June 2011


Robert Allen Zimmerman Turns 70

Forever in the mind’s eye, he is the James Deanian young man—albeit a rebel with a cause— tooling down the street on a cold day in a far too skimpy jacket.


As the woman on his arm in that iconic album cover, (shot on Jones Street in the Village) Suze Rotolo —who died at age 67 in February of this year—wrote in her wonderful memoir:

It’s obvious that by then we were freezing; certainly Bob was, in that thin jacket. But image was all.



In time he would abandon that image and the protest songs that went along with it. And in turn, go from “acoustic” to “electric.” He never wanted to be the spokesperson for a generation, anyway.


It is still widely debated if this was the reason for the booing that took place following his set at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965. Though there is no debating that he was roundly criticized by members of the folk movement for the transitions he chose to make. How dare he be as mortal as we!

And yet, don’t we mortals tend to seek some connection with our idols, at times preposterously overreaching, in seeking that goal? No more was that ever as shamelessly in evidence, as the tongue-in-cheek piece we wrote five years ago about our dubious link to Bob Dylan: “600 ° Of Separation?” JANUARY, 2006 MUSE-LETTER.


In time, Dylan moved from a more literal, to a stream of consciousness in his lyrics. Which often raised a question, as a 2004 article in Newsweek pointed out

“…there is one question that has confounded music and literary critics for the entirety of Dylan's career: Should Bob Dylan be considered a songwriter or a poet? Dylan was asked that very question at a press conference in 1965, when he famously said, "I think of myself more as a song-and-dance man."

Either way, how can one not “dig” such lines as these from Subterranean Homesick Blues:

Look out kid
Don't matter what you did
Walk on your tip toes
Don't try, 'No Doz'
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows

While we would not kill to have written those last two lines… we certainly would maim!


They so capture a truth about relying on our own sense of what is going on around us, in lieu of the talking heads to whom so many of us have misguidedly come to rely on, in this world of super saturated Cable TV punditry.


Then at some point down the line when we weren’t looking, Dylan morphed into that classic horror film actor Vincent Price. It’s called aging, and with any luck, we all will get there.

Price                      Dylan

And along with that exterior transformation, the voice got raspier and raspier. Which is fine and has served him well for the material he has written for himself. But if one is ever in the mood for a chuckle, listen to him mangle Latin in the Christmas carol Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful) on his Christmas In the Heart album. If not so inclined to download the song, close your eyes and imagine that voice taking on some of this:

Adeste fideles,
Laeti triumphantes;
Venite, venite in Bethlehem;
Natum videte,
Regem Angelorum:

So just how does one get from here to there?

The answer is either “blowin’ in the wind,” or implicit in these lines:

And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin.

And Bob Dylan at age 70 (as of May 24th last month) has never stopped changin’; reinventing himself and his art along the way. Oh, if but we common folk could do so as well.





Something About Trains




I feel as might a runaway train.  
  Yes, a track, but the upcoming turns?
Speed and the threat of centrifugal force 
                                                       can cast doubt. Someone shouts” “Get a horse!”
The stations at which you expected to stop? 
                                                       A smear of finger paints in kindergarten art.
There goes Jay Street and Borough Hall. 
                                                       Next stop: Curtains. The end of the line.
One would rather be a rocket.  
  All that space; eternity implied.
Even a bubble—despite the bursting.  
  O to rise weightless; capricious; the wind.
Sometimes the little engine that could? Can’t. 
                                                       For the hill becomes a king that won’t be conquered.
And stalled at an angle so as to face the sky, 
  we note the cute little smoke puffs of clouds.


                                                                                                                  —Ron Vazzano






Thoughts In Space



We remember the launching of Sputnik very well. There was this kid down by the schoolyard named Bobby Butnick (as opposed to Julio), who in the long bygone urban game of “stoopball,” could send that pink Spauldeen— so very high so very far. We nicknamed him Bobby Sputnik…and the race was on.


Sputnik only measured 23” in diameter; the picture is close to scale.



This all came back to us last month, with the launching of the now next-to-last space shuttle mission, and the final voyage of the Endeavour. (Atlantis, the last, is scheduled for July).


There have now been 165 such missions, and we were there for the return of the very first one—Columbia, April 14, 1981, at Edwards Air Force Base in California. We’ve still got the commemorative jacket to prove it. It was a gift from sponsor of the event, the long defunct magazine, Omni.



The closing of the shuttle program, fifty years after America’s first astronaut Alan Shepherd was launched into a fifteen minute sub-orbital flight, might be said to be the proverbial “end of an era.” What started out with a roar…ends in a whimper. But what a ride it has been. Even a Sally Ride, so to speak. She being the first American woman in space.


Imagine President Kennedy making this pronouncement just three weeks after the “Shepherd ride,” which paled by comparison to Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight one month prior:


… I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.


—Delivered in a joint session of Congress May 25, 1961

To transpose a phrase taken from the contemporary vernacular: “I’m like …wow!” Where did he get i coglioni, to make such a bold pronouncement? It seems as if we used to think big in those days.


That dream was fulfilled in just eight years and two months, when Apollo 11, safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969. Or to put it in a more recent context, it took nine years and eight months following 9/11 to hunt down bin Laden. Which is another reason, in an off-beat sort of way, for the euphoria following his demise: a tangible American goal had been set and achieved. Those seem to be ever harder to come by.


We remember the euphoria that followed the first orbital flight by John Glenn and the de rigueur ticker-tape parade down Wall St. And the controversy that ensued at our school when we were not allowed a day off, to participate in those festivities. Space was that big, even when it was so small by today’s standards. Soon orbiting the earth would become easier than finding a parking space in New York City.


Then of course the lunar landing itself on which we did a piece on the 40th anniversary of that event JULY, 2009 MUSE-LETTER


But as in life’s journey—which the space program might be seen as a metaphor—there are the inevitable tough setbacks. And when one reaches for the stars, the failures sometimes can’t be anything but spectacular in their own grisly way. And there were three that took place in each phase of a mission: on the ground (a test), departing and returning.


We immediately recall the names of some: Grissom, White and Chaffee on Apollo 1, and Christa McAuliff, the teacher who was to be the first civilian in space, lost on the shuttle Challenger as it ascended. President Reagan, addressing the nation that evening in a speech written by Peggy Noonan drawing upon poet John Magee’s words, ended with:

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.’ "

It is interesting to note how we always seem to turn to poetry at such times, and otherwise shun it. Not unlike what many do with prayer.


We cannot recall a single name in the disaster of Columbia in 2003, which exploded upon descending. And isn’t that also a truth of life. That we tend to remember “firsts” and “lasts” but little of what happens in between.


Though that said, who can forget the precarious and anxious moments that defined the flight of Apollo 13? They even made a movie of it if you happen to have missed this whole saga in real time. We caught both.


And so what is the next step? What is the big picture for the future of space travel and exploration? Might not the same questions often be asked of ourselves? Especially on the First Day of the Rest of Our Lives; a point in time in which we never expected to find ourselves or take notice. But we look up. And there we are.







Quote-of-the-Month Club




No doubt triggered by contemplating the almost unfathomable mendacity of Arnold Schwarzenegger, (he “out-Johned” Edwards), some familiar lines came to us. Though mistakenly, we had always assumed them to have originated from the quill of Shakespeare. A bit of research set us right.


Oh! what a tangled web we weave?
When first we practise to deceive!

—Sir Walter Scott
Marmion (pub. 1808)








How do you like dem apples?


In last month’s Muse-Letter, we opened with a piece, If You Build It They Will Come: Apple, The Store. Later in the month, we came across a report by Doug Gross at the CNN website on the same subject. He however has a more secular and linear take, as might be indicative in its very title: 10 years later, Apple’s “crazy” retail gamble is a hit. A ride on the long thin blue line below will take you there, if you’re so inclined.



More Snow


While unpacking still that one last box in the back of the closet, we came across a very special CD that we had almost forgotten about. And here again was Phoebe Snow, who was an inspiration for our poem The Poetry Man which we dedicated to her last month on her passing.


We had seen her perform live eight years ago, at a Border’s Bookstore of all places, following her five year hiatus from the music scene. She was promoting her new and what would be her last album of original material, Natural Wonder. Not one of her best, though the opening song Sahara is a reminder of a Snow before the fall.


We got to talking to her afterwards and must have told her about our poetry writing, as we were seeking her signature on her CD which we had just purchased. She signed it so:


Rest in peace, Phoebe Snow.






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