Archive for November 9th, 2009

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #84: Spanish Harlem Incident

In John Hinchey’s 2002 book, Like a Complete Unknown: The poetry of Bob Dylan’s songs, he makes the argument that Dylan’s songwriting can in some ways be divided into a “mother” phase and a “lover” phase. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” for example, was “the first in a series of progressively demoralized apocalyptic prophecies Dylan would address to a mother figure who always seems to induce in Dylan a self-revelatory expansiveness verging on logorrhea.”

This is an interesting—and neatly Freudian—thesis, but I think (and Hinchey also knows) that Dylan’s relationship with women is more complicated than that. “Spanish Harlem Incident” is an example of this. In some ways, the “gypsy gal” addressed in the song is a kind of maternal figure for Dylan: He is clearly coming to her for guidance and direction, in the same way he comes to the mother figure in “Hard Rain.” Continue reading

The Top 173 Things in History: #16. The Fall of the Berlin Wall

A lot of the phrases we use to describe the ends of various injustices are metaphorical. We have to break glass ceilings, tear down barriers, and free ourselves from shackles.

While the Berlin Wall was, in some ways, metaphorical, it was also very real. Unlike the abstract glass ceilings, the wall was very much concrete—in fact, a large collection of it running directly through a major European city. The Berlin Wall was about as subtle as giving a literary character the initials J.C., or, in C.S. Lewis’ case, having a character (without those specific initials) forfeit his life to save those of some children, only to rise from the dead to defeat evil.*

*I highly suggest reading Lewis’ interpretation of his own character in that link.

This is all to say: The Berlin Wall was not subtle. It was totalitarianism and oppression reified in mortar for all to see. It was, as Ronald Reagan said in his famous 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate, a “gash” and a “scar” not just on Berlin, but on Germany and the entirety of Europe. Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while forgetting to vote:

  • Sign you’ve lost credibility as a network: Sesame Street mocks you, and doesn’t even try to be subtle about it.