Results for “dylan”
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Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate!

I had heard the rumors for years, but I didn’t think it actually would happen.  My takes on a few Dylan albums:

FreeWheelin’ Bob Dylan: One of his most listenable and underrated albums, the same is true for Another Side of Bob Dylan.

Bringing It All Back Home: The album I fell in love with as a kid.  Some of it is overwrought but mostly still amazing, perhaps his highest peaks.

Highway 61 Revisited: Half of it is wonderful, but it contains excess and some so-so judgment.

Blonde on Blonde: Many see this as Dylan’s peak, but I don’t listen to it much.  Somehow the sound is a little harsh for my taste.

The Basement Tapes: The most overrated, too much murky slush and slosh.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, vol.II: The perfect medley.

Blood on the Tracks: Maybe the most consistent and listenable album, though it’s not pathbreaking in the way that the mid-sixties work was.

Time Out of Mind: An amazing “late career” work.

Dylan’s memoir is excellent, and his most underrated contribution outside of creating music is the CDs he edited for satellite radio, many hours of Dylan selecting and playing classics from early American musical history, blues, country, mixed styles, perhaps the single best look at the early evolution of American popular music.  Many hours of listening pleasure.  Bob Dylan Radio Hour.  And the Martin Scorsese four-hour bio-documentary on Dylan is one of the better movies ever made, No Direction Home it is called.

If I recall correctly, three of the Conversations with Tyler turned to the topic of Bob Dylan.  Camille Paglia loves the song “Desolation Row,” Cass Sunstein is a big fan, especially of some of the early period work, and Ezra Klein feels he is overrated, I guess that means especially overrated now.

Here are my earlier posts on Bob Dylan.  Complain all you want, I say Bob Dylan is a better and more important artist than say Philip Roth.  It’s not even close.

Congratulations to Bob Dylan, polymath!

Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday

It is today,  here are a few underrated highlights of his career:

1. No Direction Home, the biopic directed by Martin Scorsese.  It’s one of the best documentaries on American music more generally, and a superb albeit hagiographic portrait of Dylan and his music.

2. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and Another Side of Bob Dylan and Blood on the Tracks and most of all Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits volume II are the albums I listen to most often.  The last one sounds horrible from its name, but it was conceived conceptually, avoids the traditional problems of greatest hits albums (unlike Vol. I), and has some not otherwise available tracks; highly recommended.  Then comes Time Out of Mind.  I think of Bringing it All Back Home as the “best” Dylan album, but I enjoyed it so much at age fifteen that I don’t listen to it much today.  Blonde on Blonde is overreaching and Highway 61 Revisited is half wonderful, half embarrassment in the lyrics.

3. Dylan as disc jockey is first-rate, and you can buy his XM Satellite Radio selections of early American music.  He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the period.

4. As a singer Dylan is influenced by Al Jolson and Bing Crosby, as an acoustic guitarist he remains underrated.

5. Dylan once said that Barry Goldwater was his favorite politician.

Bob Dylan *Radio Hour*

Also known as German markets in everything, or alternatively why oh why can't we have a better U.S. copyright law?

Remember when Bob Dylan was DJ for those XM satellite radio shows, spinning a melange of blues, folk songs, vaudeville, gospel, and general bizarreness, with generally American themes, in the process proving himself one of the world's great musical infovres?  Some of those shows are collected on CD, in Germany, vol. I, II, and III, four discs a box, twelve discs in total.  The Amazon.de listings are here (they will ship to the US), or in German stores for about six dollars a disc, thank you Greece.

I own thousands of CDs, but these are among the very best and the song selection compares favorably to other collections of American music.  The sound quality and transfers are first-rate.

Here is a Bach box, his major choral works and some of the major cantatas, MP3, and CD, 42 euros, 22 discs, John Eliot Gardiner conducting, these are some of the best recordings of the chosen pieces and even with shipping costs this is an extremely favorable purchase.

Have I mentioned there are many outrageous bargains in Berlin, not just my apartment?

For five or six euros, you can buy an excellent spaghetti bolognese, better than almost anything in WDC or Virginia.  Apartments are cheaper, you don't need a car, mineral water and good bread is cheaper, gelato is cheaper, and in most social circles you're not expected to dress extraordinarily well.  I'm not sure books are cheaper but they're not outrageously priced either, even many English-language editions.  It's a strange feeling to come to Europe and have most things be cheaper, which still is not the case in Paris.

Here Angus recommends five CDs for Germany, good picks but the Dylan and the Bach round out some Alvin Curran and some gospel in my living room.

Dylan movie. Sort of.

The new Dylan biopic,  starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw – all as Bob Dylan – is starting to get some coverage.  As a lifelong Dylan fan, I’m excited to see the movie.  The film is currently doing the rounds of the film festivals, and is going into wider release slowly from September through March (depending on your country).

Early reports only whet my appetite:

  1. A slew of trailers (both official and unofficial) on YouTube [HT: Cass Sunstein]
  2. This is Not a Bob Dylan Movie: a beautifully-written essay in today’s NY Times magazine
  3. A wrap-up of other reviews, from filmmaker Todd Haynes
  4. Some extremely high variance early reviews.

An aside: From many hallway conversations, I can report that Dylan is a surprisingly popular artist among the econ gliterati.

Tuesday assorted links

1. The economics of lithium constraints (FT).  Augmenting supply is tough, and projects can take from six to nineteen years to pay off.

2. Dropbox for babies? (NYT)

3. Gideon Lewis-Kraus New Yorker profile of Will MacAskill, with a cameo appearance by the MR comments section.

4. American historian David McCullough has passed away (NYT).

5. Dylan Matthews on the rise of the EA movement.

6. What was the relative welfare gain from tobacco? (speculative)

Rubin and Koyama on the Industrial Revolution

From Dylan Matthews:

The big question is what drove this transformation. Historians, economists, and anthropologists have proposed a long list of explanations for why human life suddenly changed starting in 18th-century England, from geographic effects to forms of government to intellectual property rules to fluctuations in average wages.

For a long time, there was no one book that could explain, compare, and evaluate these theories for non-experts. That’s changed: How the World Became Rich, by Chapman University’s Jared Rubin and George Mason University’s Mark Koyama, provides a comprehensive look at what, exactly, changed when sustained economic growth began, what factors help explain its beginning, and which theories do the best job of making sense of the new stage of life that humans have been experiencing for a couple brief centuries.

Here is the full coverage with interview.  And you can order the book here from Amazon.  I haven’t read it yet, but this is surely self-recommending…

The fragmentation of France?

The less fortunate have their own cultural markers of Americanisation. Again, Fourquet analyses names. The Maries of French tradition were replaced by Kevins (after Home Alone) and Dylans (after Beverly Hills 90210). The map of these American names coincides with the places where Marine Le Pen can count on her firmest support. Many National Rally activists bear names such as Jordan Bardella, today the number two in the party, or Davy Rodriguez, who headed its youth organisation. More phenomena of this kitschy low-status Americanisation include the immense popularity of country music clubs, vintage US cars, and pole dancing across France, as well the spread of the Buffalo Grill restaurant chain in hundreds of locations.

And this sentence I found interesting:

Americanisation was the only component of globalisation that did not bitterly divide the French.

Here is more from Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski.  I wouldn’t say I have an opinion of my own on these issues — haven’t been there in a few years — but I found this piece stimulating.

How political was 1960s music?

That question is debated at length in the comments section of this post.  There are obviously political songs, such as the protest songs of Bob Dylan, or “Revolution” by The Beatles, much misunderstood at that.  Still, much of 1960s music was far more political in its time than it seems to us today.  The mere fact that the singer had long hair, or shook his hips in a “lewd” manner, or that white stars aped black music styles…all of that was intensely political.  “I don’t want you listening to no music by no long hairs” was a common parental sentiment at the time, because people mostly did understand what was at stake, namely an overturning of a lot of societal mores.  Elvis Presley sounds to us today like another early rock star, but the black vocal affectations and the grinding hips were a big deal for some period of time.  Drug songs were political too, and there were lots of those.  Just try “Eight Miles High,” or a big chunk of Jefferson Airplane or how about Donovan?  Hippie culture also was political.  Motown carried ideas of black capitalism, and was actually somewhat of a counter to the more politically radical forms of black music.  The Beach Boys are an example of a significant period group who mostly were not very political (though you can find a superficial embrace of consumer culture at first, followed by a collapse into tragedy and sadness), and plenty of the “one hit wonder” songs were apolitical too.  Most of the stuff that has survived in collective memory was fairly political.  The Byrds album Sweetheart of the Rodeo was political too, and it is no accident that Roger McGuinn ended up as a Ben Carson supporter and a Christian.  The album was mostly hated upon its release in 1968, but now is seen as a classic.

Why has classical music declined?

In the comments, Rahul asked that question as follows:

In general perception, why are there no achievements in classical music that rival a Mozart, Bach, Beethoven etc. that were created in say the last 50 years?

Is it an exhaustion of what’s possible? Are all great motifs already discovered?

Or will we in another 50 or 100 years admire a 1900’s composer at the same level as a Mozart or Beethoven?

Or was it something unique in that era ( say 1800’s) which was conducive to the discovery of great compositions? Patronage? Lack of distraction?

I would offer a few hypotheses:

1. The advent of musical recording favored musical forms that allow for the direct communication of personality.  Mozart is mediated by sheet music, but the Rolling Stones are on record and the radio and now streaming.  You actually get “Mick Jagger,” and most listeners prefer this to a bunch of quarter notes.  So a lot of energy left the forms of music that are communicated through more abstract means, such as musical notation, and leapt into personality-specific musics.

1b. Eras have aesthetic centers of gravity.  So pushing a lot of talent in one direction does discourage some other directions from developing fully.  Dylan didn’t just pull people into folk, he pulled them away from trying to be the next Pat Boone.

2. Electrification favored a variety of musical styles that are not “classical” or even “contemporary classical,” with apologies to Glenn Branca.

3. The two World Wars ripped out the birthplaces of so much wonderful European culture.  It is not only classical music that suffered, but also European science, letters, entrepreneurship, and much more.

4. It is tough to top Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc., so eventually creators struck out in new directions.  And precisely because of the less abstract, more personality-laden nature of popular music, it is harder to have a very long career and attain the status of a true titan.  The Rolling Stones ran out of steam forty (?) years ago, but Bach could have kept on writing fugues, had he lived longer.  More recent musical times thus have many creators who are smaller in overall stature, even though the total of wonderful music has stayed very high.

5. Contemporary classical music (NB: not the best term, for one thing much of it is no longer contemporary) is much better than most people realize.  Much of it is designed for peers, and intended to be experienced live.  In the last decade I saw performances of Glass’s Satyagraha, Golijov’s St. Marc Passion, Boulez’s Le Marteau (at IRCAM), and Stockhausen’s Mantra, and it was all pretty amazing.  I doubt if those same pieces are very effective on streaming.  It may be unfortunate, but due to incentives emanating from peers, most non-peer listeners do not have the proper dimensionality of listening experience to proper appreciate those compositions.  To be clear, for the most part I don’t either, not living down here in northern Virginia, but at times I can overcome this (mostly through travel) and in any case I am aware of the phenomenon.  For these same reasons, it is wrong to think those works will have significantly higher reputations 50 or 100 years from now — some of them are already fairly old!

There are other reasons as well, what else would you suggest?

*Get Back*, I

Everything that gets done runs through Paul.  As Adam Minter put it (excellent thread more generally):

Nothing would get done if Paul weren’t there. But it’s a fine line, because he’s irritating. also – Ringo, in my opinion, has deep deep reservoirs of patience. I don’t know how he go through some of those days.

In this “prepping for a no overdubs, pure live performance” setting, the studio doesn’t matter.  And control over studio production was how Paul exerted an increasing authority over the Beatles.  “Let’s work on this more together” de facto meant “let’s give me, Paul, greater influence over the proceedings.”  Yet without his studio expertise as a Williamsonian trump card, Paul has to be more of a pain in the ass to induce effort and focus from the others.

“I’m scared of me being the boss, and I kind of have been for a couple of years,” or something like that, is what Paul says.  “I know it’s right, and you know it’s right” comes shortly thereafter (remember this?).

“Whatever it is that will please you, I will do it” responds George.  John in turn mutters something about maybe they should improvise the whole thing.

George Martin is rendered irrelevant, due to the studio production being omitted, and mostly he stands around and looks like a guy who used to do ads for bad British cars in the 1960s.

Two highlights are Paul singing a mock version of “Gimme’ Some Truth,” and John singing a mock version of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”  Doesn’t the film show it was actually George who broke up the Beatles?  (Or Ringo in 1968?)  Doesn’t the person who leaves first split up the relationship?

What is quiet Yoko thinking the whole time?

And from Dave Bueche:

  • It’s surprising to see them digging around for material.  You’d think they would have had a lineup of songs before they started the project.
  • Twickenham [the studio] seems like a drag.  You can tell they don’t love it either.  It’s big and cavernous and a few colored lights doesn’t change that.
  • There’s a certain sad nostalgia in them playing all the old standards they learned in Germany and Liverpool.  Like they know this the end and they’re sort of reliving the beginning one last time.
  • Paul is clearly more invested than the others.  George seems like he’s trying to just learn the songs, do his bit, same with Ringo.  John seems like he’s a good sport, but other than Don’t Let Me Down – he seems to be going through the motions.
  • It’s fun seeing them cover Dylan and other contemporaries.

The reviews are all “oh, this shows the Beatles loved working together until the very end.”  That’s a pretty superficial read of the material.  To me, Get Back is much more about “how the main value adders control small groups in a somewhat tyrannical and mostly efficient manner, and why this isn’t always stable.”  Mancur Olson remains underrated.

“All Things Must Pass” just wasn’t that good a song, and it would have been worse as a Beatles song.

Here is a very good Jonathan Freedland review.

Further Monday assorted links

6. Cicadas on the menu.

7. Yuan Longping, RIP (NYT).

8. Famous musicians pick their favorite Bob Dylan songs.  Would mine be “Highway 61”?  “Mr. Tambourine Man”?  “Tangled Up in Blue”?  “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”?  Too many choices.  Bob is today 80 years old.  The most overrated is perhaps “Desolation Row”, with its pretentious lyrics?

9. Why the new Elon Musk rocket really will matter?

10. Why a new business surge in black communities during the pandemic? (NYT)

Monday assorted links

1. Steve Kirsch on current Covid-19 treatments.  He is attempting to maximize expected value, coming from me that is praise.

2. Ezra Vogel has passed away.

3. “…we need to vaccinate the population when the virus circulation is low to avoid selecting for a vaccine resistant strain.

4. Bob Dylan on Paul McCartney.

5. “Harvard University scientists plan to fly a test balloon above Sweden next year to help advance research into dimming sunlight to cool the Earth, alarming environmentalists opposed to solar geoengineering.”  Link here.

6. Insights on carbon pricing (which many overrate).

On audiobooks

From my email, from Robert Kwasny:

I imagine you listen to audio books rarely but, still, I wonder if you have any new thoughts on this topic.

Few thoughts of my own:

1. Shakespeare audiobooks are excellent. Much better than watching blu-rays. Unlike on real stage, Prospero (voiced by Ian McKellan in one production) can actually whisper softly to Miranda without worrying about people in the back rows. Stage directions are already included in the dialogue.

2. Pop psychology and self-help are terrible. Once cannot easily skip or skim the boring parts.

3. History books written by academics (e.g. The Sleepwalkers) are tough unless one already knows the necessary context. Otherwise it’s easy to get lost in the thicket of background facts. That’s probably true for all dense books. For example, Piketty’s books are available on Audible but I didn’t even bother sampling them. It’s just a wrong format.

4. I’ve had great experience with books written by authors with journalistic experience. Robert Caro’s works are excellent in audio form. William Manchester’s Churchill biography is good as well. Lawrence of Arabia by Scott Anderson too. Good audiobooks can’t be just one fact after another, they need to tell a story.

5. If the book’s author does the narration it’s usually bad. Voice acting is hard.

Unfortunately I don’t know of any book created specifically for audio. Where are biographies of Bob Dylan with songs included? Or books on rhetoric with audio of great speeches included? Audiobooks (and ebooks for that matter) don’t seem to be a new medium, at least so far. 10 years ago I would have not predicted that.

I have no new thoughts on audiobooks!  Though for my next book (which is co-authored), I was asked to read at least part of the AudioBook.  I will thus develop additional thoughts over time.

The demise of the happy two-parent family

Here is new work by Rachel Sheffield and Scott Winship, I will not impose further indentation:

“-          We argue, against conventional wisdom on the right, that the decades of research on the effects of single parenthood on children amounts to fairly weak evidence that kids would do better if their actual parents got or stayed married. That is not to say that that we think single parenthood isn’t important–it’s a claim about how persuasive we ought to find the research on a question that is extremely difficult to answer persuasively. But even if it’s hard to determine whether kids would do better if their unhappy parents stay together, it is close to self-evident (and uncontroversial?) that kids do better being raised by two parents, happily married.

–          We spend some time exploring the question of whether men have become less “marriageable” over time. We argue that the case they have is also weak. The pay of young men fell over the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. But it has fully recovered since. You can come up with other criteria for marriageability–and we show several trends using different criteria–but the story has to be more complicated to work. Plus, if cultural change has caused men to feel less pressure to provide for their kids, then we’d expect that to CAUSE worse outcomes in the labor market for men over time. The direction of causality could go the other way.

–          Rather than economic problems causing the increase in family instability, we argue that rising affluence is a better explanation. Our story is about declining co-dependence, increasing individualism and self-fulfillment, technological advances, expanded opportunities, and the loosening of moral constraints. We discuss the paradox that associational and family life has been more resilient among the more affluent. It’s an argument we advance admittedly speculatively, but it has the virtue of being a consistent explanation for broader associational declines too. We hope it inspires research hypotheses that will garner the kind of attention that marriageability has received.

–          The explanation section closes with a look at whether the expansion of the federal safety net has affected family instability. We acknowledge that the research on select safety net program generosity doesn’t really support a link. But we also show that focusing on this or that program (typically AFDC or TANF) misses the forest. We present new estimates showing that the increase in safety net generosity has been on the same order of magnitude as the increase in nonmarital birth rates.

–          Finally, we describe a variety of policy approaches to address the increase in family stability. These fall into four broad buckets: messaging, social programs, financial incentives, and other approaches. We discuss 16 and Pregnant, marriage promotion programs, marriage penalties, safety net reforms, child support enforcement, Career Academies, and other ideas. We try to be hard-headed about the evidence for these proposals, which often is not encouraging. But the issue is so important that policymakers should keep trying to find effective solutions.”