Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Love, Theft, and Modern Times

On September 11, 2001, I was having breakfast with my 10 month old son, looking forward to buying the new Bob Dylan cd, due to be released that day. On NPR, there was a short announcement that an airplane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I turned on the TV, initiating a day of fear and chaos as all hell seemed to be breaking loose. My thoughts that morning were only of my wife, working for a Federal agency across the river from the Potomac, as rumors swirled in a general state of panic (a bomb outside the State Department, smoke hanging over the city). Great relief when my wife arrived back at our suburban Maryland home, having paid a D.C. cab driver $200 to get her there. That afternoon, we walked along the C&O canal, surreal beauty all around as we held each other with relief and contemplated the horrors of the day.

A few days later I bought the Dylan cd:

I got my back to the sun
cause the light is too intense
I can see what everybody in the world is up against
Won't turn back, can't go back
Sometimes we push too far
One day you'll open up your eyes and you'll see where you are


In those days before Bush/Cheney began to openly and blatantly break their vow to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States", Dylan wrote:

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
They're throwing knives into the trees
Two big bags of dead man's bones
Got their noses to the grindstone


They got a parade permit and a police escort

Is there a better characterization than this?

Tweedledee is a lowdown sorry old man
Tweedledum will stab you where you stand
"I've had too much of your company"
Says Tweedledum to Tweedledee


Tweedledee and Tweedledum
All that and more and then some
They walk among the stately trees
They know the secrets of the breeze


Neither one gonna turn and run
They're making a voyage to the sun
"His Master's voice is callin' me"
Says Tweedledum to Tweedledee


And a few years later, we are treated to another spectacle of Imperial neglect

High water risin' the shacks are fallin' down
Folks lose their possessions and folks are leavin' town
Bertha Mason shook it - broke it
Then she hung it on a wall
Says "You dance with who they tell you to or you don't dance at all"
It's tough out there
High water everywhere


High water risin'
Six inches 'bove my head
Coffins poppin' in the streets
Like balloons made out of lead
Water pouring into Vicksburg
Don't know what I'm gonna do
Don't reach out for me she said
Can't you see I'm drowning too
It's rough out there
High water everywhere



And an eerie echo of Emperor George's bravado

George Lewes told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew
You can't open up your eyes, boys
To every conceivable point of view
They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway 5
Judge say to the High Sheriff
I want him dead or alive - either one I don't care
High water everywhere


Love and Theft is a masterful pastiche of American minstrelry, folk blues, and gentle crooning, but some tracks evoke a sense of prophecy, a foretelling of the subsequent five years, and still give me chills when I hear them. Dylan has always been celebrated as a prophet: he is certainly a man with uncanny insights into the madness of modern life and the darker aspects of human nature.

Dylan's new album, Modern Times , will be released next week.

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous4:41 PM

    Don't forget about "Sky full of fire, pain pourin' down, there's nothing you can sell me, I'll see you around..."

    It's funny how among all of the post 911 albums that came out, with artists paying "tributes" of some sort to the events of that day, the album that rang the most true, that fit the mood of that day was "Love & Theft" which was recorded well before that day.

    Your blog is a breath of fresh air, I'm glad I found it.

    andrew

    ReplyDelete
  2. Andrew, I appreciate your comments. Good catch on the Dylan lyrics.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Did you pick up modern times yet? If so, what'd you think?

    andrew

    ReplyDelete

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