Sunday, June 24, 2018

Master Blueprints # 24: “This Morning I Looked Out My Window and Found, A Bluebird Singing but There Was No One Around”

(Personal reflections inspired by Bob Dylan songs)

Song: “Congratulations”
Album: The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1
Release Date: October 1988

We all have our comfort zones.  Many of us do everything we can to try and stay in that zone at all cost, and I’m often amazed at how good people can be at it.  Those who are successful can’t really be categorized:  This ability cuts across all income strata, for example.  Regardless, I consider being ‘stuck in your ways' a liability that needs to be hurdled.  Live long enough, and you are bound to be yanked out of your comfort zone at some point.  Perhaps it will be related to an illness, or an emergency or a friend in desperate need.  It’s gonna happen.  Best thing you can do is prepare yourself for the inevitable by breaking out on your own every once in a while, before your forced to do so.

Me, I try to challenge my comfort zone on occasion, which can include what I write about in these blog entries.  Another such example occurred recently when I gave a speech of praise at a banquet for a recently retired colleague who I have been working with my entire career.  Part of my speech included expressing my admiration for the risks this colleague took in developing a cutting-edge product.  In subtle ways, I put others to the challenge in that same speech, several of whom were in the crowd.  Expressing both the praise and the challenge in front of a large audience was definitely out of my comfort zone, but sometimes you can be compelled to do something out of the ordinary if you listen to your inner voice, your inner spirit.  I felt it was needed, I had the opportunity, and so I did it. 

Friendship was part of the equation that pulled this out of me:  Friendship with my retired colleague.  Often that’s the case.   It most certainly was for Bob Dylan when he agreed to be a Travelling Wilbury.  Here is the only time in his career where we get to see Dylan in a unique (for him) role as just one of the guys; a bandmate in a band of equals.  There were likely a number factors that contributed to Bob Dylan’s decision to join this band, including 1) trying something new to break out of an 80s-period funk and 2) the awe-inspiring collection of talent.  But the real driving force very likely lies somewhere else, and relates to how one can overcome their insecurities when responding to the overtures of a very close friend.  In this case, I’m of course referring to George Harrison.

It should come as no surprise that of the Fab Four, it was Beatle George who Bob Dylan grew closest with.  George Harrison’s quiet demeanor, integrity, and quest for a higher, spiritual meaning in life are all traits that would appeal to Dylan.  Harrison also had a bit of an underdog status in the Beatles, which seems to appeal to Dylan as well, seeing as he grew closer to both Brian Jones and Ronnie Wood than he did to their dominant songwriting bandmates, Jagger & Richards. 

George Harrison had another character trait however, and that was an uncanny ability to persuade.  It may not have worked so well in the leadership structure of the Beatles, partly because George was the youngest and partly because his music-writing ability took longer to develop than the team of Lennon & McCartney (hence the underdog status).  Harrison’s persuasive powers were evident early, however.  He convinced the other Beatles to travel to India to retreat with the Maharishi, where many of their great “White Album” songs would subsequently be written.  After the Beatles broke up his Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 was the first superstar rock fundraiser.  George did most of the recruiting, including getting a then reclusive Bob Dylan to sign on.  His soft touch worked.  Some people simply bring out the will in us to help.  And it worked again in the late 80s in his recruitment for the Travelling Wilburys.  Harrison was in the process of a minor career revival.  He was interested again, much like how John Lennon was just before he was killed.  George Harrison’s nature to normally recoil against such fanfare as a super group probably fascinated Bob Dylan.  Here most certainly was a strange twist of fate.  How could you resist.  

It’s almost comical when I watch videos of the Travelling Wilburys to witness Bob Dylan as a team player.  There’s a touch of the unnatural, but not so much so that it curtailed his creativity.  The videos show lots of laughter and bantering about, mostly from Harrison, as well as Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne.  But Dylan keeps his cool.  There’s one scene when the entire band is singing “Dirty World” where Roy Orbison sings the line “She loves your Trembling Wilbury”, which stops the recording in its tracks.  Everyone is cracking up, which is fun to see.  When you look close though, Dylan is not laughing.  At the same time, he’s not drawing attention to himself; no ‘Debbie Downer’ here.  Just Dylan being Dylan, quietly reserved.  Most of the time, however, the camaraderie among all five is palpable, particularly while singing, which I believe is when Bob Dylan is at his most comfortable. 

There’s a Dylan effect from the very beginning of the album The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1, if only funneled through George. “Handle with Care” has an upbeat tempo and positive reaffirmation, yes, but it still has heavy lyrics to contemplate, including “reputations changeable” and “I’ve been fobbed off and I’ve been fooled”.  These are not happy-go-lucky pop lyrics.  This is harsh reality speaking; about how you can suddenly find yourself in a vulnerable situation after years of success.  It’s times like this where we need good love the most, which comes out in the refrain.  When I listen to “Handle with Care” I’m reminded of many of the songs on All Things Must Pass, which I do not dispute is Harrison’s personal creative masterpiece, but surely had a Bob Dylan stamp of approval.

Song number two, “Dirty World” reveals to me that Bob Dylan was fully committed to this Travelling Wilburys idea.  He takes a straight-up Dylan-like song and allows it to be an ensemble.  One of the truly great things about the Travelling Wilburys that should be chewed on some by future Dylanologists is that this band was not Bob Dylan’s idea.  He needed to buy in.  How often has this happened in his career?  Zero as far as I can discern.  The man has always been one step ahead, thinking through this, that and the other thing well before he enters the studio to work with other musicians.  Each and every one of the 38 studio albums in his career feels as if it was preordained.  Not so here. “Dirty World” exemplifies Dylan’s approach to the Wilburys; a man letting go of the reins.   

The DVD component of the Travelling Wilburys Collection gives numerous visual insights into the dynamics of this super band.  One thing I got out of it was that they were all learning from each other’s approach to songwriting.  Harrison, in very Beatle-like fashion, compiling lyrics from newspaper clippings.  Jeff Lynne taking cues from a drum beat.  Roy Orbison building novel approaches to his vocals with each take.  Tom Petty taking in everything around him and then applying on impulse.  And of course, Bob Dylan’s focused hand-written notes, evolving rapidly and masterfully into lyric and song.  You get a rare glimpse into this process on the DVD as Dylan pulls “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” into form.  The focus on this song by critics has always on how Bob Dylan appears to be aping in jest the content and style of Bruce Springsteen’s songs.  For my money though, I’ll forever be mostly intrigued by what the meaning of the refrain must be: “And the walls came down, all the way to hell.  Never saw them when they’re standing never saw them when they fell”.  Sometimes it’s good to just leave well enough alone and sing along.

One of the more interesting songs on the Travelling Wilburys first album is “Margarita”.  The opening salvo sounds to me as if Bob Dylan is revealing some of his early history:

It was in Pittsburgh, late one night
I lost my head, got into a fight
I rolled and tumbled till I saw the light
Went to the Big Apple, took a bite

I picture Dylan’s first hitchhiking venture to New York in bitter cold winter of 1961.  Did he stop in Pittsburgh?  Did he have a transfiguration-like moment when he “saw the light”?  I’ll have to consult my fellow Dylan fan, Linda for her take.

“Congratulations” is Bob Dylan’s biggest gift to his fellow Wilburys.  Much like “Oh Sister”, “One Too Many Mornings” and “I Threw It All Away”, “Congratulations” sneaks up and touches your heart when you least expect it.  Sometimes all it takes is one line expressed in the gut wrenching way that only Bob Dylan can do: “This morning I looked out my window and found, a bluebird singing but there was no one around”.  No one there to share the experience with that is. 

What may Bob Dylan have been thinking?  How about....'There you go guys…. a little ditty for ya.  Thanks for your friendship. Especially you, George':

The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1 was such a breath of fresh air when it was released, and it just may have been a key factor in putting a lid on the mostly-soulless music of the mid-80s.  Arguably of even more importance, it may have jump started Bob Dylan’s 2nd wind.  Often a second wind can be the reward for stepping out of your comfort zone.  It might not come over night.  But be patient.  It usually will play out quite nicely. 



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    1. there are no images (at least in this entry), just text. are you using IE or Chrome?

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