of not paying enough attention to your parents when they are around enough to spend time with you, or the thought of a loved one you were once close to and has moved away to a new life and you don’t get to see them as much as you used to, or even the notion that when you are together with a loved one, you can repress your true feelings and fill them with mundane talk about the weather or business, things that are deemed pointless in the grand scheme of things. Ozu hones in to these ideas with his films, and he sees the tragedy of it, he’s aware of the passage of time, how we wish we had more time with the people we love, he never judges his characters, he sees how they can grow into different people with different needs, but they all long for the past.

In one of the final scenes in “Tokyo Story”, Noriko, who again is the only who has been there for the elderly couple confesses to the father that she has been basically trying to hold on to the memory of her dead husband, but that she sometimes stops thinking about him for days, she feels so alone, as she says “In my heart, I seem to be waiting for something”. For me that’s what we all seem to go through at one time or another, we are all waiting for something, whether it’s permission to let go of the past and move on with our lives, or something else. “Tokyo Story” is a lament for the past, which once was and what can never be again, it shows how things change, and how life still goes on once someone is gone. It’s quiet, yet angry, sad, yet comforting, serene, yet powerful, it’s a masterpiece about life, how it is celebrated, and how it is mourned. It’s a film that fills my heart, it reminds me how beautiful and fragile our moments in life are, the smallest thing can have the biggest meaning, and it sweeps me with emotion.

The Things I Learned from the Movies Blogathon Starts Friday!

I will be participating in this Blogathon this weekend writing about Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story”, the most profound film I’ve ever seen

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The Things I Learned from the Movies Blogathon starts this Friday! We can hardly wait to discover what you’ve learned from the movies.

Kristina from Speakeasy and yours trulyare co-hosting this event October 14-17, 2016. ClickHEREfor all the blogathon details – and if you haven’t yet signed up, it’s not too late to join in the fun!

Upload your post any day you like, between October 14-17, and we’ll include you in that evening’s recap. Keep in touch on social media with the #LearnedFromMovies tag.

ClickHEREfor thelist of the participants.

See you this weekend!

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Movies I Saw in September

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Pete’s Dragon (2016) A left over from the summer movie season and one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. I don’t think I ever saw the original “Pete’s Dragon” so I don’t know how much this movie takes from that. What I do know is that this movie is a wonderful quiet children’s fable about a young boy who gets lost in the woods after his parents are killed in a car accident, and he is cared for by a dragon who finds him in the woods. Years later he is found, but the bond he has with his dragon is hard to break. This is a great family film in the tradition of “E.T.”, and it has dazzling use of open spaces, and spectacle that never loses the human element. Great nuanced performances particularily by Bryce Dallas Howard who has never been better, and the great Robert Redford who is always great to see. 3 and a half stars out of 4

Lady Snowblood (1973) Classic japanese film based on a graphic novel about a young woman out to seek vengeance on the people who were responsible for killing her family. This film is mostly now known for being the main inspiration for Trantino’s “Kill Bill” movies, and the influences are there. This film is dazzling, with wonderfully highly stylized fight scenes that overflow with beautiful blood and carnage. Meiko Kaji is a force of nature as the lead. 3 and a half stars out of 4

Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (1974) Direct sequel to “Lady Snowblood” finds our cold blooded heroine trying to give up the vengeance business until she is recruited by a man who wants her to kill a revolutionary. The sequel is probably even more far out with its violence than the original “Lady Snowblood” and at times feels like a fever dream. Again the film balances violence and beauty wonderfully, this is essential viewing for any fans of action revenge tales. 3 and a half stars out of 4

The Witch (2016) One of the best films of the year, “The Witch” is a supernatural tale depicting a small turn of the century religious family and what happens when their baby goes missing which seems to hint at some super natural forces. Pretty soon a bunch of strange things start to happen which leads the family to blame their eldest daughter for being a witch. The film is a slow burn and unsettling, it’s silent, far out at weird, also it’s one of the best shot films of the year. Any horror fan should check this out. 4 stars out of 4

The Invitation (2016) An indie horror film about a group of friends who come together to welcome back a mutual friend who was gone for two years. I don’t really want to reveal anything about this film if you haven’t seen it. Needless to say it’s great genre film full of real tension and a climax that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. The final shot of this film is a doozy. 3 and a half stars out of 4

Sully (2016) A stripped down retelling of the “Miracle on the Hudson” where famed pilot Captain Sully Sullenberger lands a plane full of passengers after its engines are hit by a flock of birds. This film is right up the alley of director Clint Eastwood’s wheel house, as it’s a story about no-nonsense professionals who do their job. Eastwood himself seems like a plainspoken down to business director, so it’s no wonder he admired a man like Sully, a man who never craved for the spotlight given to him, even though the real Sully shows up with the surviving castmembers which seems too unnecessary when it concerns a man who never wanted to be a star. Tom Hanks is pretty great here as Sully as he usually is, the the different perspectives of the plan crash are all interesting and riveting. 3 stars out of 4