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FTWMI:… some Powerball® thoughts March 19, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Healing Stories, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Poetry, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Peace and blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, Great Lent, and the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast during this “Season for Non-violence” and all other seasons! Happy New Year, to those who are celebrating!

For Those Who Missed It: This is an abridged (and then revised and expanded) version of a 2022 post that primarily focused on “Winning the Lottery.” Some elements of this post also overlap with the 2023 Purim post. Some embedded links connect to websites outside of my blog.

“The problem with this answering line is that the world of the blues that seems to be evoked by the idiom and form of this song is generally not a world in which one’s baby goes off to a ‘foreign land.’ African American blues singers in the tradition that Dylan is building on here may sing about their baby going off to Chicago, or New Orleans, or Natchez. But not on a trip abroad: that’s  an experience that, at this particular moment, is still mostly the province of a modern, educated, Caucasian upper middle class…. Dylan goes on to claim in good rural language that he’ll ‘get lucky’ or ‘die tryin’ ’ as he rambles to reach his beloved. 

– quoted from “II. Ramblin’ Boy: ‘Protest’ and the Art of Adaptation” in Bob Dylan’s Poetics: How the Songs Work by Timothy Hampton

I recently heard a young, up-and-coming artist compare achieving a huge milestone to winning the lottery. For sure, I can see that. Especially when you consider how many people commented on the fact that this artist hit this much deserved milestone before his much lauded collaborator. (Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a big fan of both artists, but there’s something more than talent at play here.) I think having a hit song is also like that. Because while there is a lot of hard work that goes into creating a hit song, there’s also a lot of luck. It’s like that old adage: you can’t win if you don’t play. Of course, most people who play, don’t win – at least not really big – and it’s the same thing with being a big star in music.

The existence of streaming services and social media means that a lot of hustle and marketing on the part of the artist (and their community) can get an artist noticed today, in a way they couldn’t get noticed 20-plus years ago. That attention can really push a song up the charts. However, we’re still in a time time when songs are hits (in part) because they are played on the radio. And for all that hustle, many songs are played on the radio because of the way the musician looks. This is true across genres. This is even more so when it comes to music in and from certain countries and cultures. Being talented and having the “right” size, complexion, ethnicity, and (on a certain level) gender and sexuality, is like hitting the Powerball®.

“The Multi-State Lottery Association encourages all lottery players to be responsible in their amount of play.

For some people gambling can become a problem. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, there are a number of helpful resources listed below.

National Council on Problem Gambling
24 Hour Confidential National Helpline
Call: 1-800-522-4700
Chat: ncpgambling.org/chat
Text: 1-800-522-4700

Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators”

– quoted from the “Play Responsibly” tab on the Powerball® website

While I’ve been known to play bingo in a church basement (for charity and the chance to win a homemade quilt), I’m not really one to play the lottery. My limited understanding is that there’s a lot of different ways you can win with a Powerball®. However, just like with music and other things that could make you wealthy beyond your dreams, you have to be responsible and avoid the scams. You have to balance the temptation and your desire with reality. The reality, again, being that if you don’t play, you don’t win; but most people don’t win… big.

If you’re talented and have the aforementioned equivalent of the Powerball®, you can do things other people can’t do. You can write songs that make people re-think the world. You can sing songs other people not only wouldn’t think to sing, but might be afraid to sing. You can inspire people to sing your songs… even when they don’t always understand you. To me, Bob Dylan and his eponymous first album are a great example of a musical Powerball®.

“I walked down there and ended up
In one of them coffee-houses on the block
I get on the stage to sing and play
Man there said, ‘Come back some other day
You sound like a hillbilly
We want folksingers here’”

– quoted from the song “Talkin’ New York” by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s debut studio album, Bob Dylan, was released today (March 19th) in 1962. I didn’t use it for the anniversary this last year – because I thought it would distract from [the] sūtra study – but, normally I use one of the playlists that I also use on Bob Dylan’s birthday (hint, hint). It’s a playlist that combines music from the original album – which only included two original Bob Dylan songs – with Bob Dylan songs covered and/or made famous by others. It’s a good way, I think, to highlight the fact that Dylan is as inspired as he is inspirational.

Bob Dylan, the album, was recorded on November 20th and 22nd of 1961. In addition to the two original Dylan songs (“Talkin’ New York” and “Song to Woody”), there were eleven covers or traditional folk songs (including Negro spirituals). While Bob Dylan did arrange some of the folk songs, there’s one arrangement that he famously, uhmm… “borrowed” (without permission) from folk singer Dave Van Ronk. Exactly a month after recording the album, Bob Dylan had an informal recording session in a Minneapolis, Minnesota hotel room with Bonnie Beecher and Tony Glover. Those bootleg recordings may or may not have been distributed out of someone’s trunk; but, they were the equivalent of modern-day artists streaming their music. They got people excited about Bob Dylan as a musician and may be considered a better glimpse (than the studio album) of what was to come from the artist.

The bootleg recordings did not, however, drum up enough attention to really sell Bob Dylan. The album has never been super popular (chart wise) in the US or the UK. Neither did it, initially, receive a lot of critical recognition or attention. Part of the lack of interest, at the time it was released, may have been because it sounded nothing like what was popular at the time. According to a Rolling Stone article by Andy Greene, “[The album came out at] the height of ‘The Twist’ dance craze, and 11 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart had the word ‘twist’ in the title, including “Dear Lady Twist” by Gary U.S. Bonds, “Twistin’ The Night Away’ by Sam Cooke, “Hey, Let’s Twist” by Joey Dee and the Starlighters, “Twistin’ Postman” by the Marvelettes and “Alvin Twist” by the Chipmunks.”

In addition to “Peppermint Twist,” also by Joey Dee and the Starlighters, which spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the airwaves at the time were filled with doowop artists like Gene Chandler; crooners like Ray Charles and Neil Sedaka; women like Connie Francis, Shelley Fabares, and Little Eva; Motown girl bands like The Shirelles; and boy bands like the Beach Boys and The Tokens (whose number one song at the beginning of 1962, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” is it’s own “lottery” cautionary tale). Of course, there was folk music; however, as Andy Greene pointed out, “To most of America, the Kingston Trio were the embodiment of folk music…. but [Dylan] sounded nothing like the Kingston Trio.” Then there was Elvis Presley… and some 1962 reviewers did compare Dylan – as well as his voice and his style – to Elvis Presley.

Which is weird to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Bob Dylan fan (on a lot of different levels). I even dig that first album. However, the comparison to Elvis is curious, when you really think about it. At the time, maybe they were both just seen as young, eager singers changing the “face” of music – and I get that. They were also young, white singers making popular (city) music out of traditions associated with Black, poor, and/or rural America – and I get that comparison, too. However, it’s hard for me to not view them through the lens of history.

Elvis was a singer, a performer, an actor, and a U. S. veteran; but, he was never recognized as a songwriter. Most say that he didn’t even pen the songs on which he is credited as a co-writer. Also, he didn’t have a ton of protest songs associated with the anti-war and Civil Rights movements. Finally, Elvis never won, as Bob Dylan did in 2016, a  Nobel Prize in Literature. In fact, (to me) the only thing Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley had in common in 1962, especially when compared to other also talented musicians at the time, was that elusive Powerball® of talent, drive, and other people’s perceptions.

How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone

– quoted from the song “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, March 19th) at 2:30 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05242022 ‘Bob’s Poems”]

“Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he coulda been
The champion of the world

– quoted from the song “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy 

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

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