September 28, 2007

Monikers and How to Shed Them

Bob Dylan is in town tomorrow with Elvis Costello. Bruce Springsteen will be in town in mid-November. Being me, I began ruminating on something that concerns all three of these musicians: the use of a moniker. Robert Zimmerman, more commonly known as Bob Dylan, lent his voice and penned lyrics to a generation of the disenfranchised and politically active. In doing so, he immortalized the name Bob Dylan, and lent it to the public a moniker to bestow on budding folk musicians. Since the late 1970s, new singers with even a small resemblance to Bob Dylan have been branded as "the NEXT BOB DYLAN" Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, John Wesley Harding, and many others. John Wesley harding was doomed from the start- he named himself after a Dylan song. But both Springsteen and Costello managed to escape the "NEXT BOD DYLAN" title and emerge into the spotlight themselves.
By now you're probably wondering what the hell this musical commentary has to do with politicians and debate. A lot. It is just an example of a disturbing trend in our society to label the next big thing with something from the past. In politics, we keep looking for the next Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, JFK, or Ronald Reagan. This labeling seems to be seriously en vogue this presidential race. Republicans are looking for a turn to Reaganism, a candidate like Reagan who brought the Republican Party back into the limelight after the corruption of the Nixon years. The Democrats, on the other hand, seem to be searching for a candidate that is both radical and extremely popular, a la Franklin Roosevelt. But this trend worries me. If we continue to label and look for the next anything, are we not dooming ourselves to re-living the past and the mistakes that were made. We can't think of these new politicians in the same way we thought of the old ones. We have to expect them, and encourage them, to turn into something new and unique. Incorporate elements of the past, but don't simply emulate it. Both Springsteen and Costello were thought to be simple copies of Bob Dylan, but instead turned into great musicians in their own rights. That is what we need politicians to do. We can't misconstrue today's candidates with presidents from the past. We have to listen instead to what they are saying, and not diluting it with what we want to see and hear.

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