#55 A Republican Band (2001)

All Rights Reserved © 2001 Thomas W. Day

In PBS and Ken Burns' latest documentary series, Jazz, A History of American's Music, the great clarinetist/band leader, Artie Shaw, comments on the Glenn Miller Band's high standard of performance. According to Shaw, the Miller band "never made a mistake" in their concerts or on their records, because "they weren't trying." What they weren't trying for was creativity. I'd guess that, if you were allowed to hang out with Artie Shaw for any period of time, you could learn a lot about "trying" for something great. But his comment on Glenn Miller's style of music is worth a Rat Rant, all on its own.

jeb_gwFrom our new Presidential election burglar, GeeWiz, I think we're about to see another four to eight years of the kind of "perfection" we got from the Reagan/Bush administrations. We've already seen the economy stagnate, as it usually does in Republican administrations, at lightning speed.  (Is stagnating at lightning speed an oxymoron?)  Bush's misunderstanding of the status quo will lead him to do what he believes to be the safe thing with every action he takes. The safe thing, being the obvious thing, will more often than not be the wrong thing.  The perceived big advantage to playing it safe is that no action will cause an immediate reaction, of any sort.  The reality is that, when things are falling you have to do something quick to catch them.  If he just holds out his Presidential hand, in a fair imitation of a millionaire Texas Ranger pretending to care about a slightly out of reach fly ball, the country and the economy will quickly slip into recession/depression.  For some reason, this is often perceived as being "comfortable" by many Americans.  They like watching Republican Presidents flail, impotently, at the world's problems. 

For all his faults, you have to give Clinton some credit for occasionally skirting the edges of safe territory.  The safe thing, for Bill Clinton, would have been to accept the common liberal belief that welfare is a Democratic institution that should be left alone or reinforced. Clinton ran against that grain and reformed the welfare system so that it did one somewhat unexpected and important thing; it revised the core reproductive habits of people on economic assistance by eliminating the economic incentive. In the long run, this reaction might be the most important memory history retains of the Clinton administration.  Eventually, humans will be forced to admit that national and world overpopulation and depleting resources are linked. Duh. When that happens, anything that slowed the flood waters of human population growth will appear much more significant.

In all human activity, art and business and government and philosophy, the safe path is doomed to be, eventually, wrong. But the familiar and predictable is always comfortable to the masses, right up until it runs them off of a cliff.  Even then, a lot of people appear to prefer falling over the edge to changing directions.  So it goes that nobody who's trying is going to make the average Joe or Jill comfortable is going to be right  This is the fatal flaw in conservative philosophies of all sorts; political, spiritual, and artistic.

If I were elected Emperor of the World, I might be inclined to make everyone watch the Ken Burns program to help get that concept across. After that, I'd probably introduce the world to a whole collection of people who screwed up more often than they got it right; Lenny Bruce, Richard Prior, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Ralph Nader, and Jack Kennedy would be good for openers. On second thought, as Emperor of the World, I'd have the Burns program redone to include a couple of living artists, since Burns copped out, entirely, when it came to discussing any innovating activity in jazz that occurred since 1970.  Is Burns yet another conservative?

Traditionally, conservative politics are reserved for old folks. This isn't an original thought, but I believe that's because old people generally have more to fear from change than they have to gain. Old people, like me, tend to believe that they have less time and fewer personal resources, so they have more personal hysteresis to compensate for having a lower error tolerance. 

In a historical view, however, it's hard to find an instance when conservatives were on the right side of an issue.  In our country, conservatives were the driving force for inventing and maintaining witch hunting, Manifest Destiny and the genocide of native Americans, slavery and racism, Prohibition and the War on Drugs, the 1950's communist witch hunt, the rape and pillage of the taxpayer during the Cold War and S&L-gate, and the opposition of any issue involving protecting the environment.  A kid, recently, reminded me that a conservative's favorite self-description is "someone who wears both a belt and suspenders."  It's easier for me to identify conservatives by the simple fact that they're usually wrong about any issue.

But it seems to me that more young people are conservative, these days. I have absolutely no documentation to back that up, but among the young people I know only a few of them would be considered particularly liberal.  Almost none of those would be radical. I'm really going out on a limb here, but I suspect that's because there is an underlying cultural belief that we are all running out of time and resources.

The world has experienced rapidly compressing cultural evolution cycles, especially since the turn of the last century. We've gone from doubling the world's accumulated knowledge every fifty years to making the same jump every three years, since 1900. It's possible that the time from youth to old age has experienced the same evolution, regardless of our increased life expectancy. A conversation with a 20 year old ultra-conservative is one of the most depressing experiences I have ever had. It was like talking to my father, who was disguised as my child.

July 2001


Texas Needs You More Than You Need It

Back in the early 1970’s, I was conned into taking a job in west Texas. I was right out of tech school, had a kid on the way, and had the usual lousy information that the “Greatest Generation” was famous for imparting to its children. When I interviewed for the job, I imagined the nation was in such a nasty recession that my first job offer might be the only one I’d get. We were in a recession, but we’d be in worse shape several times over the next forty years and I rarely had difficulty finding work. I imagined that the tiny niche where I’d made my living while going to school was the only place I might be employable after my marginal Dodge City Kansas Tech School education dumped me into the river of the semiconductor revolution after 14 weeks of tube technology training. As I often am, I was wrong.

The job was miserable, mostly because I allowed my manager to pretend that I was replaceable. He had a habit of “scheduling” me to be in two places or more at once. I was always “late” to every appointment because it would have been impossible for me to be on time. Every customer was pissed at me before I arrived and he managed to keep a straight face as he pretended to be equally upset with my sole existence. Although, if there had been two of me he’d have just doubled the workload to keep both of us off-balance. Eventually, I stopped caring about my “poor performance” and started working harder at my second job than my day job, because it paid dramatically better wages for fewer hours. He hadn’t left himself any headroom to be pissed at me, so I might as well be in for a pound if I was going to be in for a penny (The story of my life.). It took me about a year to put away enough money to escape that job and Texas. Ten years later, I passed through that town on my way to California and the kid I’d “trained” to take my place (No such training occurred because our boss booked me in the field for every second of my time until the day I quit.) showed me around the shop that evening. The only thing that had changed was everything was older, more worn out, and a lot less profitable. The “kid” was now in his late thirties and making about twice my old hourly rate, which was barely minimum wage, and working a 30 hour week. A year later, that business and the parent company were absorbed by a smaller company (the one I’d originally worked for in Dodge City) and the whole industry shriveled along with most of agriculture during the Reagan years recession.

My youngest daughter moved to Dallas, Texas just before the 2007 depression began, going to work for the Dallas branch of Bank of America in a transfer from Los Vegas. BofA was particularly brain-dead and made a batch of stupid moves, many of which were well chronicled in All the Devils Are Here. The Texas bunch were dumber than most. In a fit of disorder, she was laid off, rehired, laid off, and transferred from one dysfunctional area of that disorganization to another until she left the banking and investment business altogether.

Her career in Texas has been a high level version of my own. Texas businesses are astoundingly poorly managed and the only thing that appears to keep the business balls in the air is the extraordinary amount of federal corporate welfare that pours into the state, non-existent corporate taxes, even less state and federal regulation, and the “opportunity” illusion Texas manages to maintain. Inexplicably, talented people from all over the country (mostly the north and northwest) are drawn to Texas to prop up what would otherwise be a lazy, incompetent, uneducated “local workforce” that couldn’t build an acceptable cardboard box with less than a 50% reject rate.

The thing to take away from all of this history is that Texas desperately needs outside talent. The state’s education system is notorious for its religion-over-science stance, polluting the K-12 textbooks across the nation because of Texas’ huge buying power influence on textbook publishers. The state’s graduation rate is near the dismal national average. Technically, Texas public education isn’t all that awful (on a scale of general awfulness across the nation). However, 1 in 6 Texans are “foreign born” and the state has a terrible reputation for ESL education and student retention. Couple that with the fact that the state loses a lot of engineering students due to its mediocre higher education system and many of the students who do graduate from Texas universities find work elsewhere. Not only is it true that the state has a lowered need and expectation for engineers than do the “tech states,” but the state isn’t particularly good at educating them.

What this means to people considering immigrating to Texas is that employment in that state is a seller’s market. Texas needs your talent, ambition, work ethic, and skills a lot more than you need Texas. You can find a better place to live, a more demanding and stimulating work environment, a more inclusive social structure, and less bullshit in any number of states outside of Texas and the “New South.” The only reason you should be considering Texas for anything is because it pays exponentially more than you’ll earn in a civilized location. Consider Texas to be the Saudi Arabia of the United States (likewise, Georgia, Florida, and the rest of the south). The place has old money that wants to become new money and oil still fuels a false extractive economy as long as the illusion of wealth and opportunity can be maintained. Go into that interview armed with the knowledge that you’re in the driver’s seat and take advantage of that one positive because once you’re living in Texas you’re going to need all of the cash you can stash to get the hell out of that god-awful place.


#54 A Terrifying Conspiracy (2001)

All Rights Reserved © 2001 Thomas W. Day

For the last 35 years, I've had a great time ridiculing conspiracy theorists .  Mostly, because I don't believe the government, the military (an organization only committed and obligated to the U.S. government through a weak budgetary link), and the ruling class are smart enough to design and manage anything more complex than a tea party with invisible tea and dirt cookies.  However, through my incredible investigative skills and contacts (very similar to the "if you heard it here first, I  made it up" skills found in all news sources), I have discovered an international conspiracy that completely overshadows anything accomplished by the Triple Crown or the Trifecta or the Trilateral Screw-ups or whatever that group of three guys who supposedly rule the world is called.

Here's the conspiracy that I believe I have uncovered.  I am convinced that if I were to perform a close review of the Bush votes in nearly every Florida precinct, I would discover either an incredible coincidence or a cunning conspiracy.  To close to the chase, here is the executive summary; comedians elected George Bush.  Not Florida Republicans.  Not the Supreme Court.  Not the Nader voters.  And, no, I'm not kidding. 

Look at the evidence for yourself, if you have absolutely nothing worthwhile to do with your spare time.  I personally have better things to do.  Like, write this column  So, I'm going to describe the gist of this incredible national disaster based on twenty minutes of fumbling around on the World Wide Web.

This incredibly brilliant insight came to me while watching one of the Saturday Night Live "specials" that were run a few weeks ago.  Obviously, something important had happened because SNL was running practically every day of the week, not at midnight, but during primetime.  It's been so long since Saturday Night was considered competent, let alone primetime material, that I knew something was up.  So, beer and pen in hand, I watched an hour or two of what passes for comedy in the 21st Century. 

What I saw chilled my blood to near freezing.  I'm sure that was what happened because beer doesn't get warm that fast and my beer definitely seemed warm. 

What I discovered was that, for occasional skits and for brief seconds, SNL was mildly funny.  You probably haven't seen SNL since Belushi OD'd, so you don't know how incredible that realization is.  Let me provide another executive summary; SNL usually as entertaining as watching cement dry.  And I mean cement that has been dry for a long, long time.  Boring cement.  Sidewalk cement.  And so on. But for brief moments, some of the SNL bits were actually funny.  And every one of them portrayed GeeWiz Bush acting . . . like himself.  Obviously, comedians were interested in GeeWiz because he's going to supply them with a recession-proof supply of material. 

To professional comedians, and semi-professionals like the SNL crew, the alternative must have been as motivating as a glass of Tijuana water.  Funny people, world-wide, were terrified of Al Gore.  Like the subject, even jokes told about Gore are boring.  Deadly boring.  Even laugh tracks won't laugh when Al is the butt of a joke. 

I instantly realized that the old detective rule, "follow the money," applied to current politics.  A show that was edging toward being shown in between infomercials at 2:00AM, suddenly returned to prime time.  I didn't have to follow the money, the money tracked me down and waved itself in my face during the only time of the day when it might catch my attention.  So, I fired up my computer and did some intensive investigative research.  On Yahoo! 

Since we all know that the votes from 49 states, during the last election, amounted to nothing more significant than the opinions of kindergarten kids, I did all of my research in the Florida white pages.  At first, I assumed that what I would find would be that a significant number of comedians were registered to vote in Florida.  What I found was a conspiracy that was, as the great Chicago conspirator's son, William Daley (the Gore campaign chairman), "an injustice unparalleled in our history."  At least, in our history as of the last year or two. 

Instead of finding individual comedians registered in Florida, I found hoards of comedic voters.  For example, there are twenty-eight Robin Williams, sixty-three John Goodmans, eleven Arsenio Halls ( and more than two hundred "A" Hall's listed in Miami alone), seventeen Jim Downeys (an SNL journeyman who is a professional George Bush imitator), nearly twenty listings for Will Ferrell (another Bush impersonator), one hundred and nineteen Eddie Murphys (another comedian known for his ability to impersonate dorky white people) and more than six hundred listings for "E Murphy."  I found multiple listings for Jerry Steinfield, Nora Dunn, Chevy Chase, Brett Butler, George Coe, Jane Curtin, Dennis Miller, Bill Murray, Harry Shearer, Al Franken, Joe Piscopo, Dana Carvey,  Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Drew Carey, Darrell Hammond, David Koechner, Mark McKinney, Chris Parnell, Dan Aykroyd, Norm Macdonald, Darrell Hammond, and Chris Parnell.  I could go on for pages and pages, looking for names of comedians and finding listings for them in Florida, but I think I've nearly made my point. 

I'm certain that it will come as no surprise to my readers that many Republican voters are dead, but the final nail is the election conspiracy coffin has to be the fact that I found seventy-four listings for Steve Allen, a quartet of Jackie Gleasons,  twenty-one Dick Gregorys, and seventy-four Bob Hopes.  I also found multiple Phil Hartmans, Chris Farleys, and eight Phyllis Dillers.  The last one is something I should further research, because I've never been totally sure if Phyllis is dead or alive.  Either way, she scares the crap out of me.  Another of the walking dead is Bob Dole.  There are hundreds of Bob Doles in Florida.  I will never, ever, consider taking a vacation in that state without being well stocked with silver bullets, wooden stakes, and necessary tools for decapitating zombies.

Finally, in the past twenty years, the Supreme Court has been, secretly, stacked with retired comedians. Read the decision of the majority court members.  Better yet, let me paraphrase their written humor for you: "1st pass) we don't understand why the Florida Supreme court decided this election was rigged, so we'll ask them to re-explain their logic in smaller words, 2nd pass) we agree that the election was spectacularly unfair but because we put off ruling on the election recount until the day before we decided the the results were due, it's too late to fix it, so, nananana Georgie wins and damn the torpedoes!"

All I have to say about this incredible conspiracy is that these people better be damn funny for the next four years. 

June 2001


#53 The Order of Escape (2001)

All Rights Reserved © 2001 Thomas W. Day

The old "the rat's are leaving the ship" story sort of implies that the rats are the first ones to abandon ship, when the ship is going down. If you've ever suffered through a company's death, you'll know that's not the case. The rats (lower-case) are usually the last to know that it's all over, which is no different than what happens on a real sinking ship.

For instance, when a company starts to fold the first reaction is, typically, a series of layoffs. In my experience, the layoffs usually start on the production floor and in customer support. The theory seems to be that the people who make the products are easily replaced. The people who support the products are little more than power-users and are, also, easily replaced. There are holes in those theories through which you could drive a 747. But mistaken speculation has never diverted an MBA thesis and it doesn't slow up mismanagement action, either.

Regardless of the usual mismanagement misconceptions, even minor layoffs begin a chain of activities that you can count on to be as predictable as an atomic clock. The first Rats (upper-case) to leave are those who can go painlessly. Those folks, who have managed their personal lives so that they don't have to put up with an unpredictable and depressing work environment fire up the job search process and make a fast and orderly exit. Commonly, technicians and engineers with high-demand skills and a few technically competent and well-connected salespeople are a big part of that early-exit group. This group is often plugged into to the industry and the company's information pipeline and will have their resumes polished and in route before the HR department knows a layoff is in the works. Between the first layoff and the first wave of the skill exodus, a floundering company will take a talent hit that will take years to repair.

Still talking about upper-case Rats, folks who aren't wired into the company's external problems get an immediate kick in the pants when the pink slips start to flow. They may not be bright enough to keep their fingers on the industry pulse, but they are able to read the handwriting on the wall, even if it's done in a physician's scrawl or written in an ex-fellow-employee's-gone-postal blood. Two things happen to this group: 1) they become aware of how precarious their employment position is and, 2) they lose faith in the company's management. In most cases, it was misplaced faith, but faith is like that. Once the management credibility gap is breached, the last of the Rats start planning their escape. Two things happen here, too. Some Rats plan for their own period of unemployment. They pare down personal expenses, eliminate personal debt, and collect resources (money, education and training, and contacts) for when they are out of work. Their working hours activities shift, from the job they are paid to do, to getting ready for a future where their current job is in their resume as past employment.

The other upper-case Rats' alternative is even less useful to the troubled employer. The Rats simply do the absolute minimum required to hang onto their current job while they spend every available moment looking for a new job. Either way, the Rats' activities are minimally productive as far as their current employer's concerned.

Finally, we come to the rats (lower-case). Using the sinking ship analogy, when these rats start leaving the ship there is a lot of water in the hold and the ship is really beginning to list. If it's a really big company, picture a corporate Titanic, the ship may have snapped in half and be an obvious goner to any outside observer. The only way the lower-case rats abandon ship is when freezing water looks safer than staying with the sinking hulk. In this group you'll find tenured middle and upper management, demoted managers with no technical skills who are now holding "engineering" positions, executive secretaries, and a variety of over-paid, under-educated hangers-on whose next career incarnation might be asking, "Do you want to super-size that?" These people will not leave their current position until an armed guard marches them out the door or when they have nothing to lose by leaving, because several paychecks have bounced.

Of course, there are also the incredibly, foolishly and loveably loyal types who will attempt to stay to the end. These ultimate products of the public education system seem to be incapable of understanding that they are edible residents of a dog-eat-dog world. Their dozen years of publicly financed worker-bee training appears to have permanently paralyzed them into mindlessly praying that someone will notice their loyalty. It didn't work in grade school, high school, college, or at any of their previous jobs, but they keep hoping.

And they are always disappointed.

The last rats to leave are often the HR department and the executives. Understanding this is beyond me, but some companies actually increase their HR staff when they are laying off. Only at the very end, when there are no human resources left to mismanage, do the HR wackos get the axe. Go figure.

Finally, the execs clean out their desks, accept their pensions and golden parachutes and bonuses for managing an orderly demise of the business. These are their rewards for a job done so poorly that it's hard to imagine anyone on earth doing so badly. Now we're talking rats with a subscripted "r."

The exit of the last four groups actually does resemble rats leaving a sinking ship. Visualize this: A tired, old ship with a hole punched through the rotted wood in the hull. It's not a huge hole, but it's big enough that the bilge pumps can't keep up with the rising water level.

The technical guys, in the hold and the engine room, see that the pumps will soon be swamped and fail and they head for the deck. They're also smart enough that they know just getting off of the ship isn't enough. The whirlpool created by a large ship going down will draw in everything near it. So they hit the deck with a purpose, manning and lowering the lifeboats and paddling like Yale oarsmen, to get as far from the disaster zone as possible. This isn't a passenger ship, there are no "women and children" to worry about, so it's every Rat and rat for himself.

When calls to the engine room go unanswered, the radio operator (VP in charge of being acquired) puts out a call to see if there are any rescue vessels in the vicinity. If there are, he gives them the coordinates and takes off to find his own seat on a lifeboat. A few of the deck officers have probably come up through the ranks and can recognize a dying vessel when they see one. They follow the radio operator, leaving nothing but the officers and the rats.

The rats work their way up the ship's compartments, from the hold to the main deck, where they mill around the captain and the officers' feet, hoping for a miracle. When the water continues to rise and the rat's are forced to accept the inevitable, they stream out of the ship in relatively orderly lines. If a rescue ship ties onto the sinking ship, one of the duties of the crew is to knock the rats off of the cables, as they try to cross from the failing ship to the rescuer.

Finally, the officers and the captain make their decision to go down with the ship or be rescued. In the old days, a lot of officers chose to follow their ship into oblivion. Today, that model has changed. For some odd reason, it's not that unusual to see the officers and captain not only abandon their old ship but, through amazing political acuity, taking over the controls of the rescuing ship. But that is a subject for a future Rat Rant.

June 2001


What Works and Who Doesn’t

A friend of mine--along with a few dozen past acquaintances, several relatives, and people I’ve met on the road—has wasted a lot of precious fresh air trying to convince me that some parts of government bureaucracies are staffed with hard working, conscientious, high-skilled workers. Every once in a while I see some evidence that might be true. Mostly, I experience proof that the counter-argument holds all of the cards. That does not mean, by the way, that I believe the mythical and magical free-market could do those jobs better. Honestly, I think groups of humans larger than a dozen are incapable of competence. What it does mean is that government, even local government, is mismanaged by the same class of moron who drove manufacturing out of the United States and who is now trying to squeeze the last drops of value out of this country before they jump ship and head off to whatever continent they will mangle next. Like corporations, the 1% are in no way loyal to or remotely committed to any particular country. They go where the easy money is.

Back in my manufacturing engineering days, I was a huge believer in independent quality inspection systems. In retail, that means the “secret-shopper” system, but only if flaws found are blamed where they belong, on management. The higher up the fault gets pushed, the better. For starters, it’s almost impossible to find a manager who can’t be replaced with a more effective person from the ranks of the managed. There probably isn’t more than one MisFortune 5,000 CEO whose job couldn’t be more effectively performed by practically any other employee in the company. Until you dip below the director-level of manager, that statistic pretty much holds true in the same proportion. The usual problem with secret-shoppers is that whatever system or performance fault is found is blamed on the person nearest the shopper at the moment of impact. Regardless of corporate “empowerment” bullshit, most system problems are the fault of management: including lazy or surly or incompetent employees, poor inventory management, ugly store displays, and dirty bathrooms.

State park systems are particularly well-suited to this kind of quality control system. Most states either employ or encourage non-state park employees for many of the park maintenance and management tasks. In New Mexico, for example, the state employees often do practically nothing while everything from managing the visitor centers to cleaning the camp grounds to designing the camp entertainment and recreational areas gets done by the hosts and volunteers. Adding a few unidentified roving secret-campers to the state’s park budget would be an incredibly cheap way to quickly identify the poorly performing camp managers and employees. To put some teeth in the system, it wouldn’t be hard to sell a “three strikes” program that would allow the state park bureaucracy to purge poor performing employees and management. These are all jobs with a huge backlog of qualified potential replacements for practically any state job, but state park jobs are probably the easiest of all jobs to fill.

In my opinion, the states that most need an aggressive state park quality control system are (in order of our poor experience from worst to best): Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, and New Mexico. My bet is that pretty much every state that has a park system is in need of quality control. Because the first experience many people have with a state is through the state parks, I think any state suffering from economic problems (Which aren’t?) should look hard at the performance of their park system. We met at least a dozen technical skilled, well-off couples on our travels through the southwest this past year who were looking for a new place to settle. Obviously, problems in the state parks wouldn’t be a total deal-breaker, but if you start off with a bad feeling about a place making a sale is an uphill battle from there on. I think this is a bigger deal than most state bureaucrats pretend.


#51 Thanks for Being You (2001)

All Rights Reserved © 2001 Thomas W. Day

Screw politics. Screw business. Today, I have something to celebrate and you are stuck celebrating it with me. At least, until you escape this web page or delete the e-mail. Sixty years ago, today (May 24, 1941), Robert Zimmerman was born in Duluth, Minnesota. You probably know him as Bob Dylan and, mostly, so do I.

I suspect that most of you probably flinch when you think about Bob's grating, Okie-phrased voice. Maybe you weren't particularly fond of his neck-racked, panting harmonica solos. All those complaints are interesting, but they're your problem, not mine. 

In 1963, when I was 15, I bought The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and my life changed. Up to that point, I wanted to be a jazz musician like my heroes Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Cannonball Adderly. When I first heard Bob's voice and Talkin' World War III Blues, A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall, and the other 11 great songs on that record, I put away my trumpet for life. I'd been playing guitar and bass for a few years and, even, played in a band that did pop tunes, but I barely bothered to learn the words to the songs we performed. The words didn't matter, they were just random syllables that singers used to justify their existence. Dylan changed all that.

Dylan changed a lot of things. For one, if he could sell records with his Woody Guthrie-wannabe voice, a lot of us believed that anyone with something to say could give it a shot. For two, the music took a passenger seat to the song's story. For some of us, the music became a backseat driver because we had so many stories to tell and so little time to learn anything about music.

Dylan has been called the greatest song writer of the 20th Century. Really. If you're not familiar with Bob's incredible catalog of great music and incredible stories, you may not have any idea why someone would make this claim. If you aren't familiar with music from the 1950s and what had happened when the rock and roll started ruling the pop charts, you won't have the slightest idea how unique Dylan's breakthrough really was. Just when it looked like pop music was going to devolve into "yeah, yeah, yeah" and "I love you" drivel, Dylan's songs started appearing on their charts, mostly performed by other artists. 

Dylan was the bridge between the 1950s beatniks and the 1960s hippies. How could a kid from rural northern Minnesota, where the next hippest guy from the area would be Garrison Keillor on public radio, arrive in New York City and have such an incredible effect? Talent. Pure, raw, undiluted talent. The kind of talent that makes other artists say, thirty-nine years later, "there was only one Shakespeare and there will only be one Bob Dylan." The kind of talent that moved U-2's Bono to say "It's like trying to talk about the pyramids. What do you do? You just stand back and . . . gape." More than forty albums, hundreds of songs that will be played and performed for decades after Dylan is dust, but not forgotten. Dylan has influenced musicians of all styles and all styles of music. Except for classical music, I doubt that there is a song written in the last three decades that wasn't, in some way, influenced by Bob Dylan. Even the Monty Python goons admitted having stolen ideas and style from Dylan. 

Bits of Dylan's voice can be heard in nearly every popular singer from the last thirty years. The way Bob put together words can be found in novels, poetry, Time Magazine, and your local newspaper. Personally, every word I have written, everything I have said, every note I have played since 1963 has been influenced by Bob Dylan. His words and music are in my head when I'm on the road, when I'm walking in the woods, or when I'm trapped in my cubicle at work Americans marched to his songs during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War protests. Everyone with a cause, from ecology to human rights, has found a Dylan song for accompaniment. Everyone with a ache in their heart, due to love or politics or the human condition, can find a Dylan song for comfort. With more than 400 songs in his history, there isn't a style Dylan hasn't fit to his words or an emotion that he hasn't put to music. The world will never see another Bob Dylan.

Thanks, Bob. I wouldn't have made it this far without you.

May 2001