Dylan says it may be too late—like, really too late
In his review
of Bob Dylan’s new album, Joe Heim of the Washington Post
quotes a line from the song, “This Dream of You” (the only song on the album Dylan wrote without a collaborator), which illustrates both Dylan’s still surviving occasional cleverness with words and his decades-long staunch commitment to being absolutely nowhere:
There’s a moment when all old things become new again
But that moment might have come and gone.
“When all old things become new again” is a reference to life in Christ. To say that’s it’s “too late” for that is to reject Christ, reject the possibility of salvation.
As I’ve said before, Dylan should have retired from recording and performing 25 years ago and done something useful with his life. Instead, he’s become the Dead Man Walking of our culture.
- end of initial entry -
Jeff in England writes:
The moment they (old things) became new again may have passed but that doesn’t mean the result of the moment doesn’t still hold for Dylan. In evworhtyery interview he has given he indicates that he is still an ongoing strong believer. Ditto on every album, his references to God always indicating he still believes.
You are projecting onto Dylan a rejection of Judeo-Christianity which just hasn’t happened.
You want Dylan to be a godless liberal but he is NOT that.
He is hardly a dead man walking…
Tough moments yes, a rejection of God, no.
He has composed and performed many fine songs in the last 25 years as well as performing amazing versions of many of the old classics.
Twenty top quality Dylan songs in last 25 years: WHEN THE NIGHT COMES FALLING, DARK EYES, DEATH IS NOT THE END, BROWNSVILLE GIRL, MOST OF THE TIME, SHOOTING STAR, RING THEM BELLS, MAN IN THE LONG BLACK COAT, BORN IN TIME, GOD KNOWS, STANDING IN THE DOORWAY, NOT DARK YET, TRYING TO GET TO HEAVEN, HIGHLANDS, MILLION MILES, MISSISSIPPI, SUGAR BABY, WHEN THE DEAL GOES DOWN, AIN’T TALKIN’, NETTIE MOORE….
“The moment they (old things) became new again may have passed but that doesn’t mean the result of the moment doesn’t still hold for Dylan.”
Clever answer. However, to say, “That moment may have come and gone,” sounds like an opportunity missed and not to be retrieved.
It’s still Dylan indulging in down-ness and depression as he’s been doing exclusively for over 20 years. I don’t know what people get out of him, except that down-ness and depression speaks to them and they find it profound.
Jeff in England replies:
About Dylan’s downism and depressiveness etc in recent years.
As this is not a Dylan forum per say, I will keep it short and sweet.
1) Dylan always had a down/depressive/self-pitying element in his lyrics. I wrote an article about Dylan and self-pity sometime back.
2) But ok, you are probably referring to the period starting after the exhuberance of his religious conversion. So starting in the mid 1980s, I agree that we feel a degree of downness and depressiveness in Dylan. Especially in ’80s albums like INFIDELS, EMPIRE BURLESQUE and KNOCKED OUT LOADED But though there has been some of that, there has still been an underlying spiritual “positivity” (to quote a phrase) in many of Dylan’s songs. In fact that positivity has increased in recent years culminating in his latest series of albums.
3) In 1989 Dylan comes out with his album OH MERCY. He sings that MOST OF THE TIME he is “strong enough not to hate” that MOST OF THE TIME he “doesn’t deal in illusion til it gets me (him)sick. The point is that he has learned the lessons of a higher spiritual life and that while occasionally he still falls down, “most of the time” he is still moving forward on that higher plane. Like many Dylan songs there are also memories of a woman in it but that doesn’t detract from its main message: Dylan has found something he can never go back from and everything indicates that something is God.
Other songs of that period indicate the same thing.
4) Again, that is not to say that there is no depression going on. TIME OUT OF MIND, Dylan’s comeback album, is literally full of references to depression and hearing voices etc. “I’m beginning to hear voices when there’s no one around” Dylan sings (COLD IRONS BOUND). “I’m all used up and the fields have turned brown,” Dylan continues in the same song. “Can’t even hear the murmur of a prayer,” Dylan sings on NOT DARK YET. “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there,” Dylan repeats throughout the song.
But again, even on this admittedly dark and depressive album, Dylan sings of spiritual struggle against the dark forces of [?], and he ends the album by singing (in the magnificent song HIGHLANDS) that he’s “there (in the Highlands, in God’s light) in his mind and that’s good enough for now.” He is TRYING TO GET TO HEAVEN BEFORE THEY CLOSE THE DOOR (title of another major song on the album and also the words of the repeated chorus line).
So it is a close call here at the time of this album.
If Dylan had ended his career with TIME OUT OF MIND, I would accept you had a point.
But as he has said in interview, he was in a corner at the time of time of TIME OUT OF MIND but by the time of MODERN TIMES in 2006 he has fought himself out of that corner.
The problem is you weren’t paying attention to that “fight” as you weren’t listening to Dylan’s music by that time.
Larry, you have already parodied the great song, WHEN THE DEAL GOES DOWN, and its original lyrics say it all in terms of where Dylan is at:
In this earthly domain
Hardly the lyrics of a depressed man. Or a man focusing on downness.
Full of disappointment and pain
You’ll never see me frown.
I owe my heart to you [Jesus/God?]
And that’s saying it true
I’ll be with you [Jesus/God] when the deal goes down.
Rather, those are the lyrics of a man who sees the sadness of the world but has risen above it with the grace of God. He will be fully with God on that “dreadful day” of the “last deal.”
No, this is certainly not a message of depressiveness or downness. Sorry about that, I know that sort of Dylan is the latter day Dylan who suited you best. A secular (liberal?) Dylan who has lost all spiritual bearings. All recent songs point to the fact that this is not the case. That doesn’t mean Dylan is not struggling. And sometimes falling. But on the whole, Dylan is now positive and even uplifting at times. The Theme Town Radio Hour has been a reflection of that inner state.
Dylan ends the album with the great song AIN’T TALKIN” JUST WALKIN.” He repeatedly sings the chorus line, which begins each time with “Heart burning, still yearning.” Again the words of a man who despite all the bad things he is seeing in the everyday world and seeing even in his own innner world is still “hot for God” (my phrase).
“It’s all good,” Dylan sings repeatedly in each chorus line in the song IT’S ALL GOOD, the last song on his latest album (TOGETHER THRU LIFE). Is that the phrase of man who is trying to bring us down or depress us? Doesn’t sound it to me.
This is well said, well argued. I don’t agree, because to me the totality of what he conveys with his words and his voice is negative. But, as my father used to say, that’s what makes horse races.
Jeff in England writes:
I respect your view that Dylan is essentially giving out a negative, depressive “message.” But I would recommend that you listen to the recent albums several times over plus a decent selection of his live performance bootlegs. To review the “book” you have to read it thoroughly. Ditto with Dylan’s music.
I am one of the biggest critics of much of Dylan’s post-religious output. At the same time I am a great admirer of some of it too. In addition, the live performances help bring out the real meaning of the original compositions.
Jeff sent me a profile of Dylan from the Mail: “Pop’s most ruthless lothario hid one marriage—and a daughter—for 15 years. But that’s not the half of it.”
It contains this which captures Dylan’s repellant negativity:
Cantankerous and obsessed with security and privacy, Dylan seems to be addicted to life on the road. It’s hard to fathom why, as he never shows he has taken an iota of pleasure from his adoring audience—he does not greet them, speak between numbers or even say goodbye.
Dylan with his never ending road trip for the last 20 years: giving a hundred concerts a year, every year for 20 years, and never showing the slightest pleasure in anything he’s dong, is like Woody Allen, mechanically churning out one worthless empty despairing movie after another, just because that’s what he does and he has nothing else to do with his life. It’s a compulsive repetitive behavior with a nihilist message.
Jeff will reject the idea that Dylan expresses nihilism. And it’s true there is a continual reference to some vague other reality in Dylan’s songs. But when you constantly say that there’s nothing worth anything in life, except somehow holding on, such a message is, to all practical purposes, nihilism, especially when combined with the emotional message of Dylan’s repulsive manner and voice. Remember, nihilism does not mean that one literally doesn’t believe in anything; nihilists believe in all kinds of things. Rather, nihilism means the rejection of any objective moral good in existence. And, for all practical purposes, Dylan conveys such a message.
I’m not quite sure what you mean by the “objective moral good” but surely Dylan cares about “morality,” as indicated here.
This article from the blog Songs for the Journey tends to support your view that Dylan (as a narrator character) feels that he and God have gone separate ways. However, other songs may not say this (though this reviewer implies they do. Nor does Dylan the real life person in interview etc.)
The blogger writes:
Bob Dylan appears to like ironic titles for his more recent albums. Take his previous release, Modern Times (2006), for example—clearly nothing modern about it since it’s a collection of songs (mostly great songs!) based on structures and themes of times gone by. So what should we make of Together Through Life his latest effort? Well, not be taken in by the title that’s for sure. I’ve been somewhat puzzled by a number of reviews that have suggested that Dylan is ‘enjoying’ himself on this album—I can only surmise that they’ve forgotten to listen to the lyrics and more importantly his voice. For me, Dylan’s voice is usually the key to his albums and on this record it’s ragged, scarred and suffering. And that’s the image of ‘togetherness’ that Dylan is projecting through these songs—basically a ‘togetherness’ that is lost, betrayed and hewn with violence on a personal, spiritual and communal level.
[end of blog entry.]
According to his Bobness the inspiration for the album came from the track ‘Life is Hard’, a song he was recording for a movie soundtrack. The rest of the album followed in a rush, clinging to the coat-tails of this song. It’s a terribly sad song that brings tears to my eyes as it weaves a tale about the loss of friendship and love and the resulting emptiness of life. Now, I have absolutely no evidence for what I’m about to write and yes it is a song for a movie, but I cannot help but project Bob Dylan into this song. The fact that this theme is picked up time again across the whole album I believe that Dylan is singing about his own spiritual loss—a dark night of the soul if you like.
Should I be worried for Dylan, then, when I hear this song? Perhaps, but then it’s not the last word. A couple more songs to write about later…
The evening winds are still I’ve lost the way and will
Can’t tell you where they went I just know what they meant
I’m always on my guard admitting life is hard
Without you near me
The friend you used to be, so near and dear to me
You slipped so far away, where did we go astray
I passed the old school yard, admitting life is hard
Without you near me
Ever since the day, the day you went away
I felt that emptiness so wide
I don’t know what’s wrong or right
I just know I need strength to fight, strength to fight that world outside
Since we’ve been out of touch I haven’t felt that much
From day to barren day my heart stays locked away
I walk the boulevard, admitting life is hard
Without you near me
The Sun is sinking low I guess it’s time to go
I feel a chilly breeze In place of memories
My dreams are locked and barred admitting life is hard
Without you near me
Without you near me
Listen here:[YouTube link]
Thanks for sending this.
“For me, Dylan’s voice is usually the key to his albums and on this record it’s ragged, scarred and suffering.”
Exactly right. Plus, he might have added, unlistenable. What Dylan actually expresses, though his voice, is pure negativity. And as far as I’m I’m concerned it’s been that way for over 20 years. Same with the photo of him in the entry, which is the same as every photo of him you see, with that closed, expressionless, ungiving expression, it’s pure negativity. His stubborn expressionlessness conceals and expresses the fact that he has nothing to express. It’s as though he’s putting all his energy into this stolid mask, to make the world think that he looks grim about the world, when in reality he’s just concealing/expressing his own emptiness. I just think the man is dead, nowhere.
What the expression on his face says is, “I hate life, I hate humanity.” He’s the most off-putting human being I’ve ever seen. That’s why I say he should have followed his own advice and retired from music 25 years ago, after he sang,
I should have been a doctor
Maybe I’d have saved some life that’d been lost
Maybe I’d have done some good in the world
Instead of burning every bridge that I crossed.
I thought in the “negative” photo portrait you posted of him he looks like a rakish (if not smoldering and negative) Vincent Price in his younger years. I never saw a resemblance between the two before.
If he’s rakish, he’s rakish in the sense a whoremaster is rakish, of someone dead to life, dead to other people, repeating over and over the same vice.
Perhaps the resemblance is more to the Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill. :-)
In fact, with that thin mustache that Dylan cultivated for several years, ten or fifteen years ago, he actually looked like a low-level Mexican pimp.
A low-level Mexican pimp would not put so much energy into a facial expression. Maybe a mid-level Mexican pimp, with a legitimate business on the side. As for Price, I thought it was that eyebrow but it’s really the whole portrait, isn’t it? Can you picture Dr. Phibes posing for an album cover?
By the way, I note that my dictionary gives a sort of range of definition for “rakish,” and I’ve always thought of the word as connoting a decidedly sinister and sly aspect.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 08, 2009 10:13 AM | Send
“The low-level Mexican pimp would not put so much energy into a facial expression.”
That’s a very observant insight … both into Mexican pimps, and Dylan. :-) I mean, he has to put effort into looking so inexpressive.