The Critical Mass

If nothing else, Barack Obama has elevated the presidential iPod. Bob Dylan and a handful of decades-encrusted troubadours, including the Blind Boys of Alabama, John Mellencamp and Smokey Robinson, as well as youngsters such as John Legend and Jennifer Hudson, have been invited to be a part of In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement. The 8 p.m. Feb. 11 event will be aired on your public television station.

Who let Dylan inside the White House, rather than confining him to where his words have been all of these years, shouted on the street, at the iron gates that have separated so many White House residents from the real world? I remember being among a crowd of 100,000 anti-war protesters, maybe more, marching past the White House in 2004. These were George W. Bush’s people trying to speak to him. Bush wasn’t listening. Guards armed with machine guns were strolling around on the White House roof. Mysterious helicopters watched from overhead. It looked very Third World Banana Republic.

Dylan in the White House? Makes me wonder if a literate fellow such as Obama draws inspiration from the greatest poet in the history of popular music. I’d like to think so. Politicians enjoy putting on regular-guy airs, like clearing Texas brush when they should be reading and reacting to Presidential Daily Briefings with titles like “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” Surely Obama knows a little Dylan; that would make him one of us. I feel like making a list. My Top 11 Dylan lines of all time:

11,“The sun’s not yellow it’s chicken,” from “Tombstone Blues.”

10, “She inherited a million bucks, and when she died it came to me.
I can’t help it if I’m lucky,” from “Idiot Wind.”

9, “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours,” from “Talkin’ World War III Blues.”

8, “You need something to open your eyes, you need something to make it known, that it’s you and no one else that owns, that spot that yer standing, that space that you’re sitting,” from “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.”

7, “And I’ll stand o’er your grave’ til I’m sure that you’re dead,” from “Masters of War.”

6, “And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street, and now you find out you’re gonna have to get used to it,” from “Like a Rolling Stone.”

5, “They asked me for some collateral, and I pulled down my pants,” from “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.”

4, “And don’t criticize what you can’t understand, your sons and your daughters, are beyond your command,” from “The Times They Are A-Changing.”

3, “I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,” from “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

2, “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke,” from “All Along the Watchtower.”

1,“The ghost of ‘lectricity howls in the bones of her face,” from “Visions of Johanna.”

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