Tony Brown -- Bass
Buddy Cage -- Steel Guitar
Paul Griffin -- Organ
Eric Weissberg & Deliverance
In the end, the plague touched us all. It was not confined to the Oran of Camus. No. It turned up again in America, breeding in-a-compost of greed and uselessness and murder, in those places where statesmen and generals stash the bodies of the forever young. The plague ran in the blood of men in sharkskin suits, who ran for President promising life and delivering death. The infected young men machine-gunned babies in Asian ditches; they marshalled metal death through the mighty clouds, up above God's green earth, released it in silent streams, and moved on, while the hospitals exploded and green fields were churned to mud.
And here at home, something died. The bacillus moved among us, slaying that old America where the immigrants lit a million dreams in the shadows of the bridges, killing the great brawling country of barnstormers and wobblies and home-run hitters, the place of Betty Grable and Carl Furillo and heavyweight champions of the world. And through the fog of the plague, most art withered into journalism. Painters lift the easel to scrawl their innocence on walls and manifestos. Symphonies died on crowded roads. Novels served as furnished rooms for ideology.
And as the evidence piled up, as the rock was pushed back to reveal the worms, many retreated into that past that never was, the place of balcony dreams in Loew's Met, fair women and honorable men, where we browned ourselves in the Creamsicle summers, only faintly hearing the young men march to the troopships, while Jo Stafford gladly promised her fidelity. Poor America. Tossed on a pilgrim tide. Land where the poets died.
Except for Dylan.
He had remained, in front of us, or writing from the north country, and remained true. He was not the only one, of course; he is not the only one now. But of all the poets, Dylan is the one who has most clearly taken the rolled sea and put it in a glass.
Early on, he warned us, he gave many of us voice, he told us about the hard rain that was going to fall, and how it would carry plague. In the teargas in 1968 Chicago, they hurled Dylan at the walls of the great hotels, where the infected drew the blinds, and their butlers ordered up the bayonets. Most of them are gone now. Dylan remains.
So forget the clenched young scholars who analyze his rhymes into dust. Remember that he gave us voice, When our innocence died forever, Bob Dylan made that moment into art. The wonder is that he survived.
That is no small thing. We live in the smoky landscape now, as the exhausted troops seek the roads home. The signposts have been smashed; the maps are blurred. There is no politician anywhere who can move anyone to hope; the plague recedes, but it is not dead, and the statesmen are as irrelevant as the tarnished statues in the public parks. We live with a callous on the heart. Only the artists can remove it. Only the artists can help the poor land again to feel.
And here is Dylan, bringing feeling back home. In this album, he is as personal and as universal as Yeats or Blake; speaking for himself, risking that dangerous opening of the veins, he speaks for us all. The words, the music, the tones of voice speak of regret, melancholy, a sense of inevitable farewell, mixed with sly humor, some rage, and a sense of simple joy. They are the poems of a survivor. The warning voice of the innocent boy is no longer here, because Dylan has chosen not to remain a boy. It is not his voice that has grown richer, stronger, more certain; it is Dylan himself. And his poetry, his troubadour's traveling art, seems to me to be more meaningful than ever. I thought, listening to these songs, of the words of Yeats, walker of the roads of Ireland: "We make out of the quarrel with others rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry."
Dylan is now looking at the quarrel of the self. The crowds have moved back off the stage of history; we are left with the solitary human, a single hair on the skin of the earth. Dylan speaks now for that single hair.
If you see her,
She might be in Tangiers...*
So begins one of these poems, as light as a slide on ice, and as dangerous. Dylan doesn't fall in. Instead, he tells us the essentials; a woman once lived, gone off, vanished into the wild places of the earth, still loved.
If you're makin' love to her,
Kiss her for the kid.
Who always has respected her,
for doin' what she did...*
It is a simple love song, of course, which is the proper territory of poets, but is about love filled with honor, and a kind of dignity, the generosity that so few people can summon when another has become a parenthesis in a life. That song, and some of the other love poems in this collection, seem to me absolutely right, in this moment at the end of wars, as all of us, old, young, middle-aged, men and women, are searching for some simple things to believe in. Dylan here tips his hat to Rimbaud and Verlaine, knowing all about the seasons in hell, but he insists on his right to speak of love, that human emotion that still exists, in Faulkner's phrase, in spite of, not because.
And yes, there is humor here too, a small grin pasted over the hurt, delivered almost casually, as if the poet could control the chaos of feeling with a few simply chosen words: