Bob Dylan

     My friend Doug Stalker and I used to sit up all night at the Northeast Sahavas for Meher Baba, playing guitar and singing with a few other hardy souls around the campfire. At some point we'd hit the "Dylan lode". We'd do enthused versions of such songs as "I Shall Be Released", "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall", "Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Heaven's Door", and "Mister Tambourine Man". Doug remarked once, after a particularly inspired rendition of one of the songs, "You can have your T.S. Eliot, but in two hundred years the English-language poet of our time who's really going to be remembered is Bob Dylan."
     T.S. Eliot has certainly made his contribution, as I think Doug will be the first, in a spiritually sober moment, to admit. But the fact is that I agree with Doug that for inspired word-combinations in English—for memorable lines branded into my heart in the '60s and that burn there still—Bob Dylan stands stands with Francis Brabazon as the two poetic voices that have most affected who I have become.
     Take "Mister Tambourine Man", the popular recording of which, by the Byrds, sounded all but sappy. Take all four verses, and take them as poetry. Phrases like "jingle-jangle morning", for example. That's certainly poetry. Or,

                             To dance beneath the diamond sky
                             With one hand waving free,
                             Silhouetted by the sea,
                             Circled by the circus sands,
                             With all memory and fate
                             Driven deep beneath the waves.
                             Let me forget about today
                             Until tomorrow.

     I'm not sure I know exactly what "circus sands" are, but the combination of the two words certainly takes the phrase out of the realm of the cliche and into the original. Dylan's poetic mind makes sentences from a place beyond thought, and he brings the listener into the Present with him.

     I don't see how any poet will ever paint a more consicely vivid picture of the poignancy and dangers of our contemporary world than Dylan has in these stunning lines from "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" :

                           I saw a newborn babe with wild wolves all around it                            I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,                            I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin',                            I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin',                            I saw a white ladder all covered with water,                            I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,                            I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children...                          

     Scratch the surface of any of Mr. Dylan's first ten or so albums,       
and you'll find such lodes of gems everywhere—from the early, "political"
or post-political songs like "My Back Pages" to the surrealism of "Blonde
on Blonde".
     I can't say much about the recent CDs. When I finally saw Bob Dylan
"live" in 1998, he just seemed like a touring music machine, and I haven't
followed the recent work.
     Dylan was like a Freeway out of town, somehow, for millions of us trapped in
American culture, and inside the walls of our own brains in the '60s, with nowhere
to go. His songs, in some inexpressible way, helped create a "Highway of diamonds"
which became each person's own highway, and which each of us then had to go on 
creating—unless we wanted to go back inside that old shell. 
     After maybe twenty years--somewhere around 1990--I stopped getting the same
thrill I was used to, when I played a Dylan song on my guitar. I was stunned. Even
these great works of art had a "shelf life". Or at least, they needed a rest.
     Sometimes you wish you'd never heard of a poet or an artist, just so you could
experience the thrill of exposure again for the first time. Because, in some cases,
no one of the same caliber is likely to come along.
     So it is with Bob Dylan. I'll always be grateful.            

        "What Remains Is the Essence", the home pages of Max Reif:
poetry, children's stories, "The Hall of Famous Jokes", whimsical prose, paintings, and lots more!

a book about working and playing with children


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