Monday, September 10, 2007

Bob Dylan and Ron Paul

I was watching Martin Scorsese's 2005 No Direction Home last night - the story of Bob Dylan's complex rise through the folk, anti-war, and rock eras. My favorite scene in this extraordinary chronicle is Dylan and Joan Baez singing Dylan's "With God On Our Side" at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. The words and emotion of that anti-war song ring as true today, unhappily, as in 1963. They're not being sung, but they're being said, by Ron Paul and his supporters.

"God On Our Side" - how countries going to war always claim or think God is on their side - is probably the best anti-war song ever written. Dylan also wrote "Masters of War," a close second. And I put Phil Ochs' "I Ain't A Marchin' Anymore" and Edwin Starr's "War" (written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong) up there, too.

But what made the Newport Folk Festival scene so powerful was not just the song but the Dylan and Baez performance, two thin wisps with wonderful voices, and the way the crowd responded. This was July, 1963. JFK was still alive, and our undeclared in war in southeast Asia still low profile. But Dylan's song brought the crowd just a little into a terrible future...

We're still in that future of illegal wars right now. Critics of these wars are not on stage at Newport anymore. They're communicating on YouTube and the Internet. They're Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel.

What was the exchange last week between Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul, if not a short debate between someone (Huckabee) who believes that America has God on its side, and someone (Ron Paul) who sees the danger and hypocrisy in that...

After the Newport Folk Festival, in December 1963, Dylan received an award from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, celebrating the Bill of Rights. That strikes a chord in 2007, too. Which candidate speaks most often about the Bill of Rights? Ron Paul, and, actually, he is often the only candidate for President speaking about the First Amendment.

The second part of Scorsese's movie shows the torrent of criticism Dylan ran into when he began writing and singing different kinds of songs, with electric back-up. I always loved Dylan's electric as much as his folk phase. But there's a lesson here for the current campaign as well: people need to get beyond supporting the expected candidates, or doing what is politically expected of them. They need to support candidates who truly feel right to them - who are saying and doing the right things - regardless of preconceptions.

It's been a long time since 1963. It's long since due that we heed Dylan's message, and break free of the double-talking political past.


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