Positively Modern Times
By David Wolf
Bob Dylan's Modern Times is an album for its time. There's an
incongruity between the album title - which suggests an homage to
Charlie Chaplin while also implying a theme - and the album's cover
photo and music itself. The cover photo is of a car from the 1950s and
the music reaches even farther back. Is Dylan saying that the more
times change, the more they stay the same? What was applicable
yesterday is applicable today? Or is it more along the lines of Bob
Dylan using yesterday to describe a today that's different from the
past, and not for the better?
Maybe today is worse than yesterday (and by "today," I mean
post-9/11). Don't mistake this, however, for nostalgia for what once
had been. Dylan knows better than most that the 1950s were not a time
of innocence. In fact, he might see the shadow of McCarthyism in the
current climate, and maybe that's even why the car is on the cover.
I don't think Dylan means to suggest the terror threat is
non-existent or innocuous - to the contrary, I hear quite the
opposite in "Everybody got to wonder what's the matter with this
cruel world today?" But I do think when Dylan looks around, he's
unhappy with what he sees, from every direction. The world is masked
and anonymous, has gone terribly wrong, and Dylan is here to tell us
The true genius of what Dylan has accomplished is in its subtlety.
Every song can conceivably be about a woman. And all the songs do
function on a literal level. But the songs also describe the times
modern. The women that populate them are nation-states. The songs are
violent; the environment, one of war. The blue collar unemployed
worker is a soldier. The Middle East and particularly Iraq drench the
album. The album closer, "Ain't Talkin'", brings a literal
close to times both modern and old, as the world ends in Iraq, the
mystic Garden of Eden, with God (the gardener) either apathetic or
dead. Modern Times is the follow up to the eerily prophetic "Love
and Theft," which remarkably and (unfortunately) appropriately was
released on September 11, 2001, with songs like "High Water" and
lines like "sky full of fire, pain pouring down" imbued with
meaning that probably shocked Dylan, the reluctant and accidental
I want to be clear that when I insert context to songs, and interpret
lines consistent with that context, I'm not attempting to assert that
my interpretations are based on Dylan's intent. As Bob said in his
half-serious half-put-on December 1965 San Francisco press conference,
he's not always sure what the songs "mean" - the songs, said
Dylan, are not lies, he has a vision and understands what he writes,
but he doesn't necessarily see the layers of meaning present in so
much of his work. The album's title tells us that, hey, there's
more going on than what you might hear on the surface - that it's
going to be about the world we inhabit today. This, however, is not to
say Dylan intended the mystic garden to be Iraq. He might not have. I
don't think it really matters. Dylan knows or would understand
Modern Times could be seen to end in Iraq, and that it's a fair
interpretation of the material.
If the album's title does not sufficiently reveal its theme, the
opener, "Thunder on the Mountain," emphasizes the point. Alicia
Keys receives a name drop, which means we're in the present day.
Modern Times's most direct reference to 9/11 also appears: a
strikingly vivid line about the women in Washington leaving town --
"something bad is gonna happen, better roll your airplane down."
"Thunder on the Mountain" is itself a reference to a bombing
campaign, and sets the stage for what follows: it's a time of war,
and every song has a violent undercurrent. It's also no coincidence
- nor is it any great scandal - that Dylan borrows so liberally
from Civil War poet, Henry Timrod. Modern Times means war, and it's
not an easy ride.
"Thunder on the Mountain's" first few lines let us know that
we're in a virtual hell - the sun is close, and there's hot stuff
everywhere. Hell's Kitchen is even referred to as part of the Keys
name drop. I'm hearing the song as a message from perhaps England or
maybe at times an Iraqi or even a US soldier to the United States.
There might even be a different narrator for each verse. "You
brought me here/now you're trying to run me away/The writing on the
wall/come read it/come see what it say." You brought me to this
hell, this war, now you want me to leave? The writing indeed is on the
wall in Iraq, both literally and figuratively. It's also on the wall
in the US, as an unpopular war becomes ever less popular, with the
November 2006 mid-term elections perhaps ready to serve as an
An international flavor permeates the song. "Thunder's" narrator
describes himself as a servant ready to serve his king. Is "king"
a reference to God? Or is it King George, the US version? While
acting as a servant, the narrator wants a "real good woman to do just
what I say." I see that frustratingly intractable woman as Iraq.
There are references to building armies, which we're also trying to
do in Iraq, along with a great line about recruitment from orphanages
(after all, it's not the privileged class doing the fighting).
Baghdad comes to mind again when Dylan sings "the power is down."
Even seemingly benign lines carry sinister undercurrents: "I've got
the pork chops/she got the pie/she ain't no angel/and neither am
I/shame on your greed/shame on your wicked schemes/I'll say this/I
don't give a damn about your dreams." The first thing I have to
say about this verse is that it's delivered venomously by Dylan,
especially the "shame on your greed/wicked schemes" line, with
particular emphases on "shame" and "schemes" (I'll say this,
and not about dreams - I wholeheartedly believe Dylan is consciously
referring to the Bush administration's greed and schemes). The pork
chop reference is also interesting, at least when thought of in the
context of Muslim dietary restrictions. It's a food that can be used
as a means of humiliation, and we're not talking about angels here.
I'd also bet the "pie" is of the apple variety. And the dreams
of which the narrator gives not a damn? The new Middle East.
Democracy on the march. Mission accomplished. For the love of God
(and everyone in this perpetual amorphous war seems to believe God or
Allah or Hashem is on its side), all of you, take pity on yourselves.
With this interpretation, the phrase "for the love of God" takes on
a double meaning. The phrase becomes literal, not just an expression
of exasperation, but a declaration: you claim to love God, but if you
were true to God's word, you'd pity yourself. Before criticizing
others, remove that beam from your own eye.
"Thunder on the Mountain" is also just a plain fantastic opener
(and I expect it to make appearances - wonderfully rearranged, of
course -- during this fall's tour). It rocks, Dylan's singing is
self-assured and emotive, and it segues nicely into the second song,
"Spirit on the Water."
"Spirit on the Water" is a beautiful melody. So beautiful, in
fact, it might be easy to miss how dark the song truly is. The
darkness is revealed in the second line: there might be a spirit, but
it's hardly friendly, it's the "darkness on the face of the
deep." The song to me sounds like a dialogue between Iraq and the
US. "Spirit on the water/darkness on the face of the deep/I keep
thinking about you baby/I can't hardly sleep." Iraq addresses the
US as the dark spirit, a ghost from the past, and reveals that it
can't stop thinking about America (with the US police presence in
Iraq, it's not hard to fathom why). The US responds that Iraq is
likewise always on its mind, and that it had "forgotten about you,
then you turned up again," which can be read as a reference to the
time between the first and second Iraq war. "I always knew we were
meant to be more than friends" is a perfect description of the nature
of the nations' relationship with each other, albeit far from the
romantic notion a literal reading of the line evokes. Finally, the US
notes that it's "wild about you, gal, you ought to be a fool about
me." Hey, Iraq, we're here to help, we love you, you ought to love
Iraq responds by saying the US has burned its way into the Iraqi heart
(literally, burned), and that Iraq is "sweating blood." It also
lets America know that the US has a face "that begs for love." The
US responds: "They brag about your sugar/brag about it all over
town/put some sugar in my bowl/I feel like laying down." Sugar is
oil. Give us some so we can lay down our arms. It's time for the
cruel weapons to be put on the shelf.
The conversation continues. There's an image of a pale ghost
"holding a blossom on a stem." Flowers are a recurring image in
Modern Times, and not in a "roses are red, violets are blue" kind
of way. Flowers in Modern Times never bring joy. The pale ghost with
a flower represents the Iraqi people's degenerative state - the
speaker is saying, "I appear pale as a ghost, and it's because of
you!" Iraq goes on to warn that it "take[s] good care of what
belongs" to it. We will protect what's ours as a matter of
self-defense. If forced, we'll react with force. Things could get
The US notes that Iraq dominates its discussions - both in national
and international discourse ("I hear your name ringing up and down
the line"). America also lets Iraq know the US will be involved in
Iraqi business for a long time ("I'm saying it plain, these ties
are strong enough to bind"). Iraq responds by saying it "got no
choice, can't believe these things would ever fade from your mind."
You've backed me against the wall. You're not getting out, so you
leave me no choice. I'll do what I must do to protect what's mine.
(This is not a mindset limited to what have been so eloquently labeled
"Al Qaeda types." A recent poll shows that over 60% of Iraqi
civilians favor attacks against US-led forces. They take good care of
what belongs to them.)
The US again tries to calm Iraqi fears by saying there's no need for
violence ("You don't ever have to make a fuss over me"), and then
tries to claim moral exceptionalism, at least in intent if not actual
practice ("From East to West . . . I only mean it for the best").
What America wants is what everyone wants. Or should want. We're
the good guys. The US notes the war is taking a toll and there will be
some kind of drawback. ("I been in a brawl . . . I'm going away
Iraq wants Congress (Capitol "Hill") to be informed of its feelings
about US military presence ("High on the Hill, you can carry all my
thoughts with you"). Iraq's will has been numbed, it's ready to
"tear in two." Civil War. Sunni vs. Shiite. But all, or almost
all, against Americans. The penultimate verse seals the post-9/11
interpretation in my mind. "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." When I think of paradise, in modern times, I'm not
thinking utopia. I think of paradise as the intended destination of
Muslim "martyrs." And Dylan's reference does nothing to change
my way of thinking. It's filled with dread, not desire, although the
verse does contain a moral: killing proves not a gateway to paradise,
but rather a bar to entry, which strikes the Iraqi speaker as ironic.
Finally, the US says that Iraq is under-estimating US endurance.
"You think I'm over the hill, you think I'm past my prime."
(No, Bob, I think you're just warming up. Your "middle years,"
as you said a few months ago.) "Let me see what you got/We can have
a whoppin' good time." "Bring it on!" as someone somewhere
once said. Many critics laughed at the very unDylanesque
"whoppin'", hearing it in the sense of "extremely large." To
"whop" something, though, is to violently strike it. We can have a
whopping good time, killing each other. The song ends where it begins,
in the midst of war. (Before moving past "Spirit," I have to say
that I love - LOVE - the way Dylan answers "no" after asking
"ever seen a ghost?")
"Rollin' and Tumblin'", in the third slot, is a minor song.
It's good, but nothing more. (I do enjoy the alliterative
"landscape is glowin', gleamin' in the golden light of day.")
"Rollin'" has a "Tombstone Blues" sound, and is enjoyable.
But that's where the comparisons end. Bob being Bob, my guess is
"Rollin'" will be the first Modern Times song to debut live.
An unspeakable sadness haunts Dylan's performance of "When the Deal
Goes Down." A sadness about the human condition. I once read that
"Forever Young" is Dylan's saddest song, because it requests the
impossible. "Deal Goes Down" acknowledges that reality, and is all
the sadder for it. The deal is by accepting life you accept the other
part of the bargain, death ("the road we're bound to go").
Tomorrow keeps turning around, and becomes yesterday. Nodody remains
forever young. Jakob will not build a ladder to the stars. You can
hear the pain in Dylan's voice. There's no avoiding the human
The song, although personal to songwriter and listener, is also
universal. It can apply to the US and Iraq, Israel and Palestine, or
any number of individual or multinational relationships. "Deal Goes
Down" continues the funereal flower motif, with two references to
flowers, neither one positive. Flowers are first invoked
metaphorically as something frail, and in the final verse, the narrator
picks up a rose that pokes through his clothes. What should be
pleasurable either isn't, or will not perpetually provide pleasure.
Joys are transient, and are not what they seem.
"Someday Baby" is probably Modern Times's weakest song, but it
contains a revelatory line worth mentioning: "I keep recycling the
same old thoughts." It's Dylan letting us know that he's not
trying to "get one over" or claim credit for what is not his.
There are no original thoughts, although Dylan, by stealing others'
thoughts, has created in Modern Times something wonderful and unique
- and therefore original. Moreover, Dylan doesn't only recycle
others' thoughts, but oftentimes recycles his own. Echoes of earlier
work are heard in lines like "These ties are strong enough to bind"
("Don't untie the ties that bind"), "I hear your name ringing
up and down the line" ("And I hear her name here and there"),
"The levee's gonna break" ("Crash on the levee"), "This
woman so crazy, I swear I ain't gonna touch another one for years"
(I'm keeping away from the women"), "Ain't no altars on this
long and lonesome road" ("I'm walkin' down this long lonesome
road"), "It's a new path that we trod" ("Took an untrodden
path once"), and "I'm all alone and I'm expecting you to lead
me off in a cheerful dance" (in general, expresses the very essence
of "Mr. Tambourine Man," and the line specifically recalls "magic
swirling ship/cast your dancing spell my way").
Modern Times's sixth song, "Workingman's Blues #2," is
spine-tingling, transcendent Dylan, and stands among his best work.
Dylan's vocal performance is magnificent. Listen to the way he sings
"foes," "enemies," and the emphasis he puts on "day" when
he sneers "some people never worked a day in their life." Along
with "Mississippi," "Tryin' to Get to Heaven," and "Not
Dark Yet," "WB #2" is a certifiable masterpiece of the post-1990
>From its opening chords, it's simply majestic, gorgeous. I got goose
bumps (the touchstone of classic Dylan) and became teary-eyed the
second time I heard "WB #2." The song has made two of my friends
cry, but each had different reasons for the tearful reaction. Bob
Dylan struck the same emotional chord with three people, and none of us
was thinking the same thought at that moment. This is a large part of
Dylan's genius - the ability, time and again, to make the universal
Bob seemingly enters - and takes over -- Springsteen territory.
"WB #2" is a tender song that recalls the poignancy of "North
Country Blues." This is the way things were then (highly idealized,
at least in "WB #2," if not in "North Country Blues"); this is
the way things are now. And boy does now ever suck. "WB #2"
claims to be and indeed acts as a proletarian lament. The word
"proletariat" is even used in the song, successfully, and I doubt
any other singer/songwriter could pull it off. But "WB #2" also
functions as the sad tale of the forgotten soldier.
The chorus itself speaks in battle-like terms. "Meet me at the
bottom, don't lag behind/Bring me my boots and shoes/You can hang
back or fight your best on the frontline/Sing a little of these
workingman's blues." In the first verse, the soldier remembers
another America ("Well, the place I love best is a sweet memory"),
and speaks of post-9/11 US foreign policy ("It's a new path that we
trod."). He laments that "low wages are a reality if we want to
compete abroad." From the proletarian perspective, competition
abroad refers to business; from a soldier's perspective, such
competition might be war.
The soldier speaks of laying down arms. ("My cruel weapons have been
put on the shelf.") He tells America that it's "dearer to me
than myself, as you yourself can see." A soldier by definition must
be willing to die for love of country: a love greater than love of
self. This particular warrior is listening to the trains delivering
the bodies of his fallen comrades ("I'm listening to the steel
rails hum.") He listens, but he cannot watch. ("Got both eyes
tight shut.") It seems in modern times, nobody gets to see the
deadly consequences of war, whether by choice (like the soldier) or by
government decree (like the US public). The naked truth is still
taboo, whenever it can be seen.
The third verse continues the lament. It finishes with the incredibly
evocative "Sometimes no one wants what you got/Sometimes you can't
give it away." If the narrator is an unemployed worker, the line
speaks to the availability of work. If the narrator is a soldier, it
can speak to US Iraqi policy. On a personal level, the line can speak
to your desirability, as a friend and/or lover. I have one friend who
cries when hearing that line because it seems to speak directly to her.
The universal becomes personal, again.
The soldier speaks of the numerous enemies faced in Iraq ("The place
is ringed with countless foes"), and the randomness of death in war.
("No man, no woman knows the hour that sorrow will come.") Sleep
is uncomfortable, but "feels like a temporary death" (oh, what a
line!), which in many ways is preferable to the reality of daily
battle, where things are not going well. ("I can see for myself that
the sun is sinking, how I wish you were here to see.") The soldier
is nearly hopeless, feeling abandoned by country. ("Am I wrong in
thinking that you have forgotten me?") A forgotten soldier.
Other nations might be debating the Iraq war, but the soldier sees only
the United States. ("Now they worry and they hurry and they fuss and
they fret, they waste your nights and days. Them I will forget, but
you I'll remember always.") He carries idealized memories of the
past, but false justifications for sending him to battle (i.e., weapons
of mass destruction) have hurt him, both physically and mentally.
("Old memories of you to me have clung, you've wounded me with your
words.") The soldier, though, does not fault the US ("In you my
friend, I find no blame") and will remain loyal. ("No one can ever
claim that I took up arms against you.") Finally, there's optimism
in the last verse ("I'm all alone and I'm expecting you to lead
me off in a cheerful dance"), although it might be a naïve, futile
hope. There's certainly nothing outside of the soldier's idealized
memories of times that never really existed to provide reason for hope.
The soldier is "gonna give" the US "another chance," but the
listener knows that things are not likely to end in dance, cheerful or
"Beyond the Horizon" follows "WB #2," and acts as a sequel to
"Deal Goes Down." "Deal" acknowledges mortality; "Horizon"
goes beyond it. The "horizon" is death, and the song assumes an
after-life. It's a sweet melody and performance, but it suffers from
being placed between "WB #2" and "Nettie Moore," Modern
I'm not sure if "Nettie Moore" is inherently a classic song, but
Dylan's performance is a tour-de-force. The song comes from long
ago, but Dylan makes it his. The lyrics, which are mostly Dylan's,
might not be the best. The splendor of the studio version derives from
what Dylan did with it then and there. It's a vocal performance that
can stand alongside Blood on the Tracks's "If You See Her, Say
The song is about a man ("Lost John") ready to go to war. Things
are off kilter in both his world and the world outside. The world of
research has gone berserk. (Cloning?) John has blues "falling down
like hail" that are going to leave a "greasy trail" (the grease
of oil?), perhaps because he's somehow lost the love of Nettie Moore.
Or maybe it's because he's been abandoned by everyone one way or
another ("there's no one left here to tell"). Dylan's
desperate voice makes it sound as if John was abandoned through the
death of friends and family. With nothing left to live for, John will
fight in battle while "travel[ing] the world," a world that has
"gone black" before his eyes.
The penultimate track, "The Levee's Gonna Break," can't help
but evoke thoughts of New Orleans, in listeners and songwriter.
("Some people on the road carryin' everything they own/Some people
got barely enough skin to cover their bones.") New Orleans has a
special place in Dylan's heart. It appears again and again in his
lyrics. "Bob Dylan's New Orleans Rag," "Rambling, Gambling
Willie," "Tangled Up in Blue," "Blind Willie McTell," and
"Tryin' to Get to Heaven" all involve the city, and Dylan was
certainly conscious of the connection between it and this song.
"Levee" is not a great song, but it completes the album in a
"whole is more than the sum of its parts" kind of way. States of
emergency seem endless today, and the threats come from man or nature,
or combinations of them both. Katrina and her aftermath will -- in
some ways, even more than Iraq - define this era of US history.
Enlisted soldiers are dying in far away places. American civilians are
dying at home, and that resonates deeply. "Levee" might sound like
filler, but it's essential to what Bob Dylan has created in Modern
The eight-minute epic "Ain't Talkin'" provides a masterful and
memorable close to the album. It's a title that at just about any
other point in the legendarily taciturn Dylan's career would have
seemed autobiographical. It doesn't sound that way today. Dylan has
actually done quite a bit of talkin' these last few years, through
Chronicles, various interviews (including with 60 Minutes), and his
weekly Theme Time radio hour. Bob Dylan probably empathizes with the
song's narrator, but I don't believe he is the narrator. I hear
the song from the perspective of an Iraqi civilian.
The song's narrator walks out into the "mystic garden," the
Garden of Eden, which is said to have been in Persia. He notices the
"wounded flowers dangling from the vine" (more ominous flowers).
While passing a fountain, he is waylaid. Not only is Iraq no longer an
Eden, it has gone from what had been tyrannical rule to no rule at all.
Someone hits our narrator from behind, and it doesn't sound like a
surprise occurrence. This is desolation row to the nth degree. It's
complete anarchy, "a weary world of woe."
A few things in addition to what I see as the mystic Garden of Eden
serve to place "Ain't Talkin'" in Middle Eastern terms. At one
point, the narrator walks through the "cities of the plague," which
makes me think of the Biblical plagues and Egypt, although that
reference would more accurately be "city of the plagues."
Regardless, plagues themselves are of another century, another time, as
are Middle Eastern theocracies. When Dylan sings the world "is
filled with speculation, the whole wide world which people say is
round," I'm hearing it as a reference to the Muslim struggle with
modernity. The whole wide world's speculation is correct -- the
world is not flat, and the Iraqi is wrong. He hears what they're
saying, but he's not listening. He sees only a Western war on Islam.
("They will tear your mind away from contemplation, they will jump
on your misfortune when you're down.")
As the narrator makes his way through this Iraqi world of woe, he burns
bridges so his opponents - perhaps US forces, perhaps compatriot
thugs - cannot cross over. Danger lurks everywhere. ("Every nook
and cranny has its tears.") The threat is not exaggerated - Iraqis
do not "nurs[e] any superfluous fears." (Who but Bob could make
such perfect use of the unwieldy "superfluous" in a lyric? It's
an even better fit than "proletariat" in "WB #2.") The
narrator is trying to love his neighbor and do onto others, but
"things ain't going well." He feels persecuted by "wealth and
power," and if he catches his enemies unaware, he'll "slaughter
'em where they lie." Violence breeds violence.
The narrator, who was attacked in the first verse, hopes to go on the
attack, and has merciless plans for his defeated foes. ("There'll
be no mercy for you once you've lost.")
As the song and album come to a conclusion, the narrator wanders back
into the mystic garden, where "Ain't Talkin'" began. It's a
"hot summer day, a hot summer lawn." It's been hot through the
entire album. Modern Times begins in hell, and it nearly ends in hell.
But it doesn't end in hell, as things go from bad to worse. The
gardener - who I earlier equated with God, but who could just as
easily be United States as occupier or Saddam Hussein as dictator -
is gone. The narrator heads towards the "last outback at the
world's end." The album fades out. Modern Times ends with the end
Thanks for the review.
I thought you conveyed a good deal of what is great about this piece of
work. I felt it a pity, though, that you chose to emphasize the war in
Iraq quite so much. Certainly this album speaks about that particular
situation as "Love & Theft" spoke eloquently of 9/11 - despite being
written prior to that dreadful day. The real point to be made here,
surely, is that great Dylan albums speak across time and adhere
themselves to endless circumstances. A song like Masters of War is
still as thrilling and relevant today in concert as it was when it was
written. Hard Rain may have been written with the Cuban missile crisis
in mind but it also speaks to us now.
I think your review has rather missed the scope of Modern Times. The
Timrod references, for example, take us back to the U.S. civil war and
'fires on the moon' may be a portent of destruction to come.
I am not saying that your Iraq theory does not fit Modern Times, just
that it is only one thing that falls under Modern Times' vast canopy.
Let's not underestimate Dylan or his writing. This album speaks to the
past, present and future. All times are modern as they are lived and
all human foibles repeat themselves across history. Dylan understands
this in the way that Shakespeare did. Hamlet may be about a Danish
king but it is ostensibly about failure to act. You might say Bush
should have acted sooner over New Orleans. In that case he is the new
Hamlet. There will be another Hamlet in 1000 years time. So
Shakespeare's play lives again and again and again.
And Modern Times lives forever.
> Hamlet may be about a Danish
> king but it is ostensibly about failure to act. You might say Bush
> should have acted sooner over New Orleans. In that case he is the new
I'm sure that's the first time anybody's ever made that comparison. And
probably the last.
Hamlet's slow to act because he's plagued by second thoughts and
self-doubt. Bush has never had second thoughts or self-doubt. He's almost
always wrong, but never in doubt. And Hamlet does kill the usurper in the
end; Bush will never do anything about New Orleans, because he's just not
Hamlet is a young prince with a poet's soul. Bush is a soulless, crooked
dullard. No comparison.
-- Bob G.
I liked this short descriptive paragraph about 'Modern Times' in John
Pareles' review of the New York City show in the New York Times - it's
pithy and to-the-point but it does express the strange attractions of
this album :
"The songs from "Modern Times" can be as familiar as the 12-bar
blues and as strange as a fever dream. They are crazy quilts of
lovers' laments and geezers' reflections, of spiritual vows and
archetypal grudges. They start with classic blues lyrics; they quote
old poems. (Dylan investigators have found bits of Ovid and the
19th-century American poet Henry Timrod.) Like many traditional blues
songs, Mr. Dylan's new ones add up not to narratives, but to moods:
weary, wry, embittered, raunchy, tenacious."
This is the most abstract review I've read and a delight to get lost
within on this holiday of rest and thankfulness. None of what you said
rings as an absolute truth but you said as much yourself - it isn't
likely bob's intent. A point of view with which we can tear apart a
work of art and force it to make cohesive sense from that particular
angle. Well done!
One day religious view, one the view from a world gone wrong, another
from a lover's sighing heart. That's what makes it a bob album and
therefore causative of rethinking, often, from angles. Causes us like
a child to change our opinions as we age rapidly through various levels
of understanding on the subject.
Till someone like you comes along and dashes it all to the ditch of
reality of the real world stuck in the tempest that is becoming undone
in the garden encompassed with noxious weeds due to perhaps is it - the
gardener being gone for this part of the 1000 years? I'm not sure
anymore but I'll be thinking about that next time I listen. Thanks.
Daughter, Cornell Engineering '00, Ithaca.
I don't know if you have been following Chris Gregory's blog,
he is also doing some interesting writings on the Modern Times songs.
One of the extraordinary and beguiling beauties of Bob's work is the
multi layered meanings that even Dylan doesn't know, or hadn't been
aware of in the writing. He talks about this in No Direction Home (i
think) where he says words mean something today, and 10 years later
they mean something else. Is it due to the evolution of the world
around us, or the understanding and experiences within us, or some
combination of the two. It is a living work and so grows over time and
opens up to new perceptions. And that is why Bob endures, why his music
survives 40 plus years and still has relevance rather than being either
a kitchy reminder of the past or a nostalgic moment of our youth.
As reluctant a prophet as he may be I think him to be prophetic none
the less. Perhaps his divinations are more obscure now, but no less
significant or alive with portent.
Prophets most often are misunderstood, even by themselves. I don't
really think that those we have called prophets in ancient times knew
they were prophets. They spoke in a prophetic voice that was given to
them. Only later when people could look back and remember the prophet's
words that had seemed incomprehensible did they have the revelation of
what was being delivered and missed.
I am not trying to make Bob a prophet of Biblical proportions, but I am
claiming he speaks in a prophetic voice whether known or unknown to
himself almost doesn't matter. He keeps doing his work and moving on
and doing more of it.
It is our experience of his work that completes it. Not in the sense
that "it is finished." For like a good love affair it is never
finished. More stratum is revealed to us in the beloved and in
ourselves both, and also in love itself.
What I find so intriguing and wonderful about your piece and Chris
Gregory's is that both of them are comprehensible and understandable
and true, even if not the same.
We can find so much in Bob's work, about himself perhaps, about the
world, and about our selves. I can't think of one other "rock star"
that can hold up to that.
I can enjoy lots of music, bop to it, sing aloud, have memories, but I
cannot find so much of myself and the world in it. Even Joni Mitchell,
who is an incredible lyricist does not offer me that kind of endurance.
When I hear Blue or river I may ache with the recognition or
rememberance of the past, but it doesn't shove me into the future, or
I started writing this to tell you how much I enjoyed it, and how much
I appreciated this kind of writing about Dylan rather than the ultra
hip trying to get in points about themselves or show off how clever
they are. http://printculture.com/?itemid=1097
Also was going to share a couple of thoughts/reflections I had on the
garden, the servent etc. But I think I have taken up too much space
What makes me laugh and kind of bemoan is that Bob himself is so
uncomfortable with this kind of aggrandizing and interpretation ad
infinitum of him. I call him my imaginary boyfriend. I imagine he would
call me insane! LOL
Thanks so much for your wonderful work.
I have re-read this review and on reflection I think I was perhaps a
little too kind about it in my previous post. It is actually a poor
review. Its central premise is simply not adequate.
With an album as allusive, elusive and multi-layered as Modern Times to
allow yourself - for the bulk of the review - to become slave to a
reductionist theory about a current conflict is simply not good enough.
If you want an album that is simply about the Iraq war try Neil Young's
last effort. Modern Times is a far more complex beast. The fact that
it fits a current conflict is not surprising but where its true essence
lies is that it also applies to conflicts past and ones yet to come
whilst working on many other levels too.
Oh Mercy had it right when she said that Dylan is prophetic (often
perhaps unknowingly). I would add to that that the reason why he is
prophetic is because he understands the template by which mankind
operates. For this reason the core truths contained within his songs
appear prophetic as they attach themselves to fresh situations.