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a blog by Ann Althouse

"Actually, if you google the word senicide you’ll see that many parts of the world have a push/pull relationship with their older members..."

"... the push of veneration, the pull of elimination. The United States with its chrome-plated dreams of spit-shine modernity was never much for the admiration of its senior citizens. Way before taunts of 'Okay, boomer' and the calling of people with experience the pejorative term 'olds' this country has had a tendency to isolate the grizzled dotard, if not on an ice floe then in retirement camps where they could gum pudding and play bingo away from the delicate eyes of youth. It would be easy to blame the sixties, with silly slogans like 'Don’t trust anyone over thirty' or even sillier movies like Wild in the Streets, where anyone over thirty-five is herded in camps and given mandatory doses of LSD."

So writes Bob Dylan, in "The Philosophy of Modern Song."

So, of course, I google "senicide," and I'm reading this Wikipedia article "Senicide," while picturing 81-year-old Bob Dylan reading it too. Highlights:

The Heruli were a Germanic tribe during the Migration Period (about 400 to 800 CE) [who]  placed the sick and elderly on a tall stack of wood and stabbed them to death before setting the pyre alight....

Herodotus says of the Padeans of India: "... It is said to be their custom that when anyone of their fellows, whether man or woman, is sick, a man's closest friends kill him, saying that if wasted by disease he will be lost to them as meat; though he denies that he is sick, they will not believe him, but kill and eat him...."

In Nordic folklore, the ättestupa is a cliff where elderly people were said to leap, or be thrown, to death. While the practice has no historical evidence, the trope has survived as an urban legend, and a metaphor for deficient welfare for the elderly....

Herodotus tells us about the Massagetae that: "Though they fix no certain term to life, yet when a man is very old all his family meet together and kill him, with beasts of the flock besides, then boil the flesh and feast on it. This is held to be the happiest death; when a man dies of an illness, they do not eat him, but bury him in the earth, and lament that he did not live to be killed.

Contemporary Culture — In modern day western-culture, senicide often takes the form of placing senior citizens in overcrowded conditions where preventable diseases can easily spread. More often than not, these spaces are separate from other generations of people so problems such as quality of life, hygiene and isolation are less detectable to the wider population.

There are 3 citations for that last proposition, and all 3 are about Canada. 

I'm giving this post my tag "gerontocracy," thought the topic is only implied. We currently have a gerontocracy in the United States, but when these old people were young, there was "Wild in the Streets":

Some will rob you with a six-gun/And some with an autopen.

I'm reading "Bob Dylan Fans Who Bought $600 ‘Hand-Signed’ Books With Replica Autographs Will Receive Refunds From Publisher/Fans compared notes online to realize that the books advertised as personally signed had autographs reproduced using 'autopen,' generally considered value-less in the collectors' world, even as eBay sellers were asking thousands of dollars for copies" (Variety).

The post title is adapted from a line from the Woody Guthrie song "Pretty Boy Floyd" — lyrics here — which Dylan sang sometimes.... 


The song is about Pretty Boy Floyd, a bank robber who died in 1934, and Woody Guthrie died in 1967, so the song has nothing to do with George Floyd, despite the labeling on that video. The song portrays Pretty Boy Floyd as a thief who was generous to the poor.

Here's the actual lyric:

Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

For what it's worth: The FBI named Pretty Boy Floyd "Public Enemy #1" after they killed John Dillinger, who'd been "Public Enemy #1. Three months later, the FBI shot Pretty Boy Floyd to death. The new "Public Enemy #1" was Baby Face Nelson, and he lasted about a month after that.

The term "public enemy" goes back to Roman times:

The Senate declared emperor Nero a hostis publicus in AD 68....

The words "ennemi du peuple" were extensively used during the French revolution. On 25 December 1793, Robespierre stated: "The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation; it owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death." The Law of 22 Prairial in 1794 extended the remit of the Revolutionary Tribunal to punish "enemies of the people," with some political crimes punishable by death, including "spreading false news to divide or trouble the people."

The modern use of the term was first popularized in April 1930 by Frank J. Loesch, then chairman of the Chicago Crime Commission, in an attempt to publicly denounce Al Capone and other organized crime gangsters....

The phrase was later appropriated by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, who used it to describe various notorious fugitives they were pursuing throughout the 1930s. Unlike Loesch's use of the term, the FBI's "Public Enemies" were wanted criminals and fugitives who were already charged with crimes....

"He started playing guitar at 13 and attended the University of Wisconsin, where he performed at coffeehouses."

"He was a student there when he met Bob Dylan, an itinerant folk singer traveling through. 'Dylan crashed with me for a few weeks in Madison on his way from Hibbing, Minnesota, to New York,' Mr. Kalb told AM New York in 2013. 'We had so much fun, I dropped out and followed him.'"

From "Danny Kalb, Guitarist Who Gave Blues-Rock an Edge, Dies at 80/His 1960s band, the Blues Project, won a following with a driving, experimental approach to traditional material that was anything but purist" (NYT).

"The first three chapters celebrate... a wallowing country tune, an angular new wave spasm, and a song my grandparents played in the living room when the Grangers came over for bridge."

"But of the sixty-six selections, thirty were released between 1947, when Dylan was six years old, and 1962, when his first album appeared, shortly before his twenty-first birthday. This strange body of music includes Italian restaurant staples like Sinatra’s 'Strangers in the Night,' gunslinger melodramas like 'El Paso' by Marty Robbins, Vegas gruel by Dean Martin, and the Yale 'Whiffenpoof Song' as sung by Bing Crosby, Fred Waring, and the Glee Club. There’s a way to see this canon as the genome that shaped Dylan’s gift, the mundus that greeted the bonneted infans at his planetary awakening. In another light they are the musical reef that he dynamited, utterly obliterated, using only his voice, his attitude, and his harmonica. There’s a name for the place that both nurtures and imprisons us, the place we simultaneously pine for and detest: home...."

Writes Dan Chiasson in "Road Maps for the Soul/The Philosophy of Modern Song can be read as a tour journal, refracted through one lonely song after another" (NYRB).

Nice pen-and-ink drawing of Dylan — by Yann Kebbi — at the link.

I've blogged plenty about TPOMS, but I couldn't help blogging one more, stunned as I was by the phrase "the mundus that greeted the bonneted infans at his planetary awakening."

Sometimes when you like something you read, it's because you're thinking, yeah, that's the way I write. Other times you like it precisely because it's so crushingly obvious that you'd never even dream of writing anything like that.

"[T]hat the book contains only four songs performed by women... is both grim and astounding...."

Writes Amanda Petrusich in"A Response to Bob Dylan’s 'Philosophy of Modern Song' There was something missing from the bard’s recent book"(The New Yorker).

Is it? Grim and astounding? Is it astounding because you'd think, in this day and age, that any informed writer would know you have to gender-balance your lists of favored works of art? That Bob Dylan didn't is a little astounding, but why is it grim? I think it's kind of encouraging that Bob didn't think he had to do that, and it can be a little grim to see other people's lists and suspect that's what they did.

In the book, Bob talks about women a lot, because the songs written about men tend to be about women — from the man's point of view. Why shouldn't Bob take the man's point of view? You want him appropriating what women think? He does that in his songs — "She's got everything she needs..." — but he's being the man who's imagining — maybe wrongly — what the woman is thinking.

Petrusich writes:

Even if it were possible to hotfoot around the lack of women (and it is hard to find a way to understand the void as satirical), his essay on Johnnie Taylor’s “Cheaper to Keep Her” is peppered with odd, doddering declarations: a married couple with no children is “not a family. . . . They are just two friends; friends with benefits and insurance coverage but just friends nonetheless.”

He goes on to argue for polygamy, and wonders if a “downtrodden woman with no future, battered around by the whims of a cruel society” would be “better off as one of a rich man’s wives—taken care of properly, rather than friendless on the street depending on government stamps?” Is this a joke? Does it matter?

Petrusich goes on to make a list of songs by women which theoretically could have been written about. But she doesn't write them up in any way, so her list doesn't balance Dylan's book. It's just a list of songs she thinks might have been good to write about instead of the one's Dylan chose.

I've been watching the new season of "The Crown," and I read recaps of the episodes at a blog where they often criticize the show for depicting some historical events but not others — e.g., the tampon conversation but not the attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne. But "The Crown" is a work of art and the artists chose what they chose. If you were writing your own show... well, who cares? You don't have your own show. You're naming things that could have been chosen, but without the task of actually making the work of art. 

To paraphrase Bob: You're not an artist.

Bob Dylan, rhapsodizing about blue.

In "The Philosophy of Modern Song," Bob Dylan — writer of "Tangled Up in Blue" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" — gets carried away by the color blue a few times:

About "Volare (Nel Blu, DiPinto Di Blu)" — "To Fly (In Blue, Painted Blue") — he writes:

You get the mental picture, Utopia, and it’s painted blue. Oil paint, cosmetics and greasepaint, frescoes with blue slapped on, and you’re singing like a canary. You’re tickled pink and walking on air, and there’s no end to space.... Supposedly it’s about a man who wants to paint himself blue and then fly away. Volare, it means, “Let’s fly away into the cielo infinito.” Obviously, the endless sky. The entire world can disappear but I’m in my own head.

About "Blue Suede Shoes":

These shoes are not like other shifty things that perish or change or transform themselves. They symbolize church and state, and have the substance of the universe in them, nothing benefits me more than my shoes.... They neither move nor speak, yet they vibrate with life, and contain the infinite power of the sun. They’re as good as the day I found them. Perhaps you’ve heard of them, blue suede shoes. They’re blue, royal blue. Not low down in the dumps blue, they’re killer blue, like the moon is blue, they’re precious. Don’t try to suffocate their spirit, try to be a saint, try to stay as far away from them as you possibly can.

There's other blue in the book — singing the blues, "Blue Bayou," "Blue Moon," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," blue veined, blue blooded, baby blue eyes, Bobby Blue Bland, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes...

Some pages of Bob Dylan's "Philosophy of Modern Song" are photos like this with a couple sentences isolated from the text.

I find that pretty amusing. You can buy the book here. I have the audiobook and the Kindle text, so I'm usually out walking around listening. I like Bob's voice, reading, and the various actors who read some of it are good too. I intersperse that reading with playing the songs. Here's a Spotify playlist of the songs. I have the Kindle so I can find quotes to blog, but in this case, I need the Kindle so I can see the illustrations, and then I also need the Kindle so I can contextualized those captions.

Here, in this case, it's:

She says look here mister lovey-dovey, you’re too extravagant, you’re high on drugs. I gave you money, but you gambled it away, now get lost. You say wait a minute now. Why are you being so combative? You’re way off target. Don’t be so small minded, you’re being goofy. I thought we had a love pact, why do you want to shun me and leave me marooned. What’s wrong with you anyway? I’m telling you, let’s be amiable, and if you’re not, I’m going to wrap this relationship up and terminate it. You’re asking her for money. She says money is the root of all evil, now take a hike. You try to appeal to her sensual side but she’s not having it. She’s got another man, which infuriates you no end. 

But no other man could step into your shoes, no other man can swap places with you. No other man would pinch-hit when it comes to her. How could it happen? I get it, she’s not in love with you anyway, she is in love with the almighty dollar. Now you’ve learnt your lesson, and you see it clear. Used to be you only associated with extraordinary people, now they’re all a dime a dozen, but you have to keep it in perspective. There’s always someone better than you, and there’s always someone better than him. You want to do things well. You know you can do things, but it’s hard to do them well. You don’t know what your problem is. The best things in life are free, but you prefer the worst. Maybe that’s your problem.

Now, what song is he talking about? 

See how he's inhabiting the main character in the song and paraphrasing the lyrics, but he's making the main character "you." He's giving this ridiculous person his say.

I propose a party game based on Bob Dylan's philosophy of song. Prior to the event, get your group to agree on a list of songs that everyone knows. Then, when it's your turn, you do a little monologue as the character in the song, not using the lyrics to the song, but restating the character's circumstances and feelings. Play it like charades, but with talking.

So, what's the song? The best things in life are free, but you prefer the worst. That's hilarious.

"There’s no philosophy, not really, in 'The Philosophy of Modern Song.'"

Writes Dwight Garner in "Bob Dylan Breaks Down 66 Classic Tunes in His New Book/'The Philosophy of Modern Song' offers commentaries on a range of music, written in the singer’s unmistakable lyrical style" (NYT)

I'm reading the book, and I've been asking myself, as I go, where's the philosophy? My working answer is the reader has to put together the philosophy. Dylan is providing a lot of raw material, but can't you see what he's saying?

You know there's a philosophy, but you don't know what it is, do you?

Mr. Garner writes:

These riffs, which he flicks like tarot cards through a distant cactus, sound a lot like his own song lyrics....

Much of the book is Dylan paraphrasing lyrics from songs, and it's only subtly obvious that Dylan's words are better, deeper, more mysterious. What I'm seeing is that for every song — or almost every song — he heightens the inward emotional structure of the main character in the song.

But Garner gets weary (book reviewers do get weary):

The tone becomes repetitive. In a lot of the cases, you could switch Dylan’s commentaries around, apply them to different songs and not know the difference....

But that's why there's a philosophy to be extracted by the reader. He's looking at different songs and seeing the same thing. 

He suggests that the Who’s “My Generation” is sung from the perspective of an 80-year-old man in a nursing home, that Ricky Nelson and not Elvis was the true ambassador of rock ’n’ roll and that Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House” is about a pedophile mass murderer. There’s an analysis of Bing Crosby’s version of Yale’s “Whiffenpoof Song.” Sometimes you only hope he’s kidding.

Is this where it is? Sorry, I need to hand in my ticket and go watch the geek.

"Writing a song like this can be deceptively easy. First you assemble a laundry list of things people hate."

"For the most part, people are not going to like war, starvation, death, prejudice and the destruction of the environment. Then there’s the trap of easy rhymes. Revolution/evolution/air pollution. Segregation/demonstration. John Lennon got away with it by using his cheeky sense of humor to create a postmodern campfire song all about bag-ism and shag-ism. But in less sure hands one might as well write about the periodic table of elements with built-in rhymes about calcium, chromium and lithium."

Writes Bob Dylan, in "The Philosophy of Modern Song" (p. 78). 

The song under discussion there is "Ball of Confusion"....


... which he connects to "Give Peace a Chance"...

"Actually, if you google the word senicide you’ll see that many parts of the world have a push/pull relationship with their older members..."Some will rob you with a six-gun/And some with an autopen."He started playing guitar at 13 and attended the University of Wisconsin, where he performed at coffeehouses.""[T]hat the book contains only four songs performed by women... is both grim and astounding...."Bob Dylan, rhapsodizing about blue.Some pages of Bob Dylan's "Philosophy of Modern Song" are photos like this with a couple sentences isolated from the text."This is speed metal without the embarrassment of Spandex and junior high school devil worship.""Writing a song like this can be deceptively easy. First you assemble a laundry list of things people hate."

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