MY DYLAN (WHO ISN’T YOUR DYLAN) WAS NOT A MEDIOCRITARIAN

MY DYLAN1
C. 2015 an English songwriting comrade and I held an informal contest (no prizes involved) re: who could write the best “Dylan” song in a day. I won: comrade’s mistake: he attempted “Desire” era Dylan to pastiche; you need Scarlet Rivera to pull that off. Also, the comrade was a Mediocritarian…  but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
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This story involves Art, not cash. No cash was exchanged across the crux of this story. If cash is what floats your boat, please click the link linking to the podcast in which I describe blowing a whale at Sea Village for 40 crumpled dollars during a recession.  Please like and subscribe.
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(Wife just came in the room looking for gluten-free snacks and I said If you keep acting cute like this I’m going to fuck you and she said Don’t mess with me, I’m hungry!  timestamp 12/04/2022/  18:49)
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As I wrote the song, the lyrics came out in sheets and chunks and I was finished with it, working intermittently, in roughly ten hours. I remember there was a big demo that day and a fellow  I knew made a big deal, on social media, about going, though he was as embedded in the system he was purportedly “protesting” as a nail in a tree the tree has been growing around for thirty-five years. I had something to say in that song. In writing it I learned the power of the propulsive, declamatory phrase (such as Dylan brought forth in “Like a Rolling Stone,” adopted then by Levi Stubs, of The Four Tops, in “Bernadette”  ), spitty syllables spring-loaded, to capacity, in their four-bar cartridges.  The perfect phrasing to express righteous indignation, or to deliver a righteous upbraiding (as in “Like a Rolling Stone”) or to clear a dormitory hallway of debutantes.
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“Poetry makes nothing happen,” said the droll Auden, from bed, probably, and languorously, before putting it in a poem that made nothing happen,  but Songs are Poetry that does. Songs make all kinds of things happen because music does. Songs are Poetry X Primordial wiring.
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The song I “won” that Dylan-pastiche-ing contest with wasn’t only about that  above-mentioned hipster and his gestural protest march, either; it was also about the friend the song was addressed to: a Dylan fan whom Dylan fandom stranded in a world from which the original Dylan was long absent (that’s her pictured below). She told me, during a rehearsal, how her dream of attending a Dylan concert ended in tears as she wept at that very concert, in her balcony seat,  over Dylan’s indecipherable croaks and bleats. She must have been about 20 at the time it happened and I wrote the song when she was 23. But not only to her was it written: I wrote it to my generation of late, late Boomers. We got just enough of a taste of the 1960s to feel violated by everything that came after Jimmy Carter. We keep waiting for 1967 to come back. You can see it in the cultural artifacts the “successful” late, late Boomers keep pumping into the culture. Austin Powers (aka Mike Myers) is just four years younger than I am, if you know what I mean. To quote my song’s middle eight (“middle eight” itself a retro-term):
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did he promise to take you to the mountain top

though he could not seem to find a parking lot?

a generation later you’re still waiting for a ride back home,  do you need a ride back…?

do you need a ride…?

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montage-w-bw-smaller

Late-early Dylan was a powerful archetype for any 20-something rebel with a literary kink to work out. The Beatles embodied the joys of the gang; the hermetically-sealed in-group; but Dylan embodied one’s fantasies of being sufficient to one’s self and slicing dickheads and hypocrites,  to ribbons, with a sneer and an acoustic guitar. I lived in Dinkytown, Dylan’s old  U of M neighborhood, in the late 1970s, and lived those songs. Right around the corner from Fourth Street. I was very young then and Bob was still so far from old.

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2.

MY DYLAN 2
I love songs/ poems/ stories/ novels/ movies that have something to say. I love the notion of poetry/ songs as an ongoing record. If I can finally discover a half-decent engineer in Berlin, maybe I’ll invest in giving this song a proper production. I got a producer involved soon after I wrote it and despite “loving” the tune, his first idiotic suggestion was to remove the pre-chorus, which is a major hook. He wasn’t trying to tighten up the song, he was just trying to shorten it: as if we were in the business of trying to make Pop Hits! The fact that I was the one paying him, and I’m neither under-20 nor possessed of eye-popping boobs, should have been his clues that we weren’t attempting Pop. I dedicate my efforts to the gods of Anti-Pop whenever I can. Though I freely admit that I sinned for about a decade, and not terribly long ago.
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I was once involved in the making of a German pop hit that still generates fan videos, has had millions of views (in its various postings) and was the flimsiest piece of nothing bullshit I ever co-wrote. It made money (in fact, such good money that it gave me the confidence to “go after” my amazing and Beloved Wife with family-forming in mind). Yet, Flimsy Piece of Nothing Bullshit is not the only music the “fans” will accept.  It’s just, often,  the only music The Fuckers in the Middle will allow through the gate. Have you not heard of the Mediocritarian Movement? Not quite as bloodthirsty as the NeoLibs (though there is much overlap), but the Mediocritarians are killing Art at the same rate that NeoLibs and minions are obliterating trees, in our rain forests, and turning them into toilet paper and matchsticks. Mediocritarian NeoLibs love turning offensively tall, exquisite and mystical trees into profoundly mediocre matchsticks.
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(and here our essay pivots; the soundtrack grows ominous: switch on your wipers and high beams)
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The Fuckers in the Middle are staunch Mediocritarians. Ever wonder why so many successful movies/ songs/ books are taste-erasingly mediocre? Bland as room temp skim milk? Banal as a Mormon’s favorite tie? Because the Mediocritarian gatekeepers hate talent unless (important caveat) the talent has an I.D.  (I.D. = Ingratiating Defect) . Prince’s I.D.  was his shortness. Bowie’s was his (clever, canny) initial Freakishness: as talented as Bowie was as a songwriter, he also looked a mess by the standards of the day… it was only in retrospect that Ziggy Stardust became attractive to anyone other than savagely marginalized kids and/or Queers. Marc Bolan, whose retro-futurist music shtick Ziggy ripped off wholesale (including the ’50s chords), was a very cute little man of extremely ingratiating shortness. When Bowie first entered the Pop economy, he was playing it “straight” as a Face, a proper leading man, of about 5’9″,  with a Brian Jones haircut.  And how far did he get in that guise? Not very far at all. The Mediocritarian gatekeepers see a handsome, not-stupid, self-confident kid like young Bowie and think Fuck you. If Bowie hadn’t hit on the crafty workaround of turning himself into a flaming scarecrow in a bright red fright wig, becoming a junkie would have been his next option.
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Obviously, there are always exceptions to the rule, and in the early years of the ascendance of The Pop Economy, the Mediocritarians didn’t have quite the grip, on things, that they later developed. But why do you suppose so many world-famous leading men are neurotic shrimps or pea-brained hunks ? Why did so many require plastic surgery in order to become “beautiful”? You think there aren’t a million types out there, naturally stunning, who couldn’t step in front of a camera and do the brainless task of reciting two lines of dialogue, at a time, without a lick of surgery first?
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But that’s the allure, of the “defective” proto-superstar, to the Mediocritarian, who is often an ambitious middle class, or upper middle class, lump with no talent/ looks/ brilliance/ charm.  Perhaps these lumps are driven less by greed for cash than by this wound of unremarkability; the need for revenge on the talented/ beautiful. They can feel superior enough to a short, homely (Prince was not a naturally doe-eyed ingénue: he, too, went under the knife) talent to feel as though they have created the talent by paying for the surgery. Usually, the greater the genuine genius of the anointed content-creator, the more it is required that said genius be a cripplingly self-destructive junkie or boozer, destined to die young. This is the modern archetype that makes the Mediocritarian Middleman happy,  this is a salve to the Mediocritarian wound, so, such a doomed bastard, the Mediocritarian is happy to wave through the gate. A variation on the Salieri effect.
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Mostly, though, what you get, instead of genius of any kind, tortured or not,  is rehashed and recycled and half-arsed or hamfisted nonsense rolled into Cultural Artifacts that are hyped as “masterpieces”. You get Mediocre scripts or songs welded to high production values; high production values are a Mediocritarian Trojan horse. They are training the audience to reject any artifact that doesn’t come wrapped in slick packaging. Can you hear a song, qua song (on the level of composition), in a low-fidelity demo?
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rome 3

3.

The best fudge brownie I ever had was not bought in a supermarket or a bakery chain or in a Starbucks, branded with the hegemonic imprimatur of the Taylorized product: my Uncle Carl made it. I was about nine years old, it was 1968, and Uncle Carl improvised the brownie because he had just come home, from a long morning at the University of Chicago, and he was hungry. He fed bits to me hot, right out of the pan. Kids are usually sitting ducks for the slick hype of Mediocritarian packaging but no pre-packaged brownie has ever tasted as good.
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Starbucks brownies are slick Mediocritarian fare like “The Usual Suspects,” a truly clunky film, is,  or like Toni Morrison’s wit-free, racialist schlock-horror, is, or like the utter tripe of “The Wire” or “True Detective” or “Netflix Show of the Moment” are.  How to explain or describe Haruki Murakami in any way other than as a Starbucks brownie?  Starbucks brownies are no better or worse than the hype-wrapped dollop of Mediocritarian versification that was the inaugural poem of 2020… the poem that office workers, who feel no need or love for the real stuff,  clearly,  talked about for weeks at their fluoridated water coolers:
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When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we

find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.

We braved the belly of the beast.

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the

norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always

justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow we do it.

Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that

isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time where a

skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised

by a single mother can dream of becoming

president*, only to find herself reciting for one (ETC).

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Ugh. Reading that terrible cliché  “skinny Black girl” (which is supposed to convey so much yet conveys fuckall) is like being stabbed in the swimming-trunked ass by a toddler’s rusty safety scissors at a Church-run swimming pool.  Who, with a High School education (calculated in 1975 values), couldn’t reel off a shaplier gloss, on such hackneyed sentiments as these verses tackle,  in under an hour? One can’t help thinking back to the Mediocritarian Laureate of another era, Robert Frost, who had a bit more life, and reading, under his belt before hanging the shingle. Everything is depreciating, even Mediocrity.
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I wrote that Dylan pastiche and a whole set of para-folkie tunes for, as it turns out, the girlsinger (pictured above, somewhere) I mentioned in a previous post. The one who got pregnant in the middle of the process of becoming the face of a band. I think I was going to call the folky version of that band MOD FAUXK. She’s the one who wept, at the sheer shittiness of Tired Old Cashing-In Dylan, at the Dylan concert (mentioned above). I wrote “ROME, PT 2” in a competition with a songwriting friend and I also wrote “WHITE LIAR,” for her to sing, and you can hear raw rough sparklingly crude demos of both, and more, as linked below the lyrics.
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The “White Liar” (number two on the playlist) demo finds her singing lead… she almost got there. She almost became my perfect tool in the war against the Mediocritarians, who hate  good things like songs which actually mean something.
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The effort to create nearly anything, now… song/poem/novel/ painting… is framed by the crude presumption that the effort is toward making money, or achieving fame, a presumption which renders most such efforts ridiculous. But the presumption is absurd, a trap, and such traps are the work of the Mediocritarians who can’t understand that the act of creating beauty is beautiful, in itself, and the best reason for trying.
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Go and create.
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rome pt 2

verse one 

here comes your unbearable friend with his strap-on  pocket rocket and his chipster memes again and i

don’t need to see his petulant chins,    got a march with 50,000 zombie mockers to attend

but you,     you’re free to keep him company, Jazz,   you can listen to the vacuum while he’s

 glomming on your ass, you should prefer to choke at home and alone if you really have to choose

between a dick and chicken bones, should  i     pretend to be aghast or amused when the difference

is the distance from a bj to the blues,  hey you

knew it all along

pre-chorus

some of us are trying to invest the rest of Life with true songs

do you know what’s wrong then…?

the planet is damaged, the sky is dying

but you just give a damn about the shit you are buying

the planet is damaged, the sky is dying

you don’t want to know about the  lies in your diamonds

chorus

cuz Rome      (I guess you never knew that) Rome       (I  bet you never knew that)  Rome

 (I guess you never knew that) Rome burned down in a day

verse two

    how can you turn your back on the wind when the news that it is blowing used to be your only friend?               

 i don’t ,   I won’t  believe in giving in, if you’re not in the resistance you’re the secret Vichy friend, but

pre-chorus

i  knew it all along

some of us are trying to invest the rest of Life with true songs

do you know what’s wrong then… ?     yeah

the planet is damaged, the sky is dying

but you just give a damn about the shit you are buying

the planet is damaged, the sky is dying

you don’t want to know about the  lies in your diamonds

chorus       

cuz Rome      (I guess you never knew that) Rome       (I  guess it’s news to you that)  Rome         

(I bet you never knew that) Rome burned down in a day

middle eight

did he promise to take you to the mountain top

though he could not seem to find a parking lot?

a generation later you’re still waiting for a ride back home,  do you need a ride back…?

do you need a ride…?

pre-chorus

the planet is damaged, the sky is dying

but you just give a damn about the shit you are buying

the planet is damaged, the sky is dying

you don’t want to know about the  lies in your diamonds

chorus        

cuz Rome      (I guess you never knew that) Rome       (I  guess it’s news to you that)  Rome

 (I bet you never knew that) Rome burned down

Rome burned down

Rome burns down every day

*Knowing how America does politics, these days, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Amanda Gorman is slotted for the job

ROME 4

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