Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Foolish Notions

for Bob Dylan

Youth’s rebellions dissipate;
brave destiny succumbs to fate.
One morning you find it’s too late
to join the revolution.

One’s high ideals sink in the mud;
mountain retreats recede in flood.
The fire that once burned in your blood
Is ash and tar solution.

The words you chanted echo back
with missing verbs, with added tact,
contaminated by the fact
they’re now just noise pollution.

What was the problem has become
the status quo, opposing thumbs;
and the low beating of the drums
is just sheep in wolves’ clothing.

Those questions you posed to the air
have lost their sense of savoir faire.
Youth listens, but it doesn’t care;
they have their own self-loathing.

The answers aren’t there to find
out in the world, inside your mind,
to questions, now, of any kind.
Your gurus were all posing.

And yet the world is still the same:
victors dividing up the blame,
while tired and poor and sick and lame
sit waiting for a saviour.

While those with strength enough to fight
pretend their side is mostly right,
with pills to help them sleep at night
not doing them a favor.

Pretending at community,
while slicing up eternity;
the dish is done, it seems to me
the salt has lost its flavor.

I could, but now it’s far too late;
while we sit back and hesitate
the tabla rasa changes state
and crumbles in the ocean.

And each of us that could have been
if only we’d decided when
is left with words and bitter pens
robbed of our forward motion.

To sit and kvetch about the news
our backsides warm in worn-down pews,
forced now to listen as our views
are shown as foolish notions.

01 AUG 2006

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Listening to Acid While Dropping Bob Dylan

The clocks were running, so no one could catch them
I saw tennis games canceled because of no love
There were clowns on the corner who couldn’t stop laughing
And birds who were dying because of their singing

The lights were all flashing, no one was offended
I saw trees who were leaving because of the summer
There were runners on First Avenue getting loaded
And bombs that were crying out to be exploded

The street was a madhouse, but no one committed
I saw signs that could speak but their spotlights were broken
There were children in diapers who cleaned their machine guns
And sitters who sat with their minds in the gutter

The trains were on time, but time wasn’t complaining
I saw computers dying from bad information
There were traders who traded and traitors who tumbled
And weakness exhalted and chastity humbled

The people felt lazy, lazy felt molested
I saw elephants’ memories and predators’ patience
There foxes that talked and a donkey that listened
And 10,000 crows that were speaking of slavery

The cattle were lowing, and someone was singing
I saw miracles cast out and devils invited
I saw water that walked and some ice that was melting
And half of a dozen that wanted its other

The cupboards were bare, and their nakedness covered
I saw Cain and young Abel embrace one another
There was beef on the altar and bread on the table
And Adam and Eve were locked up in the basement

The guns were ablazing, and no one was cooking
I saw mothers and daughters in graveyards and churches
There was room at the inn, but no bright star was shining
And the prophets were raising their cash in the city.


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Just a Quick Thought on Tragic Heroism

As a singer-songwriter born in the 60s and raised in the 70s and 80s, I suppose there are two major shadows under which I labor: I refer to the long shadows cast by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. I am influenced by both, in different ways — but that’s the subject of another tale.

Listening recently to a Springsteen collection, I was struck by a notion. That is that both Bruce and Bob deal primarily with sketchings of tragic heroes. Now, we can very simply define a hero (non-tragic) as someone who responds to extraordinary circumstances and in the process, becomes extraordinary, if only for a brief moment in time. The tragic hero, on the other hand, is someone who is not changed from their basic state of ordinary or extraordinary by the nature of these circumstances.

For Dylan, the tragic hero is an extraordinary individual who is forced to reconcile themselves with ordinary times. For Springsteen, on the other hand, the tragic hero is the ordinary individual who is embroiled in an extraordinary life. The tragedy for both writers is that in both cases, their heroes fail. Dylan’s extraordinary hero does not improve their ordinary situation. Springsteen’s ordinary hero does not rise above their state to absorb the extraordinariness of their time. Both seem trapped, not so much by the mundane nature of either their surroundings, or their personal outlook, but rather by a sense that what really matters is somehow beyond their grasp — and almost beyond their imagination to reach.

A further significant difference is that often, Bob Dylan is the tragic hero himself, as opposed to Bruce Springsteen, who merely assumes the mantle of the hero for the purposes of illustration — at least in the later works of both. There is cross-over in their early years, both ways.

Lastly, it is important to note that the immersion in this world of the ordinary, for Dylan its events, and for Springsteen, its people, has marked each writer in different ways.

Dylan, it seems to me, tends to reach out to the extraordinary that he is sure exists in all humankind. Springsteen, on the other hand, tends to try to communicate with people at their most ordinary, believing that once they acknowledge their shared ordinariness, that acknowledgment itself will result in the development of extraordinary people.

A slight difference, perhaps, but I think very important. The difference between extraordinary ordinariness, and ordinary extraordinariness. Or to put it another way, the magical mundane versus the mundane magical.

What truly defines the subjects of both writers’ songs as tragic heroes, however, is something even more sublime — and that is this: without being immortalized in song, their stories would not even command a moment of our collective attention. This world, that focuses so much on attaining some level of control, no matter how much it costs to acquire the temporary rights to that illusion, does not take kindly to reminders of those who have either lost control, or willingly given it up; reminders that you never really have control, and what control you may think you have isn’t really of much use in the greater scheme of things. Unless, of course, those reminders have a good beat and you can dance to them.

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Bob Dylan

There is something boiling on the stove’s gas-driven flame
Coffee, tea or chai, to me they taste about the same
My cup overfloweth, and I won’t say whose to blame
Each of us has demons that we must conquer and tame

Scribbling in the darkness, a small candle for a light
Imagining the consequence of illusory might
There must a million others sleepless on this night
Each of us believing that the cause we back is right

A literary reference should be made about this point
Some veiled allusion to Rimbaud or lighting up a joint
Each voiceless generation seeks a mouthpiece to anoint
If it’s me that you’ve selected, I must disappoint

Walking in the shadows near the fading of the sun
Late for an appointment, but I’m much too tired to run
As each chapter closes, with higher ladder’s rung
Some look just for endings, disregarding what’s begun

Endless wires and circuits leading out into the void
Means by which some conversation may be well enjoyed
Yet so many people sad, and others are annoyed
Others work to prove themselves by acting unemployed

A throwaway non sequitur I now will introduce
This life is like an orange, squeeze it to enjoy the juice
Watch which way the cannon points, for it may come unloose
You can try to make sense of this, but there’s not much use.

11 SEP 2003

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Ballad of the Undertown

Now, Councilman Zeb Davis says
that tourists are the way to save this town.
Never mind the unemployment
and the high school where the scores are going down.
And the factories that close?
That’s an element we just don’t need around,
’cause misfortune is attractive
when you pass her by, but don’t take in the sound.

Now, the Holy Rollin’ Baptist preacher
says the choice is Heaven or to Hell.
Never mind those that ignore the call,
they’re lost and so we’ll bid them fare thee well.
And the north side is place
where all the comfortable Christians care to dwell,
so don’t mind the local greasers
and the factory boys, and focus on the sell

Now, the cemetery’s full of conflict’s heroes
and the town’s claim to its pride.
Never mind that’s it’s still killing
and there’s never proof that God is on your side.
And the trick is not to have to walk
when you can find a bandwagon to ride,
’cause the further you are from the ground
the better off you’ll be when He decides.

Now, the local boys are drinking
and the local girls are plastering their hair.
Never mind the ozone layer
when you’re looking good and everyone will stare.
And the trick is to forget
there’s no one watching who can take you anywhere,
’cause the ride to love is free,
but the return trip’s where they charge you double fare.

Now, the smiling politician
says his mandate is new jobs for everyone.
Never mind that it takes three or four apiece
to take the place of one good one.
And the skills you need to get ahead
are never taught to any farmer’s son,
’cause the city boys have learned
a briefcase works a whole lot cleaner than a gun.

Now, the trains roll by the station
since there’s never anybody coming home.
Never mind the old folks dying
or the brother sitting waiting by the phone.
And the high school sweetheart pining
’cause you promised that she’d never be alone,
’cause the world outside is promising
to show you things you never have been shown.

Now, the board of education
puts its trust in the community of saints.
Never mind the harsh reminders
that the golden dream could use a coat of paint.
And the faded football heroes selling cars
without a murmur of complaint,
’cause there ought to be a better way,
but everyone believes that there just ain’t.

Now, when Councilman Zeb Davis
swears that tourists will revive our village square.
Never mind the unemployment in the ’70’s
that left the cupboards bare.
And the looks from all the local boys
that tell you there’s nobody living there,
’cause this kind of spirit only comes out
with a lot of fasting and some prayer.

A few years back, when I was living out on 89 acres in middle-of-nowhere Ohio, I decided that I needed to write a series of songs that clung together in the same way as Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. As is the case with any venture of that magnitude, some of ’em worked, and some of ’em didn’t. The point was to capture the essence of that population 8,900 small town that was 12 miles down the state route, where 20 years prior I’d gone to elementary and junior high schools, riding the school bus for over an hour each way through endless fields on concrete, then blacktop, then stone-tar, then gravel and finally dirt roads. My cousins still lived there; so did a lot of people I knew. Many had moved away, but much later in their development than I did. Most that moved away never came back, leaving their parents and grandparents (and their way of life, too) to die in that backwoods place (home of the National Coon Dog Field Trials, BTW). Some things had changed, but a lot was very much the same. When we moved from Ohio to California, that part of Ohio was dying. When I moved back, you could still feel that lingering death in the air, and like any long-time sufferer will tell you, there are parts of the daily pain that you just have to put up with, and others you block out entirely. I had traveled many miles before I returned back to the family farm; along the way, maybe I learned a few things. And maybe some of them were worth learning.

BTW, if you’re a Bob Dylan fan, you can sing along to this one, kinda. It has the same verse structure and rhyme pattern as (Just Like) Tom Thumb’s Blues from Highway 61 Revisited.

If you’re lost in the rain in Juarez, and it’s Easter time, too /
And your gravity fails and negativity won’t pull you through /
Don’t put on any airs when you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue /
They got some hungry women there that’ll sure make a mess out of you

There’s also a bit of Tom T. Hall’s The Ballad of Forty Dollars in there, too:

The man who preached the funeral said it really was a simple way to die /
He laid down to rest one afternoon and never opened up his eyes /
They hired me and Fred and Joe to dig the grave and carry up some chairs /
It took us seven hours and I guess we must have drunk a case of beer

Or maybe Willie Nelson’s Me and Paul:

Almost busted in Laredo, but for reasons that I’d rather not disclose /
But if you’re staying in a motel there, and leave, don’t leave nothing in your clothes

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