Dylan by A. Fortier
Portrait  by  A. Fortier


by Michael Crimmins

I received this recently:

Senor, Senor, what in God's name are your reasons?
Why the innocents at the stations?
Do you think these deaths will get you ANYWHERE?
We don’t know, can you tell us please Senor?

Well the last thing I remembered, before my skin was peeled,
Was a trainload of people, goin’ to work and doing deals,
No one gave them any warning, no shouts to hear, no bell,
As they rode the death train to that living hell.

“Son this ain’t a dream no more……………”
There’s a lot more, but I cant write it…………..Gerry.

It is obvious enough what course of events brought about this immediate response from my friend Gerry. Bob Dylan of course doesn’t need his lyrics rewritten for him, but in this instance I am glad that somebody bothered to. The pen IS indeed mightier than the sword, and that there are people who do care and react in a meaningful way is what saves our sanity. Immediately on receiving this, a terrible apocalyptic association formed in my mind as I remembered Dylan’s 1978 introduction to “Senor” where he spoke of the songs origin and described meeting with a man on a train somewhere whom had “Fiery eyes and smoke coming out of his nostrils” he went on to say “This is the man that I want to talk to”. These images come straight from the Book of Revelation! Considering that Dylan was on the cusp of his conversion to Christianity, this was indeed the man that he wanted to talk to!

Senor, Senor, do you know where were headin’?
Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?
Seems like I been down this way before.
Is there any truth in that, Senor?

Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) with lines like “You know their hearts are as hard as leather” and “This place don’t make sense to me no more” besides being totally relevant to the latest outrage, offer hope! Just as Gerry’s response signalled light into what could be seen as enclosing darkness, the original lyric, although laden with despair, provides its own solution, or rather answer, as Dylan addresses Christ directly! Therefore paving the way for his own baptism.

The album that Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) comes from ‘Street-Legal’ although at first seemingly being of a much fuddled landscape, takes us through scene after scene filled with emotional turbulence. The Tarot card imagery being at direct odds, although rightly so, with the already in place almost Gospel, seemingly waiting for the slow train backing vocals. This is a very complex album, a special place to go though only when the mood is right. The confusion of the lyric poetry is fitting at such a time of despair. ‘Street-Legal’ is Dylan’s spiritual dogfight, and he uses every artistic trick that he ever used, to nail it, to pull it all into one place and up the arm of a needle. It encompasses everything that he had ever done to date. Robert Shelton in his book ‘No Direction Home’ said of “Where Are You Tonight” (Journey Through Dark Heat) “ The masterwork is the final song of anguish and prophecy, a song with the sweep of “Like a Rolling Stone” here we can discern the move toward Christianity, the foreshadowing of major changes after hellish personal disorder that the narrator has gone through”. Shelton was one of the few at the time when “Street-Legal” was first released, to understand it, to stare hard, and into the Dylan canvas. Indeed as Shelton states and beside “hellish personal disorder” his inevitable Christian baptism, far from settling matters at this stage only seems to torture him further as he faced up to the fact that he must go it alone. He tenderly asked of the lady in “Baby Stop Crying” “Go down to the river babe” to join him in rebirth.

In “Where Are You Tonight (Journey through Dark Heat)" the final song on ‘Street-Legal’ in the final stanza there is a bitter sweet, yet thankful, realisation of salvation.

There’s a new day at dawn and I’ve finally arrived.
If I’m not there in the morning, baby you’ll know that I’ve survived.
I can’t believe it, I can’t believe I’m alive,
But without you it just doesn’t seem right.
Oh, where are you tonight?

It is my personal belief that terrorism achieved a terrible triumph in the wake of the Spanish disaster. It doesn’t really matter whether the culprits are Basque militants or Al-Qaeda, what does matter is that the outcome of the general elections was altered. Dylan fans especially I feel, would find it very hard not to associate thoughts of the end times, with the Bible and with Bob Dylan. Dylan’s concern with humanity and it’s final deliverance, though dressed in many different colours, has always been a constant theme of his work.

Has there ever been an artist who would risk so much to express a point of view? In August,1963 at the Washington Civil Rights march, he risked grave misunderstanding when he delivered his “Only a Pawn in Their Game” to a largely black gathering. Earlier that year in May he made a stand against censorship by walking out of, what would have been one of his first television appearances, “The Ed Sullivan Show” after his “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues” was deemed to politically risqué. Also that same year Dylan, although friends say he was so very obviously affected by the assassination of JFK, gave an after dinner, sharing of the blame, speech in acceptance to his Tom Paine Award, given for his Civil Rights involvement, where he suggested that he saw something of himself in Lee Harvey Oswald. Then of course there were his generally conceived as ill timed comments at live aid in 1985, the list is endless, yet the greatest risk of all in my humble opinion was declaring his faith in Jesus Christ with the release of the mighty ‘Slow Train Coming’ album. Of course to equate Dylan’s deliverance with a word such as risk, is rather silly, unless of course you like I consider it no risk at all.

It was not my intention sitting down here today to write about either Lincoln County Road or Armageddon because really “It’s all been done before, It’s all been written in the book” I did have in mind a rather pleasing Dylan performance from 1984, but I find myself distracted by these reworked lines from “Senor” and maybe the need to provoke a little thought.

“You know we’re living in the end times. I don’t think there’s anybody here who doesn’t feel that in their heart. The scriptures say, ‘In the last days, perilous times shall be at hand. Men shall become lovers of their own selves. Blasphemous, heavy and high minded. Now I don’t know who your gonna vote for, but none of these people are gonna straighten out what’s happening in the world today. Take a look at the Middle East. We’re heading for a war. That’s right their heading for a war. There’s gonna be a war over there. I’d say five years maybe ten years, could be fifteen. I don’t know but remember I told you right here. I told you ‘The Times They Are a-Changing’ and they did. I said the answer was ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and it was. I’m telling you now Jesus is coming back, and he is !- And there is no other way of salvation”.

Bob Dylan Albuquerque, December 5th 1979

Strange how things work out, but to mention the cover of the last Freewheelin February 2004 (222) that featured twin Dylan’s set against Salvador Dali’s “The Metamorphosis of Narcissus” seems like the perfect way to end here, I’m not sure why though!

For information on Michael's band "Dylanesque", including a gigs guide, go to his website.