Saturday, October 13, 2018

For Bob Dylan- The Voice of The Generation Of '68?- Bob Dylan Unplugged

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of Bob Dylan performing "Masters Of War".


The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan, Columbia, 1962

In reviewing Bob Dylan’s 1965 classic album “Bringing All Back Home” (you know, the one where he went electric) I mentioned that it seemed hard to believe now that both as to the performer as well as to what was being attempted that anyone would take umbrage at a performer using an electric guitar to tell a folk story (or any story for that matter). I further pointed out that it is not necessary to go into all the details of what or what did not happen with Pete Seeger at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 to know that one should be glad, glad as hell, that Bob Dylan continued to listen to his own drummer and carry on a career based on electronic music.

Others have, endlessly, gone on about Bob Dylan’s role as the voice of his generation (and mine), his lyrics and what they do or do not mean and his place in the rock or folk pantheons, or both. Here we are going back to the early days when there was no dispute that he had earned a place in the folk pantheon. The only real difference between the early stuff and the later electric stuff though is- the electricity. Dylan’s extraordinary sense of words, language and word play has been a constant throughout his career. If much later ( in the 1990’s) he gets a bit repetitious and a little gimmicky in order to stay “relevant” that is only much later after he had done more than his share to add to the language of music.

In this selection we have some outright folk classics that will endure for the ages like those of his early hero Woody Guthrie have endured. Blowing in the Wind still sounds good and makes sense as an anthem of change - especially today when some serious social tasks remain to be accomplished. Yes, the answer my friend is blowing in the wind (and in other locales, as well). Also here showing Dylan’s, sometimes disavowed, country roots is a very nice although Johnny Cash-less "Girl From the North Country". No anti-war song is more powerful than "Masters of War"- none. Anyone can write the easy peace songs about "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" and "Give Peace a Chance" but to really understand and really get mad about what we are up against you need to listen to this song. Pearl Jam covered it later for a reason- we still need to drive the warmongers from their marketplaces.

"Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall" hits right where you live, the lyrics could have come out of out of the front pages of today’s newspaper (or Internet updates). The cover of the old blues classic "Corrina, Corrina' is fine. Another Dylan classic "Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right", about the never-ending subject of lost love and longing is as well. There are a few topical songs from that time that might not make sense today- but topicals by footloose troubadours have always been a part of the folk tradition-as it is safe to say is Mr. Dylan.
Once Again Haunted By The Question Of Questions-Who Represented The “Voice” Of The Generation Of ’68 When The Deal Went Down-And No It Was Not One Richard Millstone, Oops, Milhous Nixon

By Seth Garth

I have been haunted recently by various references to events in the early 1960s brought to mind by either seeing or hearing those references. First came one out of the blue when I was in Washington, D.C. on other business and I popped in as is my wont to the National Gallery of Art to get an “art bump” after fighting the dearies at the tail-end of the conference that I was attending. I usually enter on the 7th Street entrance to see what they have new on display on the Ground Floor exhibition areas. This time there was a small exhibit concerning the victims of Birmingham Sunday, 1963 the murder by bombing of a well-known black freedom church in that town and the death of four innocent young black girls and injuries to others. The show itself was a “what if” by a photographer who presented photos of what those young people might have looked like had they not had their precious lives stolen from them by some racist KKK-drenched bastards who never really did get the justice they deserved. The catch here, the impact on me, was these murders and another very disturbing viewing on television at the time, in black and white, of the Birmingham police unleashing dogs, firing water hoses and using the ubiquitous police billy-clubs to beat down on peaceful mostly black youth protesting against the pervasive Mister James Crow system which deprived them of their civil rights.
Those events galvanized me into action from seemingly out of nowhere. At the time I was in high school, in an all-white high school in my growing up town of North Adamsville south of Boston. (That “all white” no mistake despite the nearness to urban Boston since a recent look at the yearbook for my class showed exactly zero blacks out of a class of 515. The nearest we got to a black person was a young immigrant from Lebanon who was a Christian though and was not particularly dark. She, to my surprise, had been a cheer-leader and well-liked). I should also confess, for those who don’t know not having read about a dozen articles  I have done over the past few years in this space, that my “corner boys,” the Irish mostly with a sprinkling of Italians reflecting the two major ethic groups in the town I hung around with then never could figure out why I was so concerned about black people down South when we were living hand to mouth up North. (The vagaries of time have softened some things among them for example nobody uses the “n” word which needs no explanation which was the “term of art” in reference to black people then to not prettify what this crowd was about.)
In many ways I think I only survived by the good graces of Scribe who everybody deferred to on social matters. Not for any heroic purpose but because Scribe was the key to intelligence about what girls were interested in what guys, who was “going” steady, etc. a human grapevine who nobody crossed without suffering exile. What was “heroic” if that can be used in this context was that as a result of those Birmingham images back then I travelled over to the NAACP office on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston to offer my meager services in the civil rights struggle and headed south to deadly North Carolina one summer on a voting drive. I was scared but that was that. My guys never knew that was where I went until many years later long after we had all gotten a better gripe via the U.S. Army and other situations on the question of race and were amazed that I had done that.         
The other recent occurrence that has added fuel to the fire was a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition where they deal with aspects of what amounts to the American Songbook. The segment dealt with the generational influence of folk-singer songwriter Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ as an anthem for our generation (and its revival of late in newer social movements like the kids getting serious about gun control). No question for those who came of political age early in the 1960s before all hell broke loose this was a definitive summing up song for those of us who were seeking what Bobby Kennedy would later quoting a line of poetry from Alfred Lord Tennyson call “seeking a newer world.” In one song was summed up what we thought about obtuse indifferent authority figures, the status quo, our clueless parents, the social struggles that were defining us and a certain hurried-ness to get to wherever we thought we were going.
I mentioned in that previous commentary that given his subsequent trajectory while Bob Dylan may have wanted to be the reincarnation Plus of Woody Guthrie (which by his long life he can rightly claim) whether he wanted to be, could be, the voice of the Generation of ’68 was problematic. What drove me, is driving me a little crazy is who or what some fifty plus years after all the explosions represented the best of what we had started out to achieve (and were essentially militarily defeated by the ensuing reaction before we could achieve most of it) in those lonely high school halls and college dormitories staying up late at night worrying about the world and our place in the sun.
For a long time, probably far longer than was sensible I believed that it was somebody like Jim Morrison, shaman-like leader of the Doors, who came out of the West Coast winds and headed to our heads in the East. Not Dylan, although he was harbinger of what was to come later in the decade as rock reassembled itself in new garb after some vanilla music hiatus but somebody who embodied the new sensibility that Dylan had unleashed. The real nut though was that I, and not me alone, and not my communal brethren alone either, was the idea that we possessed again probably way past it use by date was that “music was the revolution” by that meaning nothing but the general lifestyle changes through the decade so that the combination of “dropping out” of nine to five society, dope in its many manifestations, kindnesses, good thought and the rapidly evolving music would carry us over the finish line. Guys like Josh Breslin and the late Pete Markin, hard political guys as well as rabid music lovers and dopers, used to laugh at me when I even mentioned that I was held in that sway especially when ebb tide of the counter-cultural movement hit in Nixon times and the bastinado was as likely to be our home as the new Garden. Still Jim Morrison as the “new man” (new human in today speak) made a lot of sense to me although when he fell down like many others to the lure of the dope I started reappraising some of my ideas -worried about that bastinado fate.  

So I’ll be damned right now if I could tell you that we had such a voice, and maybe that was the problem, or a problem which has left us some fifty years later without a good answer. Which only means for others to chime in with their thoughts on this matter.         


  1. The problem is that Dylan himself clearly states that Masters of War is not an anti-war song:

    Q: Give me an example of a song that has been widely

    A: Take "Masters Of War." Every time I sing it, someone writes
    that it's an antiwar song. But there's no antiwar sentiment in
    that song. I'm not a pacifist. I don't think I've ever been one.
    If you look closely at the song, it's about what Eisenhower was
    saying about the dangers of the military-industrial complex in
    this country. I believe strongly in everyone's right to defend
    themselves by every means necessary... you are affected as a
    writer and a person by the culture and spirit of the times. I was
    tuned into it then, I'm tuned into it now. None of us are immune
    to the spirit of the age. It affects us whether we know it or
    whether we like it or not.


    And I think to say that "With God on Our Side" is an anti-war song is reducing the song to something topical. The idea that it is simply an anti-war song really ignores the last verse in the piece regarding Judas Iscariot. Judas Iscariot fought in no war, so then, if this is an anti-war song why is he even in the picture?
    I believe it is far less an anti-war song and far more a song about asking the question: what does it mean to believe in God? To me, it's more about asking the question: shouldn't we be on God's side and not He on ours?

    THIS question then throws into the spotlight the idea that God is on the side of America and that she is always right. Dylan, it seems to me, is not quite buying into that. None of us should. But he's not an either/or kind of a guy. He's not an "America is all bad or all good" kind. Hattie Carroll bites into two groups, and both come out severly wounded: the racists and their racist application of "justice" AND the liberals who decry injustice but do nothing about it.

  2. When I used the term ‘anti-war’ in relationship to Bob Dylan’s song Masters of War I meant that in a generic sense rather than giving it some specific political or pacific meaning. According to the Dylan quote that Kim cited in her comment there is a tendency, including by Dylan, to equate the terms ‘anti-war’ and ‘pacifist’. I would not give such a narrow meaning to the term ‘anti-war’. In Dylan’s context it is essentially anti-militarism, especially the dramatically American militarism of the time by the Brecht-like phrases that he uses. That concept does not preclude the concept of just wars against the escalation of such militarism. Leftists except probably Quakers, as a rule, subscribe to some form of just war theory. Certainly in my youth the concept of just war meant supporting the struggle of the Vietnamese against the American presence.

    One need not go back that far for an example, though. Much closer in time is the current ‘struggle’ by Iraqi forces against the American presence there. Although the situation is definitely murkier than in Vietnam, to the extent that any one is fighting directly against the American presence (as opposed to indiscriminately bombing everything that moves), theirs is an example of just war. Hell, in 2003 the simple act of the Iraqis, with or without Sadaam, defending themselves against the American invasion was an example of a just war. So Kim, you see that ‘anti-war’ is a pretty elastic term and that brother Dylan and I are, after all, not so far away in our idea that everyone has a right to defend themselves. It is a question of whose right to such defense is supported at any given point that is at issue.

    After the above rather abstract discussion, let us cut to the chase about whether Masters of War is an ‘anti-war’ song. During the Vietnam War I was involved with a group of active duty anti-Vietnam War G.I.s (Army soldiers, in this case) who faced court-martial for disobeying lawful orders. Those orders being refused were orders to go to Vietnam, a rather serious offense for a soldier. As part of their defense at the court-martial a few of them, when they got on the stand to make statements, started reciting Master of War in order to have it placed in the transcript of trial. The colonels and majors who made up the court-martial board tried to, red-faced with anger, stop them. Those officers, at least, knew what ‘anti-war’ lyrics were when they heard them. Enough said, I think.

  3. The question of whether “With God On Our Side” is an anti-war song is a little more problematic than that of “Masters of War”. I would only comment that one should not get hung up on the ‘god’ part as I consider this more a common political convention of the time in order to get a hearing for your song (a not unimportant consideration, by the way) that a universalistic appeal to for America to get “on the right side of god”. In the 1960’s, an age wedded to existential concepts, references to god could be as directed to the void as they could to some religious supreme being. Later, as Dylan entertained more religious feelings in his life and in his work that argument might make more sense but certainly not in the early 1960’s. If one did not have a sense of irony then, one was ‘lost’. That ironic sense is why we listened to Dylan and others. They expressed in song things about the world that disturbed us at the time.

    What really interests me today about Dylan’s lyrics on this song is how passive they are in relationship to the task that he has presented. In those days, the threat of nuclear annihilation was palpable as things like the Cold War –driven nuclear arms race and the Cuban Missile Crisis made plain. Dylan was apparently entirely willing to let some ultimately ‘just’ god pull the chestnuts out of the fire for us. Alternately, in those days a number of us preferred to take to the streets to organize the fight for nuclear disarmament. “God” could come along if he/she wanted to-no questions asked. Hell, we were so desperate for recruits that Judas Iscariot was welcome if he wanted to turn over a new leaf.

  4. Here are the lyrics to Masters of War and you can make your own judgment about whether it is an anti-war song or not. I have given my opinion above. Markin

    Masters Of War

    Come you masters of war
    You that build all the guns
    You that build the death planes
    You that build the big bombs
    You that hide behind walls
    You that hide behind desks
    I just want you to know
    I can see through your masks

    You that never done nothin'
    But build to destroy
    You play with my world
    Like it's your little toy
    You put a gun in my hand
    And you hide from my eyes
    And you turn and run farther
    When the fast bullets fly

    Like Judas of old
    You lie and deceive
    A world war can be won
    You want me to believe
    But I see through your eyes
    And I see through your brain
    Like I see through the water
    That runs down my drain

    You fasten the triggers
    For the others to fire
    Then you set back and watch
    When the death count gets higher
    You hide in your mansion
    As young people's blood
    Flows out of their bodies
    And is buried in the mud

    You've thrown the worst fear
    That can ever be hurled
    Fear to bring children
    Into the world
    For threatening my baby
    Unborn and unnamed
    You ain't worth the blood
    That runs in your veins

    How much do I know
    To talk out of turn
    You might say that I'm young
    You might say I'm unlearned
    But there's one thing I know
    Though I'm younger than you
    Even Jesus would never
    Forgive what you do

    Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could
    I think you will find
    When your death takes its toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul

    And I hope that you die
    And your death'll come soon
    I will follow your casket
    In the pale afternoon
    And I'll watch while you're lowered
    Down to your deathbed
    And I'll stand o'er your grave
    'Til I'm sure that you're dead

    Copyright ©1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music

  5. A Voice Of His Generation

    Nod To Bob: An Artists’ Tribute To Bob Dylan on his Sixtieth Birthday, various artists, Red House Records, 2001

    A musical performer knows that he or she has arrived when they have accumulated enough laurels and created enough songs to be worthy, at least in some record producer eyes, to warrant a tribune album. When they are also alive to accept the accolades as two out of the four of the artists under review are, which is only proper, that is all to the good (this is part of a larger review of tributes to Greg Brown, Bob Dylan, Mississippi John Hurt and Hank Williams). That said, not all tribute albums are created equally. Some are full of star-studded covers, others with lesser lights who have been influenced by the artist that they are paying tribute to. As a general proposition though I find it a fairly rare occurrence, as I noted in a review of the "Timeless" tribute album to Hank Williams, that the cover artist outdoes the work of the original recording artist. With that point in mind I will give my "skinny" on the cover artists here.

    It seems hard to believe now both as to the performer as well as to what was being attempted that anyone would take umbrage at a performer using an electric guitar to tell a folk story (or any story for that matter). It is not necessary to go into all the details of what or what did not happen with Pete Seeger at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 to know that one should be glad, glad as hell, that Bob Dylan continued to listen to his own drummer and carry on a career based on electronic music.

    Others have, endlessly, gone on about Bob Dylan’s role as the voice of his generation (and mine), his lyrics and what they do or do not mean and his place in the rock or folk pantheons, or both. I just want to comment on a few songs and cover artists on this 60th birthday album. Overall this Red House Records (a well-known alternate folk tradition recording outfit) production is a true folkies’ tribute to old Bob where the artists while well-known in the folk field probably as not as familiar to the general listener. Nevertheless several covers stick out: John Gorka’s rendition of the longing that pervades “Girl Of The North Country" is fine, as is the desperate longing of Martin Simpson’s “Boots Of Spanish Leather”. Greg Brown does a rousing version of “Pledging My Time” and the long time folk singer Rosalie Sorrels does a beautifully measured version of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”. The finale is appropriately done by old time folkie, and early day Dylan companion on the folk scene Ramblin’ Jack Elliot with “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” Solid work here. Kudos.

  6. In the interest of completeness concerning my earleir evaluation of the Dylan songs "Masters Of War" and "With Good On Our Side" on his early albums here are the lyrics to the latter song.

    Interestingly, except for changing the Cold War theme against the Russians then to the so-called War On Terror now against seemingly every Moslem that any American presidential administration can get it hands on (Bush in Iraq and Afgahnistan) and Obama (same and, maybe, Pakistan) these lyrics "speak" to me today. The word they speak is hubris, American hubris, that the rest of the world has had reason to fear, and rightly so. What do they "speak" to you?

    "With God On Our Side"

    Oh my name it is nothin'
    My age it means less
    The country I come from
    Is called the Midwest
    I's taught and brought up there
    The laws to abide
    And the land that I live in
    Has God on its side.

    Oh the history books tell it
    They tell it so well
    The cavalries charged
    The Indians fell
    The cavalries charged
    The Indians died
    Oh the country was young
    With God on its side.

    The Spanish-American
    War had its day
    And the Civil War too
    Was soon laid away
    And the names of the heroes
    I's made to memorize
    With guns on their hands
    And God on their side.

    The First World War, boys
    It came and it went
    The reason for fighting
    I never did get
    But I learned to accept it
    Accept it with pride
    For you don't count the dead
    When God's on your side.

    When the Second World War
    Came to an end
    We forgave the Germans
    And then we were friends
    Though they murdered six million
    In the ovens they fried
    The Germans now too
    Have God on their side.

    I've learned to hate Russians
    All through my whole life
    If another war comes
    It's them we must fight
    To hate them and fear them
    To run and to hide
    And accept it all bravely
    With God on my side.

    But now we got weapons
    Of the chemical dust
    If fire them we're forced to
    Then fire them we must
    One push of the button
    And a shot the world wide
    And you never ask questions
    When God's on your side.

    In a many dark hour
    I've been thinkin' about this
    That Jesus Christ
    Was betrayed by a kiss
    But I can't think for you
    You'll have to decide
    Whether Judas Iscariot
    Had God on his side.

    So now as I'm leavin'
    I'm weary as Hell
    The confusion I'm feelin'
    Ain't no tongue can tell
    The words fill my head
    And fall to the floor
    If God's on our side
    He'll stop the next war.

  7. Guest Commentary

    I have mentioned in my review of Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home; The Legacy Of Bob Dylan" (see archives) that Dylan's protest/social commentary lyrics dovetailed with my, and others of my generation's, struggle to make sense of world at war (cold or otherwise)and filled with injustices and constricting values. Here are the lyrics of three songs-"Blowin' In The Wind", "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Like A Rolling Stone" that can serve as examples of why we responded to his messages the way we did. Kudos Bob.

    The Times They Are A-Changin'

    Come gather 'round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You'll be drenched to the bone.
    If your time to you
    Is worth savin'
    Then you better start swimmin'
    Or you'll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin'.

    Come writers and critics
    Who prophesize with your pen
    And keep your eyes wide
    The chance won't come again
    And don't speak too soon
    For the wheel's still in spin
    And there's no tellin' who
    That it's namin'.
    For the loser now
    Will be later to win
    For the times they are a-changin'.

    Come senators, congressmen
    Please heed the call
    Don't stand in the doorway
    Don't block up the hall
    For he that gets hurt
    Will be he who has stalled
    There's a battle outside
    And it is ragin'.
    It'll soon shake your windows
    And rattle your walls
    For the times they are a-changin'.

    Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don't criticize
    What you can't understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin'.
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can't lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin'.

    The line it is drawn
    The curse it is cast
    The slow one now
    Will later be fast
    As the present now
    Will later be past
    The order is
    Rapidly fadin'.
    And the first one now
    Will later be last
    For the times they are a-changin'.

    Copyright ©1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music

    Blowin' In The Wind

    How many roads must a man walk down
    Before you call him a man?
    Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
    Before she sleeps in the sand?
    Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
    Before they're forever banned?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
    The answer is blowin' in the wind.

    How many years can a mountain exist
    Before it's washed to the sea?
    Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
    Before they're allowed to be free?
    Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
    Pretending he just doesn't see?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
    The answer is blowin' in the wind.

    How many times must a man look up
    Before he can see the sky?
    Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
    Before he can hear people cry?
    Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
    That too many people have died?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
    The answer is blowin' in the wind.

    Copyright ©1962; renewed 1990 Special Rider Music

    Like A Rolling Stone

    Once upon a time you dressed so fine
    You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
    People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
    You thought they were all kiddin' you
    You used to laugh about
    Everybody that was hangin' out
    Now you don't talk so loud
    Now you don't seem so proud
    About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

    How does it feel
    How does it feel
    To be without a home
    Like a complete unknown
    Like a rolling stone?

    You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
    But you know you only used to get juiced in it
    And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
    And now you find out you're gonna have to get used to it
    You said you'd never compromise
    With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
    He's not selling any alibis
    As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
    And ask him do you want to make a deal?

    How does it feel
    How does it feel
    To be on your own
    With no direction home
    Like a complete unknown
    Like a rolling stone?

    You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
    When they all come down and did tricks for you
    You never understood that it ain't no good
    You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
    You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
    Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
    Ain't it hard when you discover that
    He really wasn't where it's at
    After he took from you everything he could steal.

    How does it feel
    How does it feel
    To be on your own
    With no direction home
    Like a complete unknown
    Like a rolling stone?

    Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
    They're drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
    Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
    But you'd better lift your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
    You used to be so amused
    At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
    Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
    When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
    You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

    How does it feel
    How does it feel
    To be on your own
    With no direction home
    Like a complete unknown
    Like a rolling stone?

    Copyright ©1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music