Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tom Petty Sings Dylan's "License To Kill"


Hey, I almost forgot. Something really great happened last week when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. By my informal count 70 percent of the commentaries I encountered thought it was reason for celebration and 30 thought it was a travesty -- because what Dylan does is songwriting not "literature." Jesus. Lighten up. One prominent novelist snarked out a Tweet saying "I get it, reading books is hard." No, I get it: Your words will never get inside people's heads and hearts and change their lives like Dylan's have, and you don't like it.

Before the 60s there was no such thing as a pop song that had the scope and ambition that Dylan brought to the game, exemplified so well in "License To Kill," from Infidels, a really strong album from 1983. This song explores how the anthropocentric domination model of civilization, closely related to unbalanced patriarchal structures, is destroying our planet, our home.

He worships at an alter of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection he's fulfilled
Well, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way
But there's a woman on my block
She just sits there as night grows still
And she says, Who's gonna take away his
License to kill?

What a performance from Tom Petty and the band! Filmed at the 1993 concert in Madison Square Garden celebrating 30 years since Dylan's first album.

UPDATE: 10-27
In a pleasant turn of events Krista Tippett's On Being re-posted my essay on Bob Dylan to their Facebook page as a way to acknowledge Bob's prize. I'm glad they liked the piece well enough to bring it back like that. It's called "Bob Dylan: Old Testament Language, Beat Poetics, and a Theology of Service." I originally titled it "Bob Dylan's Beautiful Calvinism," but they drew upon one of my sentences to re-title it. I like it. Check it out here and send the link to your friends!

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