In  October of 2013, my wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend an evening with Pete Seeger, long a favorite of ours. We were invited to be part of the studio audience for a broadcast of the television program, “Keeping Country Strong” on Access 23 TV. Pete was the guest of honor. Before the broadcast started, Pete came out and sat with the audience and I got to ask him a bunch of questions.

KCS 2.21.13 Pete Seeger-63Dottie Brune sitting next to Pete apparently singing oo-o-oh



He said that right now he finds himself singing one he wrote in 1954, Quite Early Morning and When I Was Most Beautiful. The words to this one came from a woman he met in Japan who wrote Japanese poems that had been translated into English. Her name was Noriko Ibaragi. Pete saw the poem and set it to music. Pete does it with the banjo. Here is a performance from Pete’s album “At 89” sung by Pete’s niece, Sonya Cohen.

Pete said he learned one of my favorites, Way Out There from Cisco Houston on a train trip from Boston to New York. I wish I could have been on that trip to hear the two of them yodeling and watch the reactions of the other passengers! The song was written by Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers.

Lee Hays of the Weavers came up with the words to If I Had a Hammer, using an old gospel song technique: Have a basic verse and change one word to get new verses. The song became a hit when Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary changed one note of the melody. Pete didn’t say which note (Damn!).

Woody Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land on a hitchhiking trip through Pennsylvania to New York City. The origins of the song are well-known among folkies, but here is something we were surprised to learn: This Land was never recorded or released by a major music publisher. The song began to be included in children’s song books. The kids brought the song home and it proved to be so popular that, after 20 years of word-of-mouth circulation, finally was formally entered into the recorded repertoire.

Another thing we never knew: The Midnight Special is a prisoner song. The legend was that if the Midnight Special shined its light into a man’s prison cell, he would go free. Knowing that, the song makes a lot of sense.


One point of controversy that has followed Pete (among many!) was his reaction to Bob Dylan’s electric performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The story that goes around is that Pete was so outraged about Dylan performing with an electric group that he tried to pull the plug on the speakers (or something like that). What actually happened was that Pete was upset because the instruments were so loud that you couldn’t hear the words. The song was Maggie’s Farm, which Pete likes a great deal. He asked the sound man to lower the instruments. The sound man said that that was the way the performers wanted it. Pete said “Well, if I had an axe, I’d cut the cable.” He had no objection to electric music (though many in the audience did!) and there was no pulling of plugs.

Pete respects Dylan’s work but disagrees with him as a performer, especially when, at the Newport Festival, he sat at the piano with his back to the audience. He did not have much use for Dylan’s mumbled articulation, but admires Willy Nelson: At those Farm Aid concerts, you can hear every word Willy sings.


Pete remembers Woody as always being very restless. “Every day – no, every hour — he had a little notebook and was writing something down . . . ” or drawing something on a pad of paper that he kept around.

Guthrie was mostly self-educated with the help of a couple of teachers who recognized his genius and supplied him with books at various times in his young years. He read them.


Huddie Ledbetter, “Leadbelly” was a very powerfully build man. He always wore a suit and tie and made fun of Pete, trying to be one of the common folk wearing jeans and work shirts. He was powerfully built and when he took his suit jacket off, he looked like a prize fighter with his rippling muscles. Leadbelly died of Lou Gehrig Disease, amyotropic lateral sclerosis.

Weavers recorded a song called Tzena, Tzena, Tzena. On the B side they put Leadbelly’s song Goodnight Irene. As it happened, Goodnight Irene became a smash hit and Tzena was kind of forgotten. Leadbelly died six months after Goodnight Irene would have made him a wealthy man.


For you banjo players, I asked Pete about his unusual arrangement of finger picks. He plays with a long thumbnail, a steel finger pick in the conventional position on his index finger and steel picks straightened out and inverted on his middle and ring fingers. It looks to me like this is how he gets that crisp sound switching between frailing and three-finger style.


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September 11, 2014.  I include here notes that I made immediately after the attack on September 11, 2001 so that I would not forget. At the time I was working at Bates Worldwide on 6th Avenue and 36th Street. I encourage anyone with a blog or web site to do the same so that historians may some day refer to these primary sources.


September 11, 2001

Time to finally sit down and record my recollections of Tuesday September 11, 2001.

I had just got to the office and was going to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. On the way down I met Jennifer Joshua. She said that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. My first thought was that it was some private pilot who had screwed up royally.

I went down to the staff room to watch the coverage. Whilst we were all watching a shot of the burning tower, another airliner zoomed in and crashed into the second tower. That was probably the moment we realized that these were planned acts of terrorism. In a short time we saw the report of a third airliner crashing into the Pentagon. Then there was the story of another hijacked airliner crashing in Pennsylvania. The news services quickly labelled it “Attack on America.” Impossible to conceive.

While we were standing watching the screens the first tower came down. It was a shock indescribable. All I kept thinking and feeling like was the famous recording of the radio announcer reporting the Hindenburg disaster, his voice breaking into tears of helplessness as he yelled into the mike “This is the worst thing that ever happened in the world” and “Oh, the humanity.” Finally, he just had to stop reporting. As people were dying right before his eyes, so people were dying right before ours – just a few blocks away. I felt like I should go running downtown to try to do something. But all I could do was pray for the lost, and that is what I did.

Then the second tower came down and the despair was unspeakable. They had managed to bring down both towers. Later, at 3:00 PM, 7 World Trade Center collapsed. But by that time everybody was numb.

All of us were walking around in a daze. All the television sets in the agency were turned on and people were standing in groups around the large screens. Many were crying. All were in shock and disbelief.

Throughout the day I tried to go back to work but it was impossible. My only thought was, how can a person engage in such trivia when thousands are dying just a few miles away. I have since heard that others felt the same way.

Communications were cut and all the bridges and tunnels were closed. I tried to call home and leave a message saying that I was all right, but there was no phone service. Finally, I just sent the following e-mail message which managed to get through to a lot of people.

*           *           *

From: “Chris Brune” <

To: <All Friends

Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 3:35 PM

Subject: CB OK

Just to let you know, Rachel and I are OK. Her office closed and she is at my office. The outbound Lincoln is open, so it looks like we will be able to get home tonight. Went to mass at Holy Innocents on lunch hour. What else is there?

*           *           *

The masses at Holy Innocents were packed with people lined up out into the street.

Rachel’s office had closed and she had come over to Bates. She was among many friends of staff who had come to our offices. Their companies had shut down and sent people home. It was an act of kindness that somewhat backfired. By early morning everything in New York was closed. Restaurants and stores closed up so you couldn’t get anything to eat or drink. There was no public transportation – subways, buses, rail, even taxis, all shut down. The employees were on the street with nowhere to go and no way to sustain themselves.

Bates arranged for the cafeteria to stay open for dinner and told the employees we were welcome to sleep in the conference rooms and lounges. It looked like Rachel and I were in for a night at Bates.

Once I went out into the street. It was the most eerie sight: The streets of New York completely deserted on a business day. Not one car, truck, bus or cab. Only an occasional emergency vehicle. No pedestrians.

We were getting conflicting reports throughout the day on what was open and what was not. We have to remember that the bridges and tunnels are prime terrorist targets. Later in the afternoon, I had been able to make contact with Eli. One idea I had was to take the One train (which had started operating later in the afternoon) up to the GW and walk across the bridge where he could pick us up. Finally, around 5:00 PM, we decided to go out to try to get something to eat instead of staying in the building. On the way we decided to take one more look at Port Authority to see what the situation was. A policeman there told us it would not open possibly for a couple of days. He told us that Metro North was running however.

Now, my impression was that Metro North ran out of Grand Central. So, we walked over there. I asked at information and the guy said it runs from New Jersey. We had to take the PATH to Hoboken and pick up the Port Jervis line there.

Walked back down to 34th and Broadway. The PATH trains were running for free. There were police guiding people to the trains. We got on and got to Hoboken in no time. Arrived at 7:30. The next train left at 9:35. So we walked down Main street and found a nice Italian restaurant and had a good dinner. I even went next door and picked up a bottle of wine. Turns out, the restaurant had closed. When they heard of the emergency, the staff had walked back to work (public transportation was shut down) and re-opened to serve the stranded people.

At Hoboken there were plenty of police and emergency people and volunteers handing out water, food, wet towels, and there were lawn chairs and places to sit. Rachel and I were in pretty good shape because Bates was well supplied. But many people got back to New Jersey in pretty bad shape having not eaten and having been exposed to the elements all day.

When I asked about tickets, they told us that Metro North was running for free. So we took it up to Tuxedo Junction New York. On the train we noticed many people soaking wet, shivering, covered with plastic bags. Turns out, they had been in the area and had to walk through showers to de-contaminate before they were released to make their way home. One lady said they had given them nuts and snacks afterward, but it did not make up for being freezing cold and wet.

Dottie and Chris picked us up at Tuxedo. Got the biggest hug I have received since our wedding day.

My thoughts at the end of the day: This is almost too much to contemplate. I just keep praying for the dead, wounded, and missing. I am terrified of what is going to happen over the next couple of weeks as, one by one, families find out that a loved one has perished in the holocaust. It’s like Viet Nam all over again.

On Friday evening the country agreed that everyone would be outside their homes and have candles lit. It was a wonderfully comforting feeling driving home and seeing the candles on porches and mailboxes, people standing out in their yards ready to connect with others. We put out candles and the flag and sat outside. We yelled across to the Vihti’s and other neighbors. It seemed that everyone was pulling together. And the ancient light of candles brought solace to the community.


I insert here an image of an e-mail exchange that occurred that day. Note we got the names mixed up. My message should have been signed Dad and Rachel instead of Dad and Chris. The reply should have been signed Mom and Thea instead of Mom and Dottie who are the same person. No one was thinking clearly that day.


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Well, there is no shortage of amateur historians who have shown that the events told in the poem are not true. And their implication is that Paul Revere has gotten a lot of credit for something he didn’t do. A couple years back, the historian David Hackett Fischer looked into the matter in depth. He found that Revere’s actions on the night of April 18 – 19, 1775 were even more heroic than the poem and were crucial to the success of the revolution.

Revere was not one of the thinkers behind the independence movement; he was a man of action, a doer. He was an artisan, or as he would call himself a mechanic. And he lead a committee of mechanics whose purpose was to watch British movements, gain intelligence, and act as “expresses,” good horsemen, fast riders who carried messages to the various. various militia leaders and Committees of Correspondence in the independence movement.

At the time the poem describes, acts of rebellion against British rule were becoming more common. General Thomas Gage, the British commander in the colonies, was under pressure from London to shut them down. Despite his own spy network, Gage could not get the goods on anybody sufficient make arrests. But the orders from London were insistent: Move quickly and decisively; arrest the ring leaders; disarm their followers; impose martial law if necessary.

Now Paul Revere had already got on the bad side of General Gage. In December 1774, Gage had gotten wind of a cache of arms that was being held in Portsmouth and sent troops there to seize it. They got there and found nothing. Who had warned them? Gage’s spies report back: Paul Revere.

Gage gets a report of arms being stored in the town of Concord. He develops a plan to send 800 troops to seize it. April 8, 1775 Gage finds out that the Concord men know about his plan. How? Again, the report comes back: Paul Revere.

April 16, the General learns that Lexington has been warned about his plan to march there and arrest Hancock and Adams and again he hears the name: Paul Revere.

General Gage began to realize that he could not make a move without Revere finding out about it and spreading the warning. He knew that he had to stop the expresses if this latest plan was to succeed. He ordered the exits to Boston sealed and sent patrols out to arrest any horsemen they encountered, but to keep a special watch for Paul Revere.

So, how were the Whigs to get messages out of Boston with the exits blocked and soldiers patrolling the roads? Revere and the Whig leaders worked out a plan of triple redundancy: They would use the usual expresses, but also special messengers who would follow clandestine routes. And they devised a system of lantern signals from Boston that could be seen across the Charles river by compatriots in Charlestown. The lanterns were to be hung in the tower of Old North Church, clearly visible across the river. And the signal was literally one light if the British moved south out of town via Boston Neck, then north and west over the Concord road; and two if they took the shorter route, crossing the Charles River and picking up the more direct Lexington Road to Concord. Now in a small town like Boston at this time, you couldn’t really hide the actions of 800 soldiers and the British fleet. From the sounding of the boson’s pipes and the gathering of longboats, it was clear that they would be moving by sea. By the afternoon of April 18, people began to realize what was up and to spread the alarm by word of mouth. Eldridge Gerry sent a dispatch to Adams and Hancock in Lexington. The messenger got there a little before 8 PM and the militia posted a guard around the house and sent scouts to follow British movements.

Revere was also getting high quality intelligence from Dr. Joseph Warren, who had a source very close to General Gage. Warren told Revere that Gage’s plan was to dispatch forces that day (April 18) to capture Adams and Hancock at Lexington then move on to seize the stores at Concord. Warren sent three riders, Revere, William Dawes, and one unnamed other, to Lexington to warn Adams and Hancock. Nothing more was heard about the unnamed rider. Dawes followed the land route and somehow managed to make it past the checkpoints.

Revere decided on the water route across the Charles River. He arranged for friends to climb the tower of Old North Church and hang two lanterns warning the Whigs on the opposite shore. Then he collected his gear and had other friends row him across the Bay to Charlestown. There the Whigs sent him out on a fast horse to Lexington. He managed to outrace one British patrol and arrived there a half hour before Dawes did.

Revere covered the 13 miles to Lexington in two hours where he delivered his warning to Hancock and Adams. But that does not give a true picture of Revere’s role in spreading the alarm. Revere knew the leaders of the movement and where to find them. Wherever he stopped on his ride to Lexington, he alerted the militia leaders who triggered their own alarm systems – cannon shots, musket shots, church bells. And he sent out other expresses who were in his network to spread the warning. In all, about 2,000 volunteers turned out over April 18 and 19, a large number of them called out by actions that Paul Revere set in motion. Dawes alerted people too, but they were one-offs – he didn’t jump start a network of warnings like Revere did.

The next mission was to warn Concord. Here Revere and Dawes were joined by Dr. Prescott. Revere convinced them that they should warn every house between Lexington and Concord they set out doing so by turns until they were captured by a British patrol. Dawes and Prescott managed to escape but Revere was held with other riders who had been captured that night.

Again, Revere displays fearlessness, audacity, and strategic thinking. With six pistols pointed at him, he addressed the officer in charge straight on.

Sergeant: “Sir, may I crave your name?”

Revere: “My name is Paul Revere.”

Sergeant: “What? The Paul Revere?”

Revere: “Yes.”

Sergeant: “Are you an express?”

Revere: “Yes. Gentlemen, you have missed your aim.”

Soldier: “What of our aim? We are simply out searching for deserters.”

Revere: “I know better. I know what you are after and I have alarmed the country all the way up.”

Revere continued the verbal attack, telling all he knew of their plans and the problems they had faced on the march up. And he told them what he had been doing that night and that he had warned the militia; their lives would be at risk if they approached Lexington. That was Revere’s strategy: Keep the British away from Lexington, Hancock and Adams.

The patrol sent for their commander, Major Mitchell. Revere continued to confront the Major with the fact that a large force was already gathering at Lexington; his patrol was in extreme danger.

Mitchell decided to take the prisoners back to Lexington. His men formed a circle around the group of prisoners and Revere’s reins were taken from him. Revere asked if he could hold the reins himself. A British officer said “God damn you, sir, you are not to ride with reins I assure you.” Major Mitchell added “We are now going towards your friends and if you attempt to run or we are insulted, we will blow your brains out.” He appointed a sergeant to keep his pistol on Revere and carry out the order if necessary.

Revere shot back, “You may do as you please.”

About a half-mile from Lexington green they heard a gunshot. Mitchell confronted Revere for an explanation. Revere told him that it was a signal “to alarm the country.”

As they got closer to Lexington they heard the sound of the town bell. One of the other captives picked up on Revere’s bravado: “The bell’s a-ringing! The town’s alarmed, and you’re all dead men.”

Mitchell was starting to get edgy. He ordered the captives to dismount and had his men cut the bridles and girths and run the horses off. Then the patrol headed to Cambridge to warn the main force that the element of surprise had been lost.

After his release Revere headed back to Lexington on foot to find Adams and Hancock still there. Apparently they had gotten a message that it was a false alarm, no need to get excited. Revere told them otherwise. Hancock considered himself a soldier and wanted to stay and fight. Revere persuaded him that he was more important to the cause as an intellectual leader and saw Adams and Hancock out of town.

On his return to Lexington, Hancock’s personal clerk ran up to Revere and said that a huge trunk of confidential papers had been left behind. The papers in it told of plans, named names, and would give General Gage all the evidence he needed to start making mass arrests. By this time, the militia had confronted the Redcoats on Lexington Common, the shot heard round the world had been fired, and a pitched battle was in progress. With bullets whizzing around their heads Revere and the clerk hauled the trunk across the common, out into the woods where they buried it. And that is the last Fischer tells us of Revere’s actions that day.

So, now about the poem: In 1860, as the Civil War was approaching, many writers were working to contribute to the Union cause. Longfellow wanted to write something also and was looking for an idea. One day, he went walking with his friend George Sumner. They passed the Old North Church and Sumner told Longfellow about Paul Revere’s ride. That was all Longfellow needed; he started work immediately. The poem was published in the Atlantic Monthly in January 1861 and had a galvanizing effect on the public, immediately stoking pro-Union sentiment.

The key to understanding the poem lies in the first and last verses. In 1860, if you mentioned April 18th 1775 to a person, it was like saying December 7th 1941 today. There were people alive who still remembered the event and many knew the stories as part of their family’s folklore. Longfellow’s grandfather Wadsworth had turned out with the volunteers on Concord green. So, from the first lines, Longfellow has grabbed his reader.

The last verse reveals the author’s purpose and delivers the call to action: This is the hour of darkness and peril and need. One man can make a difference. Waken and listen — hear the hurrying hoof beats of that steed and the midnight message. The poem was never meant to be factual. Really, Paul Revere’s Ride is the greatest recruiting advertisement ever written.

Post Script: In Fischer’s home town of Wayland, MA, the custom is to ring the town bell on April 19 at the hour that the town received the alarm. Children are included among the bell ringers so that the tradition will be understood and passed on. The town bell was made by Paul Revere.


“Image © SEPS. Utilized with permission from Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, IN. All Rights Reserved”

Look at this picture. It is called “Breaking Home Ties” and was painted by Norman Rockwell in 1954. In our era of ubiquitous video, we sometimes forget how enjoyable it can be to contemplate a still image. But Rockwell’s paintings, if you have the patience to spend time with them, tell stories far richer than many video works.

The action is clear enough: A man is sending his son off to college – a story not as simple as it looks.

Clearly this is a rural family. The single upright post and boards laid flat on the ground place the scene at a country railroad station not used to handling a lot of passenger traffic. The father’s work shirt, jeans, western boots, the bandanna in his back pocket, the 1930s era truck with its long missing spare tire (notice the empty oval in the dinged up running board next to the father) speak of a life of hard work and thrift.

The boy is going off to “State U” which is obviously far enough away that you have to take a train to get there. Dressed in his best suit and tie, he is unaware of the home ties that are being broken. He looks over and past his father’s head with an expression of anticipation and delight at the new adventure upon which he is about to embark. He could be looking for the train, or he could be looking to the future. In his mind, Mom and Dad, the ranch, the dog, will always be there, waiting in an eternal, unchanging present whenever he comes back home.

He is a raw-boned youth, his wiry build apparent under his suit, the rest of his body not yet catching up to the size of his hands and feet. His outfit reflects the family’s efforts to send him off with the best respectability they can afford. The suit is of a lighter color and style popular during the 1950s, probably bought at Sears, Roebuck. The close fitting shoulders and cuffed pants coming up high on his ankles when he sits suggest that it must have fit well when the boy was a year or two smaller. His yellow pocket handkerchief, the loud colors of his wide tie and argyle socks speak of a ranch mother’s efforts to dress her boy with as much fashion sense as one can find, living so far from the sophisticated cities (although my recollection is that every man and boy in those days had a suit like this).

He takes with him his few books and possessions in the travel trunk on the left and in the small suitcase between his feet. The suitcase, of a style a little out of date by 1950s, suggests that he comes from working people. In his hands he holds a little package lovingly wrapped and tied with a ribbon. Looks to me like a lunch that his mother packed for the trip.

Given that the boy is probably seventeen or eighteen years old, and the dog with its head on his knee is fully grown, dog and boy have spent a number of years together. At this moment, the boy is not thinking about the dog. But the expression on the dog’s face tells us that the animal understands that separation and sadness are coming.

For me the focal point of the story is the father. The man is a rancher. In the actual painting the word “Ranch” and his brand are painted on the hood of the truck behind him. (You cannot see it too well in the image reproduced here.) Perhaps he inherited the family ranch from his father and hoped to pass it along to his own son. That is somewhat less likely now with the boy going to be a college man.

Look at the expression on the father’s face – the cigarette dangling from his half-smiling lips, the eyes that hide whatever emotion he is feeling as men of his generation were raised to do. What thoughts are going through his mind? It is easy to imagine that they are all occurring at once. Is he happy? Sad? Disappointed? Proud? Cannot believe that this is actually happening? Was he dreaming of one day working the ranch side by side with his fine, strong son? And now this?

Probably, foremost in his thoughts is the understanding that his son will surpass him. The man knows this is how it must be, but it must be hard for him not to think about the way his life has turned out compared to the potential that his son represents. From the date of the painting we can deduce that the man grew up during the Great Depression and is probably a World War II veteran. After mustering out, maybe he thought about the “G.I. Bill” with its offer of a college education, but decided on ranching. Does he regret that decision now and look with a little envy on his son?

Notice the body language. The son sits up straight and alert. The father slumps over, elbows on knees, looking in the direction of his imagination. Check the size of the sons feet compared to those of the father in his narrow cowboy boots. This boy is going to be taller and stronger than his old man by the time he finishes college and reaches his full adult height and figure. The man, who has been the tall, strong family provider, takes the first steps toward his diminishment and is aware of it.

The most telling symbol in the painting, for me at least, are the hats the father holds. His own wide-brimmed Stetson is behind and almost completely hidden by the son’s modern pinched pork pie. They speak of the eclipse that is beginning. As John the Baptist says in the gospel, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

What will the boy be like as an educated man? Is he going to Ag school? Will he come back with the all latest know-how to run the ranch far better than his father or his father’s father ever did? Will he be a teacher or even a college professor, living an intellectual life his father cannot even imagine? Or will he be a successful business man, pulling down a substantial income in an air conditioned office, blue suit and tie? When he tells people his father was a rancher, will he say so with pride, or apologetically?

Now Reader, you may be thinking, “How can someone imagine all this stuff just by looking at a picture?” Well, I have been on both sides of this transaction. I was sent off to college by a loving family and I have sent children off to college, to the Service, and (that final home tie breaker) to marriage and the creation of a their own families. I am pretty sure I know what both father and son are thinking because I have been in both their shoes. As a matter of fact, the painting is somewhat autobiographical: Rockwell himself said that he painted it to express the feelings of a father sending his son off to college. At the time, he was sending his sons to college and to the service. (An early sketch that included the mother was discarded. Rockwell’s focus is on the father.) I’d say he got it about right. And I will bet that there are a lot of parents who would agree with my interpretation. The greatest works of art, like this one, always capture essential human experiences. And they afford us deep satisfaction in their contemplation.

More about Rockwell’s “Breaking Home Ties” here:


Tyler Clementi was an excellent student and fine violinist when he began his freshman year at Rutgers University in September 2010. Tyler was also gay and he had arranged with his roommate to have the room to himself while he had a male guest in for the evening. The roommate set up a video camera to secretly record Tyler’s encounter with the other man. The roommate shared the video with another student and was making plans to put it on the Internet. When Tyler heard this, he became distraught and committed suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge.

Much has been written about the incident. Many measures have been proposed to prevent such a thing happening again — new laws; new college policies, new anti-bullying programs. The roommate and the other student are facing legal consequences for the prank. But this is all legalistic, after the fact hand-wringing. Nowhere have I seen any discussion of morality and the fact that what these students did was immoral.

Whether you take your moral code from organized religion, unorganized religion, or some vague sense that some actions are good and others are bad, it doesn’t take a theologian to figure out that humiliating another person and holding them up to ridicule for your own entertainment is a bad thing to do. Applying the simple rule of “do unto others . . . “ ought to tell you that. In the book of Jeremiah, the Lord says, “I will write my law upon your heart” (Jeremiah 31:27-34). I think what the ancient author was trying to describe is that gut feeling we get when we are doing something we know instinctively is wrong. Apparently this feeling was repressed or ignored or otherwise did not concern the people who abused Tyler. So, what went wrong here?

I think one big problem is the general coarsening of our society. Much of our pop culture derives its entertainment value from the degradation of others. Reality television humiliates a steady stream of victims to provide yucks for the most desirable (to advertisers) viewing demographic, 18 to 34 year-olds. A popular insult is to say that a person is so worthless, about the only thing they are good for is to go on television and eat bugs (Patti Blagojevich?). Similarly, much television content is put-down humor; you can always get a laugh with a clever insult. I once saw a commercial for a program that showed the main character falling into a toilet bowl to raucous rounds of canned laughter. This kind of material draws a lot of viewers and sells a lot of advertising. But is also infects our society. You can teach morality in schools or churches or in homes. But when kids see what the cool people on television do, you may as well be whistling in the wind. No wonder, then, that our children insult teachers and other authority figures, verbally harass their peers, and bully others physically and emotionally. They are encouraged in this behavior and rewarded for it with the approving laughter they get for their coolness while their victims are devastated.

The other day, a friend of mine mentioned that one indicator that you are an adult, is that you have learned to make moral judgments. Well, Tyler’s tormenters were college students, so they probably were legally adults, i.e. over the age of eighteen in New Jersey. Enough said.

Who can know what was going through Tyler’s mind that night? Perhaps he was depressed because he thought he had left the harassment of his high school years behind, only to find that it had followed him to college. Perhaps he just could not face another round of derisive laughter and contempt that he knew the video would provoke. A small attempt to try to empathize with Tyler, to walk a little way in his shoes, and maybe the students who drove him to his end might have thought twice, perhaps asking themselves, “how would I feel if my most intimate actions were broadcast on the Internet?” Laws, rules and policies, anti-bullying programs will never make grown people empathetic or cause them to refrain from intentionally humiliating another person for their own entertainment. It takes careful instruction in moral behavior from the time a person is a child to produce an adult who instinctively listens to that law of the Lord that is written in their heart.

“But you who philosophize disgrace
And criticize all fear,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.”

Bob Dylan. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.

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Suze Rotolo in her iconic picture

Well, there’s really not much to remember because I never knew Suze Rotolo. It was years before I even learned who she was.

However, take a good look at this album cover. With all the information in the picture, the thing that strikes you is the young woman’s smile. The first time I saw this album all I could see was that smile. Many things passed through my mind. Was she really Dylan’s girlfriend? Or a model hired for the photo shoot? Who the hell is Bob Dylan, anyway? Wouldn’t it be great to have a girlfriend like that? How fortunate he is to have a beautiful girl like her clutching his arm with such obvious affection. Why does Dylan look so grim while her smile radiates the warmth of the sun? (Turns out that Dylan was freezing while she was bundled up with layers!)

Look at the rest of the photo: The fire escapes of the row houses; the VW microbus on the left and the 54(?) Chevy taxicab on the right (the photo was taken in 1963); the slush in the street; the steely grey winter sky. All winter and gritty Greenwich Village  life. Dylan looks like the skinny kid who still does not know how this is all going to end. Suze’s beautiful face warms the whole scene with her confidence and obvious affection. The album songs are listed on the front cover, among them Blowin’ in the Wind, probably Dylan’s most influential work. Whoever heard of such songs: Masters of War; Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall. Bob Dylan’s Dream; Talkin’ World War III Blues? The two figures seem to emerge from the vanishing point of the perspective indicating a sense of new directions and things that have not been heard of yet. If you were alive in that moment, the whole cover resonates with the possibilities that those times presented. Like Dylan, we didn’t know how it would end, but we were sure that it would be great mainly, I think, because of Suze’s smile.

We are told that Suze stayed with Dylan for four years. She said in an interview that she was not comfortable with the trappings of celebrity that began to surround Dylan as his success grew. Finally, she left for Italy to continue her art studies. She became a successful artist in her own right, married, raised a family, and had a successful career teaching at Parsons School of Design. She was a liberated woman before there was such a thing.

Suze inspired several Dylan songs. While he may have written about the happy times with her, the ones that got on albums were about the effect of her leaving: Don’t Think Twice, Boots of Spanish Leather, Girl from the North Country. And who wouldn’t be distraught after losing the young woman on the album cover?

Suze also influenced Dylan in other ways. She said that she was raised without television. She described her home as “poor in material things but rich in culture.” Family life revolved around books and recordings of all different kinds of music, including opera. All of this she shared with Dylan who did not have access to this kind of culture growing up. The things she showed him expanded his range of experience and influenced his own work.

Suze died of cancer last week. If you see pictures of her in later life, the beauty is still there, changed, certainly, but not diminished by age. What does that matter? For a certain generation, her beautiful smile will always remain in our memories. Reflecting on that riveting image will always recall times of joy, possibility, and beauty beyond description. I wonder if she ever knew what that smile meant to so many people?

Thanks, Suze.

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