I don’t write about it much, because it was most intense in that period from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, and I wasn’t a writer then. But I had a serious obsession with Bob Dylan in those days. I read and re-read the biography by Anthony Scaduto in ‘72 ... heck, I even read Tarantula and pretended to “get” it. We saw him for the first time in 1974 with The Band, and again in 1978 (without The Band ... ah, Street Legal, if nothing else you put a temporary stop on my Dylan obsession). I remember when the TV special Hard Rain was telecast (filmed at the end of the Rolling Thunder Revue), some person whose name I have long forgotten addressed the mostly negative reviews by claiming those critics were missing the point ... that the next day, all sorts of young while males would start wearing scarves on their head, emulating their idol.
And yes, the next time I showed up at work, I had on a head scarf.
Blood on the Tracks meant a lot to me, because it was the one great album of the early years of our marriage. I thought Planet Waves was that album, until Blood came along and showed just how far such an album could go.
And I’ve mentioned before that Bringing It All Back Home was one of the first albums I ever bought.
But towering above all of this was “Like a Rolling Stone”. I used to think of it as our generation’s National Anthem, and I probably don’t say that any longer because I don’t say that kind of thing any longer.
And it’s all over the Internet today, because it’s the 50th anniversary of the day “Like a Rolling Stone” was recorded.
Alongside all of the words being written, there are many photographs of the recording session. And for some reason, that’s where it hit closest to home for me. The pictures offer concrete proof that a group of people recorded that song.
Because when I look at the pix, I realize I find it hard to believe the session happened. It’s more that “Like a Rolling Stone” just fell from the sky.
Andy Greene at Rolling Stone called it a “venomous song”, and I’m not saying he’s wrong ... you can find a lot of people agreeing with that sentiment. Me, I think if you want an example of Venomous Dylan, check out his next single, “Positively 4th Street” (“You’ve got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend”). Or, what the heck, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.
Here’s the thing ... when I hear “4th Street”, I hear Dylan just crushing the object of his dismissal. And yes, there is some of that in “Like a Rolling Stone”. But the way the chorus line “HOW DOES IT FEEEEEEL?” is like a sing-along has always led me to believe Dylan included himself among the complete unknowns. This is why I thought of the song as a national anthem: it was the story of all of us. (“Positively 4th Street” could never fulfill that function.)
I’m going to have to add a new blog category for these things if they keep happening.
To recap: a little more than a week ago, I wrote a Throwback post about how twice in recent times I’d gone looking for something on Google and found that the source for that something was me.
Today, on the Greil Marcus website (which seems to be the genesis for a lot of this), they posted Marcus’ Rolling Stone obituary for the great Ralph J. Gleason. It was lovely, because Greil and Ralph were friends as well as colleagues. (And I connected with that obituary because Marcus and Gleason and I are/were all Bay Area-centric, so I knew what Marcus describing.)
I can think of two great music-related obituaries, each of which took a different approach. Lester Bangs’ piece on the death of Elvis is as good as anything he ever wrote. It is also, as was often the case, longish and rambling. And then there was Miles Davis, who was one of the many contributors to that Rolling Stone issue from which Marcus’ piece was taken. I’ve never forgotten it, because it was so perfect, but also because it was so brief, I could memorize it. Miles said, “Give me back my friend.” Five words.
I quickly googled to check the quote ... a silly thing to do, I know it by heart ... and the second suggested link took me to Rockcritics.com, where someone had quoted Davis in the comments section. Guess who was the person with the quote?
Something I wrote in 1997:
This is what we know. In the future, we will always fuck off. No one will work. You won't feel pain, you'll revel with family and friends. There will be no labor; what the heck, since this is utopia, neither will there be death. No work will be freely chosen, because no work will be done. You will fuck off forever, you will make no sacrifices to the work ethic, you will fuck off in as many different ways as there are molecules in the universe. Fuck work. Fuck off!
I usually start a new week on this blog with a roundup of the movies I watched during the previous week. But I didn’t watch any this time around, so that’s out. I’ve been “online busy”, but not here ... I had the usual movie post, and a couple of Marianne Faithfull-centric posts, and that was it. Most of my blogging went to my recently re-opened World Cup blog, which may get a lot of my attention over the next month.
But I also found myself having “undercover” conversations on Facebook about Caitlyn Jenner. I wasn’t really writing anything, I was just posting links. And there was the “undercover” aspect of those posts (where “undercover” just means I engaged in “conversation” indirectly).
Someone I like, whose interests are often close to my own, and who is a very smart person (i.e. he and I share a lot of opinions), went off on a Caitlyn Jenner rant after the Vanity Fair cover. He said he was “astounded at the money-making pranks of Bruce Jenner” and concluded that “Jenner is a media ho through-and-through and even talking about the douche bag does an injustice to the real dialogue we should be having about women's rights.” I didn’t reply in the comments (hence, “undercover”), but instead posted a link to a short panel discussion of the issue that aired on ESPN’s Outside the Lines:
Having decided that I wasn’t making myself clear, I later posted a link to a piece by Christina Kahrl, who also appeared on the OTL segment. She wrote:
Whether you devour or despise celebrity coverage, Jenner is an important player in that conversation, not only because of what she has to say, now and into the future, but because the nature of celebrity affords everyone else the opportunity (and excuse) to start talking about it among themselves. ...
Take Jenner’s looks and the corseted glamour shot, for example. Sure, there’s a lot of money invested in achieving the look; Jenner had the means to spend it and chose to do so. Some might fidget over women allowing themselves to be sexualized in such a way, but Jenner has made a choice that other famous and beautiful women such as Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington have been free to choose. There’s something ultimately transgressive in putting a beautiful 65-year-old trans woman in that kind of company. ...
So let’s welcome Caitlyn. She’s not just a conversation-starter, not merely a celebrity or just a person with privilege that some might envy. She is first and foremost a beautiful woman, a parent, an accomplished Olympian. But most of all, like all of us, she is somebody trying to make her way in the world. Let her do things her way, and karma might just pay you back by letting you do the same.
I was sadly not surprised when my posting of this link led to a comment from a friend that went on another rant against Jenner. In this case, I actually inserted myself into the conversation, asking if the commenter had read Kahrl’s piece. She admitted that she had only seen the Vanity Fair cover that accompanied my link, and hadn’t noticed that I wasn’t just posting the picture but linking to an important article.
I used to write more on this blog about what gets the category tag “Current Affairs”. I do much less of this now, because I don’t feel I have enough personal insight or expertise, but even more, because other people who do have that insight and expertise have already written what I want to say, and I don’t often see the point of just posting a bunch of links. Even here, I am focusing less on my opinion re: Jenner, instead looking at the dynamics of Facebook conversations while letting Christina Kahrl say what I think needs to be said.
There’s another thing. Over the years, I have grown tired of a certain method of bringing up a subject that first insists on establishing a distance from that subject. For instance, “I have never once seen a reality TV series, and I couldn’t name a single Kardashian other than Kim, but I think ...” followed by an explanation of why this one thing a Kardashian did was good. Such an approach is more interested in proclaiming the writer’s immunity from popular culture than it is in making its supposed point. I do this myself, of course, but I try to catch myself in advance. So I didn’t want to frame a discussion of Caitlyn Jenner with my own take on reality television or the Kardashians. My relative ignorance about those subjects does not lead to insights, but rather means I lack knowledge in the area being discussed. So I fall back on links to the work of others.
You think back to how you were influenced. My two grandmothers, one from Spain, the other from Kentucky, each passed along different things. Same with my mom and dad.
What we forget is that our siblings, particularly our older ones, exert a strong influence as well.
My brother Geoff is six years older than me. This meant that when he was in his teens, listening to popular music, I was a little squirt. And sure, I could turn on the radio. But my brother’s record collection had a huge impact on my own taste. OK, I never did come around on Bobby Rydell. But Geoff’s 45s couldn’t be beat.
Six years is a big break, and I’m sure I bugged the shit out of him ... imagine him being, say, 15 years old, and his 9-year-old brother wants to tag along. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t, but in retrospect, I don’t remember those years in a negative way at all. Without ever seeming to do it, he kept an eye on me. And that couldn’t have been easy ... I’m the kid who was already on “nerve medicine” as a youngster.
Once he got older and moved out of the house, he always welcomed me to visit, in San Francisco and later in Mill Valley. He took me to my first concert, and to my first rock concert. I think he’s the first person to get me high on hashish, although my memory’s a little foggy on that one (rightly so).
When he came back from Vietnam, there I was, just out of high school, with no ambition other than to be a hippie. I had, shall we say, few prospects. He invited me to move in with him, which I did for almost a year. He introduced me to the world outside the house I grew up in, at a time when he must have been working through a lot of things, himself. And he gave me a chance to fulfill my ambition for a short while, for which I can never repay him.
You know, when I was a kid, I felt I had to live up to Geoff’s standards. He was smart, so I had to be smart. He skipped a grade, I skipped a grade. It’s the plight of being younger. You outgrow that stuff.
Except now we’re geezers, and damn, he is still someone to live up to. There was the time he spent working a suicide prevention hotline, and I thought, thank goodness for people like him, knowing that I was always more likely to call such a place than to work at one. Hell, he’s a crossing guard now, and you know how lovable crossing guards are!
Happy birthday, brother!
Honorifics are funny things. I like using them, but feel unworthy when someone uses them to refer to me.
We got married by a judge. But not just any judge ... Judge Rose and his family were friends of both Robin and I. I’ve known a couple of the Rose children longer than I’ve known Robin ... they used to live across a big dirt lot from our house in Antioch. They were and are a fine family, and Judge Rose is a fine fellow (I’m sure he was also a fine judge, but since I never went before him, I’ll have to just guess about that). We referred to the parents of most of our friends growing up as Mr. or Mrs., and there were also the various medical doctors who got the “Dr.” title. Oh, and priests or ministers were “Father”. Of all of those, though, the best was Judge Rose. Somehow, it made you feel good to refer to “The Judge” ... it’s not that he was a better person than the other parents, but he had earned his title.
When I got my Ph.D, I found my new title to be a mixed blessing. Some things changed in nice ways ... in a single day, I went from being in a ceremony accepting the title of Doctor to sitting on the stage at another graduation and reading the names of graduating undergraduates. (I also got to sit next to the Rev. Cecil Williams.) Perhaps the strangest thing about the latter was when we were in line to enter Zellerbach Hall ... an old friend, a geography professor I hadn’t seen in some time, turned around, saw me standing behind him, and exclaimed, “What are YOU doing here?” Other things weren’t as nice, because while I was proud to have finally accomplished something, I still felt funny having an honorific bestowed on me ... I wasn’t sure I deserved it.
Soon afterwards, a favorite neighbor who happened to work on campus showed up at our door with a lovely gift, an Elvis Presley quilt that she had made. I remember answering the door to be greeted with, “Is there a doctor in the house?” I was delighted, if also slightly embarrassed. But it was a bit like knowing The Judge, from the other side. My friend made me feel like my accomplishment was something the whole neighborhood could be a part of, and I was grateful.
Another friend who also lived our block worked for many years doing virtually every odd job imaginable for us. He passed away a few years ago, and remains sorely missed. He was delighted that I was a doctor ... he seemed especially impressed that I had written pieces for a lot of books, and I gave him copies of a few, which he was proud to show at his home. I think sometimes he would tell his friends, you know that guy down the block, he writes books, a slight exaggeration, but again, I think he felt a part of it all. Sometimes it got a little silly, though. He would come to me with some difficult question about science or nature or the like, assuming I’d know the answer because I was “a Doctor”. I’d always tell him he should ask Robin, who knew about way more things than I did ... I was a “Doctor of Television”, I’d say, or a “Doctor of Movies”. But he’d insist, and so I’d go in the house, ask Robin the question, she’d tell me the answer, I’d go back to our friend and pass along the information, making sure he knew that it was Robin who had the answers, not me. But no, I was a Doctor. Funny thing is, our friend could do just about anything ... he was the model of a handyman, always coming up with some unknown-to-me skill. Since I have no skills ... I am the anti-handyman ... I was at least as impressed with him as he was with me. But I had the honorific.
When I was a teacher, my students would refer to me using various honorifics. I always referred to myself as Steven, in person and in online communications. But my students would call me Professor Rubio, or Mr. Rubio, or Dr. Rubio. (“Mr. Rubio” bothered me quite a bit ... “Mr. Rubio is my father!” I would shout, until one day I made a student cry and I realized I was being an ass.) One oddity is that the various places I taught had different official job titles. At Cal, where I was first a Graduate Student Instructor, and then, for some years, an Lecturer (or Adjunct), my title was never officially “Professor”. When I taught at San Francisco State, I was a visiting professor, I guess ... to be honest, I taught there twice without ever figuring out exactly what my job title was. And when I taught at a community college, my job title was Professor, even though I was still technically just another adjunct making ends meet.
Just last weekend, at a family gathering, a cousin of mine, on finding out I was “Dr. Rubio”, started telling me about a medical problem she was having. Sorry, I explained, I’m just an English teacher.
The point in all of this is that I like offering honorifics to others, but when they are offered to me, I’m just not sure it’s right. More than once, I’ve been asked out of the blue to contribute to an anthology, and I always say, “How do you know me?” (or, in the case of one academic tome, “Are you sure I’m the person you want? Have you read my writing? Do you know my style?”). Google has been my friend ... I’ve had a couple of cases of “it’s who you know”, but more often, someone finds something I’ve written via a search engine (I guess that’s the advantage of having this decade-plus blog). My insecurities remain ... as I said earlier, I’m never certain I deserve honorifics, or other accolades. (In the case of writing, that’s particularly pathetic, since I know writing is far and away my best skill, yet I’m still surprised that anyone notices.)
You know what I really find attractive? The honorific “Champ” when it’s given to a boxing champion. I love that no one is called “Champ” unless they have actually earned it. Even more, I like that you can never lose the title, as a referent if not literally. Even after you are no longer the literal champion, you remain “Champ”. So Muhammad Ali is “Champ” ... George Foreman is “Champ” ... they will never not be “Champ”.
And I guess I’ll never not be “Doctor”. It’s not the same, though ... no one calls me “Doctor”, and I’d feel funny if they did. Manuel Rose is “The Judge”, Cecil Williams is “Reverend”, the person who takes care of me at Kaiser is “Doctor”. But me? I’m Steven.