Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Fans and Followers" and "Dylanologists"

As I write this, it is late in the evening on Bob Dylan’s 73rd birthday. I hope he has had a fine day, celebrated by those he loves. Meanwhile, we who don’t know the man, but are intimate with the music, also wish him glad tidings, and many more productive and expressive years. Certainly he seems as active as ever, with a tour of Europe coming up, followed by Australia in the late summer, and rumored dates in the States in the fall. Not to mention a new album to be released sometime soon. It’s difficult to imagine how he can handle such a life at that age, but he’s clearly made of tougher stuff than most, and I guess it’s the life he knows.
I am grateful that he keeps on keepin’ on.
Unluckily, here in Seattle there seems to be no musical celebration of Bob going on tonight, so I am left to sit on my couch and contemplate, without the fellowship of “my people,” as David Kinney calls them in his new book titled The Dylanologists. These are individuals he describes in many ways, but for tonight, I think it will be sufficient to say, that these are individuals who didn’t need to be told through social media, that today is that day. 
If you follow.
For really, as Dylan himself addressed us from his website  a couple years back — when there was the little kerfuffle about whether the songs he was playing in China had been censored or preapproved by that government; when he felt a need to say that was a load of shit — he called us “my fans and followers.” It was surprising, I thought at the time, both that he spoke to us so directly, and that he called us “followers.” But let’s face it, he was right. I am both fan and follower. I follow his old music, I follow his new music, and sometimes I quite literally follow him from city to city on tour. I am fanatical about his art because it touches me deeply and has intersected with my life in incredible, mystical (I say without the least hesitation) ways.
But just because I follow, I don’t think that makes him a leader, and I am also pretty sure I am not a “Dylanologist.” Well, I can’t be I suppose; I didn’t make the book. Just as well. I don’t specialize in the study of Dylan or the science of Dylan.  I just live my life (school librarian, father, gardener, etc . . .) and he keeps showing up. When he shows up, with a new record or in my city or a city not too far away I go visit. It’s the least I can do.
I’d be willing to bet that most of “my people” are of a similar shade, some a little darker, some a bit lighter, some with more sparkle, others with finer hats. So I am really not sure about this whole “Dylanologist” thing. Who wants to be “ologized?”
I’m also not sure if this is a book review. I will say I enjoyed the book tremendously. I devoured it. As “a fan and follower” of Mr. Dylan, I am fascinated by these stories of other lives that have intersected so profoundly with his art. I am amazed by the different levels of meaning people have found, such as Scott Warmuth’s discoveries, and the various folks who found solace for hard times in some phase or another of Bob’s output. Kinney does a great job reporting on these folks.
But the book also made me feel kind of queasy and upset. For one, if these truly are “my people,” why are they pushing me so hard as we scurry to get to the rail? We are not truly close, “my people” and I. Unless we are squished there up front listening to Bob. It’s strange that way. I don’t actually know them, any more than I know Bob Dylan.  
When you first encounter personal meaning in Dylan’s music, when you first hear the bits that seem to apply so directly to your situation and your days, there is none of the self-awareness implicit in this tome. There is none of the meta-cognition of affect, there is only the affect. It’s disturbing to be analyzed so, and it’s ironic as hell that those who are supposedly “ologyzing” Dylan are being “ologyzed” in this book. And Mr. Kinney, who claims to be one of "us," seems to be watching me and taking notes. Hmmm . . .
To say it plainly. When I was a boy and Bob blew my head open — when I watched “Hard Rain” on my little black and white TV at sixteen, when I went to the Blackbushe festival at eighteen and discovered sex and real love, and even when I played “Time Out of Mind” a thousand times as a newly middle-aged man — I was not analyzing or collecting anything at all. I was living. I cared no more for those other two hundred thousand people at Blackbushe who came to see Dylan than I did about any random crowd of two hundred thousand you might pass by. But I cared very deeply about the woman I fell in love with there, the one who seemed to come out of a Dylan song. Love minus zero. Silver bracelets on her wrists.
I suppose, when I go to a show and I try to get close, so I can pay attention better, hear better, see better, I am studying Dylan. It’s true, I am trying to learn and understand. And now I write. But I am going to reject this “Dylanologist” thing. I think it simplifies something that is very complicated and very personal. Count me a fan and a follower, please. Happy Birthday, Bob.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Palm Leaf Shadows and Scattered Flowers: Bob Dylan in Hawaii


            Things Have Changed (Bob center stage)
            She Belongs To Me (Bob center stage with harp)
            Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (Bob on piano)
            What Good Am I? (Bob center stage)
            Waiting For You (Bob on piano)
            Duquesne Whistle (Bob on piano)
            Pay In Blood (Bob center stage)
Tangled Up In Blue
(Bob center stage with harp then on piano on 4th verse)
            Love Sick (Bob center stage with harp)
            High Water (For Charley Patton) (Bob center stage)
            Simple Twist Of Fate (Bob center stage with harp)
            Early Roman Kings (Bob on piano)
Forgetful Heart (Bob center stage with harp)
Spirit On The Water (Bob on piano)
            Scarlet Town (Bob center stage)
            Soon After Midnight (Bob on piano)
            Long And Wasted Years (Bob center stage)
            All Along The Watchtower (Bob on piano)
            Blowin' In The Wind (Bob on piano)

            There you have it. The very nearly unchanging set list from spring, 2014, Japan and Hawaii. Bob singing what he wants to sing, singing with clarity and vehemence, pounding and caressing that piano. Blowing some very sweet harp. Nearly shouting some songs in his excitement. Two years ago in Missoula and Seattle I was desperate to hear a Tempest debut that never arrived. It’s easy to see in retrospect that he simply wasn’t ready. This year we get six songs and they are the best of the set. The rest is fine as well, impassioned and inspired, but the band and Bob somehow turn it up a notch for the newest material.
            It probably should go without saying that if a casual fan turns up at one of these shows hoping for some acoustic folk, there’s going to be a little cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately and predictably, it still happens. The fellow next to me in Honolulu left halfway through, and on the way out I overheard some blowhard saying, “He put no energy into that. I don’t think there’s a single person here leaving who thinks that was a good show . . . blah . . . blah ….”

        “They chirp and they chatter, what does it matter?
        They’re lying, they’re dying in their blood”

        “People see me all the time, I guess they just can’t remember how to act
        Their minds are filled with false ideas, images and distorted facts.”

              In contrast, anyone paying attention heard something spirited, fantastic, musically exciting, and often quite bleak. The band is tight and controlled, similar to the last few years. They are allowed to break out here and there, with perfect accentuation, but there are no excesses. They perform skillfully, with poise and discretion, but there is no mistaking that there is the Band, and there is the Man. The Man is at the center of it all, and while his own playing can be idiosyncratic in moments, his power is unquestionable. The turn of the millennium is very far away indeed, when you might find Sexton and Dylan and Campbell on a parallel line in front, strumming three varieties of guitar in syncopation. Now the other players hold to their spots in the rear, in a supporting arc. This is still a single organism, but everything happens in service to the nucleus, in service to the genius who struts and prances from center mike to piano stool.  The boys don’t even get introduced anymore. This is not a criticism. This is Bob Dylan in the latter days of his performing career, as deliberate in his choices as in 1966 or 1975, as intent as ever on sharing a particular vision. He wants to hone in on that vision, and everything else is extraneous — the comic voice-over introduction that lasted for years, band introductions, solos that are not just so, any pandering to the name of the town, or any indication that he is just playing around.
            Every move the band makes focuses on the poetry Dylan feels now and the particular way he chooses to musically highlight those images. Some might criticize the static set list of this tour, but looking back two years to the “Tempest” –less set in Seattle there were only three songs that we heard again this time. That’s remarkable. Obviously Bob has the depth to shift the songs constantly and only play amazing tunes, but it’s silly to look to a changing set list alone as a mark of quality. For now, the composer is sacrificing the matchless extent of his oeuvre for dedication to a particular, precise communication.
            “Tempest” is at the center. In an earlier post I discussed the overall themes of the album, and all of those ideas come forward in the live performance, but these renditions pretty much blow the recorded template out of the atmosphere. “Pay in Blood” is a song that illuminates Dylan’s current poetic moment, hearkens back to earlier concepts, and dispels any notion that Bob is sitting in the meadow, ambivalent about the culture. “Pay in Blood” is in the “Idiot Wind”  and “It’s Alright Ma” column of Bob’s discography, a scalding accusation of moral turpitude aimed, not so much at the other, as at the ability of Everyman to live in the heart of evil while going about his business. At these shows in Maui and Honolulu, Dylan sang with vitriol about “another politician, pumping out the piss,” but he acknowledges, just as forcibly, that we are all culpable, passing by “another ragged beggar, blowing you a kiss.” He marches to mike for his lines, steps back in rhythm to his drummer, and then forward again, every lyric given breathe and nuance."Hear me holler and hear me moan!" But the song seems to be asking a question: Who is listening? Who is listening to anything outside the chatter in their own skull?
            There are two general categories of performance at these shows. For the first, for “Pay in Blood,” and “Love Sick,” and “Long and Wasted Years,” Dylan stands at the center, with harp only, giving all to the harsh wind of his voice. He gesticulates and swaggers and leans in and blows. The band churns up a controlled maelstrom behind him, a tornado in a laboratory. For the second, he sits on the edge of his piano stool, crooning his twisted love songs and leading a jam, such as on one of the few sixties era songs, “All Along the Watchtower,”  that takes its inspiration more from Miles Davis or some earlier bygone jazz than from Hendrix. The band plunks and beats and strums in skillful sympathy, sometimes transcendently, at other times a bit hapless before the madness of their leader.
            The most extraordinary example of the latter is a staple of the set over the last five years, “Spirit on the Water.” It is clearly a song Bob feels strongly about considering how regularly it has appeared amidst the changes. In Maui, Bob’s piano continually brought the tune to a point not far from incoherence, and a point not quite close enough to brilliance. In between his love rhymes, his runs on the keyboard and the rhythm section’s beats and the guitarists’ fills nearly added up to something sublime, but not quite. They nearly fell to mayhem, but not quite. In contrast, in Honolulu, the same improvisation, led of course by Dylan’s funky, off-key, soulful piano, gave that rare sense in music, that a veil had been pushed aside and another dimension revealed. We had the marriage of beauty and chaos and the love and the orgasm of that union. In my section in the fourth row, several people, including myself, actually leapt into the air in delight.  
            It’s not hard to see that anyone who came expecting a sing-along would be befuddled.
            “Duquesne Whistle,” as performed in the spring of 2014, is much better than the album version. It moves like the train should move, at a fast clip. Bob calls out the lyrics clearly as we rollick along on George Recile’s marvelous wheeling drumbeat.  It feels like Dylan has decided that if the train moves fast enough and he keeps shoveling in the coal, maybe the ride won’t ever need to end. Even as he sings about the end. Whereas the recorded version seems to drag ever so slightly, in a way that reminds you that this is a composition, in the current live version you are sitting in a boxcar on a warm day, your feet dangling out the open door as the fresh countryside rolls by. Simply joyous. You are more hobo than beggar. You are doomed to die, but you don’t care.
            Another piano standout, but not loose and jazzy at all, quite the opposite, is “Early Roman Kings.” This song just kills. Sure, the live rendition, same as the record, is a copy of a standard blues. But these boys can wind that up to high tension. And again, although the music is central, the music is there to serve the epicenter, and the epicenter is Dylan’s rage. I would say that this is one of the few angry songs that is purely directed outward at a societal ill, as opposed to a societal ill with a high degree of existential culpability. This is a song that says: there are some people out there who are seriously fucking it up for the rest of us.
            It’s a song that reminds us that we are living under the hill in “Scarlet Town.” I’ve written in an earlier post about this bleak update of “Desolation Row” and “Ain’t Talkin’.” This was the first live rendition I’ve heard, and if the album cut is a bummer, the performance version is suicidal. It’s a musical edition of “The Scream,” and who wants to look at that for very long? Here you look it square in the face for about five minutes and damn if it doesn’t haunt you.  
The previous day I was sitting in an awful little taco shop in Waikiki in search of a meal costing less than $40, while the two angry dudes behind the counter took a very long time to produce a fish taco that proved inedible. I spent that 20 minutes listening to some thumping bass and staring out at a young pauper on the corner, lolling and burning on a camp chair in the hot noon hour, his dog sleeping under an umbrella — the only evidence of love on that street. He crouched there, death in his eyes at twenty-five, while the high fashioned tourists, with their cute little hats, their human forms so glorified, strolled by. I knew I should buy him a taco but I was suffering myself under the weight of the tall buildings and I had no room to breathe. “In Scarlet Town, crying won’t do you no good.”  
Tell it, Bob, even when I don’t want to hear.
            Love. Pain. Love. Pain. In this set we travel between those poles until we are not sure if there is any difference. “Forgetful Heart,” “Spirit on the Water,” “Soon After Midnight” and the closer, “Long and Wasted Years.” The first and the last in this list delivered from the center, with a torch. The middle two at the piano, with  lilt and bluster. “Long and Wasted Years,” is another shocking performance, each line offered in a shout, rough and smooth at the same time, with complete conviction. I was reminded several times in these two Hawaii sets of the 1970’s, when Dylan scorched the microphone with his vocals.  Every line of regret emphasized, every line piling up, crashing toward the end:

            We cried on a cold and frosty morn!!
            We cried because our souls were torn!!
            So much for tears!!
            So much for those LONG  and WASTED years!

Again with the crying, and the futility of such.
I know some will scoff, but I thought of Rolling Thunder, when every stanza was a performance piece. And the Street-Legal tour, my first, when every song was also musical theater.
            In this set we get three that might be primarily called spirituals. Two songs close to the beginning, and one at the end. For “What Good am I?” Dylan stands center, declaiming, gently and clearly, while the band follows on tiptoes:
What good am I if I’m like all the rest
If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed
If I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry
What good am I?

I always thought he was speaking to a lover in this song, but tonight I don’t see that at all. I see that beggar again, the same one blowing me a kiss. The same one crouching at the gate of the taco place, sheltering his dog from the harsh sun instead of himself.

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

There he was, dying on the street in Scarlet Town. He knew his crying would do no good.

If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

Maybe help will come for that fellow and his dog. Maybe it will come too late. It won’t come from me. I shut myself off. My hands were tied. What Good am I?
            The next tune invoking his mortality and his maker is “Duquesne Whistle.” As mentioned above, the performance is rousing, a hand-clapper, and one that makes you feel that being on a train headed toward death might just be the same as a train headed home.
            In finale, we get “Blowing in the Wind.” In many instances I have never really got this song. I mean, “the answer is blowing in the wind?” It has always seemed so vague. But tonight he makes me get it, in the context of all that suffering, all those tears. Dylan sits at the piano and plays it like an upbeat lullaby. His tone is gentle and smooth, and he sings like he’s someone’s kindly old grandpa. It’s not sung like a folk classic or an anthem, but a comfort in hard times. He sings like he believes deeply in an answer, even if we can’t see it. Like he knows the questions are really hard, terribly hard, and we get some credit just for asking. He sings it like a lullaby for children asking why we die. Bob sings with compassion: there is an answer, and it’s not the nihilism of greed and power or the determinism of science. It’s a mystery but it’s out there in the wind. We might get a sense of it when our guard is down.
But you know, I’ve always been a child who wants to believe. It’s soon after midnight and I’ve got a date with a fairy queen. 

A few postscript band notes: I was talking to my wife on the phone in the Maui airport on Sunday when Donnie Herron walked by. My wife has since forgiven me for hanging up on her. I spoke to Donnie for a couple minutes before we were interrupted by Dylan’s sound guy, so I didn’t get a chance to ask any really fun questions. I did tell him that I’d seen the first set of shows he played with Bob back in ’05 in Seattle. I wasn’t very nervous because it was completely spontaneous. I asked him about the fiddle case he was carrying and he joked (I think) that it was an urn containing his grandmother, who had “always wanted to go to Hawaii.” I did get nervous a few minutes later when I noticed that the entire band, except Charlie Sexton (and Bob of course) were also in my waiting lounge. I thought they were all on my flight, so I made no effort to speak to the others, thinking I would have plenty of time and could be all cool and casual-like. To my dismay, it turned out they were on the following plane to Honolulu, as I noticed while boarding. So I hung around the baggage claim in Oahu for another chance. By that time I had conceived a lame idea to have them sign a small card advertising the Maui show that I had picked up. Indeed, they tromped on through 30 minutes later, and I spoke briefly with Tony Garnier and Stu Kimball, who were very kind, very gracious, and they signed my card. But by then all spontaneity and naturalness was long gone and I felt like a stalker. So I thanked them for their shows over the years and fled, losing any chance of a more substantial conversation. Funny thing is I could care less about autographs and managed to lose the card later anyway!
In any case, it was a cool happenstance overall, much like a year ago in Saint Paul when I walked into my hotel bar to see Sexton talking with Jakob Dylan. At that time I also raved incoherently with Charlie for a few minutes before running away. I also ran into him again this year by the stage door of the Maui show. I honestly was just walking by, not hanging out, and walking quickly even, when we nearly collided. We shook hands so that was nice. I don’t quite understand why I seem to bump into the band like this. Especially since I can only achieve minor conversation. Still, kind of fun. And nice to meet them and have the chance to express my thanks. 

AMERICAN FALL TOUR? Here’s hoping.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Forty Miles of Bad Road: Bob Dylan’s Chrysler Ad

            (I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. Sometimes I like to wait for all the initial reactions to a new Dylan story to die down. Usually time offers a clearer perspective. I haven’t seen any blogs accusing Dylan of being a “fascist” lately, so hopefully the stupidity has ebbed.)

The few of you who have read this blog in the past might notice I have been long absent. Last time around I wrote about my trip to Minnesota in July to see Bob Dylan in his home town, Duluth, and in mine, St. Paul. I’m a public school teacher so in the summer I have time to make trips like that, and write about them. This time of year, not so much, although I have just made plans to go to Hawaii (!!!) at the end of April for two more shows of the Someday-It-Actually-Will-End-Tour.
            In the meantime, I was happy to get a glimpse of the man during a timeout while my Seahawks were busily thrashing the Broncos in the huge spectacle sporting event of the year. So I was already in a good mood when I got to hear that voice I love. We don’t usually do sports championships here in Seattle, but this team was the real thing from the get-go. These Hawks had the power and the confidence and skill that went some distance toward healing decades of Seattle sports pain.
            I shushed the teenagers and we all listened in. Oh man. Bob said more in two minutes than he’s said from the stage in the last two years. My seventeen year old boy’s only reaction was “that was a really long commercial.”  I was still turning over the images of middle America in my head when Joe Buck came back on screen and tried to make the blowout football game more interesting to middle America. I was thinking about Dylan saying, “we believe in the zoom and the roar and the thrust.” It seemed to capture perfectly my adrenaline filled, Seahawks pumped, American moment. Never mind that the car I just bought was made in Austria; I immediately wanted to drive out on some back road that doesn’t even exist around here on Seattle’s traffic choked streets, that hasn’t existed since 1953, and take it up to ninety.
            That’s what Bob makes me think I can do. Time travel. Limitless possibilities. One hand waving free. That’s what I’m inspired to imagine. Now I might have it a little backwards, because I was drinking a delicious locally made American beer and I am quite happy with my sporty little Austrian car, but frankly I don’t think it matters one bit. I don’t think Bob is quite as literal about his American products as some might have you believe.  I hear some Michigan brewers are upset because Dylan said “Let Germany brew your beer.” Come on. It’s just a verbal device to set up a great line, that Dylan, an American worker himself, a maker of songs, says in stutter speak: “WE will build your cars.” To me, that line promises a mythic America, where there are plenty of good jobs making real things that earn a real wage and real respect. But did it ever really exist? Is Bob Dylan ever describing a reality that exists outside the story-time? Even the when Motor City was thriving, when it was also Motown, I bet it was also a racist, sexist, desperate place for many people. Parts of that American dream existed and parts still exist. But whether it’s cars or beer or another craft, it’s what you build in your own head that counts. Some people see that ad, and all they see is the darkness. Yes, it’s there, of course it is. God knows Dylan has explored that side of things plenty in his tunes, even about the fall of the auto industry.  “I was up on Black Mountain the day Detroit fell. They killed them all off and they sent them to hell.” But for some reason then they pin that darkness on Dylan, when all he is doing here is talking decent work, open roads and imagination. And earning a check. Why would anyone take the ad so literally, that Dylan wants you to buy a certain car?
Honestly, let’s just pretend the ad was for some Michigan microbrew and Bob was standing in their facility next to a big vat of mash. He’s surrounded by dedicated and happy American brewery workers and he says, “Let Austria build your cars. WE will brew your beer.” Just as moving for me personally and it could have happened.  
            Maybe I am being a little funny, but I am not joking. I was thrilled to see Bob selling Chryslers and I was thrilled to see him selling ladies undergarments and I would be pretty darn happy to see him selling beer. Not everyday of course, but on special occasions. I have always been happy to see him: on my little black and white TV in “Hard Rain” in 1976, in the rare commercial, or in the parking lot outside the Moore theater here in Seattle a few years ago getting into a SUV (not sure, but I think it was an American model) and most especially on a stage singing the tune they used in that particular ad: “Things Have Changed.” That one always rocks and it is a consistent acknowledgment in this particular age of Bob that it’s all a dream. That you can be sincere as you like that you love your mother and half the people will swear you hate her. The images are not to be taken literally as a political statement. They do not exist in your political world.
            I doubt Dylan cares exactly what the product is, as long as it’s decent. I’m sure he’s intrigued by quality lingerie and cars and yogurt. Why not? One thing he  seems to be doing in that commercial is offering Americans another reflection. What do you see? What do you see, during the Super Bowl — the ultimate American entertainment/recreational event of the year — when Bob Dylan try to sells you a car? When he talks about the originality and vigor of Americans? A lot of people that I’ve been reading on the internet see something busted, something corrupt, something old, something laughable, something just a little bit sick. I’m not sure why. It’s not what not Dylan is talking about. He is talking some mythic America, again. How does a car ad indict the singer as a hypocrite? What does Dylan betray by this vision? Why is he Judas again, because he like cars and American iconography? Again, I think these critics are seeing something in themselves and in their country, perhaps something valid, but it’s not Dylan’s fault.
            It’s interesting how some folks are finding such disturbing images in the Chrysler commercial. I saw a cowboy and a weathered man in a diner. I saw a woman laughing in a moving car and man playing pool and some folks on assembly lines. Of course none of these symbols are very original or cutting edge. Some people say they are “banal.” Some people must be so hip that any image of regular American shit must be “banal.” It must be a burden to be so hip. It was only an advertisement, but I liked the pictures. What pulled them together was Dylan describing an idea of the America he loves, the America of the people he grew up among on the iron range in his home state, my home state. Here is Bob talking to us, one of the largest television crowds in history, about the basic decency of working people and the heart that they put into their work. He extols the automobile and its historical significance to that worker, and its current significance in that same Midwestern heartland he grew up in. He never mentions Chrysler by name. It seems to be at least in part an ad for the integrity of a laborer, and for the necessity of supporting those labors. But I think Dylan trusts that any thoughtful, feeling listener knows that history is more complicated and terrible than any single romantic image. It was in Duluth, Dylan’s place of birth, that the postcards of the hanging were sold. Home, in a Bob Dylan song, is not the America of the cynics and literalists. It is a far more mysterious place, an older place, a place of the imagination.  What’s more American than America is a complex question, involving brotherhood and slavery both.  
            The scenes in Bob Dylan’s Chrysler commercial are similar to the pictures that Dylan has been singing about for fifty years, realities that live in libraries and forgotten manuscripts and folk songs, even if they no longer exist on our streets. “Things Have Changed,” the signature song of latter day Dylan, plays in the background, because Dylan is aware that the America he extols no longer exists except in the sacred space of his childhood. It only lives where he hears the whistle of that Duquesne train. According to one commentator on the internet, these ideas are “protectionist.” Another says the entertainer is selling cars with images of “exceptional” America. Those politics have nothing to do with the songwriter. These people accuse Bob of being the cynic, but they only projecting their own callousness. On the ground level, Dylan is sometimes as straightforward as it comes, as direct as his Christian gospel: I Believe in You. In one vital sense, you CAN take him at his word: this ad contains a sincere concern about the value and integrity of the American worker. And what is more American than advertising, anyway?
But Dylan questions our ideas of time itself, and whether an individual life should be viewed in the context of a single historical period only, or in the more limitless world of the imagination and folk story. We know he steals sometimes, from the past and distant lands, and he makes you doubt his own authorship. He makes us doubt our own authorship of anything. What new art do we really create in this age? He makes you know you don’t know who he is.  He might be someone else. At some point we all will change into someone else.
Have the critics ever listened to “Cross the Green Mountain,” Dylan’s civil war dirge? Pretty much everything you ever want to know about America is in that song. I remember saying the same thing once about “Desolation Row,” but that’s true as well. How dare these two-bit writers tell Dylan that a simple tribute to his country is banal when his entire body of work has shown the complexities of his nation? If folks are going to cry sell-out again, we better go a few songs deeper than “The Times They are a Changing.” In Dylan’s music, the times have changed so much that time itself is often moving backwards.
In “Cross the Green Mountain,” a soldier, a lone survivor of a terrible battle, stands on the “dim Atlantic line,” watching the enemy advance upon his position, contemplating his coming death. We don’t know if he is Union or Confederate. He sees the soldiers across the ridge not as enemies but as brothers in arms. All are pawns in the game. As the “foe crosses over from the other side,”  they “tip their caps.”

“I dreamt a monstrous dream. Something rose up out of the sea. Swept through the land of the rich and the free.”

“Pride will vanish and glory will rot, but virtue lives, cannot be forgot.”

Dylan’s  vision of America cannot be sold out.  A Bob Dylan song may take a point of view, it may even articulate that point of view better than anyone else has done, it may be sincere, but we make a mistake to raise it up the flagpole. It is a dream and everyone is fallible, including the singer. From “Rolling Stone” to “Idiot Wind,” the finger points not at the other, but at the human heart. The enemy is within.

“The bells of evening have rung, there’s blasphemy on every tongue.”

“You’re walking in dreams, whoever you are.”

I’m dreaming about Maui in late April. Time travel. Limitless possibilities. One hand waving free.