In the cinema of the United States , it is no longer possible to differentiate the good from the bad. There is no standard against which to measure the individual films. There are but two possible ratings, decent or not even decent. By this measure, “The Lone Ranger” is a decent picture. If it had to stand against any twentieth century western, it would be a very bad picture indeed.  It towers, however, over most action pictures of the last decade.

Although it was vilified even before its release, causing audiences to stay away, which gave authority to the advance reviews, there is nothing significantly wrong with the picture. It is a million times better than the execrable ‘Django Unchained, which was nominated for a best picture Oscar and was awarded an Oscar for its miserable screenplay. Where Tarantino copied the Italian westerns like a teenager tracing a comic book, Bruckheimer and company executed some witty and humorous homages to various westerns that played like visual ad-libs.

The stunts are well-executed, the editing sensible, both leads do a credible job, and the female lead is plausibly human, a rarity in any Hollywood movie of any era.  As an origin prequel, the Lone Ranger is superior to “Batman Begins,” if only because the early material had no comic books to draw upon for inspiration.  Some complain that it takes to long for John Reid to emerge as the Lone Ranger, but the extended gestation only makes the emergence more spectacular.

 

It is embarrassing to write a sentence like that, and even to write seriously about crappy movies that come from tv shows and comic books is a little preposterous, although many people who are paid to write about movies do their most serious thinking when reviewing movies based on their beloved comic books and tv shows.  I know one such scribbler who passes himself off as an authority on the cinema who manages to squeeze at least three made for television soap operas into his yearly best ten lists for the Village Voice.

We should consider the Lone Ranger, not in light of The Wild Bunch or The Searchers, but in context of crud like Dredd and The Dark Knight.  If you are heading to one of the palaces of digital hell to see a new release, you could do worse than the Lone Ranger. It is certainly better than the last edition of The Pirates of the Caribbean, and, for a big screen version of a television series, isn’t nearly as dull as Dark Shadows.

Why, then, are all the so-called critics obediently echoing the negativity of the advance reviews?  Why is this decent picture the object of such scorn? First, television shows rarely make successful movies.  Second, even good westerns, “Ride With the Devil” for instance, have been failing at the box office for most of this century. Westerns that come from television, such as “Wild Wild West,” have an exceptionally bad time at the box office.  People went to see Kevin Costner as Wyatt Earp, but at that time, they would have gone to see him in just about anything. And Armie Hammer is a nobody.  So the project itself was hopeless from the start, and why Disney sank $200 million into it is baffling.

Then there is the Johnny Depp problem.  Depp is the best actor to come down the pike since Marlon Brando, and Hollywood hates his guts. This hatred trickles down to the sycophant critics, who have been yawning about how tired they are of him since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They hate Johnny because he is not part of their bullshit machine.  Hell, he doesn’t even live in the United States any more.  They hate him the same way they hated Ingrid Bergman when she married Roberto Rossellini.

The big failure of The Lone Ranger, in a political sense, is that it fails to do what the Hollywood action movie was designed to do, which is to send out the message of American invulnerability throughout the world that is still addicted to its lousy movies. 

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It has been suggested that those who are less than crazy about Bob’s current tour are just disgruntled because they  can’t make any of the shows.  I thought about this for a while and was almost convinced that it might be true. And then I saw the video of The Rolling Stones at Glastonbury. Although the Stones were my favorite group when they were in their prime, I lost interest in them shortly after the death of Brian Jones.  Their performance in the Scorsese film “Shine a Light” was atrocious. The band sounded pretty good, but Jagger was ridiculous, disconnected from the music and throwing himself at the audience like an old whore with a syphilitic bank account. So I was surprised as hell to hear see him in control at Glastonbury.  He only did stupid stuff at his ends  of songs, and only to give the audience pleasure.  The rest of the time, he proved that great showmanship need not mean being a sleazy cheeseball. And his singing was tremendous.  He sounded like a teenager and my wife started to think seriously about whether the rumors of him making a pact with the devil were true.

 

I have often been impressed, and periodically thrilled, by the shows Bruce Springsteen has been doing this past year or so. Especially when his warm up gig at Fenway Park developed into a four hour marathon.  And even more when he threw away the set list to perform Born to Run in its entirety in tribute to and in memory of James Gandolfini.  Springsteen, now there is a guy with heart.  I used to think he looked like Al Pacino after a bad car wreck, but that son of a bitch has really come into his own.  He plays most of his new album, most of his hits, and whatever else he feels like playing. He not only doesn’t stick to a set list, but he doesn’t stick to a time limit. And nobody leaves one of his shows feeling gypped.

The there’s Dylan headlining this  so-called AmericanArama tour and giving  his audience just  a little less than Ebenezer Scrooge gave Bob Cratchet for a  Christmas bonus.  If he really wanted to do a proper Americana tour, he’d get together with Springsteen and Neil Young and go out there and kill it. But he knows he would come in third place with those guys.  If Springsteen ever performed “Born to Run” as badly as Dylan used to perform “Like a Rolling Stone,” he would lose all his fans.  With Wilco and My Morning Jacket, he can still be a headliner.  With guys closer to his own level, he would be an also-ran.

I’ve never seen the Stones live and Springsteen only once, on his Born to Run tour, and I thought he was a poser. But that hasn’t lessened my enthusiasm for their current tours. I enjoy what I can by whatever means possible. And I listened to shows from Dylan’s spring tour repeatedly, enthusiastic about him for the first time in a decade.  But I have heard enough from the current tour and it does nothing for me. Even when I like something about what he is doing, the total effect leaves me cold.  So I’ll discontinue the Jean Valjean blog until something happens that makes me care enough about write something about it. 

As for the rest of the world, the US has gone back to demonizing any country that dares criticize or ignore it by labeling them as leftist.  Now, most of these countries certainly are leftist, but that isn’t such a bad thing, and should not be used to marginalize them.  Peru, although having a leftist president, is never labeled leftist because we are on good terms with Obama. This crap about Snowden and his pole-riding girlfriend, and the attack on the president of Bolivia on the assumption that he was sneaking Snowden into the country. …it tires me as much as it pisses me off.  To treat a country’s president like he was a drug smuggler trying to get across the border with contraband…shameful.

We have been having abnormally big waves here in Ilo, Peru these last few days, and they are expected to continue, rising as high as fifteen feet, for another week.  I live right across the street from the beach so I have to keep my eye on the ocean so my wife and I can skedaddle up the hill to a hotel in case of flooding.  I have been making a series of Surfing Without Surfers movies to chronicle these historic occurrences.  But I’ll also keep my eyes and ears on Dylan, and if I have anything worthwhile to say about him, I’ll be back.

Thanks to all of you  who have commented me on the Jean Valjean saga. It has been a pleasure getting to know you.

To promote his “New York” album, Lou Reed went around to bookstores and read the lyrics to the songs as if they were poetry. When asked why he was not singing the songs with a band, he answered that it was rock and roll, with or without a band. Watching the first half of Dylan in Memphis with Charlie on youtube, it occured to me that Dylan might come off better without the corny backup musicians, All that Charlie clutter was obscuring Dylan’s musical reading of his lyrics.

The sparse arrangements of this spring were a step in this direction, but the departure of the Duke has sent Dylan back into the rock and roll whirlpool of sound, and I for one cannot sustain interest in what he is doing with all that retro clatter closing in on him. if he is going to play with charlie, he might as well bring back Cry Awhile and Honest with Me and cough up what is left of his wolfman voice. The subtleties of something like “Soon After Midnight” are just not cutting it here.

Outside this small cavity where we theorize about the battle of the titans and other inconsequential rivalries, there is a world that is truly on its way to Hell. The president of Bolivia gets pulled out of the sky and his plane searched, all because the European Union suspects some Yankee Doodle has hitched a ride with him out of Moscow. A few years ago, while the US celebrated a para-military takeover of Egypt, the president of Ecuador was kidnapped by an attachment of rogue police and none of the US newspapers felt the kidnapping newsworthy. It was just another occurrence on the edge of the world, nothing that would interest the citizens of the United States.

Now the very thought of Latin America perks up the news editors like the nose of a dog who smells Alpo. The consolidation of a new enemy. What countries are with us and which are against us? Meanwhile, the whole world is scratching Obama off the A-list. much as the Soviet youth, in the eighties, gave the finger to their government, breaking the fear that had clamped shut the jaws of their parents, and beginning the downfall of a mighty regime.

Now Putin is having a laugh with the dumbshow pantomime he is playing with Obama. He must be bolstered by the insults the maligned countries around the globe have been hurling that way. The age of supercountries with their superheroes and superfreak grains and infra-human moloch dribbling down the chin of superbabies caterwauling against an opponent’s victory on American Idol are fading fast. Obama once said he wanted to bring the US down to the level of the rest of the world. Well get to it, Mr.President. The rest of the world, free of your King King Verses Godzilla psychology,isn’t doing that badly.

Dylan rides into Tuscaloosa,Alabama tonight, still at the beginning of what may seem to him a long and tribulating tour. I wonder how he spends those four hours while the supporting acts are on stage. Is he eager to get up there or is he already tired by the time his turn comes to occupy the stage? And how does he communicate to 20,000 jabbering people wandering around in a stadium with cell phone lights blazing?

Robert Altman’s “Nashville” is a microcosm of the New America. Immigrants from different states arrive at the airport and are  trapped in a freeway pile-up.  At least two dozen characters, their lives reduced to strips of film set end to end, a reptilian montage of bicentennial promise.  This New America is shutting its borders against those who do not embrace its values, the perpetual smile of hypocrisy  cast  like a blanket of snow across the pockmarked highway.  “Get your haircut; you don’t belong in Nashville,” the studio pianist named Frog is told by the anthem singer who may rise to governorship in this New America, once the Replacement Party has  secured its position.   Movie stars are treated like visiting dignitaries while the long-time residents watch the remnants of their families die in hospitals as busy as cafeterias.  The whole world is no longer watching, only Opal from the BBC, translating images into journalistic doggerel.  There is music everywhere, mostly bad, that which was once a fine art now a folk art, the servants as proficient at the masters, but they will never get a chance to prove it, so rigid have class distinctions become.  As a waitress performs a humiliating striptease, four women come to hear the narcissist sing, each one believing the song is for her. The soldier and the assassin are both in thrall to the New Kennedy, a  martyred nightingale eyed by  the vultures of commerce even as her  blood still flows.  “Nashville,’ a K-Tel advertisement for a  country that performs like a vaudeville troupe, fortune-cookie slogans put to music and hidden inside hypo-allergenic candy bars. “We must be doing something right to last 200 years.” “For the sake of the children, we must say goodbye.” The Narcissist is the New Christ, the groupie the New Magdalene, the songbird the Holy Mother of God, crucified with her son in the chaos of the  Parthenon.  This new America is not the one we had in mind when we were clubbed by the police in Chicago, not the one we had in mind when we brought the troops home, and not the one we had in mind when we brought down the great Nixon Sphinx.  This is the America of the Yankee Calvary, now wearing Indian love beans and listening to country western music while making sure that the Federal Bank remains high above the Mason-Dixon line, and  promising never to reveal the secret  that it was the trade unions that abolished slavery, not the cannons of Northern genocide, and that every time a black gospel choir is heard by the white masses, it is the lugubrious voice of the white woman that prevails. 

Robert Altman’s “Nashville” is a microcosm of the New America. Immigrants from different states arrive at the airport and are  trapped in a freeway pile-up.  At least two dozen characters, their lives reduced to strips of film set end to end, a reptilian montage of bicentennial promise.  This New America is shutting its borders against those who do not embrace its values, the perpetual smile of hypocrisy  cast  like a blanket of snow across the pockmarked highway.  “Get your haircut; you don’t belong in Nashville,” the studio pianist named Frog is told by the anthem singer who may rise to governorship in this New America, once the Replacement Party has  secured its position.   Movie stars are treated like visiting dignitaries while the long-time residents watch the remnants of their families die in hospitals as busy as cafeterias.  The whole world is no longer watching, only Opal from the BBC, translating images into journalistic doggerel.  There is music everywhere, mostly bad, that which was once a fine art now a folk art, the servants as proficient at the masters, but they will never get a chance to prove it, so rigid have class distinctions become.  As a waitress performs a humiliating striptease, four women come to hear the narcissist sing, each one believing the song is for her. The soldier and the assassin are both in thrall to the New Kennedy, a  martyred nightingale eyed by  the vultures of commerce even as her  blood still flows.  “Nashville,’ a K-Tel advertisement for a  country that performs like a vaudeville troupe, fortune-cookie slogans put to music and hidden inside hypo-allergenic candy bars. “We must be doing something right to last 200 years.” “For the sake of the children, we must say goodbye.” The Narcissist is the New Christ, the groupie the New Magdalene, the songbird the Holy Mother of God, crucified with her son in the chaos of the  Parthenon.  This new America is not the one we had in mind when we were clubbed by the police in Chicago, not the one we had in mind when we brought the troops home, and not the one we had in mind when we brought down the great Nixon Sphinx.  This is the America of the Yankee Calvary, now wearing Indian love beans and listening to country western music while making sure that the Federal Bank remains high above the Mason-Dixon line, and  promising never to reveal the secret  that it was the trade unions that abolished slavery, not the cannons of Northern genocide, and that every time a black gospel choir is heard by the white masses, it is the lugubrious voice of the white woman that prevails. 

Despite the excitement over a few instabilities in the  show’s second half, things haven’t changed for the better since last spring’s tour. On opening night, Dylan changed out four of the highlights of the spring set (Pay in Blood, Visions of Johanna, What Good am I, Spirit on the Water, Scarlet Town) for   Duquesne Whistle, She Belongs to me, Cry Awhile, Simple Twist of Fate and Honest with Me.   I would just as soon hear Duquesne Whistle as Pay in Blood, and Simple Twist of Fate is an improvement over Spirit on the Water, but She Belongs to Me at the expense of Visions of Johanna and Honest with Me instead of What Good Am I?  Cry Awhile instead of Scarlet Town?  No thanks.    Cry Awhile and Honest with Me might sound good to a crowd of 20,000 after four hours of Bob Weir, My Morning jacket, and Wilco, especially after the waning of the dripping heat of a summer day in Florida, but Dylan has at least 300 songs that I would rather hear than those chestnuts.

On the second night, for the benefit of all those in Tampa, he played Hard Rain and Blind Willie McTell instead, as well as lengthening the show from 15 to 16 songs by including the dispensable Beyond Here Lies Nothing, one of the few duds on the spring tour. On the whole though, Tampa got a damn good set list.  As for the performance, from what I have heard from the few posted snippets, the band sounded fabulous and Bob was a little more ragged than in April.  His low-range whisper on Watchtower, though, was spooky as hell.

So enough with comparing today’s shows with those of the spring.  Let’s leave Florida and go into Atlanta with a better attitude. Dylan is still in his second prime, and there are sure to be surprises every night.  And outdoor shows, despite my reservations, have improved since Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix played Seattle’s Sicks Stadium.  It is possible to give a decent concert in today’s amphitheaters.  So let us set our minds to more important matters. Dylan has left Florida, the state where Michael Townley claims to have been on the day Pablo Neruda died.  After nearly three months of forensic testing, it still has not been determined whether Neruda was poisoned or died of the prostate cancer that would have eventually killed him. Either way, there is nothing any of us can do about it now.   Considering all the Latin American leftists that were terminated by CIA operatives during the Reagan years, of what consequence is the eluding of justice of one assassin more or less?

It has seemed strange to me that the United States was once so committed to stemming the growth of leftist leadership in Latin America, and then, in this century, as eight of those countries democratically elected leftist presidents, there was no move to stifle it until now, when anti-left rhetoric colors the manner in which Latin American news is reported in the states. It is also strange that only Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Nicaragua are being cited as the countries moving toward the Bolivarian ideal.  It worries me that this business with Snowden and Ecuador might cause Obama  to initiate hostilities against them and other sympathetic countries, renewing the witch hunts of the Reagan years. It worries me because America is not just the United States, but the countries of South America as well.  The two continents share parallel histories and should get to know each other better, becoming the closest of allies, not the best of enemies. And perhaps Obama should accept the $24 million gift from Ecuador to educate its leaders in human rights as a sign of initiating the process to unite the two Americas in mutual respect and friendship.

Today is the day of the fisherman, the holiday of Saint Peter.   Last night, here in the port city of Ilo, Peru, there was dancing and drinking all night in the town square. This morning, the celebrants will scrape themselves off the pavement and attend a drunkard’s mass.  You see, we don’t get acts like Bob Dylan coming through our town, so we generate our own entertainment. 

I agree with Harold Bloom’s statement that Shakespeare plays better on the page than on the stage. He plays even more poorly in the open air. After many summers of struggling to enjoy the labors of semi-professional theater groups performing Shakespeare in Seattle’s parks, I had an epiphany. The audience was not in attendance to see a play, but to have a picnic.  The play was peripheral entertainment for a weekend outing. People would eat and laugh and talk and occasionally a scene from the play would capture their momentary interest, after which their attention would be diverted to the ice chest for another beer. I tried watching the play with this attitude and was surprised at how the pleasantly the rest of the afternoon passed. Once I stopped trying to make sense of the individual performances, the scenes started to float by me without narrative purposefulness, and I realized this manner of spending a Sunday afternoon was preferable to staying home and mowing the lawn.

I have only seen Bob Dylan perform in the open air on two occasions, at the Tanglewood shed in Lenox, MA on July 4, 1991 and at Boston’s Harborlight Pavilion on June 19, 1995.  They were the two worst Dylan shows I had ever seen and heard. I had avoided  him all through the eighties because he only played outdoor venues in the Boston area, and I had never felt that such an atmosphere was conducive to concert listening.  Like Shakespeare in the park, people came for a picnic, not a performance.  They wanted to party with Bob, not listen to him.  And most of them were there because of his name recognition, not because they were particularly enamored of his music.

I had seen Dylan in 1966 at the Seattle Arena, 1974 at the Seattle Coliseum, 1978 at the Los Angeles Forum, and twice in 1980 at Seattle’s Paramount. Each of these concerts was a defining event in my life.  I regret that I missed his 1981 concert at the Orpheum in Boston, but I didn’t like his new album, “Shot of Love,” and stupidly stayed home.  The tapes from that show are evidence that 1981 was one of his best years; perhaps his last great year until his resuscitation began in 1994. The next show I went to was at the Boston Opera House in 1989.  With his first decent album since Infidels and a classy venue like the Opera House, I was hoping for a proper concert, not the fairground fiascos in places like Mansfield’s Great Woods that were turning him into the kind of act that plays State Fairs. The Opera House show was a shambles, the only memorable performance being the proud and terrifying self-assertion of some of the lines in “Most of the Time.” I took another chance in 1991 with what I hoped would be a special Fourth of July show at Tanglewood.  But it was a piss poor performance, and I didn’t want to see another like it.

So I stayed away from Dylan concerts until 1994, after a friend from Lawrence Kansas sent me tapes of the show he had just attended that made him believe Dylan was relevant once more.  When he came to Boston that fall, I caught two of this three Orpheum shows. They were in not in the class of his concerts between 1966-1981, but they were pretty damn good, especially the acoustic sets. Then I caught the outdoor show in the summer of 1995, and   the memorable December 10th show at the Orpheum, during which Patti Smith joined him to sing “Dark Eyes.”

I was unable to see him again until 2001 at the Seattle Key Arena, formerly the Coliseum, and he was brilliant. The next year was pretty good as well. Then, in 2004, at the Paramount, a concert so wretched, so boring, that I have not seen him in concert since.  I have kept up with him, though, through the labors of the tapers, and have been happy to hear what he was up to without having to experience the decline of his powers first hand.

Last spring was the first time I had really wished I could have attended one of his concerts, but I am now living in Ilo, a small port city on the southern coast of Peru, and Dylan, who has never even played Lima, is unlikely to come anywhere close to here.  The shows from last spring were a return to form for Dylan, and I covered the tour as well as I could from where I am in the blog “I Am Jean Valjean.”  I had no idea I would continue with it until a few days ago, when something compelled me to carry on with “The Return of Jean Valjean.”  Those of you who have read the entries from last spring will know what to expect, and for those who haven’t, the original entries are still posted here, as well as an edited version of the whole shebang.

So the fun begins tonight at the Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, where he has not played since opening his 1999 tour with Paul Simon there. The joint was called Coral Sky then, because the stage sat to the west so you could watch the sunset while letting the sounds roll by. It has had several names imposed upon it by various sponsors, the current one being Cruzan Rum. They don’t allow alcohol inside though, so the name is something of a paradox.

I don’t think those who miss this tour will be missing much, but those in attendance should have a good time watching the sunset while listening to My Morning Jacket and then dancing in the dark while Bob Dylan and his Band roll out the blues.  But I could be wrong.  Anything might happen. Time and again, Bob has proven himself impervious to time and place, delivering crap shows in regal surroundings and measures of transcendence in squalid quarters. I am hoping that he keeps his back to the sun and amazes the crowd at his feet.