By Daniel Garrett
Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind
Produced by Daniel Lanois
Sony Music, 1997
Bob Dylan’s voice is solitary against a simple rhythm—aged, skeptical, wise, disgusted by love, analytical, descriptive, in the thick it, in the song “Love Sick,” the first song on his album Time Out of Mind. There is not much new that most of us can say about Bob Dylan, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to voice a compliment or criticism, even if it echoes what has already been said and said loudly by others. I have liked some of Bob Dylan’s early recordings, such as The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963), with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and Bringing It All Back Home (1965), featuring “Maggie’s Farm,” and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and Highway 61 Revisited (1965) with “Like a Rolling Stone and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” and Blonde on Blonde (1966), featuring “Just Like a Woman” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine),” and I recall being fond of the somewhat controversial Self-Portrait (1970). I liked the music more than the lyrics of 1979’s Slow Train Coming (“You’ve got to serve somebody” is a repellent idea to me, whether interpreted politically or spiritually). But, I have been most fond of Blood on the Tracks (1975), featuring “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” and “If You See Her, Say Hello,” “Shelter from the Storm,” and “Buckets of Rain,” and Time Out of Mind (1997). I know that Dylan’s recent albums Modern Times (2006) and Together Through Life (2009) have received critical appreciation and significant sales, but I do not like the sound of his voice nor the music on those albums as much as that on Time Out of Mind, which is dramatic, mysterious, urgent.
The rhythm is more prominent, more enthusiastic, with swing and twang, in Time Out of Mind’s “Dirt Road Blues,” than on “Love Sick”; and “Dirt Road Blues” is a song I can imagine being sung at a country fair. There is scene-setting and the comparison of different times—late night is mentioned, as is the changing pace of different days—in Dylan’s draggy voice, a voice that seems the representation of what he feels. Dylan’s voice is a character in “Million Miles” and other songs, a profound carrier of his lyrics, as the lyrics articulate consciousness and conversation, distance and longing, honesty and self-deception, intentions and imperfect actions. There is a heavy organ sound in “Million Miles,” adding ballast to wordplay that can be insightful, poignant, jaded, or silly.
Dylan’s mix of perspectives in a single song is part of why he fills and gratifies the mind with perceptions that are personal and social, metaphysical and practical, and possibly tragic: “Just when you think you’ve lost everything, you find out you can always lose a little more,” he sings in “Trying to Get to Heaven.” (There is nothing quite like hearing that late at night when you are trying to live through a disappointment: it’s not comforting or consoling, but one finds that one’s pain has been given words, an equivalence, and is no longer unspeakably solitary.) Against a bass guitar’s beat, Dylan sings, “I was alright ‘til I fell in love with you,” which might be an accusation or the plainest fact (in the song “‘Til I Fell in Love with You”). “Tomorrow night, if I’m still among the living, I’ll be Dixie-bound,” he adds. The songs on Time Out of Mind could be extensions of each other, an ongoing monologue. Many of the emotions are indicated, implicit, rather than explicitly named. “I was born here and I’ll die here, against my will,” he sings in “Not Dark Yet”; and in the same song, he declares, “I can’t even remember what I came here to get away from.” Then, come “Cold Irons Bound,” “Make You Feel My Love,” “Can’t Wait,” and the amusing and epical “Highlands.”
Daniel Garrett, born in Louisiana and a longtime resident of New York, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, was an intern at Africa Report, poetry editor for the male feminist Changing Men, founded the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, wrote about painter Henry Tanner for Art & Antiques, organized the first interdepartmental environmental justice meeting at Audubon, wrote about fiction and poetry for World Literature Today and international film for Offscreen, and has done music reviews that constitute a history of popular music for The Compulsive Reader. He has been working on a fiction project, A Stranger on Earth. Daniel Garrett’s web log at Blogger.com, focused on culture and society, is called “City and Country, Boy and Man.” His e-mail address is D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com