On Dylan’s “Mama You Been On My Mind”

Mama You Been On My Mind

See lyrics

Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat and coverin’
The crossroads I’m standin’ at.
Or maybe it’s the weather or somethin’ like that.
But, mama, you been on my mind.

I don’t mean trouble please don’t put me down or get upset.
I am not pleading or saying I can’t forget you.
I do not pace the floor bowed down and bent but yet,
Mama you been on my mind.

Even though my eyes are hazy and my thoughts they might be narrow
Where you been don’t bother me or bring me down with sorrow.
I don’t even mind who’ll you be waking with tomorrow.
Mama, you’re just on my mind.

I’m not askin’ you to say words like yes or no.
Please, understand me.
I have no place I’m callin’ you to go.
I’m just whispering to myself so I can’t pretend that I don’t know.
Mama, you been on my mind.

When you wake up in the mornin’ baby look inside your mirror.
You know I won’t be next to you. You know I won’t be near.
I’d just be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear
As someone who has had you on his mind.

This is one of my all-time favorite Dylan songs. It provides a rich and moving glimpse into a relationship that is at a “crossroads”– forced to pivot into a new phase by some unnamed force. It’s a love song that is not cut from a clean template. It’s not about love sought or love achieved or love betrayed or any of those timeless motifs that abound across musical genres. It’s about something subtler and more complicated. It’s about a love that burns but does not consume; love required to exist in ambiguity.

To my mind, the song is doubly tender– tender in its show of affection, and tender in its show of restraint.

Dylan doesn’t say “I need you” or “you complete me” or “baby come back” or anything like that. Instead he sings “I’m not asking you to say words like yes or no, please understand me / I have no place I’m calling you to go … Mama, you’re just on my mind.” It’s a kind of half-hearted resignation. It’s both childish and mature, and ultimately just genuine. And beautiful and tragic.

It’s a song about love that should be acknowledged but not manifested for the time being. It’s about love that should be seen but not touched, like a painting. A song about love differed. I have long been enchanted with the way the words fall together in every verse, and the honest, instantly intimate scene they create.

Taking a stab at data mining Dylan

We know that the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan rambled and roamed all across the United States. He grew up bored and cold in the mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota. When he learned that his musical idol, Woody Guthrie, was on his death bed, he made a pilgrimage to NYC in hopes of seeing Guthrie in the hospital. Once he was in New York, Dylan hung around Greenwich Village for a while, soaking up new musical and lyrical styles from that 1960’s creative hub. He recorded an album, got himself famous, and went on to travel all over the US and the world.

We know he went lots of places. But which places did he sing about? To answer that question, I made a tentative foray into text mining with Python and its web scraping/ natural language processing modules, then mapped the results with Carto.com. Here’s the result, so far:

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Notes on Forming a Bandana in College

Excerpts from my diary, on the process of forming a bandana in college:

January 14, 2015
I was in a bandana for a while back in high school, but then I graduated and I guess we just sort of went our separate ways. I imagined getting into a bandana again once I started college, but I’ve had trouble finding one that really suits me. None of the bandanas around here are really my style, ya know? Oh well.

February 8, 2015
A friend of mine pointed out that I don’t have to wait around until I stumble upon my dream bandana– I could form my own from scratch! I think this is a great idea. I already put an ad up on Craigslist, and made posters to hang on bulletin boards around campus:

College student looking for some dedicated, yet laid back fellas to help me form a bandana! I already own most of the necessary equipment… just need a few bandana mates willing to meet a couple times a week and make this thing happen. Call me!

Exciting stuff!

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Love Is [Poem]

love is admiration
of the essence
of another

at best, it inspires —
compels you to contort
like a vine, twisting and turning
as it climbs to new heights

love is always a delusion
but it’s a healthy, vital delusion
like optimism
like purpose
like self

The Insult and Absurdity of ‘Make America Great Again’

A "Make America great again" hat.

Of the many dangerous untruths espoused by the Trump campaign, perhaps none was so flagrant as the one embedded right in the campaign’s central promise, “Make America Great Again.” That phrase seemingly asks us to recall a period when the United States still offered freedom and prosperity to all– when the American Dream was alive and well, unmarred by today’s excesses of bad regulation, Washington elitism, and so-called “political correctness.” But when was that time? When was America great?1

  • Was America great in 1917, when President Wilson asked congress for a declaration of war against Germany, asserting “we are glad [to fight] … for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples? 1917, when suffragist Alice Paul was being force-fed raw eggs through a tube in the psychopathic ward of the DC District Jail, for the grave offense of suggesting women should be allowed to vote?2
  • Was America great in 1962, when President Kennedy rallied support for the audacious national effort to land a man on the moon? 1962, when US troops plodded through puddles in Vietnam, burning the huts of the rural poor, and Americans were “faced with the cruel irony” Dr. King would later remark “of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools?”

The United States has harbored an abundance of great ideas, great individuals, and great moments. But they have always existed in tandem with profound and unconscionable violence, oppression, and anguish. Moreover, the freedoms and liberties of American life have always fallen disproportionately on the white, the male, the straight, and the wealthy, while the nation’s crimes and atrocities have always fallen disproportionately on the black and brown, the non-straight, the female-bodied, and the poor. For these reasons and more, we cannot nostalgically label as “great” any period of American history.

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Make New Humans (A Meiosis Song)

For my genetics class, we were tasked with reviewing meiosis and then producing evidence of our review. To that end, I give you: “Make New Humans (A Meiosis Song).”

Lyrics:

Double-stranded DNA
Gets undone by helicase
But you don’t really care about interphase, now do you?
The subject here is meiosis
The first prophase the cytokinesis
The process by which we make new humans

Make new humans [x4]

Well mitosis works pretty well
For cloning autosomal cells
But if you want real evolution, baby, it just won’t do you.
But imagine if during anaphase
Cohesin kept the chromatids in place,
So homologous chromosomes were the ones split by microtubules

Microtubules [x4]

Now when you’re making up haploid cells
Independent assortment is swell
If you wanna guarantee your progeny don’t look just like you
But why not pick up even more variation?
Through interchromosomal recombination
“Crossing over” helps us make new humans

Make new humans [x4]

[For lyrics with chords, click here].

Little Differences: Some Observations from Europe

In an iconic scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, John Travolta’s character (Vincent) says to Samuel L. Jackson’s character (Jules) “you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?… It’s the little differences. A lotta the same shit we got here, they got there, but there they’re a little different.” Many of the Europeans I have met know the exchange by heart.

JULES Examples?

VINCENT Well, in Amsterdam, you can buy beer in a movie theatre. And I don’t mean in a paper cup either. They give you a glass of beer, like in a bar. In Paris, you can buy beer at MacDonald’s. Also, you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

JULES They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

VINCENT No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.

JULES What’d they call it?

VINCENT Royale with Cheese (…) you know what they put on french fries in Holland instead of ketchup?

JULES What?

VINCENT Mayonnaise.

JULES Goddamn!

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Travel Update

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN — Today marks exactly 100 days of traveling in Europe. I’ve been backpacking alone, taking classes, and spending time with family. I cycled through Amsterdam and hitchhiked through the Highlands. I learned Swedish folks songs in Uppsala and sailing fundamentals in Norfolk. I swam in the Gulf of Finland (saunaed for warmth) and in the Sound of Raasay (drank whisky for warmth.) I caught free jazz in Copenhagen, Dresden and Hamburg. I got to see an ecovillage in Scotland (and help out in the kitchen) and a refugee aid operation in France (and help out in the kitchen.) I made a bunch of mistakes and handful friends. I’m grateful, grateful, grateful.

Hey, here’s a map of where I slept for the past 100 nights.

What next? Now I’m in Gothenburg, Sweden, embarking on an internship with a small, clean-tech startup company. Next term I’ll go back to school.