Thursday, November 09, 2017
It is now fashionable to demonize Russia, but most Americans have forgotten key aspects of 20th-century history, including the Russians’ fight to stop the march of Nazi Germany.
By Victor Davis Hanson — November 9, 2017
A Russian soldier waves a flag while standing on a balcony overlooking a square, where military trucks gather, during the Battle of Stalingrad, World War Two, Stalingrad (now Volgograd), USSR (now Russia). The soldier has a rifle strapped to his back.
Seventy-five years ago this month, the Soviet Red Army surrounded — and would soon destroy — a huge invading German army at Stalingrad on the Volga River. Nearly 300,000 of Germany’s best soldiers would never return home. The epic 1942–43 battle for the city saw the complete annihilation of the attacking German 6th Army. It marked the turning point of World War II.
Before Stalingrad, Adolf Hitler regularly boasted on German radio as his victorious forces pressed their offensives worldwide. After Stalingrad, Hitler went quiet, brooding in his various bunkers for the rest of the war.
During the horrific Battle of Stalingrad, which lasted more than five months, Russian, American, and British forces also went on the offensive against the Axis powers in the Caucasus, in Morocco and Algeria, and on the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific.
Yet just weeks before the Battle of Stalingrad began, the Allies had been near defeat. They had lost most of European Russia. Much of Western Europe was under Nazi control. Axis armies occupied large swaths of North Africa. The Japanese controlled most of the Pacific and Asia, from Manchuria to Wake Island.
Stalingrad was part of a renewed German effort in 1942 to drive southward toward the Caucasus Mountains, to capture the huge Soviet oil fields. The Germans might have pulled it off had Hitler not divided his forces and sent his best army northward to Stalingrad to cut the Volga River traffic and take Stalin’s eponymous frontier city.
By the time two Red Army pincers trapped the Germans at Stalingrad in November, Russia had already suffered some 6 million combat casualties during the first 16 months of Germany’s invasion. By German calculations, Russia should have already submitted, just like all of the Third Reich’s prior European enemies except Britain.
Instead, the Red Army drew the Germans deeper into the traditional quagmire of Russia until the 6th Army was low on supplies, freezing in the winter cold, and trapped more than 1,500 miles from Berlin. How did the Red Army not only survive but go on the offensive against the deadly invaders?
In part, it had no choice. Germany was intent on not just absorbing Russia, but wiping it out or enslaving millions of its citizens. In part, Britain and the United States under the Lend-Lease policy began sending huge amounts of material aid, providing everything from boots to locomotives. In part, Red Army soldiers were terrified of their own communist strongman, Josef Stalin.
Prior to the German invasion, Stalin was responsible for some 20 million Russian deaths through forced farm collectivization, planned famine, show trials and purges, and the murders of his own Red Army troops. More than 10,000 soldiers were likely executed at Stalingrad by their own officers.
But most important, no European invader — neither Sweden under Charles XII in the early 1700s nor France under Napoleon in the early 1800s — had ever successfully invaded and defeated Russia.
The country was too large, both geographically and demographically. Good weather was too brief between the spring floods and the bitter Russian winter. And Russians always fought heroically as defenders of their own soil, even if this wasn’t always the case when they were fighting abroad as invaders.
Despite the horrors of Soviet Communism, the Allied winners of World War II owed a great deal to the Russian people. Russia’s male and female soldiers were most responsible for destroying Hitler’s vast ground forces, having killed more than two-thirds of the German soldiers lost in the war.
The Soviet Union lost about 27 million soldiers and civilians — about 60 times more than America lost in the war.
Due to memories of the Soviet Union’s Cold War ruthlessness, and because of Vladimir Putin’s autocratic government, it is now fashionable to demonize Russia. Moscow sent troops into eastern Ukraine, absorbed Crimea, and has sought to tamper with a U.S. presidential election.
But most Americans have forgotten key aspects of Russia’s 20th-century history, a tragedy of unspeakable human losses. Outside Kiev in late summer of 1941, more than 700,000 Russian soldiers were killed or captured by Germans in a single battle.
In one of the costliest sieges in history, at Sevastopol in July 1942, 100,000 Russians were killed or captured in a failed effort to save the port on the Black Sea.
We rightly see Putin as an aggressive autocrat. But millions of Russians view Ukraine and the Crimea as sacred, blood-soaked Russian ground.
After the collapse of the nightmarish Soviet Union, Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd “city on the Volga.” Today, few in the West know exactly what happened there 75 years ago this month.
This Veterans Day, we should also remember those heroic Russian soldiers. In bitter cold, and after losing hundreds of thousands of lives, they finally did the unbelievable: They halted the march of Nazi Germany.
One Hundred Years of Hell
The Enduring Allure of the Russian Revolution
Reckoning with Communism
One Hundred Years of Hell
The Enduring Allure of the Russian Revolution
Reckoning with Communism
– Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.” You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2017 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Wednesday, November 08, 2017
By Howard Fishman
November 3, 2017
When I was seventeen, I became a Bob Dylan zealot. This was 1988. I’d gotten hooked by “Blood on the Tracks,” one of the twelve CDs that I’d received for a penny from Columbia House. (Did we really send in the penny with the coupon? I think maybe we did.) After wearing that album out, I undertook a meticulous survey of Dylan’s discography.
Eager to share my passion, and frustrated by attempts to interest my peers (many of whom were busy worshipping the Grateful Dead and who considered Dylan a has-been), I turned to the one person whom I could rely upon to take me seriously: my brother Adam. Three years my junior, Adam had long since become accustomed to having an obsessive for a sibling. When we were a bit younger, I had forced him and his friends to enroll in what I called the West Hartford School of Comic Books, administering written quizzes and tests that covered such vital topics as who inked Jack Kirby’s pencils on early issues of “The Fantastic Four” (Joe Sinnott), or what color was the original Hulk (gray). I had since moved on from comic books, to “m*a*s*h” reruns, to Cat Stevens. It was now time to indoctrinate Adam in the world of Bob Dylan.
I turned on my stereo. “Listen to this,” I told my brother, and put on “Maggie’s Farm” from “Bringing It All Back Home.” A “greatest hit,” the song is not really that great—not by Dylan standards, anyhow. Over a fairly pedestrian backbeat, a series of verses catalogues the various people, and their eccentricities, on a farm where the narrator has been employed. He announces that he won’t work for Maggie’s mother any longer, nor her father, nor her brother. The reason, we ultimately learn, is that he’s bored. (Maggie herself appears only briefly, forcing him to scrub the floor; this, he judges, is “a shame.”)
My brother seemed receptive, if not overly impressed; Dylan’s music sounded pretty good. He didn’t know that he was being set up for a series of punchlines. I then put on the version of “Maggie’s Farm” from 1978’s “At Budokan” album. Built around a nasty electric-guitar riff, the glammy arrangement has a big, theatrical sound. Where the original had projected an attitude of hip, wry nonchalance, this version felt frenetic, frenzied, even nightmarish. Strings, horns, and full-throated backup singers were all featured, as was a repeated key modulation that kept tilting the song on its ear. Halfway through the track, my brother looked at me quizzically. “Wait a minute,” he said, “is this the same song? Is this Bob Dylan?” Sagely, I nodded.
“Maggie’s Farm” from Dylan’s tight, tough 1974 tour with the Band*, was next, the singer’s vocals here a holler, all machismo and swagger. Allowing the music to speak for itself, without introduction, I then cued up the coup de grâce: the first track of “Hard Rain,” from 1976, a proto-punk version of “Maggie’s Farm” that can only be called perverse. If Dylan and the Band, buoyed by Levon Helm’s strutting, deep-in-the-pocket Southern groove, had sounded like American comfort food, a triumphant homecoming football team on a crisp Thanksgiving afternoon, the singer and his band on “Hard Rain” sound like a surly crew of mercenaries adrift at sea; exhausted, strung out, and hungry, they are so bored out of their wits that they’ve taken to drinking the ship’s supply of whale oil and throwing one another overboard for fun. (The entire album has this feeling; it may be one of the greatest and least appreciated live rock albums of all time.)
Now my brother was sold. “Everyone will tell you that Dylan is nothing more than a great lyricist,” I told him, but Dylan the performer, the constantly changing interpreter of his own work, was the thing no one seemed to pay attention to, worthy of study and exploration. I’d read that Dylan was about to embark on a new tour that summer, with a new, unknown band, and I told Adam that my plan was to borrow the family station wagon and follow the tour. My brother looked at me with a mixture of admiration and solemnity; he knew this wouldn’t be easy, and he also knew I would find a way to make it happen.
Somehow, I did. My parents granted me the use of the car for two weeks. I laid down the backseat, threw a sleeping bag in there, packed a bag and my guitar, and away I went to follow Bob Dylan. It was impossible to know then that I was about to witness the rollout of what has since come to be known as Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour,” a run of shows that has now included close to three thousand concerts over five continents, and is about to celebrate its third consecutive decade.
My high-school peers weren’t alone in their hatred of Dylan. It may be fair to say that, in 1988, Bob Dylan had reached the nadir of his commercial and artistic relevance. His religious conversion (now exhaustively documented in “Trouble No More: 1979-1981,” released today); a series of overproduced, stale-sounding albums; his disastrous set at the finale of “Live Aid;” and bloated stadium tours with big rock acts that seemed to find Dylan struggling to connect with audiences and with himself, all contributed to the sense that he was simply washed up—that he might not have anything left. That wasn’t what I saw in the summer of 1988. When I caught up with the Never Ending Tour on its first Northeast dates that July, at small outdoor stages, at state fairs, and amusement parks from Virginia to Maine, I saw a man go out every night who seemed to be fighting for his life. He was barking out lyrics with startling, almost volatile conviction, and revisiting and reworking material from across the entirety of his already mammoth back catalogue. I saw urgency, I saw humor, I saw risk and passion; I saw beauty achieved in a way that was ugly, alternative, outside. I saw a hero.
There was nothing polished about these shows. Most were general admission, in open fields, which meant that I could get there early to insure a spot right up against the stage (I was often the first, and sometimes only, person in line when the gates opened). Through the course of each show (which changed radically from night to night), I was privy to the interplay between Dylan and his trio of sidemen. It often veered into high drama, as Dylan confounded his band with spontaneous new arrangements and musical flights of fancy. Any song might begin with lurching imbalance, like a plane taking off in high wind. Turbulence was common; Dylan would strike a guitar chord that had no place in the song being performed. I would see terror flash in the band’s eyes, their mouths slightly agape as they tried to guess where the music was headed next. Often, it seemed as though Dylan himself didn’t know, and he seemed to draw energy from this. He was playing without a net, and they were expected to follow. Changes in tempo might occur mid-song, complete stylistic shifts were de rigueur. If Dylan wasn’t satisfied with how things were going, he might end a song abruptly, driving it straight into the ground.
There were moments of great beauty, usually during the short set of acoustic duets that served as the centerpiece of each concert. Dylan had left his trademark harmonica behind for this tour, and had seemingly found new, boundless inspiration in the two-guitar format. It allowed him to explore long, instrumental interludes between verses, building and weaving ecstatic washes of sound on his big Gibson. By abandoning the chord progression of any given song, he could open it up to a kind of free-form exploration of inversions and reharmonizations of the melody. In addition to his own songs, these acoustic sets often included one-offs of traditional songs—ancient folk ballads that Dylan appeared to be teaching his guitarist on the spot: “Barbara Allen,” “The Waggoner’s Lad,” “When First Unto This Country,” always invested with a surfeit of emotion.
All of this was thrilling. Dylan’s commitment to spontaneity, his courting of musical danger, was authentic and audacious. It didn’t seem to bother him a bit that the stage could sometimes be plummeted into total darkness in the middle of a song, the lighting technicians not knowing when it was starting or ending. Each night, I watched as Dylan fell on his sword. It was a nightly lesson in bravery, in risk, in what it meant to be a performing artist. It wasn’t really from show to show that the quality of the music varied but tune to tune. Dylan was gloriously untethered to anything but the imperative to find something true in the moment of each song. And if he didn’t succeed, he would destroy it before our very eyes.
An early highlight of the new eight-disk set, “Trouble No More: 1979-1981,” is the January 6, 1980, live version of “Man Gave Names to All the Animals.” Those with only a passing familiarity with Dylan as a live artist might ask incredulously, as my brother did thirty years ago, “Is this Bob Dylan?” The track sounds like an invitation to a private ritual in some hidden, dark wood. Under a midnight sky with no moon or stars, a group circles a visionary prophet—maybe he is Asa Hawks, from Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood.” They dance by candlelight, whispering a strangely childish ditty, telling secrets to one another. It’s like the soundtrack to a horror movie, tension grinding toward some twisted denouement.
Also included on “Trouble No More” are two starkly different versions of “Caribbean Wind,” the lyrics like some lost Spalding Gray monologue, all mania and neurosis, the narrator searching for his Perfect Moment. On the rehearsal version, from September 23, 1980, backed (and countrified) by Ben Keith’s pedal-steel guitar, Dylan is the anonymous singer at a bamboo rum shack on a sultry, tropical night; he’s there with his band to play for the margarita-and-daiquiri crowd. You’re not really paying any attention until you realize that you are, that there’s something peculiar going on with this guy, something significant—something that could have a profound impact on your life. Or it could just be the booze. You come back the next night, hoping to hear him again, only to be told by the manager that he’d only been passing through, a last-minute fill-in for their Jimmy Buffett tribute band. No one there can even remember the guy’s name.
I’ve seen Dylan at least once a year since 1988. I’m forty-seven now, the same age he was when he began this tour. He seemed old to me then; it’s astonishing to see him now, still at it, his star long since risen again. The tour itself has undergone stylistic changes and shifts in personnel. It’s a quintet these days, not a trio, accompanying him, and Dylan hasn’t played much guitar in years—he either stands at a microphone, downstage center, or else sits at a baby-grand piano, pounding out crazy rhythms and melodic motifs. His Never Ending Tour will end, eventually (unless the world ends first, another matter), but there are no outward signs that this will happen anytime soon. He’s currently on a twenty-eight-date swing across the country that will culminate right here, in New York City, with five nights at the Beacon Theatre.
Imagine Ernest Hemingway giving a reading of “A Farewell to Arms” in a thick Cajun accent, or in the manner of a speed-talking auctioneer. What if Eugene O’Neill had gone on tour performing a one-man version of his five-hour opus, “Strange Interlude”? (The actor David Greenspan is actually doing this right now in New York; I haven’t seen it yet.) Think of attending an Alice Munro reading, and having her devote half the program to her renderings of the stories of Shirley Jackson. Watching Dylan perform is a weird experience. It’s just weird. No other performer does or has done what Dylan continues to do night after night. There is no context to put him in. He is his own category.
Dylan’s is the art of possibility. The scope of his imagination and his brazen willingness to experiment is as enthralling as any results he achieves. Over the course of more than a half century, and over thirty years (and counting) of constant touring, he has exercised his right to publicly tweak, improve, develop, deconstruct, and—when deemed necessary—utterly raze his own creations. He brandishes this license with complete authority. Dylan can do anything he wants with his songs, and he knows it. They belong to him, they are his to do with what he will. He’s always been outside of our comfort zone, and he shows no signs of changing.
I last saw Dylan in concert in June. My brother was with me. Having read that Dylan had recently been devoting half his show to covering standards from the American Songbook (as featured on his most recent studio album, “Triplicate”), we brought, for the first time, our mom, who never could quite figure out why I felt it was necessary to see him in concert more than two dozen times during the first eighteen months of the Never Ending Tour. As the lights dimmed, I wondered, as I always do, who will he be this time? And then, as he ambled onstage in the shadows, there came the requisite shock of recognition—that wild visage coming into view, feral, unwilling (or unable) to be tamed—and along with it, the only possible answer to my question: that’s Bob Dylan.
Tuesday, November 07, 2017
November 1, 2017
Bob Dylan, Warfield Theater, San Francisco, November 1979
On one hand, it’s no great mystery that when Bob Dylan seemed to find new faith around 1979, a lot of fans and Dylanologists lost theirs — in him.
On the other, Dylan’s track record for musical revelation was so firmly established by that time that he could have put out an album of songs about his stamp collection and they would have been worthy at least of honest consideration.
But Dylan’s apparent conversion to what sounded a lot like fundamentalist Christianity struck many as a stark turnaround from tenets we had come to expect from him, and from rock music itself — first and foremost being a healthy skepticism toward institutional conventions of any kind.
Dylan, after all, was the man who (contrary to his own wishes) was widely considered “the spokesman of a generation,” the musician who made it a virtual prerequisite of young adulthood to challenge authority and dogma.
So what were audiences to think when, with the release of 1979’s “Slow Train Coming” album, he sang that he was “Gonna change my way of thinking / Make myself a different set of rules” and preached that “there’s only one authority / And that’s the authority on high”?
All this figures into the latest edition of his record company’s ongoing series of archival releases, “Bob Dylan — Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13/ 1979-1981.” This one spans the so-called “Christian period” of his trio of albums: “Slow Train Coming,” “Saved” (from 1980) and “Shot of Love” (1981).
The deluxe set from Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings encompasses eight CDs and one DVD with director Jennifer Lebeau’s new documentary, “Trouble No More: A Musical Film.” An abridged two-CD set and a four-LP vinyl version are also available.
The deluxe set comprises 100 tracks: alternate studio versions, rehearsal takes and live performances. Only one has been previously released: “Ye Shall Be Changed,” which appeared on the first installment from 1991, “The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3.”
Until now, this has been a relatively under-investigated and certainly misunderstood chapter in the long history of Dylan’s music, one in which many accused him of abandoning his artistry in favor of demagoguery. In fact, he was challenging listeners’ preconceived notions as he often had.
Surveying the set brings up a realization that hadn’t crystallized back when I first heard the studio albums: Then, or today, I never doubted Dylan’s sincerity in the expressions of faith he wrote at that time.
Now, however, it seems clearer that another major impetus for him in heading down the path of spirituality had to be the opportunity to tap into the higher power of a great rock-gospel band.
The talent he assembled, both for the studio sessions and the concert tours were respected then, revered now: guitarists including Mark Knopfler, Steve Soles and Fred Tackett; keyboardists such as veteran Muscle Shoals session player Spooner Oldham, Benmont Tench from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and Dylan’s old Chicago-blues circuit pal, Al Kooper; bassists Tim Drummond and Jerry Scheff; drummers Jim Keltner and Ian Wallace and drenched-in-the-spirit singers Clydie King, Regina McCrary, Carolyn Dennis and Regina Peebles among others.
Roots music aficionado that he’s always been, Dylan has long understood the power gospel music has to move and inspire listeners.
In turn, Dylan served up some of his most impassioned, electrifying performances with these gospel-steeped songs.
The first two discs of the “Trouble No More” set are drawn from various tour stops from 1979-81, while discs 3 and 4 collect rare versions of songs from the studio albums along with several that didn’t wind up on any of those releases.
The fifth and sixth discs contain his full show from April 18, 1980 in Toronto, while CDs 7 and 8 offer up another full concert from June 27, 1981 at Earl’s Court in London. (For Dylan completists, the singer-songwriter’s website is offering two additional discs with yet another complete performance, this one from his Nov. 28, 1979 tour stop in San Diego.)
Discs 1 through 4 are framed smartly, each of the four opening with markedly different renditions of the same song: “Slow Train Coming,” displaying how Dylan’s restless artistry was always in search of the right feel, tempo and attitude for a given song.
An alternate studio take of one of the “Slow Train Coming” album’s higher profile songs, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” features a livelier bounce in the rhythm section of Drummond and drummer Pick Withers, while keyboardist Barry Beckett pushes the song forward with beat-anticipating piano interlaced with funky clavinet parts. The backing gospel singers on the released version are absent.
The fidelity of the live versions varies noticeably in places, which makes for some compromises. The performance of “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” on the first disc, recorded in 1980 in Portland, Ore., benefits from a more fluid reggae-ized lilt by the band, and is buoyed further by a break where the gospel singers are featured.
But Dylan’s vocal is low in the mix, rendering certain lines difficult to discern, especially to anyone not already intimately familiar with his clever roster of creation stories he cooked up for so many critters.
With the distance of nearly four decades, it’s possible now to look back at this period and recognize that yet again, the Bard from Hibbing, Minn., was doing what he’s done so consistently through all phases of his career: challenging orthodoxy.
What made this manifestation of the impulse to prod and provoke so intriguing is that it was an unexpected orthodoxy Dylan chose to put under his microscope: the orthodoxy of rock ’n’ roll.
So the next time you hear Allahu Akbar -- whether it’s in a media report, on an airplane, or in a shopping mall, remember that the phrase used by millions of Muslims and Christians daily to praise God regardless of their circumstances, can never be justified for use when harming His creation.This is deadly advice. If you hear "Allahu akbar" yelled on an airplane or in a shopping mall, you may well be in the midst of a jihad terror attack. If people on that airplane are now conditioned by Chaudry and the establishment media, they may not fight back. If people in that shopping mall listen to Chaudry, they won’t immediately run, because that would be “Islamophobic.”
[A] lone terrorist who shouts ‘Allahu Akbar’ while murdering innocent people in the streets of New York does not get to own that term.