It happened again. I woke up and checked my mental list– Miles, Owen, Toby. Where are they? Are they safe? Can I text them or is it too early? Where are they? Where am I? Are they safe? They are safe.
Some day I will lay down forever. Some day. Lay down forever.
Some day I will stop everything. I wonder what my last thoughts will be. Death always ends in pain. There will be regrets. There already are. There will be more sorrows and more joys. There will be shadows cast across my life forever.
Some day I will lay down forever.
I wonder what I would say to myself now if I could go back in time. What would I say to me if I could witness myself and talk to myself in the throes of sorrow, in the impossible reality I feared but never imagined might come true.
There is tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, I might say. My ears at the time would hear it as a threat. But I would speak it as a promise because the only hope is the next day. There is a next day and then one after. That is all I can assure you.
Some things work like that– you hear it as a promise but it’s actually a threat. Or you hear it as a hope and it is spoken in dread.
I think I realized a long time ago that ultimately we are each alone.
Such a sad song. It is about a drunk white man beating a black waitress with his cane. She died from the blow and the assailant served only six months in prison. It does not usually take very long for political or topical songs to become dated, but this one does not seem so old, even fifty years later.
I think Miles was a kind and fair young man. I wish I had talked to him more about issues and talked to him about how a person can be a positive influence and change the world in big and small ways. I wish I could have had more conversations like that. I wish I could have listened to what he had to say and understand what he thought and why he wanted to do what he wanted to do. I wish I could have listened. I wish I listened more and talked less.
I see Miles in my imagination and he never talks. He nods and shrugs and smiles and sits quietly and patiently. But I never hear him talk. I have heard stories of parents who lost their children and their children come to them in dreams and speak to them, kind and soothing reassuring words. But when I see Miles he is quiet and that is fine. It is nice just to see him. I see him for real in a way, forever 17 and peaceful and understanding.
Dylan can cut his women down to size. He is often mean in his songs about women. I don’t know of many generous or affectionate love songs by Dylan, but “Sara” is a little more generous than usual. She is mysterious and elusive and this Sara seems to hold the upper hand. She has more agency and power than a typical Dylan creation.
I like some of the classical references in this song such as “Sara, oh Sara / Glamorous nymph with an arrow and bow / Sara, oh Sara / Don’t ever leave me, don’t ever go.” Such allusions can come off as leaden and forced, but these work.
Recently, I have been reminded by a friend of many characters from Greek and Roman literature. Daedalus, who survived his son Icarus. Icarus flew too high and too long, too close to the sun. Daedalus survived, unnaturally living beyond the younger one’s years.
I know Miles in his photography understood allusions and references. We went to the Midtown Scholar bookstore in Harrisburg one day. It is a great bookstore with a large art and photography section. Miles browsed mightily on our trips there. He would get a stack of photography books and look hungrily through them. One time while I was sitting with my tea at a high table, he brought two books to me. One was a William Eggleston book. The other was of the work of a photographer from the generation after Eggleston. Miles showed me two pictures from the books–one Eggleston photograph of a light bulb on the ceiling of a bright red room. The other photograph was similar. It was a light bulb, starkly lit in a bright room. I don’t remember the second book. I just remember Miles’s enthusiasm. Miles explained to me that the second photograph was reminiscent of the Eggleston photograph and that the photographer was making a reference to Eggleston in his own work. It was not obvious to me, but as he explained to me the compositions and the timing and he influence of Eggleston on photography, it became clear to me that he was correct. I was very proud of him.
This is one of those Dylan songs that is so simple in its structure, but overflowing with so many good lines. It’s an aphoristic delight, a biting portrait of a poor immigrant, poor in his spirit.
By the end of this year, I will likely have posted every song from the solo acoustic set of Dylan’s bootleg “Royal Albert Hall” concert. This song is one of the many great tracks on that record.
The concert had two parts– the opening acoustic set that all the Dylan fans loved and wanted to see and the second set after the intermission when Dylan came out with a rock band. The concert recording includes the catcalls of people calling him Judas. People didn’t like him changing his style from the folk music icon to a rock and roll performer. Miles and I talked about the concert and the Newport Folk Festival when Dylan was booed off the stage. One thing we talked about was how hard it is to appreciate how new Dylan was to people back then. So many people have copied and stolen from him that it is hard to see the originality of his records in their time. Miles and I talked about it and I hope he squirreled that away somewhere, maybe to revisit at a later date. I know he listened. I know it was up there for later use.
I wrote about Prometheus a few days ago and I have been thinking about the story a lot. I was chatting online with a friend about my post and the significance of Prometheus. My friend and I talked about eagles, the symbol of masculinity and aggression and also our national bird. Benjamin Franklin, he pointed out, wanted the turkey to be our national bird.
My friend was walking on his property recently, and he noticed turkey prints in the snow. “They had scratched through the snow pack to get at the seeds that had fallen to the ground off some autumn olives I cut down last summer. So they found life in death that is helping them
stay alive through winter. So the turkey, Ben Franklin’s choice for our bird, stays grounded and finds a peaceful way to live through the winter.”
He is struggling with own questions. He came to his questions through a much different path than mine. But we are both searching for a way to live with these burdens. He and I agreed that being like the turkeys is not all that bad. Sometimes you need to embrace what our learned instincts reject and dwell for a while in the counter-intuitive. Sometimes instead of aspiring to an eagle you need to live like a turkey in the woods up the hill.
I never liked “Just Like a Woman” much. It always seemed reductive and objectifying. I also think the production of the studio recording on the record is a little too cutesy and prim. But then I heard the live version from the Royal Albert Hall bootleg concert album that Miles and I got in Rochester over the summer. Dylan’s delivery is much more earnest, nearly desperate. There is a longing that does not come through in the version recorded in the studio and now I love the song, but only this version.
I carry a notebook with me. When ideas occur to me that I want to write about, I make a note of it in the little moleskin in my back pocket. I also carry stickers to give to people and stick places. I have a note that I never crossed out, “Memory dump of our trip to Rochester.” I still need to write it. I think about that trip with him a lot.
Miles and I had great meals in Rochester. We stayed in a youth hostel in a terrible neighborhood. We went to some awesome record stores. He had a great time at the photojournalism workshop. We found a Eddie Van Halen guitar mailbox near RIT. We drove north to the beach on the lake. We drove up excited on the long trip to the city from Lewisburg. We listened and laughed to a bunch of Best Show bits. We went to U Rochester too and looked at it. We got lost a few times. He got a shirt that was to small for the trip to the county fair and when he tried it on it was hilariously tight. We talked about poverty and neighborhoods and gentrification. We liked the little coffee shops and restaurants and galleries and museums we found in the city. And a few months later we got the incredible book dedicated to his memory by his teacher. I need to do more detail on the trip but this note will give me a mnemonic to dive deeper. When I have the time. When I can make that effort.
I first heard this song when I borrowed the Biograph set from the library. “Isis” is a great, intense Dylan song from the Desire album. Like I said before, I never went through an indulgent Dylan phase, like many of friends have done. So I can experience a song like “Isis” for the first time at age 43.
Sometimes certain lyrics hit me a certain way. It may be out of context, but it comes to my ears and my mind in a way that speaks to me. It might amplify my sadness or capture my mood. It might say what I am feeling in a way that I cannot put my finger on even if the sentiment is not exactly what the artist intended.
“The wind it was howlin’ and the snow was outrageous
We chopped through the night and we chopped through the dawn
When he died I was hopin’ that it wasn’t contagious
But I made up my mind that I had to go on”