Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The "Magic" of "The Ballad of a Thin Man"

Sitting in chambers last night for the first business meeting of the Norwich City Council we elected last month, two songs kept running through my head (the curse of being an old DJ is everything reminds you of a tune. Believe me, you don't ever want to know what prompts me to think about Frank Zappa's "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama". Heck, I don't even want to know).

In Magic, Bruce Springsteen sings, "Trust none of what you hear and less of what you see". Bob Dylan spoke 42 years ago (42!!!) in The Ballad of a Thin Man, "Because something is happening here, But you don't know what it is-do you, Mr. Jones."

Turns out Mr. Jones had company. Local newspapers reported this morning the City Council postponed expending over 600K on the animal shelter, pending a further review of alternatives. They also reported on the Council approving the Mayor's recommendations for members of an advisory board for the Sachem Fund (a joint municipal and Mohegan tribe venture). Had only this been all the City Council accomplished last night, it, in and of itself, would have been a good night's work.

What was relegated to the smallest (and last two) paragraphs in one of the reports was the Council agreeing among themselves as to how they will conduct their business for the next two years, their rules of procedure. The expression 'what were once vices are now habits' is as true of government as it is for each of us as individuals. In the course of years, we develop a shorthand for saying things and a shortcut way of getting things done; perhaps it's not the fairest or the best way, but by golly (by gum) it's how we've always done it. No mystery, it's our history.
And if you always do what you've always do, you'll always get what you've always gotten. And that's the rub, Sweet Prince of Denmark, what have we gotten ?

According to a representative who spoke at the bond and debt workshop before the Council meeting (he was from William Blair and Co in Chicago), Norwich has a lower than average General Fund balance but also a lower than average per capita income level (as I understood it, parts if not all of A Perfect Storm, with only higher than average levels of debt service to city revenues coupled with high interest rates for borrowing, missing from the equation).
Actually, as we've struggled to search for the guilty to blame for how we got here (as opposed to finding a safe passage through treacherous waters), I've found myself humming (okay, not really-it's a hard song to hum) another Dylan tune:

"Praise be to Nero's Neptune/The Titanic sails at dawn.
And everybody shouting/'Which side are you on?'
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot/Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them/And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea/Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much/About Desolation Row."

Being a human Wurlitzer has its downside, like when someone wants to play Why Can't We Be Friends?, and I'm wondering if Todd Rundgren ever lived here.
-bill kenny

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