Dylan’s Nobel lecture

So now Bob Dylan is being accused of plagiarizing the lecture that the Nobel Committee forced him to give as a condition of receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. He didn’t care about the prize to begin with and he didn’t want to give the lecture. But everyone told him to just go ahead and do it because it would be better for everybody if he did, and the “controversy” of his “snubbing” them by not showing up at their ceremony would be set aside once and for all.

So he put together a speech explaining his influences, starting with Buddy Holly, and going on to describe how three books he read in grammar school stayed with him and inspired a lot of his writing: Moby Dick, All Quiet On The Western Front, and The Odyssey.

The accusation is that he took a lot of phrases from the SparkNotes summary of Moby Dick to make his point. This “outrage” is laboriously documented in a Salon piece.

Oy vey.

First of all, how many new ways are there to summarize the plot of Moby Dick? If you came up with something yourself today, completely your own original ideas, there’s no chance someone else hasn’t expressed the very same ideas before using many of the very same words.

Of course Dylan went to some summary source to check his memory of a book he read sixty years ago before grudgingly performing this compulsory exercise for the Nobel people! How could it be otherwise? Should he have attributed SparkNotes  in his Nobel lecture? Would that satisfy the critics or just open him up to other “criticism”?

Is he being accused of plagiarizing any of the work for which the prize was conferred? If he paraphrased or simply lifted some words from SparkNotes in the lecture, does that diminish his body of work or influence on culture? Do I care about this at all? No, no, and hell no.

Everything we see and hear now must be framed as controversy. or, even better, a scandal. Everything must be presented as a clash of adversaries. The internet demands it. The revenue model of “news” demands it. Our poor attention span demands it. If it’s an old white guy we’re trashing, so much the better, and so much easier for everyone involved.

Can we not give Bob Dylan a pass after all these years? Just this once? He’s Bob Fucking Dylan, for God’s sake.




Zeno’s bridge

Remember Zeno’s Paradox? Achilles gives a tortoise a head-start in a foot race, but can never overtake it. By the time Achilles has run to where the tortoise started, the tortoise has moved ahead a bit, and by the time Achilles covers that bit, the tortoise has moved further. And so on, ad infinitum.

Well, if you ever want to get a big infrastructure contract in Boston, like fixing the decaying Longfellow Bridge, you’d do well to keep Zeno in mind when you prepare your sales pitch.

Check out this super-slick animated presentation about the Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation project now underway in Boston. It’s a really cool look at how the engineers will accomplish it and every detail is covered in their plan, which they created at the time the project went out for bid.

After watching this thing, you will be 100% confident they know what they’re doing and have taken all eventualities into account. There can be no doubt they’ll complete the work on time and maybe even under budget.

Wrong again, suckers!

The project was begun in 2013 and was going to be completed in mid-2016. But guess what? When they started the repairs, they found out there were some problems that they hadn’t figured on. “Like what?”, you may ask, “that animation they did had everything covered”. Well, see, it turned out some elements of the steel supports were rusty!


Now, I’m no engineer and I certainly have no experience making animated sales pitches, so naturally my first thought was, “No shit. That’s why we need to fix the bridge, remember?”

Anyway, when the first deadline of three years passed, the engineers said, yeah, well, we’ll be done in a couple or three more years, maybe in late 2018. When they said that, they may have really believed they could do it (or not), and, anyway, it was so  far into the future that no one would remember when the time came.

Well, we’re six months away from 2018, so they better move fast. When I look at the bridge today, it seems about half done. They’ve got the Red Line tracks moved over to one side and the entire roadway on the other side is removed. I took this picture the other day.


In my lay opinion, and given the way things always work around here, there’s no way this project can be completed in 2018. Around September of next year, you can expect them to say, “We’re almost there. Only about 12 months left. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

To which Zeno will reply, “No worries, Achilles, you’ll probably pass that tortoise any day now”.


















A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall

It was 54 years ago this week that a little-known folk singer named Bob Dylan told the most important figure in prime time television, Ed Sullivan, to take a hike.

In May of 1963, Dylan had a small following based on playing clubs around Greenwich Village and the release of his first album a year before, called “Bob Dylan”, which contained only two original songs. His second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, which would change  everything, had not come out yet.


Freeweheelin’ had a bunch of  soon-to-be-classic Dylan compositions on it, including “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Girl from the North Country”, “Masters of War”, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.

Before Freewheelin’ dropped, Dylan was like a lot of other people struggling to be heard. Unlike almost everyone else, though, he got a huge break in the form of an invitation to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, which at that time was the biggest thing anyone could hope for. It was the country’s highest rated variety show – a guarantee of a huge national audience.

But on May 12, Dylan walked off the show because network censors rejected the song he planned on performing, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”. The song lampooned the loony right for its tendency to see a “Communist” everywhere they looked, and the network worried they’d be sued because the song equated the views of the Birchers with those of Hitler.

They asked Dylan to choose a different song and he told them to choose a different singer.

As you may know, The John Birch Society was co-founded by Fred C. Koch, the father of David and Charles Koch, who have been doing their best for some time now to ruin this country with their Dark Money.

An excerpt from Amazon’s description of “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right”, by Jane Mayer:

Why is America living in an age of profound economic inequality? Why, despite the desperate need to address climate change, have even modest environmental efforts been defeated again and again? Why have protections for employees been decimated? Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middle-class workers?
     The conventional answer is that a popular uprising against “big government” led to the ascendancy of a broad-based conservative movement. But as Jane Mayer shows in this powerful, meticulously reported history, a network of exceedingly wealthy people with extreme libertarian views bankrolled a systematic, step-by-step plan to fundamentally alter the American political system. 
     The network has brought together some of the richest people on the planet. Their core beliefs—that taxes are a form of tyranny; that government oversight of business is an assault on freedom—are sincerely held. But these beliefs also advance their personal and corporate interests: Many of their companies have run afoul of federal pollution, worker safety, securities, and tax laws.
     The chief figures in the network are Charles and David Koch, whose father made his fortune in part by building oil refineries in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. The patriarch later was a founding member of the John Birch Society, whose politics were so radical it believed Dwight Eisenhower was a communist. The brothers were schooled in a political philosophy that asserted the only role of government is to provide security and to enforce property rights. 

The Kochs have changed the face of Congress by bankrolling candidates that can be relied upon to support their views, and by attacking their opponents with all manner of fake news, made-up scandals, and assorted dirty tricks.

One of the beneficiaries of the Koch largess has been Trey Gowdy, a partisan hack from South Carolina, who has been nicknamed “Hillary Slayer” for his absurd and relentless persecution of Hillary Clinton when he was chairman of the Benghazi hearings, a two-year long waste of the taxpayers’ money. His behavior more closely resembled that of a demented piranha than a U.S. Congressman.


Guess who Trump’s first choice for the next Director of the F.B.I. is?

trey1 Trey Gowdy

Just when you think Trump can’t top himself, he surprises you. At least this time we don’t have to fret about whether Trump will again be so clueless as to ask Gowdy for his loyalty. Everyone already knows the answer to that one.  And it’s another big day for the sons of the Birchers – the Kochs are smiling about this.

As Dylan said all those years ago, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”


Immortal art and confirmed bachelors

It would be nice to live in a world where someone’s gender or sexual orientation was unremarkable and didn’t come up in workplace matters or in courtrooms – where it would actually be odd to refer to it.

But that’s not the world we live in now. Homosexuality, for example, is regarded very differently depending on where in the world you find yourself. In Iran, there is none, if you believe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Or in Chechnya, either.

The map below comes from this site, where you can find a breakdown of how gay people stand. There are ten countries were homosexuality now is punishable by death.


In general, North America and Western Europe are on the right side of history here and seem to be illuminating the path forward. But it’s a daily struggle.

Yesterday, Trump signed his  “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” order, saying, “For too long the federal government has used the state as a weapon against people of faith.” The long national nightmare of persecution of Christians may be coming to an end. But many Evangelicals are not happy about it. They’re pretty miffed, in fact.

See, they were expecting Trump to include language that he had promised, and that had appeared in earlier drafts of the order, which would allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees based on faith beliefs. Slate commented on the original language:

“a homophobic government employee could refuse to process a same-sex couple’s tax returns or Social Security benefits; federally funded religious charities could refuse to serve transgender people or women who’ve had abortions; and government contractors could fire all LGBTQ employees, as well as any workers who’ve had sex outside of marriage. Meanwhile, a homeless shelter or drug treatment program that receives federal funding could reject LGBTQ people at the door, citing religious beliefs.”

Apparently, Trump was somehow made to understand that in pleasing the evangelicals on this point, he would be displeasing a larger segment of voters, so his “core principles” kicked in, and he decided in favor of getting more “likes” and “re-tweets” with the new version, leaving the LGBT community alone, at least for now.

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about the Italian Renaissance (bet you didn’t see that coming!), because it’s pretty clear that it produced some of the most beautiful and enduring works of art mankind has ever seen, and many if not most of these works were produced by homosexuals. Moreover, the principal patrons and beneficiaries of this torrent of creativity were churches and other religious institutions, including and especially the very center of Christendom itself, the Vatican.

In Florence, where Lorenzo the Magnificent was amping up the patronage and philanthropy exemplified by his grandfather Cosimo de Medici, you had a raft of “confirmed bachelors”, working more-or-less contemporaneously, producing art that can only be called immortal.

Lorenzo death mask

Death Mask of Lorenzo de Medici, 1492 

Here’s an interesting read that explains the official attitude towards homosexuality at the time,

During the Renaissance, Florence developed a reputation for being pervaded with homosexuality – “sodomy” in the language of the time. Smarting from this reputation, reeling from population loss suffered during the Black Death, and pressured by homophobic clerics, in 1432 the city government set up a judicial panel called “The Office of the Night” exclusively to solicit and investigate charges of sodomy.

It goes on to say that although the population of Florence at the time was about 40,000, there were 17,000 arrests for sodomy during the 70-year tenure of the Office of the Night. That’s a lot – nearly half the male population for two generations.

But in the meantime, in the studios and palaces of the wealthy, the guys were hard at work.

The model for Verrocchio’s “David” is thought to be the fourteen-year-old Leonardo da Vinci:


Donatello’s “David” really speaks for itself, n’est-ce pas?


Michelangelo’s “David” is the most famous and perhaps most beautiful:


All these bachelors worked for the Medicis, as did lots of others, including Sandro Botticelli:


Birth of Venus

When it was time to decorate St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Lorenzo lent out a few of his guys to the popes. Michelangelo and Botticelli painted the Sistine Chapel.

Botticelli’s frescoes:

botticelli frescoes

Michelangelo’s ceiling:


Out in the main part of the Basilica you can find Michelangelo’s Pieta, perhaps the most beautiful single object ever created by human hands, done at age 24.


Anyway, this is not the place to summarize the brilliant body of contributions made by “confirmed bachelors” to the world in general, and to the church in particular.

Today’s point is that it would be nice not to have to reference anything about the personal lives of these geniuses and to let their art stand on its own. Maybe we’ll all get to that point some day. But today I think it’s useful to point out to the National Association of Evangelicals that employing gay people is not something they need to promote laws against.

Antiquities: dealing vs. stealing

Four months ago, I wrote something about how, through the miracle of digitization, a long dismembered illuminated manuscript called the Beauvais Missal was being re-assembled. I mentioned how the leaves of this work had been broken up and sold individually (an activity known as “biblioclasm”) by a rare books dealer and notorious book-breaker in New York named Philip Duschnes, who had purchased the Missal from William Randolph Hearst.

Duschnes’ name crossed my screen again today in a story about how the Boston Public Library is going to return three items to their rightful owners in Italy, after having had them in their collections for decades. The items were all purchased “legitimately” by the BPL. including one from Duschnes in 1960, Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia.


It’s the one on the right. In English, it’s  “Rules of the school of Our Lady of Mercy “.

The B.P.L. is putting a rosy spin on the affair, bragging about how it discovered the true history of the items through its own researches, has been a careful custodian of them for decades, and now wishes to return them to their rightful owners.

In a press release, they explained

“Today Boston Public Library announced the return of three items from its Special Collections to the State Archives of Venice, Italy and the Library of Ludovico II De Torres in Monreale, Italy. During a repatriation ceremony with Mayor Martin J. Walsh and representatives from Homeland Security, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Italian Carabinieri, Boston Public Library formally returned the Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia, a medieval manuscript dating to 1392; an illuminated leaf from the manuscript Mariegola della Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, dating from between 1418-1422; and Varii de natvralibvs rebvs libelli, a  collection of works by Bernardino Telesio, published in 1590.”

As regards the item purchased from Duschnes,

Questions about the Mariegolas’ provenance emerged through new independent scholarship and a recent project funded by the library to research and describe its medieval manuscripts holdings in preparation for electronic cataloging and digitization. The Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia was written in Bologna in 1392 for the use of the scuola (confraternity) of Our Lady of Mercy at Valverde, a spiritual and charitable brotherhood.  It was part of the scuola’s collection until the confraternity was dissolved in 1803, at which point it passed into the collection of the State Archive of Venice. Beginning in 1879, the manuscript was on permanent display in the Archive’s Sala Diplomatica Regina Margherita. The manuscript was taken off exhibition in the late 1940s, at which time several manuscripts disappeared under unknown circumstances, including the Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia.

Another way to say “disappeared under unknown circumstances” is that the item was “mistakenly” stolen , and somehow managed to find its way to Philip Duschnes and then to the BPL.

What’s interesting to me about this version of events is that it doesn’t quite mesh with the provenance of the item given in the BPL’s own link, which states that prior to Duschnes, the previously known owner was one Michael Zagayski.  Zagayski was a Polish collector of Judaica whose collection was stolen by the Nazis in 1939.

I have no idea where Duschnes got the item from, but I do know that what it meant to be a legitimate Rare Books and Manuscripts dealer in 1960 is somewhat different than what it means now. Duschnes enjoyed a good reputation in his day (except among his peers who objected to his greed-induced biblioclasm), but issues of provenance were not nearly as sensitive then as now, and “acquiring” items from far-off and war-torn places was seen more as a capitalist right than a historical privilege.

The representative of the Italian police working on this case, Fabrizio Parrulli, said he expects many more cases of repatriation like this one.

The Boston Public Library  holds nearly 250,000 rare books and one million manuscripts. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said during Wednesday’s ceremony, “Hopefully everything we have is ours now.”

What are the chances?



Wild Mountain Thyme

I saw an OK flick the other day, “Their Finest”. It’s about making a patriotic movie to rally British morale after the evacuation of their trapped army from Dunkirk in 1940. I liked it well enough – it was ostensibly about something I find interesting, but it morphed into more of a love story and a story of the growth and emergence of a talented woman film-writer. It had the advantage of a strong and sympathetic female at its center, which is something we’ve talked about here at GOML in the past.

Their Finest Hour and A Half Directed by Lone Sherfig

The movie’s principal weakness is that it doesn’t know when to quit. It goes on past the moment it should end, and actually breezes right through two or three points that would have been a perfectly appropriate ending, until it feels like it’s testing the patience of the audience a little bit.

But it does have several emotional moments that are really well done. One, for me, comes when the cast members of the movie within the movie are gathered having drinks after the project is just about done, and are led in the singing of the Scottish folk song, “Wild Mountain Thyme” (actually written by Francis McPeake, who was from Northern Ireland).

It’s a really beautiful song, and everybody who has any interest in traditional music has covered it at some point. Mark KnopfIer did a nice instrumental version, and I really like the authenticity and feeling of the Clancy Brothers’ version:

The Corries, a Scottish duet from the early sixties, did a very heartfelt and emotional version, which I also like very much.

In this version, when the chorus begins with, “And we’ll all go together…”, listeners join in, as they do also in the movie version and in many others as well. It’s a powerful and sad effect – it feels like an anthem to solidarity in some common cause or shared feeling. It almost makes you want to cry, but the thing is, you don’t even know what the hell you’re crying about!

And here’s my question for you today: What is this song actually about? Are we “all going together” to war? To a cult meeting where we’ll drink some thyme Kool-Aid and die? To courting? If it’s just a love song asking the lassie for her hand, “Will ye go, lassie, go?”, why so sad and serious?

Or are we just all going to pick some thyme and then come right back? Is it about summer being all too brief after waiting so long for it? It’s written like something promising is beginning, but it’s played like something tragic is ending.

Maybe it’s simply that element of morbidity in all things Scottish that often comes through – cold, wet, darkness, death, and melancholy – no matter the subject?

So tell us, dear readers, what does Wild Mountain Thyme say to you?

Hank to Hendrix, via the beach

Can you spot the genius in this picture?


Hint: he can play a Stratocaster upside down. And, if this picture is any indication, apparently without electricity!

The picture features Candy Johnson, famous for her shimmy in the ridiculous Beach Party pictures of the early sixties. But that guy with the guitar in back of her is Dick Dale, also known as King of the Surf Guitar. As a lefty, he had to turn the Strat upside down to play it.

He was born in Boston, and went to high school in Quincy.  He started playing guitar as a kid, and, like virtually everyone who came after Hank Williams, Dale cited Hank as one of his early influences.

He moved with his family to the west coast after 11th grade, where he fell in love with surfing and wanted to make music that matched the sounds he heard in his head when he surfed. He quickly developed his own style, distinctive for its rapid-fire up-and-down staccato picking.

To get the heavily distorted, “thick” sound he wanted, he developed customized amps and pick-ups with Fender. He invented that instantly-recognizable “surf sound”, which had to be loud enough to be heard over the ocean. So he built the first-ever 100-watt amplifier.

Jimi Hendrix was also left handed, and that’s one of the reasons Dick Dale was an early influence on him. But the main thing was that Dale took the instrument to a new level, making it do things no one else had ever done, and creating a unique body of work that expressed who he was and what he felt. In other words, Dale created brilliant art – something Jimi understood well.

Dick Dale will be 80 years old in a couple of weeks, and he’s still going strong. Catch him if you can.