Diana Jones sings a “Song to the Refugee,” as if she’s lived that life

Review: Diana Jones Song to a Refugee (Proper Records)

Tennessee-born singer-songwriter Diana Jones revealed a genius for inhabiting, with uncanny authenticity, spirits of the dispossessed, as early as her stunning 2006 song “Pony.” Guest artists Steve Earle and Richard Thompson help underscore that she’s the perfect artistic spokesperson for Southern border refugees. Consider the Trump administration’s cruel separation of hundreds of children from their parents, a dilemma the Biden presidency will struggle to resolve.

Song allows us to feel their experience, perhaps to move us to act:  My brothers name is Leo, mine is Gabriel/ 46 and 47 but the numbers do not tell/what we wish and what we long for what we love and what we miss/our papa’s crazy stories and our mama’s gentle kiss/this is where are.

Here’s the compulsively incantatory “I Wait for You”: I walked for miles across many borders alone/ over oceans to make it here/ when nights are cold I sing lullabies/ the sun refuses to shine/ I sing for you/no work no pride, some wait for years to find…you have all my heart while we are apart/someday I hope you understand/when I sent for you and you come to me/ and you come to me we will be free.”

Her singing can be at once maternal, sisterly, and autobiographical. At times, you can taste desert dust.

Diana Jones. Courtesy New /York Times

“Santiago” carries specially poignance:

Here I stand in my hands is a rosary/ all I own and you take it/ a gift for my grandmother I was seven years old… Then came the killing and the fire/ we had to run some did not make it/ a little boy name Santiago stayed by my side/ his mother’s final words were he’s a good boy you can see/ I’ve never been a father but I would like to be/

Throughout the album, Jones switches points of view. She also conjures vivid metaphors, as in “The Sea is My Mother.” Yet, always her limpid, luminous voice sounds like an angel on a desolate shoulder, witness to a forsaken heart.

America, the land famously welcoming “your huddled masses,” this is where we are.

Here’s a sample from the album, the song “We Believe You,” which features guest performances by Steve Earle, Richard Thompson and Peggy Seeger.


This review was first published in shorter form in The Shepherd Express: https://shepherdexpress.com/music/album-reviews/song-to-a-refugee-by-diana-jones-proper/

Hallelujia! Let the healing begin

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Biden and Harris win for America
Hallelujia!! Let the healing begin
as our democracy regains its footing
ever striving,
as the glorious land of the free…
“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!”
— Katherine Lee Bates, 1893, from “America, The Beautiful,” a poem inspired by a trip to Pike’s Peak.
Now, a woman of color, Kamala Harris, has made history, as America’s first female vice president-elect.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. — Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, author and black leader, 1857.
  • (Top) landscape photo courtesy theeconomist.com (Below) Maroon Bells, Elk Mountain, Colorado. courtesy blog.americanexpedition.us

Herb Adderley, the great ball hawk who flew into my heart

Herb Adderley (26, above and below) intercepts a Raiders pass intended for Fred Biletnikoff (25) during Super Bowl II. He returned the 4th-quarter pick 60 yards for a touchdown, all but assuring the Packers 33-14 Super Bowl win.

Courtesy NFL Past players

My all-time favorite football player has died.1

I sit here in my Herb Adderley Hall of Fame T-shirt after learning the news yesterday. 2

I will only briefly try to do justice to him or my feelings, right now. I will say my heart now feels like a Roman Gabriel bullet pass hit me in the chest.

Herb, of course, would’ve picked off that pass with his hands away from his body, and ran with it — an amazing, gazelle-like athlete. And yet, at 6 feet and 206 pounds, this Packer was a tough, deadly tackler and a tenacious jump-ball “rebounder.”

Herb Adderley breaks up a pass intended for Gary Collins of the Cleveland Browns. Courtesy packers.com

Vince Lombardi picked the Michigan State ball-hawk in 1962 as the first-ever African-American first-round pick. Some think Adderley was the best shut-down cornerback of all-time, comparing favorably to Deion Sanders, who was a very weak tackler. Like Sanders, Adderley was a brilliant kick-returner, being a former running back at Michigan State, who ran a 9.6 100-yard dash.

After Lombardi left Green Bay, Adderley was traded to the Dallas Cowboys. He became a vital cog in its “Doomsday Defense,” assisting the Cowboys to a Super Bowl appearance in V and a win in VI. When race-related challenges arose, Adderley rose as well, as a courageous locker-room leader for the Cowboys.

Along with the Patriots’ Tom Brady, and two Packer teammates, offensive linemen Fuzzy Thurston (Colts) and Forrest Gregg (Cowboys), Adderley is one of only four players in pro football history to play on six world championship teams. 

In his 12 seasons, Adderley nabbed 48 interceptions, which he returned for 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns, an average of 21.8 yards per return. He also recovered 14 fumbles (returning them for 65 yards) and returned 120 kickoffs for 3,080 yards and two scores.

However, my fuller thoughts and assessment of him as a player and a leader are in my review of his great book Lombardi’s Left Side, co-authored with teammate Dave Robinson.

So I’m sharing Pete Dougherty’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel obit on Herb, and my review of his book, which is urgently important in these times of heightened racial justice concerns.

Herb Adderly and Jim Otto pose with their busts after enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, Aug. 2, 1980.

Herb Adderley (left) holds his Pro Football Hall of Fame bust alongside fellow inductee Jim Otto. They played against each other in Super Bowl II (see below) Courtesy Detroit News.

Raiders center Jim Otto hiked the ball when Adderley made the Super Bowl II pick-six (below). Otto is in the foreground (00) as Adderley heads for the end zone. Daryl Lamonica (3) was the quarterback Adderley intercepted. NFL Past Players

Image Gallery of Herb Adderley | NFL Past Players

Here’s a quote for those who wondered about Adderley’s post-Packer career, as to where his heart lay:

“I’m the only man with a Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl ring who doesn’t wear it. I’m a Green Bay Packer.” – Herb Adderley

Dougherty obit on Adderley

Here’s my blog article on Herb Adderley and his superb book Lombardi’s Left Side: https://kevernacular.com/?p=3185

As an added bonus, this obit piece from The Athletic includes a brief video appreciation of Adderley:

The Athletic on Adderley


1 His death was confirmed on Twitter on Friday by cousin Nasir Adderley, a safety for the Los Angeles Chargers. No details were given. He called Herb a “unique soul who has had such an incredible influence on my life.”

2 Technical difficulties prevented me from publishing this post yesterday.



Gregg August’s “Dialogues on Race” is jazz facing up to racial history and present

Album cover of “Dialogues on Race, Vol. 1”

Album review: Gregg August Dialogues on Race, Vol. 1  lacuessa Records 1

Bassist Gregg August’s large jazz ensemble Dialogues on Race, Vol. 1 exemplifies a dialogue necessary for reform and collective healing. Pointed, poignant poetry – from Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Francisco Alarcon, Carolyn Kizer, and others – adorns his pulsing orchestral canvas, verse sometimes recited, sometimes musically interpreted.

The recording’s heart and backbone is the 1955 murder and immolation of Emmett Till, which sparked the Civil Rights Movement. Marilyn Nelson’s poem “Your Only Child,” honoring Till, appears thrice: sung in jazz style, voiced in a reverential context, and concluding with August’s solo arco bass interpretation. But the album’s guts is “Mother Mamie’s Reflections” – the recorded voice of Till’s mother recounts, with dramatic reverb enhancement, the experience of seeing her son’s mangled and charred body.

Few recent artistic documents have carried such searing power, or been as fearless and ambitious. August’s vivid scoring mirrors the poetry, and recalls one of Charles Mingus’s most ambitious recordings, Mingus’s own personal favorite of his work, Let My Children Hear Music. That title’s eloquent generosity resounds through the two-CD Dialogues, with performances by August’s band mate saxophonist JD Allen, pianist Louis Perdomo, trumpeter John Bailey and others. In a sense, all Americans remain children, waiting to grow into a truly equal and just society.

In the liner notes, August says, “My hope is that ‘Dialogues on Race’ can in some small way serve as an integrated musical bridge to awareness, and maybe even stand as an affirmation against racism and injustice. Admittedly, these are lofty goals. However, through conversation, community and art, I know we can work together towards furthering understanding.”

Recording will be released on August 21, 2020, and available at Gregg August Dialogues on Race

Bassist-composer Gregg August (right) leads his large ensemble in recording of “Dialogues on Race, Vol. 1.” Courtesy Albany Times Union.


1 Bassist-composer-arranger Gregg August is accomplished in modern jazz, Latin and classical music realms. The longtime member of the J.D. Allen Trio and performs regularly with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, and The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and is a faculty member of the Bang on a Can Summer Music Institute.

A slightly shorter version of this review was published in The Shepherd Express.

Rev. ML King on the importance, the struggle and the power of community


Many Facebook birthday greetings, which almost made me feel unworthy,  led me to this short speech of Rev. Martin Luther King’s labeled “Beloved Community.”

It’s far more tough-minded than that title might suggest. He speaks plenty to our painful but transforming times.

“Rise up! And know when you struggle for justice you do not struggle alone…”

So thanks to my friends, but do give the Reverend a few minutes of your time, our time:

Let’s commission or buy more historic statues of Civil War or civil rights heroes. Good ones! Great ones!

One of the more complex and fraught cultural issues arising these days is the removal of (largely) Confederate statues. Some are being toppled and at least partly destroyed. I’m all for the long-overdue change in culture, in response to our urgent times. This need is no better addressed than in this recent Op-Ed by poet and author Caroline Randall Williams in The New York Times, powerfully underscored in a dark symbolism, dwelling in the statues’ heroic posturings. Here (via Daily Kos) is a link: NYT Op-Ed on Confederate statues

The Times headline defiantly declared “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument.”

Williams continued with the startling lead:

 I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South.

She went on to explain:

I am a black, Southern woman, and of my immediate white male ancestors, all of them were rapists…

Poet and author Caroline Randall Williams wrote a scathing commentary recently on the dark underbelly of Confederate statues for The New York Times. Courtesy Nashville Scene.

Amen to that. However, I’m also in the camp of those who think Confederate statues should be moved to museums, and submitted to proper historical contextualization and commentary. And partly given my undergrad degree was in art, with a concentration on sculpture, I have a bias towards preserving public art of historical significance, the good, bad and sometimes even the ugly..

The issue reached a razor’s edge that bled into the absurd recently in Madison, Wisconsin, where I lived and worked for nearly 20 years, as an arts reporter for The Capital Times. So I was greatly saddened see that Wisconsin’s “foreword” statue, long situated on the Capitol Square, was knocked over, and thrown in Lake Mendota. And that the statue of renowned abolitionist and union soldier Hans Christian Heg – a Norwegian immigrant who knew the meaning of being an other, and who died fighting to end slavery – was knocked down and dragged down the street. These were acts of little more than self-righteous ignorance, or worse, perhaps racist subversion.

Several of my friends suspect this was the handiwork of a Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists infiltrating the Madison George Floyd civil rights protests. As one friend shrewdly observed, the guilty party scrawled the phrase “BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL” at the top of the deposed Heg sculpture’s base (see below). Here’s the thing. That phrase hasn’t been used by most African-Americans since the 1960s. It suggests this was a bogus and culturally lame attempt to place the blame on Black Lives Matter.

Base of the statue of abolitionist Hans Christian Heg in Madison, after the statue was torn down recently. Photo by Allison Garfield. Courtesy Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

On a related issue, I cannot agree with student activists who call for the removal of the beloved statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln, at the top of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus. The bronze sculpture mirrors the grand marble sculpture of our 16th president seated in The Lincoln Memorial.

The controversy has to do with what we now call white supremacist comments that Lincoln made before the Civil War during the famous debates with Stephen Douglas. Yes, they are troubling, but history shows that Lincoln redeemed himself through his actions many times over, and indeed was a martyr for the cause of ending slavery. He  inspired Juneteenth Day with his Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves.

Such a leader should be judged by his actions, and such formal proclamations that carry great political weight, rather than by his worst comments, which reveal his racial biases (which we all have, to some degree). Remember too, it was the 1850s, upon which we can misapply our social standards begat by time. We know Lincoln realized that even he struggled at times to stay aligned with the better angels of his nature. And that he always considered slavery immoral and worth destroying with all the Union’s might.

As for what to do about politically historical statues in general, I prefer to think more constructively. If we replace Confederate statues, what should we commission or construct in their stead?

The issue of how to replace them was addressed creatively by six artists in a 2018 New York Times article, when the controversy over a Robert E. Lee statue arose in connection to the infamous Charlottesville clash of civil rights and white supremacists: The New York Times, Aug. 10, 2018, “Monuments for a New Era.”


But Madison and other cities could follow the example of Milwaukee, which last December purchased a bronze sculpture by the acclaimed black sculptor Radcliffe Bailey depicting W.E.B. DuBois, the great black writer, thinker, sociologist and civil rights activist. 1 The sculpture, titled “Pensive,” depicts DuBois seated in the same posture as Auguste Rodin’s celebrated “The Thinker,” and even mimics the early modernist Rodin’s rough-hewn modeling. The work was purchased as a gift to the city by Sue and Mark Irgens, and mounted this spring in its new location outside of the new BMO Tower, 790 N. Water St.

Radcliffe Bailey, Pensive, 2013, part of Sculpture Milwaukee 2019. © Radcliffe Bailey, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki for Sculpture Milwaukee

Milwaukee first experienced the quiet but indeed pensive power of the bronze figure in the 2019 MKE Sculpture exhibit mounted along Wisconsin Avenue. For me, it was the outstanding work in the exhibit, artistically and culturally, and I spotlit it in a blog posting, here:

Bronze sculpture of W.E.B. DuBois is highlight of Sculpture Milwaukee

The work’s conceptual lineage is deep, as Rodin’s original “The Thinker” depicted poet Dante Aligieri’s figure, drawing from the poet’s The Divine Comedy, and conceived as a figure contemplating Rodin’s massive tableaux sculpture, The Gates of Hell commissioned in 1880. The symbolic significance of the tableaux is not lost on our times, nor on DuBois’s, when he boldly stirred American consciousness on matters of race in the early 20th century, directly defying Jim Crow.

But the first of Rodin’s familiar monumental bronze castings of “The Thinker,” as a stand-alone sculpture, did not appear until 1904.

Works such as Bailey’s, completely in 2013, ought to be the standard we strive for in public art, especially on fraught matters as race relations or the Civil War. I would love to see Madison commission or purchase a monument to, say, the epic ex-slave biographer and leader Frederick Douglass, or the heroic Underground Railroad operator Harriet Tubman, or modern civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. Or even a work commemorating the death of Emmett Till, which sparked the modern civil rights movement, sensitive as such a rendering might be.

We are in a time of extraordinary social upheaval and transformation, which may feel to too transitory for doubters of social progress. Still, I can think of few better ways we can celebrate such progress and permanently inspire its furtherance, than with bronze public sculptures that embody our history’s embattled nobility and, we pray, our future redemption in freedom and equality for all.


1 News of the sculpture’s purchase, gifting and re-installation, as reported by Bobby Tanzilo of OnMilwaukee.com: https://onmilwaukee.com/ent/articles/irgens-pensive.html

Here’s the proper streaming and purchase source for Dontre Hamilton documentary “The Blood is at the Doorstep”

In response to my recent blog linked to my Shepherd Express comment on a recent Milwaukee-area protest march against police brutality, streamingmoviesright.com informed me that they held streaming and sales rights for the film The Blood is at the Doorstep. It is not properly free on YouTube as I had indicated. The film is available here: Blood is at the Doorstep

The film by Erik Ljung compellingly and often beautifully documents the quest of Dontre Hamilton’s family in pursuing justice for his unlawful killing at the hands of a Milwaukee police officer, in April of 2014 in downtown Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park.

In a positive review, Hollywood Reporter describes the film, when it played at the SXSW Film Festival in 2017:

“The policeman who killed Milwaukee resident Dontre Hamilton in April 2014, in a public park in the middle of the day, shot him 14 times. He wasn’t the first cop to approach Hamilton as he dozed in the downtown park — others had been there and seen that he was doing nothing wrong. Why an employee at a nearby Starbucks saw the need to call the police about him, and not once but twice, is one of the sorriest aspects in the horrific chain of events that robbed Hamilton’s family of their son and brother. The 31-year-old black man was schizophrenic and, except for the baton that he reportedly grabbed from the officer, unarmed.”

:”Blood” has won numerous awards from film festivals. It also has earned a 100 per cent Tomatometer rating from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, which has not determined its own critical consensus yet. I don’t believe the film has had widespread theatrical release. All reviews I’ve seen online have been quite positive, including my own review here:

Milwaukee film brilliantly embraces the family of Dontre Hamilton – a search for justice

The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York has conducted a Q and A session (below) with the film director and Hamilton family members, including his mother and brother Nate Hamilton, who is pictured below and in my blog’s current theme photo (in the red jersey), talking with Milwaukee Police Chief, Alberto Morales, Here’s the photo by Jonathan Klett, one of the most recent manifestation’s of the family’s ongoing fight for justice for Dontre’s killing:

Dontre Hamilton’s brother Nate (in red jersey) talks with MPD chief during a recent protest against police bruality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. Photo by Jonathan Klett 

Here is the Lincoln Center Q&A with the Hamilton family about Dontre and the film:


“I can breathe” means I can write, about love in a time of angry protest

A protest march, including the author, against police brutality moves through Whitefish Bay Saturday. Photo for Shepherd Express by Tea Krulos

On Sunday morning, I wrote a commentary piece on the police brutality protest march I had participated in the day before.  The march had special meaning to me because it’s the first one of the current marches I know of that penetrated Shorewood, the nearby suburb where I grew up from my adolescence, and on into Whitefish Bay, engulfing the main thoroughfares of both municipalities.

What struck me first was the fact that I, in fact, could breathe — at the first protest march I’d partook of since the coronavirus, considering I’m quite at risk in my 60s and suffer from asthma. I thought the phrase  “I can breathe,” mirroring George Floyd’s, might be a headline phrase when I decided to submit it to the Shepherd Express, which accepted and published it yesterday in their online edition 1

Express editor David Luhrssen decided that a theme within the piece was a more striking headline, and I think he was right (I combine both ideas in my headline here). After seeing a protester wearing a red cap with the phrase, “Make America love again,” I pondered whether John Lennon’s famous notion about the power of love had potency and potential in our current crisis. I only wish I had added some lines from his great song “All You Need is Love.” So I will quote some rather profound lyrics from the song as I lead you to a link to my Shepherd Express commentary:

There is nothing you can make that can’t be made.

No one you can save that can’t be saved.

Nothing you can do but you can learn

how to be you in time.

It’s easy…

( my italics)

Perhaps it’s not always easy. But Lennon’s simple rhetorical assertion leads to the idea off applying love to the problem, perhaps learning to love in a Christ-like manner. Lennon’s notion that we can learn, through activism, how to be who we really are (or “praying with our legs” as Frederick Douglass put it) rather than through passive being or existence, is what strikes me.

The link to my Shepherd Express commentary on the protest

And thanks for reading, and for trying to be who you really are.

In addition, here are the two sides of the protest sign I made and used for the March including my satirical drawing of Donald Trump:

I didn’t arrange the book titles shown beside the sign, but their titles serendipitously resonate with ideas explicit or implicit in my Shepherd Express article. The small book at top is a portion of the Bible illustrated by Marc Chagall. 

This backside of the sign at top, from a previous march protesting police violence as supported by Trump, received plenty of comments during the march. Photos by Kevin Lynch.

Activism is also crucially about dialog as well as dissent. I’m also sharing images below, by Jonathan Klett, of Milwaukee Police Chief Alberto Morales. Here he’s talking, at a Veteran’s Park protest Sunday, with Nate Hamilton (in red jersey), the brother of Dontre Hamilton, who was killed by a MPD officer at Red Arrow Park a few years ago — the subject of the acclaimed documentary Blood is on the Doorstep. I allude to Morales’ defiant comments and to the film’s title in my SE article. I was also troubled by the fact that Morales lowered his mask to speak face-to-face with Hamilton. Is this a version of Donald Trump’s macho posturing about not wearing a mask during the COVID crisis?

Nate Hamilton (left, in red jersey) speaks with MPD chief Alberto Morales. Photo by Jonathan Klett.

Here is a brief video by Jonathan Klett of MPD Chief Morales being dissed away from the Veteran’s Park protest:

Morales leaving protest

I highly recommend Blood is at the Doorstep, about Hamilton’s death and his family’s effort towards justice, now available for streaming or purchase. I reviewed it in this blog:

Milwaukee film brilliantly embraces the family of Dontre Hamilton – a search for justice

Thanks to Klett for this link to the film:




1 The ceasing of the Shepherd Express print edition has forced the permanent lay-off of much SE staff, including my friends John Schneider and Rip Tenor (a.k.a. Art Kumbalek), a sad turn of events.


John Kennedy embraced Martin Luther King’s vision in his Civil Rights Act Speech. Our nation cries out now, for such leadership.

President John F. Kennedy delivering his Civil Right Act speech in 1963. Courtesy The Atlantic.

On Tuesday iconic conservative journalist George Will called for the ouster of Donald Trump in a Washington Post opinion piece. That’s extraordinary in itself.

“There’s a downward spiral (in Trump’s behavior) and no one should take pleasure in this,” Will said in a TV interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber. Will continued: “In 2016, the people chose the person they liked the least (Not really, the Electoral College did that. “The people” chose Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. It drives me crazy that Will, like many commentators, glosses over the real will of “We the People.”  Far too little discussion of abolishing the EC, or revising our electoral system.).

“Now, ninety per cent of the Republican Party approves of Trump’s conduct. It’s never been more united in its history. It’s united around somebody unfit to lead. You need to give a thorough rejection of the party in the election, which should cause them to pause and reflect.”

Bow-tied George is too mild-toned for me. But what’s also extraordinary is this renowned conservative is almost echoing what sounds to many like a radical idea, a column I posted on Facebook a few days ago from The New Republic calling for: End the GOP

Well, I’ve been reflecting since I heard Bob Dylan’s supremely wise and powerful 17-minute ballad about John Kennedy’s assassination, “Murder Most Foul.” Culture  As a folk-rock singer-songwriter who has managed to win the Nobel Prize for literature, Dylan exemplifies the “common” in our culture as also uncommon, the realm of expression and art this blog strives to engage. There’s good reason why the song has become Dylan’s first-ever number one Billboard single in his storied career. Here is my blog review of, with recorded links to, “Murder” and Dylan’s follow-up song “I Contain Multitudes,” from a new album:

The pandemic’s hidden blessing: The first album of original Dylan songs in eight years

But another TV commentator last night, who’s name I missed, reminded me of Kennedy’s brilliant speech in enacting the Civil Rights Act in 1963, the credit for which should go largely to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists.

Joe Biden says today, “the nation is crying out for leadership.” At this point we hope it will be him in November, with an inspired choice of a woman for his running mate. But Biden he has plenty of work to do, and perhaps he should start by revisiting Kennedy’s speech and King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which significantly inspired the president that day. My God, look how far we have fallen recently despite the apparent progress made since 1963. Backsliding, thy name is America or, more correctly, her leadership.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Courtesy trussvilletribune.com

The president’s address also resembled King’s ‘Letter’ in rejecting the idea that blacks should have to wait for equality, and here’s where Kennedy rings in thunderous harmony with the sentiments of the throngs now gorging American city streets and many other international cities (see below), protesting the murder of George Lloyd, and far too many other black people, by police.

” ‘Who among us,’ Kennedy demanded, ‘would then be content with counsels of patience and delay?’ He mimicked King’s critique of ‘appalling silence’: “Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence.’ The president even picked up the mass meeting chant — ‘Now is the time!’ said Kennedy, “Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise.”

Here is the complete article from the June, 2013 Atlantic.

The Atlantic on Kennedy

It may seem like idle speculation to wonder what might’ve happened to America had not Kennedy fallen to “murder most foul,” as would King, and another supremely promising young leader, Kennedy’s brother, Bobby. Certainly successor Lyndon Johnson was a skilled legislator who did plenty to enable civil rights, but he was hardly the inspirational leader that any of those men were. Would we have endured the disgraced Nixon era had Johnson chosen not to run again in 1968? How sharply would history’s arc of justice have bent to realization? I’ll leave the rhetorical questions there.
But we need now to reach deep down as a nation, and inspire our leaders, surely they need to inspire us. That seems to be happening right now, but we must keep the fires  for justice burning, albeit in a civil and non-violent manner, as King and Kennedy envisioned.

Urgently needed changes today include “the outlawing of police choke holds, with a national standard of definition, and banning of military-style assault weapons for police,” says Mark Claxon, an ex-New York Police detective and police oversight expert.

In ostensibly progressive Minneapolis, where George Floyd died, 44 people were rendered unconscious in the last five years by city police choke holds. And, of those victimized, 60% were black suspects, even though blacks comprise only 4% of the city population. 

“We also need independent committees to judge police brutality outcomes,” Claxton told Melber.

Finally, video images can inspire too, even astonish. We may be at a pivotal moment in our history:


Dylan’s new song “I Contain Mutitudes,” too

Bob Dylan (right) proves in his latest song “I Contain Multitudes,” he has much more affinity with iconic American poet Walt Whitman than a stylish way with broad-brimmed hats. Salon.com


Because with the distractions of online content, even those most interested in worthy subjects often feel compelled to pick and choose, even in the midde of a reading. So because Dylan’s first new song in eight years, “Murder Most Foul,” has gained extraordinary attention, I decided to give my review of his follow-up song “I Contain Multitudes,” its own forum, a separate blog review. Both songs are included in his new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways.

I discovered, upon examining it that it is well worth one’s time, especially in relation to the JFK song and more contemporary issues. I hope you find it of interest as well. The lyrics are included at the bottom.

Review: Bob Dylan “I Contain Multitudes.”

The epic 17-minute ballad evoking the assassination of John Kennedy and its after-effects to the present, was a well-aimed arrow to the heart of many things evil, without and within.

Russell Crowe as Robin Hood, the mythical but real-life fighter for the underdog. Digital Spy

Released online in mid-March, the song probes into the mysteries of the most presidential and persistent conspiracy theory of modern times.

` The assassination may feel like too long an arc of history for some, especially those not old enough to have experienced the event. But does the arc bend toward justice? That question still troubles many who see the truth lying in Cuba with Fidel Castro, Kennedy’s most immediate mortal political and military foe.

And consider, in the COVID-19 crisis, Las Vegas – the American city arguably most dependent on service industry –– has reportedly not been this deserted since the JFK assassination.

An arc of significance perhaps can be drawn from “Murder” back to “Chimes of Freedom,” a similar type of chanting song, if far more full-throated, with a rise-and-fall wave-like melody. It’s been called Dylan’s “Sermon on the Mount.”

“The assassination was in some ways the culmination of many of the political themes about which Dylan had been singing,” wrote Tom Piazza in 2011, discussing Dylan’s extraordinary 1964 Newport performance, in Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America. He references the climactic performance of “Chimes of Freedom” documented in Murray Lerner’s film The Other Side of the Mirror. 1 

Here’s is that extraordinary moment in recent music history:

Piazza wrote that the assassination “signaled a split in the American psyche; a shifting power to a younger, vital generation had been aborted. Kennedy was replaced in office by the dour, older Lyndon Johnson. Then with the new year, came the Beatles, an explosion of fun and irony and sex from foreign shores, just the thing to help a traumatized public forget its trauma for a while.” Dylan acknowledges the Beatles’ 1964 importance in “Murder.” And now we’re amidst a similar trauma where America’s young strive to take the political lead.

Historian Sean Wilentz writes that in 1964 Dylan had already been experimenting in beat-style free verse (a form pioneered in the 19th century by Walt Whitman, the song’s conceptual inspiration, who made famous the grandiloquent idea of “I contain multitudes”)

Not long after (Dylan) met (Alan) Ginsburg, he poured out a poem about the day of Kennedy’s murder which concluded:

The colors of Friday were dull/ as cathedral bells were gently burnin’/ striking for the gentle/ striking for the kind/ striking for the crippled one/ striking for the blind

Pulled together, the lines would form part of what Dylan called the “chain of flashing images” that soon went into ‘Chimes of Freedom.’ ” 3

In the song’s story, a couple ducks inside a doorway to escape and witness a thunderstorm, and much more. The lyric alludes to the church bells tolling on the Friday of Kennedy’s burial procession.

The analogy to an updated Sherwood Forest folk hero comes to mind in a muted yet strangely pointed manner with the most startling lines embedded in “I Contain Multitudes”:

I carry four pistols and two large knives/ I’m a man of contradiction, I’m a man of many moods/ I contain multitudes.

The first impression of the new song is of egocentric boasting, and grandiosity, and the stuff about weapons might disturb the much of the multitudes he proclaims who consider him possibly our supreme living songwriting poet.

But they also should know by now that Dylan never conceded to our idealized versions of him. Nevertheless, let’s think of the songwriter’s weapon as lovable rogue Robin Hood’s flashing cutlass, then as now, catching the sun and twirling, a la Douglas Fairbanks (or Russell Crowe), if that archetypal fighter-for-the-poor were a man of consciousness as much as action, a reflection of what chimes out when the blade clashes.

We might be dealing with what literary critic Harold Bloom calls “the Daemon,” the secular or “daemonic” genius of the American self. But have we had our fill of presumed American exceptionalism? Many on the left would argue hubris and selfishness have let capitalism run rampant, forging the great schism of inequality that America agonizes under.

I’d hardly argue against that point. But Dylan is not really playing a direct political hand here, though he is posturing as a democratic hero, a la Whitman.

As a folk hero, Dylan easily carries the “street-legal” cred. (Speaking of Street-Legal, that 1978 album’s “Senor [Tales of Yankee Power]” is another example of how slyly and deftly Dylan has maintained his role as spokesman for the American conscience through the years, despite his own disclaimers.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvkosdmNlqo

But in “Multitudes” Dylan essentially declares his somewhat radical cultural role by singing:

I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones/
And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones
I go right to the edge, I go right to the end

Um, picturing wispy Dylan as macho, whip-snapping Indiana Jones bends my imagination into a bundle. Maybe he’s more akin to Holocaust diarist Anne Frank. But let’s look at what that risk-taking is couched in. The next line:

I go right where all things lost are made good again

Now imagine, for a moment, if Anne Frank might’ve survived to write about the Kennedy assassination. She would’ve been 34 (the same age as my late father, a great Kennedy fan, who was born about a month after Frank, in 1929). If she could still believe that people are essentially good in the face of The Nazis about to destroy almost everyone in her family and six million more, surely she could nurse a flame of hope as America’s Camelot seemed to burn to the ground.

Holocaust victim and German diarist Anne Frank  Courtesy history.com

Yet, here, the flip side of Dylan’s idealistic Jewish woman is the joker face of Mick Jagger, perhaps singing both “Sympathy for the Devil” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” And such a card hand contains a risky bet on America in 2020. Why can’t we mirror our political poles as neatly as that year does numerically? Why can’t we focus on common goals, a common good with something closer to 20-20 vision? Right now, we’re all in this deadly situation together, but politically cross-eyed.

Part of the implicit challenge: Must we have sympathy for whomever we the perceive as the devil? And yet realize that we may not get what “We the People” want, yet again?

If that’s not motivation enough to come together, what is? As usual Elizabeth Warren speaks to our fundamental principles as plainly as anyone: Today, The American) dream runs into a very hard reality that this is now a world that works better and better for a smaller and smaller number of people. 

So our moment may feel as fraught as Anne Frank’s, facing the clomping of SS boots on the stairs. Or as heart-broken as Walt Whitman’s, as he embraced and nursed dying Civil War soldiers, going “right to the edge, right to the end” along the battlefield of America’s most tragic historic crisis.

Dylan clearly has a sense of his importance, as few of us can, but a person can only see so much of himself amid the often-glaring sheen of ego, the mixed messages of praise and hagiography, showered on him like upon few other pop artists of our time.

The more we reflect on Dylan’s lyrics in question, the more his ostensible egotism falls away. 4 It might be a snake’s skin, but to know Dylan’s history is to know the often-elliptical ways he honors history, especially through music and literature.

Yet also through visual art, as he reminds us here (“I paint landscapes, and I paint nudes”). He’s been an amateur painter at least since he did the gawky, art brut cover for The Band’s debut album Music from Big Pink. in 1968, that seemed to charm us and the depicted elephant with the musicians’ vibrations.

In this sense, his artistic claim may seem self-mocking. It recalls the surprising humility of the late John Updike, one of our proudest and most vivid prose stylists. Updike, a mildly-talented cartoonist for the Harvard Lampoon while attending that school, admitted:

“Drawing can feel perfect the way that prose never does, and a poem rarely. Language is intrinsically approximate, since words mean different things to different people.”

And yet Dylan, like Updike knows he is a better wordsmith than an artist. Updike claimed he gave up on striving for vivid prose imagery in mid-career.

But Dylan can’t give up because, for him, his songs are his best arrow and lance, for how he faces the zeitgeist, whereas his painting is more an escape from it. In the new song, he utters the title phrase the first time with a gruff sigh, as if the multitudes are a burden.

“I Contain Multitudes” is musically modest, hardly even  comparing to the somber, elegiac instrumentation of “Murder Most Foul.” His vocal delivery is oddly poignant and tender. The new song’s first image is pointedly aware of fleeting life: Today and tomorrow, and yesterday, too/ The flowers are dyin’ like all things do

So it feels like is an admission of his artistic limits, and even his compulsive triviality amid his would-be encompassing heroism: I fuss with my hair/ and I fight blood feuds/ I contain multitudes.

And yet, “(I) got a telltale heart, like Mr. Poe.” The man in Poe’s famous story is a killer, and Dylan is even willing to go there, even if metaphorically, to abase himself before us and perhaps his God. He admits he might even betray you (“Judas” they cried when he went electric.)

Yet finally, in a brilliantly simple twist of fate and tone, he seems to snidely defy our Grim Reaping pandemic in one breath, while declaring, in the next, each endeared person tattooed on his soul.

Get lost, madame, get up off my knee
Keep your mouth away from me
I’ll keep the path open, the path in my mind
I’ll see to it that there’s no love left behind

That feels like a commitment whether he survives or not, given that he’s 78, and still seemingly frail, even as he has trucked on his “endless tour” in compromised health since his horrible motorcycle accident decades ago.

So, the artists and writers he names here echo the assassination ballad’s healing litany of songs and songwriters, for people who may remain wounded more than they realize – contributing to today’s traumas. Are they merely scars for the countless from 1963, and 1968, when murder most fouled JFK’s brother Bobby and Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr., two of the greatest leaders of the Civil Rights movement?

In the end, Dylan turns from sentiment back to art. The quintessential rootsy, folk-rock musician/disc jockey even embraces art music.

Otherwise, how could he honestly contain multitudes?

I play Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s preludes.
I contain multitudes.

These are reasons why we still value Dylan, among such golden incomparables as Whitman and King. Despite the oral or written word’s approximate nature, they can all count on their best storytelling to last. He shows us how poetry can be a foot soldier for truth, its rhythmic mysteries abiding in the wind.

As music historian Ted Gioia comments, on oral traditions going at least back to early Maori tribes in New Zealand: ”Long after visual memories fade, the aural memories of a heard (or sung) tale remain…storytelling shapes our brains in ways that even powerful images, like home movies or family portraits, cannot match. Fieldwork in surviving hunter-gatherer societies tell us that storytelling skills are among the most prized talents in those communities.” 6


1 Tom Piazza, Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America, Harper Perennial, 2011, 122 (Piazza’s title, though an old blues trope, seems to allude to the “Chimes of Freedom” thunderstorm scene, and his subtitle foreshadows our current situation.)
2 “Chimes of Freedom” has been memorably covered many times, including by The Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Jefferson Starship and Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour. I was reminded of the song’s power and importance when Madison historian-journalist-radio show host Stuart Levitan recited the entire lyrics onstage at a Madison jazz festival not long ago. Similarly, jazz pianist Lynne Arriale just released a new album titled Chimes of Freedom with a condensed vocal version of the song as its centerpiece. Review of that: mArriale, Chimes

  1. Sean Wilentz, Bob Dylan in America,Doubleday,  2010, 69
  2. Piazza, in Devil Sent the Rain, addresses the dichotomy of artistic ego by quoting Melville’s poem about art: “ ‘Humility – yet pride and scorn/ Instinct and study; love and hate/ Audacity – reverence. These must mate…‘ in order to ‘wrestle with the angel.‘ “, Devil, 130
  3. John Updike, “Lost Art,” from The Best American Essays 1998, Cynthia Ozick, Houghton Mifflin,  1998, 244-45
  4. Ted Gioia, Music: A Subversive History, Basic Books, 2019, 79





Lyrics to “I Contain Multitudes” c Bob Dylan


Today and tomorrow, and yesterday, too
The flowers are dyin’ like all things do
Follow me close, I’m going to Balian Bali
I’ll lose my mind if you don’t come with me
I fuss with my hair, and I fight blood feuds
I contain multitudes

Got a tell-tale heart, like Mr. Poe
Got skeletons in the walls of people you know
I’ll drink to the truth and the things we said
I’ll drink to the man that shares your bed
I paint landscapes, and I paint nudes
I contain multitudes

Red Cadillac and a black moustache
Rings on my fingers that sparkle and flash
Tell me, what’s next? What shall we do?
Half my soul, baby, belongs to you
I relic and I frolic with all the young dudes
I contain multitudes

I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones
And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones
I go right to the edge, I go right to the end
I go right where all things lost are made good again
I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
I have no apologies to make
Everything’s flowing all at the same time
I live on the boulevard of crime
I drive fast cars, and I eat fast foods
I contain multitudes

Pink petal-pushers, red blue jeans
All the pretty maids, and all the old queens
All the old queens from all my past lives
I carry four pistols and two large knives
I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods
I contain multitudes

You greedy old wolf, I’ll show you my heart
But not all of it, only the hateful part
I’ll sell you down the river, I’ll put a price on your head
What more can I tell you? I sleep with life and death in the same bed
Get lost, madame, get up off my knee
Keep your mouth away from me
I’ll keep the path open, the path in my mind
I’ll see to it that there’s no love left behind
I’ll play Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s preludes
I contain multitudes


Considering Dylan chose these two songs to release and that they encompass nearly half an hour of the album it’s reasonable to conclude that they are representative of the album’s material and viewpoint:
However, a couple more songs from Rough and Rowdy Ways are now available, here: