RAMBLER OF THE WEEK
In a “jingle-jangle morning” a long time ago, a young folk singer from Minnesota began a complex and rambling journey that has continued through my entire lifetime and still goes on today. His trek reached a culmination this week when the Nobel Prize committee awarded Bob Dylan the prize for Literature.
Today we proclaim him our Internet Monk Rambler of the Week.
This article in the Daily Beast outlines six paths Dylan has traveled throughout his musical career, complete with representative songs from each era.
- Protest singer (1963-65)
- Electric Troubadour (1965-67)
- Country Prophet (1967-74)
- Rock Star (1975-88)
- Rebirth (1989-99)
- On the Road Again (2000-Present)
Another way to trace Dylan’s pilgrimage is to note how his spiritual/religious identity has changed over the years. An article in Sojourners outlines these changes.
- Raised in a Jewish family, he married and raised five children in the faith.
- In the late 1970’s after a divorce, he was baptized a Christian. Two of his records were openly oriented to this perspective, but his actual faith journey was complicated, as he continued to attend synagogue and write lyrics that questioned the faith as well as promoting it.
- In subsequent years, spiritual themes continue to appear in Dylan’s work in darker, more mystical tones.
NPR interviewed Sean Wilentz, Princeton University professor and historian, and author of the book Bob Dylan In America, and asked him about Dylan’s work and his thoughts about the singer-songwriter being awarded the Nobel Prize.
Bob Dylan, like many if not most literary greats, is an alchemist. He manages to take materials from here and there and to turn them into something different — to make them larger, to make them his own. And Dylan started out working in the American folk song tradition, which is actually the Anglo-American folk tradition, and he took songs that had been sung for hundreds of years and turned them into different works of art.
He’s continued in that vein — Dylan’s career is a series of breaks. I mean, he’s not a person who’s done the same thing throughout and improved on it — he’s rather diverged quite sharply from period to period, but always bringing it together into something that’s a vision very much his own.
Anna North at the New York Times admires Dylan, but doesn’t think this particular prize was appropriately rewarded. North wishes the Nobel committee would reserve it for those who specifically produce literature rather than giving it to someone who is indeed a writer, but whose identity and vocation is more in song. Sean Wilentz thinks this wrongfully denigrates the fact that good lyricists are indeed creating a literature that is worth contemplating, within the context of musical settings.
Well, I would hope that after this, songwriters, serious songwriters — Leonard Cohen’s name comes to mind — would be taken seriously as writers as well. Because they are writers. And it’s really that simple. There’s been this artificial — what do we say, snobbism? — about what literature is and what literature isn’t. I hope that, as much as Bob Dylan has broken down these barriers for his entire career — I hope that this award will help break down those barriers for songwriting generally.
Indeed, Carl Sunstein at the Salt Lake Tribune asserts that “Bob Dylan has surpassed Walt Whitman as the defining American artist, celebrating the capacity for self-invention as the highest form of freedom.”
At any rate, kudos to a man who has been on a long and sometimes strange rambling journey, who has accompanied us on our life travels for over five decade, and who has in many ways helped to define those travels. Congratulations to our Rambler of the Week, Bob Dylan.
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STORIES FROM THE WEEK
✎ DISTURBING HEALTH NEWS
More bad news for the health care system in the U.S. The rate at which women die during pregnancy or childbirth has been rising in the U.S. over the last fifteen years, according to several new studies.
Diane Rehm did a show on the subject this past week, and what the studies show is alarming. One person she interviewed was Marion MacDorman, a maternal and child health researcher at the Maryland population research center at the University of Maryland. MacDorman reported that the maternal mortality rate increased by 27 percent from 2000 to 2014 for a group of 48 states and Washington, D.C., and that the rate nearly doubled in Texas between 2010 and 2012. The maternal mortality rate is the rate of women who die as a result of complications of pregnancy or childbirth. And this can extend beyond pregnancy itself; it can be up to one year after pregnancy. Rates in the U.S. are at 23.8 per 100,000 live births, compared to rates like 4-8 per 100,000 in countries like Germany, the UK and Japan. In Texas in 2013, the number was 35.8. By contrast, California, which has intentionally focused on the issue, the rate decreased from around 21.5 in 2004 to 15 in 2014.
A situation like this should be deemed intolerable in a country like ours.
A fascinating find, reported in National Geographic:
Nine miles from the volcano the Maasai call the “Mountain of God,” researchers have cataloged a spectacularly rare find: an enormous set of well-preserved human footprints left in the mud between 5,000 and 19,000 years ago.
The more than 400 footprints cover an area slightly larger than a tennis court, crisscrossing the dark gray mudflat of Engare Sero, on the southern shore of Tanzania’s Lake Natron. No other site in Africa has as many ancient Homo sapiens footprints—making it a treasure trove for scientists trying to tell the story of humankind’s earliest days.
Some of the tracks seem to show people jogging through the muck, keeping upwards of a 12-minute-mile pace. Other prints imply a person with a slightly strange, possibly broken big toe.
Yet more tracks suggest that around a dozen people, mostly women and children, traveled across the mudflat together, striking toward the southwest for parts unknown. The mud tracked it all—including the dirty droplets that fell from their feet with each step.
The footprints are near Ol Doinyo Lengai, a volcano that looms over Lake Natron, a place of pilgrimage for the Maasai people. The team of excavators that unearthed them think that the ash-rich mud containing the footprints originally washed off Ol Doinyo Lengai’s flanks, making its way downhill to form the mudflats. The mud’s surface quickly dried out, preserving the prints in a cracked crust. Another flow of debris then buried the footprints at least 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
✎ RUSSELL MOORE’S ELECTION DAY QUANDARY
Ana Marie Cox at the New York Times recently interviewed Russell Moore about the quandary he finds himself in regarding the presidential election. Here is part of what he said:
One of the places of common ground that I’ve found between people on the right and the left is a common commiserating about how bad both of these candidates are.
…I understand why people across the religious and political spectrum would conclude that they have to wrestle with their consciences and vote for one of these candidates. I’m pro-life, pro-family, pro-racial reconciliation, pro-immigrant and pro-character in office, so no matter what happens in November, I lose.
We here at Internet Monk sympathize with Russell Moore and find ourselves in the same quandary. So today we offer our second alternative candidate for your consideration on November 8.
Here’s a talented (?) guy who finds himself out of work and might be interested if the right person asked him. I know he seems a little clueless, but since when has that ever stopped someone from running for president?
✎ C’MON CUBS, WIN ONE FOR BOB!
The TV cameras love to look for celebrities at ballgames, and during the recent Cubs series, comedian Bill Murray was the star most featured.
But there’s another comedian, 87 years old now, who likewise lives and dies with his beloved Chicago Cubs, and that’s Bob Newhart.
In a story at Fox Sports, Bob, a Cubs fan from the time he was a young kid, described how he was actually there the last time the Cubs reached the World Series.
Newhart said he first visited Wrigley Field when he was six or seven years old and grew up going to games with his mother. And when the Cubs won their most recent National League pennant in 1945, a 16-year-old Newhart was among the fans celebrating during the team’s victory parade.
“They had this big motorcade down LaSalle Street, and I was there in the crowd, cheering the victorious Cubs — that’s before they had divisions and all that — before they played the Detroit Tigers,” Newhart said. “So I was there and I’m cheering, yelling to Phil Cavarretta and Stan Hack and Nicholson, Andy Pafko in center field. And they’re all waving back. It was great.”
Ever optimistic, Newhart thinks this year (or maybe 2017) will certainly see them break through and win the Series.
“It looks like it’s going to happen, if not this year then next year,” Newhart said. “But boy, the way they do it — I’m 87 years old, and I can’t take this anymore. Would it be too much to just rout the other team so I wouldn’t have to go through this every game?
“But it’s been a joy,” he continued. “And you know, how much more time do I have left? So if they blow it this time –”
“But I don’t think they will,” he said, picking his thought back up.”They just look too good. So go Cubs, go.”
✎ ANOTHER MIRACLE BY ST. TIM OF TEBOW
Meanwhile, speaking of baseball, the hagiography of St. Tim of Tebow — now trying to make it for the Mets in their minor league system — continues to grow. That transcendent news source, Charisma News, offers a breathless account of how “Tim Tebow’s Prayers Stop[ped] Baseball Fan’s Massive Seizure.”
While other news outlets were content to simply report Tebow’s good deed of helping a man in need, Charisma goes right to the scene and brings us eyewitness accounts captured on tweets, such as:
“Tebow signing autographs. Fan has what looks like seizure. Not moving. Tebow puts hand on him and says a prayer. Man breathes. WOW.”
Eager to confirm their theology, Charisma immediately pronounced this a supernatural intervention: “The violent seizure reportedly stopped moments after Tebow prayed with him. The miraculous healing had many people take to social media expressing their amazement at the power of prayer.”
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LAUGHS FROM THE WEEK
✎ Photo of the Week
✎ Babylon Bee Headline of the Week
✎ Reformation Month — Luther Insult of the Week
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QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK