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Dylan - The Supreme Troubadour

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  • Dylan - The Supreme Troubadour

    Just how important and how great is Bob Dylan?

    These are questions no sentient human being will be be able to escape in the next weeks. We are on the brink of a great national Dylan-fest that will seed his words and music into the aural imaginations of almost every adult in Britain, reconfirming his place on the unofficial soundtrack of our lives.
    On Monday, to coincide with the 44th anniversary of Dylan's professional debut, as a support act to John Lee Hooker at Gerde's Folk City in New York, the BBC's flagship arts programme Arena will broadcast the first part of No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's brilliant documentary about the singer's formative years (the second part will be broadcast on Tuesday).

    Simultaneously, Dylan's extraordinary memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, a literary highlight of 2004, will appear in paperback, together with a volume of rare archive material in The Bob Dylan Scrapbook 1956-1966

    As if this was not enough for diehard Bobcats, there will also be a three-week season of Dylan-related films at the National Film Theatre, including Scorsese's masterpiece, The Last Waltz, and an exhibition of some rare Dylan photographs at the Proud Galleries in London.

    It's a fair bet that between the hagiographical huzzas and the tedious tut-tutting over Dylan's commercial endorsement of Starbucks, the man himself will slip through the net, as he has done since his first arrival in Manhattan, and his rendezvous with fame, in the bleak winter of 1961.

    In the quest for meaning in this gusher of nostalgia for the most unnostalgic of artists, one moment, not mentioned in the Arena film, stands out, a moment that provides a vital clue to Dylan's place in the world. In December 1962, Dylan was in England to play the lead role of the 'anarchic young student who writes songs' in a now-for gotten BBC television play, The Madhouse on Castle Street, by Jamaican dramatist Evan Jones.

    Dylan performed 'Blowin' in the Wind' at the beginning and end of the show. This was to be expected; it was the spine-tingling number he had just composed and which no one who heard it could then put out of mind. But that was not all. In the production, Dylan also performed a traditional song called 'The Cuckoo', taken from Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, as well as 'The Ballad of the Gliding Swan', a stunning update of a time-hallowed Border ballad which contains lines like: 'Tenderly William kissed his wife, / Then he opened her head with a butcher's knife./ And the swan on the river went gliding by'.

    In Dylan's version, however, there were some startling new lines: 'The doctor gave Sally a sad surprise,/ a Thalidomide baby with no eyes', and, perhaps even better: 'My father has cancer/ My mother's insane/ The girl I'm in love with takes cocaine.'

    Those who puzzle over Dylan's near-mystical grip as the greatest living song-writer need look no further than this lost performance. Here, in microcosm, you can find the secret of his greatness, his ability to play at will in the fields of an Anglo-American oral culture that fuses hillbilly blues with the plangent melancholy of the Celt twilight.

    There's an innate lyrical gift amounting to genius. You don't have to be Christopher Ricks, a celebrated advocate of Dylan's lyrics, to get a literary buzz from 'The Ballad of the Gliding Swan'.

    The instinctive juxtaposition of savagery and tenderness, the extraordinary marriage of material, ancient and modern, articulated in that feral note of self-laceration have always been keys to Dylan's art. Like all the greats, including Shakespeare and Blake, he also has a spooky ear for the radioactive, associative power of language. So 'Tangled up in Blue', for instance, one of the great songs of all time, takes us into the locked room of the broken heart and also reminds us that it's poetry, not prose, which reconnects us to our childhood selves.

    But Dylan isn't just the supreme American troubadour. He can do prose, too. Chronicles: Volume One proved that. He used to claim he'd ridden freight trains to get to New York City. In his memoir, he tells the truth, writing like Kerouac, with a twist of Whitman, to describe a journey 'across the country in a four-door sedan '57 Impala - straight out of Chicago, clearing the hell out of there - racing all through the smoky towns, winding roads, greenfields covered with snow, onward, eastbound through the state lines, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, a 24-hour ride'.

    Was the boy from Nowheresville (actually Duluth, Minn) fazed by the snow-packed arteries of the city? Was he hell. 'I could transcend the limitations,' he writes, echoing Whitman again. And he did, coming out of the lonesome prairie that gave America Twain, Lincoln and Fitzgerald, and then reading everything from Tacitus and Dante to Ovid and Howl, to find his lyrical voice: Blowin' in the Wind', 'Desolation Row', 'Don't Think Twice', 'Just Like a Woman, 'Mr Tambourine Man', 'Like a Rolling Stone', 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' and 'Visions of Johanna'.

    These are just a handful of the songs he wrote in those blistering short years, the dawn of the counterculture, from 1963 to 1966 (when he fell off his motorbike, may, or may not, have broken his neck, and became a recluse).

    He had always wanted, he said, 'to be Woody Guthrie's greatest disciple', but quickly the apprentice became the sorcerer. These are the songs that set him apart from his generation and probably guarantee an immortal place in our hearts and minds.

    Literary genius will often write at top speed, in a white heat, good, bad and indifferent, hardly knowing what it's doing. It also knows no compromise. 'I'd either drive people away,' writes Dylan, 'or they'd come in closer to see what it was all about. There was no in-between.'

    Joan Baez, scorched by his fierce singularity and the absence of any middle ground, once said, almost gasping: 'If you're interested, [Bob] goes way, way deep.' Which brings us to the essential mystery at the heart of Dylan. Probably no one, not even Dylan himself, can begin to explain Dylan. Like all great folk artists, his magic eludes transcription and defies scholarly or literary critical elucidation. It works at all levels, high and low and in many transient places in between.

    But the gnomic utterances remain gnomic: 'You have to realise you are constantly in a state of becoming.' When asked what his songs were about, he joked that some were about three minutes and others were about 12 minutes. You might as well expect straight-talking from the sphinx.

    Dylan once told a reporter: 'Tell me what you want me to say and I'll say it.' Like the greatest writers, he is a mirror. We look and we see ourselves, our hearts less wounded, uplifted and less confused. We also listen, again and again, and probably - who knows ? - for centuries to come, because as we listen, young, old and - yes - ludicrously middle-aged, we say with him, in his own unforgettable words: 'May your songs always be sung.' [/b][/quote]

    Tangled up in blue.

    Early one mornin' the sun was shinin',
    I was layin' in bed
    Wond'rin' if she'd changed at all
    If her hair was still red.
    Her folks they said our lives together
    Sure was gonna be rough
    They never did like Mama's homemade dress
    Papa's bankbook wasn't big enough.
    And I was standin' on the side of the road
    Rain fallin' on my shoes
    Heading out for the East Coast
    Lord knows I've paid some dues gettin' through,
    Tangled up in blue.

    She was married when we first met
    Soon to be divorced
    I helped her out of a jam, I guess,
    But I used a little too much force.
    We drove that car as far as we could
    Abandoned it out West
    Split up on a dark sad night
    Both agreeing it was best.
    She turned around to look at me
    As I was walkin' away
    I heard her say over my shoulder,
    "We'll meet again someday on the avenue,"
    Tangled up in blue.

    I had a job in the great north woods
    Working as a cook for a spell
    But I never did like it all that much
    And one day the ax just fell.
    So I drifted down to New Orleans
    Where I happened to be employed
    Workin' for a while on a fishin' boat
    Right outside of Delacroix.
    But all the while I was alone
    The past was close behind,
    I seen a lot of women
    But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
    Tangled up in blue.

    She was workin' in a topless place
    And I stopped in for a beer,
    I just kept lookin' at the side of her face
    In the spotlight so clear.
    And later on as the crowd thinned out
    I's just about to do the same,
    She was standing there in back of my chair
    Said to me, "Don't I know your name?"
    I muttered somethin' underneath my breath,
    She studied the lines on my face.
    I must admit I felt a little uneasy
    When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe,
    Tangled up in blue.

    She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe
    "I thought you'd never say hello," she said
    "You look like the silent type."
    Then she opened up a book of poems
    And handed it to me
    Written by an Italian poet
    From the thirteenth century.
    And every one of them words rang true
    And glowed like burnin' coal
    Pourin' off of every page
    Like it was written in my soul from me to you,
    Tangled up in blue.

    I lived with them on Montague Street
    In a basement down the stairs,
    There was music in the cafes at night
    And revolution in the air.
    Then he started into dealing with slaves
    And something inside of him died.
    She had to sell everything she owned
    And froze up inside.
    And when finally the bottom fell out
    I became withdrawn,
    The only thing I knew how to do
    Was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew,
    Tangled up in blue.

    So now I'm goin' back again,
    I got to get to her somehow.
    All the people we used to know
    They're an illusion to me now.
    Some are mathematicians
    Some are carpenter's wives.
    Don't know how it all got started,
    I don't know what they're doin' with their lives.
    But me, I'm still on the road
    Headin' for another joint
    We always did feel the same,
    We just saw it from a different point of view,
    Tangled up in blue.

    Copyright © 1974 Ram's Horn Music

    One of my all time favourite songs.

  • #2
    fuckin' Jew.


    • #3
      Check out Jerry Garcia Band's version of Tangled Up In Blue. Its good


      • #4
        Dylan rules. without him, you can kiss most, if not all, of your favorite artists goodbye.
        Official 2009 Sponsor of nobody


        • #5
          That's always been one of my favorites, Torchy.

          This one is practically early Rap:

          Darkness at the break of noon
          Shadows even the silver spoon
          The handmade blade, the child's balloon
          Eclipses both the sun and moon
          To understand you know too soon
          There is no sense in trying.

          Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
          Suicide remarks are torn
          From the fool's gold mouthpiece
          The hollow horn plays wasted words
          Proves to warn
          That he not busy being born
          Is busy dying.

          Temptation's page flies out the door
          You follow, find yourself at war
          Watch waterfalls of pity roar
          You feel to moan but unlike before
          You discover
          That you'd just be
          One more person crying.

          So don't fear if you hear
          A foreign sound to your ear
          It's alright, Ma, I'm only sighing.

          As some warn victory, some downfall
          Private reasons great or small
          Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
          To make all that should be killed to crawl
          While others say don't hate nothing at all
          Except hatred.

          Disillusioned words like bullets bark
          As human gods aim for their mark
          Made everything from toy guns that spark
          To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
          It's easy to see without looking too far
          That not much
          Is really sacred.

          While preachers preach of evil fates
          Teachers teach that knowledge waits
          Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
          Goodness hides behind its gates
          But even the president of the United States
          Sometimes must have
          To stand naked.

          An' though the rules of the road have been lodged
          It's only people's games that you got to dodge
          And it's alright, Ma, I can make it.

          Advertising signs that con you
          Into thinking you're the one
          That can do what's never been done
          That can win what's never been won
          Meantime life outside goes on
          All around you.

          You lose yourself, you reappear
          You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
          Alone you stand with nobody near
          When a trembling distant voice, unclear
          Startles your sleeping ears to hear
          That somebody thinks
          They really found you.

          A question in your nerves is lit
          Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
          Insure you not to quit
          To keep it in your mind and not fergit
          That it is not he or she or them or it
          That you belong to.

          Although the masters make the rules
          For the wise men and the fools
          I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.

          For them that must obey authority
          That they do not respect in any degree
          Who despise their jobs, their destinies
          Speak jealously of them that are free
          Cultivate their flowers to be
          Nothing more than something
          They invest in.

          While some on principles baptized
          To strict party platform ties
          Social clubs in drag disguise
          Outsiders they can freely criticize
          Tell nothing except who to idolize
          And then say God bless him.

          While one who sings with his tongue on fire
          Gargles in the rat race choir
          Bent out of shape from society's pliers
          Cares not to come up any higher
          But rather get you down in the hole
          That he's in.

          But I mean no harm nor put fault
          On anyone that lives in a vault
          But it's alright, Ma, if I can't please him.

          Old lady judges watch people in pairs
          Limited in sex, they dare
          To push fake morals, insult and stare
          While money doesn't talk, it swears
          Obscenity, who really cares
          Propaganda, all is phony.

          While them that defend what they cannot see
          With a killer's pride, security
          It blows the minds most bitterly
          For them that think death's honesty
          Won't fall upon them naturally
          Life sometimes
          Must get lonely.

          My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
          False gods, I scuff
          At pettiness which plays so rough
          Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
          Kick my legs to crash it off
          Say okay, I have had enough
          What else can you show me?

          And if my thought-dreams could be seen
          They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
          But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.
          But wait. There is something that can be done afterall. My good friend Angelo is a cop in the Tampa/Clearwater area. Since I kept all of the files from the access logs when I had the power to see them, guess what, I have everyone's IP addresses. Hmm..what can I do w/ those??