Back in the late 1970s, Philosopher Richard Rorty wrote an influential philosophy book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Human Nature (1979), that essentially embraced deconstructionism and entirely rejected empiricism, british analytical philosophy, Quine, Kuhn, Kant, epistemology, scientific method, etc.

Rorty basically said, look, there is no spoon. Nothing we see can be verified as real. Everything that is said, everything that is written, is contextual and depends on who says it, its grammar and context, and must be deconstructed. In saying this, he essentially depended on, and was influenced by, all of the french deconstruction theorists, especially Derrida and Foucault, though there were others that influenced his thinking more clearly than those two.

I don’t subscribe to Rorty, because if Rorty were right, there couldn’t be atomic bombs, nuclear power, triads of nuclear warfare, 9/11 didn’t happen, etc. The good part of Rorty is that he asserts a sort of extreme relativism, in which every point of view can be correct. To that extent, he asserts that man is indeed the measure of all things, as Protagoras first asserted, and rejects the Platonic-Aristotelian notion of absolutes, and accepts instead the relativism of the Sophists. But Rorty goes too far–he rejects everything that modern science has shown us is actually true–if Rorty were right, there would be no objective facts of any kind, and yet we know that we can split the atom and turn mass into energy, and plenty of it. They actually did blow up dozens of pacific atolls with h-bombs during the 1950s during open air tests of h-bombs in the 1950s. Those things are scary. The film is enough to make me believe there is science. Plus, i’ve worked in enough labs to know there is dna, rna, genes, and that you can grow wings where a fly’s legs should be by transposing the genes, etc. So I know there’s science and we can control it pretty carefully. There’s actually more science that you think.

So while Rorty should be read, and should be consulted, and should be used to argue that there are two sides to every question, it remains true that there is epistemology, that there are absolute facts, and that there are some absolute truths. For example, we are alive and we will die, and this is not some eternal dream we are experiencing while our bodies are frozen in cryospace (Vanilla Sky) or or alternate reality dreamed up for us by machines running the world (the Matrix), even though those are certainly plausible explanations of what we experience every day. Rod Serling used to come up with about a dozen other explanations of reality every season on Twilight Zone and every one was terrific, but still, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, a tree has fallen in my book.

Here’s some science facts. Penn, for example, has been conducting lie detector research for the FBI and other government agencies for years using MRI and PET scans of human brain and blood flow for the last ten to twenty years. you can look this up on the internet. They’re getting pretty reliable, by the way. In about 5-10 years, those scans will be very, very reliable and eventually will make their way into employment situations and courtrooms. You won’t need to waterboard or torture anyone once you have these devices.

But contextualism is a bit fun, isn’t it? Remember how people used to search for meaning in all the Beatles’ lyrics? That’s kind of what French contextualism and deconstruction is, except without the bong, the getting stoned and starting at the album cover part, apologies to our latest olympic swimming champion who’s probably still working on U2’s latest album lyrics for deeper meaning in the smoke haze.

This used to be fun– here are some examples of modern textual analysis.

Credence Clearwater Revival had a song that went “There’s a Bad Moon on the Right” which a lot of people thought said “There’s a Bathroom on the Right.”

Bob Dylan released an album at the height of his career in 1966 called “Blonde on Blonde”, and one of the longest songs on it was “Visions of Johanna,” which seems vaguely to be about either lesbians or a menage a trois involving the songwriter or singer. When analyzed in this fashion, the title of the album can be seen contextualized as having a different connotation altogether. Remember he was dating blonde model Edie Sedgwick at the time and hanging out at the Factory with andy warhols models in NYC. this is actually pointed out in the recent dylan movie with the six dylans.

The Rolling Stones had a song, “Jumping Jack Flash,” where the refrain sounded suspciously like “Jumping Jack Flash, hits of gas.” Now that’s not what the words really were, but that’s definitely what they made them sound like. Again, some sixties contextualism.

Recent movie titles have some interesting contextualisms. For example, “Milk”, which is about the first openly gay man ever elected to office in the us, in this case a man called harvey milk who was elected to office in SF in the 1970s. He was assasinated and thus a martyr, but the name of the film has, at a deconstructionist level, surely a triple meaning. First, the name of the politician, second, the Jesse Unruh saying that money is the mother’s milk of politics, and third the vulgar one associated with Milk’s sexuality.

George Orwell wrote several essays which discussed contextualism in a more forthright nature, especially his “Politics and the English Language” essay. We all know that Orwell discussed how the War Department, the Navy Department etc. suddenly became the Department of Defense after WWII. One would wonder what Orwell would say about the “Department of Homeland Security.” No one in the United States is even from the United States. It’s not our Homeland. My family is from Albania, Greece, Asia Minor and the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. My ancestors on my mother’s side came here because those empires were destroyed after World War I and the U.S. was the best option available, compared with Turks killing Christians for the heck of it back in the 1920s. My dad came here on one of the very first Fulbrights every given, to study medicine at Harvard, so he was just part of the brain drain. (Thanks Sen. Fulbright). So whose Homeland is the US? The Native Americans and the native American mestizo Latinos of Mexico are my best bet–they’ve been here the longest, right? But Homeland Security seems devoted to keeping out Mexicans of Native American descent, and they don’t have jurisdiction over Indian lands, so that’s a bit confusing.

Overall, it reminds me of an old saying i learned in latin class:

atque ubi solitudinum faciunt pacem appellant.

“and where they make a solitude, they call it peace.” –Tacitus.

That’s sort of pre-Orwellian, but you get the drift.

Rap is par spelled backwards. I kind of like that becaus i like to golf, and because I think rap, while occasionally good, is mostly average and par for the course, as we golfers say. It’s easy to make music now with all of the technology. It’s hard to imagine today that the beatles struggled to make a four or eight track master back in 1967, or that overdubs were uncommon back then. now musicians made demos with 32 or 64 tracks in their basement and wear vocal processors on stage.

there’s not too much subtlety in rap lyrics. you don’t need to be a derrida or a foucault to understand a lyric like “give it to me good baby” or “give it to me right”.

speaking of mysterious lyrics, Van Morrison played last night on Jimmy Fallon’s spectacular debut on the Late Show, playing a track from “Astral Weeks Live.” Astral Weeks is one of the greatest albums in rock history, very hard to pin down, but jazzy, folky and stream of consciousness. Van the Man played acoustic guitar with a full accompaniment of strings and about fifteen musicians. It was fantastic and capped off a show with Bobby DeNiro and other great guests. DeNiro rushed the stage to hug Van when he was done. Those are two great entertainers, let me say.

This is the track listing from Astral Weeks, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Side one – “In the Beginning”

1. “Astral Weeks” – 7:00
2. “Beside You” – 5:10
3. “Sweet Thing” – 4:10
4. “Cyprus Avenue” – 6:50

[edit] Side two – “Afterwards”

1. “The Way Young Lovers Do” – 3:10
2. “Madame George” – 9:25
3. “Ballerina” – 7:00
4. “Slim Slow Slider” – 3:20

Van played “Sweet Thing” last nite. It was truly a glorious moment, because this album, from 1968, is one he has rarely, if ever, played live. Van Morrison is around 65 years old now, but even growling, he’s one fantastic Irish R & B singer, and along with U2, proves that Ireland is the home of the greatest rock bands in the world. Astral Weeks is a title that deserves deconstruction, along with the song titles. Van Morrison has always been fascinated with the title “Cypress”.

Regarding Jimmy Fallon, he is a great shot in the arm for Late Night. I really liked Conan, and he is a Harvard and Lampoon guy, and we have mutual friends in common, and I wish him success on the Tonite Show. But this is a change they should have made three years ago when Jimmy Fallon was smoking hot from SNL doing the news with Tina Fey. I used to read the FallonFey.com website and laugh my behind off, they were so funny together. (Tina Fey will be on tonite). But NBC always gets it wrong–as dramatized in “The Late Shift” (with my cousin Johnny Kapelos). They monkeyed around with Leno and Letterman and almost got neither.

Making Fallon wait, Fallon has cooled off. They should have pushed Leno to prime time three years ago, pushed Conan to the Tonite Show, and put Fallon on immediately back in 2005-2006. Then someone might have remembered who he was. Instead they kept Fallon on ice. This is insanity and explains why NBC-GE is taking such a hit in the stock market.

Basically, Conan was great, but Fallon is a fresh face. It’s Leno that’s tired. They need to move Conan to the tonite show because his audience is older now, and Fallon to late nite, because his demographic is who’s staying up late now. That’s only sensible. I thought Fallon’s show was great. also, Fallon is a low key guy who let’s the guests talk and the musicians play. He’s so nice and low key, he really reminds me of Carson at his best.

I predict a great future for Jimmy Fallon.

Did I mention that he and Tina Fey were hilarious together on SNL?

Getting back to homelands, there’s only one guy in America that i’m certain was born in the USA, and that guy is Bruce Springsteen. I know he was Born in the USA because that’s what his album said back in the 1980s, and no singer is more identified with his state of origin, New Jersey, than Bruce Springsteen. You don’t really have to contextualize or analyze Springsteen’s lyrics too much. When he sings that “Everybody has a Hungry Heart” or says that “Baby we were Born to Run” you sort of know what he’s talking about.

Because I’m from around these parts, I’ve always liked Springsteens’ music and it does speak to me at some level. A lot of the places he used to sing about are closed now–places in Asbury Park and the north shore of Jersey have disappeared or changed now–but a lot of the things he sang or sings about are still the same at the Jersey Shore. And we like that he lives in Freehold and not in LA.

I meant to say more here and may add to this post in the future.

–art kyriazis, philly/south jersey
home of the world champion phillies

This is an oldie but a goodie from when I used to write for an underground bob dylan fanzine back in the 80s and 90s, a review of a classic bob dylan 3CD set from when it was originally released in 1991. Enjoy.

BOB DYLAN: THE BOOTLEG SERIES [RARE AND UNRELEASED] 1961-1991 COLUMBIA 47382 (THREE-CD SET)
Reviewed by Art Kyriazis
April 12, 1991

Bob Dylan turns fifty this year. Watching him nowadays, as a mumbling rocker at the Grammys, as an aging hippie touring with the Grateful Dead or as a semi-clowning “Traveling Wilbury,” it is difficult to explain or even to remember why this raspy-voiced college dropout from Hibbing, Minnesota was once officially awarded an honorary degree by Princeton University for being the voice of his generation or why he used to be such a favorite subject of countless english doctoral theses and late-night arguments.

Fortunately, Columbia, which issued the magnificent Biograph a few years ago, has issued additional compelling proof of the genius that was once Bob Dylan in its new 3-CD boxed set Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3. Import collectors for some years have had access to these tracks from sources known only to them. However, there is no comparision between the pristine, remastered sound quality on this official release and hissy secondary import sources. What’s more, this set only scratches the surface of the mountain of outstanding unreleased Dylan material from the 1960s and 1970s, and apparently Columbia promises to put out more in the future. For further research, consult Paul Cable’s excellent Bob Dylan: His Unreleased Recordings (Schirmer Books, New York, 1978) for an excellent review of all unreleased Dylan material.

The set is arranged chronologically, and comes in a nicely packaged box supplemented by a long sixty-six page booklet containing rare photographs, outstanding liner notes and exhaustive session documentation. “Volume I” and the first 6 tracks of “Volume II” deal with Dylan’s “acoustic” period 1961-64, and represent the political and idealistic Dylan. There is an embarrassment of riches here. “He Was a Friend of Mine” and “Man on the Street” speak to Dylan’s early concern with the poor and the homeless. “No More Auction Block,” a rare early live track, reminds us of Dylan’s commitment to civil rights. “Talkin Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues,” “Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” “Talkin John Birch Paranoid Blues,” and “Who Killed Davy Moore,” all pulled off his second album and barred from the Ed Sullivan Show for political and censorship reasons, are all here officially for the first time. There are a number of other gems, including “Walls of Red Wing,” “Walkin’ Down the Line,” and “When the Ship Comes In.” Turning to Volume II, more acoustic treasures abound. “Seven Curses” and “Farewell Angelina” are excellent outtakes from the 1964 period, and there is a heretofore-unknown solo version of “Mama You Been on My Mind.”

The bulk of Volume II and the first few tracks of Volume III is taken up with outtakes from Highway 61 Revisited, Bringing It All Back Home, Blood on the Tracks and Desire, which by general consensus are Dylan’s finest albums. Basically, this material is indispensable to any modern rock collection. “She’s Your Lover Now” is the best song never released by Dylan and the Band, recorded at the famous 1965-1966 unfinished Band sessions cut short by Dylan’s world tour and motorcycle accident. The alternate autobiographical take of “Tangled Up in Blue” is here, along with the first recorded version of “Like a Rolling Stone,” and an alternate take of “Idiot Wind.”

The long-rumoured session with Dylan and the Beatles also shows up here, in the form of an outtake recorded with George Harrison on guitar, “If Not for You,” which is far superior to the released version. “Call Letter Blues,” a haunting Blood on the Tracks outtake, is outstanding. There are a number of other Highway 61 Revisited outtakes long known to collectors but now available for the first time officially, all of them featuring the backup sound that made Dylan famous as a rock star with “Like a Rolling Stone,” including the late Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and members of the Band. Turning to Volume III, an alternate take of “If You See Her Say Hello,” followed by an outstanding unreleased Desire outtake, “Golden Loom,” open the set. “Seven Days,” a live Rolling Thunder track, is likewise excellent.

The balance of Volume III is taken up with outtakes and unreleased materials from Dylan’s born-again period through to his 80s material. This later Dylan material, consisting largely of Slow Train, Infidels and Empire Burlesque outtakes, is less consistent and consequently less compelling than the earlier Dylan material in Volumes I and II, but there are interesting tracks, including “Angelina,” Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart” and “Blind Willie McTell.”

A brief rundown of material which is already available on European import which Columbia may consider releasing in future sets includes the famous Concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, 1966 with the Band; the 1964 Halloween Concert in New York with Joan Baez; Live with the Butterfield Blues Band at the Newport Folk Festival 1965; and a large amount of 1961-66 live acoustic material, some of which was released on Biograph. There is also plenty of Rolling Thunder material, including duet material with Joan Baez, which deserves to be released as well.

Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Volumes I-III unleashes one instant classic after another, and the impression it leaves this reviewer with is a staggering, unpredictable virtuosity which reminds us of Dylan’s importance on musical, historical, literary and cultural grounds. This set is an indispensible addition to any popular music collection.

[historical note: the Royal Albert Hall 1996 concert, 1964 Halloween Live concert from NYC and Newport Folk Festival material were all eventually released. The film of the Newport Folk Festival appearance material from 1965 was part of the core of the Scorcese documentary on dylan that was released to PBS and DVD last year in 2008, which was released to critical acclaim. Bob Dylan is now 67 and still tours the world. You can check on his progress on http://www.bobdylan.com].