In which I resist the temptation to pun off a Dylan song: the much-discussed radio show, now for free

September 20th, 2006 → 8:23 am @

(This info comes courtesy of the Very Short List, a soon-to-be-launched daily email update of “the best entertainment, media, and culture. … Each weekday, VSL subscribers get to read about a single recommended gem.” VSL hasn’t officially been launched yet — I’ll include info when it is — but the selections they’ve had so far in their testing phase has been great. Oh, also: it’s free.)

Since my post about Dylan’s “Theme Time Radio Hour” on XM satellite radio, I’ve gotten plenty of emails asking how people can hear said show without signing up for XM. Now there’s a way: AOL has started offering free streaming of Dylan’s show via AOL radio. You’ll need an AOL signon or an AIM screen name; if you don’t already have one, you can get one for free. The show airs Wednesday mornings at 10 am and noon, Fridays at 6 pm, and Sundays at 8 am and 8 pm. To find it, go to the XM menu on the AOL radio page and click on “Deep Tracks” at any of the appointed times; the show will start streaming automatically.

Post Categories: Bob Dylan

Don’t tell me nothing about nothing

September 14th, 2006 → 7:56 am @

For two or three years now, I’ve found myself using the verb “freckled” to descibe a series of marks on someone’s body, or a landscape, or a building; just this week, I described a woman’s body as being “freckled with cigarette burns.” I had no recollection of where or why I first started using this construction…at least until this week, when I happened to be reading through “Jimmy’s World,” Janet Cooke’s made-up story about an eight-year-old heroin addict that won a Pulitzer in 1980. Cooke, a writer possessed of an occasional flair for imagery even if she was a bit deficient in the honesty department, used this exact construction to describe Jimmy’s arms as being “freckled” with track marks. I must have picked this up three years ago, when I was writing about Jayson Blair and other journalistic scandals.

My nod of the cap was accidental; many others are intentional. You could fill a library with the books that are run through with homages to Moby Dick. You practically need a reference book to appreciate fully “Ulysses” or Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” and that would have a whole section on the ways in which Pynchon specifically alluded to Joyce. Jonathan Coe’s “The Winshaw Legacy, or, What a Carve Up” draws explicitly from the 1962 movie of the same name, and the text of his book contains numerous in-jokes that 99% of readers will never get: sentences, phrases, descriptions drawn from other sources. (Coe has a term for this; unfortunately, my copy of “Winshaw” was borrowed and had not yet been returned; that’s why I hate lending out books.)

In today’s Times, Motoko Rich has an article on the front page of the Arts section titled, “Who’s This Guy Dylan Borrowing From Henry Timrod?” Dylan is, of course, Bob; Timrod is a 19th century Civil War poet. The nut graf: “It seems that many of the lyrics on that album [Dylan’s just-released “Modern Times”]…bear some strong echoes to the poems of Timrod.” To wit, Dylan’s “When the Deal Goes Down”: “More frailer than the flowers / These precious hours.” Nimrod’s “Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night”: “A round of precious hours / Oh! here, where in the summer noon I based / And strove, with logic frailer than the flowers.” There are a handful of other examples as well — in “Spirit On the Water” and “Workingman’s Blues” — but even in their totality, they don’t account for many of the lyrics on the album. (Rich doesn’t acknowledge the allusion to the Grateful Dead, a band with which Dylan toured, in the song’s title. “Deal,” in fact, has a line — “Don’t you let that deal go down” — that seems to be an allusion to the old folk song of the same name. I certainly wouldn’t put it past Dylan to refer to a song that referred to a song in order to comment ever-so-obliquely on a past brouhaha. But more about that in the next graf.)

This isn’t the first time fans have found striking similarities between Mr. Dylan’s lyrics and the words of other writers. (Oops: that’s actually Rich’s line.) Three years ago, the Wall Street Journal published a scolding article comparing passages from Dylan’s “Love and Theft” to Japanese writer Junichi Saga’s gangster novel, “Confessions of a Yakuza.” The “Yakusa” story became a mini-contretemps, with more than a few headline writers borrowing from Dylan’s oevre for inspiration (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “Well There Ain’t No Use to Sit and Wonder Why”).

There’s a small chance, at least in the Timrod case, that Timrod’s phrase simply lodged in Dylan’s mind, something that’s happened to both my mother and me. (My mom once realized a line from one of her poems came from a short story she’d read nearly twenty years earlier.) It’s more likely that Dylan was purposefully nodding to Timrod, a sly tip of the cap that only the select few — 19th century Civil War buffs and poetry junkies — would even have a chance of picking up on in. (The letters for “Nimrod” are contained within “Modern Times,” which, coincidentally, is the title of a Charlie Chaplin classic. From the Civil War poet to an ironic artist’s statement on modernization to perhaps the most important folk artist of the 20th century…) Rich, to her and the Times‘s credit, doesn’t overplay her story (although the article does bring up the talentless plagiarizer Kaavya Viswanathan); let’s hope the rest of the media world follows suit.

Post Categories: Bob Dylan & New York Times & Plagiarism

“Take me out to the ballgame” warbled like you’ve never heard it warbled before

August 31st, 2006 → 12:06 pm @

Bob Dylan’s been doing a show on XM satellite radio for the last while. I already have Sirius and have been wary of paying for another satellite service, even if it featured an hour of one of the primary poets and chroniclers of our time. (That hour, I feared, could be made up of incoherent rambling. I’ve seen more than a dozen Dylan concerts over the last 16 years. Some have been transcendent. And some have been inscrutible. Inscrutible can be interesting, but not $12.95 a month interesting.)

Yesterday I bought Dylan’s new album, Modern Times, and the Virgin megastore threw in a CD of Dylan’s braodcast on baseball (which is already in the Hall of Fame). It’s insane. Truly unbelievable. I’ll likely listen to it all the way through four or five times today alone. Dylan starts out with an a-cappela version of “Take Me Out…” and it’s crystal clear and predictably sui generis. Then he tosses off transitions like “Stepping up to the batter’s box first” (to introduce The Skeletons herky-jerky version of said same song) and “Abbott and Costello said a lot of ballplayers have funny names” in between classic radio calls (including Ted Williams’ home run in his final at bat) and a wonderfully eclectic mix of songs.

Some of the best bits are where Dylan quotes lyrics of some of the songs he’s played interspersed with his own quips. To wit:

* After Chance Halladay’s “Home Run”: “He’s gonna knock the cover right off the ball…that was Chance Halladay stepping up to the plate, hitting a grand slam, sweeping you off your feet, scoring a home run with you, and with me too. Home run, on Theme Time Radio Hour.”

* Before Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Baseball Canto”: “He was a brave man, and a brave poet, ‘watching baseball, sitting in the sun, eating popcorn, reading Ezra Pound and wishing that Juan Marichal would hit a hole right through the Anglo-Saxon tradiiton in the first canto and demonish the barbarian invaders.’ Well…why don’t i let Larry say the rest of it.”

* After Sister Wynona Carr’s “The Ball Game”: Sister Wynona Carr talking about life being a ballgame, where everyday life is a ballgame and everybody can play, ‘Life is a ballgame and everyone can play: Jesus is at the home plate and at the first base is Temptation, second base is Sin and at third is Tribulation. King Solomon is the umpire, Satan’s doing all he can to psych you out and Daniel’s up at bat, Satan pitches a fastball and Job hits a home run,’ you’ve got to just swing at the ball, give it your all, Moses is on the sidelines, he’s waiting to be called…Sister Wynona Carr, ‘The Ball Game.'”

* In the middle of Sonny Rollins’s “Newk’s Fadeaway,” Dylan cuts in right before a Rollins solo and says, “Let’s go.”

* And finally, Dylan actually answers email: “Let’s enter our email basket and hope they don’t throw us a curve.” A woman writes in from Las Vegas saying her boyfriend complains that when she listens to games on the radio at night he can’t sleep. Dylan answers: “Well Jamie, you should do what I used to do. When I was supposed to be asleep, I’d take the beside radio and slip it under my pillow, press your ear close to the pillow, which is what you’re supposed to do with pillows anyway, listen to the second game of the doubleheader without bothering anyone else in the house. Millions upon millons used to do the same thing back when radio was king, and I hope you still do that with Theme Time Radio Hour, your private radio pal.”


I don’t know if your local Virgin Megastore still has these promos in stock, but you should sprint out there and check.

(Modern Times is pretty great too.)

(I think I knew this, but this week’s Louis Menand New Yorker article on a new book of published Dylan interviews reminded me that in one 14-month period in ’65 and ’66, Dylan released Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. During those same 14 months, the Beatles released Help, Rubber Soul, and Revolver. As Menand says, “It was a good time to be alive.” True; that’s also a good way to make mortal accomplishments feel pretty insignificant.)

Post Categories: Baseball & Bob Dylan

Don’t ask me nothin’ ’bout nothin’ — I just might tell you the truth

July 4th, 2006 → 1:29 pm @

In the year and a half since Jose Canseco published Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, Madonna’s former paramour has served as a punching bag for those within baseball’s protective fraternity. During last March’s Congressional hearings, Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire refused to be sworn in en masse because they didn’t want to be pictured with the greased-up, perma-tanned slugger. McGwire referred to Canseco as a “convicted criminal who would do or say anything to solve [his] own personal problems.” Schilling warned of “glorifying the so-called author” or “indirectly assisting him to sell more books.”

Canseco—who, at age 42, is attempting a comeback with the San Diego Surf Dogs (the same team for which the 47-year old Rickey Henderson put up a .456 OBP last year)—is back in the news, and it’s not because of his three strikeouts in his Surf Dogs debut last night. Before yesterday’s game, he had this to say: “They’re mafia, point blank, they’re mafia. I don’t think Major League Baseball is enthused about finding out the truth. There needs to be a major cleanup in Major League Baseball. I think they are treading on very thin ice, and [commissioner] Bud Selig has to be very careful what he’s doing because his job is on the line.” Has the new testing program solved the sports steroid problem? “The policy sounds great, but that’s not the problem,” Canseco said. “There are major problems not with the policies but the individuals who are instituting this policy. For example, and this is theoretical, if Roger Clemens gets tested and he gets tested positive and it comes back, what do these individuals do with this policy? I think it’s going to depend on a case-to-case, player-to-player basis.”

Canseco’s comments were treated with what must be by now a familiar brand of condescending disregard. At first, a baseball spokesman wouldn’t even deign to address Canseco’s allegations: “We wouldn’t comment on anything he said.” Later, an MLB official amended this statement, telling the Associated Press, “His allegations are complete nonsense.”

Of course they are. Just like his allegation that Rafael Palmeiro was a steroid user was complete nonsense. Canseco, after all, is the guy who embarrassed himself on national TV, the boob with the awful track record when it comes to telling the truth. Just look at the testimony!

Jose Canseco: “MLB did nothing to take it out of the sport. Baseball owners and the players union … turned a blind eye to the clear evidence of steroid use in baseball.”

ESPN The Magazine Special Report on Steroids, November 2005: “Who knew? We all knew: the trainers who looked the other way as they were treating a whole new class of injuries; the players who saw teammates inject themselves but kept the clubhouse code of silence; the journalists who ‘buried the lead’ and told jokes among themselves about the newly muscled; the GMs who wittingly acquired players on steroids; and, yes, owners and players, who openly applauded the home run boom and moved at glacial speed to address the problem that fueled the explosion.”

Mark McGwire: “I’m not going to go into the past or talk about my past. I’m here to make a positive influence on this.”

“My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family and myself.”

“I will use whatever influence and popularity that I have to discourage young athletes from taking any drug that is not recommended by a doctor. What I will not do, however, is participate in naming names and implicating my friends and teammates.”

McGwire, described at the hearings by the Washington Post as a “shrunken, lonely, evasive figure,” has not, to date, been involved in public efforts to discourage young athletes from taking performance enhancing drugs.

Sammy Sosa: “Everything I have heard about steroids and human growth hormones is that they are very bad for you, even lethal. I would never put anything dangerous like that in my body. Nor would I encourage other people to use illegal performance-enhancing drugs.”

Sosa averaged 48 home runs a year in the five years preceding MLB’s new testing program. Last year, he hit 14. He is no longer on a major league roster.

Rafael Palmeiro: “I have never used steroids. Period. I do not know how to say it any more clearly than that.”

“I am against the use of steroids. I don’t think athletes should use steroids and I don’t
think our kids should use them.”

“To the degree an individual player can be helpful, perhaps as an advocate to young people about the dangers of steroids, I hope you will call on us. I, for one, am ready to heed that call.”

Palmeiro was suspended last August after testing positive for steroids. He is no longer on a major league roster.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig: “Major League Baseball has always recognized the influence that our stars can have on the youth of America. As such, we are concerned that recent revelations and allegations of steroid use have sent a terrible message to young people.”

“Baseball’s policy on performance enhancing substances is as good as any in professional sports.”

In February 2005, after reports that Jason Giambi had told the BALCO grand jury that he knowingly used steroids, Giambi apologized in a much-ridiculed press conference. In October, MLB awarded Giambi its Comeback Player of the Year Award. (The award is sponsored by Viagra, for which Palmeiro formerly served as a spokesman.)

Baseball’s drug policy is so porous magazine articles give maps on how to beat it. Testing administered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the organization responsible for testing U.S. Olympic athletes, is far more stringent than the testing done by Major League Baseball.

What’s that old Sun Ra saying? Ah, yes: “A prophet is not without honor except among his own people.” (Fine, fine: Jesus came up with it first. But could Jesis have pulled this off?)

Post Categories: Baseball & Bob Dylan & Bud Selig & Jason Giambi & Jose Canseco & Rafael Palmeiro & Steroids & Sun Ra

Howell Raines: There’s a wicked wind still blowing…

June 11th, 2006 → 9:41 pm @

“I’m a political reporter,” Howell Raines writes in his new memoir, The One That Got Away. “I can read an audience.” Only half of this is true: Raines was a political reporter, and, at times, a very good one. But in the final years of his career, he showed he was horrible at reading an audience. In the days after September 11, Raines, who’d been the executive editor of The New York Times for less than a week when the Twin Towers collapsed, took pride in the fact that his staff, as he once pungently put it, had been “rode hard and put up wet.” After hundreds of Times journalists performed truly heroic feats of journalism, Raines took all the credit for himself. And when Jayson Blair was outed as a plagiarist and fabricator, Raines misinterpreted anger directed at him as the griping of a complacent newsroom.

This passage in The One That Got Away is of particular interest to me because it’s where he takes a swipe at my own reporting and reputation. Referring to what he calls “a Bermuda triangle of angry druggies,” Raines writes, “[T]he guy hammering me in Newsweek had been treated for heroin addiction. … I had passed on a chance to hire this guy earlier in his career because I believed he was too easily spun by his sources. If I had known about the heroin, I might have hired him, too.”

This sentence is a beautiful example of Raines’s M.O.: start with some basic facts and twist them in a way that’s both inaccurate and demeaning. It was an approach executed with aplomb in Raines’s semi-hysterical settling of scores in his Atlantic Monthly article of May 2004, when he started with some undeniable premises—that the Times‘s cultural coverage needed to be updated, for instance—before misstating facts in order to create a new reality in which Raines’s predecessor at the paper had led a lazy and incompetent staff and he had been the savior cast off by bitter ingrates.

In the section I quoted above, Raines refers to me dismissively as a junkie, implies that my critical coverage of him had stemmed from the fact that he hadn’t hired me, writes that he would have hired me out of pity had he only known about my past, and disparages my reporting. I was, at one point, a heroin addict; that’s no secret. And I had sent in some clips to the Times in the fall of 2001, after and Brill’s Content shut down. But if Raines had ever even seen those clips, he would have known about my personal story: I included an essay I’d written about my treatment and recovery because, as I said in my cover letter, I wanted to give prospective employers “the broadest sense of my abilities” and not have them caught off guard. In fact, Raines had not “passed on a chance” to hire me; as I later confirmed, my clips—which I sent to Adam Moss, then the editor of the Times‘s Sunday magazine, Dave Smith, then the Times‘s media editor, and Trip Gabriel, the editor of the Times‘s Style section, had never made their way up the ladder. (Neither Raines nor anyone else at the Times contacted me at the time about a possible job.) And to the extent that I had a reputation in 2001, it was for being hard on my sources, something Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker discovered when, in my final story for Brill’s, I wrote how Whitaker had bungled (and possibly prevaricated about) the handling of a story detailing Bob Kerrey’s role in a massacre of Vietnamese civilians. Whitaker, to his credit, hired me soon after. What is undeniably true is that I had hammered Raines both before and after I sent clips in to the Times—for the very things that would lead to his downfall. I’d written critically about Raines since before he had taken over the paper, when, as the media reporter for Inside, I had written about the anxiety in the newsroom related to his appointment. After Inside closed, I reported on Raines’s roiling of the Times‘s national staff for New York. Then there was my coverage of Raines in Newsweek and in my book, Hard News.

By the end of his career as a journalist, Raines had come under fire in many quarters for letting his personal agendas get in the way of the real story. Three years after he was fired for this and for his mishandling of the best newsroom in the country, it’s clear not much has changed.

Post Categories: Bob Dylan & Hard News & Howell Raines & New York Times & Oblique Refrences to Killed Newsweek Headlines & Street Legal Lyrics