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a blog by Ann Althouse

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.

"What really irked [Jerry Lee] Lewis was the non-reaction to Elvis’s similar behavior. 'I don’t want to sound disrespectful to the dead,' he said..."

"... 'but fuck Elvis.' In Lewis’s analysis of the situation, he had been condemned even though nobody seemed to mind that Elvis had started dating Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, in Germany, when she, too, was underage. When someone mentioned that Priscilla had been fourteen, and not Elvis’s cousin, Lewis grew angry. 'Stop right there,” he said. “He was not married to her. I was married, because I was an honest, God-fearing man.'"

From "Jerry Lee Lewis’s Life of Rock and Roll and Disrepute/A thrilling performer with a volatile persona, Lewis always knew he was playing the devil’s music" (The New Yorker).

With the death of the Queen, perhaps it's too somber a time to watch TikToks, so I cautiously offer my selection this evening. There are 8. Some people love them.

1. Two young girls encounter a landline telephone.

2. Experience an oranger orange than actually exists.

3. Is the bird oddly stoical or truly in love with the man and his piano?

4. Is morning beer a deplorable notion or something poignantly sublime?

5. When it comes to questions of politics, I wish more celebrities were like Elvis.

6. The ugliest piece of furniture or the most amusingly beautiful?

7. If this is the definition of a "toxic" person, then I am sure I know who is the most toxic person I have ever met. 

8. The Corn Kid — 25 years later.

"The word, not used intentionally in a harmful way, will be replaced. The road to success is always under construction."

Said representatives of Beyoncé, quoted in "Beyoncé to cut ableist slur from Renaissance song/Charities question why lyric was released weeks after similar controversy" (London Times).

The objected to line — on "Heated" — is "Spazzing on that ass, spaz on that ass." 

Who wrote that line? "The song has nine credited writers including Beyoncé and Drake, the Canadian rapper, but it is not clear which of them wrote the lyrics."

What was the "similar controversy" that happened recently? Lizzo used the same word, in the line "Hold my bag, bitch, hold my bag/ Do you see this shit? I’m a spaz."

What's more likely, that Beyoncé's people knew about the Lizzo's controversy or not? And then, what's more likely that they deliberately sought controversy by using the word or that they somehow just muddled into it? All nine of them? 

This is the 6th post in this 17-year history of this blog that the word "spaz" has appeared (always within a quote):

April 2006: Tiger Woods got in trouble — but only in Britain — for saying "As soon as I got on the green I was a spaz."

May 2006: The Slate music critic Jody Rosen referred to "American Idol" contestant Taylor Hicks as "the prematurely gray-haired doofus who has spent the past several weeks jerking across the Idol stage like a spaz."

May 2009: Bono wrote a poem about Elvis that had the line "Elvis the ecstatic/ Elvis the plastic/ Elvis the elastic with a spastic dance that could explain the energy of America." British radio issued a language warning, and I noted the different level of offensiveness in Britain and America, and cited the old "Saturday Night Live" character "Chaz 'The Spaz' Knerlman," AKA "Spazalopolis."

December 2018: Someone at Deadspin wrote sarcastically that Elon Musk was "definitely a visionary brain genius and not at all a manic idiot spaz and brazen fraud."

June 2022: I noted that Lizzo apologized for using the word.

ADDED: The OED finds the first published use of "spaz" in Pauline Kael's 1965 "I Lost It at the Movies":
The term that American teen-agers now use as the opposite of ‘tough’ is ‘spaz’. A spaz is a person who is courteous to teachers, plans for a career..and believes in official values. A spaz is something like what adults still call a square.

"Tough" was a compliment at the time, as you can tell from the context, and as I know from memory. It was just another way to say "great."

I went to a theater to see a movie for the first time in over a year.

It's been over a year since we went out to see a movie. We saw "Nomadland" in April 2021, and when we saw that it had been over a year since we'd gone out to see a movie. Covid has been part of these long gaps, but not all of it.

I'm not sure I will ever want to see a movie in the theater again. My #1 problem is that you are bound to sit through it. You can't pause. You can't walk away and come back later. That can be a positive. You've committed to sit through it and you almost certainly will. It's now or never.

Ha ha. Guess what move we saw? Yes, you're right. It was Baz Luhrman's "Elvis":

I would have enjoyed this so much more on my TV. In fact, I would have enjoyed it much more if it had been made as a TV mini-series with 5 or 6 hour-long episodes. Because this movie was too long and too short. There were so many ideas that could have been worked through. There were 2 big themes: Elvis's relationship to black people and their music and Elvis's bondage to Colonel Tom Parker. That had to be compressed in the movie, and the movie was still 2 hours and 39 minutes. 

I have other problems with seeing a movie in the theater. Insanely, the picture is worse. As discussed in last year's post about "Nomadland," the picture projected on the screen in this theater isn't good enough. It would look better on the TV I have at home. Is a big screen something special? I can get an equally big screen on my iPhone just by holding it close to my face. My TV at a normal distance is the same size within my field of vision as the movie screen. 

What about the audience? Isn't it something special to see a movie with a group of strangers? It might be, sometimes. Yesterday, entering the theater and seeing that our seats — the best seats, chosen on line — were in big recliners — in a row that was already filled with older couples already reclined — I was a tad dismayed. This seemed more sedentary than watching TV at home. One person had brought a blanket and was already covered up. And I could have done without the singing along. It wasn't loud, raucous singing along, but a low, respectful communion with Elvis. Wise men say, only fools fall in love.... Who knows what they were feeling?

Anyway, I recommend this movie when you can watch it on TV and consume it in parts. It's just too long! But when and if you do watch it, I have some advice about how to watch it, advice that I thought up afterwards. This often happens to me: The first time through a movie is like a trial run, and afterwards I have a lot of ideas about what to look for, but then I need to watch it again. If I have the movie at home — a DVD or a streaming service — I can and often do go right back to the beginning and watch it again. I have proved over and over again to myself that if a movie turns out to have been worth watching the first time, it will be better the second time — not years later, after its impression has faded, but while it's perfectly fresh in my mind. I don't have the distraction of wondering what's going to happen, and I can notice all the details, and I appreciate things in the moment because I know what they'll connect up to later.

So here's the key to watching "Elvis." Colonel Tom Parker — Tom Hanks — is absolutely disgusting and evil. He's a monster. Elvis makes a pact with the devil and he can't get out of it. He's caught in a trap.... The monster keeps rising up again. Now, the monster Tom embodies greed. And Elvis is the artist — all about music and love. Whatever flaws real-life Elvis had, movie Elvis has located in the monster Tom. You could think of them as one person with 2 sides. It's not realistic and I don't think it's an accurate portrayal. You never see Elvis overeating cheeseburgers or indulging weird sexual proclivities. You never see the tender side of Tom. It's a grand, doomed struggle between art and money — beauty and ugliness. 

ADDED: I wrote "You could think of them as one person with 2 sides," and now I'm reading there's actually a line in the movie — the Colonel says it to Elvis — "I am you, and you are me."

I'm reading that in the Boston Globe, where I'm also seeing that the original cut of the movie was 4 hours long. Maybe we'll get all that when it comes to TV.

"Is it perverse to find magnificence in the most parodied element of Elvis’s style evolution? That is, his famous jumpsuits..."

"... the costume default of impersonators and trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Typically treated as sartorial jokes, these jumpsuits emblematize the star at his apogee, that moment before his fame and his life collapsed on him and he crumpled to earth. Those glittering garments with their embroideries and nailhead patterns or paste gem barnacles were precursors to the stage-wear worn by every pop star — Prince, David Bowie, Harry Styles — who ever invited his fans to feast their eyes on him erotically."

Writes Guy Trebay, in "Elvis Broke Fashion Boundaries, Too/He was many things, as a new biopic illustrates, but one of the least appreciated was his role as a gender pioneer" (NYT).

This makes me want to retell my Elvis's jumpsuit story. Back in 2005, I blogged a 7-point list of notes from my visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was the 7th item:
In front of a case full of Elvis memorabilia, a parent took it upon himself to translate Elvis to his 9-year-old daughter. They were gazing on a classic Elvis-in-Vegas costume. 
DAD: When he started wearing these white jumpsuits that was kind of weird. 

GIRL: That was awesome!
I loved that. I mean, us older folk assume we know that Elvis went wrong when he put on the white jumpsuit. But here's this girl, and she's correcting her dad. She thinks she knows. She's grounded in some new world. And there, the suit is awesome.

That little girl is now 26 years old. She's on the millennial/Gen Z cusp, and I've always remembered her as representing the new point of view, the one that's not embarrassed by Elvis's jumpsuit but loves it... and — I leap to presume — everything it represents.

Whatever that is!

"I had a hunch that old songs were taking over music streaming platforms—but even I was shocked when I saw the most recent numbers."

"According to MRC Data, old songs now represent 70% of the US music market.... The new music market is actually shrinking.... [T]he 200 most popular tracks now account for less than 5% of total streams. It was twice that rate just three years ago.... [T]he current list of most downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the last century, such as Creedence Clearwater and The Police. I saw it myself last week at a retail store, where the youngster at the cash register was singing along with Sting on 'Message in a Bottle' (a hit from 1979) as it blasted on the radio. A few days earlier, I had a similar experience at a local diner, where the entire staff was under thirty but every song more than forty years old. I asked my server: 'Why are you playing this old music?'

She looked at me in surprise before answering: 'Oh, I like these songs.'... The people running the music industry have lost confidence in new music. They won’t admit it publicly.... The moguls have lost their faith in the redemptive and life-changing power of new music—how sad is that?... [And yet m]usic company execs in 1955 had no idea that rock ‘n’ roll would soon sweep away everything in its wake. When Elvis took over the culture—coming from the poorest state in the US, lowly Mississippi—they were more shocked than anybody. And it happened again the following decade, with the arrival of the British Invasion from lowly Liverpool (again a working class city, unnoticed by the entertainment industry). And it took place again when hip-hop emerged from the Bronx and South Central and other impoverished neighborhoods, a true grass roots movement...."

From "Is Old Music Killing New Music?/All the growth in the music business now comes from old songs—how did we get here, and is there a way back?" by Ted Gioia (Substack).

I was listening to Bob Dylan's old radio show — "Theme Time" — the other day, and he read what was supposedly a letter from a listener, asking why did he play so much old music when there's new music too. His answer was: He plays old music because there's so much more of it. 

The old should dominate. There's a century and more of old recordings to play on the streaming services. Why should the music of the last few months predominate? Anything new has to compete with everything old. 

I'm old, so I don't expect to like anything new, and I'm delighted to have access to the entire history of recorded music with Spotify. I discover things that are new to me. Some of them are many decades old, sometimes even older than I am, and, as I said, I am old. These are recordings, not live concerts. They're like books. We pick what's best, not what's new. 

But I remember how exciting it was, back in the 1950s and 60s, to hear what was new on the radio, to feel that the culture was alive and inventive and a cool, unfolding surprise. Maybe none of that would have happened if we'd had something like Spotify/Apple Music to allow us to root around endlessly in the past.

"Most of us have gone on some sort of spiritual or existential odyssey in the last 19 months. Some were André, burning it all down..."

"... in the name of growth (and broadcasting it to anyone who would listen). Others were Wally, hiding under electric blankets, an anodyne to the suffering of the world because 'our lives are tough enough as it is.' Most of us were both — self-aware enough to know what’s coming but not yet brave enough to get out. Over a digestif, André concedes that his experimental antics have gotten old in the same way his past life has, and he has ended up with more questions and torment than before. His struggles to find meaning have been in vain, like interrogating an unexamined life, or a forever war or a plague. When the check arrives, André pays, Wally splurges on a cab home and nothing is resolved. No moralizing or grand resolutions — just malaise, the kind you’re left with after you meet up with an old friend who talks about himself the entire time."

From "'My Dinner With André' at 40: Still Serving Hot Takes The film was a feature-length conversation. And it is still stirring up plenty of chatter today" by Mariella Rudi (NYT). 

The movie — my favorite movie — premiered 40 years ago yesterday. I don't watch movies that often these days, but I did watch 2 movies in the last 2 days, which I rarely do. One was a movie that gives me a similiar experience to "André": "Coffee and Cigarettes." The other could be compared to "André" in that it's about the loss of the soul in a world of media: "To Die For."

ADDED: In the closing credits to "Coffee and Cigarettes," we hear Iggy Pop's version of "Louie Louie," which contains the line: "Turn on the news/It looks like a movie/It makes you want to sing/'Louie Louie.'" Iggy appears on one segment of the movie, consuming coffee and cigarettes with Tom Waits. Both men have quit smoking, and the celebrate quitting by having a smoke. 

The last thing you see in the credits is "Long live Joe Strummer." I had to google to try to understand what that was about. I don't really know, but I found this:


And this — from a 2019 interview with the director, Jim Jarmusch:
You cast musicians frequently in your films and one of my favorite bits of casting is Joe Strummer in 1989’s Mystery Train. What drew you to Joe Strummer as “Elvis”? 
Joe Strummer is a friend of mine, someone I deeply admire. He’s quite an interesting actor, he’s very focused. He and I were sort of like brothers in a way. Joe Strummer, in the most minimal way, taught me one of the most valuable things I’ve ever learned about human expression. That is what all of Strummer’s friends know as “Strummer’s Law,” these four words: no input, no output. You see that in The Clash, you see that in their openness to rockabilly, to reggae, to soul music, to hip-hop. You know, see that openness. In that way, The Clash are the antithesis of the Sex Pistols, who were super great in their style of reduction down to the essence. The Clash were open … like “Throw open the doors, see what the wind blows in on us.” Strummer was a very important person in my life. He’s someone who I miss a lot. I try to ask him advice sometimes, even now, and see what channels back to me. A remarkable person. I was so honored to know him.

Ah. Joe Strummer died in December 2002. "Coffee and Cigarettes" came out in 2003. Elvis died in 1977.

"Elvis went over and started noodling on the piano. This immediately caused Jerry Lee Lewis to start showing off."

"He went over to Elvis and said 'I didn’t know you could play.' Elvis responded 'I can’t,' at which point Jerry Lee said, 'Well then, why don’t you let me sit down?' Elvis just replied 'Well, I’d like to try,' and carried on noodling.... [T]he majority of the [Million Dollar Quartet session] consists of Elvis on acoustic guitar or piano, Jerry Lee on piano when Elvis isn’t playing it, and them all singing together, with Elvis or Jerry Lee taking most of the lead vocals.... Both Elvis and Jerry Lee were brought up in the Assembly of God, a Pentecostal 'holy roller' church.... ['Jesus Walked that Lonesome Valley'] is interesting, as even though it’s a call-and-response song and starts with Elvis taking the lead and Jerry Lee doing the responses, by the first verse Jerry Lee has already taken over the lead and left Elvis echoing him, rather than vice versa. You can hear there exactly how this friendly rivalry was already working. Remember, at this time, Jerry Lee Lewis was nobody at all, someone who had one single out which had been out a matter of days. But here he is duetting with the 'King of Rock and Roll,' and seeing himself as the person who should naturally be taking the lead."

From "Episode 51: 'Matchbox' by Carl Perkins" in Andrew Hickey's phenomenal podcast "A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs."

Here's full recording of the session on Spotify.  

You can listen to the recording of "Jesus Walked that Lonesome Valley" on YouTube here

And here's a link to the Wikipedia page for Lewis, where I went because I wanted to check my belief that he's still alive. He is. But I also saw: "On November 22, 1976, Lewis was arrested outside Elvis Presley's Graceland home for allegedly intending to shoot him... 'Elvis, watching on the closed-circuit television, told guards to call the police... The cops asked Elvis, "What do you want us to do?" And Elvis told 'em, "Lock him up." That hurt my feelings.'" Elvis avoided death that night, but proceeded to die on his own, 8 months later.
Some pages of Bob Dylan's "Philosophy of Modern Song" are photos like this with a couple sentences isolated from the text.I went to a theater to see a movie for the first time in over a year."Most of us have gone on some sort of spiritual or existential odyssey in the last 19 months. Some were André, burning it all down..."

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