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Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTonight on TDS, Tony Blair, former U.K. prime minister who's got a book to sell; and on TCR, Princeton historian  Sean Wilentz discusses his groundbreaking profile of the 60s icon: Bob Dylan in America.
(Which gives me the chance to post a bunch of videos...)

sausage grinder of snark


I'm not finding Tony Blair (or his new book, the memoir-slash-auto-hagiography) nearly as interesting as this Glee rerun. Chances are, the cats will require playtime during the interview, or maybe there'll be dishes to wash or something. Sure, maybe he'll talk about the egg throwing, but don't bet on it.

Although some of the reviews are entertaining. There's the usual stuff at the bookstores (I checked in at Amazon.uk for this one, where I found DEEP DOWN I AM A SUPERFICIAL SORT OF BLOKE, REALLY), and the expected huge number of related pieces especially in the UK press -- here's a 'five-minute read', some highlights, and a brief overview of UK reactions -- seems there's been a twitter/facebook thing about reshelving the book in the True Crime section (or maybe Fiction) in bookshops.

I've got two clips. This is from the New Yorker review:

Tony Blair has already been a central character in autobiographical works by his wife, Cherie; by his spin doctor and enforcer-in-chief, Alastair Campbell; and by his consigliere, Peter Mandelson (whose lively book, "The Third Man: Life at the Heart of New Labour," has spent weeks at the top of the U.K. best-seller lists). We know quite a bit about Blair: about his surprisingly sweary private self and his offstage tendency to dress like Austin Powers. We even know that his fourth child was conceived at Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish castle, because Cherie was too embarrassed to pack contraception and have it unpacked by the servants. Indeed, we may feel that we have all the private detail we need, which is just as well, because there is next to none of it in Blair’s new memoir, "A Journey" (Knopf; $35).

The book has been the beneficiary of an unusual form of advance publicity, in that its publication has been depicted in a Roman Polanski movie, "The Ghost Writer," based on a novel by Blair’s ex-friend Robert Harris. (Blair’s reported verdict on Harris: "a cheeky fuck.") In that story, the Blair figure is living on Martha’s Vineyard, hiding from possible war-crimes charges while a ghostwriter puts together an account of his life. There is a dark secret, and the former P.M.’s first and second ghostwriters are both murdered to keep it. This fictional version turns out to be half right. It is true that Blair’s memoirs keep his secrets well hidden; on the other hand, it is not the writer but the reader who will find the book deadly.

This tedium is not the result of a merely predictable evasion. Some of the events depicted in "A Journey" remain a matter of angry controversy. There’s an ongoing inquiry into the reasons for Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq—it’s Britain’s third official inquiry into events around the war, with a fourth, concerning the use of torture, also now under way. Nobody would expect to read here anything that diverged from the tightly held official narrative of events. Nonetheless, Blair’s reticence on some subjects reaches mystifying levels. On the six-hundred-and-eightieth page of a six-hundred-and-eighty-two-page book that consists almost entirely of detailed accounts of politics, Blair writes, "I have always been more interested in religion than politics." It is just about the only mention of religion in the book. Blair nowhere says what his religious beliefs are, and nowhere discusses how they affect his politics or his decision-making or his daily life. It is a bizarre silence in a book of this type and title.

And here's from ESPN.go.com, of all places (it's Greg Easterbrook. Scroll down past Is Texans' win a sign of Armageddon?. Then go back and read that, too):

Tony Blair's Fictionalized Self Is More Appealing Than His Actual Self: Three weeks ago, TMQ said "this year's literary fraud" was a fabricated book about the Hiroshima bombing. I spoke too soon! This year's literary fraud seems to be "A Journey," former British prime minister Tony Blair's volume of self-praise. The book's key scene is all but word-for-word identical to a scene from the 2006 movie "The Queen" -- a scene the screenwriter says came entirely from his imagination. Blair wants us to believe the scene actually happened, and now stands accused of "plagiarizing [his] fictionalized self," which does sound a rather modern offense.

What's troubling here is not so much the revelation of yet another political phony seeking easy money. Recall that former CIA director George Tenet's 2007 book, "At the Center of the Storm," sold to readers as true, begins with a dramatic scene Tenet later admitted he fabricated. What's really troubling is that Knopf, the U.S. publisher of the Blair book-like object, doesn't seem to give a fig whether the content is genuine, so long as the book-like object is selling.

Stephen's got Princeton historian Sean Wilentz:

Chants Democratic (1984), which won several national prizes, including the Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association, shows how the working class emerged in New York City and examines the changes in politics and political thought that came with it. It has recently been republished with a new preface in a 20th-anniversary edition...His major work to date, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005), was awarded the Bancroft Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book is The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008, a reconsideration of U.S. politics since the Watergate affair. A contributing editor to The New Republic and Newsweek, Professor Wilentz lectures frequently and has written some three hundred articles, reviews, and op-ed pieces for publications such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the American Scholar, The Nation, Le Monde, and Salon. He also writes about American music, for which he has received a Grammy nomination and a Deems Taylor-ASCAP award. In his spare writing time, he is historian-in-residence at Bob Dylan’s official website, www.bobdylan.com

You might possibly have some, um, unpleasant memories involving his support of Hillary in the primaries, but luckily he's here to talk about his latest book, Bob Dylan in America (yes, Dylan's still around. Touring, even). Sounds like it's not the usual celeb bio, but more of an actual scholarly work, discussing Dylan's place in the context of American musical history:

His new book, " Bob Dylan  in America," (Doubleday) is about how the strains of American music and American history have come together in one man over the course of a nearly 50-year career. In Wilentz's view, Dylan has served as a conduit for potent and nearly forgotten strands in American musical, folk and political culture. The Popular Front artists, the Beat writers, the forgotten blues singers discovered by John and Alan Lomax, these are some of the people whose work speaks through Dylan. And so, appropriate for a historian, the book is a vision of how the past becomes part of our living present.

For example, the book starts with a chapter on Aaron Copland (and BTW, anyone on Wikipedia? his page needs some editing. Looks like a repeat offender).

The New Yorker has an excerpt, and Wilentz's site has lots of review links, additional essays, interview snippets, etc. I got distracted by youtube, though:

That might be my favorite video ever. In a piece titled Is Bob Dylan Hip-Hop's Godfather? His Ties to Beasties, Roots, More, Rolling Stone recently asked "Is this the very first rap song ever?" (It's from 1965.) And as with most of Dylan, there are a whole lot of covers out there (yes, including a whole lot of the guy-in-underwear-with-acoustic-guitar genre, most of which I was able to avoid).

This one, from Alanis Morissette, isn't  my favorite, but some of you might appreciate it. She also does "Blowin' in the Wind"

And then, of course:

This one's new, from his 2009 Christmas album. Strikes me as hysterical:

And, well:

Lots of versions of that around, too. But I've got to stop watching vids at some point.

Anyway, no idea how this interview will come across. But I'm going to take a look at the book -- I've got a bunch of gifting-holidays coming up...

Originally posted to TiaRachel on Tue Sep 14, 2010 at 07:57 PM PDT.

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