Song: “The Man in Me”
Album: New Morning
Release Date: October 1970
Of the five chapters in Bob Dylan’s superb memoir, Chronicles: Volume One (which covers but three specifically selected periods of his life; 1961, 1970, and 1989), two of them are appropriately named after relatively less-familiar albums in his discography: New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989). I went back to the book three months ago when I wrote my first entry centered on a song off Oh Mercy (“Man in the Long Black Coat” …. see Master Blueprints # 14). And I went back again this week not long after slipping New Morning into the cd player for the first time in over a year.
The “New Morning” chapter in Bob Dylan’s book did not have the same drawing power as the “Oh Mercy” chapter, but still, there was something gnawing at me which was quite independent of what had me going back to Chronicles back in April. It had to do with the cult movie classic The Big Lebowski, particularly a singular lyric in the opening-credits song to that film, “The Man in Me” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s10ldVRHRSw ). That lyric is the title of this blog entry (above), but seeing as it is so central to this week’s talking points, I will repeat it here:
“The man in me will hide sometimes to keep from bein’ seen
But that’s just because he doesn’t want to turn into some machine”
That gnawing-something stuck with me all through the “New Morning” chapter, in which the underlying storyline hinged on the anguish Bob Dylan was in back in the late-60s, relating to his personal life being intruded upon due to his being declared by many as the so-called leader of that period’s counterculture generation; a crown he did not want to wear. In the chapter Dylan also writes about being invited to the western Massachusetts (my old stomping grounds) home of American poet/writer Archibald MacLeish, who wanted Dylan to write the score for a film he had in mind (a partnership which never panned out as is also discussed in the chapter). It was all very intriguing to reread, but I thought I’d exhausted this avenue of potential inspiration…that is until the very last page. That’s when I found myself being moved as I read a line where Dylan discusses the Machiavelli treatise The Prince in his closing remarks to the chapter:
“Most of what Machiavelli said made sense, but certain things stick out wrong – like when he offers the wisdom that it’s better to be feared than loved, it kind of makes you wonder if Machiavelli was thinking big. I know what he meant, but sometimes in life, someone who is loved can inspire more fear than Machiavelli ever dreamed of.”
Ok, now I felt I had the pieces to write something; those being 1) the Coen Brothers movie-classic The Big Lebowski, along with 2) that Bob Dylan lyric from “The Man in Me” and 3) that Chronicles: Volume One quote of his, which came across as a synopsis of the entire "New Morning" chapter. Where I was going as I closed the book and laid it down, I was not all that sure. I only knew it was somewhere interesting. Next step: A camping trip to the middle of Maine with my family. I don’t know why, but I was confident this was going to help me connect the dots.
Every family dynamic is unique. I’ve been involved in two: The dynamic in my family that includes my Mom, Dad, 3 brothers and 2 sisters, and the dynamic in my family that includes my wife, son and daughter. I could pull it all together, or even stretch it out some to include in-laws, nieces, nephews, maybe even grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, and call it one big happy family, but in terms of immediacy, I’ll leave it at those two.
There’s no comparing the dynamics in my two families really. My family dynamics with myself-as-son-and-brother has all sorts of loving, weird and wonderful things going on, which would be a nice book to write someday (it would be much more than a blog entry, I can tell you that). My family dynamics with myself-as-husband-and-father could also be written about in loquacious manner, but I’m going to try to condense it down to a few subplots from this past weekend here, while weaving in those three overarching concepts mentioned above.
It cannot be taken for granted pulling off a getaway weekend with a son who is one year into college and a daughter who is one year out. We’ve done this every year of their lives, but now of course there was summer work to contend with, along with other interests that our children have which are independent of family. There was also the not-so-minor detail of our daughter spending most of her life these days in Panama. With Charlotte home for only two weeks before heading back, we squeezed out the best we could in order to have us all connecting with our common camping past.
After cramming all the camping essentials into our Honda Accord, along with an amazingly durable cargo carrier, we set off for mid-state Maine. The family dynamics kicked in right off as I pulled my usual maneuver when heading up rte. 3 in Southern New Hampshire, avoiding a $1 toll by taking the airport road and then reconnecting with the highway system several miles later. New Hampshire crams all its tolls along the Massachusetts border to hit up the “Massholes” heading north. It is the principle of the matter that has me skirting that toll, but my son Peter used another term: Dignity. As in, I was maintaining my dignity by taking that detour.
I thought about this some as we drove on. One thing about this family of mine is that there is no shortage of strong will, except for maybe myself to a degree. I’ve found that I’ve had to play the roll over the years as the great compromiser to keep the wheels in motion. With the strong will of my son, daughter and wife comes strong opinions and defiant challenges. You will never find yourself off the hook in my family if you stray from your belief system, but the flip side of this is that you can be warmly recognized when you’ve done something right. Sometimes it puts me in a Catch 22. I find I need to break an impasse by compromising (and consequently hoping everyone can see the importance of doing this on occasion), but if I compromise too much, I’m called out. For Peter to use the term dignity to describe my action at the toll booths was related to all this. Peter has a boatload of dignity. I could tell it was going to be an intriguing few days.
Somewhere around our border crossing into Maine, my mind wandered as the inevitable headphones were pulled out by the kids and my wife Nancy slept. Why did the Coen Brothers, along with their musical archivist T-Bone Burnett, choose “The Man in Me” as essentially the theme song for The Big Lebowski? I mean, here is a movie about an extremely laid-back dude who abides to the will of others so he can avoid any type of confrontation. “The Dude” makes my family-related compromises look militaristic in comparison. The Dude is the quintessential bachelor, whose manhood is presumably buried deep inside; impossibly deep for a woman to hope to reach. In contrast, “The Man in Me” is primarily about how the best-in-a-man can be freed from his proverbial shackles by a good, caring, loving woman.
After a 5-hour drive (including several pitstops) we pulled into Mt Blue State Park Campground by early evening. Everyone put in the requisite effort as we set up camp. Three tents and a screen house were erected in no time, as sleeping bags, sleeping mats, cots, luggage, stoves, folding chairs, coolers, lantern and hammock were distributed into appropriate spots to make for an instantaneous temporary home (again, amazing the shoehorning of all this and the 4 of us into that car). A handful of Nancy’s homemade dishes were tapped into not soon after. My wife made this mini retreat happen. As with our Costa Rica trip last year, she tends to rally the troops better than I these days. Once I see that everyone is on board, I can dive right in. But the hard part has already been taken care of, thanks to Nancy.
I got the campfire blazing and as activity continued around me, I zorbed out while staring into the flames thinking about Bob Dylan’s Machiavelli comment. Chronicles: Volume One was published six years after The Big Lebowski was released in 1998. I’m thinking Dylan was a fan of the movie, although there is no mention of it or “The Man in Me” in the “New Morning” chapter, or anywhere else in the book for that matter (for some perspective, in the "Oh Mercy" chapter, Dylan discusses how every song on that album came together). I felt as if this quote was an indirect reference to both, however. That’s one-way Bob Dylan weaves his magic, be it in written word or song. He forces you to think.
My family settled in around me and we commenced to campfire chatter. Charlotte took over, pouring out in incredible detail over a 2-hour stretch her recent three-week trip to Nicaragua, and having us all spellbound. Nicaragua is a country that is currently in turmoil, due to it’s being run by a compassionless, self-centered dictatorial imp (sound familiar?). Charlotte arrived just as protests were ramping up. This was a true adventure, although it had us on pins and needles here at home as it was playing out, particularly near the end of the trip. I recalled my younger, wanderlust self, my daughter having inherited this trait and now clearly taking it a few steps further than I ever did.
As I lied down in my sleeping bag and stared out at the star-filled night sky, I continued to try and pull it all together; the book, the movie, the song, and now the camping trip. Yes, the Dude abided oh so readily, but he was also endearing. This is why the movie is so popular. People can relate to this character. Abiding is one way of avoiding being “turned into some machine”, is it not? At first glance, this may sound contradictory, but with more thought it can also be seen as a survival technique. Survival of one’s soul that is. Yes, The Dude abides to the self-centered whims (often superficial) of those around him. He lets them have their way. This allows him to keep his core beliefs intact. He maintains his integrity; his dignity. And in turn, he is loved - or despised - by those around him. Those who love him are true to their own core beliefs, despite how radical they may be (i.e. Walter). Those who despise him are motived more by self centeredness and/or superficiality.
Saturday was a picture-perfect day. There was not a cloud in the sky as we paddled our four kayaks across the deceptively large Webb Lake, getting a clear gander at the surrounding mountain range, which included the bald-faced, picturesque peaks that are Tumbledown and Little Jackson, along with Mt Blue itself. I’d like to think I felt I knew Maine pretty well, having touched on many of its corners over the years (see Master Blueprint # 20). But the magnificent Mt. Blue region had remained elusive until only 5 years ago when I took Charlotte on a Maine/New Brunswick tour to look at college campuses, including nearby UMaine Farmington. Anyhow, as we looked up at the peaks around us out on that lake, we all agreed we needed to conquer Tumbledown then and there, so after returning the rental kayaks we headed back to the campsite to get geared up.
It was a helluva vertical climb, which had Nancy turning back around the two-thirds mark. With the kids way ahead of us (or so we thought at the time), it was decided I should forge ahead. It was also decided that instead of backtracking, Charlotte, Peter and I would complete a loop, Nancy driving the car a mile or so down the mountain road to meet us at the other trailhead. This would allow us to take in some additional breathtaking scenery, including an alpine pond tucked in-between Tumbledown and Little Jackson.
Not long after parting ways with Nancy I hit a clearing which was both spectacular and daunting. The daunting part had to do with my sudden realization that I had a long, vertical ways to go. How could this be? The map said it was 1 ½ miles to the top, but it felt as if I had already climbed that distance. I suppose that’s what hiking a virtual 90-degree ladder will do to the mind. Oh well. I yelled out for Charlotte and Peter. Nothing. I was a bit surprised they would not have waited by this point. I forged ahead, calling out every 50 yards or so as I continued to reflect.
Again, that Machiavelli comment: How can being loved induce fear and loathing in others? I like to look at it from another angle: How can someone else being loved to be like a mirror on ourselves when we see this tremendous gift in that person? We all go through stretches where we are the lost sheep. Some are in so deep, however, that they see no way out. And so, they lash out at those who have the love and the peace of mind, trying to bring them down to their level rather than they focus on putting in the extra effort to climb up and out. You need a good support network to make that happen. I have that support network. It’s a blessing I can never take for granted.
Ah, after nearly an hour, finally, a response. It was Charlotte, but her voice was coming from way below me! What the? I sat and waited, refusing to drink from my water jug until they arrived (Charlotte and Peter had no water on them and so I felt I should do this in solidarity). When we finally reunited, Peter explained they had veered off the trail, and onto a false peak. They then had to backtrack. After reconnecting with the trail, they soon ran into their Mom on her way down. Nancy brought them up to speed on our plan.
After a few gulps of ice water each, we carried on. At one point we were hiking through a cave, using metal rungs to shimmy through “Fat Man’s Misery”, all in all a mini-East coast Yosemite Half Dome experience. This was a capital-H Hike. Not long after the cave, we hit the summit and strolled along the striking bald-faced ridge to the larger-than-expected alpine pond (which looked like a miniature-bonsai Lake Tahoe) and then down the connecting trail. Not halfway down we ran into Nancy, who was making her way up the trail to greet us. The four of us then descended down to the car as the sun set over the horizon, another night and day of camping ahead of us.
Bob Dylan sounds so wonderfully upbeat on the studio version of “The Man in Me”. It’s a rare treat to hear him throwing out “La, La, La’s” or anything like it, as he does at the beginning of the song, sounding more like Van Morrison than himself. T-Bone Burnett, a musician with strong ties to Dylan (including as a band member on the Rolling Thunder Review Tour) certainly picked up on this, ultimately relaying his connection with the song to the Coen Brothers. But the real heart of “The Man in Me” is in that aforementioned closing lyric, the title of this entry…. at least in terms of how the song fits with the “New Morning” chapter in Chronicles, as well as the core ideals expressed in The Big Lebowski. It can be a rough and tumble(down) world out there. Sometimes you can find shelter by simply tucking it all away. But it’s best to confront it. It’s not easy to do, but with a little help from a loving support network, the man in me, and in all of us, can show his/her face more often than not.
Attached are several photos from our family weekend getaway.