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Bob Kevin Culture

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Windmill Sky photo by Todd

“There are two kinds of artists left: those who endorse Pepsi and those who simply won’t.” Annie Lennox

For a few weeks this past summer people kept asking me what I thought about Kevin Durant deciding to leave Oklahoma City to come to California and play for the Golden State Warriors, and lately people keep asking me what I think about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now that the basketball season has officially begun, the Kevin Durant question has resurfaced, and yesterday two more people asked me what I thought about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize.

I learned a long time ago that a fan’s love of a musician or band or athlete or sports franchise is a form of religious fervor, and I don’t mess with religious fervor. So I dodged the Dylan question by saying tangential things like, “Isn’t it odd they don’t award the Nobel Prize posthumously?” or “They gave Bob a Pulitzer, too.” To the Kevin Durant question, I answered, “The guy can shoot,” and “What a handle, huh?”

But I’ll tell you in the privacy of this article that my initial reaction to Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize was to recall when I was nineteen and driving through Hibbing, Minnesota on a hot muggy summer day, the mosquitoes ferocious, and I thought, ‘I know why Bob moved to California.’

The country I come from is called the Midwest. I was taught and brought up there, the laws to abide, that the land that I live in has God on its side.

My favorite Bob Dylan song is ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.’ I know he’s written hundreds of songs since, but that’s still my favorite. I resonate with every syllable and I love Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version as much as Bob’s, though my favorite rendition is a slow bitter blues take by Eric Clapton recorded at some Dylan celebration twenty years ago. Tore my heart out.

That said, I know almost nothing about Dylan’s music after 1969, and I’m sure Bob would be okay with that, the Bob who wrote ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.’

Over the intervening decades, several men have tried to convince me of Dylan’s ongoing genius. They insisted I listen to Bob’s later albums, with them watching me listen. And these experiences were always torture for me, though I never said so to my torturers because I don’t mess with religious fervor. I try to avoid it, but when I can’t, I feign reverent somnolence.

“There seem to be two causes of the deterioration of the arts: wealth and poverty.” Plato

Also over the last several years, several people have sent me links to advertisements Bob Dylan made for IBM, Victoria’s Secret, Apple, Cadillac, Pepsi, and Chrysler. Some people sent me those commercials because they were outraged Dylan would sell out like that, though they didn’t say what he was selling out. And some people sent me the ads because they thought everything Bob did was fabulous. I did not watch those ads until I started writing this article, and now that I have watched them, I wish I hadn’t.

As for Kevin Durant choosing to leave Oklahoma City and move to California, I’m sure he made that choice for the same reason Bob Dylan changed his name from Zimmerman to Dylan and moved from Hibbing to Malibu—in hope of having a more enjoyable life.

“The poet’s only responsibility is to write fresh lines.” Charles Olson

Now that’s an interesting and noble-sounding idea, but pragmatically nonsensical. It reminds me of the Peanuts cartoon dozens of people sent me before I managed to publish my first novel. Snoopy is sitting at his typewriter on top of his doghouse writing a letter to a publisher. “Dear Sirs, I have just completed my new novel. It is so good, you will just have to come get it.”

Snoopy is elucidating every artist’s dream—to be recognized and rewarded for our creations simply because we created them. But the truth is, our ships can’t come in, so to speak, unless we send our ships out. Artists must take their wares to market or no one will ever know about them. And to succeed in a big way as a musician or artist or writer in America, the artist must convince those who control the avenues of distribution and exposure to give them access to large audiences; and once initial access has been gained, the artist must continue to convince those in power to give them such access.

Though they work in different sectors of the entertainment industry, Kevin Durant and Bob Dylan are both savvy business people adept at sustaining and improving the value of their brands. Kevin Durant’s salary for playing basketball is twenty to thirty million dollars a year, but the Kevin Durant brand makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year from shoe sales and jersey sales and endorsements and advertisements. And the same is true of Bob Dylan. Making a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler was good for his brand, and so is winning the Nobel Prize.

“Though he played so sweet and high, they knew he had never been on their TV so they passed his music by.” Joni Mitchell

When I was thirteen I bought Harry Belafonte’s new album Midnight Special. On that album, a young guy named Bob Dylan plays a harmonica solo. Midnight Special came out right before Dylan released his first album, and Bob’s harmonica playing on Harry’s album is reputedly Bob’s first official professional recording.

Until that Belafonte album was stolen from me in 1980, whenever I found a fervent Dylan fan had made his or her way into my house, I would bring out the Belafonte, lower the needle on Bob’s solo, and watch the true believer listen in reverent awe.

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Kevin & Mumia

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Moments That We Shape painting by Nolan Winkler 

“On a hot day in the southern desert of Africa I wanted to speak to one of my favorite Bushmen. He was sitting in the middle of a thorn bush, huddled in an attitude of the most intense concentration…but his friends would not let me get near him, saying, ‘But don’t you know, he is doing work of the utmost importance. He is making clouds.’” Laurens Van Der Post

Yesterday, the basketball player Kevin Durant signed a two-year contract with the Golden State Warriors for 55 million dollars and I read Chris Hedges’ interview with Mumia Abu Jamal, who has now served thirty-five years of a life sentence for a murder he may or may not have committed.

During the interview, Mumia, who is quite ill and not receiving adequate health care, said many troubling things. “The black political elites, including Barack Obama, are powerless. They are emblems. They are not the voice of black America. They are like a ventriloquist’s dummy. They mouth the same words the white corporate masters mouth. They do not name unpleasant truths. They never lifted their voices to denounce Bill Clinton’s decision to massively expand our system of mass incarceration. And they do not lift their voices now. They go right along with the repression. And they are well paid for it.”

He went on to say: “Black people will probably vote for Clinton, but this symbolizes the emptiness of hope. They fear Trump. They should look closely at the pictures from Trump’s third wedding. Hillary Clinton is in the front pew of the church. Hillary, Bill, Trump, and Melania are shown embracing at Trump’s estate during the reception. These people are part of the same elite circle. They represent the same financial interests. They work for the same empire. They have grown rich from the system. The words they shout back and forth during political campaigns are meaningless. Trump or Clinton will deliver the same political result. They will serve, like Obama, corporate and military power.”

“Everything that happens is at once natural and inconceivable.” E.E. Cioran

Kevin Durant is twenty-seven, seven-feet-tall, and one of best and most popular basketball players in the world. He was born in Washington D.C. where he and his sister and two brothers were raised by their mother and grandmother after their father abandoned the family. Kevin played one year of college basketball and then was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics the year before the team moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He was named rookie of the year and then played eight years for the Thunder before deciding to sign with the Warriors.

Kevin made 17 million dollars a year playing for the Thunder, but that was a small fraction of his annual income. He has lucrative endorsement deals with Nike, Sprint, Gatorade, Panini, General Electric, and 2K Sports. His agent is the media mogul Jay-Z. Kevin pledged a million dollars to the American Red Cross for the victims of the 2013 tornado disaster in Oklahoma. In 2014, he partnered with Kind Snacks and launched StrongAndKind.com to show “being kind is not a sign of weakness.” He is also a spokesperson for the Washington D.C. branch of P’Tones Records, a nationwide non-profit after-school music program.

With Kevin joining Steph, Klay, Draymond, and Andre on the Warriors, barring injuries, they should be the best team in the game.

I wonder what Kevin Durant thinks of Mumia Abu Jamal. Kevin describes himself as a high school kid who enjoys playing video games in his spare time. A devout Christian, Kevin goes to chapel before every game and has religious tattoos on his stomach, wrist, and back. He is, apparently, apolitical.

 “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature itself, but rather nature exposed to our methods of questioning.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

Mumia told Chris Hedges, “The liberals and the Democrats are in many ways more dangerous than the right wing. Repression and neoliberalism are more effectively instituted by Democrats such as Bill and Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They sound reasonable. But because what they do is hidden, it is more insidious and often more deadly.”

Kevin Durant met Obama on the White House basketball court and they shared a bro hug. Durant said of the meeting, “It was a good feeling to meet the president. Of course I always wanted to do that. Me being from D.C., it was pretty cool to see him. I was excited to get that opportunity. It’s something I’m always going to remember.”

Mumia has never met Obama, but in 2014 Obama nominated Debo P. Adegbile to head the civil rights division of the Justice Department. Debo, a former lawyer for the NAACP who worked on Abu-Jamal’s case, was rejected for the Justice Department job by the U.S. Senate because of his public support of Mumia.

Twenty years ago, when Mumia’s execution was drawing near, I joined thousands of other people on marches in San Francisco demanding Mumia be given a new trial. He never got a new trial, but his death sentence was eventually commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Whether he is guilty of murder or not, there is no doubt he deserves a new trial. Sadly, he will probably never get one. He is the victim of our deeply racist social and justice systems, along with millions of other men and women trapped in poverty, and now that he is no longer in danger of being executed—except through the slow death of incarceration—he is rarely mentioned in the mainstream news.

I used to be an avid basketball fan. Two of my published novels feature basketball subplots involving fictional versions of The Golden State Warriors. In a sense, I owe my success as a writer to my interest in basketball, though nowadays I hardly follow professional basketball, for today’s game little resembles the beautiful sport I fell in love with as a young man.

I wonder if Mumia watches basketball on his tablet in his cell.