Bob Dylan in China
April 11, 2011
In memory of Farah Ebrahimi. Times are indeed a-changing: Bob Dylan, who became an American icon by “speaking truth to power,” just gave a concert in China, one of the most repressive countries in the world. While there, Dylan not only failed to express solidarity with the Chinese dissidents in jail; according to The Washington Post, he also agreed to perform only “approved content.” The scenario becomes even more ironic when you consider that, while Bob Dylan sang “Love Sick” in mainland China, outgoing U.S.
Happy Birthday, Sam Cooke
January 21, 2011
Rock stars of the 1960s have begun turning 70, and the aging of a generation that defined its culture by its youth has prompted the sucking of veiny thumbs. I did mine last October, right here, on the seventieth anniversary of John Lennon’s birth. Earlier this month, Joan Baez turned 70; Neil Diamond will do the same on January 24; Bob Dylan will have his seventieth birthday in May, followed by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, along with the likes of David Crosby, George Clinton, and Paul Anka.
The Conservatism of Lady Gaga
April 09, 2010
I liked "Radio Gaga," the bombastic Queen single from the Eighties that provided Stefani Germanotta with a name to match the pop-star image she concocted; it was a fun tune. I liked "Lady Marmalade," the Labelle funk hit; it was sexy and fun, too. I like marmalade itself; it's a fun food. And I like Lady Gaga; she's delicious and nothing but fun, if not my idea of sexy. (Her jokey ridiculousness is fine to watch, but not inviting to me.) To fail to get some pleasure from Lady Gaga songs is to fail to appreciate American pop.
Abbey Lincoln on the Axis of the Civil Rights Movement
February 26, 2010
I'd like to stay on the subject of music and Civil Rights for one more post. The ongoing talk about Joan Baez's performance of "We Shall Overcome" at the White House has reminded me how readily we embrace the idea of music as an instrument of political change when, often, music is more a reflection of changes in the political realm—an effect, rather than a cause. Not that songs have no power to influence the way people think or feel; to say that would be to deny the very value of music as a form of art.
Dylan at the White House
February 18, 2010
There was hardly time to shake the image of a gnomish Pete Townshend whirling his game old right arm around on the Super Bowl stage when another batch of tottery Boomer music stars showed up on YouTube, this time in clips from the fifth concert in the Obamas' White House Music Series.
I'm Not Here
November 21, 2007
How can you pack a life as multifarious and contradictory as Dylan's into a biopic without blasting the whole glib genre to smithereens?
A Mighty Wind
February 19, 2007
Would American music have undergone a radical transformation in the middle of the last century, as it did, without Eric von Schmidt? No doubt and no matter. We all know how popular music changed during the first decades of the postwar era: It grew more informal,rougher and earthier, shifting from an aesthetic of burnishedprofessionalism to one of unschooled authenticity.
October 10, 2005
Were Norman Mailer to pen a sequel to The Armies of the Night, his chronicle of a 1967 antiwar march on the Pentagon, his notes might read something like this: Good news and bad news to report from this weekend’s protest in Washington against the Iraq war—good news because over 100,000 demonstrators turned out to voice their opposition to war, racism, and inequality; bad news because the loudest voices belonged to pre-adolescents. Yes, as I traverse the Mall on Saturday, I cannot escape 13- and 14-year-old girls with peace signs (and the occasional Mercedes logo) painted on their cheeks.
August 20, 1977
In writing not a few studies of literary history, I haven't said much about the new generation of the 1960s. There is a reason for the oversight. I like to write about situations that I have known at first hand, whereas from 1963 to 1973, the years when the Love Generation flowered and faded, I was a detached observer, a deaf man gardening in the country and writing about books.