Let’s say you woke up on Sept. 11 and saw the World Trade Towers collapse on television. Later that morning, numbed and confused, you tried to get back to normal life so you went out and bought Love and Theft, the new Bob Dylan album. You didn’t feel much like listening to music, but you put it on anyway. And soon you were asking yourself:
Did he write these songs this morning?!? How could he get this album in the stores within moments after these things happened?
Maybe you picked up the Village Voice, where Greg Tate was asking, “What did Dylan know, and when did he know it?”
Man, he knew it before we were born.
“Things are breaking up out there,” he sings. Unbelievable. But you better believe it.
“My Captain, he’s decorated. He’s well-school, and he’s skilled,” he sings. “He’s not sentimental. Doesn’t bother him at all, how many of his pals have been killed.”
Incredible. He released an album about what’s going on today, and somehow he did it today.
But you’d have felt the same way, wouldn’t you, had he released it on July 5, or August 9 — or March 12, 2012.
This record will sound prophetic a hundred years from now. That’s what prophets are all about. It’s not that they predict what will happen tomorrow. Anyone can claim to do that. It’s that they show you what’s coming down right now.
“One day, you’ll open up your eyes, and you’ll see where we are,” he sings.
You will, too. Might even be today.
And who’s that singing “meet me in the moonlight, alone”? Is it Dylan? Is it some gentleman in a dustcoat (whose voice is dry and faint as in a dream)? Is it Death who kindly stops his carriage? Satan your Adversary? Tiny Tim? Bin Laden? Zorro?
“I know when the time is right to strike,” he sings.
Something’s happening here, and you still don’t know what it is.
But you know one thing: Shakespeare is our co-pilot. And Charley Patton. And Spencer Tracy, too.
“I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down,” he sings. It’s a bad day in Black Rock, and you’ve stayed in Mississippi a day too long, and it’s your turn to cry awhile.
It’s not that he turns out some new phrases that instantly enter the language like they owned it. It’s more that he shows you what’s been there all the time, if you could only hear it.
High water everywhere. And poison wine, and sugar-coated rhyme.
“The game’s the same, it’s just up on another level,” he sings. And you know there’s no one else on this level, no one at all. You hear that voice and you know that any other voice would be utterly humbled by these songs. Who else is going to sing them? Who else could have built up all that tension in those guitars and never released it, never spilled it, never let it dissipate?
And who but Dylan could have released a masterpiece on September 11, of all days?
“I can see what everybody in the world is up against,” he sings, but not like a man boasting, no, not at all.
Besides, you have the evidence. CP
David Vest is a writer, poet and piano player for the Cannonballs. A native of Alabama, he now lives in Portland, Oregon. Visit his webpage for samples of the Cannonballs’ brand of take no prisoners rock & roll and other Vest columns: http://www.mindspring.com/~dcqv