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Together Through Life | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Together Through Life

We've got a new "Think Again" column hereIt's called "Codeword: 'Empathy' " and it's about the telepathic abilitiesof conservatives to discern Obama's real intentions to destroy Americawith his pick.

My new Nation column is about the punditocracy and torture. It'scalled "David Broder: Eyes Wide Shut" and it's here.

And this month's Moment column, about the Chas Freeman flap--rememberthat--is up here it's called "The 'Pro-Israel' Smear Campaign."

Sal and I have a significant disagreement on the new Dylan. I like itbetter than all the alleged genius records of the past decade becauseit's actually a pleasure to hear. His voice is mixed lower and themelodies are there in a way they've not been for quite a while. I alsothink the lyrics work well as lyrics, if not as prophecies of doom, etc.,but he did the work so he gets the last word:

Bob Dylan, Together Though Life, by Sal;

Not every song has to pack a "Hattie Carroll" wallop, but if Bob Dylanwants to make a light-hearted record full of swampy blues and upbeatrockers, who's gonna stop him? No one! But, maybe someone should stopJack Frost, because Bob Dylan's producing alter ego is what makesTogether Through Life, less than it could have been. There aresome winners on this new record. "Forgetful Heart" moves at a dramaticpace and is the closest thing to a Dylan classic and "Jolene," not theDolly Parton tune, is a nice shuffle with a tasty guitar lick that isincredibly infectious. But it's hard to get past the opening track andfirst single, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" and its resemblance to "BlackMagic Woman." And the repetitive accordion riff of "If You Ever Go ToHouston" makes the 5:49 song about two minutes too annoying.

But back to the production. The material suffers from the "factorysetting" sounds of the instruments. There is way too much space, nothingdistinct at all, and the record as a whole sounds like there is dust onthe needle. Joe Henry, T-Bone Burnette, and even Daniel Lanois couldhave given some simple material some balls. Instead, Together ThroughLife sounds rushed. I expect the record will grow on me. It is BobDylan. But after the uneven, but still amazing 1-2-3 punch of TimeOut Of Mind, Love & Theft, and Modern Times, not tomention the almost perfect Tell Tale Signs, Together ThroughLife seems a bit of a throwaway.

And recently, four more Dylan titles got a much needed audio upgrade.The The Basement Tapes, Before the Flood, Dylan & TheDead, (which sounds a lot better than I remembered it sounding,) andone of my very favorites, New Morning. Each is packaged in alimited edition digipak and benefits greatly from the upgrade.

Sal Nunziato
www.burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com

Eric adds: The Dylan/Dead album is famously considered awfulalmost everywhere. I never got this. I always thought it sounded prettyok, and was well worth having. If you want to hear the Dead soundingtruly awful, get a bootleg of the time they backed up John Fogerty atthe Bill Graham tribute in Golden Gate Park in 1991. Compared to that,well, as I said, I always thought this was a solid B and now it's abetter sounding solid B.

RTF-Live in Montreaux

I have a soft spot for Chick Corea's fusion "supergroup" Return toForever because it provided a window from rock to jazz in my teens, andhelped me to "get" Miles, Coltrane, etc, decades earlier than might havebeen the case. And who wants to live a life without Miles and Coltrane? The band grew out of Corea's participation in Miles's fusionexperiments, (on In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew) which also spawned Tony Williams' Lifetime, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, JohnMcLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter'sWeather Report and Chick Corea's legendary Return to Forever. They had anumber of permutations but disappeared for 25 years before returninglast year for a tour with the classic lineup--Corea on keyboards, Al DiMeola on guitar, Stanley Clarke on bass and Lenny White on drums.Virtuosos all, they do genuinely come together on the new DVD/Blu-rayrelease of their Montreux show (with some extra tracks from one inFlorida), in a way that makes one a great deal less queasy about likingthem in the first place. Like many of Carlos Santana's, Wayne Shorter's, andHerbie Hancock's musical experiments, Corea is genuinely hit or miss.But this more than justifies itself, perhaps more than it did when itwas being invented, and requires no apologies even to jazz purists.After all there never has been anything pure about jazz, a musical form,that after all, was born in a whorehouse.

Rhino has been releasing a bunch of digital only CDs. If you don't havethe room of your shelves, and you like this sort of thing, you can nowget the Grateful Dead -- The Golden Road (1965-1973) (2001compilation album), Rhino's boxed set of the complete Warner Bros.output (plus unreleased material). Also available is an album thatliterally everybody ought to own--and in a 1/2000 coincidence, just cameon my iPod as I was typing this-- Kate & Anna McGarrigle -- TheMcGarrigle Hour (1998 album).The singing sisters' final Hannibal album includes family and friendslike Rufus and Loudon Wainwright, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.It's available digitally on 5/12 and it is a joy from start to finish.Folk music's most dysfunctional family makes you think it might be funto be that weird....

This week on Moyers:

As the banking stress test results come in, the Journal takes a closerlook at money's stranglehold on politics. Bill Moyers speaks withSenator Dick Durbin (D-IL)--who declared last week that banks "arestill the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own theplace"--on campaign finance reform, big lobbying, and making Washingtonwork for the people rather than special interests. And, Bill Moyersspeaks with Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, author of The Third Chapter:Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50, on a culturalshift on aging in America.

The mail:

Name: Don Hynes
Hometown: Portland, OR

Pierce is spot on concerning Iran Contra and other neglectedhousekeeping since 1963 or thereabouts. One of the reasons the dirtylaundry isn't being washed now is because the same bad actors thatcaused death and mayhem around the world, particularly in CentralAmerica, are still in the picture and calling shots at State, namelyJohn Negroponte who ran the "Salvadorean solution" i.e. deathsquads,as well as Robert Gates at Defense who had a big part to play in IranContra and foiling its exposure.

The Salvadorean solution was applied to Iraq by Donald Rumsfeld withNegroponte's direct assistance and direction, which led to thewholesale ethnic cleansing of first the Sunni population and then theShia population around Bagdad and throughout Iraq.

This same ugly story has tentacles back through US foreign policy allthe way to the Dulles family and the quaint idea that to lick 'em youhad to join 'em. Cheney didn't invent that idea.

We neglect our collective cleansing at our own peril, and mostunfortunately, to the disservice of those who fall under the shadowof our failure to promote justice within the only country we reallycontrol, our own.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Pierce's link to National Review Online got me to thinking. Love himor hate him, William F. Buckley, Jr., loved to play with the Englishlanguage. What would he think of referring to Arlen Specter as"Crapweasel" in a headline in his publication? Even the supposedintellects in the conservative movement have turned into hacks.

Pierce also inspired me to say, I wouldn't call Arlen Specter a "pal"of Harry Reid. As Reid said in his book, Specter is always with usuntil we need him. I'm sure there will be more of the same there. Butto invoke LBJ, I'd rather have him inside the tent whizzing out thanon the outside whizzing in.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, Ky

This has been a momentous year for race relations in the US. Thereare good reasons for people of color to feel that movement towardequal opportunity and access is picking up. Much has been writtenframing the issues in race relations from different perspectives.Even President Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder famously calledAmericans cowards for our reticence to face the issues of racerelations.

Recently, Media Matters turned up with Bryon York's blog, "The black-white divide in Obama's popularity", in which he parses a recent pollto say that "if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, thepresident and some of his policies are significantly less popularwith white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-highratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear abit more popular overall than they actually are."

Several writers derided York for apparently presuming that only theopinions of white people matter. I feel that was not his point, butrather that black people love Obama simply because he's black.Because people of color are often marginalized, York may be thinkingthat any dark skinned president will do for them. The comments sentin to York's blog echo these sentiments, with rather alarmingobtuseness (paraphrased):

Joan of Argghh!: The monolith of the black voter must becorralledand controlled at any cost. Racism is over except in the imaginationsof the Media and the Politicians. The rest of us could care lessabout the color of someone's skin. Too bad that makes for an equitableworld-view that is un-serviceable for political gain.

Omar: Keep in mind that Obama receives his most adulatorycoveragethrough outlets targeted to Blacks. There's a concerted effort, amongthese, to turn BO into another MLK. And there's also a lot of pressureamong Blacks to tow the line politically, which tends to breed a tribalperspective on politics. Lastly Blacks do tend to be racist, not justtowards whites, but pretty much any other group. They may see theirbigotry as an appeal to racial solidarity, butit's racism nonetheless.

Smith: This is more than just racial chauvinism. Disadvantage hasledsome to genuinely embrace Obama's welfare socialism as the solutionto their condition. Many whites don't appreciate the privilege ofbeing seen as individuals. Success or failure is your own. Formanifold reasons, the same is not true of blacks.

David Kohen: American blacks are overwhelmingly bigots. The factthat blacks voted 96 percent for Obama over indistinguishable liberalHillary Clinton in the Democrat primaries (a statistical impossibility,but for racism) is similar evidence of the racism that pervades blackculture.

Chris Jones: The only conclusion one can reach is that blacksdon'thave a grasp of any of the issues. They think whatever Obama says ordoes is great because he shares the same skin color.

Beachmom: But there is no way that this is racist because it isblacks who are doing the approving. Blacks approve of Obama overallbecause he is black and it has nothing to do with any issues.

The comments by these people didn't surprise me. But I can't explainhow one can acknowledge ethnic differences in appearance, culture andattitude and openly embrace them without sounding patronizing,insincere or clueless. Words like tolerance, inclusiveness anddiversity all carry the baggage of interpretations that there existssomething inferior about that person. I care that people sufferdiscrimination, humiliation and low self-esteem. I want to alleviatethese things without inadvertently sending the message that any of itis even a little deserved.

Why do I feel natural when I point out a child's radiant red hair yetfear I'll be thought insincere when I compliment another'sdisarmingly attractive brown face? I may feel relief when the parentflashes a smile and looks approvingly at his or her child. And whydoes my mind flash, "I really mean this, it's not just because I waslooking for something nice to say to this black person." When willthose kinds of thoughts stop?

Name: Martyn Luberti
Hometown: Madison, WI

Dear Eric,

I wish to thank you for encouraging attendance at the current LeonardCohen tour. I went last night in Minneapolis and despite havingmisgivings that the concert might not live up to all the raves placedon it, I couldn't conceive of it being any better.

His voice sounded better than any recording I have heard, the bandwas excellent, the singers were sublime, and the women were lovely! Imeet his band leader and one of the Webb sisters pre-show, and theywere a lesson in graciousness.

I find Leonard Cohen not only to be a one of a kind entertainer,but his manner and way of being have a way of encouraging me toelevate my own behavior and way of being in this world. May I be soalive at 75!

Anyone with a love of words and music, I implore you: find a ticketto this tour. The likes of Lenny may never pass this way again.

Eric replies: Did everybody read this?

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