Saturday, October 30, 2021

Dylan, Lennon and the Working Class

A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be.
If you want to be a hero then just follow me.

--John Lennon, Working Class Hero 

Collage/Mixed Media--Margie Helstrom
One of the songs Andy & Renee played at last Friday evening's concert here in Duluth was Workingman's Blue #2, the sixth track on Dylan's 2006 album Modern Times. When Andy introduced the song, he noted how despite Dylan's wealth and achievements, he had not forgotten his roots. 

As soon has he'd said this along with the title Workingman's Blues #2, I thought of John Lennon's Working Class Hero. I wondered if Dylan were  giving a nod to his old friend who had himself grown up in the blue collar town of Liverpool, but I soon learned this wasn't the case.

According to Wikipedia, Dylan toured with Merle Haggard the previous year and one of Haggard's hits was Workin' Man Blues. This shoots a hole in my initial thesis that Lennon's song was equivalent to a Workingman's Blues #1. One of the lines in Dylan's song is a direct lift from Haggard's 1969 hit, "Sing a little bit of these workingman's blues." 

It's a big job just gettin' by with nine kids and a wife
But I've been workin' man, dang near all my life but I'll keep workin'
Long as my two hands are fit to use
I'll drink my beer in a tavern
Sing a little bit of these working man blues

Nevertheless, both Dylan and Lennon pay tribute to the working man, the common man. Both had roots in working class communities--the Iron Range and Liverpool.

The mutual respect between Bob Dylan and John Lennon is evident in a number of ways, even though much has been made of how Dylan's Fourth Time Around was a barbed poke at John and a response to The Beatles' Norwegian Wood. As time went by Lennon saw it less as a barb and more a reflection of Dylan's playfulness.

On the album Tempest we find Dylan eulogizing John Lennon in the heartfelt Roll On, John with its repeating chorus:

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

* * * 

Dylan's tribute to the working man is laconic and layered. It's told from the point of view of the working man in the story. It's not Dylan's life, but a portrayal of life from the commoner's perspective.

There’s an evening’s haze settling over the town
Starlight by the edge of the creek The buying power of the proletariat’s gone down Money’s getting shallow and weak The place I love best is a sweet memory It’s a new path that we trod They say low wages are a reality If we want to compete abroad
My cruel weapons been laid back on the shelf Come and sit down on my knee You are dearer to me than myself As you yourself can see I’m listening to the steel rails hum Got both eyes tight shut I’m just trying to keep the hunger from
Creepin’ its way into my gut
Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes You can hang back or fight your best on the front line Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues

* * * 

John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" is especially grim. Things are not all jolly for the working class in this world. Like Dylan, it's the manner in which the songs are articulated that lends them their power. 

As soon as you're born, they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
'Til the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
'Til you're so f---ing crazy you can't follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be
The song is sung by a man who has seen much and it's left a bitter taste in his mouth.
When they've tortured and scared you for 20 odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function, you're so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be
* * * 
Others have written more comprehensively about Dylan's song. You can find this story on Seth Bushnell's
"Definitive Interpretation"  on Medium, which makes note of Dylan's Woody Guthrie references as well as John Steinbeck, two men who put in words  and imagery the challenges of the working class. By the end Bushnell calls Dylan's song "heartbreakingly romantic," and ends with this summing up: "
The song is an elegy to Dylan’s heroes and to his own past and a reaffirmation of his love for the common men and women he inspired."
After I've spilled a few words on the page, I usually take a peek at what Tony Atwood has had to say about a song. For this one he has much. He doesn't feel that this song measures up to "Tell Ol' Bill" (one of my favorite 21st century Dylan songs.) If you're up for more about this song, I recommend Tony Atwood on Workingman's Blues #2.
Visit this page for full lyrics for Dylan's "Workingman's Blues #2." 
And here is one last link to an article titled "What Bob Dylan Taught Me About the Working Man's Blues." What I liked about it was that it begins with a reference another song that I immediately linked to this one when I first heard WMB#2, which is "Union Sundown from Infidels. The article sifts through several other songs from the Dylan catalog with similar lessons.
Much more can always be said, but with that I shall close out. Thanks for taking a few minutes to visit. Comments welcome.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Flashback Friday: Jimmy Webb and the Wichita Lineman

Tonight we went to Thirsty Pagan for pizza with a couple friends. The Pagan has live music most nights of the week, and tonight it was Russ Sackett, a versatile performer who seems well versed in the 60s and 70s catalog that we older folk enjoy. One of the songs he played was Wichita Lineman, a song made famous by Glen Campbell, written by Jimmy Webb. It brought to mind this blog post from September 2012.

Yesterday while driving home from the Twin Cities I heard a song I hadn't heard in a long time, Wichita Lineman. Even though I never quite knew what the song was about when I was young, I liked the way it sounded. Glen Campbell's recording has a haunting feel that transcends its simple story. Afterward the radio announcer mentioned that the song was written by Jimmy Webb.

A lot of folks don't realize that Jimmy Webb wrote a lot of the memorable tunes that have been part of our generation. His lyrics have been recorded by a litany of superstars from Diana Ross and the Supremes to the Fifth Dimension, Joe Cocker, Johnny Rivers, and Donna Summer. Speaking of Summer, how many of you knew that the San Francisco summer of love hit MacArthur Park was written by Jimmy Webb?

Art Garfunkel in his Up Til Now liner notes gives gracious credit to Jimmy Webb for some of the songs he recorded and shared here, including the tender All I Know as well as Skywriter. And it was Webb who penned nearly all the songs on Art Garfunkel’s Christmas album with Amy Grant.

So, what is it that gives Wichita Lineman its power? Here are the lyrics:

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road 
Searchin' in the sun for another overload. 
I hear you singing in the wires, I can hear you in the whine 
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.

You know I need a small vacation, but it don't look like rain. 
And if it snows that stretch down south will never stand the strain. 
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time. 
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.

Like a lot of great poetry it is specific. And its specificity invites transcendant connections. This song is about a blue collar guy, a lineman in Wichita. He works alone, out in the sun, out in the elements. He is in a relationship. And he wishes things were different in this situation.

Maybe you can call it workingman blues. Glen Campbell’s delivery carries ample evidence of existential angst, isolation and longing, that lonesome moan that reverberates in a number of his other tunes as well.

For this one I went to a “song meanings” website to find its backstory.

In our interview with Jimmy Webb, he explained how he puts himself into the shoes of the subjects of this songs. Said Webb: "I've never worked with high-tension wires or anything like that. My characters were all ordinary guys. They were all blue-collar guys who did ordinary jobs. As Billy Joel likes to say, which is pretty accurate, he said, 'They're ordinary people thinking extraordinary thoughts.' I always appreciated that comment, because I thought it was very close to what I was doing or what I was trying to do. And they came from ordinary towns. They came from places like Galveston and Wichita and places like that.

"No, I never worked for the phone company. But then, I'm not a journalist. I'm not Woody Guthrie. I'm a songwriter and I can write about anything I want to. I feel that you should know something about what you're doing and you should have an image, and I have a very specific image of a guy I saw working up on the wires out in the Oklahoma panhandle one time with a telephone in his hand talking to somebody. And this exquisite aesthetic balance of all these telephone poles just decreasing in size as they got further and further away from the viewer - that being me - and as I passed him, he began to diminish in size. The country is so flat, it was like this one quick snapshot of this guy rigged up on a pole with this telephone in his hand. And this song came about, really, from wondering what that was like, what it would be like to be working up on a telephone pole and what would you be talking about? Was he talking to his girlfriend? Probably just doing one of those checks where they called up and said, 'Mile marker 46,' you know. 'Everything's working so far.'"

It’s fascinating how a simple image can trigger so much in an artist’s imagination.

For more Jimmy Webb discography, visit Wikipedia. You may be surprised how much you recognize.

In the meantime, make the most of your day. And if you're trying to connect with someone, I hope you get through.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Our Amazing DNA: We Are Indeed Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge."
--Psalm 19:1-2

This past Sunday our church had a guest speaker who gave message on the above passage from Psalm 19. It began with an imaginative "what if" story about the moon landing of 1969. What if as Neil Armstrong stepped down from the Eagle landing craft he noticed a Swingline stapler by his foot there on the surface of the moon. What would people think? 

Obviously, it didn't appear out of thin air. The stapler, as simple as it is, demonstrates features of an intelligent design behind its creation.

This tale became a stepping off point for his sermon, which highlight four points. This blog post is based on his third, our amazing and mind-blowingly complex DNA.

Some of the details he shared were so over-the-top incredible that I didn't even want to share them until I'd confirmed them from multiple sources. Here are a few details about our DNA to wrap your head around. Sources include Britannica Kids (courtesy our speaker Dan Vander-Ark), and 

* * * 

DNA is the material that carries all the information about how a living thing will look and function. For instance, DNA in humans determines such things as what color the eyes will be or what color your hair will be. Each piece of information is carried on a different section of the DNA. These sections are called genes.

DNA is in every cell of every living thing. It is found in structures of the cell called chromosomes.

When DNA works correctly, it helps keep the body functioning properly. DNA helps cells to make the proteins which cells need to live. DNA also allows living things to reproduce. The genes in DNA pass along physical traits from parents to children.

Those are the basics about DNA that most of us have been familiar with. We see physical traits in our kids that were in our parents, passed down over generations. But here's the part where it becomes remarkable.

DNA has an extremely complex structure. It's made of chemical substances that are linked together like a chain. Each piece of DNA has two long strands, or chains. The two strands are joined together. They form a shape like a ladder that has been

twisted into a spiral. We've come to know this as the double helix. This ladder has 3 BILLION RUNGS! puts it this way: "The double helix describes the appearance of double-stranded DNA, which is composed of two linear strands that run opposite to each other, or anti-parallel, and twist together. Each DNA strand within the double helix is a long, linear molecule made of smaller units called nucleotides that form a chain."

Every cell in our body has a strand of DNA in the nucleus – and that strand is 6 ft long! But it would be only 50 trillionths of an inch wide. And if you put all the DNA in all of our cells together it would stretch twice the diameter of the solar system

This seemed so unbelievable to me that I had to check it out, lest I be guilty of passing along "fake news." That led me to the Science Focus article, How Long Is Your DNA?

"Your DNA is arranged as a coil of coils of coils of coils of coils! This allows the 3 billion base pairs in each cell to fit into a space just 6 microns across. If you stretched the DNA of one cell all the way out, it would be about 2m long and all the DNA in all your cells put together would be about twice the diameter of the Solar System."

In other words, the DNA in your cells is packaged into 46 chromosomes in the nucleus and supercoiled using enzymes so that it takes up less space. 

Vander-Ark went on to say, "Human DNA contains more organized information than the Encyclopedia Britannica, which contains approximately 44 million words." 

In a 1999 Wall Street Journal article George Sim Johnson wrote: "If the full text of the encyclopedia were to arrive in computer code from outer space, most people would regard this as proof of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. But when seen in nature, it is explained as the workings of random forces."

* * * 

A suitable close here comes from Psalm 139, a Psalm of David from 3,000 years ago, and even more astonishing today.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Illustrations courtesy Zephyris, Wikimedia Commons

License details here:

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Almost Wordless Wednesday: On the Road Again with Nevada Bob Gordon

Miscellaneous images from Nevada Bob's current road trip up the East coast, 
now heading to the Midwest,  photographer Gary Firstenberg
along for the ride to document this journey.

Listening to the wind and soakin' up the rays.
Cooperstown. A lot of history here.
Grave site of Levon Helm. 

Howdy. My name's Bob Gordon.
Maine lobster. It doesn't get much better than this.

Big man Bob.
Sometimes it feels like the world is upside down.
Yes, Im willing to promote Coors. It's the only beer I drink.
When it's available.
"I wonder if this Gordon is also kin."
Forrest Gump sat here. Savannah.
Time to hit the road.
"By the time we got to Woodstock..."
Bob Dylan was here. Big Pink.

Nevada Bob is one of a kind. His soon to be published memoir is a story of an overcomer who did whatever it takes to shoulder the responsibilities of taking care of a growing family. Adversaries included a first job in a corrupt police force, a "we give up" prognosis by doctors when he battled cancer at age 31, and the hardships of carving out a life in the wilderness of the great Northwest. He's sung in Monaco, recorded in Nashville with one of the cornerstones of Nashville's A-team, and more.  Look for his book 50 Years with the Wrong Woman sometime in early 2022.

Gary Firstenberg is an award-winning photographer who has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

* * * 

Related Links

Singer/Songwriter Nevada Bob Is A Storyteller, Too

Looking for a photographer to document your next road trip? Contact and I'll see if Gary's available. 

Recommended: If you are a Netflix show producer, consider a pilot with Nevada Bob when he goes on his next road tour.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Tech Tuesday: Thought Provoking Energy Stories

I have currently been reading Meredith Angwin's Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid. The book challenges us to think about matters we have probably given very little thought to. Specifically, how do our power systems work? Why do the lights go on when I flip a switch? What would our lives be like if we shut down all the power plants? That is, what would happen if the power went out forever?

Here are some article to chew on for today's energy lesson. (I'm not an expert. Just relaying ideas that strike me as significant from this week's readings.)

Our electricity demand is shifting into high gear. That's why we need diverse energy sources. | Opinion

The question isn't whether our country will need more power, but what energy mix is needed to meet our economic and environmental goals.


* * * 
In another article
I had a new insight about solar energy that I'd not considered. 
KEY NEW THOUGHT: The more Sun we get to produce energy, the higher the demand to run air conditioners and cooling systems. 

* * * 

Regarding the best way to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in Europe, it's apparent that the EU nations are hardly in unison. Here are two excerpts from a thought-provoking article at

France, an ardent supporter of nuclear power, drew 70 percent of its energy from nuclear sources last year, while the Czech Republic relied on its six nuclear reactors for 37 percent of its energy. 

President Emmanuel Macron doubled down on France’s nuclear strategy, announcing a new €1 billion investment in new-generation nuclear reactors. On the other hand, 2022 will witness the shutdown of the last of Germany’s nuclear reactors, completing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2011 plan to phase out the country’s 17 nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

* * * 

THIS SKYNEWS STORY proposes that  Climate Change "could be solved overnight" with nuclear. It seems an ambitious claim. Tomorrow evening more details will be spelled out regarding the role nuclear will play in the global effort to achieve netzero carbon.

* * * 

In Europe Germany is on the way to phasing out nuclear completely. France leads the EU with 70% of it power generated by nuclear. Which country produces more carbon? Germany by more than 6-fold. Which country best exemplifies the future of energy reliability? France. 

Details HERE.  

* * * 

Who among you (older readers) ever imagined that people would one day be "mining" bitcoins using powerful computers? The concept is still elusive for many, if not most, laypeople. 

Well there have been remarkable new developments in the field of nuclear power. Are you familiar with Thorium? Read this introduction to Thorium from the World Nuclear Association. 

* * * 

For the record, small scale nuclear power has been around for decades. Nuclear-powered submarines are submarines powered by nuclear power. When Australia recently cut a deal to build a fleet of nuclear powered subs, it did not mean submarines loaded with nukes. 

According to this article in Business Insider, the advantage of nuclear-powered subs is that they can operate at sea for longer, spend more time submerged, and sail at higher speeds than conventionally powered subs.

* * * 

There are now Portable Nuclear Reactors That Can Power Over 1,000 Homes

* * * 

According to Meredith Angwin, author of Shorting the Grid, a world without coal, oil or nuclear power is wishful thinking. It's a notion suggested by people who do not understand how power generation works. 

To learn more, read my interview with Ms. Angwin. It is amazing what science is achieving in the realm of clean energy today. 

* * * 

May all your skies be blue. (Except when we need a little rain.)

Monday, October 25, 2021

Short Story and Movie Remakes with a Pandemic Twist

For whatever reason, Hollywood goes bonkers over producing remakes of old films. Maybe they imagine that, "We did it before, we can do it again" is a good formula? Fan reactions are often mixed with more flops than not, but the producers keep trying.

Well, I've been thinking that in this era of never-ending masks and lockdowns, there are some century-old short stories that might actually be fun to resurrect with a Covid twist. The first is The Bet, Anton Chekhov (1899). It's on my short list of favorite short stories. A second, also related to isolation, is Joseph Conrad's The Lagoon. 

Anton Chekhov was a keen observer of human nature. His stories are like swift sketches that reveal much in a compact, concise package. Here are opening paragraphs of the story, a perfect setup for a rewarding read:

It was a dark autumn night. The old banker was walking up and down his study and remembering how, fifteen years before, he had given a party one autumn evening. There had been many clever men there, and there had been interesting conversations. Among other things they had talked of capital punishment. The majority of the guests, among whom were many journalists and intellectual men, disapproved of the death penalty. They considered that form of punishment out of date, immoral, and unsuitable for Christian States. In the opinion of some of them the death penalty ought to be replaced everywhere by imprisonment for life. "I don't agree with you," said their host the banker. "I have not tried either the death penalty or imprisonment for life, but if one may judge a priori, the death penalty is more moral and more humane than imprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly. Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?"

"Both are equally immoral," observed one of the guests, "for they both have the same object - to take away life. The State is not God. It has not the right to take away what it cannot restore when it wants to."

Among the guests was a young lawyer, a young man of five-and-twenty. When he was asked his opinion, he said: "The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all."

A lively discussion arose. The banker, who was younger and more nervous in those days, was suddenly carried away by excitement; he struck the table with his fist and shouted at the young man: "It's not true! I'll bet you two million you wouldn't stay in solitary confinement for five years."

"If you mean that in earnest," said the young man, "I'll take the bet, but I would stay not five but fifteen years."

"Fifteen? Done!" cried the banker. "Gentlemen, I stake two million!"

* * * 

Photo by Heather Gill on Unsplash
Well, what do you think? It definitely makes you want to keep turning the pages. Or at least it did for me.

NOW, what if we take this 1890s story and place at the end of 2020. It's a banker's Christmas party in some setting that requires masks. The topic of lockdowns comes up, how in some third world countries people can't leave their homes without a government pass. A young fellow states that confinement in a one room home is no big deal. 

They exchange words. The banker says, "What if this pandemic went on for five years and people were confined like that? I'll bet two million you couldn't be in lockdown for five  years." 

The young man says, "I'll take that bet, not for five, but fifteen years." (He probably had a couple drinks too many at this point.)

To give it a contemporary feel we'd want to maybe throw in electronic devices, perhaps some clues about global events that foreshadow the banker's future misfortunes. The younger fellow would be released in 2035, so some hints of the changes taking place might be in order. What do you think?

You can read the rest of Chekhov's story here.  

* * * 

This is another story from the late 19th century. I found Conrad's stories compelling when I was young and hoping to make a name for myself as a short story writer. I was impressed by their authentic detail, and even more impressed that English was his third language.

In the story a doctor named Tuan goes to visit an old friend, Arsat. who lives in a hut on an inland river of isolated island in the South Pacific. His wife, Diamelen, is dying. That night, Arsat tells his story. There's a sense in which this burden must be confessed, though it isn't so explicitly explained as such. Here's what happened. 

Arsat was in love with Diamelen, who was a servant to the Rajah. Arsat and his brother come up with a plan to kidnap Diamelen and start a new life elsewhere. The plot involves fleeing in a boat under cover of darkness. As I recall it they come to a narrow strip of land where they can abandon the escape craft and get away on a boat on the other side of this land barrier. This would keep block the Rajah from following. 

Arsat and Diamelen run across the promontory to the fisherman's boat they plan to escape in. Arsat's brother has a rifle and will slow the approaching craft enough to come rushing across to where Arsat is launching. 

Tragically, Arsat's fears overpower his intentions and he propels the boat away from the shore. Aways from the shore he sees his brother killed by the Rajah's men.

In my modern retelling, the story takes place at a hospital. Arsat and Tuan were friends at an Ivy League school. Their lives went different directions and Tuan became a famous doctor. When the pandemic strikes and he sees all these people dying alone on ventilators, he vows to get in touch with all his old friends.

When he discovers that Arsat is only an hour from Princeton, he goes to see him in the hospital where his Diamelen is on a ventilator. Tuan listens to Arsat's heartbreaking story as Diamelen dies.

[EdNote: OK, not exactly a fun movie, but entertaining to noodle an idea a bit and see what happens.]

* * *

OK, probably too depressing for a Hollywood movie. Then again, you know how they flip the endings sometimes. The Natural didn't have a happy ending in the book. 

Speaking of The Natural, what about a 2020 version of the remake with cardboard fans in the stands to make it look like there's a crowd? 

Or better, Field of Dreams where Shoeless Joe and the Chicago Black Sox come back and everyone in the stands is wearing masks? 

I'll bet the writers of Airplane could have fun with this. 

That's enough. Any other filmland remakes that could fit into the Covid era with masks, Zoom and social distancing? What about a teenaged girl from Kansas who runs away from home with her dog and gets carried off by a tornado to a strange land somewhere over the rainbow?

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Do You Read Banned Books?

When I was young Mad Magazine used to cost a quarter. My allowance was a quarter, which worked out well. I could buy a Mad magazine or save two quarters and buy Famous Monsters of Filmland, which was fifty cents. This left me with one more quarter to save for something more expensive, like a Revell model battleship or submarine. That was always around a dollar. 

Mad was famous for occasional inserts. For example, they inserted a vinyl record in the center that you could play on a record player. Side A was It's a Gas, in which the only lyrics were periodic burps. (Burps are a gas, right?) Side B was She Got A Nose Job, which I can still sing to this day. 

Another time, the magazine inserted full color book covers that could be used to wrap around trade-sized paperbacks. The book covers were intended to shock adults by appearing to be banned books or very adult content. The fake title would be large and in small type the rest of the title. One of the book covers was Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. Those three words were writ large in white block letters on a blue background. The full title might have been something like Let's go to a TROPIC isle OF no importance and get skin CANCER.

Other scandalous titles included Lady Chatterly's Lover and Fanny Hill. When I took a couple of these fake book covers and put them on my paperbacks, they achieved the intended goal of shocking an adult, specifically my mother. 

As it turns out, when I was in college eight or so years later the movie version of Tropic Of Cancer was playing at the theater. I probably would not have noticed but for the fake book cover I'd used from Mad. Out of curiosity I went to see it and left after about 20 minutes, not because it was vulgar but because it seemed pointless. (My assessment wasn't far afield. On it has a 5.5 rating out of 10, which is pretty low.) 

* * * 

There was a time when the label Banned In Boston was a badge of notoriety. Perhaps it was Boston's Puritanical roots that resulted in the region's power to censor books, plays and movies, thereby dictating what was acceptable and unacceptable.

In addition to books like Ulysses (Joyce), Leaves of Grass (Whitman) and The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway), the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up Little Susie" was censored.

While perusing the shelves at our local library this past week I discovered the 2014 edition of Banned Books, a catalog of books that have stirred the ire of people in various parts of our country over the years. It's a large book with more than 325 pages of listings, identifying books and the causes of their being barred, or recommended to be. Here are some of the more surprising entries.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury surprised me. It's about book burning. Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles was also banned by one school district because the N-word is used in one of its stories. The book was reprinted without that sentence and is OK now. 

One of my favorite Bradbury stories is The Veldt. It's a short sci-fi story that was included in his The Illustrated Man. I went through a sci-fi stage once, reading a lot of Asimov short stories as well as Bradbury. I had to scratch my head as to why The Veldt would be criticized. Fortunately, Banned Books included the reason people were upset with these various books. In this case, the parent who complained felt the story failed to show any consequences for the children's actions. That's getting pretty picky. 

Various school districts and communities took umbrage with six of Richard Brautigan's books, most of which I read in college.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was banned in the USSR because of references to occultism and spiritism. A Study in Scarlet was pulled in one county school district because it portrayed Mormonism in a bad light. The surprise for me is that Sign of the Four doesn't seem to have received any complaints even though it begins with Holmes rather enjoying the effects of shooting cocaine. 

Upton Sinclair's Oil! was banned in Boston because of its criticism of the Harding administration. Harding was no longer president and his cronies already dispersed by the time the book was published. It was also banned in Yugoslavia and burned in Nazi Germany, the latter because of its socialist views. The film There Will Be Blood, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, was loosely based on this book.

John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men was banned in dozens of localities for language and in some municipalities because it used the N-word. I've read this book a few times since first reading it in high school. I remember the characters and the power of the prose, not these language matters which passed as fast as a speed bump.

Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels was banned in Ireland.

Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn received dozens of challenges and has been pulled from countless reading lists because it was deemed to "undermine the self-esteem" of black youth, and the N-word is used in the book a number of times. 

Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird suffered the same fate, despite it being a story that shines a light on the evils of racial inequality. Some school districts rejected it because of racial slurs used in the story and does "psychological damage to the positive integration process." Ironically Harper Lee was showing the ugliness of people who demean other simply because of the color of their skin. 

Several Kurt Vonnegut books made the list including Slaughterhouse Five and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

* * *

There's much more that can be said here on this topic, but it's nuanced and I don't have time to detail all the distinctions as regards this issue. I agree with those who believe there is an age appropriateness to be considered when recommending books to younger audiences. Then again, that's a much longer discussion. 

This book, Banned Books, caught my attention when I saw it, and I decided to check it out. The subtitle is Challenging Our Freedom To Read.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Andy & Renee Headline Concert to Celebrate the 30th Anniversary of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited

It was a very special night at Sacred Heart here in Duluth. Andy & Renee, a pair of Los Angeles musicians who have been celebrating Dylan's music for 31 year, happened to be in Minnesota this week so they could celebrate the 30th anniversary of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited. The late John Bushey, who hosted this weekly hour of Dylan music, would have loved the concert last night. 

Marc Gartman
Marc Gartman, one of our many talented local musicians, opened the show with a set that featured Dylan music from a variety of sources. My original intention was to not take notes but to simply enjoy the music. Now I wish I'd brought a pad of paper.

For those unfamiliar, Sacred Heart was formerly a Catholic church on Duluth's Central Hillside. Now it is a music and arts venue, among other things. The acoustics are simply outstanding, and the sound system engineering is second to none. All that to say that Marc Gartman's 12-string sounded remarkable.

Zane Bail, who welcomed us at the beginning of the evening, introduced Karen Sunderman to make a few remarks and share some anecdotes from the show's 30-year history. One story she told was how on one occasion John Bushey assembled a manufactured interview with Bob Dylan. He used clips from Dylan interviews and inserted his questions before the statements or answers Bob would make. 

As with Orson Welles' 1939 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, many people not only believed that John was interviewing Dylan, but that Dylan was up at the KUMD studio live on the air. Unexpectedly, people started showing up at KUMD with various items for Dylan to sign as he emerged after the interview. Alas, he wasn't there.

Miriam Hanson, who has now been host of the show for near four years, was unable to be present last night because she was globetrotting in Egypt. Karen shared how influential the show was for Miriam who first started listening when she was 15. It's a show that has touched many lives. 

Paul Metsa joined for It Takes a Lot to Laugh

As for Andy & Renee, they were superb. No question they've got talent. Their stage presence evokes warmth and enthusiasm. Throughout the evening their versatility was abundantly evident. Each took a turn at the grand piano, each took turns singing, and their guitar roles often reversed. And this being a Dylan program, there was plenty of harmonica. 

Here's the set list, beginning with Things Have Changed, which opened many, many Dylan concerts after it won the Oscar two decades ago.

Things Have Changed
Sweet Amarillo
Emotionally Yours
Watching the River Flow
One More Cup of Coffee
Blood on the Tracks 
Is Your Love In Vain
Up To Me
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, a Train to Cry
Power Lines and Palm Trees
Fuse 32
Times They Are A-Changin’
Working Man’s Blues #2
The Hour The Ship Comes In
Chimes of Freedom

A nice surprise was having Paul Metsa come out to perform with them on It Takes a Lot to Laugh, a Train to Cry. Paul has moved to Duluth and, for the time being, is living on the first floor of the duplex young Bobby Zimmerman lived in till he was six.

Dylan fans are likely aware that there is no song in his catalog titled Blood on the Tracks. Rather, it's a song Andy Hill wrote with Dave Tokaji and Weiner, a.k.a The Title Trackers, in the style of the songs on Blood on the Tracks, intended to serve as a "title song" for that album.  

All close-up photos on this post are courtesy Michael Anderson. 
To learn more about Andy & Renee you can check out this interview I did with them in 2019

To purchase their music, check out

Andy Hill and Renee Safier

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