Stop by the stately Mercantile Library at 7 p.m., where the literary magazine [sic] will be hosting a party. I’ll be reading from, and signing copies of, A Field Guide to the North American Family, and the illustrious Diane Williams, editor of NOON and author of Excitability, among other titles, will be reading from her new book, It Was Like My Trying to Have a Tender-Hearted Nature. The Merc is located at 17 E 47th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues. I’d love to see you there.
It’s Thanksgiving and we are expecting many guests, so don’t expect much blogging. There will be some more “best of the year” type posts as the lists are published in various places. I’m thinking about compiling a master list to see which books appear on the most lists as I did last year… we’ll see. In the meantime, some of you may recall my invitation a few weeks back to anyone who would like to contribute to The Millions. And now I am able to happily introduce our first regular guest contributor. Andrew Saikali is an editor in the Globe and Mail newsroom in Toronto and a long-time reader of The Millions. When not listening to Bob Dylan or The Walkmen, he can be found reading. Welcome, Andrew! Stay tuned for his first post, arriving shortly. There are a few other folks in the pipeline right now (you know who you are). And if anyone else would like to contribute to The Millions, drop me line.
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?
In case you haven’t noticed, we have successfully moved. As always the whole experience was rather disconcerting – a several weeks-long build of activity leading into a seriously draining 48 hours, and then, suddenly, it was over.The move itself involved no major disasters, but couldn’t be described as pleasant either. Our first setback occurred when we realized that Penske had rented us a truck with a nail in the tire. Luckily, they sent somebody out to fix it, but we lost a few hours of last-minute packing. Perhaps worse was that the guys I hired to load the truck the next day decided to take their sweet time, so much so that Mrs. Millions and I were forced to jump in and lend a hand. They also ripped the couch.Everything had to come down the rickety back staircase of our third floor walk-up; not fun. After five hours of heavy lifting, we set off on our 13-hour drive, sore, bruised, and sleep-deprived. Thanks to traffic on the way out of Chicago (the Windy City wouldn’t let us go without a fight), we lost some more time and we had to stop for the night rather than drive the whole way through, as we had hoped to do. We we’re somewhat constrained since we were traveling with our dog, and we ended up at an Econolodge in Youngstown, Ohio.Nothing against Youngstown, but I don’t think we’ll be back any time soon. The motel was situated next to the largest strip club I’ve ever seen. The place, which would have covered an entire city block, was called “Club 76,” named after the highway to which it was adjacent. Our motel was close enough that it could almost be mistaken for an annex of sorts.The guy manning the motel’s front desk was friendly enough, but was regretfully forced to inform us that the only room left had a leaky roof. We took it and kept our fingers crossed, and, thankfully were not awoken by a deluge. Of course, we probably weren’t there for more than five hours anyway. The next day we finished up the trip and the truck that it had taken the movers five hours to load was unloaded in half an hour with help from my family. So now we are settled into a temporary home, while we look for a more permanent spot – and hopefully that will be the last time we move for a long while.
We have some exciting news today. I’ve long pined for the perfect url for The Millions and now we finally have it. From now on, The Millions will reside at www.themillions.com.Long-time readers will know that this is in fact the fourth address that the site has had over the years, but I can assure you that themillions.com will be the last. I think the name befits a site that has long outgrown its “blogspot” roots. Plus, it’s very easy to remember.While links to themillionsblog.com will redirect to their themillions.com counterparts indefinitely, we encourage you to update your bookmarks and any links you may have that point to The Millions. We believe that the move has gone smoothly, but if you see anything awry, please let us know. Thanks for your support!Update: No update to your RSS feed subscriptions necessary. RSS subscribers will continue to receive our posts.
Join us in welcoming our newest regular contributor at The Millions:Kevin Hartnett lives in Philadelphia with his fiance Caroline. He works as a community organizer for public education reform and enjoys his days most when they are full of people. He spends his off hours running along the Delaware River, and wafting from cannisters of loose tea at a store that recently opened near his apartment.You may remember the two reviews Kevin penned for us earlier this year. His next offering will be up shortly.