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Published: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 12:06:05 -0500

 



Nat Hentoff, 1925–2017

Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:59:00 -0500

Nat Hentoff, the prolific critic, journalist, and civil libertarian, passed away yesterday at age 91. His son Nick reports that he "died surrounded by family listening to Billie Holiday," which I suspect is exactly how he wanted to go. Hentoff wrote many things, from young adult novels to the sleeve notes of an early Bob Dylan album. But he was most famous for two great passions: his defenses of the Bill of Rights, especially Amendment One, and his enthusiastic writing about music, especially jazz. When people talk about old-school liberals who'd defend to the death your right to say anything you want, chances are good that Hentoff is the fellow they've got in mind. In his columns for The Village Voice and The Washington Post and in articles for countless other venues (including Reason), he pounded away at the evils of censorship, and he didn't care if the censor had a left-wing agenda or a right-wing one. If anything, he seemed especially perturbed when people he expected to share his values started stomping on individual liberties. Hentoff was less likely to be called a liberal later in life. That's partly because his brand of free-speech absolutism was growing less common on the left, and it's partly because of his heterodoxy on abortion. (Hentoff was pro-life, arguing against abortion on the same grounds that he argued against capital punishment and war. Or, at least, against some wars—he eventually rended his seamless garment to support interventions in Rwanda and Iraq.) But you couldn't really cast him as a man of the right either: Besides his intense distrust for the police agencies that conservatives tend to revere, he was a longtime democratic socialist who held onto a lot of his leftist economic ideas in old age. It's not even quite right to call him an ACLU liberal, because he kept butting heads with the ACLU. (The nation's most prominent civil libertarian organization wasn't always civil libertarian enough for him.) Best to think of him as his own man, with at least a couple of views to offend pretty much anyone. He would have left a substantial legacy even if he had never written about politics at all, thanks to his work in the music world. His criticism covered several genres—one of my favorite articles of his was an appreciation of the country singer Merle Haggard—but his great love was jazz, a topic on which he wrote whole volumes. He produced several jazz albums too, by artists ranging from Max Roach to Cecil Taylor, and he had a hand in the great 1957 TV special The Sound of Jazz, which my colleague Kurt Loder once called "a landmark of televised jazz that has never been surpassed." (Watch it here.) But it was his political writing that left its biggest mark on me. I grew up reading Hentoff's attacks on censorship and surveillance, and whatever disagreements I sometimes had with him on other topics I learned a lot from his uncompromising consistency on those issues. For a taste of just how committed to free speech he was, I'll wrap up this obit with a video of him attacking the existence of libel laws, a hardcore position that even some of the fiercest civil libertarians aren't willing to accept. (For the record: I think he's right.) The video, shot in 1986, shows him debating the Objectivist philosopher David Kelley, who argues that we need libel suits to protect our "right to a reputation." When it came to regulations on speech, Nat Hentoff could make even a Randian look like a big-government guy by comparison: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ge57bIoTXoY" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">[...]



Protesting This New-Fangled Sales Tax

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 12:18:00 -0500

When states started enacting general sales taxes in the 1930s, it wasn't long before there were songs complaining about the new levies. In 1934, the Mississippi Sheiks recorded "Sales Tax," which starts with a spoken skit in which the band is alarmed to learn that they now need to pay three cents more for their cigarettes.

"They say that's the government's rule," one of the Sheiks explains.

"The government's rule?" another replies. "Well, there's lots of things sold that the government knows anything about." And then the bluesmen break into a song where even the bootleggers and prostitutes are now charging extra for their services:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2hv7xxrmyh8" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

You might be curious why anyone would still be buying liquor from a bootlegger in 1934, a year after the Prohibition Amendment was repealed. Answer: These were the Mississippi Sheiks, and Prohibition in Mississippi lasted a lot longer than Prohibition nationwide. It was the last place to keep a statewide alcohol ban on the books, eliminating it not in 1933 but in 1966:

(image)

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. If you want to see one about repealing alcohol regs in the South, go here.)




The Best Books, Films, Music, and Television of 2016

Thu, 22 Dec 2016 08:15:00 -0500

As the year drew to a close, we asked Reason's staff to select some of the best books, movies, and other media released in 2016. Our picks range from a novel about economic apocalypse to a sitcom about aliens, from a book about cocktails to a film about Hannah Arendt. Dig in. —Jesse Walker Eric Boehm, reporter With Painkillers, former Gaslight Anthem singer Brian Fallon leaves his Springsteen-meets-the-Replacements roots for a folksy-rock exploration of failed relationships, nostalgic romances, and the freedom that comes from letting go of the past, even if you'll never be rid of it. "You can't make me whole, I have to do that on my own," Fallon sings on the album's introspective closing number, a reference in equal parts to his recent divorce and to the breakup of his band. The simple Americana arrangements here put Fallon's skills as a songwriter—and he's one of the best out there right now—in the spotlight, particularly on "Rosemary," "Among Other Foolish Things," and "Smoke." He may be going in a new direction, but Fallon spends most of Painkillers looking back, examining hazy memories or half-remembered dreams of what might have been. There's borrowed cars, girls who love whiskey, and Rites of Spring. The good times, Fallon sings, are "lost in the songs they don't write anymore." Shikha Dalmia, senior analyst Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, a documentary by the Israeli director Ada Ushpiz, may not be the best offering of 2016, but it is arguably the most relevant. The West is experiencing a rise of demagogues, fuelled partly by right-wing populist movements. It is possible that in resisting them, Western liberalism will strengthen itself. It could also collapse into something horrible, as Weimar Germany did. The film, which hit select American theaters this year, offers a glimpse into the mass psychology that would allow that to happen. Arendt, a Jewish philosopher, fled to America from Nazi Germany. The documentary delves into her thought to understand how the land that produced the greatest minds in philosophy, literature, and music collapsed into the barbarism of Auschwitz. It excavates rare footage of Germany during Hitler's rule to show the campaign to dehumanize Jews that preceded the Holocaust. But the more crucial step, per Arendt, was the triumph of what Frankfurt School philosophers call instrumental or technocratic rationality over critical rationality. The film depicts Arendt's 1961 journey to Israel for The New Yorker to cover the famous trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi accused of war crimes. After observing months of testimony, Arendt coined her phrase "banality of evil" to convey that Eichmann, a diminutive and soft-spoken man, wasn't motivated so much by hatred of Jews. Rather, he believed that his job was to find the most efficient way to execute his assigned tasks, not raise big questions. Arendt was condemned for soft-peddling the Satanic nature of the Nazi regime. But the documentary shows that she was laying bare something still more horrible: how ordinary people can stumble into unspeakable evil when they let their civilizational guard down. Anthony Fisher, associate editor Louis CK blew up the concept of the 30-minute sitcom with his FX show Louie, where the main character's backstory would change without explanation and where excruciatingly painful situations could be both hilarious and cathartic. Now he may have blown up the episodic television show itself with the eight-part miniseries Horace and Pete, originally released on his own website but now available on Hulu. Though occasionally funny, this is no comedy—in fact, it's as much of a horror show as a drama. Set in the hellscape of a 100-year-old Irish bar in Brooklyn, the show's depiction of boredom, dumb arguments, sexism, familial abuse, mental illness, and pathological self-destruction make for perhaps the most honest depiction of barfly culture ever presented on "television." One particularly notable episode begins with a character the audience has not previousl[...]



Beach Boys Song Too Sexually Offensive for 2016 College Campus

Mon, 19 Dec 2016 13:30:00 -0500

Before they took a turn toward the psychedelic in the mid-1960s, the Beach Boys were about as uncontroversial as you could get in American pop music. But what was acceptable for teenyboppers in the early '60s may be too sexually taboo for today's college campuses. University of Kentucky (UK) journalism professor Buck Ryan claims he was sanctioned for singing the Beach Boys' 1965 single "California Girls" while in his official capacity as a UK representative. The university's Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity found Ryan violated federal Title IX guidelines against sex-based discrimination and harassment by using "language of a sexual nature." "If my case is any indication, then everyone concerned about discrimination and sexual harassment should be alarmed," wrote Ryan in a letter to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan also pointed out that he has never, in a teaching career spanning more than 30 years, "faced a complaint of sexual misconduct from a student." Ryan, a tenured associate professor with an impressive resume—including an array of international awards, eight years as director of the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications (from 1994 to 2002), and the 2003 recipient of UK's Provost's Award for Outstanding Teaching—said he was reported to Title IX officials for conduct that occurred while he was a visiting professor at China's Jilin University. Ryan claims it was singing the Beach Boys song at a closing ceremony that got him reported by fellow UK faculty on the trip. But the school disputes Ryan's characterization of the complaint against him. "In short, Professor Ryan's account is manipulative of the facts and, unfortunately, not based in reality," says UK spokesman Jay Blanton. "Faculty who accompanied him on the trip in question were deeply concerned about his conduct." An October 2015 letter from Patty Bender, UK's vice president for equal opportunity, to the dean of the communications school states that "more than a preponderance of the evidence" revealed Ryan to be "in violation of the discrimination and harassment policy prohibiting inappropriate touching and language of a sexual nature." The Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity reccommended that Ryan "not be funded by the University of Kentucky to represent UK in any travel abroad," that a recent award which would require overseas travel be forfeited, and that Ryan be required to attend equality training. According to the letter, Ryan's transgressions did include causing "concern and embarassment" amongst his colleagues by singing a modified version of "California Girls" at a closing cermony while "inserting the names of Chinese cities" into the lyrics. He is also accused of having an "inappropriate," albeit non-sexual, relationship with a Chinese student. Evidence of this inappropriate relationship includes the fact that the student was seen wearing one of Ryan's sweatshirts as they were walking together and that he spent time in the student's suite. Ryan allegedly responded that he was helping the student with her English, that there were always other students coming and going from the suite, and that he didn't see anything inappropriate about the relationship. The heavily redacted letter does not say how old the student was, nor whether she was in Ryan's classes, though it does make clear that it was UK faculty who complained about Ryan's relationship with the student, not the young woman herself. Blanton says the school offered Monday to make all documents related to Ryan's case public if he would permit it, a move Ryan declined. The University of Kentucky is currently involved in a legal battle with student newspaper the Kentucky Kernel related to Title IX records, specifically those involving former UK professor James Harwood. The trouble started last spring, when student journalists sought redacted copies of "any reprimands and any commendations, Harwood's personnel file, and any documents detailing the University of Kentuc[...]



Robert Ford Killed Jesse James—Or At Least That's What They Want You to Believe

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:30:00 -0500

(image) Ever since word went out that Robert Ford shot Jesse James, there have been legends that the dead man was really someone else and that the outlaw secretly survived. Alan Lomax ran into one of those tales when he toured the South with a tape recorder in 1959. Neal Morris (*), an Arkansas banjo player, told Lomax that the James brothers had often hid out at his grandfather's place ("because nobody expected them down in Arkansas, don't you see") and that grandpa had given him the scoop on the robber's alleged death. Jesse James wasn't even in that part of the country when Bob Ford supposedly shot him, Morris claims; instead, "Quantrill was the man that the Ford boys killed."

Morris presumably means the Confederate guerrilla William Quantrill, who had fought alongside James in the Civil War. Historians say Quantrill died at the end of the war, but there were rumors that he survived his reported demise too. So Morris has managed to combine two secret-history stories into one: Quantrill didn't die in 1865, and then in 1882 he died in Jesse James' place.

Morris wraps up his account by singing the ballad "Jesse James," which presents the more familiar tale of Ford blasting James in the back. "That's the story that's been told, don't you see," he says at the end, "but us people, a lot of these people in the mountains, don't believe it."

I'd call this "fake news," but the whole thing is so wonderfully strange that I'd like to hold out a tiny smidge of hope that against all odds it's true:

src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/295889135&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0">

In 1948, an Oklahoma man called J. Frank Dalton claimed that he was really Jesse James and that the fellow killed by Robert Ford had been a Pinkerton named Charles Bigelow. You can read all about that here. The body of the man shot by Robert Ford was exhumed for DNA tests in 1995; you can read about that here. To listen to Woody Guthrie turning that "Jesse James" ballad into a song about Jesus, go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.

(* It's spelled "Neal" on the Association for Cultural Equity's online archive of the Lomax recordings. When Atlantic Records released a selection of those tapes as an anthology called The Sounds of the South, they spelled it "Neil." I have no idea how Mr. Morris himself spelled it, or if he cared.)




Killer Mike Offers Self-Righteousness for Sale Package

Thu, 17 Nov 2016 12:15:00 -0500

(image) Ever tried to bring attention to an issue close to your heart, but didn't quite have the star power to do it? Well fret no more because rap supergroup Run the Jewels is here to help.

Through the music website Daylight Curfew, the famed duo of Killer Mike and El-P are offering an exclusive "Self-Righteousness for Sale" package, where for the price of $350,000, the two artists promise to spend six months "pretending to care about whatever you care about."

This pretending to care will include "eloquent and timely speeches," a co-authored info packet, a "heartfelt" video about the purchaser's cause, and travel to a maximum of three events. As if all of this weren't enough for any cash-laden social justice warrior, Run the Jewels will even compose an original song entitled "WE'VE GOT TO BRING _______ TO AN END" as part of the package.

Some terms and conditions do apply. The offer is apparently not available to "terrorists or cops" (sorry, #bluelivesmatter). Run the Jewels also reserves the right to "not fulfill any of its obligations as outlined in any package priced at 35k or more" which would, of course, include the self-righteousness package.

Run the Jewels' offer to basically be a super PAC for hire, even if not actually redeemable, is patently hilariously and an excellent send-up of so much of today's celebrity activism.

It's also a little bit ironic given that Killer Mike was a vocal supporter of former presidential candidate and vociferous super PAC critic Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.). If Sanders had his druthers when it came to campaign finance restrictions, Run the Jewels' self-righteousness package might be illegal as well as phony.

Update 11/17/16: This article originally listed Sanders as a Democrat. He is apparently still an Independent.




Get Your Tabloid Television On and Revisit Serial Killers, Karen Carpenter

Fri, 04 Nov 2016 15:30:00 -0400

Karen Carpenter: Goodbye to Love. Reelz. Saturday, November 5, 9 p.m. People Magazine Investigates: The Long Island Serial Killer. Investigation Discovery. Monday, November 7, 9 p.m. With the world a good bet to end Tuesday—at least, if we're lucky—this is not the week to be wasting your dwindling time on esoteric PBS costume dramas or earnest public-access-channel poetry slams. Go with your primal instincts and wallow in tabloid culture as God and Jerry Springer intended. The purest essence of tabloidiana, of course, is the true-crime show, a cruelly underserved market in the United States. It's hard to believe we've gotten along all these years on a thin diet of Forensic Files, Dateline NBC, The First 48, Wives with Knives, The Hunt with John Walsh, Dead Silent, Swamp Murders, and a scant two dozen others. Fear not, though. People Magazine Investigates, in which the Woodward-and-Bernstein of botched boob jobs and celebrity liposuction turns its keen journalistic eye on crime with the same relentless energy with which it has pursued The Sexiest Man Alive and 100 Most Beautiful People all these many decades. People's true-crime adventures start with a two-hour episode on a serial killer known variously as the Gilgo Beach Killer (for the remote coastal strip of Long Island where he's stashed some of his bodies) or the Craigslist Ripper (for the place he apparently found his victims in the escort-service ads). As homicidal maniacs go, the Gilgo Beach Killer isn't a bad candidate for true-crime TV investiture. Between 2007 and 2010, he strangled (not ripped; the true-crime community isn't over-obsessed with literalism) at least four women working as escorts, then wrapped their bodies in burlap and hid them in the brush just off the beach. Because the women all disappeared from different jurisdictions—and perhaps also because missing hookers aren't necessarily a high police priority—nobody even realized a serial killer was at work until a fifth escort suffered a paranoid meltdown while at the home of a client near Gilgo Beach and ran off into the night, babbling that "they" were plotting to kill her. The search for that woman, 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, led to the discovery of the other four victims—and, eventually, six other bodies not necessarily connected to the Gilgo Beach Killer. Serial killers apparently compose one of the major local demographics, and I'd guess it won't be long before they're pressing for tax breaks, crop subsidies, and speech codes establishing their right to be referred to as de-metabolizers rather than murderers. Unfortunately, People magazine's long immersion in what might be termed the soft-core side of tabloid culture ("FAMILY SECRETS: BRAD AND ANGELINA'S EMOTIONAL BATTLE OVER THEIR KIDS!") has left it without ability to generate the clipped, quasi-sociopathic narrative punch necessary for a story like this. The show can't even sort out which of the victims died at the hands of the Gilgo Beach De-metabolizer, much less anything about him. The script has more potholes than a Bill de Blasio freeway, including an off-handed mention near the end that one of the main on-screen interviewees got murdered a couple of months ago by the sister of one of the victims. In the end, I drew two lessons: 1) despite what you probably think, there's a lot more to true-crime shows than cheesy recreations and mournfully tinkling piano riffs, and 2) the CDC should forget about zika and try to find a vaccine for whatever they've got in Gilgo Beach. If true-crime is the meat and potatoes of tabloidiana, anorexia show-biz martyrs are its dessert, to coin a really unfortunate metaphor. Cue to the Reelz cable channel's documentary Karen Carpenter: Goodbye to Love, a breathlessly melancholy account of the crack-up of the soprano balladeer who starved herself to death in 1983, leaving behind a body that was "77 pounds of dehydrated skeleton" in the wo[...]



The Punk Show at the Mental Hospital

Fri, 28 Oct 2016 10:40:00 -0400

If you want to watch a rock movie this Halloween weekend, I can't think of a more appropriate pick than The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital. The title tells you what you're getting: A punk band plays a concert at a psychiatric institution. But that doesn't get across the ecstatic weirdness of a show where the audience wanders freely onstage and it's not entirely clear which people are the patients and which are the band's usual hangers-on. I want to believe the guy who takes the microphone shortly after the 13:30 mark is a patient:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Fat2rswNJ1k" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

It just keeps getting better as it goes along. The picture is only about 20 minutes—the full show was longer and featured a second band, the Mutants, but this was all they got on tape.

Vice did a story about the video last year, and if you're curious about what the hell is going on here I recommend their write-up. The quick version is that it was 1978, and an activities specialist at the hospital thought this would be therapeutic. And who's gonna say he wasn't right? I'm not in the habit of quoting YouTube comments, but this one is on point:

(image)

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For previous Halloween installments, go here and here.)




King Dork Speaks! Frank Portman on High School, Individualism, and the War on Free Speech

Sun, 23 Oct 2016 15:05:00 -0400

(image) Forget what you've heard, kids.

Life "doesn't get better" when you graduate high school, says Frank Portman, one of the great chroniclers of adolescent angst and alienation over the past 30 years. Or, as he titles a recent song, "High school is the penalty for transgressions yet to be specified." Still, he's not completely downbeat: "You get better at navigating it, or fighting it off."

Portman is a novelist (King Dork, Andromeda Klein) and musician (The Mr T Experience) whose latest project is a soundtrack for the new paperback edition of his third novel, King Dork Approximately. Writing a soundtrack for his book is an attempt to recapture a uniquely intense and focused multimedia experience that the California native fears has gone missing in an age of information overload. (You can buy the book and download the album immediately here or get the book and a download code at Amazon.com.)

Like his earlier literary offerings, King Dork Approximately drew rave reviews for its honest, urgent, and wickedly funny take on the big and small ways that our high-school years mark us for the rest of our lives.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Reason's Nick Gillespie, Portman talks about his literary inspirations (including Philip K. Dick) and musical heroes (Pete Townshend of the Who and Ray Davies of The Kinks), and whether the world is getting more tolerant of oddballs and weirdos or increasingly more repressive of kids and adults who think and act differently. As a musician who made his bones in the post-punk world of the Bay Area before becoming a best-selling writer, Portman brings an absolutely perspective on contemporary American cultural and political life.

Produced by Ian Keyser.

src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/289609369&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0">

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Future Nobel Laureate Warns: The Antichrist Is Coming!

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 10:40:00 -0400

It's April 1980. You live in Toronto. You're going to see future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan play a show at Massey Hall. Of course, you don't think of him as future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan. You think of him as a hippie rock star who's just pissed off vast swaths of his fan base by converting to evangelical Christianity. Hopefully you weren't expecting to hear his old hits, because Dylan doesn't sing any of those. Instead he plays a bunch of his new religious songs, and at one point, with the band vamping behind him like he's a preacher and it's Sunday morning, he lets loose a little sermon. "In the Bible," he says, "it tells you specific things, in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, which just might apply to these times here." And he talks about Afghanistan and he talks about the Antichrist, and while he's standing there playing the prophet you start to realize that future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan isn't just into Christianity; he's into some freaky endtimes shit. But damn if he doesn't make it compelling, and somehow it all builds to a revved-up performance of "Solid Rock." Check out the whole thing here: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TPEv1y_Navk" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> I'm already on record as a fan of Dylan's Christian albums, and I'm not gonna recycle my arguments for them here. I wrote a piece for No Depression back in 2003 that makes my case, and if you're interested you can check that out. I'll just note that I'm not a Christian myself, so I'm not inflating their quality because I agree with them. And much as I love Dylan's best work, I'm definitely not the sort of fan who eats up everything he puts out, so that's not the issue here either. I honestly believe that Slow Train Coming is one of the great American jeremiads and that Saved is 43 minutes of good-and-sometimes-great gospel music. But I do have one little bias that might be magnifying my affection for this stage of Dylan's career. It's the window it opens on that Carter-era apocalyptic mood, when everything from the Afghan war to the Jonestown massacre—yeah, Dylan mentioned Jonestown in that sermon too—felt like a sign that Armageddon was near. Every era of American history has its own set of apocalyptic fears, a particular collection of cataclysms that seemed to loom at that specific moment. Inevitably, someone combines those historically contingent threats with the more long-lived tales Americans tell each other about the endtimes, so that, say, whatever happened that week in the Middle East is imagined as an event foretold in the Bible. Such exercises always look a little ridiculous in retrospect, once the crisis has passed without the world ending. But try to look past the ridiculousness. Try to suspend your disbelief and take them seriously, the way you might when you watch a horror movie. If you can do that, you'll find they're a valuable portal to the past. If you want to understand how the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan felt as it happened, you have to take yourself out of the mindset that sees that incursion as the beginning of a nine-year war that ended nearly three decades ago. You have to imagine how it looked to someone who had no idea how this was going to end, someone who caught a whiff of Armageddon in the air. Someone who might talk about the invasion as though he was just a few years removed from doomsday, not 36 years removed from winning a Nobel Prize. And if he can wrap up that talk with a solid song, all the better. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For the Orson Welles version of Carter-era apocalypticism, check out the second and third videos here. For the far end of the period's endtimes fears, go here.)[...]



Does Bob Dylan Have a Politics and if Yes, What the Hell Are They?

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 19:06:00 -0400

Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (let that sink in for a bit) has been on "a never ending tour" since 1988. For nearly 30 years, the man behind "Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watch Tower," "Tangled Up in Blue," and dozens of other classic tunes has stayed on the road, playing concerts all over the planet.

Nick Gillespie is joined by his Reason colleague Brian Doherty and The Daily Beast's Andrew Kirell to talk the influence and meaning of Dylan, who has resisted all political and cultural categorization. What are the politics of Bob Dylan (which is different than Bob Dylan's politics), who made his early bones by writing protest songs but also claimed kinship to Lee Harvey Oswald? Admired for his authenticity, Dylan is a cultural escape artist who has regularly changed his persona and style and alienated his most-loyal fans by going electric, disappearing from view, becoming a born-again Christian, and more.

If Dylan is the "Shakespeare of our time," what does he for an encore now that he has joined the ranks of Eugene O'Neill, Saul Bellow, and Toni Morrison as a Nobelist?

Each participant also names his favorite Dylan record and defends his choice.

Click below to listen. About 40 minutes. Produced by Ian Keyser.

src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/287561693&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0">

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Bob Dylan's Never-Ending Tour of The Self

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 19:00:00 -0400

Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (let that sink in for a bit) has been on "a never ending tour" since 1988. For nearly 30 years, the man behind "Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watch Tower," "Tangled Up in Blue," and dozens of other classic tunes has stayed on the road, playing concerts all over the planet.

Nick Gillespie is joined by his Reason colleague Brian Doherty and The Daily Beast's Andrew Kirell to talk the influence and meaning of Dylan, who has resisted all political and cultural categorization. What are the politics of Bob Dylan (which is different than Bob Dylan's politics), who made his early bones by writing protest songs but also claimed kinship to Lee Harvey Oswald? Admired for his authenticity, Dylan is a cultural escape artist who has regularly changed his persona and style and alienated his most-loyal fans by going electric, disappearing from view, becoming a born-again Christian, and more.

If Dylan is the "Shakespeare of our time," what does he for an encore now that he has joined the ranks of Eugene O'Neill, Saul Bellow, and Toni Morrison as a Nobelist?

Each participant also names his favorite Dylan record and defends his choice.

Click below to listen. About 40 minutes. Produced by Ian Keyser.

src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/287561693&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0">

Don't miss a single Reason podcast or video!

Subscribe to our audio podcast at iTunes.

Subscribe to our video podcast at iTunes.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Like us on Facebook.

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'Bob Dylan Is the Shakespeare of Our Time' - Penn Jillette on the Nobel Prize Winner

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 11:18:00 -0400

Bob Dylan has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." As justified as the prize is, the award committee's words are an understatement. In a career that spans 50-plus years, Dylan's impact has long exceeded popular music, influencing every arena of creative expression, from film to writing to politics. While it's impossible—and perhaps ultimately pointless—to distill the essence of the figure behind songs, albums, and prose as different as "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Like a Rolling Stone," Blood on the Tracks, Slow Train Coming, Time Out of Mind, Chronicles, and Shadows in the Night, I'll take my chances. Among other things, Dylan incarnates the urge for endless self-discovery that is at the very heart of America's mythic identity. We are a nation that is always in the act of becoming something different, something new, something at once influenced by the past but free (or struggling to be free) of it. "He not busy being born is busy dying," he sings in "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." More than any popular artist (including writers and filmmakers), Dylan has constantly changed his style, sound, look, and personality over time, not out of some sense of desperate need to stay current or hip but out of a deep urge to explore himself and the world around him. As he sings in "Tangled Up in Blue," he's always "still on the road, heading for another joint." Almost alone among the crew of folk artists he palled around with in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, he didn't see himself as a rigid guardian of a newly invented orthodoxy that couldn't or shouldn't change. Rather, he used folk forms to express himself before moving on to rock, country, jazz, rhythm and blues, Christianity, Judaism, the pop standards of his youth and teen years, and more. As he writes at the close of Chronicles, his 2004 memoir that is (to me, anyway) the greatest sustained burst of Beat writing, The folk music scene had been like a paradise that I had to leave, like Adam had to leave the garden. It was just too perfect. In a few years' time a shit storm would be unleashed. Things would begin to burn. Bras, draft cards, American flags, bridges, too—everybody would be dreaming of getting in on. The national psyche would change and in a lot of ways would resemble the Night of the Living Dead. The road out would be treacherous, and I didn't know where it owuld lead but I followed it anyway. It was a strange world ahead that would unfold, a thunderhead of a world with jagged lightning edges. Many got it wrong and never did get it right. I went straight into it. It was wide open. One thing for sure, not only was it not run by God, but it wasn't run by the devil either. That strange world is still unfolding for him and he inspires us on our own explorations. Below is a snippet of a recent interview Reason conducted with Penn Jillette that ended with a discussion of what the magician finds so inspiring about Dylan, whom he calls the Shakespeare of our time. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/khBVmCBufvY" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> If we have anybody who's Shakespeare in our time, it's Dylan, and he just speaks to me more and more, and he once said in an interview that the purpose of art was to inspire, and when you see a Dylan show....You would think he's so good, you know—if you go see a jazz cat who's so good playing bass, you can leave that show going, "Why even pick up a bass again?" But for some reason—and I'm not the only one that feels this—at the end of the Dylan show, art just seems so good. I want to go write a play, or write a novel. I'll stay up all night and [...]



Norwegian Black Metal Artist Elected to Local Office Against His Will

Tue, 13 Sep 2016 13:05:00 -0400

(image) Elections by their nature bring out shameless self-promotion from politicians. From Hillary Clinton's constant touting of her own "historic" significance as a candidate to Donald Trump's egomaniacal ravings, many Americans could be forgiven for desiring more self-effacing office seekers.

So Norway may offer a ray of hope for humanity. In the small town of Kolbotn, just outside of Oslo, political neophyte and international black metal sensation Fenriz (founding member of the band Darkthrone)­ has been elected to the town council as an alternate representative—despite having run a campaign urging people not to vote for him.

In an interview with the music website CLRVYNT, Fenriz (birth name Gylve Nagell) explained that he reluctantly accepted an offer from Norway's Liberal Party to stand in the local election, despite having absolutely no interest in winning office. "Basically, they called and asked if I wanted to be on the list" of backup representatives, he told CLRVYNT. "I said yeah, thinking I would be like 18th on the list and I wouldn't really have to do anything."

Perhaps concerned that apathy and total lack of experience wouldn't be sufficient to thwart his chances, Fenriz then ran an outreach campaign consisting entirely of posters with him and his cat accompanied by a plea that people not support him.

Unfortunately for this founding father of Norwegian black metal, the plan backfired spectacularly. The residents of Kolbotn were apparently so taken with his self-denying attitude that they promptly voted him into office, much to Fenriz's chagrin. "I'm not too pleased about it. It's boring," he said. "There's not a lot of money in that, either, I can tell you!"

One potential fear is that his party affiliation could alienate his core musical constituency of rabid Darkthrone fans. Norway's underground metal scene has had a sordid history of virulent anti-Christianity, with some fans going so far as to actually burn down churches. Fenriz's Liberal Party, in contrast, advocates the more moderate position of peacefully abolishing the Church of Norway as the country's official religion.

Still, Fenriz's apathetic attitude toward government arguably makes him a natural fit for the Liberals, who want a smaller, less burdensome state. The party's website calls for a number of libertarianish policies from reducing regulation to abolishing Norway's inheritance tax.

Whatever comes of Fenriz's time in office, the level of popular support for someone who's this unenthusiastic about the prospects of wielding is cause enough for celebration.




Watch Elton John's Immensely Moving 9/11 Version of "Rocket Man"

Sun, 11 Sep 2016 12:41:00 -0400

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I published an essay in Reason titled "Why Art Failed Us After 9/11." My basic argument was the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were ultimately so senseless and pointless that they mostly escaped our capacity to come to terms with them. A number of prominent artists, musicians, and writers—I focus on Bruce Springsteen and Don DeLillo at length—tried to process the attacks and failed, largely because they refused to inhabit the actual scene of the crime. Ground Zero, it seemed, was the one place no one could figuratively stay near because the mound of flesh, bone, and rubble was just too much to bear. At the same time, there were artists who I thought rose to the occasion, especially in terms of offering comfort in the aftermath of the attacks. From the essay: Two consciously artistic gestures stand out, one of them ephemeral and the other highly praised. In December 2001, Elton John performed a "Live by Request" concert on the A&E cable channel, in which fans could call in and ask the one-time Captain Fantastic to perform their favorite tunes. Like McCartney, Young, and Springsteen, John has seen far better days, both as an artist and as a seller of merchandise. No act dominated the '70s charts like Sir Elton, that rare pop star whose commercial success was surpassed only by his interest in pushing the envelope musically. Since that long-ago heyday, he has survived a sham marriage, cut-out bins full of regrettable albums, hair plugs gone bad, multiple addictions and near-bankruptcies, the almost total loss of one of the most memorable voices in rock, and worse. He soldiers on, touring well past middle age, fat, bald, off-key, and generally happy. A woman called in to John's concert and explained that her husband was a first responder who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. She said that his favorite song was John's 1972 hit "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long Long Time)." There John was at the piano looking uncomfortably from the side like Marlon Brando tickling the ivories in The Island of Dr. Moreau, wheezing his way through a song that all of us had heard a million times before, including unintentional and intentional parody versions by the likes of William Shatner, Chris Elliott, and Stewie from Family Guy. The song's scant lyrics can be charitably described as sub-literate ("Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids…and there's no one there to raise them if you did") yet in John's croaky reading they managed to capture a profound sense of isolation, fear, and loss eerily resonant with the moment: "I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife/It's lonely out in space/On such a timeless flight/…Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone." John was sweating profusely, his voice cracking on virtually every note, high and low. The song hushed the crowd, giving all who heard it four minutes of intense communion with the dead. I've searched for that particular performance online but haven't been able to locate it. The other brilliant meditation on 9/11 suffered no such fate. The 2008 documentary Man on Wire is readily available for sale online and can be streamed at sites such as Netflix and Amazon. The deserving winner of an Academy Award, James Marsh's film retells the story of the French aerialist Philippe Petit, who in 1974 strung a cable between the Twin Towers and spent the better part of an hour performing 1,300 feet above a sparse but rapidly growing audience in lower Manhattan before being taken into custody. No moving footage of the actual performance remains, so the narrative is told through period stills, newsreels, interviews, and dra[...]