Call and (Heartrending) Response: Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather”

One of my favorite musical activities is to snag a bunch of versions of the same song off You Tube or iTunes and then luxuriate in the fine art of interpretation. It’s rather like stepping into a favorite winery and assenting to the server’s inquiry with, “Why yes, I believe I will try seven different pinots from your seven different vineyards scattered over hill and coast and dale. Cheers!”

This is especially true when the song is just flat-out great, garnering the deep respect and reverence of the covering artists.

A song, for example, such as Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather.”

What a song.

What a poem.

Recorded in 1963 and released the following year on his “The Times They Are Changin’” album, “Boots of Spanish Leather” shows Dylan at just about his writerly best, a mere babe at 22 years old, giving clear indications of the literary bent that would earn him the Nobel ...

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Dark and Resplendent Nights: A Study of Van Gogh’s Two Cafés

Decades ago, when I had my head buried in theology and philosophy at Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, I used to regularly wander over to the Caffe Mediterraneum on Telegraph Avenue, a kind of rough-hewn and clattery coffeehouse with a 1950s pedigree, way before coffeehouses-ala-Starbucks got chic. The place had a kind of Mideast/Turkish vibe, the servers usually dark and mustachioed, the patrons hunched over their espressos with stacks of art books or Heidegger and Sartre philosophical tomes prominently displayed next to them on the round tables.

The “Med” wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, as it were, but its tone of brooding, vaguely discernible despondency and graduate school noir held a certain bohemian allure...

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A Prayer for Leonard Cohen, and That Syrian Girl Without a Hospital

nothing new, nothing to see,
just another mound of rubble

and still the dogs zig and
zag over the cold stones,
their handlers holding tight,
awaiting a pause and deeper

inhalation

now the rescuers kneel
removing stone by careful stone,
the veil of destruction lifted from

the face of a girl

awake, blinking, inert,
four days entombed
but alive, alive oh!

HALLELUJAH, HALLELUJAH,
HALLELUJAH, HALLELUJAH

(he sang of things
above and below,
the eternal fusion,
the fast and slow)

(the recurrent broken hallelujahs)

a man lifts her,
this perhaps 4-year-old,
the christ child in swaddling clothes
suffering the sins of the world

lord forgive them, for they know not what they do

HALLELUJAH, HALLELUJAH,
HALLELUJAH, HALLELUJAH

he scans the cratered street,
the search now for a car and
swift transport to the hospital

and the announcer, camera crew
providing witness to this atrocity

intones:

it’s a rush to get her to hospi...

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The Moral Imperative of Hope

So the unthinkable happened. A shallow, venal, vindictive, mendacious, unprincipled demagogue has won the presidency of the United States, and many of us are disheartened and crushed and fearful and angry and just aching to emote.

So we do, and it is good and necessary. We howl to the heavens to release our outrage and frustration. Our sadness for those most vulnerable to the fiscal machinations that lie ahead—the poor, the elderly and infirm, and even the untold numbers of ‘Regular Joe” working class types who will see tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals but likely precious little flowing into anything that will benefit them.

(This will be but one of Trump’s betrayals of the working class voters who made him president...

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I’m Voting for Our Common Humanity

A thought experiment: What if the current presidential election pitted Tim Kaine against Mike Pence? What would be the tone of argument, attack and vituperation between two, by most all accounts, decent middle-aged men who exhibit next to no bombast and would appear to harbor precious few skeletons, legal or otherwise, in their respective closets? Might the entire campaign have been conducted with at least a modicum of respect and focus on the issues of the day rather than the character flaws of the combatants, er, candidates?

What if Kaine and Pence weren’t relegated mostly to defending the figures at the top of their tickets while savagely attacking the other’s, but instead would have been free to wax presidential about their plans for the country?

Or would it have been only a matter of time, in this riven age, before these two decent men were reduced and dragged through the same foul vitriol that h...

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