Bookending Life. In LOS ANGELES at Teresa’s

Podell's stamps. I'll show the whole cover as soon as I know if I like the book.

Podell’s stamps. I’ll show the whole cover as soon as I know if I like the book.

NOTES:

  1. I did NOT like the book by Podell. And did not finish it. He’s sort of a guys’ guy, not my type. Don’t want to travel with him but this post from 2015 is okay so it can stay. (December 29, 2016) 
  2. The  first review is followed by a very long post comprised of a number of  book reviews and copied here to show how closely books and travel are connected in my mind, plans, and real life. (January 12, 2017)

Barnes and Nobel last night for Cheddar Rosemary scones, decaf coffee and tea and BOOKS—leading to this morning’s acute envy attack. One of my purchases is titled Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth by Albert Podell, a writer and outdoorsman who was nothing if not persistent. That’s what I wanted to do—unfortunately I didn’t start thinking about it until I was already oldish—with no possibility of 50 years to go. Damn.

Obviously I haven’t read the book yet but sitting here with my morning coffee gazing at its cover of many-colored/shaped/languaged passport stamps is flooding me with anticipation, jealousy, longing and a certain happiness that I still have a few years to play this game. But not 50. And even if I won Powerball tomorrow getting into Saudi Arabia and Yemen and Afghanistan would be problematic. Surely not impossible though with that commodity called lots-of-cash.

It is hard to say if I will really like this guy Albert Podell very much. Might be a bit of a blowhard. Male chauvinist perhaps. Ends the book as an old guy marrying a beautiful young Russian woman. I guess I’ll find out what that’s about when I read the book but glorious romantic love across multi-generational lines is always a little suspect isn’t it? Wish I hadn’t looked at the ending because I really want to connect with this guy if I’m going to visit the whole world with him…I want him to be Theroux-like but I’ll settle for Bourdain. Much derring-do beyond that will lose me, especially if it devolves into more ‘boys and their toys’ than anything else. So stop pre-judging, start reading!

Along these reading lines, there is a lot to do before I board my August flight to Oslo. Much of it involves reading. I have stacked books in their country by country piles, beginning with Norway, ending with…whoops, I have no books on South Korea. Will attempt to rectify that right now. Found two I will like…which brings up the next problem. Reading and traveling. E-books pretty much essential for six-weeks on the road—four of those weeks in countries where getting English-language books could prove difficult. I can read all of the E-books I want on my Surface but part of me wants the new light and lit Nook.

Stop that. Remember who’ll be carrying all of your shit okay? That would be you, me, Marjorie. Nothing goes that is not essential to feeling train-traveler chic, warm, caffeinated and drugged when appropriate, identified, monied, informed and writerly. My Surface plus an emergency Russian novel tucked into a corner pocket will be fine. But have you looked at the size of those Russian novels? Maybe a less-verbose culture should be represented. Mongolian lit? Korean? Latvian? Belarusian?

Proof Teresa's my granddaughter. Sorting books as she prepares to move home and then San Francisco.

Proof Teresa’s my granddaughter. Sorting books as she prepares to move home and then San Francisco.

T's bedside table, definitely my DNA in that girl.

T’s bedside table, definitely my DNA in that girl.

Previously published as separate posts; reposted in order to be included in Blog-Book, Time and Place 2015.

Books are more central to my life than anything except family. Wrote these reviews awhile ago but thought they could be included here to show how closely reading and travel are linked for me..

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

(Said T.S. Eliot)

 

KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD

It’s a literary day. Last night Karl Ove Knausgaard in Santa Fe, today working on “100” (travel stories) for my class and even, maybe, reactivating the blogging life.

Before a word or more about the humdrum activities of April like moving; learning to sleep without fear of footprints on my head…or was that footfalls overhead; battling with smart phones from hell, losing one old friend, renewing contact with another…I must say something about Knausgaard. Karl Ove Knausgaard.

One of my top five favorite writers of a lifetime. Why Knausgaard? Why was the Lensic full last night? Why are the critics glowing, baffled, praiseful, annoyed with what a mesmerizing voice this guy is with a story and language so apparently ordinary.

Karl Ove does go on…and on. Six hefty volumes about what is in many ways an uneventful life, at least as measured on a grand scale of adventure and achievement (well, other than changing the whole realm of fiction/non-fiction/biographical writing–which might be called quite an achievement!). The critic James Wood said of Knausgaard’s writing, “Even when I was bored, I was interested.” It’s true, it’s like that with these books.

Even if I can’t emulate him, I desperately want to understand why he is this damn internationally-renowned amazingly inspiringly good. He doesn’t really play with language, as in googling every thesaurus available for just the right and oh-so clever word. His language is not fancy nor fanciful. His use of metaphors is more profound than clever. I think I have that right. For example (from An Open Mind: The terrible beauty of brain surgery, NYT Magazine, January 3, 2016)

As he views the open brain just before surgery.

A landscape opened up before me. I felt as if I were standing on the top of a mountain, gazing out over a plain, covered by long, meandering rivers. On the horizon, more mountains rose up, between them there were valleys and one of the valleys was covered by an enormous white glacier. Everything gleamed and glittered. It was as if I had been transported to another world, another part of the universe. One river was purple, the others were dark red, and the landscape they coursed through was full of strange, unfamiliar colors. But it was the glacier that held my gaze the longest. It lay like a plateau above the valley, sharply white, like mountain snow on a sunny day. Suddenly a wave of red rose up and washed across the white surface.

I think this was said last night in a much better way than I’m remembering. But something about how he, Knausgaard, gets the person on the page. It’s not the writer writing about something, he’s what’s written. Well, I have said that badly but this guy is a very hard writer to define.

I won’t even try to say more; there are at least a thousand reviews of his six-volume, My Struggle. Almost all admiring I believe. If occasionally exasperatedly so. I’m halfway through Volume 4. And sometimes feel I want to start over again from the beginning. But I won’t. There are many good books in the world and life is short. Most of them aren’t as good as Karl Ove Knausgaard’s though.

More about moving and ordinary shit (that the aforementioned writer could turn into multiple pages of compelling literature no doubt) later.

April’s my birth month and a good month it is if it ends with being just a few feet away from the dapper literary presence of Mr. Knausgaard. Craggy-countenanced skinny Viking, brilliant obsessive mind.

NORTH WOODS

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The Epic Summer Road Trip 2013 was accompanied all along the way by books. I introduced this summer’s most important literary companions last week. Here are the others that were part of the journey. My intent is to talk generally about the pleasure and benefits of this ‘literature for travel’ rather than review any one book.

“How the States Got Their Shapes” by Mark Stein is an interesting if rather dry account of exactly what the title indicates. It is handy to have along as a reference if not exactly exciting as a straight-through read.

I knew that our journey would take us as far north as Winnipeg, Manitoba so I wanted an update about that spot of Canada without doing a lot of research or reading. I remembered a book I read with great pleasure awhile back, “Maple Leaf Rag” by Stephen Brook, an acerbically funny Brit. I pulled it from the shelf intending to read a chapter or so and wound up going back through much it because, even though it’s written in 1987 and feels somewhat dated, “Maple Leaf Rag” still manages to be informative, friendly-enough and chock full of chuckles.

My favorite late night companion before I left was “North Country: A Personal Journey Through the Borderland” by Howard Frank Mosher. I grew up in North Country so the territory felt simultaneously familiar and exciting although Mosher’s journey extends all along the U.S. Canadian border, east to west. Mosher writes, From coast to coast it’s known as the North Country: an immense, off-the-beaten-track sector of America inhabited by remarkably versatile, resilient, and, most of all, independent-minded people, most of whom are still intimately in touch with the land they live on and with their respective communities. (p.3)

  Naturally I most enjoyed “North Country” when Mosher was in my home territory—Minnesota. I grew up just west of the Iron Range and hardly knew of its rough and rowdy towns until my brother and sister-in-law made their long-time home in Grand Rapids on the edge of the ‘Range.’ Hibbing is 35 miles to the east and ground zero for iron mining. It used to have an airport where my brother could pick me up when I flew home for a visit so I’ve had a few burgers and beers on main street but never made it to Bob Dylan’s old house. Mosher spends quite a few pages on the good/bad old days when iron mining was booming in the gigantic Hull-Rust Mine and “…every night was Saturday night …It wasn’t unusual to see half a dozen different fist fights raging up and down the main street simultaneously.” (p. 87)

In my personal travels along the Minnesota/Ontario/Manitoba border, and the wildly picturesque North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to Thunder Bay, I’ve come to realize my personal patch of north woods in Koochiching and Itasca Counties is just not that pretty or interesting—except to me. Mosher justifiably spends most of his Minnesota time in the northeast territory, but he does get to two border towns with which I’m quite familiar.

Mosher reaches International Falls by way of one of those gas station/beer joints that hide out everywhere in the Minnesota woods. They all have a dispirited/cynical/friendly vibe and smell of cigarette smoke and old Grain Belt or Hamms (From the land of sky blue waters…comes the beer refreshing…) absorbed into every surface for the last 20 or 50 or 100 years.

Mosher describes International Falls as having a “raw look” and he’s right. I drove here summer before last, taking the Canadian side of the border from Warroad MN to Fort Francis, Ontario, then through a cranky border crossing. Back in olden times, we’d just drive back and forth between countries with no one paying the least bit of attention. The ‘Falls’ is where those of us from South Koochiching made contact with the bureaucracy since it’s the county seat. It is primarily famous for being “the icebox of the nation,” so dubbed by the national media when iceboxes still existed and the temperature still dropped to 50° below zero. My only other personal connection with the Falls was when my classmates and I came here by school bus to tour the paper mill, probably the most exciting class outing of my high school years!

Mosher is heading west and when he reaches Warroad, another border town, he says, “I imagine that I can sense the looming presence, just to the west, of the Great Plains.” (p. 115) My cousin moved from the woods of Koochiching County up here to the edge of Minnesota and the edge of the woodlands and it took some adjusting. It all starts to open up here and the sky will just get bigger and bigger until western Montana. My mother loved this kind of country, she being from ‘civilized’ South Dakota and never quite trusting the wildness of northwoods ways.

This is simply a great book. I immediately wanted to change my routing and follow Mosher’s tire tracks exactly. When I have time to do that I’ll have an excuse to read “North Country” again! It is geography/sociology/history (social studies!) all wrapped up in a warm, nostalgic and beautifully written memoir.

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Paper mill on Rainy River, dividing Minnesota and Ontario.

GREAT PLAINS

MISCELLANEOUS BLOGS PHOTOS, SUMMER 2013 009

TRAVEL LITERATURE is usually described as being about places and the process of getting or being there. Paul Theroux is one of the most prolific writers of travel literature. His travel series it is mostly about the journey itself – with the history, geography and cultural realities of passing scenes serving as colorful background. I love that; he’s one of my writer-heroes. However, there’s another kind of travel literature that’s equally interesting and important—where history and geography, busy with political, cultural, social, and economic details, are the focus and the minutia of the writer’s physical journey is inconsequential.

Great travel writers always include enough about themselves so the reader has a real live companion. In Theroux’s case, the cynical cranky guy is also smart, observant, funny and compassionate (sometimes) so you do like to share his railway compartment. While the author, Theroux, is his own main character, that’s not the case in the books I’m writing about today. In each of them the writer is more like a knowledgeable friendly acquaintance who hangs out with you but manages to remain an unobtrusive presence as you move about the countryside and the towns, or explore an abandoned schoolhouse; immerse yourself in the history and topography; or get to know the locals, past and present.

In the final analysis though, travel literature is whatever enriches your experiences on the journey.  Here are the books that made my Epic Summer Road Trip of 2013 richer and more interesting – and connected me to the geography, history, and cultures of the land and towns through which we passed. Of course I intended to read all of them before traveling but that never happens.  So here they are: the pre-travel reads, the companions each night on the road, the ones I’m reading now that I wish I had read before or during the trip and even some acquired from random book and gift shops along the way!

“The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan is an in-depth account of the dustbowl that I read a few summers ago prior to traveling through the Panhandle territory of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico—in other words the heart of dustbowl country. It is a grim land, although a colleague from there says if you just get away from the primary through-routes you’ll find pleasant and interesting places. I’ll read this book along with “Grapes of Wrath” again in preparation for yet another road trip that takes me home to Minnesota that way. Egan’s book is my favorite kind of read: geography, history and sociology underlying horror stories of bureaucratic blindness and personal tragedy, played out in a natural world gone mad and black and revengeful. Be sure and read before taking US 54 and/or 56 through Panhandle territory.  

 “Great Plains” by Ian Frazier was a road trip read last summer intended to give my granddaughter some background knowledge before our ‘epic journey’ this summer. Alas, my original copy was with a friend and the one I hurriedly ordered from B&N didn’t arrive in time, but I still highly recommend it as preparation for all trips through that big beautiful country. “Great Plains” is the perfect companion read to “Bad Land: An American Romance” by Jonathan Raban which I just finished. Neither of these books is new but they are classics of the genre called travel literature.

“Great Plains” is sweeping in its geographical and cultural breadth, encompassing eastern Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico and western North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. It includes some of Texas and parts of Canada. Frazier says the Great Plains sometimes go all the way to the Continental Divide in the west, but their eastern edge is harder to define. You will know it when you see it though. Driving west to east in the Dakotas, Nebraska or Kansas, at some midpoint the wide open spaces get hilly and greenish, trees and barns and cows appear; there’s a little more traffic, then quite a bit more traffic, the towns move closer together…and you’ve left the great plains.

I did not realize how much I loved this country until a few summers ago, although I had been driving through it for over thirty years. I realized that after not too many hours of majestic mountains or deep dark forests you’re bored and feel claustrophobic. Out there on the plains there’s always that loneliest of broken down shacks and corrals, or seven black cattle grazing on brown grass silhouetted on the one low hill in sight, or a narrow dry riverbed named something forlorn that grabs your eye and your attention. There are things to look for whereas in that other more crowded geography you can’t see the forest for the trees or the mountain range for the mountains!  

 Ian Frazier populates these spaces with wild Indians and wild horses…sure there are pioneers and outlaws and ranchers and characters too numerous to list but it is in indigenous America where he spends much of his story time. Even if I don’t reread his book before every trip through the Great Plains I always see the braves on their pintos galloping just overhead and if I strain my eyes an encampment, tent poles poking the horizon, will appear just over there. I brought Frazier’s tales of Crazy Horse along in my memory when we visited the Memorial in the Black Hills and it made it all the better an experience. “Great Plains” is another masterpiece of travel/history/geography writing.

“Bad Land” by Jonathan Raban is the book I should absolutely have read before traveling back and forth across eastern Montana. Like Frazier and Egan, Raban is a ‘spellbinding’ writer. We usually see that word used to describe novels or biographies; but, in my opinion, brilliantly written history has far more capacity to hold your attention completely than either of these. “Bad Land” is really the personal story of a territory so obscure to most of the world as to be unbelievable as a locale of even mild interest, except possibly to the few people who live there or a dry didactic historian.

Let me tell you that the towns of Mildred, Ismay, Plevna and Terry are as captivating characters as any you’ll meet in real life. If only I had read this book before the summer’s trip we would have spent a day and a night roaming around this very small spot of land in a very big space (remember Montana is Big Sky Country).  Raban either already had friends or made new connections among the descendants of the original settlers so that his visits always connected generations. Their stories of how they came here from all over Europe and the eastern seaboard, how they survived or did not, of how they kept on westward or managed to hang on to their homestead are personal history at its best. “Bad Land” is about the settlers of the American West AND it is a tale of such appalling government and corporate connivance that one readily sees how a generational mistrust of elected and unelected officials grew into decades of conservative Republican ascendancy and worse. Never mind that both parties were equal opportunity scammers of the little guy; the Republicans learned early on how to talk a better anti-government game.

I’ve just looked for these towns in a Montana travel guide and of Raban’s main characters only Terry is mentioned. Mostly too obscure for a travel guide—now I really want to go there.

“Montana 1948,” a novel by Larry Watson is also a worthwhile read in preparation for eastern Montana. It is fiction that captures the reality of the Great Plains in all their scary openness, the dogged determination of the people who live in such places, and the conflict between the cowboys and the Indians that played out in ways more subtle, but sometimes meaner than the movie’s rifle versus bow and arrow battles.

While writing this I’ve torn eastern Montana’s page from my Atlas (don’t worry I buy new ones for each trip), used an orange highlighter to draw a big circle over Raban’s territory and vowed to reread the aforementioned books before a trip back there in the summer of 2015.

I have a few more books connected to the epic journey of the summer to recommend but this is enough for now.

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CLOSE TO HOME AND FAR AWAY

I finished two books week before last; they appeared to be quite different at first but upon further consideration, and for purposes of including them in the same review, I’ll focus on their commonality which is, for me, that they are both about places I love—the Bay Area and the North of the World. It seems, again…for me, that all stories wind up being as much about the places in which they occur as about the occurrences themselves.

The American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst is a well-told tale of Hearst’s revolutionary years, her home territory of San Francisco, California and, to some degree, the whole U.S. during the mid-Seventies. Jeffry Toobin is a great documentarian, building his stories around big events or institutions that define and are defined by the times and places where the actions and moods of the country as a whole are playing out. This story of California in the 70s doesn’t disappoint.

In contrast, 60 Degrees North: Around the World in Search of Home by Malachy Tallack is a lyrical, almost dreamy, travelogue that invites us along as the author contemplates the meaning of home on an improbable journey around the world at the 60th parallel. Tallack is a fine writer and all the ingredients for a great piece of travel literature are here—personal reflection and story, physical description laced with history from places along the 60th parallel. In fact the idea of 60 Degrees North is just so intriguing, and the author and his surroundings so interesting, that the ending let me down just a little. It seemed like he was a little tired of the whole project by the time he reached Scandinavia. Nevertheless it was a fine journey….

I loved traveling to the Bay Area and around the 60th parallel with Toobin and Tallack; they’re all places I’ve experienced on a deeper or slighter scale. I lived in San Francisco from 1989-1992, more than ten years after the days of the  pseudo-revolutionary activities of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), but the sense of San Francisco as a place where everyone somehow ‘fit’ and where possibilities for the human condition to improve was still strong. It’s a place of richly potent layers of the belief that all things are possible—from laughing and rebuilding in the cracked face of the big quakes to gold-rushing dreams to the summer of love to Berkeley marching and Alice Waters bringing the farm to the table.

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 I moved to San Francisco just before the big earthquake of ’89, and the Mission was homeless/artist/refugee/gay heaven and Silicon Valley in Mountain View seemed quite a ways out of town. I took BART everywhere, frequently visiting dancers or potential donors connected somehow with the small black-box theater I was managing so I knew something of the small towns around the area. In other words, as the goofy SLAers drove from hideout to hideout I could visualize those streets and neighborhoods! Of course the random bombings and Berkeley in its radical heyday were in the past but, in my time there, the biggest anti-Iraqi war, anti-Bush peace march of which I know took place and I marched as a volunteer of Global Exchange, directed at that time by Medea Benjamin, one of my woman-warrior heroines. When I go back now to hang out with my granddaughter that rich Bay Area history is ever present and it all still looks familiar and I’m so happy to have been part of it all even for a little while.

Being introduced to Patty Hearst and the characters in her story including her fellow SLA pals or her lawyer F. Lee Bailey (a real jerk) by Jeffrey Toobin was fascinating but I certainly did not come away feeling either warm and fuzzy, admiring, appalled or much of anything for her or any of them. I always sort of admire the rebels whoever they are but there wasn’t a lot about the SLA to admire. They were mostly insecure misfits, rebels without a coherent cause. Patty did what she did and now raises show dogs. Damn, I wanted my revolutionaries to be more substantial than that. All in all a great account of a time and place.

It was one of those lovely ‘sick’ days when I finished these books, switching back and forth between the bed and the couch and between books, which took me from San Francisco to traveling the 60th parallel with Malachy Tallack—and what a great name he has!  Tallack begins in Shetland, the home he loves very deeply and yet feels compelled to escape…and does over the years for a variety of reason…personal searching longing reasons. Shetland lies directly on the 60th parallel, signifying the edge of the serious north and, it turns out, for Tallack offering a logical path around the world…always in search of home but also always exploring the world as experienced along a distinct line separating hardy northerners from the rest of the human race.

Reading travel/adventure literature is like being along on an intimate journey with the author, from the cranky brilliance of Theroux to the thoughtful historiography of Frazier. I am completely enamored of these guys and so many others; not quite so much so with Malachy Tallack. I’ve been trying to figure this out because I love this book and I do like Tallack but I never felt I knew him well enough to be sure he would be one of those perfect companions who shares exactly the right amount of information and degree of closeness you want for the road.

Tallack’s route around the 60th takes him from Shetland to Greenland to Canada to Alaska to St. Petersburg, backtracking to Finland, Sweden and Norway, and finally, ‘home’ again to Shetland. Even though I kept wanting some undefined ‘more’, the language almost more than made up for whatever might be missing. Tallack does have a way with the descriptive phrase. “Silvery lakes appeared, then were gone – rumours among the trees.” “…just the air fussing among the branches.” “Mount Redoubt, fifty miles away, towered above its neighbours, a scarf of cloud wrapped around its middle.” But I wanted some of the mundane as well, how did he get from here to there, how was he financing his trip, how long did it take…just a little more of the infrastructure, please.

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It’s a beautiful engaging haunting-in-a-way book. I was right there for the wanderlust of it all, enjoying every bit of the poetic and personal ramblings of the author. Perhaps the ‘more’ is just that I wanted big stories about virtually each mile of the way. An impossible task of course without unlimited money, time, patience. There are after all big wonderful rich stories documenting practically every mile of any one of Tallack’s stops along the way including Maple Leaf Rag: Travels Across Canada by Stephen Brook; or doubling down in Russia, specifically Siberia with Travel in Siberia by Ian Frazier and Midnight in Siberia by David Green. Greenland: The End of the World which I’ve talked about recently offers a view of the southern tip of Greenland where the 60th parallel crosses—and I just visited.

The truth is 60 Degrees North is a wonderful read, enlightening, entertaining, and enjoyable enough to make me whine about there not being another thousand pages of it. Better yet I want to go on that same journey. I absolutely love the idea of following lines of longitude and latitude around the world. If I won millions in a lottery tomorrow I could still do that…if I hurried.

BOB DYLAN AND THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE

Sometimes the morning headlines make me smile—not often these days but sometimes—like today. Bob Dylan awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. How great is that? After I write this post I will immediately order his book, and my friend and I already have tickets for next week’s concert (my first Dylan concert actually). My personal award however goes to Dylan for With God on Our Side, the classic, all-time best description of America’s doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

BACK IN THE DAY....

BACK IN THE DAY….

I used With God on Our Side to teach my Junior High classes in American history during my brief stint as a history teacher. And is there another song as great as Blowin’ in the Wind? Or The Times They Are a-Changin’? They represent such an amazing time in my life and my friends’ lives…I am just so happy about this…we must keep thinking about the good people and songs and books out there or we’ll get mired way too deep in the sleazy side of things, i.e. politics. Maybe buried deep in all this present badness is something good—maybe not—but we’ll always have Dylan to remind us ‘the times CAN change.’

Congratulations Bob Dylan—born in Duluth, raised in Hibbing—my home territory. I’m not sure he liked it a lot over on the Iron Range but home’s home and he could not possibly have turned out this brilliantly without some Minnesota connection.

READ THIS:

With God on Our Side

Bob Dylan

Oh my name it ain’t nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side

Oh, the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh, the country was young
With God on its side

The Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War, too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I was made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side

The First World War, boys
It came and it went
The reason for fighting
I never did get
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side

The Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And then we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now, too
Have God on their side

I’ve learned to hate the Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side

But now we got weapons
Of chemical dust
If fire them, we’re forced to
Then fire, them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side

Through many a dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ was
Betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

Songwriters: Bob Dylan

With God on Our Side lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.

DYLAN’S WORDS I SWEAR THERE WERE A FEW UNDER-60s IN THE AUDIENCE...A FEW.

Last Tuesday night, my friend and I went to see Bob Dylan at the Kiva Auditorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Friend Bob has been a Dylan fan since age 18 or so when he heard his first Dylan song; he doesn’t exactly say it changed his life—but close. This is around his tenth Bob concert and he knows most of the lyrics to everything The Bob has written.

I was a little older when introduced to the famous Bob from Minnesota and that was mostly from With God on Our Side which, as I’ve said previously, was my teaching aide for 6th grade social studies class, and from Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of Blowin’ in the Wind.

 As I drove home Tuesday night, neither slightly inebriated nor stoned—as might have been the case in the past—it became clear to me I had in the space of that hour been attentive to several Dylans. Let me explain:

First there was Bob Dylan, practically a home town boy from Hibbing, Minnesota; my town Northome just a few miles and a lifestyle or so away, the difference between a mining town and a village of Norwegian lumberjacks. Given the remoteness of northern Minnesota from the rest of the world, and the fact Bob Dylan and I are almost exactly the same age, I choose to claim kinship and listened to that gravelly voice with thoughts of both of us coming home from school in the snowy dusk of a January afternoon. I wanted to get out too but my escape was Minneapolis and then Florida and marriage. Bob did much better—the Village and folk singers’ heaven and fame and fortune.

Those thoughts alternated with the pleasure of watching that famous old poet/song writer and Nobel Literary Prize winner  gyrating a bit stiffly on stage and actually appearing to be having fun. So it’s okay to be an elder in this crazy world—having lived through some pretty stimulating times and not having to face the long future riddled with Trump-alikes.

Then there was the background music introducing me to my Albuquerque life. While not specifically Dylan, it was rock n roll of the folk variety generally, and it was playing when I moved to Albuquerque and met the ‘cool kids’ working in politics and for George McGovern. So, Tuesday night when I couldn’t understand a word being sung in some of the numbers, I metaphorically closed my eyes and drifted back there…

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

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2 Comments on “Bookending Life. In LOS ANGELES at Teresa’s

  1. I love this post! So well written 🙂 And the pictures are great, there’s something so satisfying about seeing piles of books

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  2. Good reading about your books whether at home or during travel, Marj! And glad to report that we finally put up all our books (many of them are about dance, travel and world cultures!) on 2 new recently purchased black shelves that fit wonderfully in our large living room, facing Miss Liberty and Manhattan South from the 34th floor of a West 42nd street building: so much to read, enjoy and/or contemplate once I may stop traveling around the world! PS. Warm greetings from Vernon as well.

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