John Dickerson

John Dickerson is a CBS senior national correspondent and Chief Political Analyst. He is also a Contributing Writer to The Atlantic and is co-host of the Slate Political Gabfest.

  • 04/29/2023: The Magic of Music

    My cocktail chatter from the recent Gabfest:

    My chatter is on the magical properties of music. To me, musicians are the closest we have to actual Wizards. They can conjure a feeling and then make another human soul have that feeling or launch another feeling. Writing does this too, of course, but it’s rare when a line of a book can stop you on a street the way a song that comes on shuffle can.

    The magic is not in what the music tells you so much as the place it creates for you to feel something deeply. What it comes to mean to you might even shock the author of the actual song. I recited John Prine’s,  Mexican Home, at a tribute to him when he was alive and John was in the audience and he was polite enough not to say to me afterwards “All that stuff you found in that song, I didn’t know I put it there!”

    I listened to a version of that song about 100 times before that event. He sang it on a live album with a musician named Josh Ritter and it’s a beautiful duet. And that introduced me to Josh’s music. Josh has a song that he wrote that has one of those lines that I’ve been talking about. It’s a song called “Only a River.” Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead sang it on his album Blue Mountain.

    The line is “Only a River going to make things right.” And I know exactly what that means, though I couldn’t tell you what Josh Ritter thinks it means or what it should mean for you. That song is in my regular rotation.

    What has always interested me about this magic of song is that the connection between songwriter and listener says at a basic level: you are not alone. This thing you’re feeling, I feel it too, though as I say, you may be feeling different things than the author of the song felt. But at bottom you feel less lonesome.

    On the other hand, the process of creating a song is often so lonesome. You can write a song alone, in a dorm room or in the stairwell of your dorm, and you are all alone. And then who knows if anybody likes the song and that accentuates the lonesomeness of putting these lyrics that feel true to you out in the world.

    But!

    Then a song goes out into the world and it travels on its own life and it makes those connections with listeners. It works that magic and 25 years later on the other side of the world from the dorm in which you wrote that song the people of Nagoya, Japan can have that song sung to them by Bob Dylan. Which is exactly what happened to Josh Ritter’s song Only A River. Dylan had never sung it before and it was a beautiful version because Dylan has finally stopped shouting which makes his shows lovely.

    Someone posted to Josh Ritter on Twitter that Dylan had sung his song and Ritter told this story of writing it alone in his dorm 25 years earlier and then he said this:

    “To all my friends out there making art: it’s not always this easy seeing the ripples your work makes, but take the story of my little song, Only a River, as comfort. Art travels. Voices carry. Your art is out there in the world, making its home in many places, many hearts.

    I was moved by this because I believe it so deeply. I posted Josh’s song “Only A River” on Twitter. I don’t know him, but I wanted the world to know about the song and he replied. He’s been a gabfest lifer, which was a mighty fine thing to learn.

    And Josh happens to have a new album out tomorrow. It’s called Spectral Lines. Go pick it up.

  • More Notions

  • 01/08/2024: How he drinks his coffee

    A small pleasure: one of my children and I are working together at the dining room table. We’re both writing. It’s hard for both of us, but we’re typing, so we’re both on the right road. I realize after a bit that I am witness to his writing tics. I have them. Lots of them. […]
  • 01/04/2024: A piece on the personal quality of restraint from 2015 that never ran

    I wrote it for Slate and was just reminded of it. This is a very rough draft. I wish it had run: On a recent Saturday, I listened to the audiobook of The Marshmallow Test while doing chores. In the famous experiment, children were given a choice between candy they could eat immediately, and a larger reward […]
  • 12/07/2023: Is enforced loyalty a good recipe for achievement?

    You: What is the historical record of operations founded on loyalty where the person to whom everyone must show loyalty has a record of almost no reciprocal loyalty? ChatGPT: The historical record of operations or regimes founded on loyalty to a central figure who does not reciprocate that loyalty is marked by instability and often, […]
  • 12/05/2023: I asked Chat GPT to offer guidance to lawmakers offering their endorsement

    You: Pretend I am a lawmaker and I have taken an oath to defend the constitution, how should I decide whether to endorse a candidate for president who will take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. ChatGPT: In your role as a lawmaker who has taken an oath to defend the Constitution, […]
  • 12/05/2023: Hello! I see you sent me a text message!

    Hello! I see you’ve sent me a text! Is it urgent? If so, please call me. If not, please send me an email, that way I won’t think that in this world of constant interruption where we must have our guard double ready against mindless incursions, that you value my time so cheaply and yours […]
  • 12/02/2023: Discovering the photography of Saul Leiter

    Social media is a scourge, obviously. But I have been trying to respond to the negative effects of social media (cortisol-driving, attention-shredding, ego poking) with long-looking. Long-looking is the practice of spending a lot longer on an idea, piece of art, song, etc. than you normally would so that it give up additional meanings. If […]
  • 11/13/2023: What good is criticism

    I like this idea of criticism. (Colors are from my note taking).  It’s from an essay by Morgan Meis that can be found here. “Criticism does not stand outside the work of art, but stands alongside, maybe even inside, the work of art, participating in the work in order to further express and tease out […]
  • 11/03/2023: Thoughts on covering Donald Trump

  • 11/03/2023: Ray Bradbury punk rock graduation.

    Ray Bradbury was so poor growing up that in order to dress up for his graduation he had to wear his uncle’s suit. His uncle had died recently. The suite was the one he wore when he died. His uncle was shot. The suit still had the bullet hole in it. I learned that from […]