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Basement Tapes

From what I've read, not much is known about Bob Dylan's hiatus from his motorcycle crash in July 1966 until he resurfaced eighteen months later except that it produced The Basement Tapes. Before I began listening to them, all I had to inform my impression of this time was what I had heard on John Wesley Harding—a bleak and introspective sound with a hearty helping of religious searching. One thing that never occurred to me was that he may have been having the time of his life and in no hurry to return. That was my first impression of The Basement Tapes. The collaboration with The Band here is among the best I've ever heard—each borrowing from the other's style until symbiosis is reached a whole new style takes flight. The sound is so dense, layers of organ and guitar supporting a whole mess of dudes harmonizing their hearts out (I could write an entire essay on the Dude Harmony of The Band, and may still. There is something deeply right there.) The album has a somewhat timeless feel yet seems to encompass many specific times and sounds at once, all accomplished easily and naturally. Now I understand why Greil Marcus spilled so many words describing this as a new anthology of American music. The album is so rich, I don't think I'll ever stop listening to it.

After my first couple of weeks with it, I started to feel a darker undercurrent running through some of the songs, starting with "Too Much of Nothing." It sounded to me like the "too much of nothing" during his recovery may have driven him a little crazy, forced him to deal with his brush with death (if in fact it was that serious) and resurfaced some despair. Then "Million Dollar Bash" started to get to me because it always sounded like some kind of bizarre riff on an afterlife. Combined with the timeless/historical feel of the album, I began to see these songs as a celebration of the legacy of the many musicians that had come before and died and the current performers as proud members of that mortal progression. Instead of feeling documentary, it's so firmly rooted in the tradition that it's uplifting even in the acknowledgement of our fate. "We're all gonna make it to that million dollar bash," right?

So now I have a clear and satisfying picture of that time, accurate or not. I picture a newly married Bob and Sara Dylan living quietly with their three children in upstate New York. In the beginning he's recovering from the crash, having breakfast with the kids, trying to work through some despair and deal with mortality, etc. Eventually he starts making a daily trip up to The Big Pink to play a little, more therapeutically than anything else. They work through decades of old songs and eventually produce some of their own. Whatever happened with the music, it's all set against the backdrop of his new family life and he returns to them every night (I know it's a bit later, but something like this). With that kind of life, who would want to hurry back?

August 14, 2006 | Comments (1)

Potty Humor


Earlier this week I was sitting in the living room and heard Veronika calling me from her room for the second time to go to the bathroom. When I put her on the potty, she asked me to stay in the bathroom with her, so I slumped against the inside of the bathroom door, exhausted. After sitting for a bit and gazing at my belly, I had this kind of out-of-body experience where you're suddenly aware of how you look from someone else's perspective, in this case Veronika's (I have these moments occasionally and without warning. In the wrong moment, it can be quite disorienting. One time I was sitting in a meeting and suddenly imagined myself from several distant perspectives and it took great effort to hold it together). I realized that this body that has been carrying me around for twenty-six years, the one that I still think of as a big kid, that's what a father looks like to Veronika, the same way I looked at my dad at that age and saw "father." I felt an unexpectedly personal connection with her in that moment—a kinship of sorts, like we're just two people on the same journey and now she's taken my place and I've taken my dad's.

When I asked her to go for the third or fourth time, she knowingly said ok and put on a very serious face to indicate her effort. I couldn't help but to laugh, which got her laughing, so there we sat with the giggles for several minutes. In the midst of my laughing, I put my head back and saw in the skylight a reflection of a father and daughter, laughing like fools, one on the potty, in a small bathroom at 9:00 on a hot summer night. Out of nowhere, the thought occurred to me—"This is what my life is right now." And there it was, out of nowhere, a moment of complete serenity and bliss.

Happy birthday, baby girl. Thank you for bringing so much sunshine into my life for every day of the last three years.

August 03, 2006