Old, Young. . .

imagesOne Fine Day at Sony HQ

–We are to be making one hundred copies.

–A hundred?? I could go out on the street right now with a cardboard box of 200 of these, wave one over my head, ask 25 dollars cash– whatever, 30 euros, and the box’d be empty by noon.

–Your enthusiasm is engaging, but business is what is being run here.

–Stencil his name on the cardboard box and someone’ll give you 20 bucks for it!  These’ll be hawked on line in minutes for stupid amounts of money! A hundred! We might as well have put out ten…

—We..? Excuse me–that is the badge of an intern around your neck, no? Are there not two pieces of paper somewhere in this building that require your stapling them one to the other? How is it that you are in this room? Randolph! Randolph! Where is the special room of these interns? And Randolph–were you able to procure that particular tie I wish to wear to the Grammy television ceremonies? That’s it! Splendid–the same fabric as  Miss Taylor Swift’s new video pajamas.

No, of course I don’t have the copyright extension CD and I don’t want to be patronized by having explained to me the technical commercial legality justifying the quantity of one mere hundred.  And although I already have nearly all the songs in question scattered about bootlegs, I still feel left out and petulant. Not only left out and petulant about being empty-handed at a fairly exciting CD event, and being curmudgeonly in my ignorance of intellectual property law. I’m also feeling the weight of years embedded in this copyright extension stuff. Bob Dylan and I will never be so young again. I never did hear these songs with young ears.  And  somehow all this petulance seems of a piece with the petulance I’m still feeling from Tempest‘s being dissed at the Grammy nominations. A dark and bygone album that rides deeper rails of greatness every time I hear it is passed over in the here and now, and Bob Dylan and I will never be so young again.

I know the antidote to all this feeling left out and sour is in that Duquesne whistle. Let the train go by, whatever’s on it, everyone’s on it. Let it go, toot toot, even if it kills me dead. If no one remembers next time round. Let the train go. . .There’s a lot I’m not learning from this song at the moment.

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Soundin’ like it’s on a final run.  Maybe it takes decades to hear that whistle. Between Stealin’ and Tempest could be an entire story of young and not young, and that seems to be the story that interests me right now. So I’m turning to the Witmark demos with my old ears and asking them what they can teach me about young and not young, me and Bob Dylan.

images3Re: Not having young ears or eyes.I’ve never been taken in by this painting. The vulnerable stripling with his budding honest body. I think the painting is the moment right before his consciousness comes of age and he realizes that  he controls the horse he believed until this moment was his friend. Perhaps this is the last moment the boy will know the world as his own, where pants and shoes and saddles are unnecessary and the sky and earth are as bare and free as he is. This is to me the last dream of Youth. Right before Innocence wakes up to knowledge, power and desires that can’t be fulfilled by just breathing alongside the beloved creature you’re going to discover in a minute isn’t really talking with you.

I just don’t cherish this dream, this moment–the last pulses of youth whose beauty and potency are unconscious.   And I bring this not-being-available-to-the-enchanting-poignant-dream-of-youth to all the flourishings of Dylan’s early songs. I can hear in some of them the honest ugliness of growing pains, and the leaps into maturity that can cover so much ground so quickly you get a chill from the passing breeze.


imagesMr. Bartender, I ain’t too young…He played it so well–the scrawny critter lost in old jeans, with his laughing grin and sharp cagey eyes, the voice singing more than this person could possibly know of death and pain and poverty, and using all his boychick righteousness to make his audience see their own stained souls and love him for it. The moment of this real life seduction is gone.  I can’t pretend that anything compensates for real seduction in real time.

We don’t do nostalgia for an unlived past here in the garden and we sure don’t do the *Golden Age envy* thing either.  That Blowin’ in the Wind may be now and in 3129 an occasion for reflection, for pleasure, for wonder, isn’t the point. That song masters and deepens a form and defends the truism of timelessness. And even if timelessness can be right here and now 50 years after the song was born, in living sweat when we get Blowin’ in the Wind as an encore, that’s still not what I’m after here. I’m after the force that through the green fuse…. And I hear it and feel it in stumbles and growth spurts, not in the anthems.

Emmett Till stumbles all over itself with  mismatched voices. There’s the childlike language of a naif shocked at atrocity and the justice not served: a dreadful tragedy…too evil to repeat….I’m sure it ain’t no lie. . .if you can’t speak out against this kind of thing...so godawful low. And there are the sudden spikes of elegance and maturity in the imagery, the rhyme, the meter: rolled his body down a gulf amidst a blood red rain/And they threw him in the waters wide to cease his screaming pain.. .floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea. . .eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt, mind is filled with dust. . .ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan. The fineness of these phrases turns the ingenuous moral appeals into forced naivete. Into the righteous outcry erupts a newfound joy in the sound and playfulness of language. There’s real sensual and immodest pleasure in inventing and performing these phrases that’s at odds with the song’s framing persona– if all of us folks that thinks alike about violence and injustice. . .well, some of us decent folk are guiltily relishing and repeating to ourselves the sheer prettiness of float the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea.  Art can be beautiful and moral, and by Hattie Carroll, Dylan will have figured out how to make that work without hiccups. But I hear the hiccups in Emmett Till. The song is badly controlled, awkward, and always fresh. Growth spurts.

Long Ago, Far Away is one of those leaps, where you can feel the leaping. Here he’s got it all–youthful moral outrage, tightwoven phrasing, spiky smart and agile imagery, and the language simple and deft and never clashing with its voice: chains of slaves they dragged the ground/With heads and hearts hung low. . .the whole world bled its blood. . .people cheered with bloodshot grins. . . The song has the infectious energy and purpose of great gospel. It’s also got its own delectation of language and you can feel the singer discovering the joy of making all this happen each time you listen. He’s reined in that growling shrieking timbre that’s rather out of hand in Gospel Plow.  He seems surprised by his own wild ride, we’re surprised too. One big growth spurt, I think–a leap.

Blowin’ like she’s blowin’ right on time and Blowin’ like she ain’t gonna blow no more.  Not far from the Dusquesne whistle he sings, It’s now or never. Tempest is my real-time seduction, my green fuse–gnarled and murky and juicy for all that. I’ll try to listen for the whistle and Sony can go to hell.

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8 thoughts on “Old, Young. . .

  1. As I find myself going a little stir crazy for something to sink my teeth into.
    Eruke gives up a little of her inner being here, just to taste the truth,
    the frenzy of desire, oh well, he’ll be back in Spring, to sing, again.
    Thanks for the feedback from the youth we never had, but will certainly find again….

    “…with the juice running down my leg”

    • Thanks–I have a fairly meager inner being but whatever shreds are in there end up here eventually. Spring is a long time coming here in Brooklyn which right now is one extra large bare ruined choir. Do you know that Dan Rather quoted ‘If you don’t believe there’s a price for this sweet paradise/Remind me to show you the scars” on I think his final broadcast?

      • Wow. I did not know about Rather. Quite interesting. Not as weird as Schwarzkopf being a fan, but still. And that’s a pretty “obscure” song too (in both meanings of less-known and dark).

        Yep, Sony has really messed up this one. They should release a new Bootleg Series soon to atone for this.

  2. eruke, thanks for another lovely blog entry. i was fortunate to have grown up listening to bob dylan – listened with young ears, as you eloquently say. not that i was even a glimmer in my parents’ eyes during the so-called “golden age”. but i actually don’t remember the *first* time i heard bob dylan or the *first* song i heard – his music was in the ether, constantly around me. even though i grew up in a very religious baptist household and my parents were the farthest thing from hippies. however, my parents were huge country music fans – hank sr and johnny cash and now-mostly-forgotten artists like webb pierce and hank snow and eddy arnold were on my parents’ turntable. so my parents, especially my dad (with all his johnny cash vinyl, live at folsom and san quentin on rotation very often for him) liked bob dylan, even though they didn’t have any of his records. i think my dad in particular really loved the country influence he heard in bob dylan in the 70s. & when my brother bought a copy of dylan’s greatest hits vol 2 at our neighbor’s yard sale & i started playing it a LOT (i guess i was around 10 or so), my dad really loved dylan’s more “country” sounding songs: “quinn the eskimo”, “watching the river flow”, “lay lady lay.” and later when i got biograph as a christmas present from my brother, my dad frequently requested me to play “every grain of sand”. sorry, your post opened up some memories for me. 🙂 what i thought i was gonna post here and will say now is this: sony really did screw up and to hell with ’em. they really *do* need to atone for this. that having been said, though, a very kind person on a dylan forum posted an mp3 of take 2 of “blowin’ in the wind” from the copyright extension collection for me to hear and yeah, it was *slightly* different from the familiar album version, but really not so different i could tell a difference without straining to hear a difference. so. i don’t think the copyright extension is worth it. certainly not worth the price people are asking. i can live without it.

    • I do love people’s stories of the particular door they walked through to get here. Bob Dylan in the ether and get passed around through yard sales–you probably hear many more twining roots in the songs than I am able to. Every Grain of Sand is hard and beautiful listening, I like the image of your father being captivated by the sound and spirit of the song and making you play it again and again. I can’t tell whether the copyright extension stuff is primarily what is on the great bootleg compilation For Sale or Just on the Shelf. Thank you for sharing and emoting too.

      • Thanks for your post. It really did bring up unexpected emotions in me when I started to reply. Go figure. Part of why I love Bob’s music so much, why it’s so endlessly fascinating…I think his work just touches people’s emotions in a very deep way. My dad has passed on, but I always think of him when I listen to “Every Grain of Sand”. My dad wrestled with some inner demons and I think that’s why that song spoke to him so much. He’d never talk about it, but I kinda know why that song was special to him, why he loved it so much. “in the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need / a pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed…” Anyone, I think, who struggles with deep, dark demons can see themselves in just those opening lines. I’ve never written about how I “came to” Dylan (always sounds like a conversion story when people relate it & in a way it is). But I guess having Dylan in the ether and then (basically) stealing my brother’s record that he bought for a dollar at our next-door neighbor’s yard sale is as good a way as any to become a true believer. (re: my brother’s record: like Dylan did with Paul Nelson’s and John Pankake’s records, I pretty much “borrowed” that record from my brother and to this day haven’t returned it. LOL. He’s OK with it, though. It’s my brother who went with me to see Dylan in DC last November. A very quiet, shy artist, my brother jumped up and shouted, “WE LOVE YOU, BOBBY!” after the encore. I was amazed and just laughed.)

      • I had the great good fortune to give a talk on Every Grain of Sand at Fordham University where I teach as an adjunct. Here’s the link to the text of the talk here on the blog if you’re interested. Unexpected emotions are always welcome here. My own father passed away before I started listening to Dylan and I know he would have gotten a lot out of Dylan’s wordplay and spiritual preoccupations; my father was a great admirer of Allen Ginsberg. I know Bob heard your brother–I feel certain that after all these years he can tell the difference between people dutifully whooping it up for Like A Rolling Stone, and some good person just having to shout out some good feeling.

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