Bob Dylan just finished up his latest tour—or the latest leg of what people call his Never Ending Tour—with four concerts in Mexico, including one in Monterrey a few days ago. The area around Monterrey has become a big hot-spot in the Mexican drug war(s). Just yesterday, 49 headless bodies (some just armless and legless torsos) were dumped on a highway that leads from Monterrey to the border with South Texas. The authorities have been quick to offer assurances that this is only drug traffickers killing each other, although at this point they don’t actually know who the dead people are for, well, obvious reasons.
This level of violence and mass murder not so many miles from the U.S. border brings to my own mind the nightmarish vision of an alternative North America in Bob Dylan’s 2003 film Masked and Anonymous. Alternatives aside, the current scene is a nightmare when looked at from the right angle. As Dylan says in his closing monologue in that movie, “The way we look at the world is the way we really are. See it from a fair garden and everything looks cheerful. Climb to a higher plateau and you’ll see plunder and murder.” And Bob was paraphrasing the Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian (martyred in 258 A.D.) with those words. At a certain level of distance from human mayhem, it no doubt appears as if nothing ever changes.
Frank Sinatra died 14 years ago today. Now that was a change. I often think: Boy, if Frank were still around, he just wouldn’t put up with a lot of what’s currently going on in this world. But he’s no longer reachable by telephone or telegram. We just have his music, including a song written by Billy Rose and Mabel Wayne titled “It Happened in Monterey” (with just a single poetically licensed “r”), from his matchless 1956 album Songs for Swingin’ Lovers. (YouTube clip below.) It defines effortless swing, belying the fact that it required the combined talents of two geniuses at their peak (Sinatra and Nelson Riddle) and a host of superb musicians. It’s a shame we won’t be able to hear it anymore without thinking of dozens of headless torsos, but it sure still is one heckuva great record.