These two faces seem right now to be faces of Tempest. The watchman dreaming of all things that can be, dreaming the Titanic may sink into the sea. And the villagers bearing the three corpses after the farce/tragedy of their deaths. And there are flat-chested junkie whores and bitches and hags and the White House burning down, and I’m sitting about a ten-minute walk from where John Lennon crawled to his death and I’ll never get that melody out of my head. The Duquesne whistle will sweep the whole world away and maybe that’s something to look forward to.
I’ve listened to Tempest just twice all through, and I’m afraid I’m in the camp with anyone saying this makes “Love and Theft” seem dandified, and Together Through Life an amuse bouche (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The record really is like swimming in dark waters and having enough breath to laugh out loud. One sign for me that this is a pulled together living body and not songs that happened to be ready for recording, is the way I forgot I already knew every word to Duquesne Whistle and Early Roman Kings–the sounds and images of these songs were suddenly highlighted differently as they became part of a story, or a portrait, or a landscape, or all three.
- Duquesne Whistle is just right to launch us into all these dark waters where it feels just on first listens that life and death are working their way up and down all around us. Everything is on that train as it goes by again and again, to that natty tune. The past, the future, the present, salvation, desire, destruction–they’re all there, and they could all be right on time. Whistle along–we’re all already on board.
- Scarlet Town feels like a close-up of Ain’t Talkin’. Here is the last outback at the world’s end, eternal and inescapable, you can smell this place. Dylan hallucinates it, then haunts it with Sweet William and Mistress Mary, which is not at all the same as merely referring to folklore–he’s making ghosts of that old undead world.
- Tin Angel flabbergasts me. Black Jack Davey meets Harold Pinter meets Edgar Rice Burroughs or something. The old familiar ballad of the cuckold breaks into a dream quest then breaks into those dialogues that stop time while the husband and wife then wife and lover exchange absurd, fatal, hopeless lines. I felt left with the nightmare meaninglessness of these three deaths, and wonder at the strange unpinnable world created through registers and imagery that slide from one palette to another. The greasy hair, the knife pulled out of the robe, the golden chain. This one, like Scarlet Town, seems to radicalize the folk ballad worlds of their origins–they are their own wraith worlds, not appropriated and not even ironized from their histories
- Tempest is a fine composition, masterfully recited, it does justice to the melodrama and allegory that already characterize the culture of the Titanic. The whole disaster-as-microcosm-of-human-grace-and-foible appeals to me personally. Someone else can do the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald comparison and let me know what comes out of that.
- I like the way the Liverpool docks in Roll On John, immediately following Tempest, remind us that the White Star Line began in Liverpool, their offices are still there. Thus we have an odd segue from a song about many many deaths to a song about one death. Roll On John is deeply strange to me. Uncharacteristic. It’s so, well, specific. And the quotations from Lennon’s songs are so…smooth. Right now it does not disturb me as an elegy to a musician I love, but it disturbs me as a meditation on how the dead are recalled and memorialized, and remain entirely dead and gone. For me, the phrase roll on, John is much more chilling than it is eulogizing. Soul to soul our shadows roll. I know that people are having weepfests over this song, and right now it is an unnerving oddity for me.
Now I’ve gotten all thoughtful and I was hoping to avoid that. I wanted to get across that these songs are lit by a candle waxed in black. The one word “humble” in Scarlet Town shows something of what his voice is up to now–completely undoing humility as well as stopping time for as long as he needs. And the way he sneers and laughs his way differently through each refrain of “I pay in blood but not my own.” And calling that woman in from the sun so she doesn’t burn her brains. Come back and chain yourself to the shadows with me, you only think it’s real out there. A brand new shadow world is part of the seduction of Tempest. It does something else–it makes youth pale and undernourishing.
This somehow brings me to the Port Chester show, and all its vitalities, which were as vitalicious as you may have heard they were. I want to highlight his guitar in Tangled Up In Blue, which held the song together and gave it an implacable feel. And I want to highlight Can’t Wait, where the talents of Tony+Charlie+Stu+George+Donnie were suddenly transparent to me. The arrangement has been slowed down to a requiem, and I can’t imagine the restraint and timing needed to pull this off with expression and not dullness, after a Highway 61 that did that atomic explosion thing some of us never ever get tired of–to be able to change tempos so drastically with no falling-off of energy and feeling, that was breathtaking for me. Please look at Frank Beacham‘s photos and review, which capture the vitaliciousness of the show.
OK, please offer a moment’s thanks for our current embarrassment of riches.