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rightly so, there was no real market for these old fogies when there was Miles Davis and John Coltrane. So in a few years, after a last degrading record made to sell in 1964, "Ben Webster at the World's Fair," after the British Invasion, after the Five Spot Cafe is turned into a pizza parlor and then a used-clothing store, Webster takes off to Amsterdam. That's where Dexter Gordon Uves, that's where Eric Dolphy lives, that's where tens of great American black artists live, because they're fed up with American commerce and race. In those last years Webster records sporadically, and his last recordings, equivalent to Holiday's recordings of the fifties, are made for obscure Dutch labels. One set of recordings, an Affinity two-fer featuring those Duke Ellington songs that made him famous, is particularly poignant. The notes are not so different, but the tempos are slower, the emotional effect is of greater pain, the nostalgic grace of the playing reminds me of Mozart's great Clarinet Concerto, K. 622, composed shortly before his death. Every note is an elegy. And that, it seems to me, is the legacy of Webster's last recordings. There are other lessons, confused and contradictory, in the art and life of Ben Webster. He perservered, maintained his style regardless of fashion. He died unappreciated, though his art was great and though he kept at it every day of his life. He could be a generous man but when he drank, and that was often, he'd senselessly start fights. He was a relentless womanizer. He seduced women with his instrument . He saved the best part of himself for his work. Webster reminds us that grief is ennobling, though not necessarily transformative; that we're made more human by our suffering, though not necessarily better humans. We may never recover from loss, but we can memorialize it with the imagination. Webster's art ultimately affirms, because he makes us feel that if there's beauty even in despair, perhaps, just perhaps, we can survive the world. BOB DYLAN AND THE WHITE GODDESS / Richard Tillinghast IN 1960 BOB DYLAN "burst on the scene already a legend,/The unwashed phenomenon, the original vagabond," as Joan Baez later described him in her song "Diamonds and Rust." He seemed cut according to the Woody Guthrie template, a workshirt-wearin', guitar-pickin' person with a lot to say about migrant workers and 272 ยท The Missouri Review sharecroppers. The Baez song, however, talks more about eros than about social consciousness: You strayed into my arms And there you stayed, temporarily lost at sea. The madonna was yours for free, yes the girl on the half-shell Could keep you unharmed. Dylan's interest in the protest song would fade faster than a pair of Levi's, but he would continue to court the idealized lady whom poets from the Greeks to the troubadours of medieval Provence to Dante to many of our contemporaries have looked to for inspiration. Robert Graves, of course, called her the White Goddess. Jung wrote of the anima: the hidden, feminine side of a man's psyche, which he sought out in women, and when encountered, made him feel he had at last discovered his true self or twin. The search for this other self, twin, muse, madonna, has turned out to be a strikingly insistent lifelong quest for Dylan. Though sardonic and a master of the put-on, this is one subject he has not tended to joke about. And over the long haul this lady has not proved to be his "for free." Dylan's early songs addressed to women are, like his early songs addressed to everyone else, confrontational, biting, and derisive. "Just Like a Woman," for example, takes for its title a traditionally derogative male comment. The emotions run deep here, but they are bittersweet: It was raining from the first, and I was dying of thirst, So I came in here. Your longtime curse hurts, but what's worse Is this pain in here. I can't stay in here, Ain't it clear? That I just can't fit. Yes I believe it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 172-176
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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