Why Did Martin Scorsese Donald Trump Us?

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, June 15, 2019

After watching Martin Scorsese new film Rolling Thunder Revue on Netflix I read The New Yorker’s piece by Richard Brody entitled ‘“Rolling Thunder Revue,” Reviewed: Martin Scorsese’s Slippery Chronicle of Bob Dylan in Concert.’ It seems all my favorite parts of the film were made up. I had been lied to, I had been Donald Trumped.

When Bob Dylan showed up in New York City at the beginning of the 1960s he became infamous for lying about his past. He told such tall tales that the people around him had to constantly access his reality distortion field. Ever since then reporters, biographers, and documentary filmmakers have sought the truth about Bob Dylan in the same way modern theological scholars have tried to unearth the truth about the historical Jesus.

Whenever I read the rare book that interviews Dylan or watch an even rarer documentary featuring Bob Dylan I hope to gain a bit of insight into the Dylan enigma. So is Scorsese’s film a documentary or mockumentary? What is fact or fiction? Is it 20 Feet from Stardom or This Is Spinal Tap? Scorsese chronicles the Rolling Thunder Revue which itself was a circus of make-believe that Dylan tried to put over that might have been great performance art or a creative fiasco. Should I judge Scorsese harshly for lying to me when he was trying to make sense of a bigger lie? Or was he merely trying to join in the same kind of fun and pull Dylanesque gags too? Dylan and all his friends took on assumed names and characters during the tour – but was that that meant to entertain or divert us from thinking about Dylan as Prophet of the Babyboomers.

But here’s the thing. Ever since Donald Trump crowned himself Emperor of Lies it’s very hard to take any kind of lying in fun. When I was growing up people generally shunned anyone who lied. No one likes to discover they’ve been lied to. Donald Trump is such a large black hole of lying that his massive lies rip apart reality. We have so much fake news and deep fake films that any kind of lying for fun is hard to take. Donald Trump has made any kind of lying a horrendous offense no matter how small or innocent. As far as I’m concerned he’s even ruined Santa Claus.

What’s even worse is how Donald Trump has made lying acceptable to tens of millions of Americans. But isn’t that what we all do? We rationalize which liars we accept. Christianity has made a religion out of piling on the fantasy. What truth Jesus might have said has been distorted by two thousand years of compounded lying. Donald Trump has become the international standard for measuring liars. So when I compare Scorsese’s little lies to his, they don’t seem so big. I loathe Republicans for accepting and promoting Donald Trump’s lies, so I now hate to see myself forgiving any liars. Plus, there’s the whole A Million Little Pieces by James Frey ordeal. We really want our nonfiction to be honest.

On the other hand, we all know colorful characters who play the class clown for life and we forgive them for their fabrications. Dylan has always passed himself off as a jester. In the mid-sixties when his fans were about to turn him into a guru of political truth, a Gandhi or Martin Luther King. Dylan freaked out. He began swearing he was just a song and dance man, a roving minstrel that sang clever tunes for your amusement.

Dylan retreated from the limelight after a 1966 motorcycle accident that some claimed may or may not have happened. He knew what the world did to their saviors. That was quite wise. When he returned to touring, first with The Band in 1974, and then with the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975 he had to develop a new persona. The trouble was, even after he stopped writing protest songs that inspired a generation about injustice, he still wrote songs his fans felt spoke the truth with a capital T. Everyone wanted to be near this modern-day Jesus and decode remarkable parables.

Watching the films Don’t Look Back, Eat the Document, and now Rolling Thunder Revue shows what a crazy hurricane of true friends, fake friends, crazy fans, and sycophants that swirl around the man. No wonder Dylan is sick to death of trying to explain himself and enjoys making up his own myths. We know Dylan is a genius from the lyrics of his songs. He is closer to Shakespeare than any of us. Yet, I can’t help but feel his lying makes him like Donald Trump. Trump really has ruined tall-tale-telling, at least for me, if not for everybody.

All of this is not to pan Rolling Thunder Review. If you’re a Dylan fan I highly recommend it, just be careful being taken in by Sharon Stone, Stefan Van Dorp, and other trickster characters. I plan on watching the film again after studying the actual events. The trouble is original Rolling Thunder Revue was chaos. The original tour was meant to produce a film, but the result, Renaldo and Clara was so bad it’s has been hidden away for decades. Richard Brody did get to see it and says:

But too often Scorsese seems to be joining Dylan in dancing delicately around the past. After seeing “Rolling Thunder Revue,” I watched “Renaldo and Clara” for the first time—and I wish I hadn’t, because its strengths only serve to highlight Scorsese’s failures. Dylan and Sara, as the fictional Renaldo and Clara—a couple whose relationship is thrown into turmoil by a visit from another woman, the so-called Woman in White (played by Baez)—perform in scenes of psychodramatic intensity and romantic anguish. “Renaldo and Clara” also features a remarkable set of concert performances from the Rolling Thunder tour—and Dylan (who edited the film with Alk) treats them with a finer and keener touch than Scorsese does.

Now we have Scorsese’s film that covers up the original film. I now wish they’d release Renaldo and Clara to DVD so everyone else can compare to the two accounts. Trying to decipher Dylan is like trying to solve any of the major mysteries of history. It’s a fun task, but also akin to seeking gold in El Dorado.

JWH

You’re Going to Need a Bigger Wall

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The UNHCR recently reported that 65.3 million people were displaced around the world in 2015, or 24 people per minute. All indications suggest a higher figure for 2016. Civilization is a thin veneer, and when it rubs too thin, people move to a thicker location.

Donald Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico because he’s worried about immigration from the south. The British voted to leave the European Union partly because of fears over immigration and refuges. Yet many of these same fearful people refuse to believe climate change. Now that might seem like an abrupt change of subject, but it’s not. The major consequence of climate change is mass-migrations. Just look at the University of Notre Dame Global Adaption Index (ND-GAIN). It ranks countries based on projected impact of climate change.

You can see the full ranking of 180+ countries here. Sooner or later, all the top ranked countries will want to build walls to keep refuges from the bottom rankings moving in. The United Kingdom is ranked #4, which makes it a prime destination for most folks fleeing collapsing civilization. The USA is #11. (Maybe England needs to worry about their American cousins moving back home.) Living in a top ranked country might seem lucky because you’ll avoid the worst of climate disasters, but it also means your country will be seen as a lifeboat to those who are drowning.

I have to wonder if climate change deniers are only pretending not know the truth. Just look at ND-GAIN’s map.

Climate Change Vulnerability Map

Most people in trouble will be moving north. I think wall building is either a conscious acceptance of climate change, or an unconscious awareness. It’s reality is starting to sink in.

Notice that most of the refuges the wall builders fear are coming from countries ND-GAIN are listing as vulnerable to climate change. Have climate change migrations already begun? Many countries in the southern hemisphere are suffering from economic collapse, and countries in the middle east are experiencing political, economic and social collapse. All of those locations also suffer from poor weather and limited natural resources. To solve climate change and mass migrations means solving wealth inequality. That’s a very liberal solution, which probably explains why so many conservatives refuse to accept climate change.

Will walls protect the haves from the have-nots? And why haven’t wall builders proposed programs to create stability in countries that are coming undone? Wouldn’t that be more realistic than building Maginot lines on our borders? Instead they want to tear up international trade agreements, which will only make things worse, and thus accelerate mass migrations. If they’d put the money they’d spend on a US-Mexico wall into the Mexican economy, wouldn’t that be more helpful? Wouldn’t a thriving Mexican economy become more effective than a wall?

Venezuela is #107 on the ND-GAIN list. Just read some of the news stories about Venezuela’s economic collapse. Will they become the new Syrian refuges? Brazil isn’t doing well either. How many wealthy South Americans are currently flying over where Trump wants to build his wall? Isn’t it in America’s best interests to make sure South America doesn’t collapse? If the goal of wall building is to stop refuges, isn’t it more practical to stop the creation of refuges than build walls to keep them out?

Rich people have always built walls to protect themselves from poor people. Whether it was walled cities in ancient times, castle walls in medieval times, or gated community walls in modern times, the solution is always the same – protect what I’ve got and to hell with everybody else. And if past walls are indicators, walls only work when the poor aren’t desperate. When wealth inequality gets too extreme, walls fail. And besides, do rich Americans really want to live like Israelis on the West Bank, or Rhodesians in Zimbabwe? (By the way, aren’t the sales of AR-15s a kind of economic indicator? Who are buying more assault rifles, the rich or the poor? And how many of the 99% think they will be walled in with the 1%?)

Donald Trump and all his wall building followers might do well to get into the wealth redistribution business like Bernie Sanders. I highly recommend they read the following books:

These books show us the future. We can solve our problems, or hide behind walls (for a little while).

Building walls are a last-stand tactic. Think how well walls work with zombies. Which makes me wonder if zombies aren’t modern metaphors for poor people, revealing everyone’s underlying fear of being overrun by world poverty. If you don’t want millions of people moving to America, fight climate change and wealth inequality.

What we want is a sustainable economy that is environmentally friendly. Capitalism, as it currently exists, is a Ponzi scheme that’s transferring wealth from the many to the few, with the huge side-effect of creating climate change. It will collapse if we don’t fix it. And we can’t fix climate change without fixing capitalism. If we don’t change things, the 1% will try to wall off us 99%. Trump’s wall is just the first of many that will fail. Denying climate change is merely sticking your head in the sand. Building Trump’s wall is acceptance of climate change, but no actual protection. Trump’s wall is no more practical than The Tower of Babel.

Update:

After writing this I began to wonder how often people and society change. Are we condemned to always follow the same behaviors? That made me think of When Everything Changed by Gail Collins. After I had read that book I realized our society had changed more because of women’s rights than the introduction of computers and smartphones. We’re constantly adapting. And that’s hopeful to realize.

JWH