• Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. I’m far from a Dylan expert, but I love the man for what he’s contributed to the culture. A decade ago I saw him perform live at Penn State.

    Bishop Robert Barron has a great reflection on why Dylan matters:

    I first heard Dylan when I was thirteen—a live version of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” from the Concert for Bangladesh—and I have been a fan ever since.

    It was fortuitous that I discovered Dylan just as I was learning what poetry is and how it works. Poetry “means” of course, but it also, and even more basically, “sounds.” Typically today, we read verse on the printed page, but Bob Dylan’s verse we first hear: “skipping reels of rhyme, to your tambourine in time;” “the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face;” “like a corkscrew to my heart, ever since we’ve been apart;” and “I hear the ancient footsteps, like the motion of the sea/ sometimes I turn there’s somebody there/ other times it’s only me.” 

    Dylan’s themes are, of course, multiple: politics, the conflicts of the heart, war and peace, etc. But his dominant preoccupation, from beginning to end of his career, is the God of the Bible. Listen again to “With God On Our Side,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “To Make You Feel My Love,” “Every Grain of Sand,” and “When He Returns,” if you want the evidence. He stands very much in the tradition of the great prophets and sages of Israel; like Jacob, he has spent a lifetime wrestling with the Lord.

  • Independence Day

    It’s Independence Day. Growing up, my family would play classical music and sometimes patriotic music during dinnertime. It was my introduction to probably some of the greatest recorded music of all time: Beethoven to Gershwin, etc.

    One of my favorite records was Robert Shaw Chorale’s 1991 Battle Cry of Freedom. Battle Hymn of the Republic is from an entirely different American era. Listen to it::

    In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
    With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
    As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
    While God is marching on.

    It was once a part of our national culture to mingle the secular and religious. Battle Hymn of the Republic—it says it all in its name.

    Every generation invests itself in the sort of America it believes should exist. At one time that meant cultivating what was basically a culturally Christian nation. Nothing like a theocratic nation; instead something far more meaningful. A place where faith was a part of the fabric of life, rather than a constellation of rules grafted atop it.

    What remains consistent since the founding is a respect for Constitutional liberty for the citizen, and Constitutional restraint on government excess.

    These twin pillars allow each generation to forge its own American identity, and this is what makes Independence Day meaningful for me.

  • Prince Screws

    When Michael Jackson’s Xscape came out last summer I listened to it on repeat for a few days. Of all the tracks, Do You Know Where Your Children Are is one of my favorites; feels closest to vintage of any of the tracks.

    Listening to the album also led to me reading some reviews and coming across Back in the Day, GQ’s piece on a fascinating aspect of Michael Jackson’s story:

    How do you talk about Michael Jackson unless you begin with Prince Screws? Prince Screws was an Alabama cotton-plantation slave who became a tenant farmer after the Civil War, likely on his old master’s land. His son, Prince Screws Jr., bought a small farm. And that man’s son, Prince Screws III, left home for Indiana, where he found work as a Pullman porter, part of the exodus of southern blacks to the northern industrial cities.

    There came a disruption in the line. This last Prince Screws, the one who went north, would have no sons. He had two daughters, Kattie and Hattie. Kattie gave birth to ten children, the eighth a boy, Michael—who would name his sons Prince, to honor his mother, whom he adored, and to signal a restoration. So the ridiculous moniker given by a white man to his black slave, the way you might name a dog, was bestowed by a black king upon his pale-skinned sons and heirs.

    We took the name for an affectation and mocked it.

    Not to imply that it was above mockery, but of all the things that make Michael unknowable, thinking we knew him is maybe the most deceptive.

  • Apple Music

    When I had a few minutes this morning I updated iOS to 8.4. I’ve been eager to try Apple Music, and today’s its debut. After the first 12 hours with Apple Music, Beats 1, and the overall experience I’m all in. I agree with Walt Mossberg that it’s the best streaming service I’ve tried, and the core human-curated streaming radio, playlists, and connect features are the key reasons for me.

    Beats 1 has been fun so far too. Trent Reznor’s role in its creation is fascinating, particularly his idea that I read somewhere that Beats 1 is an experiment to see if it’s possible to create “monoculture” through global streaming radio in the age of algorithmic curation. Streamed Zane Lowe and Ebro Darden’s shows; it was cool to hear requests coming in from places like Estonia, and hearing Darden walk listeners through a set of New York borough-centric tracks.

    In terms of pricing, it works out to 50 percent cheaper than Spotify in my case. I was on a $5/month Spotify subscription. On Apple Music I’m a part of family sharing, so my share drops to ~$2.50/month, and each family member gets their own streaming library, settings, etc.

    If this is at all what the refreshed Apple TV subscription service looks like, it should be a revolutionary rather than evolutionary change.

  • Miserere

    It’s Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week for Christians. This is the week of Christ’s passion and death, preceding Easter. I want to mark today by sharing a piece of music that’s timely and remarkable:

    This piece is Psalm 51, but first set to music by Allegri around 1630. It is one of the finest and most popular examples of renaissance polyphony. It is often heard in Churches of the apostolic Christian tradition…

    Miserere mei, Deus is Latin for Have mercy on me, God. I think this transports the listener.

    A 2008 NPR interview brings out some of the history of this piece:

    Composer Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere” is a piece of choral music so powerful that a 17th-century pope decreed it could be played only during the week leading to Easter—and then only in the Sistine Chapel. Jesse Kornbluth of talks about the “Miserere” with Jacki Lyden.