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Another Side

Another Side of Bob Dylan — This album is "another side" of Dylan as compared to the previous album, The Times They Are A-Changin', but I didn't feel like it was completely new. Freewheelin' was a combination of both sides: the political/social/"topical" side and the other side, including everything from personal lamentations to carefree improvisational storytelling. The fact that these two sides were so clearly divided in the next two albums makes me wonder if there was label pressure to put out the "political" album that people were expecting before doing anything else. In any case, it sounds like he's back to having fun on this album, at least on a few tracks. The song that explained this entire album for me is "My Back Pages", in which he regrets the overly simplistic and idealistic moments of his youth (which ended, as far as I can tell, about eight months prior). The chorus says it all: "Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." He flips the familiar regret of immaturity around to show that he's become wiser by acknowledging that he knows less than he thought. To me this says that the Times days are over and that we're not likely to see anything like that again. I am not discouraged by this; I think he's more effective when operating on a lower, more human level anyway.

In another extraordinary coincidence, so regular in my life, I found a parallel in my latest reading, Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky had been a radical in his day and nearly put to death for it, but in writing this he was attempting to reveal the true implications of the convictions of the radical movement, which Dylan also attempts to get at, albeit through a personal message, in "To Ramona". Both men are dealing with the radical, simplistic urges of their youth by writing to encourage others to avoid the same fate. Granted, Fyodor's work may be a little more nuanced and developed but he had an extra twenty years, including four in a labor camp in Siberia, to think about it.

November 19, 2005

The Limitations of Medicine

Remember when I started running, almost a year ago? And when I started doing it competitively, even joking about running a marathon? Well, guess what? I ran on Monday. One mile. In 10 minutes, 52 seconds. (For those of you with no feel for running pace or distance in miles, that's really slow, as in Veronika will soon be able to run faster.) Beginning in March, I started getting shin splints in my left leg for no obvious reason (I hadn't recently increased my mileage or started running hills, changed shoes or surfaces, etc.). I took a week off but when I started running again, the pain came back. I saw a podiatrist that specializes in running and he looked at my feet, my shoes and my form, told me to stretch daily and take three weeks off, which I did. When I resumed running, the pain came back. Then he sent me to physical therapy, which I did for a while, during appointments and at home, only to have the pain return during a pick-up basketball game and set me even further back. So I took the entire summer off, did strengthening and stretching exercises nearly daily and finally started running a month ago, increasing a quarter-mile per week. I'm at one mile as of last week and trying to believe that the beginnings of pain that I'm feeling in my left leg are all in my head.

Then there's the RSI in my arms, which has been around for over a year now, but not for lack of seeking treatment on my part. I have been through a litany of doctor's appointments and ergonomic improvements and sought advice everywhere I could, but nothing has provided much relief.

These things are starting to add up and get me down. Everyone around me can run regularly, why can't I? Everyone at work can type for eight hours a day, why can't I? This feeling of being weak or injured makes it more difficult for me to deal with everyday stress and eventually starts nagging at my self-esteem. On top of that, I'm becoming exasperated at the medical establishment. If previous generations of men were criticized for not going to the doctor enough, then I am doing my best to make up for them, going at every opportunity. At first I thought my frustration was due to the "doctors have all the answers" attitude that I acquired growing up, that it was unrealistic to put them on such a pedestal. This is certainly true, but still I can't shake the feeling that given all the technology available today, these answers must be obtainable. If one doctor would be more concerned about finding a solution than getting me out of his office so he can see the next patient, I think answers would soon follow. I guess that's not profitable. I hate that I sound this cynical but I don't know how else to feel. I can understand thinking that my recreational injury (leg) isn't worth the investment, but what about the RSI that threatens my means of providing an income for my family? Can I get someone to care about that?

If only all appointments were as good as the one two weeks ago, when I got to see my son for the first time.

November 15, 2005

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

I've finished round one of my journey through Bob Dylan's albums and I need to dump what's in my head so I can continue on. Perhaps I'll do this more frequently in future, because three Dylan albums' worth of thoughts is a lot to keep track of in old Duder's head.

Bob Dylan — This album surprised me for a number of reasons: 1) how rooted his sound is in the blues tradition. I expected the influence of Woody Guthrie but not so much Robert Johnson; 2) how few original compositions there are (two); and 3) how raw and urgent the sound is. Who knew that he could sing and play with such intensity? It's a far cry from the marbled-mouthed drawl that I know is to come. Although he recorded this album when he was 20 (or so), a good portion of the songs are about death and dying. I don't know if this just comes with the blues territory of if it is a sign of the times, what with the perpetual threat of nuclear holocaust and all. In my grand tradition of reading whatever book's at my fingertips into everything else I see and hear, I wondered if perhaps he was confronting and accepting his mortality, as William Barrett describes when speaking here of Heidegger:

The authentic meaning of death—"I am to die"—is not as an external and public fact within the world, but as an internal possibility of my own Being. Nor is it a possibility like a point at the end of a road, which I will in time reach. So long as I think in this way, I still hold death at a distance outside myself. The point is that I may die at any moment, and therefore death is my possibility now... Only by taking my death into myself, according to Heidegger, does an authentic existence become possible for me.

Authentic existence indeed. I ran into the same obstacle with his treatment of traditional Gospel music sentiment. Is he singing it because it's part of a tradition he's emulating or is he casting a skeptical eye on religion? I lean toward the former because I haven't seen him be so blatantly dismissive. This album is a lot of fun, if only to hear Dylan fresh out of the North woods, backcountry accent and all. Favorite tracks: "Song to Woody" and "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down." "Pretty Peggy-O" is the best to sing along with in the car. You should hear my harmony, it would give you goosebumps.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan — Wow. Compared to the previous album, this is an explosion of Dylan originality. He covers so many styles and moods, such a range of topics, yet it all comes together so gracefully. The powerful imagery and lyricism that he's known for are already present on this album if perhaps less veiled and cryptic than in later years, which is actually nice. I did not feel compelled to stop listening to this album, even after three weeks of rotation. I'm falling so hard for the early Dylan sound that I'm worried about making the transition to the later electric stuff (not really). The back-to-back combination of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" makes me pause every time. I think Dinka has heard enough of me singing "Corrina, Corrina" to last her a lifetime.

The Times They Are A-Changin' — After the showcase of versatility on Freewheelin', I was surprised by the narrow focus on this album. It has the ominous feel of approaching, imminent change, "like the stillness in the wind, 'fore the hurricane begins." This is also the most socially/politically-oriented album of his that I've heard. Not that any of this makes it a bad album. On the contrary, his focus is sharp and every song is effective. "With God On Our Side" should have been printed in every major newspaper over the course of the last four years of war. I'm still a sucker for the slow, introspective ones though ("One Too Many Mornings", the eulogy-at-23 of "Restless Farewell"). I think he's at his best when the terrifically ambigious and human aspect of his characters is most obvious.

Aside: It is obvious that I'm writing all of this out for myself, right? I don't pretend that I'm an authority on such things, I just want to be able to look back on my impressions of the albums.

November 03, 2005 | Comments (2)