Showing posts with label Bob Dylan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bob Dylan. Show all posts

02 July 2018

Recognition


by Janice Law

I’ve been thinking about recognition lately, although not in the form so close to writers’ hearts as great reviews, editorial interest, and large checks. I’ve been considering it in connection with inspiration, the most mysterious part of the creative process. In particular, I have been trying to figure out the relationship between the two arts that interest me a great deal, namely writing and painting.

The Big Y florist who tripped the switch
It is not uncommon for people to be serious in more than one art. At least two of our Sleuthsayers colleagues are active in both music and writing. Recent Nobel laureate Bob Dylan paints respectably, while an older laureate, Gunther Grass, did really fine etchings. Going the other way, Vincent Van Gogh wrote some of the world’s best letters, while the term renaissance man (or woman) reflects the wide interests and capabilities of what were often primarily visual artists.

On the other hand, if I have a spell of painting, where I am finishing a picture every week or every other week, I have no ideas for anything creative in writing. PR releases for the local library are fine, but anything requiring imagination as opposed to craft is simply absent.

The change from one to the other is abrupt and apparently not under my control. This makes me think that while writing is basically an auditory art, and painting, a visual one, the roots are the same, and at least in my case, there is only so much of the right neural stuff available for work in either one.
That leads to the question of what inspiration in writing and painting have in common, and that
brings me to recognition. In both cases, I seem to recognize something useful. For example, recently I noticed one of the florists at our local supermarket wheeling out a cart of plants. A little mental click and I knew this was a painting. Why not any one of the dozens of other people in the store that day? That remains mysterious.

But that recognition of the pictorial possibilities had a further effect. I painted a whole series of images of the Big Y store personnel, so that recognition triggered a spate of painting and cut off any literary inspiration. Seven or eight paintings down the road, that impulse dried up.
Then various news stories about the Alt Right led me to revisit a story I had begun a number of years ago and abandoned. Again, I recognized something I could use and the result was the completion of that story and at least two more. The verbal switch is apparently now on. How long will it remain? I have no idea, but at some point I hope to see something that says ‘paint me’ and the cycle will start over.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? I would love to know if painter/ musicians or musician/ writers have similar experiences.

Having two arts is lovely, although there is one drawback. Instead of worrying about a lack of inspiration in one field, one gets to worry about two.

05 April 2016

Now’s the Time for Your Tears


Since this is a blog about crime and crime writing I thought I’d do a post about songs that deal with crimes, both real and fictional. Originally I was going to do this via songs from a variety of artists. And I still will in the future. But in starting to do that one I saw that I was using several Bob Dylan songs and since I’m a huge Dylan fan, particularly of his material from John Wesley Harding and earlier, I thought I’d do it only on Dylan songs this time and save the rest for later.

These songs are, of course, filtered through Dylan’s eyes and may not be 100% accurate in terms of history. But they are “accurate” in terms of the times they represent, which certainly were a changin’. For example, I’m sure that if there was a real Robin Hood he might not have been as pure and good as made out in the ballads, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. But these tales tell us about who we are and what we want as a society at the times they come about. (All song credits are at the end.)


Hurricane tells the story of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a middleweight boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder in a complicated case that took many years to resolve. After his murder conviction, Carter spent 20 years in prison, eventually being released on a writ of habeas corpus. Though to give both sides, there are those who dispute his innocence. Dylan read Carter’s book, came to believe he was innocent and decided to write a song about it. He goes through many verses telling Hurricane’s story in a way only he can.
Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder “one,” guess who testified?
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. This one is from much earlier in his career, 1963 as opposed to 1975 for Hurricane. Hattie Carroll was a 51 year old barmaid killed by wealthy Maryland tobacco heir and farmer William Zantzinger, who Dylan refers to as Zanzinger. I don’t usually shy away from controversial things, but the story of what Zantzinger did that night, assaulting several other people first and then Hattie Carroll, is so unpleasant that if you want to know more about it you’ll have to look it up yourselves. It just makes me cringe. The upshot is that for the murder of Hattie Carroll, Zantzinger received a six month sentence for manslaughter, after which he went back to life on the farm and selling real estate. He did, however, get in trouble with the IRS in later years and died at the age of 69 in 2009, unrepentant. He later claimed the song was a “total lie,” to Howard Sounes for Down the Highway, the Life of Bob Dylan, adding that, "He's a no-account son-of-a-bitch, he's just like a scum of a scum bag of the earth, I should have sued him and put him in jail.”
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears

Only a Pawn in Their Game is Dylan’s take on the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963. Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council (formed in 1954 to resist school integration and civil rights) assassinated Evers. Two all-white juries couldn’t reach verdicts on the trials of Beckwith at the time. It wasn’t until 1994 that Beckwith was finally convicted, based on new evidence that came out. While blaming Beckwith on one level for the murder, Dylan’s song also considers him to be only a pawn in a larger game of politics and societal strife.
A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game

John Wesley Harding, Dylan’s song about old west outlaw John Wesley Hardin, without the “g”. I’d heard that he added the G because in so many instances he dropped Gs from word endings. Is it true? Is it apocryphal? Either way, Hardin was hardly a hero or even an anti-hero. He’s said to have killed 30 to 40 men, depending on who you talk to. One for snoring too loudly.
John Wesley Harding
Was a friend to the poor
He trav’led with a gun in ev’ry hand
All along this countryside
He opened many a door
But he was never known
To hurt an honest man

Much as I like this song, and I do, these lyrics have little to do with the real-life man. In an interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, Dylan said, that the song "started out to be a long ballad. I was gonna write a ballad on ... like maybe one of those old cowboy ... you know, a real long ballad. But in the middle of the second verse, I got tired. I had a tune, and I didn't want to waste the tune; it was a nice little melody, so I just wrote a quick third verse, and I recorded that."


Joey: Dylan expounds on Joey Gallo, an enforcer and hitman for the Profaci crime family. Dylan, at the urging of co-writer Jacques Levy, had a more sympathetic take on him. He also claimed that Levy wrote all the lyrics to the song. I suppose you could say this song continues in the tradition of ballads that tell of the exploits of criminals in a more sympathetic and heroic way than they were in reality. Because of this, critic Lester Bangs, described the song as “repellent romanticist bullshit." Decide for yourself.
Joey, Joey
King of the streets child of clay
Joey, Joey
What made them want to come and blow you away.

The Ballad of Hollis Brown is the story of a South Dakota farmer who, beaten down by hopelessness and poverty, and in desperation, kills his wife and children. Then himself. It seems nobody knows if this is based on a real person. The details of such a real man are hard to find. But again, even if it’s something out of Dylan’s imagination, the sensibilities in it are a reflection of the times.
There’s seven people dead
On a South Dakota farm
There’s seven people dead
On a South Dakota farm
Somewhere in the distance
There’s seven new people born

The Death of Emmett Till. Fourteen year old African-American Emmett Till was beaten, had one of his eyes gouged out and was shot through the head, for supposedly flirting with a white woman in Mississippi. The woman’s husband and his half-brother were brought to trial and found not guilty. Because of double jeopardy, and knowing they couldn’t be tried again, they later admitted their guilt in a Look Magazine article and got paid for it.

William Faulkner wrote this about the case in On Fear (1956), “If the facts as stated in the Look magazine account of the Till affair are correct, this remains: two adults, armed, in the dark, kidnap a fourteen-year-old boy and take him away to frighten him. Instead of which, the fourteen-year-old boy not only refuses to be frightened, but, unarmed, alone, in the dark, so frightens the two armed adults that they must destroy him… What are we Mississippians afraid of?”
’Twas down in Mississippi not so long ago
When a young boy from Chicago town stepped through a Southern door
This boy’s dreadful tragedy I can still remember well
The color of his skin was black and his name was Emmett Till

***

All of these stories, the true ones at least, are more complicated than the songs might suggest or that I can go into here. My objective in writing this is not to get into the politics but to show how crimes, real and fictional, become song and thus part of the culture and sometimes even change it.



Please also check out my guest post on Madeline Gornell’s blog this week. I talk about “Getting Sucked into the L.A. Vortex,” via various Los Angeles and Southern California locations in my noir novella Vortex. People have said that Los Angeles is a whole ’nother character in my writing. And I agree. The top pic below is The Shakespeare Bridge in the Los Feliz Neighborhood of L.A. The bottom pic is Bombay Beach ruins at the Salton Sea, Southern California.


ShakespeareBridge
Oakshade at English Wikipedia [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons



***

Song Credits:
Hurricane: written by: Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll: written by: Bob Dylan
Only a Pawn in Their Game: written by: Bob Dylan
John Wesley Harding: written by: Bob Dylan
Joey: written by: Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy
The Ballad of Hollis Brown: written by: Bob Dylan
The Death of Emmett Till: written by: Bob Dylan

07 April 2015

Because Something is Happening Here But You Don’t Know What it is, Do You, Mister Jones?


by Paul D. Marks

One of the things that scares me most as a writer is an illiterate society. Not only illiterate in the sense of people being unable to read and write. But “illiterate” in the sense that, as a society, we have touchstones that everyone or at least most people are familiar with. Or I thought we did at one time. I’m not so sure anymore.

Let’s start with plain literacy on a personal and anecdotal level.

When my wife and I were looking for the house prior to our current house we noticed something odd, at least odd to us. We’d go in various houses in different parts of Los Angeles. But, unlike some of the shows on HGTV, you could still see the real people’s stuff in their houses. Their junk, ugly sofa, hideous drapes and kids’ toys strewn all over, laundry baskets, cluttered closets, etc. One thing we didn’t see much of were books. Sure, a house here or there had them, but the majority didn’t. And if they did they had a coffee table book or two of some artist they thought would make them look chic or intelligent or maybe a book of aerial views of L.A. One place we expected to see lots of books was in kids’ rooms or a potboiler on their parents’ nightstands. But, alas, the “cupboards” were bare.
This was twenty or so years ago, so well before smart phones, Kindles and e-readers. So, it’s not like all their multitudinous libraries were in e-form. No, there just weren’t many books to be seen.
We found this odd, as we have books stuffed to the rafters, as do most of our friends. Here, there and everywhere, in the living room or the dining room, library, the hallway, and even shelves upon shelves in the garage.

Flash forward: Cultural Literacy

29291When we went hunting for our current house, about ten years ago it was more of the same. By then there might have been some e-books and the like but the real revolution still hadn’t hit full bore yet.

Again this seemed odd. But more than odd, it’s scary. Especially for a writer. Because a writer needs readers. And if people aren’t reading, I’m out of a job, and maybe likely so are you. Even scarier though is the fact that, imho, we are becoming a post-literate society. And we are losing our shared background, some of which is gotten through books. Aside from the greater implications of that in terms of the country, it makes it harder as a writer because when we write we assume some shared cultural background. And we make literary or historical allusions to those ends. We mention composers or songs or symphonies. Books, authors, “famous” or “well-known” quotes that we assume most readers will be familiar with, some foreign phrases, even biblical references. Hemingway and even Bob Dylan songs (and I’m talking those from the 60s before he found religion in the 70s), as well as other writers, are filled with them. But often these days readers are not familiar with these references, so they miss the richness of the writing. So then we begin to question whether or not to include these references and sometimes end up writing to the lower common denominator. And that diminishes our works and our society, even if it sounds pompous to say that.

Maybe people won’t know who Rudy Vallee is, and that's understandable, but many also don’t know who Shakespeare is in any meaningful way.

743625500929_p0_v1_s600When I would go to pitch meetings in Hollywood I would often have to dumb down my presentation. I would try to leave out any historical or literary allusions. Hell, I’d even leave out film allusions because while these people may have heard of Hitchcock, few had seen his movies. And they were mostly from Ivy League type schools, but they didn’t have much of a cultural background. So when you have to explain basic things to them, you’ve lost them. They don’t like to feel stupid. And sometimes they’d ask me to explain something to them about another script they were reading by someone else. One development VP asked me to explain to her who fought on which sides in World War II, because she was reading a WWII script someone had submitted. The writer of that script already had points against him or her since the development VP didn’t even know the basics of the subject matter. And I would have thought before that incident that just about everybody knew who fought on which side in WWII. And this is just one example. I have many, many more experiences like this.

After college, the stats show that many people never—or very rarely—read another book. Literacy rates in the US are down. A lot of young people aren’t reading, but they think they’re smart because they look things up on Google. But looking something up on Google isn’t the same as knowing, though it’s better than nothing, assuming people do look things up. See: http://www.salon.com/2014/10/12/google_makes_us_all_dumber_the_neuroscience_of_search_engines/
Hw-shakespeare2
I’ve seen several authors, some very well known, ask on Facebook if they should include X, Y or Z in a novel because their editor says no one will get the references, even though the references aren’t that obscure. But even if they are, what’s wrong with using them and having people (hopefully) look them up. Isn’t that how we expand our knowledge? But nobody wants to challenge anyone in that way anymore. We’re dealing with generations now that have been told how wonderful they are without having earned it. So when we unintentionally make them feel stupid by using references they’re not familiar with, they turn off. Is it just me or does our society seem to have no intellectual curiosity, no interests or hobbies other than texting or watching the Kardashians? They don’t have the will to look further than the screens of their smart phones?

I know I’m generalizing and that there are pockets of intellectual curiosity (like the readers of this blog!), but I feel like we are becoming a minority.

And when you do a book signing or a library event, do you notice the average median age and hair color of the audience? More times than not they’re older and grayer. And where are the young people? That’s scary.

I wish more people would make New Year’s resolutions to improve their minds as well as their bodies, to exercise their brains as well as their muscles. So maybe we should do yoga for the brain as well as the body.

At this point I’d even settle for grownups reading comic books or graphic novels as long as there’s words in them.

All of this scares me, not just as a writer, who might not have an audience in the future. But for society as a whole. We need to have a shared background, a common knowledge, a literate society of people who are engaged. Not everybody can know everything, of course. But there should be some common background that we can all relate to.



Shakespeare picture: Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hw-shakespeare2.jpg#/media/File:Hw-shakespeare2.jpg
Blonde on blonde album cover: "Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bob_Dylan_-_Blonde_on_Blonde.jpg#/media/File:Bob_Dylan_-_Blonde_on_Blonde.jpg