A few weeks beyond the day I turned 41 I'm about to embark on a journey of a different kind. I'm off to see four Bob Dylan shows at Brixton Academy in London, England.
I've never been to England though I've been accused of butchering the language a time or two in my life. Call me crazy, others have certainly done so, but when my friend Jennifer emailed me last summer and asked if I was interested in going to London to see Bob, I couldn't exactly say no even though Jennifer and I don't really know each other that well.
It's been Bob that has brought us together. We're both fans of the extreme nature. Dylan's music has spoken volumes to me and given what I know about Jennifer he seems to have reached her as well.
I can't speak for Jennifer though I know she speaks English more goodly than I do. For me though there's a reason that Bob Dylan's words have reached me like no other. This evening I turned on the shuffle option on my iPod and I spun the dial to the folder of all the nearly 500 Dylan songs I've loaded on to my mystery device. Songs from all periods of his career have randomly been playing and as I sit here typing away it has dawned on me just about nearly every one has changed me in some significant way. Dylan alone has hit upon that spot within where chaos turns to confusion, where confusion continually gives a chaotic life some type of meaning.
There's the unreleased bootleg version of "TV Talkin Song" from 1991's Under the Red Sky that Dylan's voice bottoms out at the bottom of his vocal register on words that are as scary as they are enlightening. He's playing the role of a crazy man railing against the evils of television although from the sincerity in the performance one can't be sure if he's playing at all. "The news of the day is on all the time/All the latest gossip, all the latest rhyme/Your mind is your temple keep it beautiful and free/Don't let an egg get laid in it by something you can't see..."
Will Dylan pull out "TV Talkin' Song" out of his bag of tricks during his five night stay in London? Doubt it. Wouldn't count on it. If there are two songs I sure wish he'd sing I'd have to say "Dirt Road Blues" and "Temporary Like Achilles" although I know neither one is likely to happen (don't think either has been performed live before).
I'm not sure where I'm at these days but if I could figure it out and put it down on paper obliterating all the morass of discord it might be something like the former... "Goin' walk on down that dirt road 'til I'm right beside the sun/Goin' walk on down until I'm right beside the sun/I'm gonna have to put up a barrier to keep myself away from everyone."
Of course the latter has just as much to say about how I feel these days. "Achilles is in your alleyway/He don't want me here/He does brag/He's pointing to the sky/And he's hungry, like a man in drag/How come you get someone like him to be your guard?/You know I want your lovin'/Honey, but you're so hard..." Like many of Dylan's lyrics it's hard to decipher what he might have been feeling and thinking about when he wrote all those universally cryptic words but when listening to him singing the song one knows exactly what he is singing about. That's one great slight of hand to be able to pull off.
Perhaps what I deep down wish Bob would do is exactly the opposite of what he did during a tour of Britain many years ago as captured in the documentary No Direction Home. Instead of pissing off his fans by plugging in and playing loud and electric, maybe now is the time to disappoint again and play everything in an unexpected fashion- all acoustic or all accordion.
Yes I'm going down that dirt road to some far off place. Yes it's temporary like achilles that part of me is as hardened as it is weakened and sensitive in trying to find new adventures that will help me forget about the old. What I'm more likely to hear those nights across the sea is what it feels like to be own my own with no direction home like a complete unknown, and how there must be somewhere out of here.
I've always felt like a stranger in a strange land but I have a feeling that being in the U.K. will reinforce that feeling greater than normal. That my reason for going is to hear the familiar voice of one that has made this place a bit more comfortable at the same time as he jars me with every word he sings, surely isn't lost on me.