Doctor, Doctor, Tell Me The Time Of Day

Yesterday I spent an hour on line at The Tempest Store New York, to purchase a CD that was released today, and whose contents I already had been plugging into any time I liked, thanks to technologies that make dates and times more like water than stone. And the long waits at The Tempest Store New York were the result of the newfangled technology, a virtual cash register–a cell phone connected to a Mac–operated by an astonishingly patient gentleman. The Tempest Store New York will trend in place for six days, vacuuming money from people like me who lose all math skills when confronted with a brightly colored shiny useless coin-like disc that has Bob Dylan’s name on it, are you kidding how can I live with only one of these?

The boxes holding the CDs we were all handed yesterday had labels reading September 11, today. In Tempest, you’re never far from old, not so old, real, and not so real deaths and murders, in so many different quantities. Two-Timing Slim, wife/lover/husband, Leo, Mr. Astor, fifteen hundred and ninety-eight others, John Lennon, Sweet William–these deaths happen and are memorialized, they’re past and present, at the same time in their songs, over and over with each listen. I thought about this while I watched  a little of the naming ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial this morning. People who had lost loved ones stepped forward in pairs, read names, then were given a moment to recall their own person. It occurred to me that all these men and women in the ceremony have aged eleven years since their loss, and in the case of the teenagers and children, these eleven years mean growing up. It’s another beautiful day here in New York, our skies are shiny and flawless. And that made me think of the line in the old Roll on John, Don’t the sun look lonesome, oh lord lord lord, on the graveyard fence? That is an appealing thought-dream. Our life keeps the sun company. Watching the grieving, living pairs of people reciting name after name and squinting in the bright sun, I think it could almost be half-true.

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2 thoughts on “Doctor, Doctor, Tell Me The Time Of Day

  1. Months have passes. Maybe 100 listens…..

    Many great moments.

    I love when (and needless to say how) he sings (of the run-away lovers in tin angels)

    Peered through the darkness

    Caught a glimpse of the two

    Hard to tell for certain

    Who was who

    This is the essence of one of the the great complex emotions of infidelity. Once discovered, whom do i hate? My former lover or the scoundrel she has left with? His fault or her fault. Of course both faults. And too it describes so neatly the couple’s complete intimacy such that it was hard to tell one from the other.

    Of course it sets up the end of this song in a subtle foreshadowing…. Soon it will be hard to tell any of the three’s parts from the others….

    Maybe not the best moment of the collection but a moment admist all the words and sounds of these last few long songs that i was afraid it might be missed if i didn’t write you about it.

    I hope you are safe in this storm.

    • Hear, hear. And it’s one of 58 best moments, how is that. Every time I get to the end of Tin Angel I feel shocked by the image of the townspeople ritually mourning these hapless miserable deaths. It is as though he’s completely radicalized what a folk ballad is: the ballad’s artfulness ennobles and beautifies and memorializes hapless miserable death–not much on earth is more beautiful than Bob Dylan singing Polly Vaughn, and I’ve shot that poor girl down a hundred times in listening swoonily to the song. But this is all inside out and upside down in Tin Angel, the bizarre mix of registers, our own inability to tell who from who in the dialogue and also in our consciences–where on earth (literally) is guilt in this story? Everything that captures and irritates our attention, the extraordinary seductive unbeauty of this song–it all so wrongly becomes the enduring loveliness and drama of a folk ballad when we’re hit with those funeral torches blazing all night and all day. Those deluded ignorant townspeople! If they saw and heard what we saw and heard! But they make a stately and gorgeous ritual of that nightmare, and that’s what a fine ballad does. People need to listen to this astonishing record more–Dylan is overturning a lot of tables in these songs.

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