Dylan’s Dozen: The Twelve Greatest Bob Dylan Songs

No matter what music I listen to, Bob Dylan always makes the playlist. My ex-wife, Cindy, and I were drawn together in the mid-80’s by a love of Bob, and it may even be that attraction that kept our marriage alive for a dozen years. I do know lists of favorite Dylan songs are a great way to start a heated conversation—almost never for what made the top dozen—always for what was left off.

“But you don’t have anything AT ALL from Blonde on Blonde, Bringing It All Back Home or Highway 61 Revisited!”

“No ‘Blowing in the Wind,’ ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ or ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’? UNACCEPTABLE.”

“’Idiot Wind’ or ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ or ‘All Along the Watchtower’ (or insert any of another half-dozen titles) is the best song ever written! How can it not be on your list?”

Knowing I’m going to anger three-quarters of the Dylan fans who read this, these songs make up the heart of the canon. They are the 12 Greatest Bob Dylan songs, properly sequenced for an album, a list for which I will brook no argument.

Bob’s Greatest Songs

Baby Let Me Follow You Down

Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight

Brownsville Girl

Going Going Gone

If You See Her, Say Hello

Caribbean Wind

Trouble in Mind

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

Sweetheart Like You

Baby Stop Crying

Most of the Time

Changing of the Guard

 

For extra credit, please begin arguing over which version of each song should represent it. To stir things up, I’ll say “Going Going Gone” was best played in Budokan.

 

And to calm things down, I’ll say I could easily choose a different dozen by Saturday, and feel just as strongly about them. Anything can be fired from a canon.

You Can’t Wring Your Hands with a Fist in the Air

My search for reasons to rejoice is usually satisfied by relatively small finds. I offer gratitude that I do have an extra bottle of car window washer in the back of the Jeep. I celebrate because the new Bose speaker I bought for the Tiny White Box really does sound significantly better than my old speaker. I delight that a friend I haven’t seen in months shows up at a meeting, still sober and happy and full of piss and vinegar. Set the bar low enough and the universe is filled with stuff to exult over.

Today, though,my joy is legitimate, justified and makes me almost giddy. No, I didn’t watch the NBA All-Star game. I ignored President Trump’s tweets that seemed to imply that the absence of proof is proof of absence regarding the indictment of 13 Russians last Friday with no mention of the Trump campaign. I didn’t even go for a long walk in the fresh snow—I was driving south yesterday to visit with a friend in crisis. Instead, I rejoice at an outbreak of youthful idealism and activism, even if I’m not sure it will ultimately accomplish all its aims. Let me explain.

Forty-five years ago, I believed grassroots political organizing and street protests could change the world. Although I was just a kid during Vietnam, I saw hundreds of thousands marching in the streets to call for an end to the war. Ultimately, like all wars the war ended (although our perpetual involvement in Afghanistan may put the lie to that), and I believed the marches accomplished that. In retrospect, I suspect I was naïve, but at the time I had faith in direct action as a way to confront evil. As a high school student, I took part in marches, canvassed door to door for progressive political candidates (hello, Fred Harris, wherever you are) and saw political theater as revolutionary (and a way to meet and impress college girls). Again, the word naïve applies, but that idealism still burns within me, although now for radically moderate positions.

Over the weekend, out of the emotional devastation of tragedy, naïve idealism reared its beautiful head. As most everyone knows, last Wednesday, a lunatic 19-year-old shot up Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, killing 17 students and staff. This was the tragedy, the kind of horror that usually leads to interviews with mothers and sisters of the victims, candlelit vigils and hand-wringing exclamations. Like a well-choreographed kabuki performance, the victims are remembered as saints, the families are cherished for the stiff upper lips and the incident slowly moves into the past like a sailboat disappearing into the fog.

Not this time.

While the victims were remembered in roll calls and the families made funeral arrangements, some of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School decided now is not the time for just tears, although I’m sure those are still being shed. Instead of dancing the dance we’ve always danced, these kids are calling for a different tune, a nationwide protest March 24 (https://www.marchforourlives.com/march) with a national focus in Washington, DC. What makes these protesters so exciting, though, is that so far they have not been co-opted by gun-control advocates or by Second Amendment absolutists. From the bits and pieces I’ve heard, their message to adults is, “Do something, Goddammit! If you see this a mental-health issue, then fight to fund mental health programs nationwide! If you see this as a law-enforcement issue, then fight to enable local and state police to be more proactive in stripping crazy folks of their weapons. If you see this as a gun-control issue, then fight for tighter background checks, a ban on bump stocks or tighter control of private sales.”

They are demanding the same thing Harry Truman called for: Try something, and if that doesn’t work then try something else. If lawmakers, and adults in general, don’t change anything, then nothing will change.

There is a time for mourning, but there’s also a time for organizing. There is a time for tears, but there’s also a time for protests. There is a time for vigils, but there’s also a time for marching. There is no time for muttered platitudes, because you can’t wring your hands with a fist in the air.

Too Smart and Charming for Our Own Good

I just got off the phone with a dear, dear friend. Larissa is in her late 30’s, holds a graduate degree and works as a teacher, where she is seen by her students and peers as insightful, creative and a dynamite professional. Her classroom is always abuzz with excitement, and her students routinely say she’s the best educator they’ve ever had. Larissa has been married for 15 years, has a couple of great kids, and does volunteer work in her community, focusing on the elderly. In that, she is also highly valued and seen as near-saintly. She is smart and charming and any number of other adjectives.

One word in the previous paragraph is wrong, though, and must be amended. “Works as a teacher” is actually “worked as a teacher.” Friday, Larissa was fired from her teaching job—despite all her gifts—because Larissa is also a drunk, an alcoholic. There had been warning signs and written warnings, hand-wringing and hand-holding, pie-crust promises to change and repeated breakage of those pie crusts. Larissa has been to rehab three or four times, during the summer and during the school year. She’s stopped drinking plenty of times, but hasn’t figured out a way to stay stopped. Yesterday, Larissa’s students smelled stale alcohol on her breath, reported it to her principal, and she was fired. As she should have been.

As was I. Fourteen years ago, I was allowed to resign from one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, running an alternative high school program in a dynamic community with engaged kids. I just couldn’t control my drinking, couldn’t stop drinking, and couldn’t stop lying about my drinking. I was where Larissa is today, and it took me another three years of sinking before I finally found myself homeless. Then, I found my solution.

Talking with Larissa was like listening to tapes of me all those years ago.

“I never drank at school.”

(Although I drank enough almost every night to still be legally drunk when I drove into work.)

“Some people just metabolize alcohol in a smellier way than most.”

(Of course, some people just don’t drink, or don’t drink on work nights, or don’t drink enough to worry about metabolizing times.)

“Who are they to judge what I do on my own time?”

(Even if their concern is the ways what I do on my own time affects students, parents and co-workers.)

“I’m going to see a lawyer, because alcoholism is a disease. They wouldn’t fire me for having diabetes.”

(Unless I continued to take too much insulin or refused to eat so I was passing out in the classroom, acting shaky or confused or falling asleep regularly.)

“If it weren’t for my husband/kids/neighbors/parents/ad nauseum, I wouldn’t need to drink.”

(Although I would, because I’m an alcoholic, gifted at finding targets to drink at.)

“They’re jealous of what a good job I do, and how much the kids like me.”

(That may be, but they’re also worried about my judgement and decision making, impaired as I am by booze.)

Larissa will find another job. She’s insightful and gifted and attractive, and that’s what her references will say. They won’t say she’s a drunk. They won’t want to damage her opportunities because “She’s so great when she’s not drinking. If it weren’t for that . . .” Unfortunately, those ellipses never end without change, and that change doesn’t seem to come without work on our part.

No one ever passed on that truth about me, either. After all I was creative and energetic, if not attractive. From that lost job of mine, I eventually got a teaching job at a residential school, until I got fired from there, if not for drinking then for behavior brought on by drinking. Then I got a job as a clerk/salesman. Then I got homeless.

Larissa is cursed by good luck and bad genes. She’s got everything she needs to be successful—except for the ability to stay away from that first drink.

Larissa and I are both smart and charming, too goddamned smart and charming for our own good when it comes to booze. There, all the gifts and talents in the world won’t keep us sober, although they can keep us from getting sober.

(I’ll try to keep you posted on Larissa—I’m driving to see her tomorrow—but if I forget, please drop me an email to remind me.)

A Pompous Clown Answers Your Questions

After the other night’s “Chronicle” episode, I was besieged with messages from old readers, new readers and, I suspect, non-readers of this column. “Besieged” is not too strong a word, since the web site got about a gaziooion hits more than average, with most of those coming from first-time visitors. Welcome!

I will respond personally to each message over the next couple days, but a lot of folks had similar questions. I’ll try to answer some of them here:

1. Music must be important in the Tiny White Box. What do you listen to when you’re writing?

Honestly, I don’t listen to music when I write. I’m more likely to put on a podcast or audiobook and use the sounds of human voices as background. Still, I do listen to a lot of music. As a random sample, the last dozen artists I’ve listened to are:

The Weakerthans Ani DiFranco Dar Williams Daniel Amos The Hold Steady Philip Glass Bob Dylan Django Reinhardt Linda Thompson The Call John Cale Tonio K.

If there’s a theme there, I don’t recognize it, I mean other than music I enjoy.

2. Would you like to get together for breakfast/lunch/dinner/coffee/a weekend away in the Bahamas?

Since I got sober, I’ve made it a rule to never turn down free food, so, yes, email me and we’ll set up a time. As for the Bahamas, they’ve never really appealed to me. On the other hand, I do have a whole bunch of places I’d love to visit. For instance:

Madagascar Mauritania Kenya Nigeria Liberia

And that’s just Africa. If you are a woman, please review the last Q and A before booking our flight.

3. Don’t you get lonely?

That’s one symptom I’ve never suffered. In fact, as someone wiser than I once remarked, I’m never less lonely than when I’m alone. Walking through a crowded mall feels much more isolating and alienating to me than walking alone in the country.

4. You seem so serious and calm. What makes you angry?

“Serious” isn’t a word people who know me well would ever use. I speak slowly, which may make me sound thoughtful in brief doses—over time it becomes apparent I’m a pompous clown. This misimpression comes from skillful editing by Paul, the Chronicle editor, who is responsible for putting together the pieces of video, sound and other scraps and turning them into a tasteful segment.

I see a through-line from Jesus to Robin Hood to Superman to Martin Luther King, Jr. Hence it makes me angry when I see the strong taking advantage of the weak. The poor in spirit (and in finances) deserve a preferential option—and we all deserve to be protected from Kryptonite. Seriously, and this has driven crazy everyone in my life, when I do get angry I become even calmer and quieter.

5. What are you looking for in a woman?

First, I’m not looking for anything in anyone. I trust the universe will present me with funny, challenging and interesting people to interact with. I think I’m funny, I’ve heard I’m challenging and I’m interested in me, so I suspect others will be as well. If I were looking for a woman partner, I’d want her to be smart, attractive, funny and between 55 and 65. Independent wealth is always nice, since it makes travel so much more pleasant.

Although it’s my goal to die at the age of 92, shot in the back by a jealous husband, I’m not interested in married women. Also, I shy away from facial tattoos, heavy drinking and and barn burning convictions.

I am a Field: What Flows through Me Enriches Me

As a jackass, I’ve no right to use Chinese ideograms. They should be reserved for Zen practitioners, restaurants serving fried rice and college students searching for just the right tattoo. Don’t worry. I’m not going to be deep here, although I do wish I had wisdom and depth as an option instead of a promise to avoid them. Sigh.

In recovery, I’ve learned I always get more out of working with others than they get out of me. Part of this, of course, is because of who I am. Although the Chinese Zodiac says I was born in a year of the dog, I believe my symbol should instead be the jackass, reproduced here for any readers needing a tattoo idea for that uninked place on the back of your left wrist. Despite my jackassery, though, when I spend time with newcomers, they seem to benefit and I know I do. One of the insights I’ve been given over the past 10 years is that what flows through me enriches me. When I channel gratitude, I experience gratitude. When I try to pass on what I’ve been given, I get more out of it than the recipient does. How unintuitive.

Tonight, though, I’m getting together with the group of men, all in recovery, who have helped me build and maintain a moral compass, my consiglieri, the small group of advisors who tell me when I’m full of crap (often) and when I’m steering my life in a positive direction. I’d like to say we’re convening to consider my next move in life ora challenge facing one of the other guys. We’re not. It’s my last night in Manchester, and we’re gathering at Gaucho’s, a Brazilian restaurant, to be carnivores, dining on unlimited servings of dead mammals. (Being only 51% male, though, my favorite is Gaucho’s salmon, with a great caper sauce.) By 8:30 or so, I will have ingested the equivalent of five footballs of flesh, laughed a lot and gotten the meat sweats. Just like a real man.

I apologize for such a short column, but I will try to make up for it in two ways. First, here’s a link to the “Chronicle” show from the other night. I haven’t confessed this before, but I didn’t watch the show when it was live, but I did view it this afternoon, when Sean McDonald sent it to me. Sean and Paul, his cameraman and editor, managed to wipe the weirdness off me and actually make me look fairly normal and sane. Excellent job, there, and something I didn’t think could be done.

Chronicle Link

http://www.wmur.com/article/tuesday-february-13th-life-in-a-tiny-white-box/16763385

The second make-up gift is a link to the Chronicle viewers column, which includes links to a representative sample of earlier columns. None of them were hits, or even B-sides, but they do give the flavor of what I do.

ChronicleColumn Link

https://tinywhitebox.com/2018/02/13/welcome-chronicles-viewers-heres-a-smorgasbord-of-tiny-white-box-columns/

Tomorrow, I head back home. This weekend, I’ll publish one of the hardest columns I’ve ever had to write. That’s what’s known as a cliff-hanger. Please stay behind the guardrail as you wait.

 

 

False Valor on the Mantelpiece: A (non)Artist’s Confession

My goal as a child was to be a midget. If I was going to be the smallest kid in my elementary-school class year after year, I at least wanted the notoriety of midgetdom as an adult. Not knowing any adult little people, I assumed they all made their livings on stage and television, either as henchmen or comedians. Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, I didn’t achieve that goal. For the record, by the time I was in junior high school, I wanted to be a major-league ballplayer—another dashed hope. In high school, my stated goal was to wage revolution and bring down the United States government. So far, that goal seems safely out of reach.

As a little kid, of course, I had other shorter-term goals. At 11, for instance, I wanted some girl, almost any girl, to want to kiss me, or at least hold my hand. At 11, I wanted to be able to play a recognizable tune on my musical instrument of choice—the tuba. (A brief aside, the tuba is not a solo instrument; to my knowledge, people may ironically call out for more cowbell, but no one has ever sat through one more note than necessary emanating from a tuba. If readers of this column have not already recognized this, Richard and Beverly Howard were saints. Imagine writing out weekly checks to a tuba teacher so you could have your musically inept son make sounds worse than a hippo choking on an easy chair. That is divine patience and love.) Finally, I wanted to make a picture or any piece of artwork that would be taped up for praise and recognition instead of held up for shame and ridicule. Kissing and tubas were clearly beyond me, but each time I’d start a picture, I’d swear this time was going to be different. If I was drawing a horse, I’d leave out every non-horse stroke, and erase any stray marks. Unfortunately, while I could recognize “horseness” in my classmates’ picture, and sense its absence in mine, I was incapable of drawing a figure that bore any resemblance to its target. I laughed on the outside about my lack of ability, but still wanted just once create a picture that would get a simple, “Nice picture.”

 

Instead?

“What’s that supposed to be?”

“It’s a horse.”

“Horses have four legs.”

“I know, but I didn’t have room, so I made the third one really fat.”

Or:

“What’s that supposed to be?” (As an aside, no positive artistic conversation ever began with “what’s that supposed to be?”)

“What does it look like to you?”

“It looks like nothing. A box with sagging sides and spaghetti flying over it and a few melted candles beside the box.”

“It’s my house with me and my sister outside.”

“Was there a nuclear attack?”

I’m thankful that none of the school-suggested psychologists I was ever “referred” to was an art therapist. I demonstrated enough evidence of maladjustment just through my words and behavior without some Ph.D. declaring me unfit for life based on a self-portrait. I mean, maybe my mind’s eye sees four holes at the bottom of my nose and eyeballs of different sizes and shapes.

+         +         +

When I was in fifth grade, I was no more an artist than I’d been when I was five. In fact, in some ways I was worse. A five-year-old isn’t expected to produce realism—“primitive” is the operative term. In fifth grade, my skills were still undeveloped (and have since proven undevelopable), but I’d picked up some artistic flourishes that looked like makeup on a pig.

Jeff Dewing was different. He was really good at everything artistic, from sketching to sculpting to silk-screening. For example, when we were given copper sheets and styli, I scratched out a dog that resembled a piece of gum shoved under a tabletop. Jeff created a Roman soldier in profile, complete with galea, the Roman helmet. Jeff’s carving captured the glory and sadness of the soldier far from home; mine looked like a lint-ball. When the teacher returned our projects, Jeff got his usual A or A+ and I my C-. Amazingly, to me, Jeff looked at his grade, considered his etching and threw them into the wastebasket. Although I was no artist, I could appreciate his gift and scrambled to rescue his art from the dump, then shoved it into my book bag, planning to hang it in my room. It never made it there.

When I got home and poured my book bag out, a huge grin spread out over my mother’s face. I knew it wasn’t for my half-eaten PB&J scrunched into a plastic bag, my Encyclopedia Brown book with the torn cover or the C+ on my spelling test.

“It’s . . . beautiful,” she said, gazing lovingly at Jeff’s etching. “Keith, I’m so proud of you! I didn’t know you could do something like that.”

I couldn’t. And can’t. But I also couldn’t break my mother’s heart yet again, not after all the phone calls home about my behavior, my wasted potential and, especially, my attitude. I just looked at the floor and let her believe what she wanted. And do what she wanted, which was to take the copper Roman soldier carving and place it not on the refrigerator—where no picture of mine had been magneted—but on the fireplace mantel. She’d taken Jeff’s work and not just built a shrine to it but elevated it to Mount Olympus.

For the next two or three years, when we celebrated Christmas or Thanksgiving or birthdays, or my parents had friends in for drinks or we had a New Year’s Eve party, all the adults would ooooh and aaaah over Jeff’s work then cast an appreciative eye at me. The smile I offered back was unsure, crinkled and fleeting, but it was not the confession it should have been.

By the time I was in eighth grade, my “difficulties” in school had blossomed, my kid sister’s genuine artistic talent had budded, and my inability to create anything like Jeff’s, er, my earlier work had led to Jennifer’s work taking over the mantel and the Roman soldier to be put into a drawer. I snuck it out, folded it like a study-hall note and threw it away, the last, if completely false, evidence of my artistic ability.

“Untitled” by Keith Howard (from the Private Collection of Jennifer Kilar)

 

Welcome Chronicles Viewers! Here’s a Smorgasbord of Tiny White Box Columns

So . . . you’ve seen the Tiny White Box on Channel 9’s “Chronicles” program. Thanks for watching, and thanks for stopping by. As I write this, I haven’t seen the segment, so I don’t know its theme. Let’s assume it didn’t call for villagers to burn me out of the Great North Woods, and that you’d like to see what I’ve been doing.

Below are the 25 most popular columns on the site. Clicking on a title will take you to the column, but I’ll bet you knew that already. (Full Disclosure: “most popular” is a weasel phrase that includes a few pieces that I like better than readers did. Do enjoy. Do respond. And do keep visiting.

Drug/Alcohol Rehab Stuff

Three-Dimensional Russian Roulette: Heroin and Me

Alcohypochondria: The Disease I Discover, Describe and Suffered from

Swimming Together, Not Drowning Alone: Thoughts on Alcathons

I Wasn’t an Alcoholic. I Just Drank to Stay Sane

There is No God, But that Doesn’t Stop Him from Working

A Pair of Christmas Miracles

Childhood Stuff

Shooting a Chickadee

Silence is Golden, Slumber is Final: A Fishing Story

Cute, with a Side of Evil: Making My Grandfather Cry

Murdering Chatty Cathy:  A Fairy Tale

Totaling a Car at 11: I was Trying to Get Out of Trouble

Adoption Stuff

Sally Piper Words, Words, Words: A Brief Sketch of Sally Piper, a Woman I Never Knew

Sally Piper Had A Peck of Unplanned Pregnancies

Political Stuff

A Patriotic Rant with a Twist: A Veterans View of the National Anthem

“But He’s a Muslim”: The Reason (I think) I’m Being Given an Award

An Undelivered Speech at the Turkish Cultural Center’s Friendship Dinner (along with what I did say)

Wouldn’t It?: Response to the Texas Church Shootings

Tiny House Stuff

Tiny White Box Profiled in Vagabond Monthly

“My Name is Keith and I . . . Live in a Tiny House

A Phrase that Will Not Pass My Lips

Veterans Stuff

Today is Not a Good Day to Die: Waiting for My Murderer (or a sad man) (or no one at all)

The Hermit with the Pastor’s Heart or How I Managed to Avoid Death, Make Some Jokes and Maybe Help a Veteran a Little Bit

Silliness

Rejected Book Titles

More Rejected Book Titles

Mocking My Betters:  Luckily the World is Filled with Them