Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Back to the beginning: Another song

I want to go back to the first album I ever bought.  I'd heard of the singer/songwriter, as who hadn't by then, but I'd never owned, or even seen, one of his records.  Then, sometime in early 1964 (the album was released on January 13, 1964--my younger brother's 10th birthday, as it happens), I was in a store called Shopper's Fair, in Irvington Plaza, in Indianapolis, browsing through the record bins, and I came across it, picked it up, flipped it over to read the liner notes.  And I was confronted by a solid mass of text, written not by someone hyping the record, but by the artist.  Not about the record, either.  It was a series of poems, titled "Eleven Outlined Epitaphs," which, if you know, tells you that the album was The Times, They Are a-Changin', and that the artist was Bob Dylan.  Still, I didn't know what was on the album; all I had was this strange, compelling set of poems, which begin:

I end up then
in the early evenin’
blindly punchin’ at the blind
breathin’ heavy
an’ blowin’ up
where t’ go?
what is it that’s exactly wrong?
who t’ picket?
who t’ fight?
behind what windows
will I at least
hear someone from the supper table
get up t’ ask
“did I hear someone outside just now?”

And I stood there for maybe 10 minutes, reading what was
on the album cover...but that was not the end.  The poems continued on an insert inside the shrink wrap.  And I was sunk; I had to have this.  The price was $2.74 (including sales tax), which was, for me at age 16, a large chunk of change (adjusted for inflation, that's about $20.75 in today's prices).  I took it home, tore the shrink wrap off, and finished the poems.  Then, to play the record, but that had to wait; I had no record player, I would have to use the family's, in the living room.  And that meant waiting until my parents weren't around...I knew how they'd react to any Bob Dylan song.

But before I get to the songs...I was heavily involved in my high school speech and debate program, doing small group discussion and extemp in speech, and debating.  But reading the "Eleven Outlined Epitaphs," I decided to work up a piece for poetry interpretation--five minutes, two or more poets.  So I did some cutting and wound up with these from the "Epitaphs":

strength now shines through my window
regainin’ me an’ rousin’ me
day by day
from the weariness
of walkin’ with ghosts
that rose an’ had risen
from the ruins an’ remains
of the model T past
even though I clutched t’ its sheet
I was still refused
an’ left confused
for there was nobody there
t’ let me in
a wasteland wind whistled
from behind the billboard “there’s nobody home
all has moved out”
flatly denied
I turned indeed
flinched at first
but said “ok
I get the message”
feelin’ unwanted? no
unloved? no
I felt nothin’
for there was nobody there
I didn’t see no one
t’ want or unwant
to love or unlove
maybe they’re there
but won’t let me in
not takin’ chances
on the ones that come knockin'
should I then be angry?
I feel that the grittin’ of my teeth
for only a second
would mean
my mind has just been
swallowed whole
an’ so I step back t’ the street
an’ then turn further down the road
poundin’ on doors
not really
just out lookin’
a stranger?
no not a stranger but rather someone
who just doesn’t live here
never pretendin’ t’ be knowin’
what’s worth seekin’
but at least
without ghosts by my side
t’ betray my childishness
t’ leadeth me down false trails
an’ maketh me drink from muddy waters
yes it is I
who is poundin’ at your door
if it is you inside
who hears the noise

I am still runnin’ I guess
but my road has seen many changes
for I’ve served my time as a refugee
in mental terms an’ in physical terms
an’ many a fear has vanished
an’ many an attitude has fallen
an’ many a dream has faded
an’ I know I shall meet the snowy North
again-but with changed eyes nex’ time ’round
t’ walk lazily down its streets
an’ linger by the edge of town
find old friends if they’re still around
talk t’ the old people
an’ the young people
runnin’ yes . . .
but stoppin’ for a while
embracin’ what I left
an’ lovin’ it-for I learned by now
never t’ expect
what it cannot give me

lonely? ah yes
but it is the flowers an’ the mirrors
of flowers that now meet my
an’ mine shall be a strong loneliness
dissolvin’ deep
t’ the depths of my freedom
an’ that, then, shall
remain my song

there’s a movie called
Shoot the Piano Player
the last line proclaimin’
“music, man, that’s where it’s at”
it is a religious line
outside, the chimes rung
an’ they
are still ringin’.

(I opened with a poem by Robert Frost, "Escapist--Never," from In The Clearing:

He is no fugitive--escaped, escaping.
No one has ever seen him stumble, looking back.
His fear is not behind him but beside him
On either hand to make his course perhaps
A crooked straightness yet no less a straightness.
He runs face forward.  He is a pursuer.
He seeks a seeker who in his turn seeks
Another still, lost far into the distance.
Any who seek him seek in him the seeker.
His life is a pursuit of a pursuit forever.
It is the future that creates his present.
All is an interminable chain of longing.

Not one of Frost's best, but it seemed to fit.)

I was an outlier in the poetry interpretation events, being just about the only male, but it was fun.

But to the songs.  The Times They Are a-Changin' is an amazing album. Opening with the title song and ending with "Restless Farewell," it contains many of Dylan's best-known early pieces (the title track, "With God On Our Side," Only a Pawn in Their Game," When the Ship Comes In").  But the song that somehow stays with me is a very personal song, a song about something ending, about sadness, "One Too Many Mornings."  It opens with this:

Down the street the dogs are barkin’
And the day is a-gettin’ dark
As the night comes in a-fallin’
The dogs’ll lose their bark
An’ the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my mind
For I’m one too many mornings
And a thousand miles behind

To me, this said "loss;" it said "sorrow."  And then:

From the crossroads of my doorstep
My eyes they start to fade
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid
An’ I gaze back to the street
The sidewalk and the sign
And I’m one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

And it's clear that he is leaving--feels he has to leave--someone he has loved.  Many songwriters might have left it at that, but, even at age 23 (which is how old he was when he wrote the song), Dylan knew it was  not enough.  He knew:

It’s a restless hungry feeling
That don’t mean no one no good
When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’
You can say it just as good.
You’re right from your side
I’m right from mine
We’re both just one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

Ten year later, he was to echo this song in the first track on Blood on the Tracks, which ends:

And me, I'm still on the road
Headin' for another joint,
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue


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