On The Road: Dylan Songs

  But in looking back at the
  places I've been
  The changes I've left
  behind
  I look at myself to find
  I've learned the hard way
  every time.
      ~Jim Croce~

Intro

Here's a piece of news that isn't much of a secret: I could randomly pick a different song from Bob Dylan's catalog every week and write a piece about it without breaking a sweat or straining a single brain cell.

From the adolescent, angst ridden instant in 1969 when I discovered him for myself, the man's poetry has electrified my imagination. I can mark milestones and setbacks based on the ebb and flow of his music across the landscape of my life.

The hours of inspiration, comfort, or encouragement his music has provided are astronomical in number. There have been periodic stretches when his albums were the only ones getting airtime around me. Like some kind of freaked out junkie it seemed I always needed another fix.

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about his songs is that no matter how many times I've listened, whenever I hear one after an absence, it's always fresh. In my considered opinion his lyrical spin on emotional alienation, relational train wrecks, social commentary, prophetic utterances, and apocalyptic musings are the gold standard by which all pretenders to the throne are judged.

We've been on the road almost a week, with quite a few long and winding miles ahead before arriving at our final destination. We are hanging out in a town where we lived for almost eleven years--a place where some folks came to know me well, and made allowances for the somewhat idiosyncratic soundtrack of my life.

Some seriously think Dylan is the only singer-songwriter I ever listen to, which isn't anywhere near reality, but perception is what it is, so this article is meant to tweak the nose of a common stereotype of me. It also is to pay homage to the master bluesman from Hibbing who now happens to be a seventy year old grandfather.

Here are a pair of tunes highlighted from the loop that was listened to over the last five hundred miles or so.

 It's a shadowy world, skies 
 are slippery gray
 A woman just gave birth to a
 prince today and dressed him
 in scarlet
 He'll put the priest in his
 pocket, put the blade to the 
 heat take the motherless 
 children off the street and
 place them at the feet of a 
 harlot. Oh, Jokerman, you 
 know what he wants. 
 Oh, Jokerman, you don't
 show any response. . .
       ~Bob Dylan~

Jokerman

Jokerman is the opening cut on Infidels, Dylan's 22nd studio album, which was released in October 1983.

I was out of work and broke at the time, but somehow managed to scrape together enough shekels to purchase it hot off the press. My first thought on catching an earful was that he was knee-deep in the book of Ezekiel.

That initial assessment was likely too exclusive. It wasn't just Ezekiel making tracks in the songs--it seethed with innuendo and associations from wide swatches of the Old Testament. There were blatantly obvious echoes that couldn't be missed, along with obscure hints poking around the shadows.

Contemporaneous news reports said that Dylan was in Israel exploring his Jewish heritage by studying Hasidic Judaism. The LP sleeve featured a photograph of the artist kneeling on the Mount of Olives with the Dome of the Rock in the background, which struck me as interesting in the extreme, and also made a mockery of the collective wisdom of reviewers.

Their view was unanimous--the album was heralded as a return to secular themes after his born-again trilogy: Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot Of Love. That appraisal was dubious and should be thoroughly discredited because separating one's spiritual wanderings into neat and tidy compartments is an impossibility.

Infidels is steeped in Biblical imagery and religious references. No song more so than Jokerman--the ominous foreshadowing of some impending gloom on the horizon is thick and palpable.

Anita and I were driving across the heartland of Ohio on May 21, 2011--the day Harold Camping predicted the rapture would occur. That event was supposed to usher in Judgment Day, and according to the cult-leader's billboards and literature, the Bible guaranteed it. The end of the world was upon us, and in that context, Jokerman took on a cutting edge boldness that was raw and startling.

Given the fact that end times marketing schemes and circus hoopla are always headline news, we'll surely revisit this sadly delusional territory again and again. In a sort of preemptive strike, I'd like to nominate Jokerman to be number one with a bullet on The Top Ten Songs Of The Almost Apocalypse.

 Thinking of a series of dreams
 Where the time and tempo fly
 And there's no exit in any
 direction 'cept the one you
 can't see with your eyes
 Wasn't making any great 
 connection, wasn't falling
 for any intricate scheme
 Nothing that would pass 
 inspection, just thinking
 of a series of dreams. . .
       ~Bob Dylan~


Series Of Dreams

No one explores the terrain of dreams better than Dylan. His use of free association and floating anxiety has universal appeal.

Series Of Dreams was written and originally recorded while he was working with Daniel Lanois for the Oh Mercy sessions. That album entered the marketplace in 1989, but for reasons that make no sense to me, Series Of Dreams wasn't included. This near masterpiece didn't see the light of day until 1991's Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.

There have been plenty of instances when this song crawled inside my head to rattle around for days and days. Likely because I am blessed or perhaps cursed with a vivid dream-life that runs the gamut from sweet pleasantries to nightmarish ugliness.

For me, coming awake in the midst of nighttime mind-games doesn't stop the shaky sketches or prevent them from getting jammed in the drainpipe at the bottom of my brain. The fragments stick around, sometimes forming weird montages that jigsaw together in a puzzling array.

Lately the dead of night movies have been exceptionally animated, with the past and present getting jumbled together and mixed up in the future. It's all quite confusing. I'm no psychologist, but it doesn't take an advanced degree to diagnose the reasons for increased brain activity whilst I attempt to sleep. Life has been rather unsettled, with lots of questions dangling around the edges--Anita and I are in full search-mode, seeking what challenge or adventure comes next.

On this journey we are zigzagging our way on secondary roads simply because that's the preferred way to actually see the countryside, and the only way to avoid paying the troll of government its toll. We were halfway across Indiana when Series Of Dreams came up in the rotation. It caught hold of me with an intensity that riveted my attention. One phrase slapped at me. And there’s no exit in any direction ’cept the one that you can’t see with your eyes. . .

It occurred to me on a second replay that those words had significance in the context of walking by faith. We take one step after another and make turns at crossroads all the while knowing that the pathway to the days ahead is one that will be revealed only as we obediently press on. The exit to what lies in the great unknown of all our tomorrows can only be discovered by keeping the pedal of faith pushed to the floor-mat.

We embark on this season of our lives, being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. We know that the One who created us has a plan and is actively working it. Everything else is just thinking of a series of dreams.

Closing

Bob Dylan is a sponge. He soaks up sounds and stories, all of which gets filtered through unique lenses before being squeezed out in his art.

Volumes have been written about his genius--his contribution to and influence on culture is truly incalculable. He stood on the shoulders of giants to pioneer stunning trails for others to follow.

I am grateful I was blessed with ears to hear and appreciate his music. His cryptic poetry has repeatedly enriched and juiced up my creativity. And don't think twice about it--there's no doubt that somewhere up around a bend there'll be further reflections on his songs.

Until then, in the enduring words of the aging rhymer of lines, may you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift.

More by this Author

  • God's Bull's-eye
    45

    God has a mark for each of us to hit. This essay explores that from the context of Scripture. It offers much encouragement to be courageous and proceed forward in the process of discipleship.

  • EDITOR'S CHOICE
    On The Road: Xenia, Ohio
    36

    Xenia, Ohio has a long and rich history. This piece is a thumbnail sketch that goes back to its earliest beginnings. It also looks at the disastrous tornadoes of April, 1974.

  • On The Road: Morrison, Illinois
    34

    Morrison, Illinois is a great place to visit. It is also a wonderful place to live. This piece presents a postcard profile of the small town.


Comments 18 comments

tony0724 profile image

tony0724 5 years ago from san diego calif

Perfect hub since Bob turned 70 this last Tuesday Ken


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Thanks, tony0724.


GNelson profile image

GNelson 5 years ago from Florida

I have been fascinated by Dylan since I first heard Blowing in the Wind. When I got back from Vietnam for the last time it was Lay Lady Lay. And they just kept coming. Now he is seventy WOW!! Did you see the latest Rolling Stone Mag, his 70th best songs? My favorite is Don't think twice it's Alright.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

GNelson - Thanks for stopping in & sharing. And thanks for the heads up on the Rolling Stone piece. I'll check it out.


Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 5 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

Dylan has always been the reluctant,but inspirational voice of my generation.Thanks for sharing your experience Ken.;)


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Mentalist acer - You're welcome. Thanks for stopping in & commenting.


Dave Mathews profile image

Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

Brother Ken: I always had a difficult time getting into the music of Bob Dylan. He always sounded like a lost soul to me.


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Dylan is one of my favorites too Ken. Great Hub you have written about this great man. Almost saw him one year at the Mariposa festival. There was rumor that he was to appear as the secret guest. It was raining pretty hard that night and in the local news the next day it stated that because of the rain Bob just drove up to the gates in his limo and stopped. Then just drove off :( Would have been amazing to see him.

Hope that you are enjoying your trip.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Dave - Thanks for your reflections. Not sure about being a lost soul. I do think he is the consummate seeker. Blessings.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Susan - Thanks for stopping in & sharing. That would have been great to see him at Mariposa. I saw him at Massey Hall in Toronto & twenty-odd years later, at the University of Iowa. Great shows both times.


Motown2Chitown 5 years ago

Hey, Ken...what a wonderful tribute! Dylan is one of those whose songwriting I have always believed is unparalleled, but I would rather listen to anyone BUT Dylan sing Dylan's songs...lol

Great hub, and I'm praying that you and Anita are having a safe, joyful, and fruitful trip!

Peace!


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Motown2Chitown - Thank you. Your words & well wishes are much appreciated. Blessings.


WE5 profile image

WE5 5 years ago

Great Hub and a great artist. I have been listening to Bob since I was five or six years old. My brother got into his poetry when he was just starting out and its been in our house for fifty years now! Dylan made it ok for anyone to sing their song and has been an inspiration both in writing and song. For anyone who things he can't sing I disagree. I have studied his singing for years and I believe he has absolute control over his voice...and that is what singing is all about.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Wes - Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing.


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 5 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

Loved this but then I am a Dylan fan of many many years


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Ethel - Thanks for stopping in & sharing. Much appreciated.


Joy56 profile image

Joy56 3 years ago

love it shared it on facebooks. Ages since i listened to Bob Dylan, but the music remains the same.....


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 3 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Joy56 - Thank you for stopping in. Glad you enjoyed. Thanks also for sharing it on Facebook. Much appreciated.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working