Sunday, February 04, 2018

Spendin' A Pointless Night Bitchin' About Dylan


Me and Martha, 1969 in Marrakech

Today I get my poetry from Stephanie Kelton's work. She teaches economics at Stony Brook, where I went to college. She wasn't there then. In fact, she wasn't born then. The summer before my freshman year I worked in the mayoral campaign of Congressman Bill Ryan-- the first member of Congress to oppose the War in Vietnam-- and met Bob Lekachman, Ryan's economic adviser (just like Kelton is Bernie's economic adviser), there. Lekachman was starting at Stony Brook in the fall too-- as head of the Economics Department--and would be my first socialist teacher, not counting my grandfather

But back then I was getting my poetry from Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, from Tom Rapp, from Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, Grace Slick, Jimi Hendrix, from Tim Buckley, Otis Redding and, most of all, Bob Dylan. Most of all Bob Dylan... the only one of them that I didn't have a friendship of some kind with. And the only one of them who makes it impossible to listen to his incredible world-changing songs on YouTube today. Oh, there are pale, weak later recordings, recordings for the sake of recording... relative crap compared to the real songs on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, from The Times They Are a-Changin', from Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, and from Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde... the Golden Age of Bob Dylan. And I'm sorry if he thought/thinks he would remain relevant only if he redid this songs and repressed the originals.

Oh, wait... you can get the whole originalish Freewheelin' Bob Dylan after all... live versions from back in the early '60s. Good enough, except "Down The Highway" is by someone else trying to sound like Dylan and "Don't Think Twice" is one of those pale, weak later-day imitations Dylan did to mock and torture his fans. (I'm ok with the outtakes from the original sessions.) Finding something approximating The Times They Are a-Changin' is a struggle you can't win-- or at least I couldn't.

Bringing It All Back Home-- which starts with the first great music video (cameo: Allen Ginsberg)-- is something like a carefully crafted semi-authentic version using the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan formula, The reason I'm doing this, by the way, is because I was trying to figure out which Dylan songs got me through college. "Like A Rolling Stone" from Highway 61 Revisited was one of them:

Very personal; was this gonna be my ultimate fate? No wonder I turned to drugs!
Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People call say 'beware doll, you're bound to fall'
You thought they were all kidding you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hanging out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging your next meal

How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone

Ahh you've gone to the finest schools, alright Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
Nobody's ever taught you how to live out on the street
And now you're gonna have to get used to it
You say you never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?

How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be on your own, with no direction home
A complete unknown, like a rolling stone

rebel without a tie- 1965
Ah you never turned around to see the frowns
On the jugglers and the clowns when they all did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on a chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discovered that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal

How does it feel, how does it feel?
To have on your own, with no direction home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone

Ahh princess on a steeple and all the pretty people
They're all drinking, thinking that they've got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you better take your diamond ring, you better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him he calls you, you can't refuse
When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you've got no secrets to conceal

How does it feel, ah how does it feel?
To be on your own, with no direction home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone
Oh, and this is a good one from Bringing It All Back Home: "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," although it's just a live version-- albeit a great live version and wonderful video-- from the era... and Allen Ginsberg again! Dylan wrote it in 1965. (Did I ever tell you I once shared a jail cell with him and Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg? I should have been in jail more than I was back then. What are you going to tell young people in 2060 about what you were doing when Putin installed Trump, huh?)

Anyway, the YouTube offerings are mostly a mess, with wrong songs on various albums and messed-up version. All Dylan's fault for now allowing the damn historic albums on the platform. Highway 61 Revisited was recorded in 2 days in January 1965 and released in March. Amazing turnaround. It's around the time I had decided that music was the most important thing in my miserable teenage life. Kids on YouTube can't get an original version of "Maggie's Farm," which seems like a crime against history. "Highway 61 Revisited" always seemed to me one of the most important cultural markers in American history-- the Mr. Jones song. It's not impossible to find; but not easy either. These songs, at least to some extent, helped form the consciousness of a generation of Americans-- the generation that ended segregation, ended the War Against Vietnam, drove Nixon from office, opened up sex... drove conservatives completely insane... that generation. You'd think it should be shared for kids today. I have the records, but I don't have a record player that works. I have the CDs to and I'm going to play them on this computer now.

I guess I've finally got to admit it wasn't the social commentary that made me love Dylan as the greatest poet of his/my/our day, but the deeply introspective, chilling songs that are so utterly timeless... maybe even too honest?It's getting late; I'm going upstairs to watch some cheap TV before I fall out.

Wouldn't I rather hear a good Dylan YouTube than look at this one?



At 6:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen on Dylan's words. I always had difficulty with his music though.
The '60s were a decade of excellent, timeless poetry (as were the GD years too -- Woodie Guthrie leaps to mind but there were so many). I suppose abject misery and ubiquitous betrayal by power used to inspire.

Today is different. Aside from a few rappers and Green Day, published, accessible art seems to be focused on greed, sex and celebrity. I suppose the corporatization of art is likely another firewall that the money has erected to keep the proles from awakening. You'd know more about that than I.


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