Dylan’s First Letterman Gig and 80’s Dylan

Dylan’s First Letterman Gig

People have been talking about Dylan playing on Letterman’s second to last show.  This is an interesting article about Dylan’s first Letterman gig, when he was struggling in the 80’s, around the release of Infidels.

I’ve always loved Infidels.  Dylan’s lyrics are amazing on that record.  I also like the oddball combination of him with Sly and Robbie, the great reggae rhythm section.  Another Dylan 80’s album I really like is Empire Burlesque.  There are many that will bemoan the 80’s production, and I understand that urge, but the songs themselves are largely fantastic.  Most Dylan fans will mention Dark Eyes, but Emotionally Yours, later made great by the O’Jays, is a fantastic ballad.  Tight Connection to My Heart is also an excellent pop song with great lyrics.  In some ways I feel like the 80’s production at times, if you can do away with your prejudice, makes lyrics like, “They’re beating the devil out of a guy who’s wearing a powder-blue whig”, even more insane and absurd, heightening the comedy.

John Oliver On Standardized Testing

The always brilliant John Oliver on Standardized Testing in America.  Any teacher that I have ever talked to, and I know a lot, my Mom having been a teacher for her whole career, talks about what a waste of time this testing is.  It eats away at things that could be more beneficial to students, while giving a skewered look as to what is really going on in our schools.  There is huge difference between intelligence, learning, and just memorizing.

Matthew Weiner Discusses Mad Men Ending

Major spoilers for Mad Men are involved in this post.

Matthew Weiner Discusses Mad Men Ending

Mattew Weiner has done a discussion about the last season of Mad Men and the final images displayed.  The whole article is worth reading if you are a fan of the show.  He claims that the last image of the show was not meant in any kind of cynical way:

“My take is that, the next day, he wakes up in this beautiful place, and has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is,” Mr. Hamm said. “And who he is, is an advertising man.”

Mr. Weiner didn’t touch on how the Coke ad did or did not fit within the show’s narrative. But he defended the ad, with its notably multicultural cast, against those who would now dismiss it as “corny.”

Now, I definitely interpreted it that way.  However, Weiner is defending the ad in it’s place and time and not ours.  He talks about how five years before the ad you couldn’t even have black and white people in the same ad.

In one way, if the creator of something says something is so and so, you could say I was wrong.  However, I think it is a credit to Weiner that the end was interpretive enough, so well put together, that its interpretations are more varied than just what he was thinking when he put it together.

I remember one time I wrote a song and someone misheard the lyrics.  What they heard was even more compelling than what I wrote.  Often when writing or doing anything, one goes on intuition more than reason.  David Lynch is a director that is really interesting to watch work, as he operates almost wholly on intuition.  Some of the things I have written that I’m most proud of, I don’t even know what they are till later on.  Also, there is the argument that once created, something is the audience’s as much as it is the creator’s.

A friend of mine said that the ending also hinted at the artistic process.  That so much goes into one song, or scene, etc.  Nothing is created in a vacuum.  It took Draper his whole life to arrive at a place where he could create that commercial.  I think this is another brilliant way to interpret the ending.

I remember reading another interview with Weiner where he talked about how there was positive and negative advertising.  There was advertising that tried to make what was being sold look appealing.  Then there was negative ads that tried to make people feel like they would be losers if they didn’t by the product.  Think of all of the male deodorant commercials that basically say if you don’t buy this you will never get laid.  Draper was someone that believed in creating positive ads.

Now I still stick with my original interpretation of the ending.  Even though the show takes place in the past, the viewing takes place in the now.  Advertising has consumed and co-opted so many things by this point that it is hard not to be cynical about ads.  In my mind tying peace and love to a Coke diminishes peace and love.  If you take my friend’s interpretation about art, art is at least trying to communicate something of value.  It is trying to represent the real experience as best it can so that other people can understand it.  It is trying to build communication.  Meanwhile, commercials end goal are to get you to buy a product.  In the case of the Coke ad, peace and love are being used to try to get you to buy something that causes tooth decay and childhood obesity.  It is turning peace and love into nothing more than a marketable commodity.

There is so much more I could say about the brilliant, beautiful, and somewhat disturbing, to me at least, ending of this great show.  But the whole thing about such a great ending is that you don’t have to decide.  You don’t have to tell yourself that this ending represents one interpretation and that nothing else is correct.  The ending raises more questions, connects with more ideas, than Weiner, my friend, or myself have about it.  The ending is art and that is a beautiful thing.  It is not a final destination, but a river than can lead you to so many different places.  Cast off from shore and explore this world and others on your own.

Not Everything is Equal

I read an article the other day where it was criticizing Simon Pegg because he claimed that sci-fi wasn’t as good as it used to be.  It then went into some argument that critiquing populist art was elitism.  I call bullshit loud and clear.  Pegg was making maybe too much of a blanket claim, but criticism is valid.

Art, like people, should never be judged as a group.  You don’t want to say hip-hop isn’t valid, but classical music is, or art house movies are valid, but summer blockbusters aren’t, etc.  But you can say, “so and so is vapid or such and such has merit”, when it comes to specific pieces.  Opinion always plays a role.  So does understanding.  There have been plenty of times I didn’t get something, only to get it later based on increasing knowledge.  Things also work on different levels.  Something may be excellent escapism and something might be excellent in making you think.  Different pieces for different moods and times.

The door is always left open to screw up in an assessment of something.  Rigidity is a mistake.  But all that being said, you can sure as shit argue that one thing is more worthy than another.

First of all popularity is no proof of validity.   Hitler’s ideas were popular at one point.  Especially in the modern world, when marketing plays such a huge roll in getting above the din, popularity just means exposure half the time.  This does not mean popular stuff is bad, only that popular is not the equivalent of good.

So whoever wrote that article with Simon Pegg is a clown.  You have to try to discern good from the bad.  Everything is not equal. The Kardashians are not Macbeth.   Life is short.  You need to have some kind of measurement of worth so that you don’t spend what little time you have turning your brain into mush.    Again, popular entertainment can be fantastic, but just the fact it is popular doesn’t mean anything.  Elite can infer stuck up, but it can also infer the best.  “They were elite soldiers.”  I wish more people would spend a little time asking for the best, and not settling for the banal:  Putting on whatever comes on TV or the radio without questioning it, drifting into the American night, lost and unaware, primed to lose.

The Brilliance of Mad Men’s Ending

Spoiler alert for the finale of Mad Men

The more I think about the ending of Mad Men, the more I think it was brilliant.  I want to try to ignore doing any kind of traditional recap, as there are plenty of those online.  I want to talk more about how things ended with the shows main character, Don Draper.  His story line wrapped up in a way that was perfect in that in some way it gave people what they wanted, but was also disturbing and critical as well.  It somehow managed to be happy and depressing at the same time.

Don Draper finally seems to find a glimmer of inner peace while meditating.  He says, “ohm”, and you hear the sound of a bell.  The next and final cut is to a famous Coke ad where people sing about harmony and how Coke is the “real thing”.  (This is a real ad.)  I don’t see any other way to read this than Don created the ad from his life experiences as he had all series.

In one sense those fans that want Don Draper to find a happy ending got one.  He will essentially be alright.  Stan said earlier that Don was a “survivor” and Peggy replied that he was always right.  You get a sense that whatever happens to Don Draper after the credits role, he will survive and be essentially alright.

However, as a character, even if he does or doesn’t find lasting inner peace, he is basically ending up at the same place he began, turning his life experiences into advertisements.  He is commodifying the experiences of life.

What is disturbing is that this is essentially what advertising does.  It takes real experiences, strips them of their meaning, and uses them to sell people things that they don’t need, some of which are even harmful.  Don’s inner peace was used to sell Coke, a product we know to cause tooth decay and child obesity.  As my brother said, “Draper took all of the pain, all of the things he learned, all of the idealism of the 60’s, and turned it into something banal.”

So much of our society commodifies and cheapens things that should be sacred.  In free market capitalism the market takes everything in life and reduces it into something that can be sold on the market.  Peace, love, and happiness become just mere commodities, stripped of any higher purpose.

The brilliance of the ending is that Mather Weiner, Mad Men’s creator, was able to give Draper an ending that was both happy and disturbing, and that also commented on his character, his TV show, and the real world all at once.  That’s quite a feat to go out on.

Mad Men Finale Will Never Live Up to Expectations

Mad Men Finale Will Never Live Up to Expectations

This is more about television in general and not any kind of real review.  I largely agree with it.  It talks about how finales should be viewed in the context of the larger work, in the same way that the last chapter in books or the last minutes of a film are.

Mad Men, Mad Max, and Music

I’ve been taking some time off with friends and family.  I have many things I want to write about in depth, but just a few brief thoughts in the meantime:

1.  I will need to ponder the Mad Men final for awhile.  I thought it split the difference between Breaking Bad and The Sopranos. It gave the audience some of what they wanted and at the same time was interpretive enough that I think any quick judgment of it is misplaced.  My emotions and thoughts were complex while watching it.  I feel like any kind of summation at this point would not do the material justice.

2.  The new Mad Max is simply fantastic.  It is visually stunning, exploding with unique imagery, full of non-stop action, and batshit insane.  It’s entertainment with ideas and clearly directed by someone with true vision.  It makes other summer blockbusters look like marketing decisions.  I should throw in that it is emotional and subversive too.  But even if you just go see if for pure fun, you won’t be let down.

3.  Went on a walk today with My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, and Chromatics.  Three great bands for enhancing a mood while still giving you space to think.