Bob Dylan


I don't like t be stuck in print

starin out at cavity minds

who gobble chocolate candy bars

quite content an satisfied

their day complete


at seeing what I eat for breakfast

the kinds of clothes I like t wear

an the hobbies that I like t do

All you cavity minds, they've tried to stick Bob Dylan again, not with bunny ears but with a camera. Don't Look Back, a documentary of his 1965 tour of England, shows that Dylan eats cigarettes for breakfast, wears black, and confuses people in his spare time. The slow-motion press stalks him with sentences and paragraphs, the unexamined grammar of timid minds: "Would you say that you care about people? Are you protesting against certain things? How do you see the art of the folksinger in contemporary society?" Dylan retreats as his words advance: "How can I answer that question if you have the nerve to ask it...What does that mean?...What do those words mean?"

There is as much paradox as music. Dylan is arrogant and charming, protected and protective, petty and detached, eloquent and inarticulate. He stands once removed from what he is because he can escape into the black hall and white light of the concert, into his songs where he can't be found out. "It's gonna happen fast," Dylan tells a Time reporter before a concert. "It's gonna happen fast and you're not gonna get it all. When it's over, I won't be able to talk about it. I got nothing to say about these things."

While the rest of us talk of situations and draw conclusions on the wall, he holds tight to his mystery, J. D. Salinger with a guitar. Presumably one could invade Salinger's blockhouse and say hello. One is not so sure about Dylan. Last spring he disappeared into his own motorpsychic nightmare, shocked by an overdose of drugs. Albert Grossman, his oxymoronic manager, convinced the mass media that the disaster was a Triumph on the New Jersey Pike. Dylan took cover in Woodstock, New York. One of Dylan's former producers says that a new album is forthcoming. It is supposed to be "different."

Until we know if Dylan is alive and well in a Columbia recording studio, we can only look back through seven albums (The Greatest Hits of ... doesn't count) which took him from the corduroy Huck Finn of "Bob Dylan" to the out-of-focus kaleidoscope poet of "Blonde on Blonde." In the liner notes to that first album Nat Hentoff blessed him as one of "the precipitously emergent singers of folk songs in the continuing renascence of that self-assertive tradition." Self-deceptive would be more accurate. Dylan was just another work shirt and guitar buried under hyperbolic interpretation of stock songs ("House of the Rising Sun," "Freight Train Blues"). The words had him then, ballooned his voice with folksy groans and rips, all upbeat enthusiasm and innocence. The Folksinger.

The next time out, freewheelin, he was distant, almost outside his songs. The voice had a sense of space. Cutting through the glut of conventional folk polemics and references was a tense fore-shadowing, a promising attraction to new images: "a highway of diamonds with nobody on it," "a white ladder all covered with water."

That attraction didn't take hold in The Times They are A-Changin'. Dylan's songs hadn't broken out of the coal mines ("Hollis Brown"), the transatlantic love ("Boots of Spanish Leather"), the simple, indignant protests (Medgar Evers's death). Although there was a diamond highway with nobody on it, he held to the crowded folk road, the old-style rambling around. On the back of the album, however, in "11 Outlined Epitaphs" he announced the passing of that earlier Bob Dylan. Guthrie was dead. Dylan was free, "without ghosts/by my side/ t betray my childishness/ t leadeth me down false trails/ an maketh me drink from muddy waters." Away from Muddy Waters into the wind! "A word, a tune, a story, a line/ keys in the wind t unlock my mind/ an t grant my closet thoughts back yard air."

The wind, Dylan called it, some outside transcentental force which operated on him. He posed as Emerson, struggling self-consciously with an aesthetic. All songs led back t some primeval sea of thought and art. "I have built an rebuilt/ upon what is waitin/for the sand on the beaches/carves many castles." But he was wrong. Looking outwards, he spun inwards, so far, far inside. He brought it all back home to himself, back into the smoke rings of his mind. The wind? The sea? Call it the unconscious. "I'm ready for to fade into my own parade." A pipeline laid deep to private magic swirling ships, subterranean homesick blues, dreams. to 115, Desolation Row, flickering vision lights of Johanna, Memphis mobile mind traps and all those psychic lowlands where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes.

What submerges from Dylan's thought poems is a surrealistic Yoknapatawpha Country, a rich wasteland crossed by Highway 61 and the holy slow train. Enter at your peril. There are no lumberjacks to give you facts when Dylan, riding on a radiant electronic bass, attacks your imagination. You pay your money to watch the geek, but the viscous torrent of picture words doubles you on yourself. You think very hard about nothing, narcissim at 33 and 1/3, until you like Mr. Jones "know something's happening but you don't know what it is."

What is happening is a dream of sorts, a very important, very fierce and tender, dream. Let the others hop back door, blue San Francisco Bay freight trains. For Dylan, "The Knigdoms of experience in the precious winds they rot." The winds push him underground into dreams "no words but these to tell what's true"--into artistic anarchy where can make new sounds, new words, new effects out of old materials.

In Dylan's landscape, time exists only as "a foggy ruin." Natural clocks stop. "Darkness at the break of noon...the child's balloon eclipses both the sun and moon." Historical sequences disappear. Dylan discovers America, collides with a bowling ball and a girl from France, and, as he leaves, meets Columbus in search of land. Historical reference points dissolve in a montage. Einstein apeaprs disguised as Robin Hood, sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet. "With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves/ let me forget about today until tomorrow."

He destroys time and finds chaos. That is no revelation. Neither is it his prophetic nightmare. There are all these facts, you see: Johnny in the basement, medicine, pavement, a man in a trenchcoat, parking meters, vandals and handles. They are real. They make sense. All right, put them together. Metallic, impenetrable chaos. Subterranean Homesick Blues. Don't string the facts from the clothes line pole of conventional conceptions, don't order them with pliers of cause and effect. Just put them together--and they'll scare you. His experiment suggests how easy it is to let out ragged wild, numb wild thoughts, how close we already are to slipping into chaos. And his persistent question is Why not?

Words, we hear him saying, we know what words are. They describe things. But why shovel them into the ditch of what each one means, into the hoary groove of usage and association. Let the words exist as white ladders covered with water. Why be content with little sparks from occasional metaphor and simile when there is a bonfire to be built of twisted images and grammar. Dylan has applied the lessons of LSD, light shows and electronic music to smash the old patterns of reaction set by the old rules.

Matchbox songs, gypsy hymns, Spanish miners, cowboy mouth, curfew gloves, child of the hoodlum, sheet-metal memories, magazine husband, a deck of cards missing the jack and the ace--he puts together the phrases and creates a person, the haunted Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, a being made of objects. "Love Minus Zero/ No Limit" is a beautiful love song fashioned out of horsemen, pawns, hammer winds, doctors, bridges, statues, fire, ice, dime stores and bus stations, bankers' nieces and wise men.

The collage requires an agile audience. The leap between words and meaning is enormous; to make it is to participate in the art. Dylan's words, falling out of time and place, often admit of no leap. "In ceremonies of the horsemen even the pawn must hold a grudge." Does the charge come from sound or meaning? Is this communication or anarchy? If anarchy, one wants to know why so many of us respond because Dylan is not alone, only ahead of other pop artists and singers, all the masters of the put-on. Once upon a time we had Ruby and the Romantics, the Teddy Bears, Joey Dee and the Starlighters. Now the nouns and adjectives fight, putting each oher on, putting us on. The 13th Floor Elevator, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Progressive Myopia. We like it, he can't say why.

"Opposites and irreconcilables are connected to one another like pepper sprinkled on ice cream," writes Norman Mailer. "Only a palate close to

You're going to die. You're going to go off the earth. So am I. Do your job in the face of that, and how seriously you take yourself is for you to decide.

death could extract pleasure from the taste; it is absurd in our mouth, pepper and ice cream, but at least it is new. As cultures die, they are stricken with the mute implacable rage of that humanity strangled

The empty-handed painter from your streets is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.

with them. So long as it grows, a civilization depends upon the elaboration of meaning, its health is maintained by an awareness

The vagabond who is wrapping at your door is standing in the clothes you once wore.

of its state; as it dies, a civilization opens itself to the fury

To understand you know too soon there is no use in trying.

of those betrayed by its meaning, precisely because that meaning was finally not sufficiently true

Upon four legged forest clouds the cowboy angel rides

to offer a life adequately large. The aesthetic act shifts from the creation of meaning to the destruction of it."

if someone thinks norma mailer is more important than hank williams, that's fine. I have no arguments an i never drink milk. i would rather model harmonica holders than discuss aztec anthropology.