Desolation Rolling

Living in small town like Port Macquarie means that just about anywhere is less than 10 minutes away.  It’s not a bad way to live, but I do feel like a bit of a waster for using my van so much.  I guess I have a bit of excuse with so much music equipment, but I’ve yet to completely convince myself. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how I could be a little, probably even a LOT more green in my existence if I really, really wanted to.

So I’m driving somewhere, probably on some banal, pointless errand, or going to teach and slightly zoning out when Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” comes on my iPod.  I keep it on shuffle most days, leaving it to fate to see what will cross my ears.  I hadn’t heard the song in ages, nor thought about it in the least for longer than I can remember.  I left it on, and of course I reached my destination before it ended.

The next time I got in the car I started the song from the top, and once again I was done before the song.  I kept that up for 5 days straight, for no reason at all, other than I liked letting my mind drift inside those words I know so well.  In high school I played this on vinyl nearly every morning as I was getting dressed for school, bracing myself and trying to create some ideal version of my 17 year old self.  Honestly, am I any different today?  Do I still “suit up” in my armor and get lost in some sort of fantastic projection?  Perhaps…perhaps.

I never talk about Bob Dylan with any one, nor am I a huge fan of reading other people’s thoughts on him or his songs.  Their explanations always seem so wrong, as I’m sure mine would be if I ever tried.  I never really understood the tie-dyed hippies who dig Dylan, mostly because they tend to talk conspiracy theories or about secret codes hidden in the songs, basically all the reasons that people roll their eyes when they see a hippie getting wound up.  Maybe it’s personal, or maybe there’s nothing to explain, not really.

I once read an interview with a director, (and God forbid, it may have been James Cameron), who said something along the lines of not believing in movies being “too long” as a set quantity, only that they “felt” long, and it’s a sentiment I personally agree with, especially when it comes to music.  If the listener notices the passing of time, or rolls their eyes and thinks “aw hell, another verse?”, then as a songwriter you’ve gotten it wrong, or wrong for that person.  That’s how “Desolation Row” feels to me.  I never notice that over eleven minutes have passed by the time the last harmonica note fades, and it’s like I’m waking up from a dream of sorts.

I’ve never tried to cover “Desolation Row”, (although I must confess that in my early attempts at songwriting I had a song that ripped off the chords, structure, and cadence), and if you asked me to sing the song without the words in front of me I doubt I’d get beyond the first sentence, but when it’s on I can sing along word for word, rather like when I was young and forced to go to church, and would marvel at everyone singing along to the hymns.  No one knows how the songs are supposed to sound, but once the organ got cranking and the choir rang out we’re all on board together and somehow it worked.  Kind of like that, only it’s Bob Dylan, not “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, and I’m alone rather than standing amidst adults and wishing to be elsewhere.

I love everything about this song.  The words, his voice, the delivery…everything.  I have no doubt that I’m in the minority here, about Dylan the artist, Dylan the singer, and about this song especially, but that’s no matter.  I’ve always held Dylan close to my heart and I’m not here to convert or convince anyone, since there’s really no need for that.

If this is my last post of 2012, then I wish you all a happy holiday season, wherever you are across the globe, and smashing New Year.  With school out and few shows until January hopefully I can motivate my pen and find some use for the idle hours.


[ps–you’ll notice that this YouTube clip is named “Desolation Road”, not “Desolation Row”, and I suspect that was the only way to sneak it past the record label vultures who are ready to tear anything down they can find.  This one is safe, it seems, for now]


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