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.


Does Donald Trump Reveal the Percentage of Liars in America?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, November 4, 2018

To liberals, it’s obvious that Donald Trump is a compulsive liar. There are countless websites and newspapers that track his malarky. But what do his supporters think? Are they savvy to his fibs and accept Trump’s lies because he gets them what they want? What percentage of his followers believe he’s actually truthful? How many think his lying is only routine political shenanigans? What percentage are forgiving Trump for just being careless with facts?

I worry that there’s a significant percentage of Trump supporters who think lying is an effective way to get ahead. Does that imply that millions of Americans use lying in their own lives? Trump’s current approval rating is at 40%. Does that mean 40% of Americans approve of lying? Or even that 40% of Americans are liars?

Is Trump aware of his own false statements? Or is he psychologically blind to them? He could be a wheeling and dealing con man who says whatever is needed to get what he wants, a P. T. Barnum of politics believing we’re all suckers. I expect biographers will analyze this endlessly for centuries.

What worries me is the acceptance of Trump’s lying. Will this set a precedent? I don’t think many Americans trust politicians, but they used to expect a certain level of integrity, or at the very minimum, a certain level of an appearance of integrity. Has Trump thrown that out the window? Depends on your politics. Will any kind of integrity ever return to politics?

The Fifth Risk by Michael LewisTrump knows almost nothing about everything, but he’s got a Ph.D. in political corruption. The nightly freak show news programs that chronicle Trump’s daily antics diverts us from what’s going on all levels of government where his policies are becoming true. Just read The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis. His appointees also use lying to get what they want too, although many of them are more skilled at lying than their master.

I’ve always hated lying and liars. I always assumed most people didn’t lie. Now I wonder. How much do people lie in their day-to-day lives? Has Donald Trump revealed that 40% of Americans are liars? Or is that 20% liars and 20% gullible believers? Donald Trump claimed he was going to drain the swamp in Washington, but has instead turned the entire nation into one massive swampland.

There’s a science fiction novel by China Miéville called The City & The City where millions of people live in one location but see two cities. Half see a city named Besźel and the other half a city named Ul Qoma. Each has their own language and culture yet occupy the same physical space. Residents of each must have a passport and go through customs to visit the opposite city. When they do they drive the same roads but hear a different language and see a different city. I’m afraid that’s how our country is becoming.

The current political climate worries me. I see the large crowds at Trump’s rallies and I wonder about those folks. They seem like the same people we see at work, play, worship, or shopping. Yet, they adore a man who tens of millions of other normal folks see as a pathological liar. I suppose it could be like climate change and his followers deny his lying. But that’s just as troubling. Do they really believe he’s not lying, or just lying that they don’t?

I worry that Trump’s supporters see a different reality than liberals. Liberals think conservatives see the false one, but conservatives are sure liberals are the deluded ones. I believe this will continue to be true if most citizens can’t tell lies from the truth. We should all work to eliminate lying, but can such a plan succeed if such a large percentage of the population find lying so rewarding?


Best Buy Lying

I was helping a lady friend of mine, J,  buy a computer yesterday from Best Buy.  She took a long time to test a lot of laptops and finally settled on a Samsung NP-R580-JSB1US.  She told the salesman which one she wanted.

“That one there is the last one we have,” he told us.

“Do you really want to get the floor model,” I asked J.  She looked at me puzzled, and I said, “I wouldn’t.”

“I just got this one out of the box.  It’s brand new,” assured the salesman.

“What do you think?” I asked.  J isn’t very good at buying computers and was scared of the whole process.

“I just put it out,” he promised us again.

I turned to J and asked her quietly if she had seen him put it out.  She whispered back that she saw him put another computer out, but not this one.  She wasn’t sure, but he could have. 

“Well, do you want to take a chance?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Since it’s a floor model I can ask if they will give you more off,” said the salesman.

“How much?” she replied, J was anxious to save money.

The salesman went off and brought back a saleswoman and she said they could let that machine go for $699, down for $746, which was a clearance price, even though it was a new Intel i5 machine.

J agreed to this and they started taking the display table apart to get to the power cords and the cable lock.  It was a fair bit of work.  I asked, “And you have the box and all the contents that go with this laptop?”

“Oh yes.”

When they got the computer out they took us to a sales station next to where people were bringing in machines to be fixed.  The salesman told a young guy at the counter that the saleswoman said the machine would be $699.  The young guy said that was more than what they normally took off for floor models and they’d need to get another person to approve it.  We waited.  When the other people did show up I asked about the box and was told they didn’t keep the boxes on the floor model.

“The salesman told us he just took it out of the box, so look around, it should be nearby,” I said.

Buy then we had three people helping us, discussing the discount for floor model and I could tell they didn’t have the box, and that machine wasn’t just put out.  One of the new comers said something about the machine being out since the store was open three weeks ago not knowing we were told something different.  Then another girl came up said the same thing.

“We were told this laptop was brand new.” I said.  J was dazed by the whole process.  The last three people finally admitted they had no box and they were sure the machine had been out on the floor since the store opened.

“Do you have a new one in the box at another store?”

“I’ll check.”

I turned to J, “Do you want to drive to another store to get a new one?”  She said she would if it was the same price on the sale sign by the computer which advertised a clearance price.  I was starting to wonder if they had a batch of refurbished machines they were passing off at new.  However, the sales lady assured us the other store had 5 new ones in the box.  J agreed.

They rang up the computer and added $2.99 for something and $17.00 for anti-spyware, and I told the salesclerk we didn’t want those things.  She assured us they were free.  The ticket had a lower price for the computer, so when it was totaled it came to $746.  It made me wonder if this was another lie.

J paid and headed off to the other store. 

I told her I would meet her at her house and help her set up the new laptop later that night.  When I got there the first thing I noticed was the Samsung seal was broken and a clear tape covered the Samsung seal with a noticed that it had been inspected by the Geek Squad.

“This machine has been opened.”  I couldn’t believe she’d drive all the way to another story and not inspected the box.

“What!” she explained both puzzled and surprised.

“Yes.  Now that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with it, and it might not even be a floor model, but companies like Apple and Dell will inspect and put returned machines back in new packaging so it looks completely new and call them refurbished, or something like that.  They are completely upfront about selling you a returned machine.  Best Buy isn’t doing that.  This machine is probably one that’s been returned, and maybe not a floor model.”

“What should I do?”

“It’s up to you, but they lied to you again.  I’d take it back, complain that you were lied to and either get your money back or a new machine in the box.”  She said she would the next day.

J called me back tonight and told me she had called Best Buy and they had given her some line about Geek Squad opening the machines, removing the crapware, optimizing them, and then resealing the box.  “Is that possible?”

“That might be a service they offer, but I would think they would only do it on a machine someone had just bought.  I doubt they would open all their new machines.  That would make all their computers look like used machines.  I think they are lying to you yet again.  I think someone brought this machine back.  That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but they were lying to you.”

“Who can I trust?”

“I always ask for new in the box when I buy anything, and I’ve had other stores pass returned merchandise as new.  It pisses me off.  But I also know people feel they can take anything back.  And I’ve often seen people write on the net about intentionally buying three different models of something and taking two back. 

“This is your Karma,” I told her.  “You’re always taking stuff back.”

“What should I do?”

“Me, I take it back and get my money back.  But if you really like this machine, then take it back and get one new in the box.  They shouldn’t lie.  Best Buy should tell people up front they are selling them a returned machine and reduce the price.”

She went on for a bit about how frustrating all this was.

“You could keep this machine and it might work for years and you’ll never know anything different from one that was completely new.  But you don’t know what people might have installed on it before they took it back.”

She finally decided to return it.  I don’t know how long this story will take to finish, but I’ll submit a sequel if anything exciting happens.  And I haven’t even gone into the lies they told J trying to sell her an extended warranty.  They essentially said the manufacturer warranty did very little and offered no support. 

I still buy lots of stuff from Best Buy, even after all their shenanigans, but I’m a wary consumer.

I remember once me and a friend each taking a laptop up to the checkout to buy and the Best Buy people given us such a hard sell on the extended warranty that I turned to Mike and said, “You ready to go?” and he said “Yes” and we walked out leaving the computers on the counter.  We went immediately to Circuit City and bought two laptops.  They asked once if we wanted the extended warranty and when we said no, they never said another word.

When I bought my netbook at Office Depot and they got it from the back I asked the guy if it was new in the box and he assured me with an honest face that it was.  I got home and it wasn’t.  Everything was open and all the parts were just thrown back in the box not even pretending to wrap things up neatly.  I went back and told the manager that his salesman had lied to me.  I don’t think he cared, but he politely got me another machine new in the box and apologized.

I actually feel sorry for these retail places because people are too quick to return stuff.  They think nothing about the merchandise having to be sold again.  I only take things back when merchandise is broken or when I’ve been lied to and sold something as new in the box.  Makes me want to mail order everything from NewEgg or Amazon.
JWH 6/21/10

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