Jewish World Review December 16, 2002/ 11 Teves 5763


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Off to War | As for Iraq, I only skim the dailies to chart the progress of milquetoast Hans Blix, the inflated battles between the administration's hawks and doves-as if 100 percent unity on how to protect the nation is desired-and the inane anti-American comments of Kofi Annan. But one thing is clear: George W. Bush has staked his presidency on deposing Saddam and if he doesn't follow up his eloquent speeches on the subject with action, he's a goner two years from now. Whether the war begins later this month or very early in 2003, it's a vital initiative, even if, perish the thought, the United Nations' collective nose is out of joint.

At the start, there will be all sorts of grumbling, not only from the Democratic presidential aspirants, but also from most of the media as well (excepting the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post), but Bush will have to live with that. Besides, by now he's immune to the attacks from antagonists like Howell Raines, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Clinton-who could've, if he had the vision and fortitude, done much to prevent the current terrorist (which, of course, includes Saddam and Bill's buddy Arafat) threats-so one assumes the President will stick to his plan.

Incidentally, last Sunday it was interesting, if not earth-shattering, to contrast the headlines of an Iraq analyis in the Times' print and website editions. On the Web, the article, written by Raines yes-man Patrick Tyler, was titled "Will Bush's March to War Be Slowed?" The same piece in print bore the more moderate headline "A Signal Moment Ahead: Will It Slow March to War?"

But that was a trifle compared to Beltway establishment treasure Thomas Friedman's bellicose-pardon my lapse into Times-speak-column on the same day. Friedman, hardly a stylist, begins with this startling observation: "I'm worried. And you should be, too." Thanks for the tip, Tom. He continues: "I am not against war in Iraq, if need be [oh, brother], but I am against going to war without preparing the ground in America, in the region and in the world at large to deal with the blowback any U.S. invasion will produce.

"But I see few signs that President Bush is making those preparations. The Bush team's whole approach was best summed up by a friend of mine: 'We're at war-let's party.' We're at war-and let's not ask the American people to do anything hard."

I'm planting a "victory garden" tomorrow.

Naturally, Friedman uses this theme to blast Bush's "surplus-squandering tax cuts," right-wing agenda, energy policy, inattention to global warming, and, most transparently, suggests that Rove "take a leave of absence until September 2004." Better yet, he advises the President to threaten Ariel Sharon with cutting off economic aid to Israel if he's not less bellicose-sorry!-toward the Palestinians and, prepare yourself, to "put the Clinton [Mideast] peace plan back on the table." In fairness, Friedman also advocates that Arafat be deposed, but that sop is mostly lost in the sheer stupidity of his column.


There's a brief moment in Live 1975 when you feel a catch in the throat, a sentimental pull that nearly justifies listening to the rest of this superfluous two-disc "bootleg" CD. Bob Dylan's calculated ragtag Rolling Thunder Revue has just finished "One More Cup of Coffee" and then segues into the yet unreleased "Sara," the treacly song dedicated to his wife, who was sitting in the Boston Music Hall audience that November night. It matters little that the couple, not long after, would wind up embroiled in a messy and costly divorce: That Dylan would expose his personal life so nakedly, without five layers of cryptic meaning, is at least curious, even if the lyrics aren't his best.

When Desire-an uneven record compromised by Dylan's songwriting partnership with Jacques Levy, but nonetheless his last attempt at coherence-was released in January '76, it was hard not to feel embarrassed for the pop legend. Revealing the history behind the wondrous "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," especially after his kiss-off song "Idiot Wind" from the earlier Blood on the Tracks, was something I'd rather he kept to himself.


Nonetheless, "Sara" is the standout on Live 1975, a surprisingly lifeless collection of Dylan's best-known classics that are performed almost as perfunctorily as the previous year's tour with the Band. It's the only song, with the possible exception of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"-in which Roger McGuinn sings a breathtaking, and improvised, second verse-that Dylan performs with any conviction. The other numbers-"Mr. Tambourine Man," "Just Like a Woman," "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "I Shall Be Released" and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," just for starters-are rote recitations of his vast catalog that he's still mining today in concert halls.

A few weeks ago, a New York Observer critic named David Means was rhapsodic about the two-disc CD, improbably calling it Dylan's "best live recording to date." Means can't be a day over 25, if his review is any indication. His intro sets you up for some nasty reading: "The more you know about Bob Dylan, the less you know. A truly enigmatic artist, Mr. Dylan's work and life offer vaporous handholds, explanations and instructions. Attempt to grasp them, and they will only dissipate and re-form into another contexture or idea... Trying to figure Mr. Dylan out-a full-time job for some fans-is about as easy as trying to get to Kafka's Castle, or pasting together a history of Ireland from the verbal antics of Finnegans Wake; the fun is inherently linked to the labyrinthine impossibility of success."

Correction: On second thought, Means is most likely an undergraduate at Brown. And you thought the 1960s were dead.

As for Means' absurd conclusion that this release is Dylan's finest live recording, he explains: "Mr. Dylan is not running scared on this album. Yes, I believe that even Bob Dylan has lived in fear, like any other artist-and when he's spooked, he sometimes allows his bands to overpower him, and, in turn, finds himself singing in giant, bardic yelps that seems almost beyond the lyrics."

Please. Dylan's '66 Manchester concert, officially released by Columbia a few years ago, is a stunning recording, a document of an artist at the peak of his career. Yeah, he probably was "spooked" then, spooked that he'd never get off his roller coaster of amphetamines, alcohol, exhaustion, nonstop touring and fans who were either hostile or ached just to touch him. But the music he created with the Hawks (later the Band) on that tour was apocalyptic and perfectly in sync, from the M-80 opening notes of "Tell Me, Momma" to electric renditions of "I Don't Believe You" and "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" to the chilling "Ballad of a Thin Man."

No wonder that just a few months later, Dylan disappeared from the public, ostensibly because of a motorcycle accident, and didn't tour again for eight years. Unlike many of his less astute-to put it kindly- contemporaries, Dylan knew he'd probably die keeping up that pace, and so he chucked it all, at his peak. Subsequently, of course, he entered another phase, which included the "Basement Tapes" and his stripped-down John Wesley Harding, an album with earnest and smart lyrics that rejected the era's current psychedelia and spawned country-rock.

Anyway, I attended the finale of Rolling Thunder's first incarnation-"The Night of the Hurricane" at the Garden in early December '75-and it was indeed a lot of fun, and far more satisfying than his previous year's comeback tour with the Band. The show lasted more than four hours and was in constant motion, with artists as diverse as Mick Ronson, Joni Mitchell, McGuinn and Ronee Blakley all taking star turns. Joan Baez was given far too much time, and was annoying as hell, but her one decent song-about Dylan-"Diamonds and Rust" was a highlight. You wonder why Columbia didn't include a third disc to include the works of some of Dylan's entourage.

I already have a number of "unofficial releases" from Rolling Thunder's series of concerts, all superior to Live 1975 (except for the sound), so this Dylan CD now is buried in the midst of my CD collection along with Love and Theft and Time Out of Mind. Where it belongs.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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