A Tremendous Wave, An Incredible Gift

“My” song is 5:40 long. It has seven verses, each one either 32, 33, or 34 seconds long. They are separated by nine second intrumentals where the melody is repeated. There is some harmonica at the end. Other than that, nothing much happens. Without the words, there is almost nothing to see here, unless you happen to enjoy the melody, like me.

But oh, those words…

The piece was written at a very difficult time of the musician’s life, when his wife had left him and his family was falling apart. Whenever I hear it, I always put myself in the artist’s situation, and wonder if I could have even picked up my pen, much less written the words that send such Earth-trembling shock waves through even the most frigid and frozen souls.

I am listening to it now, with the familiar goose bumps that have appeared with each playing since I first heard this version of it, so many years ago. Nothing has changed, no element of the song’s power has been diminished.

How? How did he pull it off? How did he drag himself out his seventh, deepest circle of hell long enough to gasp for a puff of fresh air, scribble down a line or two, and descend back into the pit.? It was the pit, after all, that made those words and letters bond and take form. And the only way out of it was to sink deeper into it.

Musically, the artist has chosen a kind of a folk-rock sound that’s easy on the ear and, more importantly, very repetitive. There are no real solos-unless you count the harmonica one at the end, and the music and melody seem to roll into your ears rhythmically, like waves, bearing the ocean’s irresistable might and an armada of words that paralyze your brain. Each verse starts with a couple of acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass, and with the drummer only working the high hat with the bass drum. As the verse moves from stating facts to deeper messages, however, the drummer kicks in with the snare drum and the wave reaches a new, terrifying intensity.

When “If I Were A Boy” from Beyoncé came out, it reminded me a lot of my song. Because the musicians are merely playing a very pretty but simple melody the whole time, more attention can be paid to the words-which can be very hazardous.

The song has seven verses. Each verse has six lines, plus the title of the song at its close. Here is where the song becomes special: the seven verses have nothing to do with each other. Each one is a story that could easily be a novel that could easily be a two-hour movie. But each story ends with the title that shows, undeniably, that all of our stories are linked.

”..there’s also no sense of time. There’s no respect for it. You’ve got yesterday, today, and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little you can’t imagine not happening”. -the artist said later about the lyrics.

Then there’s the language. Many artists use big words to show they’re intelligent, or “f-ck” or “sh-t” to show they’re rebellious, or they’ll use sappy words because the American audience thrives on chocolate cake lies. There is none of any of that in this song, just a whole lot of words we use all day every day, combined in a way to rip out the Titanic hull in your security, your illusion of happiness, your dreams of squeaky clean simplicity:

“…when finally the bottom fell out I became withdrawn…”

“…all the people I used to know are an illusion to me now…”

“Her folks said our lives together sure was going to be rough…”

“…rain falling on my shoes…”

“…we’ll meet again someday on the avenue…”

“… all the while I was alone the past was close behind;

I’ve seen a lot of women, but she never escaped my mind”

“…everyone of them words rang true and glowed like burning coals

pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul (from me to you)…”

These last two lines describe the singer reading his own Dante’s Inferno.

You’ll never know you’re hurting until you’ve heard these words. You’ll never know how bad it is until you’ve chewed on them, savoring their bitter taste, feeling the clunky knots descend to your gut, and feel your intestines wrestle with the truths they hold. And you’ll never, ever, be free from any of your pain unless you deal with it.

I don’t care if this song was written about 47 or so years ago. Why should that matter? The truths it contains are universal, like the characters in the song. They are each and every one of us, forging our ways through these tundras of hurt we call out lives. The truths they represent are there for us to ingest as keys; keys to unlock the true joy our lives might one day become, if we so choose, despite the obstacles.

I know a lot of people aren’t going to get it, and aren’t going to make it to this line, but I wanted to add that a lot of people aren’t going to appreciate the “rain falling on my shoes” line from above. The character in the song is standing by the side of the road when this happens, some time after “our lives together sure was going to be rough”. How does he know the rain is falling on his shoes?

He’s looking at them. What could be a more pitiful image than that? Standing on the side of the road in the middle or night watching the rain fall on your shoes?

Another underappreciated skill the artist expertly wields here in this, my most favorite Bob Dylan song, is that he tells us nothing-we’ve got to see this ourselves, create with him, and thereby work through his/our pain with him.

Which is why calling Tangled Up In Blue “my” song is a truly ridiculous notion. It’s our song now. Shout out to you Bob, you really broke the mold with this one, and gave us a priceless gift that will never overstay the need for it. He did not do this for his career, or to earn wads o’ money. He did this to accept the pain, to deal with it and try to move on, as best he could, and to show us how we could do the same.
Give the man some respect.

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