On the dangers of listening to Dylan on the train

When I was 16 I read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States.

I was still in High School. It effectively ruined any chance I had of being a good American patriot, in the way the term is commonly used.

I was more vocal about politics back then, and as I remember it, every ignorant hillbilly in Arizona was soon telling me that this was America, and I had to love it or leave it.

This was when Clinton was still president. Glorious days for America, now that I look back. There was a federal budget surplus. Nobody was particularly worried about the government listening to their private conversations. Evolution was taught in schools, to the detriment of creationism.

And yet I still ended up on the wrong end of the “love it or leave it” equation. And I left it.

After 7 years abroad, I can say that I feel more American than ever. Probably because I don’t have every moronic redneck in creation to bust my balls for refusing to partake in groupthink.

Only recently I’ve started listening to Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Bob Dylan.

And I have discovered plenty of things to love about my country, but having been away so long I’m not sure if what I’m loving is real.

Maybe I just love a few folk singers and a couple of pie recipes, and the rest could be destroyed by a tsunami tomorrow and I wouldn’t shed a tear.

Because honestly most of my actual American memories are of idiocy, horror, boredom or hypocrisy.

Today as I went to work on the train I listened to Dylan. My life is better here in Europe than it ever was in America, in nearly every aspect. And yet listening to Dylan made me feel like I’m missing out.

I imagine Dylan’s America in the 60s as a country that was embroiled in its first big fuckup. The Vietnam War was, of course, no picnic. But in all I imagine it as an innocently optimstic country with hope and real belief in human potential. A country still on top of its game,  that had no idea what the next 50 years were going to bring.

Suddenly as I listened to “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” I was filled with this stupid nostalgia for something I couldn’t really name, the open highway a guitar and a song and a rebellion against the status quo that looked like more than just whiny entitlement and wankery.

And then do you know what I did? I choked back the nostalgia, centered myself and felt the glory of living in a civilized European country.

And I walked to the offices of Fox TV, where I give English class to the executives. I’m practically one of Rupert Murdoch’s minions these days.

And you know what? I feel pretty damn good about it.

Tomorrow I’m going back to listening to Jay-Z on public transport.

Because I Love the Dough is an emotion I enjoy more than nostalgia.

P.S. When I talk to friends who are from the so-called blue states, they are shocked at the things I tell them. Just as I’m shocked about the things they tell me. Maybe it’s just Arizona, then. See also: Bill Bryson Goes to New Mexico.

P.P.S. Rob Harvilla, on his podcast 60 Songs that Explain the 90s has mentioned that becoming radicalized by Howard Zinn was a very 90s thing to do. I guess I didn’t know I was a huge cliché at the time I wrote this, but now it’s many years later, and I’m a cliché. Oh well.


How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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