What Good Am I. Strengthen The Things That Remain. Lay There Dreaming.

Maybe Bob Dylan dedicated his longlong-awaited Early Roman Kings performance to Obama’s reelection. Maybe playing the song, with its singer troublingly identifying with those rakish, bullying, hip, frightening, glittering, indestructible tyrants, was a combination of triumph and warning. We helped put the crown back on your head, please wear it as well as possible. In 2008, Obama looked like the hero being outfitted with his special cape and special sword and the solemn rules of his magnificent quest. Now he looks like a man singed by a wildfire he’s got to walk back into while his townspeople huddle behind him in fear, hope, doubt, anger, derision, trust. I wish I’d been in Wisconsin when Bob let it be known that he expected it to happen. It did not at the time seem a sure thing to me. I would enjoy having the memory of that camaraderie to sweeten the relief I feel now.

A hurricane tore through the town right outside these garden walls.  I didn’t take this photo at left, but below you can see the photo I did take of the aftermath of this business, which took place a short walk from these garden walls. However, being stranded and fearful in well-lit rooms in a watertight apartment in Brooklyn is not the same as being stranded and fearful in a dark cold housing project a mile from my watertight apartment, and not the same as being stranded and fearful in three feet of water alongside the pile of lumber and upholstery that was your living room. This is my worst experience of the destructibility of the world around me. And my most sobering experience of how Job-like people are in their anger and grievance–something must account for this! I saw good people’s honest and urgent belief that the machine of civilization is responsible for their safety and comfort. The photo here shows a drastic misfiring, a calamitous interruption rather than the way things are.

Strengthen the things that remain are always to me five beautiful words. Learning how very little remains of me after a calamitous interruption was something I wasn’t ready for. Job is Job because alone on his rock he’s surrounded by the ghosts of everything he’s lost, and not just what he’s lost, but the ghosts of all the threads that tied him to Purpose and Necessity.  Me, I own nothing, and no one depends on me for food or shelter or safety. My work doesn’t serve any necessary mechanism that would break down in my absence. Even if love isn’t friable, I’ve already found out that life is. When I felt last week how thin the threads are that bind me to the destructible world, I felt a cold ozone-y lightness. Alarming and a little too wonderful.   Exactly like being suddenly weightless. I know a person in this position should right away ballast themselves with the reminder that our bonds to all other people are always and already the threads binding us to the destructible world. I know that, and I still felt and feel the cold ozone-y weightlessness. If you’re fed up with impractical introspection, and I really don’t blame you, you may click right here.

Here is my After photo.  That water and wind tore through the metal, concrete and asphalt and tossed the bits with a jaunty flourish along the Belt Parkway.  Saw the changing of his world. Yes, I’m here to tell you that Tempest becomes  a different, uncannier, more luminous song when you’re standing on the salty wreckage of your own neighborhood, than it was when you were wondering who Clio or Cleo is.   Tempest has its singular moments, and yet does what all the best art of disaster does. It is a terrific allegory for our dogged embrace of everything that does not ultimately matter in the very moment of its not-mattering. Every snapshot of sacrifice, affection, betrayal, heroism, faith, doubt, even the reckless gamblers,  is set ruthlessly against the glimpses of implacable destruction. The song’s melody has a patient, rocking feel, and Dylan begins most verses with a merciless delivery of each syllable like a fist pounding a podium, and ends with softer, milder tones. So the sound of the song is a pendulum:  sacrifice and doom; affection and doom; valor and doom; faith and doom.  The vignettes range from the stock moment of the Astors unaware that their days of luxury sight-seeing are over, to the clever and sort of ballsy choice of having Jim Dandy *come to the rescue* of a crippled boy, to the subtle irony of Davey’s whores getting their final command from a man in the form of being released to their deaths. The web of religion that runs through the song is viciously tangled against itself: Jim Dandy dies in peace amid a vision of the rising Eastern star; the bishop admits at the last that human can’t save human; disembodied love and pity send useless prayers; there are angels, and they turn aside; the captain reads of apocalypse and weeps–this here-and-now apocalypse occurring under and over him was his to prevent. At one point Dylan undoes whatever transcendence you may want to glean from his tale by blaming “the wizard’s curse.”

The artist gets it right: in a single moment Leo grasps the disaster, acts with altruistic reflex, and loses his mind.  It’s the truest moment in the song for me, he’s the central character for me. His doomed sketches would have given the glorious ship art’s eternal life.  He’s struck and undone by love just as his muse the ship is struck and undone.  And he is the opposite of the watchman for whom the calamity is the phantom of his sleep: Leo the artist sees the calamity for what it is, acts because the impulse to preserve life is irrepressible, and in that moment knows the full weight of an absurd universe and goes mad.

Rising and falling with the swells of Tempest, hapless meaning after hapless meaning, is just the right equilibrium for me in an intrinsically destructible world that hasn’t destroyed me so far, and but hasn’t bound itself to me–or me to it–with enough strong threads to make a Job out of me. Thanks to Bob Dylan for being able to show us how preposterous it is that we don’t regularly lose our minds, without losing his.  And like I said before, if you can’t stand any of this, click right here.



33 thoughts on “What Good Am I. Strengthen The Things That Remain. Lay There Dreaming.

  1. Great piece. I found you through Bob’s “Hype” section. Congratulations…I bet Bob read your post too!

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. As far as anyone named Bob reading this–from your mouth to the Great Unknown’s ear…I’ll be in row 5 at Barclays tomorrow night here in Brooklyn, so perhaps someone shall read this who can arrange for Messrs Dylan and Knopfler to do Sweetheart Like You somewhere between Early Roman Kings and Highway 61. Cheers.

      1. HerRoyalKateness January 1, 2013 — 9:43 PM

        Yeah it turned my stomach to see what happened. i am not convinced u know bd at all or what early roman kings is all about. . . the decline of civilization, like putting people in office who are not qualified…..the blind leading the blind. u know bd is not like that. i think he is pulling the wool over ur eyes. rethink that analysis of urs.

      2. I don’t know what anything is all about, and I do think that corruption and cruelty and altruism and fellowship and self-destruction and violence are the conditions all humankind has lived for all time and in all places, and whether cultures or power structures come and go, these conditions stay, and I hear this in Bob Dylan’s music and I suppose I’m sticking with that. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  2. So glad to find this on Bob’s hype page. I too love the way tempest tells the story of the diverse nature of man’s struggle in the “modern world” of it’s time. I think it’s worth mentioning that the watchman chorus throughout the song is so purposeful, I suppose it’s obvious, but the fact that the watchman is asleep and dreaming of the boat sinking is the ultimate irony. Since he is the watchman if he hadn’t been asleep on the job, perhaps the boat would not have been sinking.

    In a way the song lifts away the veil of death by giving it to everyone on the boat in their own form,
    with kind of a festive melody, perhaps Dylan is trying to lighten the burden we each carry with us through life, that one way or another, we are all going to end in death. Is it really such a sad scenario? Isn’t that what we all are trying to find out with our lives, what is death

    As for the timeliness of our real east coast tempest, it’s a reminder that nature is in the driver seat and we are all just another pawn in her game. Love the dragonfly, it’s a somewhat symbolic
    icon for me, so I enjoy seeing it in this context.

    Hope you enjoyed Barclay’s eruke, heard Soon After Midnite for the first time live in DC, it might not be Sweetheart like You, But it brought me out of the dump.

    Here’s an axiom I came up with when I was about 19 years old

    Art is the process and product of an individual
    Life is the process and product of an individual
    Art = Life

    thought it seemed appropriate to share it here.


    1. Thank you for this comment, which has a lot of heart and thought in it. I love your line, “In a way the song lifts away the veil of death by giving it to everyone on the boat in their own form,” That’s a lot of what I hear as the generosity of the song, as opposed to bleakness: all the characters deaths belong to them in their own way. I’m not sure I want my life to be a product, that seems to ask for more certainty than I can muster.
      The Barclays show was glorious from the 5th row–the new energy and arrangement of Chimes of Freedom has completely awoken that song for me, and Forgetful Heart will indeed melt the fillings in your teeth. The piano is central to everything–all the descriptions of him at the keyboard are accurate, he’s antic and courtly and much more alive than he was hunched at the plug-in toy. And the sound is rich and rolling, not shrill and mechanical as it was at the plug-in toy. But this was my second visit to Barclays and I know the experience is badly compromised if you’re not fortunate to have excellent floor seats. Off the floor, the steep pitch of the seats narrows sightlines to meager bird’s-eye views, and the seats themselves are miserably tight squeezes. If you’re deciding between seeing a show at Barclays or at Madison Square Garden, go with the Garden.
      OK, thank you again. I love that photo of the spindly dragon fly also. It’s extraordinary to think that life does all its work in that beautiful tiny winged needle.

      1. jean fairy queen December 7, 2012 — 3:03 PM

        Glad to hear back from you eruke, I think the idea that Dylan’s work doesn’t warrant reading without the musical sound track is not correct. Although I love and am completely addicted to his work with the music, and they are “Inseperably linked..” I think the poetry comes first. And the message behind it is elusive and mysterious to some, but lately I’ve been feeling like I “cracked the code”. Nice to know there’s a place to put that in writing. And that the Dylan site felt like sharing it with the rest of the fans as well. But seriously, the thing about art is, it’s all about you and your code, while you interpret it, it lives and breathes. When it lies around un-noticed, it dies.

      2. Yes, I agree 112%–art lives in our attention, our spirits, in the conversation we have with it. And yes, the music and words are linked inseparably, and I also agree that Dylan without words is not Mozart, and Dylan with words gives me more than Shakespeare.

    2. but

      a dog is an animal with a nose at one end and a tail at the other
      a cat is an animal with a nose at one end and a tail at the other
      cat is not equal to dog

      art = t x i / u
      where t is technique
      and i is inspiration
      and u is utility

      1. Jean Fairy Queen March 11, 2013 — 10:47 AM

        I think that they are both equal to each other in their sentient nature and their presence of mind.
        They are both mammals, they are both alive and instinctually the same in so many ways,
        because of their nose and tail. But I do like your axiom. I think that the application of the universal language of math to the mysterious need for understanding meta-physical and physical reality is intriguing. With respect to my art is life concept. As a devoted creative a person lives and breathes their creations as they would their life, and thus the two become inseperable, until and upon their death when they take on nothing but the life of their own that has been instilled in them by the rest of us. It’s like that in so many mediums art and science of all kinds. It is what makes a truly meaningful life, and a sacred or useful nature to everything we do, once we believe in it to that extent. The big question is the moral discerning of what indeed is sacred or more important what can be deemed actually useful.

  3. Kimberly Ann Hemman November 28, 2012 — 11:54 PM

    After all these years, it seems like many folks are still stuck on the lyrics and trying to figure it all out. God Bless us. Dylan certainly deserves the accolades. He’s got the best lines for damn near everything, a million times over. But somehow it is all nothing without the sounds. Dylan is the same sponge for sound as he is for lyrics. This includes melody, rhythm and story. Dylan Rocks!

    Did you ever try to separate out a recording artist’s lyrics from melody and rhythm? Throughout the history of music, it just doesn’t work. I feel for Bob. Why do we keep doing this to him? Constantly decontructing his art, music from words, and overanalyzing the whole deal.

    Dylan is the ultimate rocker, a consumate artist and entertainer. He will not stop. Don’t try to figure it out. Go to a show and have fun. Dylan gets this. He has commented on it many times in his own words in interviews and books.

    Sure, Dylan is a voracious reader, observer and master re-compiler of words and themes. But for his success, he perpetually acknowledges his inspiration comes from the hand-me-down traditions of American roots music . . . blues, folk, country, Scotts-Irish, etc. He’s an old bluesman. He says this himself. Sometimes, when I read comments and stories here and there, it seems like folks don’t get the simple artistic, history and oral tradition.

    Nevertheless, Dylan is a gent. He takes it in stride, humbly recieving awards at the White House, Rome and diligently performing at every kind of concert hall. big and small, around the world, year on end.

    For decades, I have read many commentaries filled with self gratifying meaning and personal explanations of Dylan’s lyrics—not just on this site, but in articles, books and wherever folks feel compelled to comment adnauseum. Hooey Plooey. The young, Grateful Dead Head twirlers get it. Just go to a Dylan show—listen, dance, release and have fun.

    I am not saying Dylan’s lyrical genius doesn’t matter. Dylan is beyond compare. I am saying, in my estimation, for Dylan, there is no meaning without context of tradition and direct experience.

    The best musicians have the best ears and consequently make the best fans. I reside in St. Louis and have seen Dylan many times here and elsewhere. One hot summer night, Dylan ripped open the show with a blistering rendition of Chuck Berry’s, “Nadine”. I’ll never forget it. Pure rock. Pure fun. Pure Dylan. Amen.

    1. Although I’ll never have the fluency in music that plenty of his listeners have, as well as the more-than-fluency Bob himself has, his songs are for me inextricable from his voice. Words become…beings…when Dylan sings them and I’m happy making a colossal fool of myself trying to find not-quite-living words to describe this. The attraction Dylan’s lyrics have as literature on a page seems irresistible, and some of the Hooey Plooeys are fascinating testaments to how deeply people can spelunk into Dylan’s work through pretty narrow crevasses. I also want to be generous to people who love his work and haven’t had our opportunities for direct experience. There is no comparing the studio version of Forgetful Heart to these recent performances of the song, but let’s hold out a hand to people who can’t get to shows and are still captivated by these sounds and words. Thank you, and yes indeed, amen to all that stuff and more.

  4. Bob was born an artist!! And also a genius. His music intrigues us, and mystifies a lot of people. Most people try to peek inside of Bob’s mind and interpret what he is thinking. But that is something that is very hard to do. I have tried to interpret some of his songs, but most of the time it is very difficult. He is a man of mystery and will continue to be long after we are all dead and gone.

  5. Thx eruke for yr thoughtful blog entry. I also ran across it from the hype link on bob’s site. I also enjoyed & appreciated other comments. Glad to find a kindred spirits here! I saw his bobness at dc (like Jean fairy queen) & he was fantastic! I loved that he performed early roman kings & soon after midnight. I also really dug his arrangement of chimes of freedom & hard rain. & I nearly lost my mind when he played ballad of a thin man!

    1. You hit the jackpot getting Hard Rain–I have not heard that live for quite a while. Chimes of Freedom has an entire new life this time around, don’t you think? It’s majestic and alive and he’s present in every syllable. Early Roman Kings live knocks out the studio version–it’s tyrannical, as it should be. How wonderful that you were blown away by Thin Man–he really does justice to the Threepenny Opera origins of the song nowadays. It is glorious and dark musical theater. Well, now I’ve made it sound like a Bob Dylan concert is like a tragic house of horrors, when it’s actually plenty of rollicking fun. Oh dear. We know we’ve had a great time, don’t we. Thank you so much for writing. Keep listening, that’s all that matters.

  6. oh, you are so right. a bob dylan show these days is both a “tragic house of horrors” AND a rollickin’ good time! 🙂 yeah, i felt very fortunate to hear “hard rain”. i like how he’s turned it into a kind of slow waltz. when he got to the “poet who died in the gutter” line, i had tears in my eyes. i think you are right on when it comes to his recent renditions live of “thin man” and “early roman kings”, at least judging from the concert i attended in dc. i thought the stage lighting for “thin man” particularly effective. that night, dylan was wearing a black suit with red satin piping and a red satin shirt and his riverboat gambler hat. the lights during thin man were all red & stark white. he stood at the front of the stage (strangely not banging those chords out on the piano, i thought at the time) with the mic and just belted it. and with his outfit and the lighting, he looked like the devil himself. gave me shivers.

    1. I like this description a lot. I wish there were some way that people ill-disposed to Bob Dylan In Show and Concert could be teleported into venues just for Thin Man–he’s turned this song into a gothic kind of performance art that gets right to the grotesque sermon that’s the heart of the ballad. Everyone who thinks we’re all deluded nostalgics at a freakish oldies show really needs to sit through a Thin Man. And he pulls this off night after night.

  7. Enjoyed your essay and your thoughtful responses to readers in equal measure. Let me be the first to hit the long overdue Like button.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to type and to hit that button. I like my kind of blog best–a disingenuous Emily Dickinson mojo, feeling invisible and then happy to have the occasion to respond thoughtfully to anything like a reader. When I want to wear out the Like button, I’ll start writing about the brand of lip balm that will be trending tomorrow for 11 year old transgenders. (I probably just lost 2 or 3 of the readers I already have right there. Oh well.) Thank you again, keep listening to Mr Bob Dylan, and take care.

      1. Emily, Dickinson and Mojo. That is the first time those three words have ever been seen in the wild in such close proximity! We have a different, but not antithetical, take on BD. if you’re interested see #48 you’re gonna make me lonesome when you go on my page. If it was a like contest were about even. You’re a head up on me with the referrals. 🙂 nice piece of writing. I’ll keep an eye on you…

  8. I have never really understood the demand by certain fans of Bob Dylan to “know” what the lyrics are about. I discovered Dylan in the early 1980s, in my mid-teens. Anyway – and, long story short – to me the attraction was always the sound. I loved the rawness, the (practiced, I do realize now) economy. Those that get hung up on what things may mean always play the “poet” card, as if poetry must always contain meaning. Which of course is not true. Poetry uses words for their sound, texture, feel. The meaning of a word can be a complete afterthought in its selection and placement in the creative process. I am not swinging with the other side of the pendulum by claiming this is always so. However, the lyrics work even when there appears to be a straightforward narrative (Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, Change My Way of Thinking, Black Diamond Bay, Hurricane) and when they are more mysterious, obscure or metaphorical (Visions of Johanna, Isis and so many others).

    I recall first buying Blonde on Blonde. Playing entire sides over and over again and having no idea what the songs were “about”, and not being the least bit concerned about that.

    1. I’ve been thinking about your comment for the last few days and just stumbled across a great quote from Susan Sontag: “Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.”

      And yet as clever as that may be, oftentimes artists DO mean to say something, the intention is important, and the expectation is for a little intellectual rigor on the recipient’s part. The intellect is a participant in creating great art. He’s not tied up in another part of the brain. Written, visual and musical clues are a part of the charm of the arts and in countries without freedom of expression they are critical.

      But it’s a weakness – maybe – of art that you can’t tease the two approaches apart very easily. Certainly you know when somebody has gotten carried away interpreting. It might be truer to say that the *need* to have a creator’s intent is the revenge of the intellect on art. Anyway, I enjoyed your comment and it had me thinking this week. 🙂

      1. I think I understand what you are saying. For example, a few minutes in the MOMA or the like can have my intellectual radar screaming… what is this about?? What could that possibly mean (or, what could s/he have possibly been trying to say)?? But then I have just assumed that I was not the intended audience. Then, the more I learned about visual art – painting – and what various approaches, say Cubism, were trying to accomplish I could appreciate it more. However, I wonder if understanding it, or at least some background, the territory inside the artist’s brain while creating, also meant that I “got it”. I suppose how one answers that will indicate the degree that interpretation plays in their involvement as an audience. Personally, I think a veil remains in place, even though one claims status of art historian, they may still not really “get” the art they know so much about.

        And what do I mean by “get it”? Simply the immediate and intimate connection, sometimes lightning bolt, that passes between art and individual, for whatever reason. I suppose I am talking about experiencing art. But the “get it” aspect of modern art seems to reside more in one having “figured it out”.

        I wonder how great an intellectual trip is required of one to interpret Dylan. What I mean is, how much of his work borrows from the traditional canon? Knowing the source of references must gain one a certain advantage yet I wonder how many even go in that direction, when off to interpret.

        I often get the sense that what is actually attempted via interpretation is an attempt to figure out and know something intimate about the hero. Like a knowing wink.

      2. I always think the Whitney Biennial is the ne plus ultra of what you’re talking about here, screaming intellectual radar. It could be screaming sensual/moral radar as well. I forgot who once said that western culture cycles through periods of creativity and periods of criticism and we now live in a period of criticism (who said this??? George Steiner?? my memory gives up). And the wors cesspool of the Age of Criticism is that art is just another language of criticism. A pile of hard candies wrapped in silver paper that is intended to represent/embody the evanescence of presence and art, as interpreted for me on the wall placard–well, that is a formally uninspired and sensually unarresting piece of art rhetoric, it is a thin little bit of critical theater, and there is a good deal of this in contemporary art. When there is no thunderbolt to the central nervous system, no lasso to the imagination, and instead your immediate response is “what’s the argument here? I’d better read the wall to find out the argument here,” then we’re in that self-sufficient airless zone of art qua criticism. And I like your comment about interpretation as trying to wrest a “knowing wink” from the “hero”– you want your own little imagined wink, and that’s just fine. It’s not proprietary and it’s not naming and defining–just your own fleeting wink. Whoever the first person was to have that “D’oh!” moment in Roll on Johngo where the buffalo roam–the Dakota!!–they earned their little wink. That’s what I mean.

      3. Sontag wrote, “In a culture whose classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.” “Hypertrophy of the intellect” was a quaint grievance even in 1964, don’t you think? I wish that she just hadn’t used intellect throughout Against Interpretation, because the word invites misconstruing her argument/manifesto as defending anti-intellectualism, which she’s not doing. I’m with her on interpretation when it’s the vanity of *restoring* any artwork to some origin or intent that can define it, diagnose it, bag it for good. Interpretation that is restoration and etiology does what Sontag claims, it “makes art manageable…” But when she calls for an “erotics of art” she’s not calling for sentimentality, or I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout art but I know what I like, or No Fear Shakespeare (if you’ve never seen one of these books, it’ll make you want to tear out the liver of the person who came up with the idea), or one anencephalic moshpit after another. She’s calling for deep play with art, getting in there with it, getting that the act of attention is a making and a fusing and a remaking–and seeing what’s happened to you and to the work when you attend to each other in this way. I don’t think that works passively and I don’t think it works anti-intellectually, that’s for sure. Bob Dylan is a hard hard case–the hardest case there is, I think–because he can feed so many kinds of attention. The banal and manageable thing to do now would be to say, And everyone’s attention is as good as everyone else’s. But so what? I say, dig in as far as you can with your own organs of attention, see what happens to you and to Tempest or Idiot Wind or The Ugliest Girl in the World. Forget about intention, it’s a million dead ends or a million banalities. But claim your own creative, strange, provoking, preposterous story of any Bob Dylan song at all, and stake your claim with some ethics and some intelligence and we can be friends forever.

  9. I had a dream several years ago of falling into the ocean and going unconscious as the darkwaters of night vanquished my hopes of seeing or ever being with my loved ones anew.I awoke on the shores of a solitary anchorage looking up into the eyes of none other than aka Mr Bob Dylan. He helped me up to a warm place and a glass of bourbon with a strong cup of coffee to chase it down. We visited for what I thought to be days and left as friends of mutual respect and brothers of this life under the sun. In my dream he called me up one day and asked for a visit to our little town so he and I could catch up. It was a good dream and we both had met a man whom we could respect. Why did I dream this? I would hope to think that in some way my sub-conscious wants to think of Bob in this way,unspoiled by noteriety,real like the rest of us “Job”s and like the rest of us needing a friend!

    1. Mary Lee Kortes used to have a website where people contributed their Bob Dylan dreams, I don’t think it’s still running. In your dream, Mr Bob Dylan is a mensch, and kudos to your unconscious for seeing a life of normal brotherhood for both of you.

  10. Jean Fairy Queen April 2, 2013 — 9:12 AM

    Bradleyman, I love your story. Bob in your dreams is not such an unusual theme. I don’t know what the real purpose of dreaming is, but sometimes it helps you find something that you can’t find in the waking world. Uniquely Bob has a way of letting you find him awake or asleep.
    Interpreting his work is impossible and completely obvious at once. But what each of us believes in as obvious is so unique that I’m sure our interpretations would get lost on each other. But at least on this forum some of us attempt to open our minds to each other. I do believe, that like many renegade artists and scientists of all kinds, Dylan succeeds in opening his mind to his audience for our own experience of it. And in many ways the first impression and impact of the emotion in his music is the simple truth of the message. Like a puzzle or a riddle, there is enjoyment in taking it all a step or (a thousand steps) further in trying to go deeper into the mind of a creative person. Music and lyric lend itself to that. I do feel that visual art is meant to be interpreted on a visual level, and that the gut reaction to it is it’s purpose. Knowing more about the artist and their intention is fun in an historical vein, just like our obsession with knowing the biography of a performer like Robert Zimmerman. Dream on.

  11. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned, which I have discovered to be true, is that art must exist relative to the society it dwells in. It is as much a social event as it is an individual event. Art, like anything else, can only be considered in relation to the ripples it sends across the currents of society. It is a product of society – like the spawn of a fish is a product of the river as much as the fish. Thus an artist risks, is vulnerable.

    So too must it be with criticism or “interpretation” (though as I restate, so much that occurs around Dylan tends to exist nearer to the “interpretation of speaking in tongues type. You can see what you want to see. To the person that posted their “Bob Dylan Dream”: have you considered that your dream could also reflect that the part of your psyche that seeks out a complete and utter stranger as a moral compass could also be responsible for your finding yourself, at least psychically, adrift, washed up and alone on an island of delusions? Because I bet if you were to impose yourself on the actual guy like that you’d experience the shock of your life. Like those that prefer to trust the singer, not the song.).

    But I digress.

    Therefore, it must be the case that there is bound to be a rift between artist and audience. If there were not it would be cease to be art, and perhaps be mere propaganda (or simply pop, made solely for consumption). I guess the best case is that the riff between artist and audience is not too big. But that calls for intelligent interpretation and authentic experience. And it’s not all one or the other. As I stated, Dylan comes from certain specific places. If your “thoughts on Dylan” do not include at least some reasonable (as in – interesting) effort to mine those sources then you are merely indicating that a cloud looks like a rabbit to you, and that one looks like a dog….

    Just as Dylan takes from the works of an obscure US Civil War poet and blends it into something new and perhaps interesting, so too the audience must, if to create analysis that is interesting, realize to some extent what he is doing and how. You must be speaking the same language, to some degree.

    To do otherwise is to reside on the same level as describing what your “Bob Dylan” dream meant to you. It is like, while reading a sentence, coming across a word you are unfamiliar with, and then go on in great heuristics about what the strange word may represent, rather than simply looking it up. Meaningful (as in, interesting) interpretation or criticism of an artist resides somewhere in the middle – there is room for creative infusion (as it is with the artist), but at least go to the effort of looking up the word, and start from there.

    1. On the subject of Art “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
      ― Leonardo da Vinci
      Bob has stated numerous times that he is doing what the “Commander And Chief” has gifted him to do and will continue to do this as long as he can (Check out Interview with the late Ed Bradley) So it would seem that Bob unlike most of us Knows his calling as stated…
      “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”
      ― Émile Zola
      Bob,unlike most of us,lives out loud with his Art. I admire this and him for doing so. I think of him (and his kind) as prophets for our age. Encapsulating and then like the olden town cryer shouting out what needs to be heard. Am I looking to this stranger as ‘a moral compass’? Yes and no. Am I finding myself “at least psychically, adrift, washed up and alone on an island of delusions? “Yes and no. Delusions are often the subject threaded throughout Bob’s Art, Who in this life have not or are right now living in some kind of delusion? Of all Gods’ creatures we humans are (I would propose) the only living beings (besides the fallen angels) who are confused if honest seek “the path”. Have I found my path? I think I’ve squeaked out some idea of it, but the older I get the less it seems I know. Scary at times, especially when one goes through and is the subject of injustices.But I digress, I would love to be a friend of Bobs’, as I’m sure millions of others imagine. I listen to his Art, I have had the experience of attending 6 concerts of his between the years of 92-2012. One in LA. with my then 16 year old son in a very small venue (the very best one) and one with my youngest son (14) a few years later in Lethbridge Ab. last summer ( a very great bonding time of 5hour drive 3hour concert and then 5 hour drive back). I do feel Bob is more than a “hobby” to me. When I was a teenager living on the streets many many years ago I heard his Art being played by what are now called ‘Buskers’ and it stopped me in my tracks. That guy got it ! I have over the years enjoyed and sought out anything Bob, because i found him most interesting and also most very human. Am I consumed by Bob? Have I become a Bobite? I would argue not really! But as far as admiration for a fellow sojourner?That I do. I also don’t like some things about him as well, these are- his exile from us real folk (understandably because of all the ‘nutjobs’ out there), – his riches (that being said I do not know how he honors his fellow man with it), -his not singing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” the way it came out in “Pat Garret & Billy The Kid” when Sheriff Baker (Slim Pickens) was shot and dying looking down that lonely river. All in all I still every now and then I place my ear to the ground and listen for Dylan. I have resolved that if I do not get that opportunity to be washed up on the shore and break bread & burbon with Bob this side of Heaven I hope that in another life we can.
      I leave you with this:
      “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
      ― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

  12. One of the greatness minds ever. My favorite musician ever; bar none, Mr. Dylan for Prezz, Mr. Obama for his personal Ambassador to the world and the ship just might not sink for mankind. Thank you Mr. Dylan for giving me the opportunity to appreciate your fine mind and your just to good of a musician, just incredible. You can be funny, brilliant, but never mean. Keep up the great work. Sincerely, Rockin Red

  13. This is very late but just came across your weblog at the post which was one of the best things I have read on Tempest. I quoted a bit from it and hope you are ok with that.

    1. Dear Mr Mackenzie: Thank you very much for your message. I’m afraid the comments I receive are almost exclusively Spam and I’ve taken to ignoring them all. And here you are–respectable, companionable, and interesting. I like your thoughts on Tempest–the Watchman the great I/eye of the song, indeed. In a very nice coincidence, I’m giving a talk at a Dylan symposium next month (at Arkansas State University) where I’m going to discuss Tempest and ‘Cross the Green Mountain in terms of their historic vision… I may refer to your comment and of course I will cite you.

      Thank you for introducing me to your thoughtful blog.

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