Monday, October 6, 1997

Nothing to Lose

I don't know whether it is ultimately encouraging or discouraging to hear that a fifty six year old can still become so heart broken. Perhaps it is a good thing that the human spirit, even one that has been battered by traveling on so many bitter roads is still capable of feeling things so deeply. Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan's first new set of songs since 1990's Under The Red Sky is the work of a sad, despondent artist and it is a sincere, rewarding and deeply moving effort.

I could hardly wait to hear this new CD, with all the positive reviews and reports of it being a quality effort. I was trying to wait until after work on Tuesday to buy it but as I lie half asleep on my couch Monday night and midnight was just a few clock ticks away, I decided I couldn't wait any longer so I hopped on down to our friendly neighborhood store that stays open late for new releases. Time Out of Mind isn't exactly the type of CD one with a fragile mind wants to listen to in the wee small hours of the morning when the defenses are weakened. All the songs are dark and brooding showing a soul drifting and lost, disintegrating in a society that bewilders and befuddles him and who questions how much longer he can go on in a time of his life where the world just bruises as it confuses. Dylan's past few releases from Oh Mercy to World Gone Wrong have focused on the corruption of spiritual values in the polluted culture we live in. Time Out of Mind is a more personal journey about a mind ravaged by the irreconcilable differences between a man, a woman long gone, and a world where time and distance painfully have come to mean the same thing.

This remarkable music is the kind that once you listen to it you will never hear, see, or feel things in quite the same way. Phrases stick with you in a powerfully emotional and insightful way and bounce around inside running into an occasional memory or two. "They tell me everything is going to be all right but I don't know what all right even means... Everything looks so far away..." His usual word play for the most part is missing, but would seem out of place in the settings and moods of the songs. Sometimes the most effective way to express is the simplest way.

Dylan's weary vocals match the melancholy of the bluesy melodies and instrumentation. One wonders what was more painful, the heart trouble he endured last spring or the genesis of these songs. And again he demonstrates that being a great singer doesn't mean having a great voice; a great singer gets to the heart and soul of the song and makes the listener share in what the writer is trying to say. The first four songs are spooky and similar in tone showing a man who has got a bad case of the blues but it's the fifth song, Tryin' to Get to Heaven where the heartbreak becomes larger than the singer, connecting this CD with his past work while at the same time showing the price of the road he's wandered down. He conveys the deepest despair any of us can feel is to feel like we can no longer connect to anything or anyone around us. "When you think you have lost everything, you find out you can always lose a little more. I'm just going down the road feeling bad tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door." This is in stark contrast to the cocky rebel who used to revel in his alienation from the mainstream, who sneeringly sang, "When you ain't got nothing you got nothing to lose..." The voice of that same singer who seemed to know something the rest of us didn't, now seems so lost and confused. Yet he keeps heading down that road because it's the one thing he knows how to do.

Other highlights include Not Dark Yet where he sings, "It's not dark yet but it's getting there. My sense of humanity has gone down the drain. Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain..." Also Make You Feel My Love which sounded like a really bad Billy Joel song in Joel's version with cliche and hackneyed lyrics, but in the setting among the darkness of Time Out of Mind, shows the uplifting heartfelt beauty that keeps Dylan coming back for more. The song has the simplest and "happiest" lyrics on the CD yet is in a way the most moving and painful because of its inherent wistfulness. The final song, Highlands, is a sixteen minute delight that sums up the tone from the rest of the CD but adds touches of wit and humor with its dry, mundane look at every day occurrences. "I'm crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog, talkin' to myself in a monologue. I think what I need might be a full length leather coat. Somebody just asked me if I registered to vote..." (A message of great personal meaning for elections officials.) It is the final lament from a lost soul who mid-song stumbles into a restaurant for a memorable encounter with a waitress. The song is elegiac and hypnotizing and you just want it to go on and on. I have listened to it repeatedly and my smile grows wider and wider after each listen.

The masterful writing and singing that defines the doom and darkness isn't what makes this CD such a great piece of work; rather it's the authenticity and the beauty of the heartache expressed and listening to the voice of an artist whose best work is so constantly rewarding and breathtaking. It's involving and inspiring to hear such a personal statement that expresses your own feelings better than you yourself can.

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