EducaTion, Values, & Learning How To Think
BOB DYLAN NO DIRECTION HOME (PBS)
~ Bob Lefsetz Wed, 14 Sep 2005
I am a child of the sixties. I'll say not only what is unexpected, but is also taboo. I'll challenge every convention and laugh. I don't believe in ceremony. I don't believe in institutions. I don't respect my elders unless they deserve it. The government is not to be trusted. What's on the inside is more important than what's on the outside. I don't mind a nice ride, but I wasn't put on this planet to acquire things. I'm here to expand my mind. I'm here to interact with others in a real way, discussing our hopes and dreams, analyzing behavior, art and politics. I'm suspicious of anybody who's an insider. I wonder what they had to do to achieve such an exalted position. Not only who they had to blow, but what they had to give up, how much they had to subjugate their personality. How dishonest they had to be in order to appear a winner. I've been this way too long to change. And, it's too late. I'd have to start at the bottom. Kiss all that butt to play the game the way they do, to win. And, I couldn't do it anyway. I'd be like Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" after he was fixed. You know when he goes to commit violence and he doubles up in pain. That's what happens to me when I do something I don't want to, don't believe in. It cuts right to my core. I love music not because it's popular, but because it makes a statement, from the HEART!
All my values are now a joke. To have the beliefs delineated above is to be labeled a loser. In a nation of winners. I feel a party of one, while everybody comes up with marketing plans to make millions, oftentimes wanting to include me. Think of all the outlets of exposure! Think of all the MONEY! Who I am, what I stand for, what is important to me is irrelevant.
What does it mean to be an educated person?
It all comes down to education. There's no education anymore in America. Oh, I'm not just talking about underfunded schools. I'm talking about the educational AGENDA! Sure, you've got to learn the basics, how to read and write, how to add and subtract, but in the sixties they used to teach you How to THINK! That's even passe in colleges today. Today universities are glorified trade schools. Parents want a return for their dollar. Their progeny want to insure a future where they can drive an SUV and go on vacation in the Caribbean. Or Mexico. Or Europe. They want the flexibility that money can buy. So they can go to these exotic locations and get a tan, and shop.
It's all topsy-turvy. In the sixties education was about expanding one's mind. Today, if you don't follow the curriculum, parents protest that their kids are not being prepared for the world. Make no mistake, these religious and monetary zealots' kids ARE NOT prepared. They can earn a living, but they roam the earth as automatons. Robots. Stepford people. They just can't think. Make a decision for themselves. That explains this ridiculous country of ours. Where facts don't matter. How can that BE???
I went to a public high school. But we listened to "Alice's Restaurant". We read "Situation Ethics". We studied Janis Ian's "Society's Child" and went to see her perform at the New York State Theatre. And we went to see the play "MacBird" too, a skewering of the Johnson administration, on a SUNDAY NO LESS!! When today's overscheduled kids are in church and then playing in soccer tournaments. What we did in the sixties as a matter of course would be seen as REVOLUTIONARY today. I guess it was.
The Beatles were very talented. But they were English. They weren't us. Bob Dylan was us. Growing up middle class and wanting out. Wanting to LIVE life, not be resigned to it.
Tonight I went to CAA to see Marty Scorcese's Bob Dylan documentary "No Direction Home". It was four hours long. It was broken down into two parts. The second was linear, it wasn't classic biopic, but it was close. But the first half...it was a revelation. It wasn't about Dylan so much as CREATIVITY! INSPIRATION! What makes one turn from the well-worn path and follow one's own muse. What is IT LIKE to be creative.
Today creativity is repetition. If it works once, just keep on doing it. Just look at Hollywood, where they keep remaking "Batman". But that's not what being an artist is about. Being an artist is about experimenting, and once you've answered your questions asking NEW ONES!!
"No Direction Home" should be shown in every school in America. Not only high school, but junior high. When kids haven't been formed yet. When they can still see there's an alternative to sex, sports and money.
But forty years later the sixties are too scary for society. It's like they never even existed. "No Direction Home" would not only not be shown, it would be BANNED! Hell, the Republicans want to REPEAL the sixties. Erase the memory of Vietnam. And isn't it funny the debacle in Iraq is a REPEAT OF VIETNAM!
Furthermore, those not diehards would probably turn the show off. Because if there aren't explosions, if there's not a clearly-defined plot, if there's not a three act arc, Americans won't sit for it. LITERALLY!
I'm here to tell you watching "No Direction Home" is almost painful. It's an endurance test. Because you can never relax. You're thinking all the time. Remembering those days, wondering what you've done with your life, the opportunities you've missed, the ones still OPEN to you. Your brain is working overtime. And Americans are not prepared to work that hard.
Oh, for the fan there are the revelations. The color footage. Who even knew this stuff existed?
And Mike Bloomfield rips off a few notes and your jaw drops. You forget how good he was.
And the fact that Dylan is both coherent and honest in the interviews. After obfuscating for DECADES! You eat it up.
But mostly you revel at the times. What happened after World War II. How the cold war affected not only society, but art. We used to practice for nuclear attacks by getting under our schooldesks. Pete Seeger was hauled in front of the government, for being Un-American. But, eventually a counter-culture took hold. Comprised of misfits and based on a ton of questions. Why believe in convention? Why should you just play along, when you can SAY something and impact lives.
You watch Dylan's evolution. From second-rate piano player stealing records in Minnesota to visiting Woody Guthrie to signing to Columbia Records. And the end result? The system eats him. If the system can eat someone as strong as Bob Dylan what chance does the AVERAGE person have? Yes, the endless boos, the cries of sellout, those lamenting the fact that he didn't just stay where he was, in the folk world, (see current folk singing discussion about Seeger and Bruce Springstein) they GOT TO HIM! But, watching it's clear that Bob Dylan never wanted to be that person, the one they wanted him to be. It would be artistic and emotional death.
Used to be the entertainment business was small. There weren't as many zeros. There was a lot less attention paid. You could develop and flourish without the glare of the spotlight.
But one basic tenet remains. You can't keep the great down. When one person finds something phenomenal, he tells EVERYBODY about it.
I'm telling you the SOUL of America is in trouble. It's not so much about gasoline prices and global warming as it is about emotions. Our whole country is stuffing its feelings down. We've been told again and again that you get ahead by getting along. That to be outside is to resign yourself to marginality. But, "No Direction Home" proves that you can only truly rule if you play outside the game. Which is why all those acts doing endorsement deals, making radio-friendly music, are LOST! "Like A Rolling Stone" made it to number two on the "Billboard" chart when nothing else on the radio sounded like it. People responded to something DIFFERENT! Something novel.
Tell that to today's entertainment companies. And today's acts. Who'll do whatever it takes to sell a record. Just watch Dylan at the endless press conferences, answering endless inane questions. Is this your desire? It wasn't his. Which is why he gave it up.
For a while anyway. Who knows how injured he truly was in that motorcycle accident. Couldn't have been that bad. He managed to cut the Basement Tapes, and a bunch of albums. But he wanted a respite from the onslaught. He wanted to live, raise his kids, not feed the machine.
In December 1978 I went to see the "Deer Hunter" in Westwood. I barely slept that night. I was off-kilter. This movie, this was us. I feel the same way tonight. I didn't want to talk to anybody after the screening, I couldn't. I was in my own mind.
So, when "No Direction Home" hits PBS at the end of the month, make time, watch it. Make your kids watch it with you. Don't take any phone calls. Don't get up and go to the bathroom. Immerse yourself in the way it used to be. When music was a living, breathing thing. Devoured by a public that was more concerned with human rights and equality than adding to its portfolio.
Stay in school:
I know, I know, David Geffen dropped out, as did Irving Azoff. Some of the biggest legends of the entertainment business never finished college, some didn't even complete high school. But that was then, and this is now.
The sixties were different. We lived in an homogeneous society. Social mobility was rampant. You could go from middle class to upper class quite easily. Rich was within your grasp.
But no longer.
Which is what the best and the brightest of today's society knows. Which is why all the Ivy Leaguers go into finance and the great unwashed star in reality television programs. Where is Pauly D today? Snooki? Famous for a few years, they've already slid back into obscurity, the trade on their fame has lost most of its zeros. We know their names, but they're footnotes, trivia questions, if you think they're rich, you don't know what rich is.
On Monday, the "New York Times" featured a story wherein female students at Andover were upset there was little place for them in the official student hierarchy, i.e. they could not be elected president.
Do you know what Phillips Academy in Andover is?
Do you know Exeter? Lawrenceville? Groton?
I didn't go to prep school like this bloke. For he was much better read, all the prep school students were, he knew more than me, I'd gone to public school in the melting pot suburbs, I was clueless.
But I learned.
I fell into this exposure. Via hard work in high school and good SAT scores. At Middlebury I came into contact with the scions of the truly rich and famous, Eileen Rockefeller, Dodd Cosgrove, whose dad ran Jolly Green Giant. I learned how to interact with these people. To never boast of my experiences, because there was always someone whose exploits trumped mine. My parents had been to Europe? They'd gone to Paris for the weekend! I learned that I'd been playing in the minor leagues and didn't even know it.
I fell into this world by accident. I went to Middlebury College because it had great academics and its own ski area. If I had to do it all over again, if I couldn't ski, I would go to an Ivy. Because that's where the networking takes place.
Sure, you learn a lot at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. But even more, you're inducted into the brotherhood / sisterhood. You're a member of a club that looks out for each other, gives each other advantages, that pays dividends for your entire life. It's the best way to get a leg up other than to be born rich to begin with.
The movies feature juvenile delinquents. Happy slackers. But living on the underside is worse than ever, you can't make it here anymore. You need a leg up.
I'm telling you, because no one other than hopefully your parents is.
You're gonna make it on your raw smarts. But why not help yourself out?
I abhorred the concept of prep school way back when, you wanted to live with your parents during high school. But if I had children today, I'd send them away. Not to get them out of my hair, but because I'd want them to get a good start.
Many people know this.
But not enough.
We've got a schism in society. The clued-in and the clueless. And you don't want to be one of the latter. For all the hogwash about the entitled millennials, you'll find there's a huge subset who know the score, that it's every man for himself, and you've got to get yourself every advantage in order to get ahead. If you're skipping school and not bothering to apply yourself, the joke is on you.
Once upon a time, music was a viable career for the best and the brightest. But no longer. Because the best and the brightest don't only realize the odds of success are low, but that all the money goes to the business people, and no matter how successful you are, you're not in the league of the bankers, of the truly rich. Art has power, but in an era where everybody thinks it's a badge of honor to sell out, money has power. Think about that. By looking to the Fortune 500, by making yourself subservient to the corporation, you're sacrificing all your power. If you truly want to be an artist, you must go it alone, follow your own muse, put money in a secondary position, play for all the marbles. Instead, we've got a bunch of uneducated whiners wondering where to line up for the handouts. But the U.S. government doesn't subsidize recording artists, that's Canada, move there if you want free money.
I know, I know, I sound like my parents.
Then again, they had immigrant mothers and fathers, whose biggest challenge was speaking the language. All they knew was they wanted their children to have a better life than their own.
I'm not sure that's happened. My dad worked 'round the clock. In an era where such effort could make you upper middle class without winning the lottery or playing the market, which my father refused to do.
But my dad put three kids through college and graduate school. Because he knew first and foremost it was about a good foundation.
If you think Bieber is forever, than you probably think, like he does, the Pope prays in the Sixteenth Chapel. I grew up wanting to be Jay North, Jerry Mathers, to be on TV was my goal. Thank god I never went that route. Most of those people are famous for a minute and then go on to do drugs and rob 7-11's, they're prepared for nothing.
And I'm not saying you can't beat the system doing none of the above.
I'm just saying the odds are damn low.
Some people are Steve Jobs, some people are geniuses.
But Larry and Sergey went to Stanford.
And although Mark Zuckerberg dropped out, the institution he was attending was Harvard.
And most of the stories about people you see in the mainstream press were placed there by publicity agents. They have no underpinnings.
It's your goal to gain underpinnings and worldliness. To both practice hard and leave your comfortable environment. You'd be stunned to find out how ignorant you truly are.
And one final tip. Reading is the key to success. If you don't know how to read, you're never going to make it in today's world. Just like baby boomers who don't know how to type are behind the curve.
It's all about fundamentals I tell you.
And fundamentals, like the multiplication table, are rarely fun.
But there's always time for fun.
Life is long. If you're not prepared for delayed gratification, you're going to have a very rough ride.
Help yourself out.
Stop being sour grapes, stop complaining and APPLY YOURSELF!
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