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Most Of The Time

santa zimmy

all the merry little elves
can go hang themselves
my faith is as cold as can be

If it’s Thursday it must be Dylan. This Thursday, anyway, up in Harlem. I can’t seem to string too much together these days that’s worth remembering, but I keep listening to Bob. Why? I could only take him in small doses before, and usually had to go back to John Wesley Harding. (Which is kind of funny, because I thought it had something to do with his voice – but looking back on it, he could sing back then.) Not that anyone cares, but for a solid year now his last three have been in my ever-shrinking rotation – Modern Times, Tell Tale Signs, and Together Through Life.  And of these three, Disc One of Tell Tale spins over and over again. An argument could be made that there’s not much new there, as the tunes are all alternates, demos, or unreleased versions of previous work. But I guess the same argument could be made about life – and who’s making the rules here, anyway?

People often look for hidden meaning in the guy’s songs and talk frequently about “reinvention.”  But after reading the memoir Chronicles – Volume One,  I concluded that he’s just rather adept at blending truth with fiction, concentrating on the corners, and substituting metaphor and myth for what really happened. He’s got this “iconic” thing going for him, but it’s more a label bestowed by aging, less infamous peers, looking for something to hang their increasingly ragged hats on. He doesn’t seem to revel in it as much as he uses it for what it’s worth – kind of like Chris Farley did his size. How else could you explain a Christmas album, for goodness sake, or this recent video for Must Be Santa ? When he was stopped recently by a young female cop who didn’t recognize him, and asked what he was doing strolling aimlessly through an affluent Jersey suburb, the answer came back : “I’m on a big tour.”  Don’t tell me this guy isn’t having fun.

Still, all of this – while entertaining – wouldn’t be quite enough if there wasn’t something there. What is it then, for example, about these rehashed efforts on Disc One of Tell Tale Signs ? If he’s not revisiting Christianity or forecasting an apocalyptic hard rain falling in glowing drops from the sky, then what’s he getting at? Lost love maybe, and how that carried weight weighs on you through the years. Getting older and never thinking you’d make it this far. Seen James Dean in a picture once / comin’ in from the cold / said “geez I hope I look that good / if I get to be that old. Broken idols, broken heroes. Pushing on and hoping that maybe someone is there with you when the deal goes down. How the heck would I know?

His voice itself is on the verge of broken these days, and yet he pushes its impending collapse through this never-ending tour. When Jack Nicholson handed him a “Lifetime Achievement” Grammy in ’91, praising him for a “constant state of restlessness” that had allowed him to “seek ‘new’ and ‘better’ ways of ‘expressing the human condition’ with ‘words and music,’ ” Dylan obliged, pacing uncomfortably and looking restless enough to flee his own person. He started to walk away with the award before realizing that he should say a few words, if only to appease audience expectation and adulation. “My daddy, he didn’t leave me too much,” Bob began. “He was a very simple man. But what he did tell me was this.  He said ‘Son …’ ” There was a long pause here, as the gathered crowd anticipated what might follow. “You know,” Dylan concluded impishly, “he said so many things ..”

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