by Michael Goldberg
Monday September 10, 2001
Dylan Hits The Road In The Old Cadillac
On his first album of new songs in four years, Dylan's still got plenty to say.
Like a lot of kids who were just on the verge of becoming teenagers in 1965, I first heard Bob Dylan on the AM radio in my folks' Rambler, singing what I still believe to be one of the greatest rock 'n' roll recordings of all time: "Like A Rolling Stone."
I had never heard anything like Bob Dylan before. The voice, the music, the words hit me with a force that's had a great impact on my life.
I walked to the record store, about a mile from my house, and found the Bob Dylan section in the area where they had "folk" records. I didn't know what folk music was then. Surprise! There were a bunch of albums by Bob Dylan. The one with "Like A Rolling Stone" was called Highway 61 Revisited. From the covers, I got my first look at Dylan. He became one of my heroes (John Lennon and Frank Zappa were among the others). Dylan had a lot to do with my decision to be a writer and an artist.
I've been listening to Dylan's music now for over 35 years most of my life. Now, a new Dylan album, Love and Theft, is being released. As I write this, I haven't yet heard the album. But I've read the lyrics, and if the music and the singing are as good as some of the words, this has gotta be some album.
When you get older, as your mortality becomes ever more apparent, the past can haunt you. Certainly Dylan seems to be looking over his shoulder even as he keeps driving. In a song called "Honest With Me," he sings: "Well, I'm stranded in the city that never sleeps/ Some of these women they just give me the creeps/ I'm avoidin' the south side the best I can/ These memories I got they can strangle a man/ Well, I came ashore in the dead of the night/ Lot of things can get in the way when you're tryin' to do what's right."
What a line: "These memories I got they can strangle a man." You read that line and you start thinking about your own life. About the things that maybe you didn't handle as well as you could have. Or the times when you were really an asshole to someone. Perhaps a girlfriend (or boyfriend) you hurt when you were too young to know what you had.
Or this one: "Lot of things can get in the way when you're tryin' to do what's right." How many of us have held high ideals, but at times let desire or temptation sabatoge us? How many times has what's "right" turned out to be wrong?
I'm thrilled to be reading lines such as these from Dylan. How about this one from "Lonesome Days Blues": "Funny, the things you have the hardest time parting with, are the things you need the least." Know anyone who seems to be suffocating themselves with their "stuff," boxes of old magazines, shelf upon shelf of records that haven't been listened to in years, books gathering dust...? Hey, I stand accused!
What's always been so cool about Dylan is the way he could sing a totally serious song, then throw in some humor. Here, in "Summer Days," how can you help but smile as he summons up this memorable image: "I'm driving in the flats in a Cadillac car/ The girls all say 'You're a worn-out star'/ My pockets are loaded, and I'm spending every dime/ How can you say you love someone else, you know it's me all the time."
I'm not sure what Dylan means by this one "Well, the future for me is already a thing of the past/ You were my first love and you will be my last" but I dig it. Taken literally, if that first line is about love, then I guess he's saying that his past love is one he'll love to the grave. Yet taken on its own, that first line becomes a mystery.
There are many other wonderful lines on Love and Theft. I'm sure that once I hear them set to music, sung, things will open up in some really interesting ways.
In this lyric from "Mississippi," the one I'll leave you with, Dylan sounds so generous: "Well my ship's been split to splinters and it's sinking fast/ I'm drowning in the poison, got no future, got no past/ But my heart is not weary, it's light and it's free/ I've got nothing but affection for all those who sailed with me."
The waters have been rough at times, but thus far, traveling with Dylan has been quite the amazing voyage.