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Monday, December 31, 2018

Master Blueprints # 48 "You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows”

(Personal reflections inspired by Bob Dylan songs)

Song: “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
Album: Bringing It All Back Home
Release Date: March 1965

In my most recent entry (Master Blueprint # 47), I hit on 2 big-ticket items that had been significant ‘loose-ends’ for much of the year.  This current entry, which is my 3rd to last, is to address all the other relatively minor loose-ends that were never quite able to see the light of day. All remain in their embryonic stages.  Who knows, maybe someone else can run with one or two of these.  And yet, they are but a few drops in a very large bucket, seeing as Bob Dylan offers us an endless cache of lyrics and music to spawn off our own musings.

And so, without further ado here is what remained in my ‘to do list’ file; a smorgasbord-bulleted-catchall of unpolished Master-Blueprint-centric thoughts so to speak:
  • Bob Dylan seems to reinvent himself every 3 years.  If I ever got around to writing a book that revolved around this concept, here’s a rough sketch for chapter titles: “61-63 Folk Hero”, “64-66 Plugging In”, “67-69 American Roots”, “70-72 Destroying the Myth”, “73-75 Back on the Tracks”, “76-78 The Renaissance Man”, “79-81 The Gospel Years”, “82-84 Hebrew Foundations”, “85-87 Sucking in the 80s”, “88-90 Hit the Road Jack”, “91-93 Acoustic Rebirth”, “94-96 Studio Silence is Golden”, “97-99 Old Man River”, “00-02 Riddle Me This” “03-05 Dear Diary”, “06-08 Mr. DJ”, “09-11 The Blues Highway”, “12-14 Closure”, “15-17 Musical Inspirations”
  • I was pondering doing an entry centered on the stunning “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, but 3 strikes were working against me: 1) It’s such a personal love song - about Bob Dylan’s ex-wife, Sara Lownds Dylan - that I found it difficult to translate to my own world, 2) the Joan Baez cover version is omnipresent, which I find odd and complex on a certain love-triangle level, and 3) I cannot get out of my head a vision of the late, great, comedian Jerry Lewis shouting “LADY!” on an imaginary stage with Bob Dylan at the moment Dylan sings the same word in the line “should I leave them by your gate, or sad eyed ‘LADY’ should I wait”.  This is just not right (but funny nonetheless).
  • The best Bob Dylan setlist I ever witnessed was at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston on October 9, 1994 (2nd row seats): 1) Jokerman 2) Señor 3) All Along The Watchtower 4) Queen Jane Approximately 5) Tangled Up In Blue 6) Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine) 7) The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll 8) Master Of War 9) Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right 10) Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door 11) Highway 61 Revisited 12) In The Garden 13) Maggie’s Farm 14) Ballad Of A Thin Man 15) It Ain’t Me, Babe.  I would have loved to elucidate on this experience, however, I was not as appreciative at the time as I am sure I would be today.  My basic premise with live concerts (of which I have seen many) is that you can reap the harvest of your experience if you are in the moment.  There were other closely-related ideas in that same to-do list mini-pile, including a note to give Neil Young’s “Thrasher” a fresh listen.  Given the subject, I would have most certainly explored Bob Dylan’s relationship with Mr. Young in the same entry, which I believe is a mutual admiration society (think: The Neil Young reference in Dylan’s “Highlands”).
  • Speaking of mutual admiration, there are many more of Bob Dylan’s musician friends who would have been great to tackle if I could have come up with enough unique material to make a solid blog entry out of any one of them: Robbie Robertson, David Bowie, Ronnie Wood, Marvis Staples, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, Tom Petty, Warren Zevon, and Van Morrison are but some of the most intriguing of these relationships.  For example, in a Morrison entry, I could have fleshed out that Bob Dylan and Van Morrison are the only musicians I know of who cut off their past entirely to start anew (Dylan in NYC and Van the Man in Boston).  What does it take to start anew?  One clip alone, of Dylan and Morrison performing together in Athens, Greece, has tremendous potential for anyone with enough writing-muse to take it in and spit out ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1EoT9sedqY ).  Anyhow, someone should write a book with a chapter dedicated to each one of these Bob Dylan musical relationships (I did tackle George Harrison by the way – see Master Blueprints # 24).
  • One of the first things I can recall about Bob Dylan when I was a kid was his frequent use of the word "ain't" in his songs.  I was raised in parochial schools for goodness sake.  Penmanship and grammar were at the top of Sister Margaret Ester's list.  I eventually cleared that mental barrier, coming to understand Dylan’s reasoning behind frequent use of the word as a link to his Middle-American musical roots.  Anyhow, lots of fun left on the table there. 
  • Its’ odd… the more Bob Dylan reveals of himself, the less we know him.  How is this? 
  • In the film, Amadeus, the Emperor doesn’t ‘get it’ and falls asleep at one of Mozart’s brilliant concerts.  What causes people to not recognize genius when they see it?  Is it about not letting go of inhibitions?  Is it generational? Cultural? Societal? Upbringing? Lethargy? A hardening of the heart? All the above? On the flip side, what opens your mind up to see genius?  Is it all in the heart?  Maybe.
  • As I scan through, it appears only one set of Bob Dylan lyrics made my to do list, those being: “Well the moral of the story, the moral of this song, is simply that one should never be where one does not belong.  So, when you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’, help him with his load. And don’t go mistaking Paradise for that home across the road”.  I never really expounded on these closing lines from “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”. I find them fascinating and I sing them aloud whenever the song plays out.  Talk amongst yourselves. 
  • Another note went as follows: “Woodstock, the concert. People flocking to Bob Dylan’s home region in the Catskills, many of them to connect with his aura, his music, him.  But he’s not there.  Dylan launched the 60s, almost singlehandedly, which culminated in this event.
  • Oh, to be in attendance at ‘The Last Waltz’ concert.  It was the end of an era - Bob Dylan’s relationship with The Band, which began 10 years earlier. Flash back to all those interrelationships between Dylan and the Band members. That’s a movie that needs to be made.
  • Related to Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, my good friend Jeff Strause wrote to me at the beginning of the year how Dylan’s music must be part of the Nobel story, not just the written lyrics.  In Jeff’s words: “Tambourine Man is I suppose one of the key songs from his catalog with that uber-literate Nobel Prize blah blah with the spectacular lyrics. But for me none of the songs have much meaning without the musicality that surrounds the song and gives it its feel. I've always had trouble following the story in more dense songs and only really pay attention to the lyrics of any song unless they kind of hit me over the head. Which of course a lot of good songs do, but only when the music matches the message. And that is after spending most of my life listening in the past 40 plus years at folkie type venues and listening to less pure 'rock and roll', more lyrics-oriented stuff.”  These words of Jeff’s reverberate so true.  I have fleshed these thoughts out some in this blog series, but not nearly enough.  Of course, we all know Bob Dylan hesitated to accept the Nobel Prize: He too was grappling with equating his music writing to literature.  Still, I believe the Award is so deserving, and I’m of the impression that Dylan eventually came around to understanding the rationale of the Nobel Committee.
  • Divine inspiration/Existentialism/Authenticity. I think I’ve tackled these topics throughout, but this is a storyline that can never be quenched.
  • Bob Dylan was the last of the ‘Big Five’ for me in terms of my top-tier music inspirations, the others being (in chronological order), the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, and Neil Young.  Is this the path I had to take, in this order?  Would I have been better off in a different order? Is it all related to where you’re at in any given point in life and intellect? 
  • I once read where Bob Dylan ran into Barry Manilow at a party and told him to keep up the good work.  This freaked Manilow out.  Was Dylan being sincere or cynical? There’s very little here to write about, but it was a note nonetheless.  Being an anti-Disco, anti-commercial rock-and-roll listener, I could have had fun with this.
  • Oh Mercy > The first Bob Dylan studio album I enjoyed thoroughly upon release (unless I count the Travelling Wilbury's in '88, or even "Silvio" and a few other songs from the dead 80’s…. but there was nothing even close to Oh Mercy).  What was it about the 80s that sapped 60s musicians of their mojo? I mean, I would have connected with Dylan a lot earlier otherwise. The late 80s were about the time some of those 60’s musicians began climbing out of the doldrums (i.e. Neil Young, Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones). For Bob Dylan it would be that 1st Travelling Wilburys' album, soon followed by Oh Mercy. 
  • Bill Belichick is the coaching equivalent to Bob Dylan:  Brilliant, elusive, and adept in deflecting reporters’ questions. What questions would you ask Bob Dylan in an interview?  From what I’ve read, he’s still waiting for someone to ask the right question.
  • do a little research on Alan Ginsberg” …. I never did
  • The Basement Tapes album cover: The best of all time? I think it’s better than Sgt. Pepper.  An entry on great album covers would have been fun (Who’s Next, Sticky Fingers, Abbey Road, Wish You Were Here, Eat a Peach, In the Court of the Crimson King). What makes a great album cover?  Dive into the meaning of some of Bob Dylan’s great album covers”.
  • A famous Woody Guthrie quote: "It's a folk singers job to comfort disturbed people and to disturb comfortable people".  Nuff said.  Bob Dylan certainly took this to heart.
  • What's so wrong with the concept of a court jester when you really think about it? (Don McClean’s “American Pie” reference to Bob Dylan).  I mean, the jester is trying to point out the King’s flaws, is he not?
  • Dylan the soothsayer”.  (sorry, that’s all I’ve got)
  • Oops, one other set of lyrics made my to-do list: "There are no Truths outside the Gates of Eden".  It’s enough to send a young man to the monastery and a young woman to the convent.
  • Despite it being one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, I could never put to words my love for “Simple Twist of Fate”.  The bass guitar sets the heavy mood. I’m now thinking the song is another one that is simply too personal to translate to my own world (see 2nd bullet above)
  • Bob Dylan is the closest I have ever come to connecting with poetry.
  • My Daughter Charlotte’s connection to Time Out of Mind
  • My Quebec colleague Mike’s connection with Oh Mercy
  • I had a note to do an entry on “My Back Pages” (the “Forever Young” entry – Master Blueprint # 37 - may have tackled the potential subject close enough)
  • An entry on “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word” never materialized.  It’s one of the few Bob Dylan songs that he never performed himself (at least nothing unearthed to date).  The Joan Baez cover version is mesmerizing.  I also have a note which says, “early years of marriage”, but I have no idea what I meant by that at this point.
  • Oh, one other note: “Must memorize and perform ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGxjIBEZvx0 ) .  Ahhh, ok, well yeah, I moved ahead with that one, despite reservations that it may neutralize everything I’ve written about in this entire Master Blueprint series.  And so, for anyone who managed to make it to the end of this entry and gets these notifications via email (friends and family), attached is a treat for you (in Google Docs).  For those on Facebook, you will simply have to send me a note and I’ll do my best to forward it on.

Happy New Year.

Pete

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