Archive for November 6th, 2009

Top 173 Things in History: #168. Ben Franklin’s Alphabet Reform

N.B. This is the first History post that doesn’t rely extensively on Wikipedia. Instead, I’ve done my research for this in 1958’s first book of Daniel Boorstin’s scintillating trilogy The Americans, subtitled The Colonial Experience. The entire text can be found here.

We Americans have pretty much agreed that Benjamin Franklin was a fairly smart guy and probably the closest thing our country has to Leonardo da Vinci. He “discovered” electricity with a kite and all that, inventing the lightning rod and thereby saving dozens of houses from burning to the ground. He drew that “Join or Die” snake to help unite the colonies in the decades before the American Revolution. He came up with bifocals and streamlined the post office and gave some important speeches. In fact, Ben Franklin is so smart that we’ve more or less forgiven him for the positive/negative fiasco regarding electrical charge.

But, as smart as we think Ben Franklin was, it’s not even close to how smart Ben Franklin himself thought he was.

Ben Franklin thought he was so smart that he “conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.” From the eighth chapter of his nauseating autobiography:

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Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #47: 4th Time Around

“4th Time Around” is an easy song to forget about, coming towards the end of Side Three* of Blonde on Blonde, sandwiched between two more up-tempo, absurdist numbers, “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and “Obviously 5 Believers.” On an album as groundbreaking and epic as Blonde on Blonde, “4th Time Around” is something of a throwback: a breakup song set in simple waltz time.

*It’s a little odd that we still refer to “sides” of albums that originally came out on vinyl, even though hardly anyone still listens to it regularly in that format anymore.

This song is often compared to The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” with some going so far as to call it an “homage” or “parody” of John Lennon’s tune. Lennon himself even implied as much in interviews. Such comparisons are probably a stretch—I don’t think Dylan was ever concerned with responding to The Beatles the way The Beatles were concerned with responding to Dylan—but there are a lot of similarities in the songs: the waltz time, conversational lyrics, etc. For The Beatles, though, such a song was a notable step forward—for Dylan it was more of a return to form. Continue reading