Bob Dylan and the Band


That’s the name of a movie that shows the influence both had on the music of the late 1960s and early 70s. A lot of the story is probably familiar to those of us interested in the music of that time, but there are still some insights to be gained.

Ronnie Hawkins, a rockabilly singer who started out in the 1950s put what would become known as the Band together, beginning with drummer/guitarist Levon Helm, from Arkansas. Hawkins visited Canada looking for alternative places to play, and found them. He also found there were musically talented Canadians. The rest of the Band was recruited there.

They got to be pretty good, too, since they played a lot of gigs and rehearsed a lot. After two or three years of performing with Hawkins they decided they could do just as well on their own, and left him. They hadn’t been on their own too long (and hadn’t yet encountered fame or fortune) when Bob Dylan heard of them and hired them for the world tour he was about to undertake.

Dylan was by this time a Big Name. He had begun as a folk singer, enhanced his reputation by becoming a deft writer of protest songs, a la Woody Guthrie, an idol of his, but hadn’t stopped there. His lyrics began to expand beyond protest songs and love songs into philosophy. Not the kind of songs most fans of popular music had ever encountered. As his lyrical reach grew, he began to want to hear other sounds–amplified sounds. The folk music community had one stringent principle: electric music was not allowed.

Dylan more or less stuck his toe into electric music on his fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home. The first five or six songs were electric; the last four acoustic. To my ear, the acoustic songs were better, both sonically and lyrically. Other fans saw the album differently.

Nor were they reassured when his next album, Highway 61 Revisited, came out. It was ALL electric, and the lyrics were even further out than before. It was after this album that he decided to perform with a backing band at all his concerts (though I believe he also did acoustic music for part of them). That’s where the Hawks (who would become the Band) came in. He had a world tour planned, and needed a reliable group behind him.

First he hired Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, guitarist and drummer. They prevailed on him to hire the rest of the group, which he did. But they were surprised to find that they were booed up and down at each concert. Helm didn’t like that, and may not have been too thrilled about their reversion to a backup band either, since he was the leader, and the usual lead singer. He decided to leave.

The rest of the group went on with the world tour, with the addition of drummer Mickey Jones. The boos followed them, and became irritating to Dylan, if not the others. It wasn’t as if the fans didn’t know he was playing electric music: He’d been playing it for the last album and a half, and a third album, Blonde on Blonde, released during the tour, continued the trend. The albums sold well, and so did the tickets, but it seemed that a sizable percentage of the audience bought tickets in order to boo.

In 1967 he and the group returned to this country, and he went to rest in Woodstock, New York. He needed to. His manager had overbooked him, and he’d been using amphetamines (at least) to keep going. It was in Woodstock that he had a motorcycle accident, broke a bone in his neck, and decided not to play the upcoming tour. The Band was living in a hotel in New York City until he invited them to come and live in Woodstock. They did, and there began to collaborate with him. The result was what became known as the Basement Tapes.

Dylan was paying the Band, which meant they didn’t have to find gigs. They could just relax and explore music they liked and were familiar with, as well as music they didn’t know. Dylan sat upstairs typing out songs, then brought them down to the basement, where the Band ran through them, and recorded them. They probably also just jammed, and maybe turned each other on to music they didn’t know. The Band didn’t know much about folk music. They may have known more about country and bluegrass. One of the narrators of the movie asks where the idea came from to record the songs. He thought the idea came from Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, who wasn’t crazy about Dylan not performing in concert. That meant less pay for him. With recorded songs he could give some to other artists (the Byrds;  Peter, Paul & Mary; and Manfred Mann at least) and get paid for the publishing. It seems that Dylan was surprised, about this time, to discover that Grossman owned fifty percent of his publishing. The narrator points out that the songs emanating from Woodstock were what started the whole bootleg recording phenomenon.

In the late 1960s Dylan had enormous power in popular music. It was partly his influence that caused the explosion of American rock & roll. His next official album, John Wesley Harding, was (the narrator points out) pretty much acoustic, as if Dylan was  saying, You want acoustic? Here it is.

It wasn’t what anyone had expected, and in addition to his next album, Nashville Skyline, greatly influenced a lot of bands to pay attention to country music at a time when many people thought country musicians were a bunch of redneck racists. The Byrds and Rolling Stones were two who paid attention. Then came a couple of albums by the Band.

Dylan hadn’t recorded with the Band. He’d gone to Nashville to record the two albums with studio musicians he’d worked with for Blonde on Blonde. But while they were in Woodstock the Band had found an identity when they didn’t have to worry about the next gig. They started writing and recording their own songs, as well as some by Dylan (at least one a collaboration), and more or less consciously decided to go against the psychedelic fashion, as well as their own loud and fast history. So they began their first album with Tears of Rage, a very slow and emotional song written about parents and children written from the parental point of view. That was WAY against the fashion. So was the photo of them with their families of origin, whom they obviously cared about. So was the instrumental break in Chest Fever which sounded, as their producer put it, like a Salvation Army band. No screaming guitars, but all of them playing like virtuosos.

Even more influential was their second album, The Band. Every single cut was at least good, if not great. The subject of the whole album was the world as seen from the South, which Robbie Robertson (who wrote most of the lyrics) had gotten from Levon Helm. The narrator raises the question as to whether Helm really appreciated the view that Robertson gave of his world. What Helm really DIDN’T appreciate was that Robertson gave himself the lion’s share of the songwriting credits. Helm thought the rest of the group, who had contributed to the arrangements, should get credit too.

That made things a bit tense, and the Band didn’t have that kind of success again. They still came up with some nice songs, but not as consistently. Part of it was partying too hard, which interfered with their ability to work. Approaching the mid-seventies their career was no longer in good shape. Neither was Bob Dylan’s.

Some people seemed to think that Dylan’s turn in the direction of country was because he was happier. He was married and beginning to have children with his wife. But in a memoir he contradicts that view. He was happy (we can probably assume) with his family, but wanted to protect them, and that was difficult because so many people wanted a piece of him. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, another very charismatic figure, had the same problem. Dylan had it first and, arguably, may have had it worse. He may not have said so explicitly, but strongly implies in the memoir that he deliberately did work beneath his capacity to deflect attention away from himself and his family.

That was a tricky line to walk. He didn’t want to become totally unpopular. He still wanted to have an audience to work to, but he didn’t want people to constantly be in his face either. In the memoir he says that in the mid to late eighties he realized that he hadn’t been doing very good work for quite some time, and the beginning of that may well date back to the early seventies. Once one deliberately does less than one’s best, it’s hard to find one’s best again.

One step in that direction was when Dylan asked the Band to go on the road with him again. According to the narrator of the movie, they did very well together. Dylan tried recording with the Band, but that didn’t seem to work very well. In concert, though, they were able to follow him. When he played with other bands later on he became notorious for changing keys and arrangements abruptly, which could easily throw most people off. Apparently the Band was able to follow him.

But there were to be years of struggle ahead for both. Dylan went through his Christian phase, which turned a lot of people off, including me, and, as he writes in his memoir, began finding his way back to doing what he really wanted to do in music: work consistently, explore what he wanted to explore, but not be looked on as anybody’s savior.

Robbie Robertson left the Band about a year after the tour with Dylan, making the Last Waltz movie to celebrate the occasion. The rest of them didn’t want to leave the road, so found other guitarists and regrouped. They made at least one more album, but nothing to be compared with their earlier work. Richard Manuel, their piano player, committed suicide. Rick Danko, the bass player,  died in the late nineties, and Levon Helm about 2012.

It’s a shame that their career ended so ignominiously, but they, along with Dylan had a large influence on the music of the late sixties and early seventies. It wasn’t just Dylan who moved things towards the country side. The Band’s first two albums influenced the same people Dylan did, including the Grateful Dead, as psychedelic a band as there was out there. Their album, Workingman’s Dead, was completely different from their previous albums, and pretty clearly inspired by what the Band had done. The Rolling Stones started playing country-influenced songs in the early seventies too.

That era was a pretty amazing one in terms of musical talent and openness to a variety of influences. Dylan was clearly one of the leaders in that respect, and greatly influenced the Band, as well as a LOT of other people. But a lot of people influenced each other too. The Beatles were among the influences to make Dylan go electric, while he influenced them (and a lot of others) in writing lyrics, as well as what one could write ABOUT. Those musicians continue to influence later generations, though the music business doesn’t look very similar to what it was then. The elder statesmen may not be actively influencing much anymore, but their older influence is still felt.


Ayn Rand


I’ve written about Ayn Rand before, partly because I dislike a lot of the people who claim to be inspired by her, partly because I never cared much for her novels, which a lot of people like. But in reading The Passion of Ayn Rand, a biography by Barbara Branden who knew her intimately in the 1950s, it becomes clear that she was in many respects an admirable person who accomplished a great deal, but also lived a tragic life.

One of her misfortunes was to be born in Russia just as the country was beginning to descend into revolution. That was just after the revolution of 1905 that made some sweeping political changes in the country, but not enough to prevent the 1917 revolution that ushered in Communism. Her family, being moderately well off, suffered more than some from the dislocations of revolution and civil war, but survived. She was also Jewish, but told Barbara Branden that she never encountered anti-Semitism in Russia, though the country was notoriously inclined that way.

By that time Alice Rosenberg, as her family named her, had decided she wanted to be a writer, and that liberty and heroism were perhaps the values most important to her. When relatives in the USA contacted her family, concerned about how and whether they had survived the civil war, Alice Rosenberg told her family she HAD to go to the USA. Her family wasn’t enthusiastic, but agreed to arrange it, if possible. It turned out to be possible, though she came close to being refused.

By 1926, when she immigrated, she had seen less than wonderful things in Russia. Lots of hungry people struggling to survive, violence, people prevented from attending university or getting good jobs because of the social class they belonged to, rather than any crime they had committed. Unsurprisingly, she became a committed anti-Communist, having seen the way the system operated close up. Things got worse in Russia after she left.

Once in this country she began to work at becoming a writer in an unfamiliar language. She went to Chicago first to stay with the relatives who had helped her immigrate, then to Los Angeles to attempt screenwriting. She happened to meet Cecil B. DeMille,  who was impressed with her, and gave her work as an extra and other odd jobs before allowing her to write screenplays. She was moderately successful at that.

In Hollywood she also found her husband, who physically incarnated the fantasies of a hero she had had, though his character wasn’t particularly heroic. Marrying him provided her with citizenship so she didn’t have to return to Russia, where she could in no way have had the writing career she had visualized. She wanted to write about heroic individuals. That wouldn’t have been acceptable in Stalin’s Russia (unless they were Communists–and Communism was unheroic, in her view), and it took a long time for what she wrote to become acceptable here.

There was sympathy for Russia among American intellectuals of that time, a feeling that Communism just might help save the world. Rand knew it would not, but few people she tried to tell would listen in the twenties and thirties. Her first novel, We the Living was set in Russia and somewhat autobiographical. The main male character of the book catches tuberculosis, and has to go to a sanatorium; the heroine takes an unwanted lover so he can stay there, which sets up an unhappily dramatic climax. She is then killed trying to escape the country. The book sold poorly at first, but eventually sold more, especially after her better-known novels became popular.

The Fountainhead was next, about an architect unsuccessful because his work is too original. He has a friend, also an architect, who has little originality, and tries to succeed by copying. He gives this friend the design for a housing project which no one will allow him to build himself. His condition is that the project must be built exactly as he designed it; when a change is made, the architect blows the project up. He won’t allow his design to be watered down, nor allow anyone to have his work without meeting his price.  There’s a happy ending after that, too. The architect is prosecuted, but declared innocent.

Rand said the hero of that novel was her ideal man: in conflict with society, but not with himself. She contrasted him with three other men. One, the untalented architect friend who wasn’t the ideal man, but didn’t know it.  Another, stronger and more intelligent, runs a newspaper that tells the lowest common denominator what they want to hear. He could have been the ideal man, but wasn’t. A third is a critic who is not the ideal man, and knows it. He’s the villain of the novel.

The hero’s friend, unable to be the ideal man was, Rand told Branden, based on a woman she met who was obsessed with her career and very hard-working, but who rubbed Rand the wrong way, not because of her ambition or her work-ethic, but something else. When she asked the woman what was important to her, the woman replied that if no one else had a car, she wanted to have one; if everyone wanted a car, she wanted to have two. Rand was disgusted, but felt this pointed up a distinction between frivolous selfishness and actually HAVING a self that wants to accomplish something worthwhile. She called the latter “selfish” in a truer sense of the word. She saw the woman as being what she called a “collectivist” rather than an individual. A “collectivist” because for her success was strictly in relation to other people rather than a course chosen and pursued because of its meaning to the individual.

The Fountainhead became popular enough to have a somewhat successful movie made of it. But her REALLY popular novel was the next one, Atlas Shrugged. The idea behind this one is that the talented people, the ones whose ideas–translated into reality–are crucial to making society work, go on strike. Their complaint is they’re being told to work for the good of society (including those who deserve nothing, being unwilling to make efforts themselves) and are made to feel guilty for wanting their talent and work to be recognized and celebrated. This aspect of the novel is deliberately obscured at first, while Rand sketches in the decadence of the society which makes demands of its most talented members. Only towards the end does it become clear what is happening.

My memories of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are unclear, as it’s been fifty years or more since I read them. I didn’t really buy into Rand’s views, but what I remember most about Atlas Shrugged in particular is its insistence that its readers MUST agree with its point of view. For me that was off-putting, to say the least. It seemed almost like Stalin’s “correct line”, which all Communists were expected to believe.

Rand saw Communism and Socialism, both popular in America in the twenties and thirties (at least among intellectuals), as collectivism, and capitalism as individuality. She identified collectivism with the idea of the nation being more important than the individual, as seen in the Germany and Soviet Union of the thirties. These weren’t very attractive to those aware of the people they persecuted, though their propaganda deceived some into thinking they were positive phenomena.

Capitalism Rand liked much better because it gave people from almost any social class a chance. She found technology thrilling as a demonstration of what rationality and intellect could achieve, and saw this as examples of individuals being true to themselves.

But to what extent is this true? The production of technology is dependent on large organizations, just as totalitarian governments are. Is individualism encouraged in these organizations, other than at the very top? Why does the history of large corporations include intense hostility to unions, including the willingness to wound and kill strikers in the 19th and early 20th centuries? Have not the leaders of industries been as intoxicated with power as have dictators? Their aims haven’t been exactly the same, but they still required power over others to achieve them. Rand saw slavery as being inefficient, and if one’s aim is innovation, that’s certainly true. But slave-owning societies are stratified, which means innovation happens among the upper classes. Is this why industrialists hated unions? Industrial workers weren’t slaves, but weren’t far from being enslaved, having to work extremely long hours, often in dangerous working conditions. Their opinions weren’t wanted. Contemporary conservatives like to differentiate between “makers and takers”. Just who is in each group?

Does it make sense to identify genius and innovation with free market capitalism as Rand does? Capitalism has encouraged innovation, as Rand says, but is it the only system under which innovation can occur? The ancient Romans were notable builders. The ancient Egyptians even more–we still can’t duplicate some things they built. Did either society have free market capitalism? Both were slave states.

Which raises the question, for whom is the free market free? For the owner of the means of production and distribution, but is that true for the ordinary worker too? Historically, it hasn’t always been.

And technology isn’t all positive either. Rand didn’t approve of environmentalism, claiming that industrial civilization had lengthened human life, which was true–just not the entire truth.

‘”City smog and filthy rivers are not good for men (though they are not the kind of danger that ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be). This is a scientific technological problem, not a political one, and it can be solved ONLY by technology. Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death.

Actually, we have discovered that filthy rivers and smog ARE in part political problems because the people causing the pollution are often unwilling to clean it up, and are willing to lobby to assure they don’t have to. How would Ayn Rand analyze the recent issue in Flint, Michigan, in which many people, including children, suffered lead poisoning, which causes serious neurological damage? Or instances where a poisonous insecticide is often found on produce? Technology will fix it, but technology also caused the problem, and will not fix it without the political will to do so.

Rand points out that average human life-span increased in the industrial age. Again, partly true. Ancient civilizations like Rome and Crete had sewage systems, which later European cultures did not, until relatively late. Life spans increased, at least in part, because humans discovered that antisepsis prevented sickness, something realized by medical science, which also contributed antibiotics, as well as medicines to control diabetes and heart disease. This is the same science that tells us pollution is bad, not only for us but for the other forms of life on which our lives ultimately depend. Ecology is thus the justification of altruism and collectivism, both dirty words in Rand’s lexicon. We can’t survive without nature, and our powers are now great enough to be able to destroy large numbers of plant and animal species in greater numbers than since the last ice age some 10,000 years ago. To say that we have not yet destroyed ourselves in this way is not to say that it can’t be done, nor that we’re not in the process of doing so. It’s instructive how easy it is to fall into a false dualism in which nature is seen as something to be conquered rather than to be cooperated with, and human achievements are to be celebrated even though they may poison humans, plants, and animals. The world’s ecosystem is flexible, but human activities on a massive scale affect it, and seem likely to ultimately have regrettable consequences. That dualism would see the extinction of plant and animal species as nothing to be concerned about, since that point of view sees humans as more important than the rest of the world.

“Ecology as a social principle condemns cities, culture, industry, technology, the intellect, and advocates man’s return to ‘nature’, to the state of grunting subanimals digging the soil with their bare hands.”

Some say science doesn’t care what you believe. Nature REALLY doesn’t care. It would be nice to be able to retain and expand our current standards of living, but that may not be practical. There are only so many natural resources of the type we use to power our urban civilization, and if we’re unwilling to change our lifestyles, nature may do it for us. The outcome of that conflict remains to be seen.

Rand sees rationality, the most important tool of the intellect, as being more important than any other aspect of humanity. But another view sees the instincts and emotions as being fully as important, so that when their development is neglected, the person, culture, or society becomes unbalanced. This imbalance causes unnecessary conflict within individuals, between them, between them and the larger cultures and societies. Rand’s view of ecology is this conflict writ rather large. An example is the overabundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. An obvious way to redress the imbalance would be to plant more trees. Instead, we clear-cut forests for profit. Profit is not inherently immoral, but there are ways of achieving it which are.

A recent article in the New Yorker presents evidence that rationality wasn’t evolved to assess truth, but to make sure we didn’t get screwed by others, since our most effective means of survival has been cooperation–a way to argue better, in other words. If so, this perspective makes Rand’s position special pleading on the basis of identity–she was a genius, and deserved to be treated better, as do all geniuses. This may be true, but it’s interesting that conservatives (the main group to whom Rand has appealed) generally dislike identity politics.

The conflict, writ smaller, was shown when Rand embarked on an affair with a man 25 years younger, in spite of his wife (her biographer). and in spite of her husband. She had the power to persuade everyone to go along with it, though neither her husband nor the wife was really comfortable. Ultimately, this led to a break between her and many of the young people who gravitated to her and her views after the publication of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She exacerbated the problem because she couldn’t admit she was in any way to blame.

Barbara Branden makes clear that Rand’s views were very rigorously thought out, and that her novels were very carefully written to express just what she meant, and in a language of which she was not a native speaker. Her view of man as a potentially heroic being who often falls short of that level can be seen as admirable, though I quarrel with her view of man being superior to nature. Not many individuals have the strength to choose their own path and persist in it despite conflict with or disapproval from their society. I would suggest that not all such individuals are on a productive path, nor do all of them agree with Rand’s views.

There seem, for instance, to be alternatives to Rand’s lone genius view of creativity. Collaboration may occur more frequently in music than in writing. Collaboration between a composer and a lyricist isn’t unusual, and in a band context a piece may evolve from communal input instead of being shaped only by one person, and even be seen as being superior because of that input. That’s not to say one form of creativity is superior to another, only that there’s more than one approach.

Rand considered religion (or mysticism) to be a chief hindrance to rationality. But at least two 20th century men attempted to approach the apparently immaterial spiritual world scientifically, ie, rationally. One man who did so made much the same comment as Rand put in the mouth of one of her characters: that he would love to be able to have acquaintances with whom he could interact as equals. He wasn’t jealous of anyone approaching his level, he wanted them to do so, contrary to some popular narratives. His intellect was not inferior to hers, but he recognized other aspects of the human being, and taught them, as well as the intellect.

Rand accomplished a great deal in writing novels of ideas that interested and influenced a great many people. Not everyone will agree, but I think it’s tragic that she drove many people away from her because of her insistence that she was right and others were wrong, as well as her misuse of her power to persuade others to allow her behavior that hurt them. And while I think she had great insight, I think some of her views were tragically misguided, and are likely to have tragic consequences. She was more determined and powerful than most, but just as capable of being mistaken.





Grateful Dead


Every now and then I fall into a Grateful Dead state of mind, and I’m in one now.

Shortly after graduating from high school I came upon the Grateful Dead’s debut album, loved it, and bought most of their albums, studio or live, over the next ten or so years as they came out.

I’ve spent a lot of time acquiring and recording music. By the 1980s I had a lot of vinyl albums, and when my cousin acquired a cassette deck I borrowed it and began recording all the albums I had. I’d recorded about 90 tapes when my cousin suggested I get my own deck, and I had to agree it was a sensible idea. Grateful Dead albums were among my first projects.

Last week I watched (for only the second time) a video called Anthem to Beauty about the Dead’s early experiments in recording. Anthem to the Sun was their second album. On their first they had recorded material they’d been playing in concerts, going along with the usual recording routine. With Anthem they began figuring out how to do it themselves.

Not every experiment worked, and they ran up a huge debt to their record company because they spent so much time in the studio, but they eventually came up with a really nice album.

I’m probably unusual in having become a fan without attending a lot of concerts. I only saw two, and wasn’t that impressed with either. But I did like the albums, studio as well as live. Members of the Dead expressed frustration in interviews about their studio albums, but I thought they were good to great through Terrapin Station. After that I thought the studio recordings did lose something.

Last week I also watched (again) The Other One, a movie about Bob Weir, the Dead’s OTHER guitarist (and songwriter). He was the kid brother of everyone in the band, having started the jugband precursor to the Dead with Garcia, whom he had met and jammed with on New Year’s Eve 1963 when he was only sixteen. Garcia was then twenty-one. A year later they became a rock band, met the Merry Pranksters and participated in the Acid Tests. They led busy lives, especially musically, as they expanded their instrumental, vocal, songwriting, and recording chops. Some of the footage in the movie showed the excitement with which the Dead played in those early days. Excitement may have been one of the things they lost for awhile after that. Maybe along with energy. Eventually Garcia’s habit began affecting his performance, and he wasn’t the only one with a habit.

Although I liked all the studio albums of the first few years, there were some I liked better. Wake of the Flood may be the Dead’s most exquisite album. The playing isn’t as loud or distorted as in the past, but the time and arrangements are tight, and their vocals are more in tune and harmonic. The lyrics are arguably better too. I’m not sure how to describe the difference, but they seem more sophisticated, to go along with the playing and the way the songs are structured. That’s only an impression, though, as I can’t really define what I mean. There are a lot of songs to like here, but the one that immediately impressed me is Weather Report Suite, one of their long, full side of an album songs. It starts slowly, but eventually speeds up, featuring a nice solo from Garcia, and another from an unidentified saxophonist.

The other standout studio album (as opposed to live album) from this period (in my opinion) is Terrapin Station. It differed from previous albums in having an outside producer (the Dead usually produced themselves) who used extra musicians (as in a jazz band and orchestra, rather than individuals) on a number of tracks. The outstanding song here is the title song, based on folk songs and tales, which was (according to Robert Hunter and Garcia) produced magically at about the same time: Hunter came up with the lyrics at the same time the musical ideas came to Garcia. That’s the one with the orchestra; it was the last long piece the band would record in the studio, and is arguably the best thing they ever did (or one of them).

Those are only two of the albums I enjoyed, though I liked them more than most. Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty, and Blues for Allah stand out too, among studio albums, as well as several live ones from this period: Live-Dead, the Grateful Dead, and Europe 72. Their albums began to decline in quality after Terrapin Station in quality, though, I thought. Reportedly, their concerts didn’t, at least not until the eighties, when Garcia’s habit started catching up with him. And he wasn’t the only one doing foolish things.

Early in the Dead’s career Weir would get lost in the long jams. He had to pay close attention to the interaction between Garcia and Lesh (the bass player), and as he says in the movie, be where they were going when they got there, hopefully with a surprise for them.

He begins the movie in which he is the main character by saying that he needed music, and that his accomplishments were due mostly to determination and perseverance rather than talent. I don’t doubt his determination, but don’t think he would have been as attracted to or driven by the music if he hadn’t been talented. That doesn’t mean he would have inevitably succeeded as he did. He became the younger brother to a bunch of musicians further along in development than him. He knew about rock & roll and folk music to begin with. He learned more about those genres, but also about country, bluegrass, blues, rhythm & blues, reggae,  gospel, jazz, classical, avant garde, and world music from the other musicians in the band. The Dead had big ears, as Branford Marsalis remarked, and listened to a wide variety of music, much of which they tried to reproduce for themselves (or at least be influenced by). Each member of the band had come from a different place musically. It was an ideal place to learn, if you had the inclination.

Not being a musician, I hadn’t been aware of the intricacies of Weir’s guitar playing. In the movie he explains that in listening to Bill Evans and John Coltrane’s pianist, McCoy Tyner, he was impressed with their tones and textures, especially those Tyner gave Coltrane to work over, and decided to try to do the same for Garcia. Another musician, who played with Weir later, commented on how many inversions Weir could play on a given chord, playing E’s all over the guitar–different from what almost any rhythm guitarist does. That’s what is meant by playing as a team: in a rock band the lead guitarist is usually the only one that gets to show off. Weir’s approach helped Garcia do so. Garcia commented that he didn’t know anyone who played like Weir, adding he considered that to be a score, since most electric guitar playing is derivative. Most of the members of the band were pretty unique in the way they played.

As those interested know, their road continued bumpy, in large part because of drug problems. They had a renaissance when Garcia cleaned up, but he wasn’t able to stay clean, and everyone seems to have felt the band became more imprisoning than emancipating. With increased popularity in the late eighties and into the nineties they were forced to play stadiums almost exclusively. They employed a lot of people, and their albums didn’t sell enough to pay the bills, but Garcia in particular would have preferred smaller venues where there could be more interaction with the audience.

When Garcia died suddenly, just after his 53rd birthday, it must have been at once saddening and a relief. The band members no longer had to play when they didn’t want to, and could take a long rest. Many of them were ready for that, but Weir was an exception. In the movie he explains that immediately going on the road and staying there was part of his grieving process: he felt he had to go out and play for people to combat the sadness at Garcia’s death: both the audience’s and his own. He also points out in the movie that he really LIKES performing. He estimated the band had performed about 3,000 times, and that he had performed independently about that much again. That may mean he’s been the busiest performer alive.

Garcia’s death seems also to have made him feel a need for family. The band had been his family, especially Garcia, whom he had met first, and who was more the big brother than anyone else. Garcia must have gotten something out of it too, since the relationship lasted thirty-plus years. One thing he got was Weir as his bagman: Weir held his drugs and only gave him the minimum amount needed. Not much fun to have to do, but one way to stay in touch enough to hopefully influence him into better ways. That only worked to some extent, though.

After Garcia’s death Weir belatedly married someone he’d known for quite awhile, and they had children together. He also became friends with his birth father (he had been adopted by the family he grew up with). He’s had a fortunate life of accomplishment, not over yet.

There are a lot of memories when I listen to any of the albums–fifty years worth. I was never a Deadhead, but still enjoyed a lot of the music. I’m still thinking about buying more albums too.

The part I like to remember is that first ten years or so, when they expanded relentlessly. When they ran into trouble and became less inspiring aren’t the memories I enjoy. I’m too much  reminded me of mistakes I’ve made and continue to make.

But they still remind me to be grateful.

J.D. Salinger


I read Catcher in the Rye in high school, and didn’t get it, so I never became a fan, unlike (I guess) most of the rest of the country. I read his other books too, later on. I don’t remember making much of the short stories, rather liking Franny and Zooey, but not enough to reread them.

I lived in the same general area as he did for more than a decade, and drove through Cornish, New Hampshire every now and then, aware that he lived somewhere there, but not being very interested. I certainly had nothing I wanted to say to him, unlike a lot of other people.

Years before that I had picked up a short book by Joyce Maynard, called Looking Back. She wrote about junior high school (at a time when she was only just out of high school herself), which brought back the experience to me, but she had clearly been much more aware of what was going on around her than I had been when I was a student.

Years later, when I was living in New Hampshire, she wrote a column for the local paper, which I read pretty regularly. It was interesting, but I felt there was something wrong there, I can’t say what, because I don’t remember. It wasn’t that she listened to country music when writing a book, though that wouldn’t be my taste. I’m not sure I knew at the time that she had had an affair with Salinger, nor that she had written the book I read while they were together.

Later I read his daughter’s memoir. I didn’t have a LOT of interest in him, but still some curiosity. This morning I watched a movie about him.

I think it would be fair to say he was a strange man, with a number of paradoxical elements. His father was Jewish, his mother wasn’t, he grew up in a Jewish environment, privileged, but not liking it much. He messed up in private schools, was sent to a military school where, according to the movie, he got himself together.

He seems to have decided early that he wanted to write, and began to be published in the early 1940s. He wanted to be published in the New Yorker, and the magazine had accepted one of his stories, but didn’t publish it because of Pearl Harbor. He was upset about that.

He almost immediately tried to enlist in the army, but was initially rejected. He kept trying, and managed to enlist later in 1942. His first experience of combat was on D Day. He told someone later that he carried a manuscript about Holden Caulfield when he hit the beach, because it was necessary to his survival. Obviously he did survive, and it seems that not much later he met Ernest Hemingway (whom, according to the movie, he idolized) in Paris, got him to look at a manuscript, and that Hemingway loved it. The story is told by one of Hemingway’s grandchildren in the movie, so it may be true.

Paradox: after VE day he had a nervous breakdown, and spent time in a hospital in Germany. But he reenlisted to “track down the bad guys”. He had been in Intelligence with his company, which meant that he talked to citizens of each town they came to to find out where the Germans had machine gun nests set up, where clear areas were that ambushes could be set up, and generally anything else useful. He must have had a clearer than usual idea of local life and how it had been affected by German occupation.

His company also entered a camp in Dachau, so he saw many corpses and a few survivors. This must have made an impression on him, quite possibly especially because he was Jewish. Maybe that’s why he wanted to punish those who had done such things. Which makes it quite surprising that he married a young Nazi woman (clearly against regulations) and brought her back to the United States. The marriage didn’t last long. When he divorced her he said she had misled him.

He pursued his writing after the war, got published in the New Yorker as he had hoped, then published Catcher in the Rye in 1951, which was an almost immediate best seller. Many people identified with Holden Caulfield, the young narrator. Friends say that Caulfield was Salinger.  They also testify that he was taken aback by his sudden popularity and loss of privacy, and that he didn’t want to cooperate with the publicity, but wasn’t really a recluse either. He still enjoyed going out to bars and interacting with friends, but didn’t want strangers asking him for things, as he made clear later in New Hampshire, to someone who waited in his driveway to meet him. He had given his work to the public, but said he couldn’t tell anyone how to live.

The latter seems not to have been so true in his private life. After he married his second wife (19 years old to his 34, and with a troubled background) and they had their first child, they settled in New Hampshire and he isolated himself from her and the children much of the time to write. He had apparently been fascinated by her youth and beauty, but didn’t find her so fascinating after she’d given birth. It took some time–she probably lacked confidence–but she eventually divorced him, His daughter Margaret’s memoir (as I recall it) emphasizes that she didn’t feel she could please him. According to the movie, his son disagreed with her portrayal of their family life.

Joyce Maynard’s account of their affair, beginning in the early 1970s is interesting too. He insisted they meditate in the morning after eating uncooked frozen peas (pouring hot water over them to warm them), then writing, for which he donned a jumpsuit. They watched the old movies he liked in the evenings.

She met William Shawn, his editor at the New Yorker, and Shawn’s longtime lady friend in New York City, and apparently said something gauche. She said Salinger hustled her out of the lunch and bought her an expensive coat.

They broke up, she says, after going to the beach with his son. He and his son played in the water, he came back out, and told her he was really tired, that he wasn’t going to have children anymore. She wanted children, so she said she couldn’t stay with him, and he told her she should leave right away. He took her to the airport and gave her some money.

Later, she found that, just as he had with her, he had written letters to a number of young girls–they were always young–one of whom became his third wife. She also eventually decided to write a memoir of their affair, went to his house to tell him, and had him denounce her for it.

He stayed in New Hampshire the rest of his life, and seems to have been well accepted by people there. People who came to town looking for him found that local people weren’t cooperative. They didn’t want to be part of invading his privacy. One writer interviewed a famous man’s widow on just the other side of the Connecticut river from New Hampshire, and remarked that Salinger lived there. She remarked that he did, and that he had sat in the same chair the writer was then sitting in the previous night. She asked him what he would ask Salinger, told him that Salinger was all right, and was writing, and added, So you don’t need to meet him at all.

Why have so many people been fascinated with Salinger? Was his writing that good? For some I guess it was. I suppose part of the fascination may have been that Salinger didn’t behave like other writers in playing the celebrity game, which he easily could have. New Hampshire probably seems like a distant and foreign place to live to many. Actually, it’s not so different from other states, but may have fewer big cities, especially in that area.

Of course his response to fame was unusual, which didn’t make it wrong. He could have moved to New England just to run away, but he continued writing. The movie said that he had added more stories to the series about the Glass family already published, and possibly more about Holden Caulfield as well. According to the movie, these stories were supposed to start being released in 2015. I haven’t heard anything about that as yet. Was that story inaccurate? It doesn’t really make a lot of difference to me, but it seems curious.

He seems to have been convinced he was meant to be a writer, but what did he actually express? How important was it? I must have been too young when I tried reading him, because his stories made little impression on me. I don’t know if he really fulfilled what he was supposed to do.

“I Am Not Your Negro”


Author James Baldwin undertook a project in 1979, to tell about the lives of three of his friends who had been assassinated in the 1960s: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. He had only written thirty pages of notes by the time he died eight years later of stomach cancer.

Raoul Peck, Haitian film-maker put together the movie I Am Not Your Negro using Baldwin’s own words (sometimes from TV talk shows, sometimes read by Samuel L. Jackson) to express what he felt about race in America. The result is powerful.

Early in the movie there is footage shot in the South in the early sixties of hate-filled white people carrying signs. One says, Miscegnation is Communism. Another says it is the Antichrist. It’s dolefully ironic that miscegnation (sexual relations between black and white) was initiated by white slaveowners who then blamed black men for wanting to rape white women, thus turning the dynamic inside-out. Black men are still blamed for their sexuality, though, just as women are blamed for tempting Adam to eat the apple. A good myth is hard to give up.

Also early in the film is a black girl walking alone to go to a white high school surrounded by whites carrying signs saying they don’t want to go to school with blacks. They’re jeering and spiting at her too. Baldwin speaks, saying that he saw this footage in France, where he was then living, and besides being enraged was filled with shame, adding, “One of us should have been there with her. ”

It’s hardly surprising he died of cancer. Cancer and heart disease are in part caused by stress, and he had the stress of being both black and gay. A recent article says it’s a shame the movie didn’t address his being gay too, because Baldwin did in his writing. The three of his novels I remember best spoke of homosexuality as well as race. Actually, I don’t think Giovanni’s Room talked about race. So sexuality was very important to Baldwin too. He comments in this movie that black men aren’t allowed to show their sexuality (that may be less true now), and that movie star John Wayne, who spent most of his time on screen admonishing Indians, had permission, because of his whiteness, not to grow up. It was okay for him to kill Indians. He didn’t have to learn to negotiate with them as equals.

Baldwin met Medgar Evers early in the 1960s and traveled with him as Evers attempted to gather evidence about voting suppression. The sixties weren’t far advanced when he was murdered himself. Baldwin says he was extremely frightened traveling through Mississippi, but also felt he needed to do that as a witness, and that he needed to travel widely as a witness. Eventually he also traveled to Georgia and Alabama where some of the famous Civil Rights protests had been. More footage of police beating defenseless men and women.

Baldwin says he watched Malcolm X and Martin Luther King come from very different positions to eventually drift into almost exactly the same position. Footage is shown of Malcolm X criticizing King for not wanting blacks to fight back when abused by whites. However understandable his feeling, it’s also obvious that taking on whites in a race war in which they would be vastly outnumbered and outgunned would be a self-defeating strategy. King replies to Malcolm X by saying that he sees love as being a powerful force rather than a cowardly surrender. Did Malcolm X come to appreciate that position before he died? Baldwin says he was in London with a friend taking a day off when he learned of Malcolm X’s assassination.

Baldwin came home from France in the later sixties. He said he missed very little about America, but missed his brother, sister, their children, and his mother. He was visiting them in 1968 when his sister was called away from the table. When she returned she said nothing, but he felt something was wrong. Then she said, “Martin Luther King was just killed. Reporters are coming to get your reaction.”

He attended the funeral, and said he tried not to cry, felt that many others were trying not to cry too, and for the same reason: they didn’t know if they could stop.

He felt he had to visit the widows and children of those leaders, also not easy. Perhaps especially because none of the three lived to be as old as forty.

I was vaguely aware of the strife of the sixties, but didn’t really feel it. I had problems of my own taking up my attention. But the sixties shaped my political views. In the 1950s we had had a comic book portraying Rosa Parks taking a white person’s seat in the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and refusing to get up. That’s where I first heard of Dr. King.

In 1963 I was with my grandmother while she watched coverage of the March on Washington, and got to see in real time Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech. Hairs stood up on the back of my neck. What the Civil Rights movement was protesting was so obviously unfair that I didn’t see any alternative to being a liberal. It seemed that all conservatives were racists, a term that has since been used too lightly for too many frivolous reasons. No one in the Civil Rights movement has had the kind of gravitas Dr, King had, which is a shame. He and the other two were murdered because they held up a mirror to show us all what we were, causing panic fear. People comfortable with segregation felt their world was coming apart, and had no answer but violence. After King was killed, many others felt THEIR world was coming apart too. If my heart was in the right place in feeling sympathy for the movement (which is debatable), I did nothing about it, to my shame.

Baldwin didn’t only report his feelings about the movement and the death of his friends (as well as many other more anonymous people), but looked at the larger picture of America, its racism and other forms of injustice. He saw white America being as entangled and imprisoned by racism as black America, and striking out in violent resentment of it. Black Americans never wanted to come here, but neither did whites, he says. Using blacks as slaves made them prisoners too.

The fact is that the American way of life hasn’t made many people happy. Satiated, in some cases, but not happy. That many of us have secure lives that most people in the world can’t even imagine, and yet are fearful of people unlike ourselves is ironic, if not paradoxical. Look at some of the things we lead the world in: numbers of prisoners, people killed by police, consumption of illegal (and legal) drugs. Those things don’t indicate a happy culture. More people have a higher standard of living than any time previous in the world, but they aren’t happy, and their standard of living comes at the price of devastation of other peoples and the waste of natural resources. They, who are WE, prefer fantasy to reality, because experiencing the reality of what WE are complicit in would mean we must experience overpowering guilt and responsibility. Nobody wants that. So we’ll have to pay in another way.

The climactic scene of the movie is footage from the Dick Cavett show. A new guest enters and says he disagrees with what he’s heard Baldwin say, and asks if there isn’t any other way for him to connect than through race? Surely he must feel more connection with a white author than with an illiterate black.

Baldwin answers that the man is invoking an idealistic vision that he has seen no evidence of. Is he to trust not only himself, but his relatives and children to an idea which he’s never seen manifest in real life? The other seems to have nothing to say–or maybe it’s just that I can’t imagine him saying anything to refute Baldwin.

The idea that racism was once a problem, but is no longer, is popular in some circles. When people complain about it, or even try to talk about it, they’re said to be “race-baiting”. I don’t suppose people with this view are even insincere–that they’re aware of. One such person friended me on Facebook during the past year or so, complimenting me on the posts I’d written on this blog, and trying to persuade me of his views. He was nice to me, never being rude when I stated my own views (which he probably saw as liberal cliches), and even defending me from some of his friends. But I couldn’t agree that racism was no longer a problem, nor could I support his candidate for president. I’m not sure if this movie would mean much to him. I’d like to think it could open his eyes, but that might be too much to expect. There are quite a few people who seem pretty sincere in their disagreement with what I believe. And I certainly am not always right.

The movie Raoul Peck has made isn’t perfect. As one writer complained in a recent article, he didn’t address Baldwin’s homosexuality, even though Baldwin wasn’t shy about that. If he had, the movie would probably have been longer, and even more powerful. As the writer pointed out, Baldwin was criminalized in two ways: not only as a black man, but as a gay man. He was doubly an outsider in ways most whites don’t experience, unless they really want to. Most of us want to be accepted, so don’t confront the injustices we see. That’s what is known as white privilege, a term some people are impatient with. They don’t see themselves as privileged. They also don’t think to ask how a black person might see them.

The movie quickly surveys several movies with themes of black vs white. One is the movie in which Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier are handcuffed together after escaping from prison. At the end of the movie they’ve managed to get rid of the cuffs and are running to catch a train and ride in the box car. Poitier climbs onto the train, Curtis clutches at his hand, but can’t hold on, and falls down the hill. Poitier jumps back off the train. This, Baldwin says, is to reassure a white audience that black people still love them, in spite of the way whites have abused blacks. But, says Baldwin, the black audience had a completely different reaction: they said, “Fool, get back on the train!”

Do we want to know how the people we live with, who had a major role in building this country, but got very little out of it, actually feel, or do we prefer a fantasy? The answer to that question may go a long way to determining our future, as Baldwin says.

My Favorite Football Game


I became a New England Patriots fan about forty years ago when Steve Grogan began playing quarterback for them. They had some other good players too, but it took them a long time to get anywhere in the playoffs. Still, when I moved to New England myself, that kind of reinforced my being a fan.

It was 1985 when they made their first Super Bowl, and that was against the Chicago Bears team with the tremendous defense. New England got stomped. Their next time to the Superbowl was in the late 1990s. They didn’t get slaughtered that time, but still lost pretty badly.

Two things changed all that: the arrival of Bill Belichick and the arrival of Tom Brady. Belichick became one of the most successful coaches in the NFL. Brady became arguably the best quarterback in the game today, and one of the best all-time. I understand why a lot of people don’t like the team: they win an awful lot. But they didn’t used to, and I rooted for them before they became this good. That said, this year’s Super Bowl was possibly the best football game I’ve ever watched.

The Atlanta Falcons were a very good team this year, both offensively and defensively. They pretty much started the game hitting on all cylinders.

The game was scoreless when I began watching, but didn’t stay that way long. Brady was intercepted, and the Falcons quickly scored a touchdown. It didn’t take long for them to score a second one too. Meanwhile, their defense was putting pressure on Brady and covering the receivers well. Brady threw another interception, which was run all the way back for a touchdown. At that point I thought I’d never seen the Patriots play so badly in a big game, and began thinking about congratulating friends rooting for the Falcons. A field goal late in the first half didn’t seem to make much difference.

This was accentuated early in the second half when the Falcons scored another touchdown. At 28-3, a Patriot’s win seemed impossible. An article I read the next day said at that point the chance of their winning was less than 1 %. But at that point things began to change.

The Patriot’s defense began to be more effective, holding the Falcons scoreless the rest of the way. Julio Jones made a pretty amazing catch on the sideline, but the Falcons couldn’t take advantage.

As the Patriot’s defense became more effective, Atlanta’s defense became less. As Atlanta’s offense spent less time on the field, the defense became tired and less able to put pressure on Brady. In Denver’s win against the Patriots last year their ability to put pressure on Brady consistently all game was a key element. Atlanta began well, but couldn’t keep the pressure on. When Tom Brady isn’t being pressured he picks defenses apart.

The Patriots scored a touchdown in the third quarter, but missed the extra point. They then scored a field goal, which made the score 28-12. A win still seemed impossible.

But when the Patriots scored a touchdown and made a two-point conversion to cut the lead to 28-20, the momentum had definitely changed. I think it was on the next drive that Julian Edelman made possibly the greatest catch I’ve ever seen. Brady passed to him when he was surrounded by three defensive players. The pass bounced off his hands, but he was able to turn, grab it in the air, and keep it from hitting the ground as he fell. The Patriots scored again, made the two-point conversion again, and were tied. They couldn’t score again before the end of the game, so it became the first Super Bowl game to go to overtime.

But not for long. By this time it seemed pretty inevitable. The Patriots got the ball again and scored the winning touchdown. After a difficult start Brady completed some 43 passes for 466 yards. After falling so far behind, it would have been easy for him and the team to give up, but they never did.

Arguably, this was their most challenging Super Bowl. Every one they’ve been in since Belichick and Brady arrived has been close and competitive. But they never fell as far behind as in this one. This was their seventh appearance in the fifteen years Brady has been quarterback, and they’ve lost two of those seven, both very close games to the New York Giants. That means they’ve won five, a record for one quarterback.

Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls, which were part of five NFL championships, mostly before the Super Bowl began. The Packers lost only one championship under Starr, so they were arguably a better team than the Patriots. It’s an interesting discussion, though, since they were also arguably much more talented, probably equivalent to an all-star team at every position. There have been other teams comparably talented, but no others as successful.

The Patriots have been unique because they HAVEN’T had great talent at every position. They had Corey Dillon for a couple of years and have LeGarrett Blount now. Those have probably been their best running backs.

They had Randy Moss for one season ten years ago when they went undefeated in the regular season, but lost the Super Bowl. Julian Edelman is a fine one now, as is Rob Gronkowski (who was injured and couldn’t play in the Super Bowl). Otherwise, they were good but not great.

Their defense was pretty good all season. One way of measuring that is that they won three of the four games Brady didn’t play in, using two quarterbacks with relatively little experience. The two played well, but so did the defense. That’s why it was surprising they gave up twenty-one points in the Super Bowl. I have to give Atlanta a lot of credit there, but they weren’t able to keep the pressure on, which is at least partly a tribute to New England. Bill Belichick is a master of making adjustments, and he made them throughout this game.

It almost seemed inevitable when New England scored early in overtime to win the game. The momentum had completely shifted, and Atlanta’s defense, good as they were all season, just couldn’t stop the Patriots offense.

This sixteen year run has been pretty amazing, though not as amazing, perhaps, as the Packers run during the 1960s. One difference has been the Patriots sustaining excellence over a longer period of time. After the 1967 Super Bowl many of the Packers veterans retired (at the same time Vince Lombardi left to coach the Washington Redskins), and they weren’t very good again until the 1990s. In the case of the Patriots, the continuity is been mainly Belichick and Brady. Others have come and gone, but they’ve stayed at the top of the AFC East, and usually at or near the top of the NFL.

To say that no one saw that coming is an understatement. Hardly anyone knew anything about Brady when he was drafted. Belichick had been head coach in Cleveland, with little to show for it. He was named head coach of the New York Jets, succeeding Bill Parcells, but changed his mind after one day, and took the Patriots job. He had one losing season, then went to the Super Bowl the next year, which was when Brady became the starting quarterback. They followed that up with two more Super Bowls in the next three years, winning each one of them. They’ve been near or at the top just about every season since.

It’s not that I want New England to win every year. I grew up loving pro sports teams from Cleveland, Ohio, and would love to see the Browns get somewhere in the NFL. I was thrilled last year when the Cavaliers won the NBA title and the Indians went to the World Series.

But Brady can’t play forever, and Belichick can’t coach forever. I expect New England will fall back to mediocrity eventually, as every team does. But I’ve enjoyed this run, and especially this last game.

An Interesting Time


We live in a fractured nation, and some of us hardly even know it because we’ve imposed a de facto segregation  on ourselves, and often hear few opinions we disagree with, except on TV.

But there is disagreement, and it’s virulent. Conservatives think conservatism is the natural way to be, and think liberals are hypocritical and malicious. Liberals feel the same way about conservatives. Neither lives up to their best ideals; both feel the other wants to impose their views on a whole range of issues. Not just abortion, but in religion, schools, etc. Part of the problem is economic: an expanding economy and good pay makes up for a multitude of sins, but a lot has to do with cherished beliefs too. A Dominionist Christian is quoted as saying other denominations should have their religious liberties taken away. This is extreme, but isn’t different from past Christian attitudes. It’s contrary to the vision our Founding Fathers had, though.

The Founding Fathers weren’t, in many cases, conventionally religious. They amended the Constitution to include religious liberty because of the still remembered (by some) religious wars of the 17th century. One way to avoid these was to allow every religion to practice, but none to impose its views on any other. The monotheistic religions tend to produce fanatics, and fanatics like to impose their own beliefs. Perhaps we periodically need to be reminded how well that works.

Daryl Davis attended Howard University intending to become a spy or a diplomat. He became a musician instead. He also acquired an unusual hobby: he began talking to members of the Ku Klux Klan.

This may have begun accidentally. He talked to someone after a performance who appreciated how he played piano. That person was a Klan member, and maybe other contacts followed from that one. Davis’s attitude towards him and other Klan members wasn’t accidental, though. He said his question was, How can you hate me when you don’t even know me? It turned out not many could. All many of them wanted was to be listened to. After he listened to them, many began feeling different, and got out of the Klan. Those leaving no longer had any use for their robes, and gave them to him. In the PBS program about him he estimates he has twenty-five or six such robes.

That part is inspiring. He has justified his faith that people can change. What is sad is when he talks to three activists in Baltimore who don’t believe white supremacists CAN change. I couldn’t really blame them: nothing in their experience leads them to believe that, and they feel Davis is a traitor.

They’re not the only people who feel others are traitors, or are angry for other reasons. According to Sidney Blumenthal, our 45th president has always pined for the love of New York City, which has resolutely withheld it from him. This may account for the resentment he displays, and also for his ability to engage the resentment of others, which enabled him to win his campaign. It’s possible we will suffer because New York City didn’t love Donald Trump enough, but many people feel unloved. Christianity told us to love one another, but didn’t teach us how to do that. Consequently, we have done a miserable job of it.

In Mary Renault’s novel about ancient Greece, The Last of the Wine, one character quotes Socrates as saying, “Be what you wish to seem.” This expresses much of the exasperation various groups in America feel about each other: not necessarily their views, but that they don’t behave according to those views. Shaming opponents for believing differently doesn’t change their minds, it causes resentment.

It’s not hard to understand why many people oppose abortion. At least until they know someone who wants to get one because of, for example, rape or incest.

Homosexuality is a similarly hot-button issue. Sexuality is a difficult issue for almost everyone, and the idea of not only having sex outside of marriage but with one’s own gender seems alien to most. Some can be persuaded that it’s not so evil when they know someone who is gay, but not all can. Some parents reject their children when they discover they have AIDS. They seem to believe their children have chosen a life of evil, but aren’t objective enough to ask why they would choose an orientation that so many people detest. When asked that question, they take it very personally, as an attack on their faith, as in some ways it is. Faith in the literal truth of the Bible is a kind of anchor for many who find any analysis of its text to be personally threatening. That’s much of the quarrel of a certain kind of conservative with liberals: liberals make them think unwanted thoughts. That some of these thoughts may embody the sort of compassion Jesus Christ taught doesn’t improve matters. We all prefer the religion that confirms our preexisting beliefs.

When such a resentment is present, it’s not hard to play on it and encourage hatred of others. How did Daryl Davis persuade white supremacists that their views were mistaken? He didn’t judge them. He listened to them and, he says, they persuaded themselves.

Not all will be persuaded, though. The 45th president may or may not emulate Hitler in every way, but there’s a family resemblance in their resentment. Hitler’s father abused him. The president’s father may not have, but the president does seem to feel unloved. Whether it’s New York City he feels rejected by, or whether the rejection comes from elsewhere, it seems likely many of us are going to be punished for it because many others share the feeling. Liberals are an enemy many can agree on, so liberals will be punished. Ordinary people may find that as liberals get punished, so do they, and regret their vote, but by then it will be too late.

Perhaps less justly, Muslims and Hispanics will be punished too. They too seem alien to a lot of people, so are easy to stereotype. It’s not hard for people who don’t know any Muslims to believe they all are terrorists. That few of the Muslims in this country are, that few are likely to get here, and that we have terrorists of our own seems harder to process, especially if one sympathizes in some respects with the white terrorists. Fear of immigrants is easy to take advantage of. The mechanism seems to be that many fear new immigrants will do to us what our ancestors did to Native Americans and imported black slaves. We all know we haven’t treated minorities well, which gives us good reason to fear them. Because of our fears, we mistreat them again, which won’t resolve our difficulties.

Anger can be a potent fuel, but it doesn’t help us harmonize with our neighbors. Unfortunately, the time seems ripe for a holy war. War certainly releases tensions, though it would be nice if we could release them in a more productive fashion. But that’s a matter of individual decision. Perhaps enough individuals will find a better way to behave than they are being encouraged to. This is an interesting time, in the Chinese sense.