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#BobDylan

  • Bobby Kennedy’s Impact: An Excerpt from The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn

    Bobby Kennedy’s Impact: An Excerpt from The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn     

         In March of 1968, Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency. His announcement sparked hope among many youths who faced the military draft, Vietnam War, campus protests, conflict with parents…and other societal issues that prompted raging tension that spread across generations, races, and politics.  Following is a scene from my novel, The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn, where three young people hint at the issues, conflicts, hopes, and fears of that era.

           I drove the Camaro back to Katie's house with Erica riding next to me. From the back seat, Katie ordered the radio turned up to nearly full blast. Janice Joplin was singing about Bobby McGee (“That’s my Family Song!” Katie shouted) and Erica surprised me with a hair-flying Joplin impersonation, changing the lyrics from “Bobby McGee” to “Katie McGee,” so I chimed in with my best Bob Dylan voice.

         "Holy shit! It’s Joplin and Dylan!” Katie said. "What an act you two could put together!"

         When I found myself quickly imagining what it would be like to be in a band and on the road with Erica, I knew my mind was hopelessly working overtime.

         "Do you do any other impressions?" Erica asked.

         "Let’s see… how about Bobby Kennedy?" I asked.

         "Oh, I just love him," Erica said. It was the same simple, sincere tone she had used in talking about the Beatles' song "In My Life."

         I jabbed my right forefinger in the air and said in my best nasal stammer, "I would just like to shay...uh...that if you feel...uh...that way about him, then it's...uh...worth it for me to…uh…try to impersonate him."

         "Not bad, not bad at all!" Katie said. “It’s like RFK is here in the car with us, isn’t it E?”

         Erica made a mock squeal and shouted, “Bobbyyyy!” Then she quickly turned serious and said, "I think Kennedy has character, something that makes you believe in him, and he seems so empathetic to people less fortunate than he is…which is practically everyone, of course.  But my parents sure don't think much of him."

         "Oh, my parents can't stand him either," Katie said. "Dad says, 'Bobby Kennedy's a shanty Irishman born under a shamrock.’ I try to stay out of it myself, but I like what Kennedy says about Vietnam. It's a shitty mess there, I don't know if anyone can really stop what's going on."

         "Or anyone could stop it," Erica said flatly.

         "Maybe, but not soon enough," Katie said. "Not before Brian gets there."

         They exchanged a few more thoughts about their fears and their anger, and I turned off the radio as they spoke so I could listen more closely. When they stopped talking, Katie hummed to herself, Erica looked out at the black New Jersey night, and I drove, thinking about the words of two high school girls—two girls I barely knew, but two girls who clearly had thought about the war, its impact, the politicians leading our country—speaking personally, passionately, and I found myself considering, probably for the first time ever, how anonymous soldiers are to the people who are not fighting, to the people safe and secure in college classrooms, eating at burger joints, driving around in Austin-Healeys, sitting on fire escapes, and how blank the faces are that cross the TV screen—until you see the face of someone you know and love preparing to leave his home and family to go into battle for them and for millions of people he will never know.

     

  • ENLIGHTENED...by "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT"

    ENLIGHTENED...by BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

    By

    Chuck Cascio

         My students were adamant: "You have to listen to this guy, Mr. C.! You love Dylan, so you have to hear this guy!" One young woman waved a cassette tape in my face.

         Me: "Whoever this guy is, he is not Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is a poet, the voice of the heart and of the conscience."

         Students: "But, Mr. C., you always tell us to try new things! You always say: 'Trying new things broadens your thinking and creativity.' So come on!”

         It was 1973 and I was a young English and Journalism teacher at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, VA. I loved my students' reactions when I had them analyze lyrics by Dylan and apply them to the socio-political climate of the time, or when I would play a Beach Boys song and ask them something seemingly bizarre like, “Equate their harmonies with the textured flow of a Dickinson poem.” At first, they would look at me confused, skeptical, but gradually they would dig in and they would come up with analogies I never dreamed of. Now, they were convinced, it was my turn to grow.

         So I relented: “Okay, so who is it that you want me to listen to? This ‘Dylan Equivalent?' "

         They did not waste a second. A cassette player appeared, the  tape was snapped in, and the entire class stood in a circle, smiling in anticipation as they awaited my reaction.

         The first sounds I heard from the recording were surprisingly appealing--a couple of engaging guitar riffs, a subtle drumbeat, another guitar floating through, hinting at something different. A few seconds passed and I was interested--not yet hooked, but interested. Then I heard the raspy, almost whispered words…

         "Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over little Eden tonight

         Forcin' a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this fourth of July..."

    …and just two lines in, I knew I had to hear the rest. I listened intently, while my students nudged one another and some softly sang along with Bruce Springsteen's "Fourth of July, Asbury Park."

         My students did what they knew they could do--they hooked me on Bruce, and over the years I have thought often about that classroom experience (and many others)—and about how much we all have to learn by listening, looking, sharing. 

         That day, and those feelings, rushed back recently when my wife and I went to see the movie Blinded By the Light, which is based on the true story of a young Pakistani man facing the racism of late 1980s England. A friend turns the young man on to Springsteen, and his life is changed by The Boss's lyrics and music. 

         In the movie, Springsteen’s songs contribute to the young man’s development of personal strength. He experiences new insights into society. His thinking is influenced by many of Springsteen's lyrics, including one that especially hits home with him…and me… from the song "The Price You Pay": 

              “Now they'd come so far and they'd waited so long

             Just to end up caught in a dream where everything goes wrong

             Where the dark of night holds back the light of the day

             And you've gotta stand and fight for the price you pay…”

         I won't go into what are, to me, the rather obvious applications those particular lines have to life today. But it makes me think back to the 1970s when the kids I taught were experiencing a continuing era of overt racism, conflict over segregation versus desegregation, worldwide economic turmoil, a foreign war that was not formally termed a “war” by politicians of the time, talks of impeaching the president and more...and I wonder:   

         Exactly how far have we come? 

         Those kids in my classroom found a reality in the songs of Springsteen, and they shared that reality with one another and, fortunately,  with me. But they also heard and shared an element of change and a sense that life is fleeting, that people must determine what is right and what they want to pursue, and that the opportunity for personal or social change always exists…though sometimes with a price.

         Sure, they might metaphorically catch their shirts, as “Fourth of July, Asbury Park” says, on that "tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag" that "kept me spinnin'/I didn't think I'd ever get off…" but there is also this bit of hope at the end of the song:

              “…the aurora is rising behind us

             This pier lights our carnival life forever

             Oh, love me tonight and I promise I'll love you forever…”

         None of this is to imply that Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan or some singer-songwriter today has all of the answers to the looming socio-political issues we face or to the vast personal questions today’s youths confront. But the movie Blinded By the Light  emphasizes the importance of capturing the elements of hope and change, grabbing onto them, and not being afraid to “stand and fight for the price you pay.”

         Our natural instinct is to hope that the price we pay is not too high and that what we pay for will have a lasting positive effect for us and for all. As Springsteen warns in his song "Better Days," we shouldn't be "just sittin' around waitin' for my life to begin/While it was all just slippin' away." 

         I don’t know what happened to most of those students I had all those years ago, the ones who felt comfortable enough to have me listen to Springsteen, knowing that I would be captivated by The Boss. I do hope that they are all and that they still enjoy his music, that they also see how his words apply to today’s world, and that they have lived with this simple lyric in mind from Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”:

              “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

         If you want to rekindle that fire, go see Blinded By the Light. It brings back memories, but more important, it serves as a reminder that art can spark meaningful thought, and that we are all responsible for starting our own fires.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.