Posted by: gdevi | March 18, 2012

Weights and Lists

An article about Bob Dylan’s first album from fifty years ago. Like the writer says here, I also really like this album–it is a sampling of everything Dylan would do as a musician later. As I was reading this article I thought of my favorite Bob Dylan songs; here they are — a few of them — in no particular order.

1. Lay down your weary tune, lay down — I just absolutely love this song — listen to the structure of the verse and the ideas it expresses– everything in nature transmuted through great humility into a cosmic music.  “The water smooth ran like a hymn/ and like a harp did hum.”

2. Chimes of freedom — Dylan has many of these finely crafted long songs and this one is really exquisite lyrically and musically. Dylan sings with great tenderness about a hard truth–those who live by the sword perish by the sword; the harder they come the harder they fall one and all. Dylan is a conservative moralist at heart–I am always astounded when I read of folks mistaking Dylan for a hippie–he is not a hippie at all–he is extremely conservative, a realist and a moralist–all great satirists are–think Flaubert, Balzac, Dostoevsky, Poe, Faulkner–and this song is one of its clearest expressions.

3. Down along the cove — I just love this song just because of its structure and technique — the same way I love the song “I want you” just because the entire first stanza is about a rejected love expressed in terms of musical instruments — lonesome organ grinder cries. the silver saxophones, the cracked bells with washed-out horns — horn, scorn, born —  ha!

4. Gospel plow — a beautiful song, period.

5. Forever Young — Again, the song that all parents wish for their children. Beautiful.

6. Tomorrow is a long time — The contrast between the title and the ideas in the song is beautiful; titles have an organic relation to the song.

7. Spirit on the Water — I really really love this song; there are so many things about this song that I love.  Dylan’s love-songs are generally unhappy at the core. But this song is happy, sensual and gospel-like all at the same time; I always think of Mahalia Jackson when I hear this song.   It is a real distilled New Orleans song. From its Old Testament opening it navigates a path to a hill that is equal parts desire, desperation, proposition and proposal.  “I am pale as a ghost holding a blossom on a stem/ you ever seen a ghost?/ No, but you’ve heard of them; put some sugar in my bowl/ I feel like laying down; I want to be with you in paradise/ and it seems so unfair/ I can’t go to paradise no more/ I killed a man back there.” It is like a scene out of Stendhal!

8. I shall be released — I always think of the Bhagavad Gita when I hear this song. There is something very eastern about this song–not everything can be replaced; not every distance is near.  And the belief that a higher power will set you free. It is a form of limit-setting. There is something intrinsically interesting about Dylan’s songwriting. On the one hand, one of Dylan’s preferred narrative mode is that of the list. Most of Dylan’s songs are carefully constructed lists. Now lists can be either open lists or closed lists. The closed-list is not very interesting. The open list is very good and Dylan is very good at it — Chimes of Freedom and so many other songs are classic examples of the open list — Tambourine Man, Blowing in the Wind, Hard Rain’s gonna fall, Masters of War, Idiot Wind, Dignity, Everything is broken etc etc — but open-lists are also a spatio-temporal challenge–because a 3 minute or 7 minute song has to end sometime. In other words, how can we aesthetically and conceptually impose a limit on an open list?  Dylan has devised several ways to sustain the open-list while conceptually exploring limit-setting — “for each and every hung-up person in the whole wide universe” (Chimes of Freedom) or “time is an ocean but it ends at the shore” (Oh Sister). In this song, I love the limit-setting — “I see my light come shining from the west unto the east.” It is open and limited at the same time. Beautiful.

9. Idiot Wind — I think anyone who loves English would love this song. Nobody has quite sung the sentence “I can’t help it if I am lucky” quite this way before or since. I always use this song to teach prepositional phrases in my class — “Down the highway down the tracks down the road to ecstasy . . .”

10. It is not dark yet — The predicament of a writer with a heart. Very beautiful song.

11. It’s all good – I really like this song. I know people like this.

Housecleaning update: My parents continue to be shocked at my heartless purging of their paper and plastic. Today after housecleaning,  I went to my favorite Siva temple and Subramonian temple. I prayed for everyone. At the Siva temple, I saw something very beautiful. A young family had brought their baby for a tulabharam–a tulabharam is a votive offering made by Hindus to a deity of their choice in return for the wellbeing of someone or the success of some endeavor. This tulabharam was for this child — tulabharam is done on an old-fashioned weighing scale with two pans.  On one pan you put the child and in the other pan you add the child’s equivalent weight in any object used for the votive offering. This family did the votive offering with bananas–they weighed the child in front of the inner shrine and submitted the child’s equivalent weight in bananas as offering to the temple. Very sweet ceremony.

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