January 23, 2015

"Humane motion"... "time is your soul mate"... and "vice destroys"... the Bob Dylan AARP interview.

In the middle of the night — between sleeps — I read this interview Bob Dylan gave to — of all places — AARP Magazine. I made a mental note of 2 things I wanted to blog when I made it to the other side of the second sleep: 1. time, and 2. virtue.

1. Time. Bob says "Life has its ups and downs, and time has to be your partner, you know? Really, time is your soul mate." You need to have a good relationship with time, and that acknowledging what belongs to the past and what still belongs in your life. The Frank Sinatra songs Bob is covering on his new album are always vital:
So a song like “I’m a Fool to Want You” — I know that song. I can sing that song. I’ve felt every word in that song. I mean, I know that song. It’s like I wrote it. It’s easier for me to sing that song than it is to sing “Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane.” At one time that wouldn’t have been so. But now it is. Because “Queen Jane” might be a little bit outdated. But this song is not outdated. It has to do with humane motion. There’s nothing contrived in these songs. There’s not one false word in any of them. They’re eternal.
Humane motion. Did AARP put the space in the wrong place?
"Human emotion" is a familiar word pairing, but "humane motion" is new. I'd like to think Bob Dylan is slyly demonstrating his ease with his place in time, conceding the outdatedness of one of his old monuments, ostensibly bowing to eternal Sinatra lyrics that are phrases too common even to call hackneyed — "Take me back, I love you, pity me, I need you"— and then effortlessly, in real time, delivering the poetic gem "humane motion."

And he also makes me want to fight for "Queen Jane": "When... you want somebody you don’t have to speak to/Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?" That's a line that's lived in my head for a half century. But maybe the power of "plastic" has faded, and it is hard to sing "When all of your advisers heave their plastic/At your feet to convince you of your pain..." Maybe some people today would picture Jane's advisers throwing credit cards at her! Looking up "plastic" at Urban Dictionary, I see that the word "plastic" got some play in the movie "Mean Girls," and some younger folk might picture the advisers shoving overly-lipped-glossed girls at Queen Jane.

2. Virtue. Bob says that Frank Sinatra's songs are "songs of great virtue. That’s what they are."
People’s lives today are filled with vice and the trappings of it. Ambition, greed and selfishness all have to do with vice. Sooner or later, you have to see through it or you don’t survive. We don’t see the people that vice destroys. We just see the glamour of it — everywhere we look, from billboard signs to movies, to newspapers, to magazines. We see the destruction of human life. These songs are anything but that. 
He begins and ends talking about the Sinatra songs, but in the middle there's some commentary that isn't about songs at all. Vice destroys and the media only show the pre-destruction phase of vice. They show the glamor. They lure us into vice and don't show us a way out or even reveal that we're going to need a way out. Is Bob saying that songs "of great virtue" — Sinatra songs! — are the way out of vice?

Bob gets back to the topic of virtue in the end of the interview when he's asked about happiness. This is also the part where he says "time is your soul mate." He says happiness is "like water — it slips through your hands."
How can a person be happy if he has misfortune? Some wealthy billionaire who can buy 30 cars and maybe buy a sports team, is that guy happy? What then would make him happier? Does it make him happy giving his money away to foreign countries? Is there more contentment in that than in giving it here to the inner cities and creating jobs? The government’s not going to create jobs. It doesn’t have to. People have to create jobs, and these big billionaires are the ones who can do it We don’t see that happening. We see crime and inner cities exploding with people who have nothing to do, turning to drink and drugs. They could all have work created for them by all these hotshot billionaires. For sure that would create lot of happiness. Now, I’m not saying they have to — I’m not talking about communism — but what do they do with their money? Do they use it in virtuous ways?... [T]here are a lot of things that are wrong in America, and especially in the inner cities, that they could solve. Those are dangerous grounds, and they don’t have to be. There are good people there, but they’ve been oppressed by lack of work. Those people can all be working at something. These multibillionaires can create industries right here in America. But no one can tell them what to do. God’s got to lead them.
Before writing this post, I read the comments on the last post and saw that Jose_K was saying "Words of wisdom" about a Breitbart piece about the Dylan interview: "Bob Dylan: 'People have to create jobs' because government won't." That's the part of the interview that appeals to right-wing media: it's the private sector, not the government, that creates jobs. Of course, there's just as much in that paragraph to hearten a lefty: Big piles of wealth don't bring happiness, and everyone's better off if the wealth is spread around. I don't think Bob's too interested in politics, though. He's talking about the human spirit, the soul, virtue, the power of song, and the power of God.

42 comments:

Ann Althouse said...

I checked to see if the phrase "humane motion" has appeared before and only found things like "Humane Motion-Activated Infrared Sensor Deerchaser," "humane motion picture," and references to making a parliamentary motion about something humane. So credit Dylan with the coinage... or AARP with the misplaced space.

Todd said...

AARP is nothing more than an insurance racket (and no longer a senior advocacy group). Anyone with any sense would stay far away from them.

Jeff Gee said...

"The man who becomes witty through the typesetter's error, becomes witty through legitimate means." --Kierkegaard

Todd said...

http://waysandmeans.house.gov/uploadedfiles/aarp_report_final_pdf_3_29_11.pdf

rehajm said...

Dylan's a genius. Or an accident.

Marc said...

You people have been trying to make me see the glories of Bob for my entire adult life, and I appreciate the good intentions, and yours. (Although I'll confess to... often skipping your D. posts, tsk.) Dylan knows virtue and vice, which so many artists pretend not to know, and if the visceral reaction to beauty doesn't really happen for me, listening to much of his work, I can at least appreciate his lifetime of application to his art. Humane motion, eh.

rehajm said...

Humane motion is a subtle product placement for death panels.

William said...

Did Sinatra ever sing anything by Dylan? If he did, it never made the charts.

tim maguire said...

The idea that vice destroys is what is behind our safety obsessed nanny culture. Vice does not "destroy", vice is a creator every bit as much as a destroyer, vice exacts a price that must be paid. We, as a society, do a horrible job of assessing whether that price is worth it.

Curious George said...

"Todd said...
AARP is nothing more than an insurance racket (and no longer a senior advocacy group). Anyone with any sense would stay far away from them."

Hardly. They are a left wing advocacy group.

Laslo Spatula said...

Humane Motion is Body English for the Soul.

I am Laslo.

tim in vermont said...

I have been thinking about the same issues that Dylan is talking about regarding the nature of "vice," though not in those terms. Thanks for the post.

Regarding AARP, since they were complicit in forcing through Obamacare, I just use their mailings for fuel in my wood stove. Not that I don't use just about every other mailing for the same purpose, it is just theirs that I do "with extreme prejudice."

tim in vermont said...

We, as a society, do a horrible job of assessing whether that price is worth it.

Yes, exactly.

William said...

Andrew Carnegie said that a rich man had a moral duty to die poor. He was, at one time, the richest man on earth, and he gave it all away. But what made the world a better place for his presence was not the libraries and universities he funded, but the cheap steel he produced.......Stalin's first five year plan and Mao's Great Leap Forward tried to increase steel production and lower the cost of its production. They mostly succeeded in killing millions.......With the arguable exception of the Homestead Strike, Carnegie achieved those goals bloodlessly........Which do you think would be more likely to inspire a Dylan folk ballad: the Homestead Strike or the Great Leap Forward. We need more virtuous folk singers, not more virtuous billionaires.

David said...

Rehajim, is genius accidental?

Dylan does not seem a genius to me. An interesting and talented fellow who can be genuinely (as opposed to conventionally) unconventional, yes. Genius, no.

David said...

At Carnegie death, he had a fortune of about $400 million in today's money. That after he had given away an estimated 90% of his wealth. So he did not die poor, but his record was nevertheless very good.

David said...

Carnegie was an actual genius. He had many great skills, but his genius was in selection of talent and giving that talent plenty of scope to operate.

CStanley said...

Curious George said...
"Todd said...
AARP is nothing more than an insurance racket (and no longer a senior advocacy group). Anyone with any sense would stay far away from them."

Hardly. They are a left wing advocacy group.


These aren't mutually exclusive. AARP is an insurance racket and a left wing advocacy group.

It's a floor wax and a dessert topping.

Not that any of that is relevant to the article. It is an interesting interview.

Heartless Aztec said...

They weren't Sinatra lyrics. They were the words that he sang to an arrangement that somebody else wrote. Much like an actor who repeats memorized lines and fakes emotions to the words of a writer. We associate those words words with the singer/actor but they are not his/hers.

CStanley said...

I like (and agree with) the way he separates morality and politics- ie, people shoulduse their wealth for virtuous things but they shouldn't be compelled to do so.

It made me think of an article I read yesterday expressing the opposite about Pope Francis:
http://theweek.com/articles/534933/pope-francis-allows-politics-distortthe-christian-faith

I'm not sure I agree with that author, but it does give me pause.

tim in vermont said...

Maybe we should elect the Amish to the presidency and supermajorities in both houses.

Every time a downtown gets destroyed, for example by riots in Ferguson, we could go in and build them back in a day!

Anonymous said...

A huge amount of people have a belief that there is no God that motivates these people other than the God of power and money and that the policies currently in place inform their lack of domestic participation.

And I'm going with typo.

(Mary Sunshine).

Anonymous said...

Additionally, corporations as people, are not beholden to be motivated by God, but by profit and legally bound to stockholders. He seems to be referring to individuals. Occasionally, you get some sincere Christlans or Greenies, more often empty gestures used as part of a branding plan, or nothing at all.

Anonymous said...

I wonder, in Bob's world, society is free to see Vice as a unit and legally limit the front end of the Vice that forces others to the back end and how that would play out in his latter economic scenario. IOW, not forcing people or corporations to be good, but limiting their ability to do harm.

George M. Spencer said...

Key line in the story:

Happiness isn't the destination.

It's the road.

Anonymous said...

Bob D has acquired wisdom. Very interesting interview.

traditionalguy said...

Bob wants to give us a message that he hears from God. So he is not a genius. He is a faithful servant. God usually picks guys that have a way with words like the sweet psalmist David. Why be jealous of Dylan/Zimmerman. He has had a rough time doing his job.

Ann Althouse said...

"Did Sinatra ever sing anything by Dylan? If he did, it never made the charts."

Great question. Hard to Google with the static of Dylan singing Sinatra dominating the hits.

Another question is which Dylan songs could Sinatra have done to good effect? I could imagine him singing "The Girl From North Country" or "Visions of Johanna" or "To Ramona."

Ann Althouse said...

"They weren't Sinatra lyrics."

Sinatra is credited as one of the writers of the song that I quoted in the post.

Unknown said...

— of all places — AARP Magazine

heh

William said...

"Lay, Lady, Lay" would be consistent with the Sinatra ethos. If Sinatra had sung "Farewell Angelina" in a self referential way and in his cracked, old man voice, it would have worked......,At certain point in life, you no longer want the shock of the new. Rather you seek the comfort of the familiar. Hence the Sinatra album. At one time Dylan was the shock of the new, but that's all gone. I don't see much overlap between Sinatra and Dylan, but, on the other hand, I think Dylan covers to Taylor Swift or Kanye West songs would be far more jarring.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Time Out of Mind was the last Dylan album I bought. Did you like that one, Prof A? I don't think I've listened to it in a long time.

Dylan's song "Most of the Time" is probably my favorite of his "modern" songs--I think I got that one off the sountrack to the movie High Fidelity.

Anonymous said...

Actually, a conservative or a libertarian could love all of it. He is not advocating that the billionaires be coerced to doing anything. Further, conservatives that are Christian completely support the idea that there are some things a billionaire "should" do with his or her money. It is the whole force/coercion thing they disagree with. It is really hard to see how a progressive could like much about his view on wealth beyond it not necessarily making a person happy.

Jeff Gee said...

Sinatra didn’t record any Dylan songs, although there are a handful of Beatle, Joni Mitchell, and Kris Kristofferson covers scattered through the discography. I like to think Sinatra could have done a great job with “Watchin’ the River Flow.” On the other hand, maybe Dylan dodged a bullet: drop by YouTube and experience Frank’s “Mrs. Robinson,” if your heart can stand it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePLO_mLRmIE >

Amexpat said...

Another question is which Dylan songs could Sinatra have done to good effect? I could imagine him singing "The Girl From North Country" or "Visions of Johanna" or "To Ramona."

I read somewhere, long time ago, that Sinatra considered covering "Just Like a Woman" but decided it wasn't for him. I think it would have been interesting.

If this is true, it was probable in the mid sixties when everyone was covering Dylan and Sinatra wasn't as cool as he used to be to get hipper.

walter said...

Sinatra fans finally get their wish.

DKWalser said...

There is no conflict between Dylan's meditations on the obligation to use wealth for good and conservative thought. Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations, discussed the moral underpinnings of capitalism in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. His argument was that the greater wealth created economic freedom (capitalism) enables the wealthy to engage in charitable works. He believed that most people would dedicate some portion of their wealth for charity and that both the wealthy and the objects of their charity would benefit from charitable work.

So, while both those on the right and the left might find something in Dylan's argument to cheer. Only conservatives would cheer all of what he had to say. Dylan's thoughts are entirely consistent with what Adam Smith wrote more than 250 years ago. So, too, is conservative thought. We believe that capitalism makes greater wealth possible and that greater wealth makes it possible for us become better people by voluntarily engaging in charitable work.

Amexpat said...

Dylan was asked by Sinatra to sing at his televised 80th birthday celebration.I think Dylan was the only singer not to do a Sinatra song, because Mr. Frank had made a special request for Bob to sing Restless Farewlland it would be rude and imprudent to deny Mr. Frank a special request on his birthday.


Anonymous said...


Dylan may be a man of wisdom; a man of letters I'm not too sure about.

Amexpat said...

They’re eternal.Humane motion. Did AARP put the space in the wrong place?

Yes, they've corrected it now.

Heartless Aztec said...

Giving songwriting credits is money in the bank. As a songwriter you get a major cut of the money from the royalties. A very typical thing to do at the time I you had the clout to do it. Frank Sinatra was not ever at anytime in his career noted as a songwriter. Which I not to say he didn't add a word, phrase to someone else's song. The question to what record company his songwriting credit accrued under. Reprise or Capitol. Therein lies the answer.

Indigo Red said...

Best Dylan article quote, "Don’t try to act like you’re young. You could really hurt yourself."