I’d like to welcome another new contributor to The Millions. I worked with Patrick Brown at the book store in Los Angeles for a couple of years, and when I moved to Chicago, he moved to Iowa. Above this post, please enjoy the first of what I hope will be many contributions from Patrick.
I’d like to interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to invite our New York-based readers to come out this Friday, November 2, to celebrate the launch of my first book of fiction, A Field Guide to the North American Family. The release party will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the lovely and capacious Housing Works Bookstore & Cafe on Crosby Street in SoHo.I’ll be reading from the book for about half an hour and showing slides of the illustrations. During the remaining hour and a half, I’ll be signing books and Max and I will be hanging out and drinking free booze with you. We always enjoy meeting our readers, and I’d love to see any and all of you there. (I need all the support I can get!)
The Millions recently published guest contributor Ed Simon’s list of nominations for America’s national epic. Ed had included Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited; editor Lydia Kiesling ruthlessly cut the entry, feeling that it was too cute to cross genres. Now that the Nobel Prize Committee has upheld Ed’s judgment, we run his argument in its entirety below, with our apologies for denying his prescience. As the Laureate says, “We’re idiots, babe.”
Highway 61 Revisited (1965) by Bob Dylan – There is a temptation to claim that when it comes to Dylan, the greatest epic isn’t any individual album, but rather the entirety of his collected output, or maybe even better, the substance of his very life. After all, his story is almost absurdly archetypical American, a tale of rugged individualism and self-invention in which our young hero went east rather than west. His is a story about young Robert Zimmerman, suburban Jewish kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, hitch-hiking to Morris Plains, New Jersey, where he received a folk benediction from the hillbilly Okie troubadour Woody Guthrie dying from Huntington’s disease in a state hospital. As a result, he acquired the bardic name Dylan and moved to Greenwich Village where he would reinvent American music. Performing for half a century and with 37 albums, Dylan reconciles American contradictions more than any other performer before or after. He has been the firebrand revolutionary singing for civil rights and the reactionary Christian fundamentalist revivalist; he played folk modeled on the oldest songs in the English language and he went electric; though as he put it with characteristic impishness at a 1965 press conference, he primarily thinks of himself “as more of a song and dance man.” While the argument could be made for several different albums as Dylan’s American epic, it is Highway 61 Revisited which most fully embodies the grandeur and the shame of what the word “America” means – it is prophetic in its evocations. He riffs on Genesis when he sings “God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son,’/Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on,’” but as in the original God is serious, so is Dylan’s, continuing with, “Well Abe says, ‘Where do you want this killin’ done?’/God says, ‘Out on Highway 61.’” The songwriter’s genius for what critic Greil Marcus has called “the old, weird America” understands that collapsing biblical history into American is a fundamental strategy for expressing the strangeness of this country. Why shouldn’t Mt. Moriah be on America’s most iconic highway? In his lyrics, which skirt just this side of surrealism, there is a panoply of strange characters, including Cinderella, Bette Davis, Albert Einstein, Cain and Abel, Eliot and Pound, Ophelia and Robin Hood (just to present a smattering). Dylan’s lyrical logic is myth logic, but all the better to be recounted in the language of dreams. The road is the medium of the hero’s journey, and Highway 61 isn’t the only one on the album; there’s also “Desolation Row,” where “They’re selling postcards of the hanging,” calling forth nothing so much as America’s brutal racial legacies. And of course there is the opus “Like a Rolling Stone.” The electric masterpiece whose performance Pete Seeger tried to prevent at Newport by attempting to cut the electrical cables with an axe, the track which inspired a concert-goer at the Manchester Free Trade Hall to scream out at Dylan, “Judas!” – the rock song which birthed rock music. A six-minute long evocation of wounded friendship, rage, and rebellion. How does it feel, indeed?
Note: Irrelevant comments pitching books or other products will be deleted immediately. If you would like to promote your book, website, or other product, please consider advertising with us. You can do so through BlogAds at this link or you can email Max with questions.I like using Blogger as the platform for this blog, but I’ve found that the interface for commenting is frustratingly confusing for many commenters. Up until now, I was resigned to the fact that some of my potential commenters were giving up, but then I saw a helpful post at the Written Nerd where Jessica explains to her readers how to use Blogger’s clunky commenting system. Luckily, Jessica was nice enough to let me borrow the wording from her post.So, for anyone having trouble commenting, follow these steps:1. Click on the “Comments” link at the bottom of the post on which you wish to comment. From there you can read comments that other people have left and/or click on “Post a Comment” at the bottom to leave your own. A new window will pop up (disable your pop-up blocker if you need to.)2. In this new window, type in your comment in the box under “Leave your comment.”3a. If you have a Blogger or other supported user account, click on the “sign-in” bubble to use it. Type in your user name and password in the blanks that appear.3b. If you want to comment using your name (or any name) but don’t want to use, or don’t have, a Blogger account, click on the bubble next to “Nickname.” Type the name you wish to use in the blank marked “Nickname.” The “URL” blank is optional, but you can use it to include the address of any website you want people to link to when they click on your name in the comments.3c. If you want to post your comment anonymously, click on the bubble next to “Anonymous.” You will not be asked for any identification info.4. Click “Preview” if you want to see what your comment will look like. You can edit the writing in the “Leave your comment” box to modify your comment.5. Click the blue “Publish Your Comment” button.Congrats! You’ve left a comment at The Millions!Note: If you are not signed in with your Blogger account, you will likely also need to fill in the “word verification” field to make sure that you aren’t a robot or a spammer. Simply type in the characters you see in the picture above the pace.
It was my pleasure to do a half-hour interview with Dorian on WFMU-FM’s “The Speakeasy” last night. Our talk ranged from A Field Guide to the North American Family to Julio Cortazar to print vs. online to James Wood (natch). Check it out at www.wfmu.org/playlists/SE, where you’ll also find interviews with Lawrence Wright and Charles D’Ambrosio, among others. (Segment starts at 27:00, following…that’s right…Ashford & Simpson!)
You may have noticed that a few days ago I added another newsfeed to the sidebar. This one provides book headlines from the Christian Science Monitor. I’m pretty excited about this because the Monitor happens to be one of my favorite newspapers. The paper’s interesting history sets it apart from most dailies. Despite its name, the Monitor is not a religious paper. It was founded by Mary Baker Eddy, a devotee of the Christian Science religion, in 1908, but it was not meant to be a religious organ. Eddy was a prominent Boston citizen, and she had been getting a lot of grief from Joseph Pulitzer and his newspaper the New York World. She created the paper because she was convinced that newspapers should do more than attack people. She wanted her paper “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind.” The result is consistently excellent journalism with a great international focus and a deeper insight into the news than most daily papers provide. Have a look at the paper here.Tomorrow is one of the biggest literary days of the year: the announcement of the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Speculation abounds.
As late summer sets in, I find myself lazy, distracted. Like the stockbrokers and lawmakers who spend August relaxing or taking their “recess,” I, too, will be taking it easy. Expect posting to be lighter than usual in the coming weeks, and try to take things slow, if you can.
After about three days of tinkering, cutting and pasting, and banging my head against the wall, I’m happy to announce that The Millions has a new address, a location on the internet from which I’m hoping it will not move.Before I go any further let me ask you to please update your bookmarks to www.themillionsblog.com. I’ve set it up so that visitors to the old blog will be redirected to the new blog automatically, but that will only be in place for a limited time. If you read The Millions via its RSS feed, that has changed as well: this is the new feed.Now, why did I do this? Well, the previous address, my Realistic Records address, was meant to be temporary. I moved my young blog there to get it off of Blogspot. At the time I knew very little about registering domains and FTPing and things like that, so I just had my friend Derek set me up on the domain he had bought for our little record label project. Well, the record label project is ancient history, I was tired of my blog’s unwieldy address, and I figured it made sense for The Millions to be on a domain that was owned by me and not someone else.Some housekeeping issues. In moving the site, I took the opportunity to change a few things, including switching commenting systems. I think the new setup will be better for conversation on the site, but unfortunately all the old comments are gone. I wanted to save them but there wasn’t any way. Also, the site search will not work for a while until the new site is indexed in Google. Finally, please let me know if you are encountering any difficulties viewing the new site or if you find any broken links. You can email me here.Thanks!
For too long The Millions has been an entirely male operation (occasional contributions from Mrs. Millions and a few other female regulars notwithstanding.) I’ve long want to rectify this deficiency of ours, so it is with great pleasure that I welcome Emily Wilkinson to the site as a new regular contributor.Emily Wilkinson is a graduate student in English at Stanford University, where she is writing a dissertation on the genre and aesthetics of miscellany in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English literature.I think you’ll find that she brings a unique and interesting perspective to the site. Emily’s first post as a regular contributor will be appearing shortly.