Monday, October 17, 2016

1708 Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man

It’s August 6, 2105. Now that the radiation levels have calmed to tolerable, the archeologists and anthropologists from Saturn are wandering through what used to be the City of Chicago.

The nuclear war left the city in ruins, but scientists from outer space are trying to determine what life was like on earth before the great destruction.

They come upon what once was 2120 South Michigan Avenue and stop before the wreckage of the Chess Record Company.  Sticking out from the debris, they spot what seems to be a slip of paper.

Yes, it is!

Carefully -- very very carefully -- they extract it and return with it to their flying saucer.  The translation computer scans it and prints out these words:

“Hooka Tooka My Soda Cracker.
Does your mama chaw tuhbacker.
If your mama chaws tuhbacker, then
Hooka Tooka My Soda Cracker.”

From this, the landing party will attempt to reconstruct life in the American Midwest in the 21st century.

The Dead Planet Scroll!

“Hooka Tooka my soda cracker…” is not exactly great literature.  It’s just a song.

So is this from Bob Dylan’s “Hey Mr. Tambourine man:

“In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.”

Parts of the nose-in-air literati went into anaphylactic overdrive at the announcement that Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

All the Monday morning quarterbacks start their public floggings with some paean to Dylan the lyricist, Dylan the musician, Dylan the cultural force.  Member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Grammy winner. All that.  And then, the punch line: “But he’s not a writer.”

The singer songwriter tradition is as American as a do nothing congress or the Great American Novel.

Think of some of the luminaries:
Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Joni Mitchell, Lionel Ritchie, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, John Denver, Paul Simon, Usher, Hank Williams, Harry Chapin, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Randy Newman, Buddy Holly, James Taylor, Tracy Chapman.

Or go back a couple of generations and think about some of the towering songwriters who had the grace to not sing: Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim, Alan Jay Lerner

Granted Mitchell and Cohen are Canadian and Lennon and McCartney are British.  But all were huge hits in the US.

Nobel prizes for anything are generally awarded to people you never heard of.  Some of them become household names… Albert Einstein… James Watson. Most of them don’t.  Anyone remember who Svetlana Alexievch is?

She’s a writer from Belarus.  She wrote about Russia’s women soldiers in World War II.  She won the Nobel for literature one year ago.  

Who’s that again?

So when the awards committee votes for someone who is not stilted, does not sound like he lived in the 1700s or 1800s even though he’s alive today, the stilted among the living -- pretending it’s still 1864 -- don their smoking jackets, grab their glass of sherry and their whalebone cigarette holder and pose for pictures with captions about how the literature prize has been diluted or devalued.


Today’s Quote:
--“Only when I can borrow a pen as good as yours.” -- Woody Guthrie answering the question “do you always write your songs that fast?”

--If nothing else, this year’s winner shook up the stuffed shirt crowd of believers who won’t read anything unless it’s so old it’s moved into public domain.  A lot of Dylan sounds dated today, but not dated enough to please those who read nothing but poetry past its use-by date. Dylan is not nearly stuffy enough… yet.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2016

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