Re: Is the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” really a pro-Confederate anthem?
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Thank you for the set of strong statements --- I hope what follows is (somewhat) coherent as I am "composing" rather than first-drafting --
FIRST: I start at the end with your argument against "the pleasure of art consumption" --- You are OF COURSE right that one thing capitalism has done in spades is the commodification of pleasure -- whereas people would entertain each other around the campfire, or on the back porch, or like the teens below our Washington Heights second window in 1957 on the streetcorner, now we BUY that entertainment and even the street corner singers try to SELL it ... all agreed!
But just because capitalism corrupts everything it touches, that doesn't mean that what has been commodified hasn't got REAL ("use") value --- I certainly see culture --- poetry, theater, singing, movies, art --- as having LOTS of value ---- yes, for pleasure, but also for connection ---
I think PETE SEEGER, THE POWER OF SONG certainly shows that --- and admittedly Pete was (is) unbelievable unique ---
I also think that the "consumer" of art can learn something by trying to "make sense" out of "difficult" lyrics --- etc.
Let me give you one very simple short example (which is totally based on memory so I might even have some of the facts backwards but here goes).
In Buffy Sainte Marie's song CODYNE (not even sure how she spelled it but she pronounced it the archaic way, the "i" is pronounced "eye" not "ee")
the chorus goes "And it's reel, reel, one more time!"
(obviously referring to being unsteady on one's feet --)
But one listener remarked that she/he thought the words were "And it's REAL, REAL< one more time!" identifying the (false) insights one gets when really smashed on drugs --- (the song is no paean to drug taking!!)
When Buffy heard of that "mistake" she opined that maybe she was actually thinking of the "other" spelling of Real as the song was "coming" to her ...
Why am I making such a deal about this --- my point is that writers write something (painter's paint something, composers compose....) and then it's OUT THERE --- and no matter what one thought of the product as one was creating it, once it's out there it's fair game for everyone ---
The pleasure of diving into a text, any text, obviously is greater the richer the text --- Shakespeare can give more pleasure to those who invest the time and energy than Donald Duck --- but one can "enjoy" Shakespeare on many different levels -- I remember when Joe Papp started showing free Shakespeare to high school kids, one was quoted as saying "It was so exciting, I forgot they were talking Shakespeare"
Which brings me to Dylan-- I have had great pleasure diving into some of his texts --- Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall; Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (even the latter song has some "social significance!") --- I've also felt the power of song in my (decades ago) performing days actually singing Hard Rain (I personally think Pete Seeger's version on his 1963 album WE SHALL OVERCOME is the best ....I copied his approach ...)
When I was teaching at John Jay 7 years ago, Peter Yarrow came and gave a guest lecture which turned out to be a master class for the students about the meaning of BLOWIN' IN THE WIND ---- it was eye-opening for the students ---
CONCLUSION -- I think we can have two thoughts in our minds at the same time -- capitalism has commodified pleasure and lots of pop music is pretty worthless --- perhaps like an "opiate" diverting the masses from the struggle -- BUT at the same time, even pop culture can be a powerful force organizing people --- think of the song SOLIDARITY FOREVER in all of its permutations (including the Civil War version called THE VALIANT SOLDIERS --- a version of which is performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock --
(and by the way, thanks for mentioning Strange Fruit --- when my dad wrote it, he was responding viscerally to a picture in a magazine and the general horrors of lynching ---- he probably never dreamed it would have the influence it did --- though he certainly hoped it would go beyond the readership in the magazine where it was first published [he didn't set it to music till a year later and didn't even bother to copyright it initially! --- one could make the case that it was the empresario Barney Josephson who saw the greater impact Strange Fruit would have if presented by such an outstanding singer as Billie Holiday --- and the rest is history ....)