Sunday, October 30, 2022

Book Review - The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan

 Book Review by Sam Schraeger


Before I get into this review, I have to confess something. Bob Dylan is now, and has always been, my favorite songwriter. The lyrics he put together are magical to me.

Desolation Row may be the best song ever written, followed by several other Dylan songs, like Highway 61 Revisited, Like a Rolling Stone, All Along the Watchtower and so many others.

But I digress.

In this book, Dylan takes a deep dive and looks at several songs in detail, 66 songs, in fact.

I must digress once more to add that Dylan did not choose to review one Jimi Hendrix song for some reason. I bring this up because it is pretty well-known that Dylan loved whenever Hendrix did his songs, most notably All Along the Watchtower and the live version of Like a Rolling Stone, performed at Monterey Pop in 1967. When I first saw what this book was about, I thought surely Hendrix would be included. Alas, no.

Dylan started working on this book in 2010, according to the “about the author” feature at the end of the book.

Mr. Dylan obviously had a lot of fun writing this book. He got to put words together as only he can about one of his favorite subjects, songs. And he got to say whatever he wanted to say, in his own inimitable style.

This is a wonderful tour through Dylan’s universe of his favorite songs. It is an amazing exploration as he explains why he thinks these songs have something powerful and amazing in them.

The songs themselves, considered modern by the title of this book, actually go back as far as to Stephen Foster in the 1800s. Well, that is fairly modern, I guess.

In describing Elvis Costello, he says, “Elvis is one of those guys whose fans fall somewhere between the two poles of passion and precision. There are people who check off the boxes of his life with the same obsession of someone completing a train schedule, while others don't know anything beyond the fact that he sings a song that accompanied a particularly devastating breakup.”

Here's another snippet: “There's a lot of people in Little Richard’s songs, all the stereotypes; Uncle John, Long Tall Sally, Mary and Jenny, Daisy, Sue and Melinda. They're all slipping by in the shady world of sex and dreams and giving you a run for your money.”

Also: “The only reason money is worth anything is because we agree it is.”

And: “A record is so much better when you can believe it.”

Additionally: “The thing about being on the road is you're not bogged down by anything, not even bad news. You give pleasure to other people and you keep your grief to yourself.”

One of the things that draws me into this book is that, while Dylan is analyzing each of the 66 songs, he is doing each one in a way there's personal, each analysis is a short story. He’ll say something like, “You come home, you're tired, she wants to fight, you just wanna sleep.”

The story he often tells is not how you originally thought of that song, but so often it makes so much sense. You see a whole new dimension you hadn't thought of before.

The man can express himself!

For example, “Desire fades but traffic goes on forever.”

And: “Being a writer is not something one chooses to do. It's something you just do and sometimes people stop and notice.”

Also: “Anyone who has hunted with a shotgun will tell you, you might enjoy the rabbit, but you're gonna spend a certain amount of time biting down on buckshot.”

In addition to the lessons Dylan gives us about the songs themselves, he often takes a detour to give us a history lesson, as he does when he reviews Black Magic Woman, which was done by Santana in 1970. We find out about the script writer Leigh Bracket in a two page aside before being brought skillfully back to the topic at hand, which Dylan does masterfully several times in this book.

Sometimes, he makes a short comment on a song, a few paragraphs that leave you wondering, and other times he goes on for several pages, giving his ideas of the origin of the song, the songwriter and the singers and he passes on some obscure facts that liven up the reviews.

And, of course, he makes several comments such as, “There is nothing scarier than someone earnest in a delusion.”

The book is also replete with many pictures, some photographs of the singers, others representations such as ads for shoes when he reviews Blue Suede Shoes. There are a good selection of these and they are a nice enhancement to Dylan's writing.

In this book, as in his songs, Bob Dylan takes us on a dizzying journey into his vision of the universe, this time as it relates to songs.

And, as usual, it is well worth the trip. Get your copy by clicking here.


The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan

Book Review by John Krieg:

In many ways this book reveals more about Bob Dylan by inference than anything ever directly written.  In short, this is rarified air from the mountain top.  Drink it in, hold it until your lungs are about to burst, and then revel in the high.  Drugs such as this don’t come around very often.

The predominately first-person narrative, aimed directly at you lets you know that Dylan is on to you.  That’s intuition on steroids, and he lays it on thick. Personally, I’m humbled and terrified that he seems to know me better that I know myself, or at least that part of myself that I’ll admit to.  Dylan draws back the curtain before we are ready to perform and the audience learns more at that moment than we could ever act out in front of them.

The selection of the 66 songs he profiles is staggering and surprising.  He skips around with the dates with a lot of time spent in the fifties when he was just beginning to evolve into his expansive world view.

Sifting through his snippets of admiration and tidbits of nuanced advice here are just a few of his illuminations on the art of song writing:

“Knowing a singer’s life story doesn’t particularly help your understanding of a song. Frank Sinatra’s feelings over Ava Gardner allegedly inform “I’m a Fool to Want You,” but that’s just trivia. It’s what a song makes you feel about your own life that’s important.”

“A serial killer would sing this song. The lyrics kind of point toward that. Serial killers have a strangely formal sense of language and might refer to sex as the art of making love.”

“Rock and roll went from being a brick through the window to the status quo —from actual leather-jacketed greaseballs making rockabilly records to Kiss belt buckles sold in mall stores, to Thug Life press-on tattoos. The music gets marginalized as the bean counters constantly recalibrate the risk-to-reward ratio of public taste.”

Dylan is most definitely having fun here: lock the editors out of the room, and let it rip like Kerouac did when he taped pages together so that they would flow like a torrent through his typewriter and not interrupt his unencumbered stream of consciousness. A perfect example of Dylan’s still freewheeling riffing would be his profiling of the song “Pancho and Lefty” as written by Towne’s Van Zandt and sung by Willie Nelson and Merl Haggard:

“…The worst thing about a song like “Pancho and Lefty” is that it put enough money in Towne’s pocket for him to poison himself.  He died on New Year’s Day.  Just like his idol Hank Williams had forty-four years earlier.”

“Willie Nelson could, as they say, sing the phone book and make you weep – he could also write the phone book …”

“The underclass (the Honest World), the downtrodden peasants, are scared shitless of the ruthless Pancho. He squeezes them for all they’re worth, and makes them suffer.  Lefty is some kind of backstabber.  Both these guys are nonconformist thieves.  The aristocratic establishment, the upper-class landowners, are too strong for them, and the lower classes have nothing much worth stealing, so they attack the middle class, taking advantage of and exploiting their false values, materialism, hypocrisy, and insecurities…”

“Pancho and Lefty.  Two reflections of each other.  Neither of these guys thought about how to make a successful exit.”

The Philosophy of Modern Song is an exhilarating and no-holds-barred romp into the world of the song writer, into the minds and craftsmanship of those who are in reality the true poets of these chaotic and tempestuous modern times. The songwriters, performers, and subjects are all tied up in a tidy little bow masterfully drawn tight by a man that is at least their equal and their sympathizer. This book grabs your attention quicker than nails on a chalkboard and hits harder than a cattle prod enema. Long live Bob Dylan, and God bless him.

Get your copy by clicking here. 

Other Books by Bob Dylan:

Click on book covers for more info. . .

Other Writings by Sam Schraeger:

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Two Book Reviews by Greg Gilbert

Two Books Reviewed by Greg Gilbert

Mike’s Magic Burgers by Rose Baldwin (2017, 196 pages) 

Mike’s Magic Burgers is a fiction that takes place in the 1990’s. Mike’s is a burger place that, as the title suggests, serves magic burgers. The menu offers burgers with themes: topical, oasis, decision, and so forth. The magic appears when customers take a bite and find themselves transported to a desert oasis or to whatever setting aligns with their personal needs. Burgers may help with stress, decision making, or offer a delightful escape. And, yes, there’s a vegan burger too.

While the setting is fanciful, the characters are authentic in their needs and backstories. Examples include Earl Witherspoon, an attorney in the grip of a midlife crisis; Destiny Robertson, a former basketball star who is uncertain about what’s next; and John, a young mechanic who loves his job while hating the accounting classes he’s taking to satisfy his girlfriend’s wishes. Other characters deal with their own issues as well, the central theme being a practical guide to finding and following one’s bliss. At the center of these lives is Mike, the founder and chef, the wizard, so to speak. He encourages, cautions, and guides as is necessary, and is supported by matrilinear wisdom.

The stories are episodic, the chapters short, the humor delightful, and the lessons profound as they deal with a range of ages and circumstances. This is a book that would do well as a television series (think Fantasy Island), a concept that offers a rich catalogue of possibilities. Personally, I enjoyed Rose Baldwin’s book and happily recommend it. It’s engaging and thought provoking.

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The Salvation of San Juan Cajon by Michael G. Vail (2018, Cholla Needles, 201 pages) 

Michael G. Vail's The Salvation of San Juan Cajon is a serious work of fiction. The lead character, Micah Wada, an educational facilities manager in California, is hired by the San Juan Cajon school district to find a suitable location for a new high school. The existing site is overcrowded and besieged by temporary classrooms, the result of a growing migrant population. Micah's recommendation to construct the school at a site adjacent to an upscale neighborhood sets the stage for a contemporary true-to-life story of competing interests. Without a hint of didacticism, the author wisely allows the forces of race, culture, money, politics, sex, family, and community to play their parts, as they do in reality.

Most notably for this reviewer (a college trustee and former school board member) is the author's understanding of school district politics at all levels and how the laws that govern public meetings operate. Verisimilitude lives or dies on such details. From the Governor's office to the statehouse to the local board and the households of the influential and those of the immigrants, Vail allows each story to be guided by its own interests and biases.

Where the reader will find moral grounding, or the absence thereof, is in the stories of the characters. The protagonist, Micah, is a widower whose purpose in life is to locate and develop school sites. As noble as that is, he is not a one-dimensional do-gooder. His singular fixation on his work, particularly during his wife's cancer and subsequent death, has cost him his son, now a runaway.  His son's story develops as a secondary theme, the irony being that while Micah serves multitudes of children, he fails to provide a nurturing love for his son, and seeks salvation of a more personal nature.

The book's narration is limited omniscient third-person , past tense. Thus, the reader comes to know the feelings of certain characters, particularly Micah, his son, and a woman whose story frames the novel. That said, it's Micah's story that propels the reader through a journey of loss, moral ambiguity, and discovery.

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Greg Gilbert is the author of Afflatus.

More info

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Book Release Party! October 23, 3-5 PM


Sunday, October 23, 3-5 PM. 

We are celebrating three fabulous poets with new books to share! Gabriel HartGreg Wyss & Takuboku Ishikawa will read from and sign copies of their new work at the Retreat Book Store, located at The Joshua Tree Retreat Center.

We are entering through the main gate and following the signs to the office (bookstore is near the office). Plenty of space to social distance, and plenty of parking. Feel free to bring a mask, a lawn chair, and a sun umbrella for your personal comfort. There is limited seating available on-site if you do not have a chair. There is a restroom available at the bookstore. 

Bring a friend and enjoy the party! If you have questions, message us, or send rich an email - Good times!!! 

New Book! Sit Down And Have A Beer Again by Greg Wyss


The poems and stories that make up Sit Down and Have A Beer, the first chapter here, were in a chapbook published in 1977 by Realities Library. The stories and poems had been published in small press magazines impacting a small cadre of creatives in the country in those days.

The Small Press world of those days was the precursor to the internet – insane editors and publishers who believed that the established publications had simply lost touch with the creative reality of our nation. And, just like the internet, the small presses were eventually bought out by the rich folks who figured out the best way to beat them was to buy them out.

The second chapter of the book contains the other poems that were published in these mags but never collected till now.

The third chapter represents a small sample from 
When Life Was Like A Cucumber, the great novel about the early 1970’s that tells the story of a young man’s journey of self-discovery and sexual awakening as he tries to find his place in post-Sixties America. 


Greg Wyss Bio
As part of a generation shaped by the Vietnam War, drug culture and sexual revolution, beloved author, poet and entrepreneur Greg Wyss was well known in the small press world of the 1970’s. His poems and stories appeared in dozens of literary publications. A collection of his classic work 
Sit Down And Have A Beer was published in 1977 by Realities Library in San Diego, California.
A graduate of Northeastern University, Greg retired in 2015 to resume his writing career after the wireless communications company he co-founded was purchased by a competitor. Greg and his wife Barbara live in Houston, Texas.
Greg’s first novel, 
When Life Was Like A Cucumber, was published in 2019.

New Book! Songs Without Words by Kurt Schauppner


They sing songs without words, tell stories without speaking. They are there and are not. They are our loss and our failure, our loss of faith and our failure to love. They are everything we hate about ourselves, which is why we pretend that they are not there at all.

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Kurt Schauppner has written the novels 
Shards of Broken Glass, The First Book of Exile, and Ghosts of Ide County and the plays April, Feral Dogs, Unbroken Chain, The Memory Jar, and Mary’s ConfessionHe is also writer/director of the independent motion picture, Once Upon A Dirt Road. In his spare time, he edits The Desert Trail, the weekly newspaper for Twenty-Nine Palms, California.

New Book! F & G by D. Marie Fitzgerald


This could be me someday.
I pray there will be someone

To wash my back
Pick out my clothes
Make me some nice food
And change my sheets.

Someone who has compassion.

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D. Marie Fitzgerald was born in 1951 and raised in Southern California. She received her BA in humanities at George Williams College. She enjoys writing poetry, memoir and short stories. She taught English and creative writing at the high school level and retired from teaching in 2010. Her previous books include I Have Pictured Myself For Years (2021), A Perfect World (2020), and Reruns (2015).

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New Issue! Cholla Needles Youth Issue #7


This is the seventh Young Writers and Authors issue published by Cholla Needles Arts and Literary Library in Joshua Tree, CA. This is is edited by Mary Cook-Rhyne. We thank the entire community for your support of over 80 local youth. We appreciate the tremendous help from the Mojave Desert Land Trust, our local educators, schools, and local home school groups! 

Saturday, October 1, 2022

New Issue Release! Cholla Needles 70!


The photo on the cover this month 
was taken by Kathy French at Barker Dam
in Joshua Tree National Park.

More wonderful photographs throughout by Kathy French,
along with  powerful writing from:

Juan Delgado
Bettina T. Barrett
Bray McDonald
Cati Porter
Fernando Fidanza
Kathy French
Michael H. Brownstein
Tobi Alfier
Mark T. Evans
Marlene M. Tartaglione
Roger G. Singer