Wednesday, August 13, 2014

#4 Highway 61 Revisited -- Bob Dylan

When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal
How does it feel?

It was not my intention to tackle Highway 61 Revisited this early in the project, but the unyielding tempestuous summer drove me to keep "Desolation Row" on repeat with such force, I felt like the stars had sufficiently aligned for this masterpiece's review.

Collapsed in summer grass, while surrendering my sweating ivory legs to bugs of all kinds who mercilessly chomped, I immersed myself in "Like a Rolling Stone," and voiced out into the oppressive sun that Bob Dylan had written this one, on behalf of everyone she unintentionally killed, for women like Helen of Troy.

My complexion she said is much too white

I feel for you, Robin Williams.  Robin, so many people can't understand how someone who makes everyone laugh would kill himself.  But I wasn't shocked by the manner of death you chose.  It's been one of those summers, you know?

When your gravity fails
and negativity don't pull you though

I also wasn't shocked by your ability to be a delightful genie in my childhood favorite, Aladdin, and then turn around and make the crassest of jokes in a standup act either.  It makes perfect sense.  

That you're tired of yourself and all of your creations

Comedians- those who have the uncanny ability to see into raw human conditions and reflect them back with irony, cruel sarcasm, or insight, can draw that thundering reaction as easily as breathing - because they know comedy's darkest secret.  Tears and laughter are intertwined; they are the same.  They come from the same place in the brain; we laugh to keep from crying.  Making people laugh keeps us far away from the raw terror of our own isolated sorrow.  Each joke is a secret selfish cry for help.  It's a basic ego mask.  Until you take it off and realize:

It Takes a lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry

And so for the first time, I watched Good Will Hunting in Robin Williams's honor last night.  When Mormon Face made the reference to Helen of Troy in his therapy session, I thought of "Like a Rolling Stone" having myself been marinated in weeks of Highway 61 Revisited burning through my brain- I daydreamed about what it would look like if Helen herself were sitting in with therapist Robin Williams.  Would he repeat, "It's not your fault?" over and over until she collapsed even though thousands died in her feckless wake?  Would she claim Daddy issues and plead that Zeus was an emotionally absent workaholic father?  Would she admit that she didn't--

have the strength to get up and take another shot?

Or would our beauty throw up Spartan gang signs and say, "not my fault I got 99,999 man problems" and defend herself saying that--

Everyone said they'd stand behind me when the game got rough but say she didn't think about what that might actually mean.

And although such a scenario might be amusing as a daydream, it reminds me that just like laughter and tears are the same,  Love and Hate come from the same place too.  The two conflicting emotions are so married, only a comedian could see it.

Everybody is making love or else expecting rain

And nobody knew these secret truths better than Bob Dylan.

That little bit of insight is what makes this album so utterly profound.  We are all on some sort of archetypal journey in each life and the next, and there are rare artists who understand this perfectly well.  Throughout this album, Bob Dylan- our gentle Virgil,  guides us through the Desolation Row of our brains.  We are all passengers on Highway 61.  And it will be revisited many times until we learn our lessons.

Many songs, academy award winning movies, and stories upon stories of embedded myths are so programmed into the human psyche that it takes an eternity to sort them all out.  But I cannot think of much art better than each song on this album.  Because each word is laced with applicable life, love, hate, laughter, tears, and putrid knowledge of surrender to something greater than yourself.

It might take you a road trip from Boston to Stanford, or the entirety of Highway 61, or depression behind a career of laughter with a belt and a chair, or a backyard surrender to the sun - but your story is written in his immortal words, somewhere.

All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, They're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
and give them all another name

Columbia, 1965
Bruce Springsteen described the beginning of "Like a Rolling Stone," the opening song on Highway 61 Revisited, as the "snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind." Folk singer Phil Ochs was even more rhapsodic about the LP: "It's impossibly good... How can a human mind do this?"
Recorded in a staggering six days, Highway 61 Revisited – named after the road that runs from Bob Dylan's home state of Minnesota down through the Mississippi Delta – is one of those albums that changed everything. In and of itself, "Like a Rolling Stone," rumored to be about Andy Warhol acolyte Edie Sedgwick, forever altered the landscape of popular music – its "vomitific" flow (Dylan's term), literary ambition and sheer length (6:13) shattered limitations of every kind. "Ballad of a Thin Man" delivered the definitive Sixties comment on the splintering hip-straight fault line: "Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is/Do you, Mister Jones?" If anyone questioned whether or not Dylan had truly  "gone electric," the roaring rock & roll of  "From a Buick 6" and "Tombstone Blues" – powered by guitarist Mike Bloomfield – left no doubt.
The album ends with "Desolation Row," a surrealist night journey that runs 11 minutes. Dylan evokes a Hieronymus Bosch-like season in hell that seems to foretell all the Sixties cataclysms to come. "The Titanic sails at dawn," he sings wearily. "Everybody is shouting, 'Which side are you on?'" That "Desolation Row" is an all-acoustic track – a last-minute decision on Dylan's part – is one final stroke of genius: a spellbinding new vision of folk music to close the album that, for the time being at least, destroyed folk music.

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