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The Answer, My Friend

Much ado about Bob Dylan -- and don't forget the Grateful Dead. Plus: Democrats in deep denial. Ben Stein's heirloom. Plus more.

12.12.04

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BLOWIN' WIND
Re: William Tucker's Unlike a Rolling Stone:

William Tucker's theory linking praise of Bob Dylan's work with the elite's love of radical politics is completely mistaken. Dylan fans run the political gamut. I am a conservative and a huge Dylan fan. My colleague, Marc H. Ellis, is considerably to my left, and a Dylan fan as well. Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family is a Dylan fan, but so was Allen Ginsberg, the bohemian gay poet who would not be caught dead in Colorado Springs.

"Like a Rolling Stone" is the greatest rock song of all time because it is lyrically powerful, musically intoxicating, and pure rock and roll. The fact that it never rose above #2 on the charts has no bearing on the song's quality or greatness. I'm sure that Britney Spears has had more #1 songs than the Rolling Stones, but I don't think that proves that Spears is better. After all, National Review Online receives more hits than spectator.org, but I don't think Tucker would say that that proves that NRO is superior. (For that matter, more people read Paul Krugman than William Tucker, but I would argue that Tucker is better than Krugman.)
-- Francis J. Beckwith
Associate Professor of Church-State Studies
Baylor University

I was sitting in the office when this list came out, idling, waiting for a bit of work, and so had time to glance over this list. Mostly, it sucks. Of course, like navels, everyone has an opinion. Mine? The best rock song EVER is "Rock and Roll" by Led Zep. Best album? "Sticky Fingers" by the Rolling Stones. (I still have the album with the zipper in working order!) But of course, I haven't listened to anything new in 20 years.
-- Janis Johnson
Independence, Missouri

Mr. Tucker's article on Dylan is thoughtful, articulate and unfortunately stuck within the narrow perspective of its subject like a tire stuck in mud.

Face it people, in popular culture the density (intellectual) of the music must match the density (illiteracy) of the audience. As such rock 'n roll should carry a government warning that states "Contains Only 13% Music".

In Clint Eastwood's movie "Bird" there is a scene where Charley Parker slowly walks down the aisle of a theater where his former tenor sax player is jukin' and jivin' playin a rock 'n roll blues to a screaming crowd. This very sad moment signifies the handoff of the baton of popular music from jazz to rock.

The average jazz musician's jock strap couldn't be carried by the average rock musician. Rock is about sociology, the glorification of the cult of teenage youth. Music's got nothin' to do with it.
-- Darrell Judd

William Tucker's article on Bob Dylan is way off the mark... kind of like music today.

First off, what is the need to politicize this? Rolling Stone came out with a "best of" rock list, relax. Second, Mr. Tucker's summary of Bob Dylan is much like a song from today's current bands -- WEAK.

For one thing, Bob Dylan has influenced every single worthwhile musician today, namely: Springsteen, The Beatles, U-2, Johnny Cash, Mike Ness and The Clash. Tucker's comment that Dylan's music prevents the listener from "dancing to the beat" and employs an "insulting voice" is laughable to say the least. His music isn't supposed to be danced to and some of the all-time greats had less than stellar voices: Springsteen, Johnny Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer.

As far as his albums not selling, that indicates that commercial success is all that counts. Therefore, I guess Britney Spears and Eminem would rank ahead of Bob Dylan? I wonder if those two clowns are talented enough to play folk, rock, country and the blues?

The greatness of Dylan is that his lyrics are not obvious, unlike your standard top twenty fare. His voice isn't pretty, but it is gritty. As far as not being able to "tune Elvis' guitar", Mr. Tucker is right. Elvis couldn't play one.
-- Pete Beston
New York, New York

I'm well aware that the wordsmiths at Rolling Stone are a far more intelligent species than we consumers of their works. Hence, they can choose any damn song they please for No. 1 of the top 500. Of course, we consumers speak with our wallets. As a consumer of music for the past 45 years, I can honestly say I have purchased music written by Bob Dylan but never anything sung by him. "Like a Rolling Stone?" Come on, "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" reflects a greater social cross-section of our country. Some of us who actually lived the '60s went forth and prospered. Others did a Peter Pan and went to work in the media.
-- Earl Wright
Clovis, California

And picking "Imagine," by John Lennon, as the No. 3 rock 'n roll song of all time, isn't a political statement, too? A preposterous choice, in more ways than I have the time to get into. Tucker's comments are exactly on the mark.
-- Jack A.
Olympia, Washington

Great article, but then you veered over a cliff at the end.

Why bring Carole King into it? Tapestry was, I think the best selling album of all time until the mid-1970's when it was pushed out of that position by, of all people, Peter Frampton.

And, let's face it, if you write "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" you don't need to do anything else in your career -- in your life! And what is wrong with writing it for the Shirelles?

"Some Kind of Wonderful." "Up on the Roof." "It's Too Late." "You've Got a Friend." And I am only getting staaated!!!

And I think you are a little hard on Dylan. I never could figure out what Desolation Row was about but once you hear it, you can't get it out of your mind:

"They're making(?) postcards of the hanging / They're painting the passports brown / The beauty parlor's filled with sailors / The circus is in town / Here comes the blind commissioner / They've got him in a trance / One hand's tied to the tightrope walker / The other is in his pants.

And that's from memory! As I say, I had no idea what it meant in 1967 and I have no idea now!! But it sounds great.

And Carole King!! If you stacked up all her gold records you could start your own country.
-- Greg Richards

I have never seen a list of "all-time greatest recordings" that was remotely valuable. The only purpose of such lists is to fill space in music magazines that are desperate for music worth writing about. Everyone has favorites, and many of mine didn't make the list. I'm not too upset about it. I doubt anyone has written a better song than Tonio K's "You Will Go Free," but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for it to appear on anyone's list of favorites.

In the process of taking exception to the collective judgment of a diverse group of critics, William Tucker makes the stunning assertion that Bob Dylan's music is "rather ordinary." Tucker should have kept his focus on the music critics' political agenda rather than launching into a silly dismissal of Dylan's contribution to popular music. With his portrayal of Dylan as little more than just another folk singer, Tucker loses all credibility. I found his remarks more annoying than the Rolling Stone list. In one breath he questions Dylan's significance on the basis of poor record sales, then he mocks the sales success of lesser artists. In another astonishing opinion that Dylan's subject matter is limited, Tucker betrays his lack of exposure to Dylan's complete body of work. I suppose this explains his inability to appreciate Dylan's genius.
-- Michael Matuszak, cultist

In what way, exactly, is "Like a Rolling Stone" a protest song? What is being protested?

Dylan's earlier stuff, which Tucker praises, was much more in the vein of protest singing (e.g., "Times They Are A-Changing" and "Blowing in the Wind"), and much less sophisticated and interesting than what came later. The plugging-in of the amps was only symbolic of Dylan's move away from the earnest sermonizing of his folky material. Tucker does note that Dylan's lyrics became "convoluted;" i.e., he moved into the realm of an artist, instead of just the message-bearer that Tucker then labels him, calling "Like a Rolling Stone" "that joyous 1965 uniting of protest songs and electric guitars."

The song is not about protest, but about someone who has left the conventional ways of society only to find that they are now at a loss. This actually exhibits a conservative outlook, which runs throughout most of Dylan's albums. For the record, I was not alive in the 1960s; "Like a Rolling Stone" is the earliest song I recall knowing, recognizing, and liking a lot on the radio (without even knowing who the singer was). I refuse to surrender Mr. Dylan to the 1960s generation; he has always had his toe stuck in a stream that goes further back and further beyond that era.

Tucker also is misinformed in claiming that Dylan's was a purely folk-background, not rooted in gospel and the blues like Elvis Presley. Dylan obviously listened to Elvis and the like growing up in high school, and his music has often exhibited that (note the rock-a-billy sound of 1961's "Mixed Up Confusion," the funky soul of his underrated 1979 "Slow Train Coming" album, or the gospel on his 1980 "Saved" album). His high school yearbook photo (in the Biograph album liner notes) shows him sporting an Elvis-like pompadour. I believe his yearbook quote was something about how he was off to join Little Richard.
-- Rich Hunter

I didn't realize that anyone still cared what Rolling Stone thought about anything. It used to be an OK read 30 years ago, but now it's just another oversized issue of Maxim without the ab crunches. The lists they generate might as well be the Tulsa phone book with the controversial idea of putting the J's ahead of the H's. Wooo.

A great songwriter I know once told me that for a song to be a hit, it has to achieve one of four goals. It has to make you laugh, cry, think, or get up and dance. With all due respect to Mr. Dylan, rock music was born of the beat. The '50s and '60s kids on "American Bandstand" preferred the songs that had "a good beat and you could dance to it." The editors of Rolling Stone should be reminded that the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards nailed it when he said "Rock'n'Roll is from the waist down -- not the neck up."
-- Crampton Helms
Tennessee

Dylan had at least one #1 album. In the mid-'70s he briefly left CBS for Geffen's label and his first release went #1, but soon fell. It's rare for a critic to site sales figures to downsize Dylan's importance, but conflating Dylan's artistic importance is directly tied to the critic profession's own sense of self-importance. How can popular appeal be a barometer of quality if the self-appointed experts with self-invented expertise exercising self announced authority insist that their opinion is the one true barometer?
-- Richard Henderson

When the statue is finished the sculptor stops. it seems very difficult, for poems, songs and even novels to end well. Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist for the finest band in the land, the Grateful Dead, said of Dylan that he didn't know how to end a song! Mr. Tucker notes several Dylan tunes that don't end well. Speaking of practically perfect songs, the thought police at Rolling Stone completely skipped over the body of work that was the Grateful Dead. Off the top of my head I can think of four Dead tunes that end perfectly, to wit: "St. Stephen," "Scarlet Begonias," "Terrapin Station," and "Jack Straw." Returning back to the 500 list the most pretentious item was "Imagine" by Lennon, who was so much better when he waxed melancholy and pessimistic! What a practically perfect song has is bud, blossom and fruit. I agree with Mr. Tucker that Elvis was the king of rock 'n' roll, but he was not a first-class musician at any level, and many of the songs the magazine chose by Elvis were written by a true master, Roy Orbison. And, "in the end there's still that song, comes crying like the wind, down every lonely street that's ever been..." "Stella Blue" words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia!
-- Edward Del Colle

You are simply wrong on that piece about Dylan. You are not even close to understanding the time and what he did, and I am a conservative.

Thank you,
-- Ken Abrames

A DEEPER SHADE OF BLUE
Re: George Neumayr's The Democrats' Declaration of Independence:

I think it's more appropriate to say Democrats and liberals declared war on America and her foundation, traditions, institutions, culture and people a long time ago.

That John Kerry and Howard Dean refuse to go away, that the Democrats have racially slandered Condoleezza Rice while liberals remained silent and that Senate Democrat Minority Leader Harry Reid made racially motivated and derisive statements about Justice Clarence Thomas, also while liberals remained silent, signals the Democrats' intention for hostilities to be continuous and particularly offensive.

But given that Hillary R. Clinton -- an opportunistic contemptible socialist, or worse, who loathes Americans and hates America -- appears to be their current presumptive presidential darling for 2008, it seems Democrats, aided fully by their mainstream-media allies, simply have no intention of ceasing warfare against America any time in the foreseeable future.

So be it. They only strengthen us, their opponents, and our resolve by their words and actions. They can remain adversaries for as long as they like in a conflict they will continue to lose.
-- C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

Regarding Neumayr's article: I told a liberal friend (in 2002) that I thought the current Democrat Party was itself unconstitutional. My point was that the Constitution did not support any party which worked to subvert the Constitution. I did not say anti-Constitution -- everyone knows that -- but unconstitutional. He went apoplectic. He thought I was totally wrong. Well, events continue to show me correct and your article is darned close to what I was thinking. The party is in my opinion treasonous relative to the ideals in the Founding Documents.
-- Scott Perkins
Jackson, Ohio

George Neumayr's article dovetails perfectly with a November 28 article written by Robyn Blumner of the St. Petersburg Times entitled "A better way for Democrats," in which she makes the following statement:

"The better educated of the electorate already trends Democratic, the trick is to capture the imagination of those Americans with a more casual attachment to complex public policy."

It's interesting that she used the word "trick," because that is exactly what the Democrats are planning to do.

The Democrats have no intention of "understanding" us Red-State-Trash, because we are, as they see us, stupid, beneath them, and not worth their understanding.

Their strategy, as she spells out is to "properly frame the debate," which means -- to make us believe they are now one of us.

Because the Democrats staunchly adhere to two basic tenets: 1) The end justifies the means, and 2) How can we fool them today?, it belies any notion of any understanding on their part, and they will do whatever it takes to get their power back, even to the point of trying to look and sound like us.

In the coming months, it will be the Democrats "winning strategy" to become Blue State Democrats in Red State Clothing. In reality, though, they will be as transparent as the Emperor with no clothes.
-- Richard F. Miles
McKinney, Texas

Sometimes I feel the fool after reading one of Mr. Neumayr's columns. I mean, how often can I say "yea" to what he writes? His analysis of the anti-Americanism of the far-left liberal Democrats is brilliant. Along with his assessment of their anti-Americanism we must add their selective myopia. Nancy Pelosi, who has voted and campaigned against the military for her entire political career, now indicts Donald Rumsfeld for unleashing a less than adequate military on Iraq. Only in America could a political party which has steadfastly campaigned against military preparedness for at least four decades, spent its political capital in congress working against funding the military, and mightily attempted to subordinate its national defense to the will of the U.N. howl in complaint when it appears that our troops in the field may not be getting the armored support that they need. Even more frightening than this obvious disconnect between reality and fantasy is the fact that there are millions out there who actually think that the fault lies with the Republican administration that is now at the helm. If there were an award for being able to ignore the 400 pound gorilla in the corner, it would have to go to the Democratic Party, but certainly the major media would be in the running for it.
-- Joseph Baum
Newton Falls, Ohio

I wonder how you got that 1966 date so right? When I went to college that year, I talked to my dad about a required Freshman history class that taught that WWII was caused by "Nationalism." My dad, who served on a destroyer escort in the Pacific, would say that WWII was caused by Tojo and Hitler One person's nationalism can be another person's patriotism so I always liked my father's world view on this matter even if it did clash with the intelligentsia at the college.
-- Danny L. Newton
Cookeville, Tennessee

George Neumayr writes: "Principal Patricia Vidmar at Stevens Creek School in Cupertino, California, has told a fifth-grade teacher to stop exposing his students to the Declaration of Independence."

On Fox News' "Hannity and Colmes" airing on 12/8/04, the teacher in question was interviewed about this topic, and he maintained the charge (about the Declaration of Independence) was basically "over-blown" by the media. I took this to mean that it isn't true.

As a conservative, I believe we should strive to report and opine on the news more accurately then the others to our left. If not, we too, will be marginalized.

Btw, love the magazine!
-- D. Knapp

George Neumayr's piece on 10 Dec. was quite spooky, in that I'd just finished reading a series of websites that led me to the same conclusions as he. PEST is no longer about maladjusted voter adults who can't accept life when it doesn't go their way. How many Bush-haters would actually profess admiration for any of the men who fought our revolution, formed our government, fought again to bring it back together, and so on?

If in the eyes of the modern American leftist our nation's history is forever tainted because of our past mistakes, then why the hell would they want to live here? No matter how many liberal judges sit on our nation's benches, it would take a physical civil war to reshape our country to the liking of the modern leftist. That certainly could happen someday, considering the amount of froth-mouthed hectoring that losers like Al Gore and Howard Dean are capable of. I don't know what country they're trying to "take back", since we've never resembled any part of their ideal leftist utopia they keep "yee-arrring" about.

Naturally, my money would be on the red states winning out in the end.

For the record, I'm not an evangelical Christian, rich or any of the other terrible things we Republicans are supposed to be. Just a guy who's as thankful as Ben Stein for being a free American, and thankful to all those who keep me and mine that way. As for Mr. Neumayr, please, please keep up the great work.
-- Jeff Kocur
Milford, Delaware

Modern Democrats also refuse to accept evolving theories of macro and global economics because to do so would take away their ability to redistribute wealth and earnings.
-- Howard Lohmuller
Seabrook, Texas

Bravo to Mr. Neumayr on the "Democrats Declaration …" If you get to San Jose, I'll buy you a great steak dinner!
-- Tom Dougherty
Sunnyvale California

PRICELESS
Re: Ben Stein's Col. Denman's Luger:

Congratulations on inheriting that relic of WWII (and possibly WWI!).

Free advice: Never store steel in leather. The acidic tanning process used in the curing of the leather will slowly turn that steel to iron oxide. Moisture in the air, condensation, absorbent leather, and your relic slowly degrades into the natural elements of the earth from which it came.
-- Lamar Johnson
Beaverton, Oregon

Ben Stein is a good guy with his heart in the right place. I enjoyed the article about Colonel Denman's Luger. What a priceless inheritance.
-- James Tooley

I am a veteran of Vietnam, and Ben Stein's article reminded me that it was almost impossible to bring home such a war souvenir from southeast Asia. I'm not sure why. I suspect it had something to do with worries by liberals that there were already too many guns around. I imagine the same sort of policies are in place today in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, my son and son-in-law will not be receiving such a memento from me upon my death. It's a shame.

The article itself is a wonderful reflection on the price of freedom and the debt we all owe to those who place themselves on the front line to protect and expand it. God bless Ben and his wife for sending them Christmas/Thank You gifts. We should all emulate them.
-- Patrick R. Glass
LTC, USA (Retired)

As always, right on point. Thank you, Mr. Stein.
-- Charlotte E. Hemker-Smith
Sacramento, California

I had one like that and gave it away recently to a young friend. Your article makes me think that I hope my young friend realizes what it cost me to get that gun -- I killed a human being, I never thought of it that way -- thanks, reminding me to ask for forgiveness.
-- Ed Phillips
Maine

Ben Stein has a wonderful keepsake, as long as the Union of Soviet Socialist California doesn't come kicking his door in for having it.

There is a little quirk, though. The P08 Luger was a pre-WWI design. It was issued to officers and artillery troops in WWI. During WWII officers carried either a Walther P38 (which was the first true double-action auto) or a Walther PP or PPK for dress general officers needing a more compact sidearm. The Walther P38 was chambered for the same 9mm Luger (Parabellum) round developed for the WWI Luger. The PP used a smaller round.

During WWII the Luger was demoted, so to speak. It was issued to NCOs and other enlisted soldiers who had need of a side arm. Some officers were issued Lugers, but the P38 was more reliable, and more desirable for most. The Luger, to this day, has the reputation of being rather finicky about its ammunition.

Ben should do himself a favor and have the gun and paperwork appraised, at least for insurance purposes. Lugers are very collectible, and those with a war history have even more value.
-- John W. Schneider, III
Bristow, Virginia

Beginning the day giving thanks for our blessings is probably a big part of why so many of us see Ben Stein as we do. Giving thanks at the end of our day is no less important, but to rise, and be grateful for what is about to come our way seems to somehow be a larger reflection of faith.
-- Roger Ross

The comments about the heirloom Luger are an interesting start to what promises to be an insightful series about the Second Amendment, state firearms laws, and the legal system. By now the Luger has probably been confiscated as part of the investigation into illegal interstate arms trafficking. There are probably some charges applicable to sending firearms "in the mail" as well. I don't know what California laws apply to owning a Luger or keeping it in the night stand, but I hope Mr. Stein gets it back eventually. Imagine someone actually naively believing that the freedoms the Luger's second owner fought for would include an individual's right to keep arms! Keep up the satire.
-- Mike Konczal

I greatly enjoyed the Special Report "Col. Denman's Luger" from December 10, 2004. It is a poignant reminder that we're quickly losing members of the WWII generation, and no one can take their places.
-- Melinda Meador
Sterling, Virginia

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