From Homer’s Odyssey To Buddy Holly - The Times They Are A-Changin’

Ed Raymond

When Robert Zimmerman, born in Duluth and raised in Hibbing, better known as Bob Dylan, won the Nobel Prize for Literature (worth almost a cool $1 million), he said, “When I received this Nobel Prize for literature. I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. The music of Buddy Holly changed my life, along with Homer’s Odyssey, Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” and Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet On The Western Front.” What??!! A Jewish teenager from a Minnesota iron range town interested in classical lit from the 12th century BC to the present? He also read the wild Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in high school so much he adopted his name. He particularly loved this stanza from “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”: 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

I have never really wanted to hear Dylan sing his songs. His voice reminds me of small rocks dropping off a conveyor belt in a gravel pit. But his poetry sings of “Better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone” and “Come senators, congressmen please heed the call, don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall, for the times they are a-changin’.” His songs are about civil rights campaigns, anti-war movements, and cultures and countercultures. Dylan won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” He has already sold more than a 100 million records. He deserves the Nobel Prize.

Why Do We Carve Statues, Build Monuments, and Name Things After People?

We do it so we will remember the past—whether it’s the battleship Arizona on the bottom of Pearl Harbor or the ovens of Auschwitz. There is that famous line of George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That line has a message for all of us: If we don’t read history, if we don’t learn from history, if we don’t know about all of the mistakes in history, we are doomed to repeat history. It’s imperative to study our history and the history of the world so we can remember.

   It is my contention we should not revise or hide our history by removing monuments, statues, place names, and names on buildings because we need them to remember our history. We recently had a good discussion locally from two Fargo Forum columnists about why we should remove or keep the names of Woodrow Wilson on a school building or Henry Clay on a county. Isn’t it better to keep Wilson’s name on a school because he was a racist and Clay’s name on a county because he was a slave owner? Symbols, names, stones, and buildings help us to remember the past—that is, if we have studied and learned from the past. Do we want to have other Wilsons and Clays? As Dylan wrote: “The times they are a-changin’.”

A Jolt From Newark For The Vatican That Indicates “The Order Is Rapidly Fadin’”

As an example of that “a-changin’,” the Vatican still teaches in its catechism that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” gays cannot become priests, the church will not support the gay culture, and is still opposed to same-sex marriage. But when the new Pope Francis made a comment about gay priests to a group of reporters on an airplane, and then added the famous line “Who am I to judge?,” he may have opened the ponderous doors on St. Peter’s just a smidgen. His very recent appointee to lead the archdiocese of Newark, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, creaked open the doors of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark and invited 100 LBGTQ “brothers and sisters” from the area to celebrate mass with him. He seated them in front of the altar and sanctuary and said, “I am Joseph, your brother. I am your brother as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.” Another “times a-changin’”! He is a member of a very small group of bishops who are welcoming LBGTQs and are signaling subordinate priests in their churches to do the same. The new cardinal has received some vicious hate mail from conservative Catholics and bishops who are organizing a letter-writing campaign to “correct” him. With the Catholic Church claiming a US enrollment of slightly over 60 million, it has about six million to bring back to the altars.

Evidence Suggests We Are Living In Prozac Nation

The National Institute of Mental Health has data indicating that 38% of girls ages 13 through 17 and 26% of the boys the same age have an anxiety disorder. In a 2016 study of 150,000 college students by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State, anxiety is way ahead of depression. The podcast “The United States of Anxiety” by WNYC TV of New York City gives these reasons for our “a-changin’” times: “We’ve been at war since 2003, we’ve seen two recessions, and digital life alone has been a massive change. Work life has changed. Everything we consider to be normal has changed. And nobody seems to trust the people in charge to tell them where we fit into the future.” Looking back on those 14 years, no wonder the drug companies are making record profits off Prozac.

Perhaps we should compare ourselves with Norway which has just been declared the happiest country on the planet. Could a country of 322 million ever become as happy as a country of five million? An American who had lived in Norway for a year celebrated Syytende Mai (Constitution Day) in Bergen with 100,000 Norwegians. She thought that the streets of Bergen would be covered with the garbage of an all-day celebration. There was no litter except for two beer cans. We need to do a lot of a-changin’. Oslo residents allow their young teenagers to travel on buses, trams, and ferries alone to visit friends in the suburbs. 

Norway has an unusual law which allows citizens to camp on anyone’s land for a night if they clean up the campsite. The law is called “alleermannsretten.” Employers must give all employees 25 days of paid vacation annually. Incidentally, Norway has put away $1 trillion in the government pension fund and is the only major country without foreign debt. Norway has high taxes which allow it to pay for four years of college, universal health care, and one year of parental leave with full pay. As one citizen said, “We have a willingness to give up part of ourselves for the whole.” Will the “richest country in the world” ever change?

The Contrast Between Norwegian and American Cultures
Greg Murphy of Minneapolis made strong points in a letter in the Star Tribune: “I don’t have all the answers about how to best pay for health care (though many other countries seem to have a handle on this) but I would note that both insurance and government are just tools to organize ourselves with our neighbors, supposedly for the common good. Healthy people pay insurance premiums, and wealthy people pay taxes, to help pay costs that the sick or poor can’t afford on their own. Call it what you want, but when you take away the paperwork it’s just about looking out for each other. If you’re only concerned about your personal costs and benefits, keep in mind odds of having an expensive health care issue at some point in your life are roughly 100%. You might also appreciate some good neighbors on that day.” The Norwegians have good neighbors. Why don’t we? 

We spend valuable time battling about the major social issues of birth control, gun control, abortion, family planning, divorce, sex among the unmarried, LBGTQ relations, and out-of-wedlock childbearing at governmental levels when actually over the last 15 years the attitudes toward these issues by the general public have “a-changed” dramatically. The public approves background checks for gun purchases by 92%. All of these culture issues have gained al least a 62% approval rating in new polls. Even doctor-assisted suicide has a 57% approval rating. It’s clear that liberals and progressives have won most of the culture wars, but conservative politicians still stay in power because of rural states and racial, cultural, and religious gerrymandering. What kind of a government passes laws preventing a parent from bringing home-baked cookies into a school to treat her son’s classmates, but at the same time passes laws allowing her to conceal and carry a loaded semi-automatic Glock into the same school?

Some people will be heartened by the fact that only 9% “tolerate” adultery. But 17% also tolerate polygamy and 14% approve of human cloning. These two issues have been gaining  support over the last decade. We are living in unusual times. Who would have thought that 81% of US Protestant evangelicals would vote for a thrice-married sexual predator billionaire who has been analyzed a lying malignant narcissist?                       

Transgender Chelsea Manning Seems Is A Messenger Of Our Times

We now have “volunteer” troops in over 60 countries involved in shadow, civil, and terrorist skirmishes and are deeply involved in the Forever Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have had 2.7 million troops fight in those two eternal hellholes with half of them serving multiple tours. Over 223,000 have gone to the war zones four times—and 51,000 have done six or more deployments. I once wrote about a veteran who was killed on his 14th tour of duty. And the Forever Wars are not going to end soon. 

This is why the “male” Pvt. Bradley Manning at age 22 dumped millions of documents to Wikileaks as he served in an intelligence unit and helped analyze the land wars by drone video. Stationed in Baghdad, he took a two-week leave to get away from the war. He was shocked by how Americans were “disengaged” from both wars. One Percent of the country was fighting for the other 99%. That’s why Bradley dumped documents about the two wars.

Manning has led a complex life. From age five he dressed in his sister’s clothes and loved to put on makeup. His parents separated but his father was a military man so he joined the Army in 2005 “to gain structure” in his life. After he was sentenced to 35 years in prison for sending documents to Wilileaks, Bradley decided to transgender to female and became Chelsea. Her sentence was commuted by President Obama in 2016. She is currently writing a 300-page memoir on her activities. It will be interesting. Chelsea is still a patriot: “Plenty of things should be kept secret. Let’s protect troop movements. Let’s protect nuclear info. Let’s not hide missteps. Let’s not hide misguided policies. Let’s not hide history.” There’s that nasty history again.