“Tell-Tale Signs”

My son and I will head up the New York State Thruway in a few weeks to Saratoga Springs — for a concert featuring Bob Dylan and the Levon Helm Band! As we bow our heads and tip our hats while passing Woodstock and Saugerties, I bet we will be listening to Dylan and the Band — and wishing we didn’t have to wait until October for the newest installment in the Bootleg Series, “Tell-Tale Signs.”

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan

Here’s the very interesting and already somewhat controversial (three versions of “Mississippi!” and didn’t they already release the “unreleased” songs “Series of Dreams” and “Dignity?”) set list for the upcoming three-disk album:

Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs – The Bootleg Series Vol. 8

Disc One
“Mississippi” – (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
“Most of the Time” – (Alternate version, Oh Mercy)
“Dignity” – (Piano demo, Oh Mercy)
“Someday Baby” – (Alternate version, Modern Times)
“Red River Shore” – (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
“Tell ‘Ole Bill” – (Alternate version, North Country Soundtrack)
“Born in Time” – (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
“Can’t Wait” – (Alternate version, Time Out Of Mind)
“Everything is Broken” – (Alternate version, Oh Mercy)
“Dreamin’ of You” – (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
“Huck’s Tune” – (Lucky You soundtrack)
“Marching to the City” – (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
“High Water (For Charley Patton)” – (Live, Niagara, 2003)

Disc Two
“Mississippi” – (Unreleased version #2, Time Out Of Mind)
“32-20 Blues” – (Unreleased, World Gone Wrong)
“Series of Dreams” – (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
“God Knows” – (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
“Can’t Escape From You” – (Unreleased, December 2005)
“Dignity” – (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
“Ring Them Bells” – (Live at the Supper Club, 1993)
“Cocaine Blues” – (Live, Vienna, Virginia, 1997)
“Ain’t Talkin’” – (Alternate version, Modern Times)
“The Girl On The Greenbriar Shore” – (Live, 1992)
“Lonesome Day Blues” – (Live, Sunrise, Florida, 2002)
“Miss the Mississippi” – (Unreleased, 1992)
“The Lonesome River” – (Clinch Mountain Country)
“‘Cross The Green Mountain” – (Gods And Generals Soundtrack)

Disc Three (Deluxe Set Only)
“Duncan And Brady” – (Unreleased, 1992)
“Cold Irons Bound” – (Live, Bonnaroo, June 2004)
“Mississippi” – (Unreleased version #3, Time Out Of Mind)
“Most Of The Time” – (Alternate version #2, Oh Mercy)
“Ring Them Bells” – (Alternate version, Oh Mercy)
“Things Have Changed” – (Live, Portland, Oregon, 2000)
“Red River Shore” – (Unreleased version #2, Time Out Of Mind)
“Born In Time” – (Unreleased version #2, Oh Mercy)
“Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” – (Live, London, England, 2000)
“Marchin’ To The City” – (Unreleased version #2, Time Out Of Mind)
“Can’t Wait” – (Alternate version #2, Time Out Of Mind)
“Mary And The Soldier” – (Unreleased, World Gone Wrong)


Pete Seeger keeps on singing

I’ve written about my encounters with Pete Seeger. Here’s some good news: The 89-year-old icon is putting out at album — titled, appropriately, “At 89.”

Here’s an article from Billboard magazine:

Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger

Folk legend Pete Seeger will release his first new album of studio recordings in five years this fall. The 32-track “At 89,” a nod to Seeger’s age, is due Sept. 30 via Appleseed Recordings.

According to a spokesperson, the material ranges from new takes on old favorites, vintage songs that have never appeared on an album and short banjo, guitar and recorder pieces.

Seeger will play a handful of shows through the end of the year, including his annual Seeger and Guthrie Thanksgiving concert on Nov. 29 at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Asked earlier this year by Billboard what his legacy will be, Seeger replied, “My family will remember me, and a few others. I’m one of a lot of songwriters. There’ll be more important things to think about. Mostly I’d urge people, don’t make heroes out of anybody. I’ve made a huge number of mistakes with my family, in singing and in politics, all sorts. So don’t copy what I’ve done. Please, make your own mistakes. Don’t make my mistakes over again.”

The death of Emmett Till

Friend and fellow writer Chuck Pizar offers this comment on “A look of agony,” the latest essay in my series titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death.”

“Maybe we need to look death straight in the eye.” That is exactly what Emmett Till’s mother thought. More precisely, she wanted the country to look hate-fueled murder in the eye when she had her teenage son’s body tour the country in the state his murderers left it in.

Who was Emmett Till? What is Chuck referring to when he talks about how Emmett’s mother’s decision to let the world see what had been done to his son?

Here’s a photo of Emmett Till when he was 14 years old:

Here’s a photo of 14-year-old Emmett Till in his casket after he was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955:

The murder of Emmett Till and his mother’s decision to let the world see what hateful bigots had done to her son galvanized the civil-rights movement.

Here’s a link to Bob Dylan singing his early protest song “The Ballad of Emmett Till”


And here’s a good synopsis of Emmett Till’s story (a summary of the “American Experience” documentary about the pivotal episode in the civil rights movement):

In August of 1955, one year and three months after Brown v. Board of Education, a fourteen-year-old black boy unschooled in the racial customs of the South traveled to Mississippi to visit relatives. With adolescent bravado, he whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. This inadvertent violation of a sacred code of the South cost him his life. Two white men dragged Till from his bed in the dead of night, beat him, and shot him through the head. Three days later his mangled body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. It was Emmett Till’s first visit to the South. Eight days after arriving in Money, Mississippi, where the town line was marked with a sign reading, “Money — a good place to raise a boy,” Emmett Till was dead.If not for one extraordinary decision of Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, the story may have ended there. At the urging of civil rights leaders, Mamie Till decided to leave the casket open at her son’s funeral. She told the mortician not to “fix” her son’s face. The world would see what had been done to him. Tens of thousands of people viewed Emmett Till’s body, which was on display in a Chicago church for four long days. Gruesome photos of his maimed and distorted face flooded the national and international press. America was shocked out of comfortable complacency, and the Till case became international news.

Two days after Till’s death, Carolyn Bryant’s husband and another white man were arrested and charged with his murder. During the trial the following month, the courthouse became a microcosm of race relations: black observers packed into the segregated balcony seats as the defendants’ families joked openly with prosecutors and jurors on the floor below. The courtroom took on a carnival atmosphere as snacks and soft drinks were distributed to white observers. Outside, the international press jockeyed for photographs and interviews that captured the ways of the American South.

Till’s uncle identified the assailants in court — the first time a black person had testified against a white in Mississippi, and perhaps in the South. He was forced to leave town. After a five-day trial that made an open mockery of the possibility of justice, the defendants were acquitted. The Bryants celebrated, on camera, with a smile and an embrace.

The federal government’s failure to intercede in the Till case led blacks and whites to realize that if change were to come, they would have to do it themselves. The murder of Emmett Till was a watershed in the development of the nascent movement for civil rights. Some historians describe it as the real spark that ignited broad-based support for the movement.

Three months and three days after Emmett Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began.

A look of agony

This is the latest in a series of essays titled “Man has premonition of own death”

I’ve yet to see a dead person as nature intended, pre-embalming, before the sewn lips and eyelids, before the makeup, before the pink powder and blush, before the hairdye to touch up the hair, before the mortician entwines the fingers and rests the deceased’s hands properly and prissily open their chest.

I really don’t mind the thought of embalming and making the dead as pretty as possible before they embark on their final voyage. I avoid wakes whenever possible anyway, but if I have to go, I’d rather go to a wake where the body is not yet smelling and decomposing and gruesome.

I’ve seen autopsy photos. I know people often die with their eyes open and their eyes stay open until someone gently shuts them. I don’t know the science of this, but I gather that the eyelids of the dead tend to pop back open after you close them, hence the old practice of placing heavy coins upon the eyes. Nowadays, I gather, the eyes are sewn or glued. And so the dead look like they’re sleeping, although if you look closely you soon realize that it’s a weird, disconcerting sleep, the deepest sleep, the sleep from which we do not stir, the sleep in which the eyes never move and twitch, in which there is no dreaming soul behind the eyes.

Emily Dickinson writes:

I like a look of Agony, Because I know it’s true — Men do not sham Convulsion, Nor simulate, a Throe — The Eyes glaze once — and that is Death — Impossible to feign The Beads upon the Forehead By homely Anguish strung

Dylan sings: “Everybody’s wearing a disguise/To hide what they got left behind their eyes.” Maybe the morticians in our midst should consider this: Maybe you should not staple or sew or glue shot the eyes of the deceased. Warn us beforehand, if you like, so the more timid among us will not faint upon the sight, but leave the eyelids open. Let us see the blank expression, that infinite emptiness, that obvious lack of life, that look that looks to be very much like fright.

Maybe we need to look death straight in the eye. Maybe it would be good for us. Or maybe what gets us through life is managing to look the other way when Mister Death beckons with his bony finger.


Bringing it all back home

The editors of the quarterly magazine published by the Yonkers Historical Society asked if they could reprint my essay “City of Gracious Living” in an upcoming issue of their quarterly journal! It will probably appear in the winter issue. If you’re interested in reading more about my old hometown, here’s a link to the Yonkers Historical Society’s Web site: http://www.yonkershistory.org/

Like father, like daughter

Well, sort of. Emily DiGiovanni’s a writer and a reader, just like her father. But the scope of her talents far exceeds mine, which probably has something to do with genetics and evolution (with a sprinkle of creationism and a pinch of chaos theory!). Emily’s a writer, just like her father (although her father writes prose and she writes poetry). But she’s also an excellent photographer, artist  and film maker. Her radar and sonar are tuned to detect even the faintest signals of beauty, which she decodes into remarkable images and sounds.

This link to identity theory, the excellent online literary magazine, will take you to a profile of Emily DiGiovanni, with her own thoughts on her poetry as well as samples of her work: www.identitytheory.com/featauth/emily_digiovanni.php

Finally, a visual treat. Here are three of her photos. In order: The Eclipse, The Pearl and Interplay.

The Eclipse
The Eclipse


The Pearl
The Pearl

The new Elvis

Thank God he didn’t become that, hanging out at his Jersey Shore mansion eating banana-with-peanut butter sandwiches and shooting out his television sets and making bad beach movies. But when I was 17 years old and saw unknown Bruce Springsteen in Niagara Falls playing on his first-ever tour of college campuses with his E Street Band, it rang true when his performance reached a fever pitch — I think maybe they were playing “Rosalita” — and this skinny, scraggly bearded, Jersey Shore hipster named Bruce ripped off his shirt to reveal a T-shirt with glittery script that read ELVIS.

Rising star Bruce Springsteen
Rising star Bruce Springsteen

The great Bruce Springsteen performed last night at Giants Stadium. Click on this link: http://mycentraljersey.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage

Then click on SPRINGSTEEN. You’ll find an article about the concert and three video clips from last night’s show, with Bruce and the Band performing “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” “Lonesome Day” and “Radio Nowhere.”