Bob Dylan Revisited on Wall Street

Note: this is a rejigged version of a post I wrote a couple of years ago:

Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man is my all-time favourite song. I heard it for the first time in about 1964 or ’65, when my sister Laraine was on a Spring break from college. It was her second semester of college, I think, and after a stifling youth in the conservative suburb of Manhattan Beach, California, she was still on a high (in more ways than one) from the liberation that comes from leaving the family nest for the first time.One evening, she dug out a 45rpm and set up our “portable” record player. It weighed a ton, but was pretty high tech for its day. She told me to lie down, close my eyes and just listen to the words. At that time of my life, I was a pretty shallow character, but I looked up to Laraine because she was the brains in the family, so I complied with her request.I think I must have listened to that song a dozen times that night and every time I did, it had the same magical effect. For the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to be transported. I’m not going to spoil the song for you or for me by analyzing it, but here is one of my favorite stanzas:

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

When Dylan went electric, many of his fans were appalled. While I was personally disappointed, I wasn’t appalled. It seemed to me like he was simply doing what he wanted to do at the time. Yes, I was critical and agreed with the general consensus that he had “sold out”, but it was his choice to make, not mine. Nothing of the magic of his early work was lost to me, but I quit looking for inspiration from him for decades.

I often return to those early Bob Dylan songs and for me they remain as magical as ever. I often wonder where the inspiration for them came. Apparently so does he. Here’s something I found in  Great Inspirational Quotes:

“I don’t know how I got to write those songs. Those early songs were almost magically written.”

This is highly relevant to me today as I contemplate trying to find something to say about the big news online today: Occupy Wall Street. Something about it has been bugging me from the beginning. On the one hand, I sympathise with them. On the other hand, their herd-like behaviour disturbs me. I’ve watched dozens of video clips and three things creep me out the most:

  1. The repetition of what is being said.
  2. The “consensus” rule that decides who will be allowed to speak.
  3. The collective high.

I saw all of that happen in the sixties, when my generation rebelled against the “establishment” only to become an establishment of our own. I learned this when I decided to cut my hair to make travel through the Middle East easier for me in 1970. Suddenly I wasn’t acceptable to my hippy culture any more. This wasn’t universally the case, but I certainly learned from the experience.

As time passed, so did the hippy era. Some clung to their ideals, but most got re-assimilated into the establishment. For the most part, those who embraced the American “ideals” of greed and selfishness the most were those who had embraced the hippy movement most ardently. Yes, while it was “cool” to do so, they passionately opposed the Vietnam War (especially those who were threatened by the draft) and called each other “brother” and “sister”, but it wasn’t long before the threat of military induction passed and “brotherhood” became an empty word.

I get the feeling that if today’s “establishment” wanted to bring OWS to a quick close, it could easily be done by offering the protesters jobs on Wall Street. Like the fear of the draft, most of them are driven by fear, not ideals. I hope I’m wrong and will be proven to be a cynical old man, but if you’ve ever seen a herd of sheep change direction out of fear or the promise of food, only to be sheered or slaughtered, you’d see what I mean. Why do I think this? It’s because so many of them were suckered into their college loans by the promise of high paying jobs and only got angry when the jobs weren’t forthcoming. Give them a job and they’ll go away and leave you free to rape and pillage again.

I’m going to close with a few more Bob Dylan quotes and a brief comment:

Everything passes. Everything changes. Just do what you think you should do.

I define nothing. Not beauty, not patriotism. I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be.

I don’t think the human mind can comprehend the past and the future. They are both just illusions that can manipulate you into thinking there’s some kind of change.

Another Bob Dylan song that I love is “The Times They Are a’Changin’”. At that time, I believed his words, but time proved Dylan (and me) wrong. Most of our generation was assimilated by the system and America returned to its greedy, war mongering ways. I like to hope that this time change will occur, but I don’t think it’s going to occur on Wall Street.