Silas McGee's Farm, Greenwood, Mississippi

Maggie's Farm by Bob Dylan

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I wake up in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are driving me insane Read full Lyrics
Primates Politics are a Pain in the Patootie.

Anybody who's joined any niche interest, political cause, social activist activity, or subculture can identify. You leave the mainstream to go find people more like you, people who believe as you do. People who know where it's at. Then after a while, you notice that the subculture represses each other worse than the mainstream represses the subculture.

The gay community lambastes you if you aren't liberal enough. The Libertarians slaughter you for not fighting for the gold standard hard enough. The punks fight over who's for real and who's a poser. The manga fans get in a tizzy over the invasion of their little niche culture by big corporations. The Linux fans fight you for not being GPL enough, and then if you do go pure FOSS you get ostracized as a zealot. The feminist movement is quick to have massive flame-wars over whether or not everybody's militant enough or too militant. PETA members will roast you for not showing up to enough protests.

It's bloody. It's a spiritual war that leaves you on the defensive fighting against the very people you expect to be most sympathetic with you. In the end you question the group, the culture, even the cause itself. That is, if you didn't split away from the main subculture to form your own sub-sub-subculture. Eventually, you end up with hundreds of fragmented little tribes, all not speaking to each other.

That's what Bob Dylan felt when he wrote Maggie's Farm in 1965, his Declaration of Independence from the folk protest movement. Yes, the man who is today seen as the father of the movement declared that he'd had it up to here with the movement, and all of its crushing expectations. The promoters who are just in it to make a buck, the hard-core paranoid militants, the judgmental, condescending activists, the Royal Decrees of who's a real activist and who's just a poser/flake/waffler. They all ride your back, wanting you to join their little sub-tribe, when you just want to be yourself.

Tallahatchie Flats in Greenwood, Mississippi<br>Photo: <a href="" target="_blank">Visit Mississippi</a> via Flickr, CC 2.0Tallahatchie Flats in Greenwood, Mississippi
Photo: Visit Mississippi via Flickr, CC 2.0
Anybody who's been there can identify with the Balkanization of a subculture. Perhaps that's just the fate of humans trying to govern themselves. Perhaps, like monkeys, we are comfortable only with a tribe just a certain size, and when it gets too big we want to split. Perhaps the kinds of strong personalities who would form a subculture in the first place are just those kinds of rebels who will go on fighting with each other after they've given up on fighting the mainstream.

The culture of the folk protest movement itself is the metaphorical farm in Maggie's Farm. However, even the title is a playful pun on Silas McGee's Farm, host to the 1963 protest featured in the film Don't Look Back. Like a slaving farmhand, Bob Dylan felt put-upon by trying to please everybody within the movement, while his own creativity was being stunted and his muse was being denied. He had his own voice and his own ways of doing things, and he was about to set sail and follow that star. Looking back on his body of prolific work, it's a sum gain for everyone.

The heck with scrubbing that floor!

Pete Trbovich
April 7, 2010
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