Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hard Rain

I was the kid playin’ football, in a Catholic school

Deep down in Mexican town…

(Listening to)… “Don’t Think Twice Its All Right”

From the wild Mesabi Holy Ground….


Coming soon: Bob Dylan’s 70th Birthday. The magazines are trotting out the tribute writers and the cover issues. The complex fascination with The Bard has been building, ebbing, and building again for over fifty years. And the booing. The critics are lining up, on either side, to do combat. Maureen Dowd (N.Y Times), and others, say Dylan shouldn’t have played recently in China, where his “set list,” might have been censored. Did her sell out? Why didn’t he do the so-called “protest songs?” Why would he appear in a commercial for Victoria’s Secret and few years back? The Wall Street Journal said he should quit the stage. It’s Shakespearean.

The criticism is meaningless against the depth of the Dylan’s catalogue, and his un-impeachable influence on modern song. But we’re lost here, Bob. Everybody expected you (and Leonard Cohen & Paul Simon) to be GONE by now…and we ain’t had much luck replacing you… and it’s irritating to some folk in the media, and to all young writers who ache to be…artistically relevant.

I’m looking back at my childhood. On the coming record. The institutions which forged my youth: Church, Hollywood, Mexican Border Towns, and Bob Dylan. Back then it was folk music, for me, and 6 o’clock mass, and beat poetry, and Jai Alai and horse racing. The 60’s! Dylan exploded the folksong – and when the pieces came down, they fell all over me. Symphonies, fugues, and foxtrots loaded with resonant folk-roots melodies and lyrics which expanded our notion of “the word,” by cooking up new potions distilled from folklore, beat poetry, French mystical verse, and blues wisdom. And much more. Rimbaud meets Ramblin’ Jack. It sounds as fresh today as did forty years back.

The Mexican Border? Gone to hell. Hollywood? Who cares? And the 6 O’clock mass? The Catholic Church has finally gone morally under. 200,000 sexually abused altar boys (I’m unscathed, folks) can now feel a little better – the Holy Fathers came out with a million dollar study last week, which stated that there was no pedophilia plague inherent within the Church; it was all due to the permissiveness of the 60’s! It was Woodstock, and all those nude bodies and wild songs that drove these predators in priest’s collars over the line. Hell, maybe Bob Dylan was to blame. Again.

The new record, Mesabi, opens with a kid (myself) absorbing early Dylan while attending a Catholic school “deep down in Mexican town,” Los Angeles. The album ends with a version of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” with guest artists Lucinda Williams and Calexico. Dylan bookends the deal.

This is a birthday salute to Bob. Long may you run, sir. The songs will live long after the legends, and the boo’s, and the diseased and antiquated liturgies fade, like the border-mariachi horns echoing in my blood.