Think Twice | Litany Dylan
I’ve listened to Dylan for years but I’m not sure that I have always heard him or that even now, with every listen, I really truly hear what he has to say. But when I do hear Dylan, I really hear him and he gets me when I am vulnerable, happy, sorrowful, ecstatic, tired – the gamut of emotions. And with Dylan, and this seems unique to my relationship with his music, he manages to touch my mind in ways that most other music does not. I say “most” for of course some does – but generally, it’s Dylan.
One winter morning at about three o’clock I was awakened by the gentle thud of snow outside my window. I rose and put on my iPod and listened to something Dylan - probably to Wedding Song or something off of Planet Waves – which has remained a staple in my Dylan diet for many years – and I began to write back; a sort of echo back to his words. That is the work contained here, in this brief volume. These words are not letters to Bob Dylan – please understand. The work here is addressed to whomever the lyrics and music that that particular song happens to evoke for me – and the responses are my own particular and peculiar “series of dreams”.
In the December 3rd, 1965 during the KQED San Francisco press conference Dylan was introduced as, “a poet” who would “answer questions from everything to atomic science to riddles and rhymes...” When asked how he viewed himself as performer Dylan said, “I tend to think of myself more as a song and dance man,” and dismissed the “folk-rock” label that was so often affixed to him, saying of himself and his work, “I like to think of it more in terms of vision music...”.
Dylan said that he, like William S. Burroughs who kept an album of photographs to illustrate his literature, he likewise had “photographs of “Gates of Eden” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Songs that have startling visuals in lyric, which I have seen illustrated through the incredible paintings of others: I once saw a fabulous and richly layered depiction of “Desolation Row” with a complete cast of characters and I have a whole book of an illustrated “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.”
In an interview with Playboy in March, 1978, Ron Rosenbaum asked Dylan if he recalled having any visionary experiences while growing up. Dylan responded that yes, in fact, he had, “Amazing projections” he said, “those visions have been strong enough to keep me going through today...they were a feeling of wonder.” Dylan has been conveying those visions to us, and me, I’ve been like a kindred cousin or neighbor across the way flashing mirrored code across the wide city avenue.
Like Yeats (who, I should note, in an interview in August 1965 with Nora Ephron and Susan Edmonton, Dylan said he had never read), Dylan’s work hits on all of the senses; a rare gift for any writer, to use language such that it has scent, color, taste, and pulse. To give life to the printed word such that our all of our senses are fully engaged this is what every poet, every writer aspires to and very few ultimately achieve. But Dylan succeeds in fully engaging our every sense. His music is vision music to be sure and multi-hued. In the ’78 Playboy interview, Dylan said of the sound he heard, the sound in his head was, “The ethereal twilight, you know. It’s the sound of the street with sunrays, the sun shining down at a particular time, on a particular building...The sound of bells and distant railroad trains...”
Watch the footage from Rolling Thunder Revue, just the songs alone (or take Renaldo and Clara and watch the song performances and not the rest of the film), and it is the bluest show that I’ve ever seen in my life. It is a white-faced Dylan giving his All in a Cobalt blue light. It is pure electric Dylan belting out Isis in an electric-cerulean blue of Chagall’s Le Marriee.
Dylan brings us all shades of light. There is “Noah’s great rainbow”. We can even be tangled up in blue. And of course there is “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, a song vivid with its bleak and still early morning air of
vagabonds and steppingstones. I cannot think of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” without thinking of the book On Being Blue by William Gass, which makes me think of love - for if love is any color, surely it is blue. Blue is also the color of victory and of war. Lightning blue, death’s “supremest blue”, writes poet Gregory Corso. Blue is the color of sacrifice. Blue is the color of a maiden’s garter. Blue is the color of the wrap around the Venusian woman on the World card in the Tarot deck. Blue is sacred, blue is bled and blessed. Blue is declarative. If nothing else, blue is absolute and final.
Dylan’s music has color and depth and shape. He has spoken of that “wild mercury sound” in his music (and that of others – a sound he tries to catch) which really, you have to hear to know – and he’s described it as how the city looks at a certain time of day, or the angle of the sun on a particular building. When I heard that - when I heard Dylan say that - I was sure I knew then what he was aiming with vision music. That he, perhaps like me, sees music in the same terms – as sound having a particular color, as a song being sleek as mercury and slightly edgy and slick – all electricity on rails, tinsel silver-wired. All of that simply validated my own vivid associations and images to and his wild mercury sound - his Blonde on Blonde, his New Orleans, his Freewheelin’, his Rundown Studios all correlate to my Brooklyn Bridge, my pelting rainy day marriage, my storm in Spain, my calm Carmel California cliff with my brother and the sound of our quiet conversation, my Xanadu, my pop culture all Citizen Kane and Clash, my grandfather as a new immigrant, already savvy to the ways of the city, and the memory of our feet slapping the boards of the bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn. And then there is my wounded pride, my insouciance, my back-talk, my love, my fury, my sensuality sexuality – all of it I find in my response to Dylan’s music. !
Dylan never needed to write Chronicles, though I’m glad he did because he clears up – in the way that only Dylan can – some narrative of his life. Still, if you ask me, I still prefer his lyrics and albums all strung together and it is in those that I find a richly layered narrative that intrigues me a whole lot more. Perhaps it’s easier for some of us to give of ourselves in lyric or in poetry more than we could never say outright in memoir form – no matter how honest we are or want to be because that’s simply not the form our communication takes.
Wisely, Dylan never says whether his music is directly autobiographical or not or whether it was fictional or a slick and smart combination of the two. I would guess it is somewhere in the middle like my own work – at times entirely fictitious and at other times, entirely autobiographical but it’s not up to me (or him) to let you know which is which. It’s frankly more interesting to not know.
I’m not a critic - not really. Interpreting Dylan has never been my role or my interest. I always said to others that I never could say what Dylan was getting at, and anyway, I wondered often, what’s the difference? That was his business and his alone. What interested me far more, and this I did write about – was how all of us responded to his music. What was it that any given Dylan song made me think of, dream on; what made my skin bristle or raised the ire – what got me moving and what made me smile; what turned me on. I never cared to analyze why I respond to Dylan the way I do – and you won’t find any such analysis in this book: only responses and pauses – maybe like prayer, a sung litany.
To that end, if you want, listen to the song then read the poem; or listen and read together – a sort of multimedia experience– this way you have a sort of spoken litany, which is how the book was intended – one poet speaking to the other, sometimes directly, sometimes in notation, but always there is a communication, whether subtle or frank - Andre Breton’s Communicating Vessels. As Dylan says at the end of “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” in the live Philharmonic bootleg and the beginning of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, “it’s like conversation really.”
- Sadi Ranson, January, 2014
Each poem in this slim volume relates to a specific song written by Bob Dylan. Because this book really is a sort of litany, my hope is that you’ll read this work for what it is on its own and perhaps, you will also be moved to listen to the Dylan song or maybe you already know it. In this way, the work communicates.
Ellipsis – Most Of The Time
Iron Melt - The Executioner’s Face – Well-Hidden It Is I – Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands Ragazza – Three Angels
Dear Mr. Stone – Like A Rolling Stone
By Way Of Correction – Tomorrow Is A Long Time Warning – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
A Celtic Storm – Wedding Song
Bride Price – Wedding Song, 2
Like Me Like You Like Us – A Sweetheart Like You A Prayer of St. Chrysostom – Sign On The Window The Wind Is Jealous – Blowin’ In The Wind Your Kettledrum – Shooting Star
Note: Re. – To Ramona
Heartbreak Sans Issue - Simple Twist Of Fate Your Miss, Mister – I Want You
The Sky Our Scrim Witness – Up To Me
Light – Visions Of Johanna
The author is grateful for generous permission to use the following lyrics. All lyric remain copyright Bob Dylan and as noted.
Ellipsis “most of the time”, song title “Most of the Time” copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music
In Iron Melt, reference to Queen Jane Approximately, copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music: also, “the executioner’s face stays well- hidden” from “Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden” from the song “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music
Dear Mr. Stone references album title “Love & Theft” copyright © 2001 by Special Rider Music !
By Way of Correction “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music
Whistle “Must be the Mother of our Lord from “Duquesne Whistle” copyright © 2011 Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter, Columbia Records
A Celtic Storm reference to “Wedding Song” is the song “Wedding Song” copyright © 1973 by Ram's Horn Music; renewed 2001 by Ram’s Horn Music
Bride Price “Darling Young One” “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music
Like Me Like You Like Us “When you’re sick of all this repetition” from Queen Jane Approximately copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music
A Prayer of St. Chrysostom – Sign on the window says no company allowed” “A bunch of kids who call me ma or pa/build me a cabin in Utah/that must be what it’s all about” references “Build me a cabin in Utah/Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout/Have a bunch of kids who call me “Pa”/ That must be what it’s all about/That must be what it’s all about. “Sign On The Window” copyright © 1970 by Big Sky Music; renewed 1998 by Big Sky Music
The Wind Is Jealous “A corkscrew to my heart” from “You’re a Big Girl Now” copyright © 1974 by Ram's Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music
Your Kettledrum “The prayers of all good people” from “All good people are praying” from “Shooting Star” copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music
Heartbreak Sans Issue “Gone straight” from “Simple Twist of Fate” copyright © 1974 by Ram's Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music
Your Miss Mister “debutante chambermaid” from “I Want You” copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music
The Sky Our Scrim Witness; “jingle jangle morning” from “Mr. Tambourine Man” copyright © 1964, 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992, 1993 by Special Rider Music
Light; “Ghost of electricity: from “Visions of Johanna” copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music
It Is I
Dear Mr. Stone
By Way Of Correction
A Celtic Storm
Like Me Like You Like Us
The Wind Is Jealous
Heartbreak Sans Issue
Your Miss, Mister
The Sky Our Scrim Witness