Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fighting the Civil War all over again


It is the Civil War's 150 anniversary, so the NY Times is providing a blow-by-blow account of the war (linked above). This might be a fun series to follow.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Washington weekend meander


Robert: While we wait for Gintaras' return, here's an area to discuss your thoughts about the new Washington biography. I've also linked the NY Times review in the title above.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A little late weekend meander

I'm not sure where I read about this book, but just picked it up this a.m. and have found it hard to put down. So far it's very well written and provocative.

Each chapter focuses on individuals who have promoted American empire, from Benjamin Franklin and John Quincy Adams to William Henry Seward to Henry Cabot Lodge and John Foster Dulles. And then of course the ultimate empire proponent, Paul Wolfowitz.

Here's the only review I could easily find online, which suggests the individuals combined do not make a strong enough case -- I guess time will tell. All three of these books sound interesting:

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/66456/charles-s-maier/empire-without-end?page=show

Friday, October 22, 2010

The New Nationalism



Both Morris and Cooper attach much importance to the 1910 speech Roosevelt made on The New Nationalism while stumping for Republican candidates in Osawatomie, Kansas.  He had lifted the title from a book by Herbert Croly.  He would later combine this speech with other speeches in a book of his own.  But, this speech contained the germ of his idealistic vision of a more vigorous America.  Essentially, an America modeled upon himself.

What he wanted most was for Americans to rise above materialistic persuits and understand their unique role in shaping America's course.  He pushed for greater regulations of industry, but at the same time recognized the value of industry.  He wanted Americans to forgo their sense of isolationism and become more aware of America's growing dominance on the world's stage.  It was almost like he was conferring a sense of noblesse oblige on all Americans.

Cooper notes that the subsequent 1912 election, which pitted Roosevelt against Wilson, lifted American politics to a level not seen since 1800, where grand political philosophies were being hashed out on the stump by two of America's most dynamic speakers.  In many ways both Wilson and Roosevelt shared this sense of a "New Nationalism," but approached it from different angles.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cabinet Government in the United States



Cooper points to Wilson's early writings in his book The Warrior and the Priest, noting Cabinet Government as his first foray into political writing.  Wilson established himself as a "Federalist," believing in a strong central government, which would be the basis for his later text, Constitutional Government in the United States.  The interesting part is that he never attended a session of Congress in writing either of these books, preferring to maintain his intellectual distance.  Cooper said that both of these texts stand out in their study of government and went a long way toward establishing Wilson as a leading "political scientist."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Warrior and the Priest



As primer or possible alternative there is John Milton Cooper's much shorter The Warrior and the Priest.  This appears to be the full text.  Cooper compared and contrasted the approaches of  Roosevelt and Wilson, which he regarded as the forefathers of modern politics.  Not since Jefferson and Hamilton, he noted in his Preface, had there been such a vociferous debate over the direction of the country and the character of the nation.  Far from backing down, Wilson held his ground, as sure in his "rightness" as Roosevelt was in his.

The first part deals with their political paths, humorously entitled "The Dude and the Professor."  Cooper noted that Roosevelt consciously re-invented himself in personally heroic terms, while Wilson also overcame adversities but in a more quiet, unassuming way.  Apparently, Wilson suffered from dyslexia, which is why he was so late in enjoying books.  Whereas Roosevelt devoured books with the same gusto as he did his meals, Wilson preferred to savor his reading material, often reading the same books over again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Roosevelt in December?



Tentatively we have Colonel Roosevelt scheduled for December.  The book is due out November 23.  Would like to take a quick survey of those interested in Edmund Morris' final installment of his TR trilogy, or if there are other books persons would like to suggest.

Having just about finished an advance copy of the book, I can heartily recommend it, as Morris covers a lot of ground in the tumultuous last 10 years of Roosevelt's life (1909-1919) from his big game hunt in Africa, to the formation of the Progressive Party in 1912 to his Journey through the Brazilian Wilderness to his infamous battles with Wilson over American neutrality in WWI and the revolution taking place in Mexico.  Enough here to capture just about anyone's attention.  The book weighs in at a little under 600 pages.

But, this forum always remains open to suggestions, so please comment or post your opinions.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Awake, My Soul



Sacred Harp Singing is still alive and well with organizations like Fasola that rely on shape notes, which Wilentz mentioned in his book.  Shape notes arose in the early 19th century as a way of transcribing music so that it was simple to read and allowed congregations to more easily follow along.



Hymnals like The Sacred Harp (first published in 1844) became widespread throughout the South and other regions of the country as well, spreading standard hymns far and wide.  There is a documentary, Awake, My Soul, on Sacred Harp Singing.
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Here is a copy of an 1859 edition by Asa Hull, which uses standard musical notations.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The fab four of the folk revolution



Positively Fourth Street is an evocative account of four remarkable people at a remarkable point in postwar musical history, by a writer whose first book was the award-winning biography of Billy Strayhorn. Critical yet fair, it is a reminder that idols don't have feet of clay so much as of flesh. Joan and Bob and Richard and Mimi trod on one another's toes and occasionally landed a well-aimed kick. But when all is sung and done, separately and together, they made some wonderful music. -- Liz Thomson
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Sounds like another fascinating look into the early years of Dylan and co. with a focus on their interrelationships.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Through the Brazilian Wilderness



In two chapters Edmund Morris managed to size up the incredible Expedicao Scientifica Roosevelt- Rondon (some incredible footage in the site) better than Candice Millard did in a whole book.  For starters, Morris explained why the mission was initially so heavily laden with foods and supplies.  Roosevelt had never planned such a mission.  Instead,  Father Zahm had imagined a much less formidable collecting trip along the Orinoco providing more stuffed animals for the Smithsonian.  Roosevelt had been intent on bagging a jaguar, a dream since childhood.  But, the Brazilian government saw a golden opportunity in Roosevelt to advertise its interior lands to the highest bidder, by tempting him into an exploration mission with Colonel Rondon, mapping out a relatively unknown river.

Morris also describes how Rondon and his officers similarly had a large haul of tents and chairs and other paraphenilia which was even more weighty than all the tins of food, jars of spices, candies and other delicacies the Roosevelt team had brought along.  Eventually, they each agreed to lighten their respective loads, including shedding Father Zahm, who seemed more intent on saving souls along the uncharted river than in collecting specimens.

In the end Rondon and Roosevelt became great friends enduring an incredible journey of discovery that in many ways rivaled that of Lewis and Clark.  Fortunately, Roosevelt survived to finish his travelogue, as he was felled by a wound to the leg that became deeply infected.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues

 
It seems there is some connection between the John Birch Society and the Tea Party, as I see the JBS was pitching the Teabaggers' Ball back in February.  Seems that Dylan had the Birchers pretty well sized up,

Now we all agree with Hitler’s views
Although he killed six million Jews
It don’t matter too much that he was a Fascist
At least you can’t say he was a Communist!
That’s to say like if you got a cold you take a shot of malaria


As you can see Dylan reworked the lyrics a little.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blind Willie McTell


Blind Willie McTell has long been one of the most revered Bluesmen, and his Statesboro Blues is one of the classic standards.  Dylan opted for songs like Broke Down Engine Blues, which probably fit his mood at the time, eventually shaping a song around Blind Willie that has become a classic in itself, sung by many, including the surviving members of the Allman Brothers, who probably did the most to call attention to McTell with their unparalled version of Statesboro Blues.  Here is one of their recent versions of the song, performed live at the Beacon Theater in 2003.  The classic recording can be found on their quintessential album, At Filmore East (1971).  McTell is also featured in R. Crumb's Heroes of the Blues, which was originally conceived as a set of collectable cards.  Here is McTell singing Statesboro Blues.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Roosevelt's European Tour



I started reading an advance copy of Colonel Roosevelt and am enjoying Edmund Morris' descriptions of Roosevelt's time in Europe, where he was feted by virtually every head of state, including Kaiser Wilhelm, who invited him to see German maneuvers, which apparently left Roosevelt deeply troubled about the state of military affairs in Europe, as Germany was all too obviously the best organized force on the continent.  Seems the Kaiser wanted Roosevelt to take this impression home with him, especially after the run-ins they had over Venezuela while he was President. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Kunstler on Dylan



Here is a book review of Chronicles, Volume 1, which James Kunstler wrote.  You can pick up inexpensive copies at abebooks, if interested in reading Dylan in his own words.  In the later chapters, Wilentz pours over Chronicles in deciphering some of his songs.  It really was fascinating to learn Dylan had such a big range of literary interests, and a passion for the Civil War, that was infused into many of his songs.  Dylan was apparently an avid reader those early days in the Village, checking out numerous books at the New York Public Library as he searched for something deeper in his lyrics.

Happy Columbus Day!



Wishing everyone a happy Columbus Day Weekend!  Dates vary but October 12 is generally considered the day, although now it is set as the second Monday in October.  Can't resist sharing a clip from a great episode of The Sopranos on Columbus Day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Renaldo and Clara


I have to say this movie eluded me completely. Will have to track down a copy.

THERE'S an insolence about "Renaldo and Clara," the four-hour film written and directed by Bob Dylan and featuring members of his Rolling Thunder Revue, that is not easily ignored. Mr. Dylan, who has a way of insinuating that any viewer who doesn't grasp the full richness of his work must be intellectually deficient or guilty of some failure of nerve, has seen fit to produce a film that no one is likely to find altogether comprehensible. Yet for anyone even marginally interested in Mr. Dylan—and for anyone willing to accept the idea that his evasiveness, however exasperating, is a crucial aspect of his finest work — "Renaldo and Clara" holds the attention at least as effectively as it tries the patience.

From a 1978 review by Janet Maslin, NYTimes

Here's a clip of the oft-mentioned Tangled Up in Blue from the movie.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


The Cradle Will Rock  is mentioned in the opening chapter of  Bob Dylan in America.  In this chapter, Wilentz tries to capture the spirit of the Popular Front in America at the time, which many of the persons who were involved in the play were a part of, as noted in this book reference.  Marc Blitzstein originally conceived the play for the Federal Theater Project, but Hallie Flanagan pulled the plug when pressure mounted against the production.  Orson Welles and John Houseman stepped in with their own money and saved the play from obscurity.  In 1999, a movie was made that dramatized the events surrounding the play.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sounds of America


Howard Pollack wrote a comprehensive biography of Aaron Copland, which was published in 1999.  Here is a link to the text.  I've long been a great fan of Copland's music, but never read that much about him.  Interesting to find out he was so actively political in his time.  But, it seems that ultimately Copland was most concerned with capturing America's musical pulse,

Although he came to artistic maturity in Paris, studying with Nadia Boulanger and informing his music with a European-derived professionalism, and although he made it his business to keep up with the latest European trends, Copland infused his music with specific traits that we think of as inherently American: jazzy rhythms, bold melodies, folk tunes, widely spaced sonorities, bright colors, collage structures -- all evoking the bustle of the city and the lonely openness of the plains. As his Argentine friend and colleague Alberto Ginastera wrote: ''Copland has created American music in the same way Stravinsky did Russian music, or Falla Spanish, or Bartok Hungarian.'' 

 John Rockwell, NYTimes 1999

Friday, October 1, 2010

Dylan in America


Whoever it was in 1969 who named the very first Bob Dylan bootleg album “Great White Wonder” may have had a mischievous streak. There are any number of ways you can interpret the title — most boringly, the cover was blank, like the Beatles’ “White Album” — but I like to see a sly allusion to “Moby-Dick.” In the seven years since the release of his first commercial record, Dylan had become the white whale of 20th-century popular song, a wild, unconquerable and often baffling force of musical nature who drove fans and critics Ahab-mad in their efforts to spear him, lash him to the hull and render him merely comprehensible. --- Bruce Handy, NYTimes
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I figured we can start fresh with Bob Dylan.  Couldn't resist this photo of him striking a Woody Guthrie pose.  Looks like only yesterday.  Here is a link to the comments building up to this reading group.