Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost...And Found

If you have yet to watch the Lost series finale, then you may want to wait before you read this. If you never watched Lost, then you might not want to read this either, but c’mon, it couldn’t hurt.

To (somewhat insensitively) quote a great man, “It is finished.” The television series Lost has finally come to a close, after six seasons of unanswered questions, allegorical meanings and allusions, and a whole lot of stuff that didn’t make any sense. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

I am not a sci-fi nerd. I’m not a philosophy major or a psychology major or a theology major. I can’t delve into the mythology of the island or reveal theories for all of the crazy questions that the show threw out. But I did watch every second of every episode of all six seasons, and because of that, I can tell you exactly what the meaning of Lost was…for me at least.

There are two kinds of people – those that watched Lost, and those that did not. Ironically, they have one very big thing in common: for the most part, no one had any idea what the hell was going on. Throughout its entire run, Lost was notorious for its endless mystery, and for collectively tying its viewership’s brain into a gigantic pretzel. Many people, although enamored with the show and the characters and the mysteries it put forth, went down with the Lost ship, hoping that in the end, everything would make sense, and all pertinent questions would be answered. Technically, I don’t think that happened. But I also don’t think that was the point.

It’s been said, during the media and fan frenzy leading up to the Lost finale, that Lost is a show about characters, or about redemption, or about spirituality, or about mystery itself. But for me, Lost was about the journey of life, and every small, beautiful experience that is picked up along the way.

All of our questions weren’t answered. All of deepest hopes and wishes about the show probably didn’t come true. And life is that way. (I know that since all of this is coming from a lifelong sarcastic smartass, you might be raising your eyebrows right now, but just roll with me.) Lost represented the most basic foundation of life – the fact that everything doesn’t work out the way you plan, and that often times we define ourselves by our failures or short comings more than anything else. But rather, life should be about the path that we traveled, the moments we experienced along the way, and the people that we shared those experiences with. As the show said in its closing minutes, “That’s why all of you are here…Nobody does it alone… The most important moments in our lives are the things we most enjoyed and learned from in the company of the people we most enjoyed and learned from.

Too often in life, people are striving for something in the future, looking forward to something off in the distance, working for the weekend instead of working for the week. I think Lost was trying to show us that this isn’t always the best thing. The end holds no substantive meaning or purpose if the journey was a pointless blur. It’s like a roller coaster: the end is only enjoyable if the ride down was super fun.

Back home in lovely Cleves, Ohio, there is a poster in the garage of my house, with a photo of a beautiful, picturesque pathway, surrounded by foliage and scenery that looks as if it were dreamt up from a Robert Frost poem. The caption on the poster reads, “Happiness is found along the way, not at the end of the road.” I think Lost was trying to tell us the same thing. The ending (or finale, if you will) can’t be enjoyed if the trip that took us there was empty and void. And when you finally do reach the end, it is special because of what you gained along the way, whether it be from relationships or experiences or fleeting instances of emotion. Every miniscule moment has a purpose, and that’s what makes the ending so meaningful. Lost taught us that in the end, regardless of what you may philosophically or spiritually or religiously believe, every single person has to go through the same thing: “Not leaving, no. Moving on.”

Your life is there to help you learn and grow, to triumph and fail, to become the person you’re supposed to be. The end is there to help you remember all of those things, to allow you to look back and realize how it all made sense and all served a purpose. The end isn’t there to fulfill your life or answer all of life’s questions. It’s there to give us closure and finality, to allow us to take it all in, one last time. It’s there to help us appreciate the journey and all that we gathered from it. Maybe we end up in a better place. Maybe we end up in a terrible place. Maybe we end up with the memories of what we did and the people that we loved. Maybe we go on to live other lives in other realities or come back to this earth as a tree or a bird or a summer breeze. Maybe we rot in a six-foot hole. Based on what I believe, I know where I’m going, because my journey in life taught me that. But regardless, we all have to do the same thing at first, just like the show said: move on.

In many ways, Lost is also its own metaphor. Just like the ending of life, the ending of the show doesn’t give us all the answers. If you watched the show only to reach the finale and answer your questions, it probably held very little meaning or enjoyment for you. The satisfaction was in the journey of the show. It was in the voyage of the characters and their lives and the unsolvable mystery of the island. The joy was in the connections with others that watched the show. From the very beginning, watching Lost was something that my father and I did together. Even if we weren’t always sitting next to each other, we were always talking about it and discussing it, going back and forth to try and explain what was going on. It wasn’t the ending that made the show fun for the two of us; it was being able to share the whole experience together.

The satisfaction came from being able to talk to my friends about the show, find out what their favorite theories were or which of Hurley’s nicknames they like best. The satisfaction came from meeting someone for the first time, and yet still knowing exactly what they meant if they asked, “What the eff is down that hatch?” or “What is that big, black, smokey cloud thing?” or “What’s going on with this Flash Sideways world? Our happiness for the show could only be found along the way, not at the end of the road. The answers weren’t important. The whole experience is what was important.

As deep and emotional as all of that sounded, there is no need to worry. I’m not sitting here bawling my eyes out or getting in touch with my emotions. I’m still going to be the same laid back, sarcastic, smartass kid. Seinfeld will still always be my favorite show. But that doesn’t take away from anything that I wrote, or anything that the show meant to me. It served a purpose, and in the end, I finally realized what the purpose of those six seasons was: enjoying the journey. The ending was there to teach me that. It all came full circle.


You needed all of them, and they needed you.”

For what?

To remember…and to let go.

That was the “big answer” the show gave. That was what it all meant: every relationship, every experience (or every episode, every character) is there to help us enjoy life and remember life, enjoy the journey and remember the journey (or the entire series)…and then, to let go. When it ends, we all have to move on.

That is what I gained from Lost. Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m completely, utterly, and profoundly wrong. Either way, the beauty of the show was contained only in what it meant specifically to me – and in the end, that’s really all that matters.

Thanks for reading

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Follow-Up to Shameless Self-Promotion

As promised last month, here is a follow-up story on Ohio Bobcats star basketball player Armon Bassett and his future with the team.

And in case you missed it, the previous story on Bassett ("The Long and Winding Road") can also be found on this site.

Thanks for reading

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)

Hemingway’s kids never attempted to become the novelist that their father was. Mozart’s kids never tried to bang it out on the keys, just like Wolfy. Moses’ kids never tried to talk to a burning bush. And yet, Jakob Dylan decided to walk the same path as his father. Despite the lofty and conceivably unreachable standards that Bob had set for him, Jakob couldn’t help himself.

I have spent a lot of words on the great Bob Dylan. Anyone that is even slightly acquainted with me most likely knows the reverence that I have for the man, both as a musician and a cultural icon. And whenever you may read or hear me refer to him as the Greatest American Hero of All Time, you probably have serious questions about whether I am joking or not. (Honestly? I am joking...a little. But definitely not half-joking, or even quarter-joking. It’s probably closer to like 5 or 10 percent joking, with 95 to 90 percent seriousness. Really. I can make the argument. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the #2 American Hero is John McClain.)

And while I have an infinite number of reasons for why I believe that Bob is the most historically and culturally important musician of all-time, I have just as many reasons for why I find him to be incredibly riveting and interesting. However, he might not even be the most interesting musician in his immediate family.

Jakob Dylan, to me, is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, and deep-fried in an enigma. The fourth and youngest child of Bob and Sara Dylan is probably best known as lead singer and songwriter of the band The Wallflowers. The band itself is probably best known for their hit song, “One Headlight”, off of their quadruple platinum album, Bringing Down the Horse. And the song “One Headlight” is probably best known for winning two Grammy Awards in 1998, as well as being belted out by an incalculable number of middle-aged drunk people at their local karaoke bars. The Wallflowers released five total studio albums, and Jakob has recently released two solo albums, the first in 2008, and the second (Women and Country) in early April of this year.

But those facts don’t really tell the story of Jakob Dylan, or his relationship to his father and how that has shaped his career in the music business. What really makes Jakob so incredibly, mind-bogglingly fascinating to me is that, more than anything, Jakob has tried to separate himself from his father as much as possible when it comes to being a musician. And I don’t mean separate in terms of sound, style, look, or perception, but simply by distancing himself from the fact that he is Bob’s son.

Jakob has never once, at least publicly or to my knowledge, tried to gain an ounce of fame, publicity, sympathy or even notoriety from his father’s name. He has never marketed his band or his own identity as that of “Bob Dylan’s son.” He has largely kept that aspect of his life under wraps, only electing to talk about it when asked, and even then limiting his words on the topic. How astonishing is this? In a world where kids always seem to use the fame or fortune of their parents for any slight advantage they can get, Jakob buries it as much as possible. In a society where Paris Hilton and Brody Jenner (people with no discernable talent other than being photogenic) have become household names due to the triumphs of their guardians, Jakob Dylan would rather die as a starving artist than lean on Bob to help him sell records. It’s absurd. If my father were rich and famous, I would most certainly be a snot-nosed snob, majoring in yoga or film at UCLA, wearing Ed Hardy shirts and True Religion jeans, driving a Porsche 911, using more hair gel than Wolf "The Dentist" Stansson from D2: The Mighty Ducks, and starring in some variation of a VH1 reality show. And you can’t convince me that you would be any different. But somehow, Jakob Dylan is.

It would be na├»ve of me to say that Jakob’s bloodline has had nothing to do with his musical career. At one point or another, either Jakob or his band has toured as the opening act for the likes of Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, and Tom Petty, all three of whom are friends and contemporaries of Bob. Also, Jakob’s contract as a solo artist is with Columbia Records, which just happens to be the company that Bob has been signed to since 1962 (with a brief hiatus in the 70s). But there is no evidence that Jakob used his father to swing these things, and it certainly wasn’t Bob that got his career started. After The Wallflowers were let out of their contract with Virgin Records following the release of their first album, the band came back strong with Bringing Down the Horse four years later. Bob Dylan didn’t do that; Jakob and The Wallflowers did. Bob Dylan didn’t write “One Headlight”, and Bob Dylan didn’t make Bringing Down the Horse sell six million-plus albums. In fact, T-Bone Burnett (a famous singer-songwriter who produced the band’s hit album) once said: “I don't think Jakob sold a single record because he is Bob's son. I think he sold a lot of records because ‘One Headlight’ is a very good song. I wonder how many Wallflowers fans even know who Bob Dylan is.” It’s true. Most people are surprised when you tell them that “Bob Dylan’s kid sings ‘One Headlight’.” Some of you might not have known until reading this. And when you consider all of that, it just makes Jakob’s story that much more interesting.

There is very little public information about the personal relationship between Bob and Jakob Dylan, but by all accounts, they seem to have a very healthy father-son bond. Both have pretty much kept a lid on talking about their family life, but there have never been any credited reports of a strained relationship or any type of separation. In all honesty, it just seems that the two have made a conscientious effort to keep quiet about the whole thing. Jakob is very private about his family in general, including his wife and kids, and Bob has always kept it to a minimum when talking about his personal life, especially in the last few decades. Basically, Jakob didn’t want a free ride and Bob didn’t want to step on his toes. I mean, the two have only played at the same concert once, and at no point were they on stage together.

But with that said, it’s hard to look at or listen to Jakob and not think of his father. Physically, there are a great deal of similarities, many of which have become more noticeable as Jakob has gotten older. You can also sense Bob’s influence in Jakob’s sound and songwriting, although not any more distinctly than you can sense Bob’s influence on Conor Oberst, Amos Lee, Devendra Banhart, or any other folk/indie artists of today that Bob’s music has had an impact on. Jakob’s voice is also much softer and smoother than his dad’s, and he often sounds closer to an early Springsteen or Clapton than to the sharp and passionate sound of Bob, which always found a way to be sarcastic and sincere at the same time.

His father’s folk presence does seem more apparent on Jakob’s two solo albums, with his soft acoustic sound and melancholy lyrics evoking his father’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan or Blood On The Tracks. And the shift to a more country sound on the second solo album is similar to Bob’s own ventures into country music with releases such as Nashville Skyline and Desire. But through it all, Jakob has certainly crafted his own unique sound and image, one that has simultaneously placed him as a successful and accomplished musician to the blind ear or ignorant eye, but also one that has him coming up short of expectations or being second-rate when compared to his father. And it is in this quandary that Jakob has shed light on his true self.

Jakob has never been concerned or interested in measuring up to his father, all of which goes back to the fact that he has never relied on Bob for success as a musician. While Jakob has indirectly acknowledged his public perception as the “severely less-accomplished Dylan” on songs like “Sleepwalker” and “Hand Me Down”, it never comes from a place of jealousy or self-contempt. Rather, Jakob just alludes to the belief of others that he has come up short, despite the fact that he personally couldn’t care less. In his eyes, he sees no sense in comparing himself to Bob; it's never something he strived for. This is smart, because Jakob would also be the first to tell you that if he did measure himself by Bob’s ladder, he would only be setting up for major disappointment. When asked in a 1996 interview if he ever felt pressured by the fact that he was Bob’s son, he said: “Not at all. I never consider it, really. I don't think anybody could operate on a healthy level if they did. We're not talking about an artist [referring to Bob] who can be compared to anybody, you know. It’s hard to say it any better than that.

There are plenty instances of children following in the foot-steps of their famous parents. Sometimes they exceed the legacy left behind (Ken Griffey Jr., Miley Cyrus, Kiefer Sutherland) and sometimes they fall short (Lisa Marie Presley, Nicole Richie, Carnie Wilson). But when you look at those people – as well as people like Charlie Sheen, Liza Minelli, Laila Ali, George W. Bush, and countless others – at one point or another, they all relied on the prominence, recognition, or mystic of their parents to reach any level of success or notoriety. But not Jakob Dylan. He had a tougher act to follow than any of them, and he chose to do it on his own. The closest analogy would probably be the rest of us on earth trying to live our lives like Jesus, yet knowing we will inevitably fall short. (Hey, I said it was close, not exact. Calm down). It’s what separates Dylan from everyone else.

In that same interview Jakob did back in ’96, he mentioned how there was always people at his concerts that would yell out requests for Bob Dylan songs. And when asked if he ever honored those requests, he simply stated, “No, I do not.” This is probably the simplest way to describe Jakob. He knows he’s not Bob Dylan, so he doesn’t try to be. That is not the path that he wanted to choose. T-Bone Burnett made yet another insightful comment about the younger Dylan when he said, “As far as Jakob is concerned, I can't imagine having larger footsteps to follow in.” Well, Jakob never imagined it. He had the self-awareness to realize, from the very beginning, that he couldn't emulate or live up to the legacy of his dad. In the end, separating himself from his father was the smartest thing he ever did. It wasn’t baffling at all; it was just the only logical decision. He realized that no matter what, he would never be Bob Dylan.

And luckily for Jakob, he never wanted to be.

Thanks for reading