I admit: I am in slightly taken with Time Out of Mind, the Dylan album that I've had long arguments with people about because they like others more and sure, they're good and we all love the old Bob, but frankly, I'm partial to the new Bob and I'm worried. Very worried...
Argue all you want, but I think it is one of the most honest Dylan albums that I've heard in ages, and while many have come before (that I truly love), in terms of more recent music, it is Time Out Of Mind that appeals.
"I'm sick of love....that I'm in the thick of it." he sings in "Love Sick" about a certain kind of love ("this kind of love, I'm so sick of it.") What kind of love, I wonder is he talking about -- a true and lasting love (if so, it doesn't sound it). Is it a sort of fight and fuck love that we've most of us dealt with? Is it groupie shit that god knows, we've heard rumors but the hell with rumors, or is it still the hurt from years ago or a more recent hurt? No matter which way you cut it, the first cut is apt: He is, as he says "love sick" and the rest of the album bears it out.
The songs of note that stand out to this reviewer anyway all speak to love in one of its many incarnations, but love nonetheless. They are songs of longing and yearning and being left and being hurt and being tired and hating "silence" which can be like "thunder" which is true ~ a deafening silence. He says, "Could you ever be true? I think of you, and I wonder..." Here is a man who sounds to me, hurt. But is he talking about love itself or love with someone or love in his terms.
It would sound as though he is speaking of Love herself. Love in the Platonic sense and yet, and yet... it is directed to a certain person. The song itself is remarkably simple in terms of chords and notes and is not the typical dancing hopping Dylan, but who would expect that from a song all about being sick of love?
Dirt Road Blues is more typical, but what can one say about that song. It's good, but it is more expected and not why I write now. It's more blues, folk and takes us back and I love the happiness and tradition of it (though blues are most often NOT happy and are all subtext, for the most part); one could almost trace the roots all the way back and that's great, but it doesn't sound as honest as some of the other stuff, though I have to say, in it I sometimes hear the "old" Dylan voice, meaning the younger Dylan voice - the one who shouted back to our "Judas!" friend "I don't beeelieevee youuuu...." (which was perfect). Listen, and every now and then it creeps in.
But it is "Standing In The Doorway" and "Trying To Get to Heaven" that beak my heart and make me think he is feeling more than he would ever let on. In Standing In The Doorway:
Yesterday everything was going to fast
Today it's moving too slow...
I got no place left to turn ~
I got nothing left to burn ~
Don't know if I saw you
If I would kiss you or kill you.
It probably wouldn't matter to you anyhow.
You left me standing in the doorway crying ~
I got nothing to go back to now.
What more honest words on this record are written? Argue if you like, but to me, this is the most honest song on the album and it stands out for a reason, or to me it does. Never mind that he says "gay guitar" and get over it because you know he means it in the older sense of the word and I'm tired of people making fun of Dylan for that one line for what is a beautiful song, with that line included.
Now who the song is to, if anyone, though I would guess it is to someone, is hard to judge; perhaps it goes way back, perhaps it goes all the way back to Sara, I obviously can't speak for Dylan and won't in that regard. My job, as a journalist is to interpret only and to make an educated guess based on what I know, what I hear, what I've read. I could be wrong, no-one is "the" authority except for Dylan himself, and not everything that any writer writes is or has to be autobiographical. I can certainly say this is true of myself. On the flip-side, some of it is...
Here is a man who feels like he’s got “ice-water in his vein” His blood runnin cold " I am hoping those days are gone for our Dylan, though I no right to say "our Dylan", I feel a strange and strong attachment as if he is the Dylan that I anyway, do care about, and I want to rush in and "save him" though it's probably the last thing he wants. He's not Aimee Mann after all, wailing out (and beautifully) "Save me." Or is he in some disguised form? It doesn't seem his style though, even if he wanted to be saved, I doubt Dylan would make it public in such a way... though his lyrics betray him sometimes:
"I can hear the church bells ringing in the yard
I wonder who they're ringing for...
I know I can't win.
But my heart just won't give in."
And he's right because he tries again and again. He writes,
Last night I danced with a stranger,
but she just reminded me you were the one...
"It always means so much
even the softest touch."
God don't I want to be there to give it to him. As a friend, you want to be there and comfort and love, but then is all of this just bullshit, some ruse to get us to listen and some lyrics that mean nothing? Is this yearning, stretching, reaching out man who has "ice-water" in his vein, as he say elsehwere on the record? Dylan has long been the king of telling us that his music is not what we think it is, so what are we to make of this now? Is this too another "nothing" album the way his "protest" songs were never protest songs; the way he never was and never has been and never will be a "poet' as if that were such a bad thing after all....but then, sometimes he did say he was a poet. Which to believe? Maybe the true poet never says s/he is a poet. Maybe they just "do".
A Million Miles" isn't so different. It all seems about divorce and being left in the "cold" and a cold woman who takes the "silver and the gold" and even when people ask, he tells us, he doesn't tell them the whole truth. He is too kind, perhaps. And perhaps whomever this relationship, or this amalgam of relationships has left him too damaged to try again ... or at least, in any real way.
It is that old thing of Geschwinds and Penning, two eminent neurologists who spoke of a "doubling of consciousness." When I recently read that phrase for another book, Dylan immediately came to mind because there does seem to be some sort of waking reminiscence going on here. A sort of "waking trance" as Tennyson called it and while this usually applies to those of us with epilepsy (current presence included, and no shame here), Dylan is clearly living in two places at once: somewhere in the past ~ distant or really distant past. Either way, there is a sort of doubling here. We get the distinct sense from this album, if you listen closely to the lyrics and not just the music, then you see a man who is clearly not only conflicted, but living in two places at the same time ~ both present and past and writing, constantly it would seem here, of the present. What had happened just before this album... anything? Or are we talking about some distant, distant past. More, we're also forward glancing with "it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there..." the old fear that settles in, that comes naturally to the best of us. So here is Dylan in triplicate so to speak.
Here is a tired man, and one is perhaps tired of trying but he'll keep doing it. The rest of the album tells us as much but there is a point at which he just wants is "trying to get to heaven before they close to the door..." and that's it.
Has he given up? He's been walkin' that lonesome valley, he says, some reference to a Valley of Death or just a valley? I hate to over intellectualize and maybe in that area I do a bit, but it does sound like he is preparing himself for some inevitability... and it IS an inevitability after all, for not just Dylan but for all of us... mortality, like it or not, is just a fact of our existence - nothing new or original in what i write here. You know it and i know it too.
Yes "when you've found out you've lost everything, you do find out you can lose a little more" as he sings in "Tryin' To Get To Heaven." He has been all around the world and I get the awful sense that somehow, it's over for him or he thinks it is.
He may still be trying to get closer as he says, but he's still "a million miles away from you." This cold-hearted bitch, as she sounds, who seems almost mythical in some ways, will take a "janitor to sweep her off her feet" she tells Dylan, whose response is "that's okay." But still, he wants to "rocked." Shit, good for him - at least this... it has that "One More Weekend" feel to it, and while it's different in many ways, the sentiment is similar and so it strikes the same basic and if you listen, short-term note;
"Rock me baby.
Rock me, pretty baby, all at once.
Rock me for a little while. Rock me for couple of months.
And that oh -so Dylan and sexy pause:
And I'll rock you too" So he is willing it sounds, to try again, or perhaps not try, but at least be "rocked," some euphemism that works for me anyway, as i said, even if short-term, he's willing to put himself out there.
There is God here too, in this album, not a surpise, since we've been here before with Dylan on previous albums. He has "God has his shield" he says and was "alright til I fell in love with you." I suppose again, we come back to the same tired story I've been telling all along. Unlike Nelson, who I've written about before, Dylan has not made his peace, though they have had different lives I suppose, different wives, but still, Willie has made a life for himself and is surely older than Dylan and if anyone is closer to heaven's door it is Willie. Yet we do not hear him signing of it or not with so much melancholy anyway or heartache, he seems to it work out in his songs and there is often a prevailing sense of joy. Not always - but often. Sure, Willie, like Dylan, like anyway may have regrets, but he doesn't seem to have the deep and underlying melancholy that Dylan has on this album anyway (for the most part, and that is the caveat).
Dylan had that at one point, even if he was a serious guy or an angry guy, whatever it is he feels or felt, he feels it intensely. There is, as the neurologist I noted before wrote, "A deepening of emotional response" and surely that is true of Dylan. A clear and certain deepening.
Personal favorite on this record is "Not Dark Yet." It is a sentimental song, or could be and more of a ballad, but it seems more real and a summation of all that this album is about. It fits in the middle because it takes both ends and ties them in the middle like a sort of bowtie with a center that ties about this one song.
"Feel like my soul is turning to steel
I've still go the scars that the sun didn't heal
There's not even room enough to be anywhere
It's not dark yet but it's getting there..."
"Behind every beautiful thing,
There's been some kind of pain..."
What more can I say? As he says, "She put down in writing what was in her mind" and more, "He doesn't see why he should even care..." I care. You care. But Dylan... Does he just not care about her? Does he not care about himself, love, Love, all of it? It sounds to me like all of it... and I want so much to change that. I want to make it better. I want, as I've written before, I want to find for him that soft place to fall.
Here is a song in which, when I last saw Dylan live , I fell against my lover and watched as the last of the sun had gone and the sky was not quite black but that dark dark blue color it gets just before it turns to night. It was the song he closed with and it was perfect, but as I fell into his side, wearing his denim jacket to shield me from the cold, I wondered who Dylan had.
Who would he fall against that night?