Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dylan New and Old

The other day, I borrowed a Bob Dylan “Basement Tapes” CD from the local library. Bootleg Series Vol. 8, issued in 2006, contained “rare and unreleased” Dylan songs from the 1980s and 1990s. I was a little amazed to discover a song I had never heard before entitled “Red River Shore.” The song was such a perfect Dylan love song. It was moody and hypnotic, quickly pulling me into its web of reminiscence of past joy and lost love for more than seven minutes. I played it over and over, and then found a You Tube video to listen to it some more:

There is no video of Dylan singing the song on You Tube, just a photo of the CD cover with an audio track.
A scowling Bob Dylan in the 1980s, looking so different
from the 1960s protester  I "met" in 1965.
Without video, the words sink in deeper; the song takes hold stronger. Here is my favorite verse. It’s a little nostalgic and a little self-deprecating—just how I would write a love song if I could. This is a love more of the mind than of the body:
Well, I been to the east and I been to the west
And I been out where the black winds roar
Somehow though I never did get that far
With the girl from the Red River shore.

Finding a new Dylan song made me think of when I had first “discovered” Dylan. It happened (shudder) almost 50 years ago. I was part of an accelerated academic summer program for high school students in Georgia, known as the Governor’s Honors Program. I spent six weeks with about 150 really smart kids. There were scholars and musicians and artists and free thinkers. I felt like both a participant and an observer at the same time. I was meeting new people and thinking new thoughts. Which is where Dylan comes in.

Bill Martin, one of the kids from another high school in Savannah attending GHP, had brought along some Dylan albums. We gathered in his room, behind a closed door, to do some illicit listening. I heard “The Times They Are a-Changin’” for the first time. I heard “Bob Dylan’s Dream” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” The voice was so raw. Who would hire a guy with that voice to make records, we wondered at first. Then we listened more, and the rawness took hold. I had been brought up with liberal values, but listening to Dylan singing Dylan (rather than Peter, Paul, and Mary), made me feel more radical than I had ever felt before.

Eight clean-cut kids from Savannah High School who attended
the Governor's Honors program in 1965. We were proud nerds.
American involvement in the Vietnam War was a-buildin’ during the summer of 1965. I was just entering my junior year in high school, so the idea of being drafted or fighting in a war on the other side of the world was not yet in my mind. But here was Bob Dylan talking about war, any war, maybe that war. It was exhilarating but also a little overwhelming. I went home from the GHP feeling a little worldlier. But that was pretty much an illusion. After all, I was still a sheltered kid from Savannah, Georgia, no matter whose music I was listening to. But Bob Dylan had opened up my mind a little. I’m grateful for that.

And I’m thrilled that Dylan and record producers and other performers are turning back time to let us hear some of Dylan’s songs that have been long hidden. Every new Dylan song, even old ones never heard before, has the ability to grab my psyche and my soul.

1 comment:

  1. BRAVO! This is fantastic. I looooove Red River Shore.