Saturday, December 31, 2011


This is the time of year I am blessed with a little time to read, so I've been plowing through Greil Marcus's Bob Dylan: Writings 1968-2010 and a bit of Whitman's Leaves of Grass. I'm about to start John Hodgman's That Is All. While reading each of those things, two passages in particular caught my eye.

With Marcus, the early stuff is really hit or miss, but starting in the 90s everything is magical. He elucidates late Dylan as well as anyone, and he has the strongest handle on Harry Smith that I know of, which is his true strength. The part of the book that really stuck out for me, though, was from a book review of a memoir by the Clash's least important member, Vince White. Marcus quotes the following passage from White:

"...a bus wasn't a bus. It was an obscene red metal object that moved down the street carrying blank faces that had come from nowhere and were going absolutely nowhere."

Of course, he's talking about buses -- literal buses. What he insists on, though, is that the bus, no matter how real it is, is really just a sign, and it signifies all sorts of things -- nostalgia, pollution, and a whole bag of other shit, but mostly social stratification. What this passage reminds me of is perhaps Ezra Pound's most famous poem, "In A Station of the Metro":

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet black bough.

The faces, moving so fast though the subway station, have features he can't make out in the dim light. They become, then, less-than-human once robbed of their individual identity. They are anonymous, with nothing to differentiate one from the other. Their life is that of the drone. White, most likely unintentionally, just gave the best interpretation of Pound that I've ever read.

The other bit I noticed when reading was in Whitman's "Song of Myself," section 20. Whitman has a greaty line that says "I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones." This is very similar in diction and content, and somewhat similar in syntax, to the like "I'm looking for that sweet fat that sticks to your ribs" in Dylan's "Cry Awhile" on "Love and Theft."

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