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
“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!