Monday, September 17, 2012

Synchromystic Bob Dylan

I have connected with Bob Dylan's music for a long time. Since 1975, I've seen him perform several times - in San Francisco, Cambridge, and Portland, Maine. I appreciate his varied styles; that is all kinds of his music, whether acoustic, electric, folk, folk-rock, blues, ballads, or whatever he has to offer for the night. I have seen him grow old, as I have, and enjoy his gravelly voice as a testimony to his hard years on the road, in the studio, and on stage.

To me, Dylan is a poet. Simply and profoundly. But he may turn out to be more. His lyrics are Rorschach tests for every individual listener, and each person forms their own perceptions from his songs.

Quite literally, Dylan's newest album, Tempest is a masterpiece. Songwriter, critic, and my friend Jerry Clark, privately shared with his circle of music friends these insights: "This is among the greatest of all Dylan recordings. It holds up against just about anything in his career in its beauty and maturity."

With that in mind, I feel his new album Tempest and his concurrent interview in Rolling Stone reveal Bob Dylan as a synchromystic prophet or, at the very least, a twilight language patron. 

Others have noticed this too. Andrew W. Griffin, editor of the Red Dirt Report, early in August looked at Dylan’s upcoming Tempest album. In Griffin's excellent "A 'Tempest
On The Horizon," he wrote: "You have song titles including 'Soon After Midnight.' 'Long and Wasted Years.' 'Scarlet Town.' 'Early Roman Kings.' Of course there is 'Tempest' and the song 'Pay in Blood' with the line 'I’ll pay in blood, but not my own.' And note 'Scarlet Town.' This would echo the blood spilled in Aurora – a “red dawn” event – in the state of Colorado (Spanish for 'colored red')."

"The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming." 
~ Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight, 2008.

Griffin's essay acknowledges that I've been talking about the lines in The Dark Knight Rises alluding to a "storm coming" for some time. Dylan's Tempest merely reinforces that notion.

Selina Kyle: There's a storm coming. 
Bruce Wayne: You sound like you're looking forward to it. 
Selina Kyle: I'm adaptable. 
~ The Dark Knight Rises, 2012

Griffin also notes that Tempest, despite that various details of the music were known for weeks, had as its official release the highly symbolic date of September 11th ~ symbolic individually to Dylan, as well as societally to America, needless to say.

Let's look at some segments of Dylan's songs' lyrics:

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowingBlowing like it's gonna sweep my world awayI'm gonna stop in Carbondale and keep on goingThat Duquesne train gonna ride me night and dayYou say I'm a gambler, you say I'm a pimpBut I ain't neither oneListen to that Duquesne whistle blowingSounding like she's on a final run….Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like it's gonna kill me deadCan't you hear that Duquesne whistle blowingBlowing through another no good townThe lights of my native land are glowingI wonder if they'll know me next time aroundI wondered if that old oak tree's still standingThat old oak tree, the one we used to climbListen to that Duquesne whistle blowingBlowing like she's blowing right on time~ "Duquesne Whistle" lyrics by Bob Dylan

I know the phantom of the train of which Dylan speaks. I sense the "rhythm of the rail" that his music invokes. If one mentions "Duquesne" (read Du Quoin, Illinois) and Carbondale, then this song is historically talking about Amtrak's City of New Orleans (although the train runs are called the Illini and the Saluki today).

The Fifties were a simpler time, at least for me and the situation I was in....It was just woods and sky and rivers and streams, winter and summer, spring, autumn. The changing of seasons. The culture was mainly circuses and carnivals, preachers and barnstorming pilots, hillbilly shows and comedians, big bands and whatnot. Powerful radio stations and powerful radio music.
~ Bob Dylan, "The Rolling Stone Interview," Rolling Stone, Issue 1166, September 27, 2012.
I grew up in Illinois in the '50s, in the time of the "Duquesne Whistle." Damn, my mother's mother, Nellie Grey, was murdered in the coal mining town of Shelbyville, Illinois, on Valentine's Day in 1940, by my mom's stepfather. A bullet from a rifle whizzed by my future mother, killing her mom on the davenport in her sister's front room. Life was simple back then. But the 1940s turned into the 1950s, and it became a time of baseball, vanilla ice cream, outside circuses, and searching in the woods for wild animals.

In the 1960s, I got out of central Illinois and I rode Illinois Central's City of New Orleans to college. Well, at least, infrequently, that is, when I had the fare and didn't have to hitchhike to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale (the home of the Salukis) in Little Egypt.

Dylan's music picks up nicely on the rattling tracks and the sway of the cars. As one academic blogger wrote, Bob Dylan’s “Duquesne Whistle,” is "the only song" he could "think of that mentions trains and Carbondale."

(I was reminded, of course, of Steve Goodman's "The City of New Orleans" too. See Goodman singing his song at the end of this posting. Goodman died at 36. I'm glad we still have Dylan around at 71.)

Griffin notices that the song "Scarlet Town," calls attention to Colorado's Aurora (literally, "red dawn"). In "Duquesne Whistle," Dylan mentions "that old oak tree." The Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh Temple attack flashed into my mind when I read those lyrics.

Hauntingly, another of Dylan's lyrics says,

It's soon after midnight,And my day has just begun
"Soon After Midnight" synchs with the actual time of the Aurora shootings.
And what do we see in "Early Roman Kings"? The early early Friday morning shooting, down from the mountains of Colorado, in Aurora? Or was this a flash about the suicide that followed a month after Aurora? I penned about just such a death, without knowledge of Dylan's song, in "Tony Scott: Divine Sacrifice of the King."
All the early Roman kingsIn the early early mornComing down the mountainDistributing the cornSpeeding through the forestRacing down the trackYou try to get awayThey drag you backTomorrow is FridayWe'll see what it bringsEverybody's talkingBout the early Roman kings

Kurt Gegenhuber writes about one song when he says, "Bob has thrown Duquesne to the Dylanologists like meat to ravening wolves." 

Of course Dylan has. And none of what he wrote is really about Aurora. Or Tony Scott. Or anything prophetic, is it?

This is true about this entire album. As Gegenhuber notes, "Bob Dylan is indeed sending me — and not you — subliminal messages through his song lyrics."

But, of course, Dylan is sending all, every one of us, messages, overt and covert.

In the comment section to Gegenhuber's blog posting, Jerry Clark checks in and sends along some insights about the title song, "Tempest," which is based more on the sinking of the Titanic than Shakespeare: 
Dylan's "Tempest" is indeed based on the 1952 Carter Family version of "The Titanic." It quotes the lyrics, prominently but not exclusively the opening line "The pale moon rose in its glory" (not unique to the Carters, by the way), and the words composed by Dylan can be sung to the older melody. "The watchman" also figures in the original, and other lyrics borrow or parody the Carters's. That may be plagiarism to Joni Mitchell, but to the rest of us, it's Dylan's continuing, brilliantly employed use of the folk process.
The LA Times writer evidently missed all of this, but at least he has some marginal awareness of Titanic ballads -- albeit, it seems, not this Carter gem -- in American traditional music.
~ Jerry Clark
Bob Dylan is not playing games. He's just being an artist. And a synchromystic. And perhaps even a Fortean.

His interview in Rolling Stone is quite interesting. It tells of Robert Zimmerman's/Bob Dylan's transformation and much more.
Among the revelations in the interview is that the death in the '60s of a Hell's Angel named Robert Zimmerman, which was Dylan's real name, captivated him to the point where Dylan believes they are somehow connected, though there doesn't appear to be a family relationship. Zimmerman's death was chronicled in the book Hell's Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger, written by Barger.
As Dylan explained it to Gilmore, “Look at all the connecting things: motorcycles, Bobby Zimmerman, Keith and Kent Zimmerman, 1964, 1966. And there's more to it than even that. If you went to find this guy's family, you'd find a whole bunch more than that connected.”
He says the Barger book gave him an identity. “I didn't know who I was before I read the Barger book.”
~ Steve Marinucci 
Andrew Griffin also pointed out to me that we should look at the name of the Hell's Angel who broadsided and killed his brother Hell's Angel, "poor Bobby" Zimmerman. That Angel's name is "Jack Egan." That's a spooky shadow of "James Eagan Holmes," the alleged Aurora shooter.

From reading the Sonny Barger book, which he found was about him, Bob Dylan discovered transfiguration. The interview details his feelings, his excitement, his wonder, in finding out those "name game"/twilight language details. 

Bobby Zimmerman's motorcycle-related death occurred in 1961 (the book gives the wrong date as 1964). Dylan's near-death Woodstock motorcycle accident happened in 1966. Transfiguration took place in Dylan's life, and it is reflected in his changing art.

That's synchomysticism at work, plain and simple. Yes, it evens happens through the life and music of Bob Dylan.
The carnival came to town, the carnival left and you ran off with them. It's just what you did. You don't travel to the end of the line until someone gives you a gold watch and a pat on the back. That's not the way the game works. People really don't retire. They fade away. They run out of steam....
~ Bob Dylan, "The Rolling Stone Interview," Rolling Stone, Issue 1166, September 27, 2012.
I have a younger brother, my Irish twin, who actually ran away to a carnival and worked a summer in the South. My youngest brother took off to meet his Waterloo in Napoleon, Ohio. And my youngest sibling, my sister, departed the plains of Illinois to the earthquake country of southern California. I guess I escaped to college in Carbondale, and beyond alternative service, to be transfigured into a father and a writer. Like Dylan, I'm not done yet. And most of us aren't. 

But getting there is transformative.

We all met our Buddhas in the middle of Highway 61 or Route 66, one way or another.


Remember Steve Goodman, 
who died 28 years ago on September 20th.

Steve Goodman, singing his song, City of New Orleans.

Steve Goodman died at the age of 36 (July 25, 1948 – September 20, 1984). He was a Jewish-American folk music singer-songwriter from Chicago, Illinois. He wrote "City of New Orleans," which was made popular by Arlo Guthrie, John Prine, and Willie Nelson.  According to Goodman, "City of New Orleans" was inspired by a train trip he and his wife took from Chicago to "southern Illinois, not Carbondale," as he said in an interview, but "to Mattoon, Illinois," to visit his wife's mother in an "old folks home." Yes, that is that Mattoon ~ the site of 1944's Mad Gasser of Mattoon. Steve Goodman won two Grammy Awards and he made his family very proud of him. He died much too young. In April 1988, some of Goodman's ashes were scattered at Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs.


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Steve Krulick said...

There was a period in my life, when I was in a very synchronistic mindset that went on for weeks (around the time of Apollo 13) when Dylan and Walter Cronkite became "the voices of God," or, at least, God's messengers. It seemed that whatever they were saying was a direct message from the universe to me specifically, even as I knew it was "also" general stuff that I was "just reading into." Was I "in tune with the infinite," or just suffering a mental delusion? Only the incredibly high percentage of personal/global synchronicity events at that time convinced me that it was more than mere imagination or psychosis. And after that period, Dylan was just someone I enjoyed listening to, but the "magic" synchronicity never happened again.

Ann said...

Interesting article. I never heard of Steve Goodman. I always thought the song 'City of New Orleans' (which I've always loved) was written by Woodie or Arlo Guthrie. The rhythm, the clack,clack,clack of the train as it rode the rails.

New Orleans was my first stop when I took off 'looking for America'. There was something about that city that just drew me to it (from New York). I never did find America, after all, but met a lot of street people. Of all those days of travel later to other states, the only truly clear image I have is of the all white St. Louis Cathedral that stood out by night like a heavenly apparition.

Judas Disney said...

Don't forget ...

Dylan released "Love and Theft" on Tuesday, 9/11/01.

"Tempest" was released on Tuesday, 9/11/12.

Dr Wiggles said...

I wish I could say that i had a connection to Dylans music in my entire life but I haven't....With that said I find him not as much as a prophet or a male version of a muse(sorry i am not too familiar with the Greek mythology) but as a personal guide to transcend the life span.....the synchronicity of his art screams the Jungian idea of the collective mind set....but on the other hand is it that we are all trying to find meaning?....either way it is awesome (I don't use that term lightly) that we can have a discussion of one mans art that goes hand in hand with "I am just a song and dance man" Bob Dylan said that.

One last thing after reading the interview and the first listen to "Tempest" I felt odd.

Brizdaz (Darren) said...

" Dylan's "Tempest" is indeed based on the 1952 Carter Family version of "The Titanic." It quotes the lyrics, prominently but not exclusively the opening line "The pale moon rose in its glory" (not unique to the Carters, by the way), and the words composed by Dylan can be sung to the older melody. "The watchman" also figures in the original, and other lyrics borrow or parody the Carters's".

Maybe,but it also could be a reference to his own song
"When the Ship Comes In"
off his
"The Times They Are a-Changin' "
From Wikipedia -
" According to biographer Clinton Heylin, "When The Ship Comes In" was written in August 1963 "in a fit of pique, in a hotel room, after his unkempt appearance had led an impertinent hotel clerk to refuse him admission until his companion, Joan Baez, had vouched for his good character".Heylin speculates that "Jenny's Song" from Brecht and Weill's Threepenny Opera was also an inspiration: "As Pirate Jenny dreams of the destruction of all her enemies by a mysterious ship, so Dylan envisages the neophobes being swept aside in 'the hour when the ship comes in'. "
Which is interesting because "Pirate Jenny" is off "The Watchmen" soundtrack as is "The Times They Are a-Changin'" and "Desolation Row",two of Dylan's songs.

Arlo Guthrie,on his album
"Hobo's Lullaby" had both Dylan's
"When The Ship Comes In" and Goodman's "City of New Orleans".
This album features Guthrie's only Top 40 hit,the cover of Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans."

So I guess you could say that Guthrie's ship came in with this album .-)

Red Dirt Reporter said...

@Judas Disney: Am reading "Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth" by rock writer David Browne. I reached page 355 and put it down for the night. It is 9/11/01 and guitarist Lee Ranaldo (whose solo album I just reviewed at this week)hears the plane smash into the tower. Black smoke is rising. It's chaos. Yet, Ranaldo does something remarkable. Writes Brown: "Ever the Bob Dylan fan, Ranaldo ventured out at one point to the nearby Tower Records to pick up a copy of 'Love & Theft,' released that day."
Said Ranaldo: "As absurd as it sounds, I felt I had to go out and buy it."

Now that is remarkable to me. That Bob Dylan and his music and his Bob Dylan-ness has such a pull on people that in the midst of terror and chaos - a tempest, if you will - people will run out to hear what he has to say.

Recluse said...

I totally forgot that "Love and Theft" came out on 9/11! Now that I'm thinking about it, I may have even bought it shortly after the events of that morning. I had a buddy who worked at CD Warehouse back then so I remember the original cover for the Dream Theater album "Live Scenes From New York" getting talked about a lot but Dylan was what I was actually listening to to make sense of the times. In fact, I became quite obsessed with the song "High Water," which seemed eerily prophetic.


Mike said...

I was born and raised in Carbondale, Il. I still live here. In fact, I work in the hospital I was born in (Memorial Hospital of Carbondale). I've pondered which Carbondale Dylan was referring to ever since the song came out. On 7/11/2013, magic happened in Peoria, Ill and a small group of friends and I met Bob Dylan just before leaving for his show (he didn't show up to the venue until several hours later, once the opening acts had finished). It was one of the best experiences of our lives. No one else was around and he signed personalized autographs onto route 66 postcards we had on hand (very cool and very Dylan-esque). We chatted for about 20 minute and during our conversation I asked him about his reference to Carbondale in Duquesne Whistle (our only conversation about music), and if it was, indeed, Carbondale, Il. He got excited and said "sure, sure, it is," and had a little sparkle in his eye that I could see through his Aviator sunglasses ( the sun was in his face). He also told me "yeah, yeah, we used to hang out in Carbondale." Now I'm after one of his graphic prints titled "Carbondale Motel". He must really have a thing for Carbondale. I'd love for him to come back and let me give him a real tour!