i tuned into the pbs documentary "get up, stand up
" as soon as i saw that public enemy's chuck d would be narrating. the globe
thought the doc was safe as milk, while the times
called it one of "most daring, and perhaps hippest" programs on pbs (now that i think about it, both
statements are probably true). cultural sociologists probably found it superficial -- thirty seconds of a song set against a little photo montage, and then .004 seconds of analysis from an erudite rock critic (e.g., dave marsh). it doesn't feel much like pbs to me, though. i started imagining a ken burns-style documentary: zoom in super
-slowly on a black-and-white photo of kenny rogers and paul simon doing "we are the world" while shelby foote
spins a yarn about robert e. lee and an echoey piano tinkles "dixie" in the background. much of the time was spent on megaconcerts such as live 8 but at least some
of the archival footage is spectacular (e.g., live bob marley, billie holiday's otherworldly "strange fruit"). pbs also set up a nice link
page that connects to the centre for political song
and other nice sites.
watching the pbs/scorcese documentary "no direction home: bob dylan
" i realized how dylan became an icon at an absurdly young age. as a child of the seventies rather than the sixties, i always saw dylan as grizzled, wizened, and downright gnarly. but by age 22, he had recorded "blowin' in the wind," "the times they are a-changin' and "masters of war." the songs were great, of course, but watching
him, i have to think that his youth and good looks were part of the package that brought instant icon status. for me, the highlight was seeing dylan onstage and backstage with what became "the band" (i.e., the late rick danko joyously waving his bass around, robbie robertson smiling knowingly). around the minnversity, we mostly hear about dylan hanging out in west bank spots near what is now the social science building (we don't hear anything
about him attending classes).
all this leads me to a couple questions.
1. first, what are the best "get up, stand up" songs written since 2000? some anti-war protest songs from green day and system of a down have hit the radio, but most seems to remain underground. i mean, would any 21-year-old write anything
like "masters of war
" today? bands such as anti-flag
or (earlier) rage against the machine generally catch criticism for being "heavy handed" or wearing their politics on their sleeves (as do right-wing country singers, for that matter).
2. second, would we even notice another dylan if s/he came along? his first album sold poorly, so he would likely have been dropped by most record labels before
the landmark freewheelin' album was recorded. or would the songs have found a way to an audience through live performances, word-of-mouth, and blogs? i'm skeptical since i don't exactly see huge audiences lining up for ani difranco, billy bragg, or conor oberst.
i know that dylan was funny
and sarcastic in a way that might connect with my students today, but would his sincerity? u2 is a partial exception, but my worry is that earnest doesn't sell too well these days -- unless it is emo/personal rather than emo/political. part of me thinks that post-dylan generations have become more jaded, cynical, and resistant to the sort of statements expressed by woody guthrie or bob dylan. it seems as though a modern dylan would have to be even more enigmatic, more complicated, and more opaque. on this issue, here's a favorite quote from david foster wallace on such trends in my generation:The intellectualization and aestheticizing of principles and values in this country is one of the things that's gutted our generation. All the things that my parents said to me, like "It's really important not to lie." OK, check, got it. I nod at that but I don't really feel it. Until I get to be about 30 and I realize that if I lie to you, I also can't trust you. I feel that I'm in pain, I'm nervous, I'm lonely and I can't figure out why. Then I realize, "Oh, perhaps the way to deal with this is really not to lie." The idea that something so simple and, really, so aesthetically uninteresting -- which for me meant you pass over it for the interesting, complex stuff -- can actually be nourishing in a way that arch, meta, ironic, pomo stuff can't, that seems to me to be important. That seems to me like something our generation needs to feel.