Friday, August 3, 2012

One Too Many Mornings

Lately I’ve been learning song lyrics so I could do more performing, especially a few Dylan songs. I’ve always been the backup guy doing harmonies and playing harmonica, but I have a good voice and the only thing that was really stopping me from singing was laziness. I just didn’t make the time to learn the lyrics. So when it came my turn to suggest a song to the group I never had anything prepared.

Well, I’ve decided to change that, and it’s turned out to be more of a blessing than I expected. It’s one thing to listen to songs, and quite another to memorize them. In learning the song, you discover many nuanced elements you previously had missed. It’s probably something akin to my friend John Heino’s remark regarding his photography in which he recently stated, “I am seeing more than I ever saw before.” So it is that even though I’ve been listening to and appreciating Dylan music for near half a century, as I learn the lyrics I find still more reasons why the man has been so profoundly influential.

As you listen to this song, the introspective subject matter gives me the feeling that it would have been more at home on Another Side of Bob Dylan, his fourth studio album, than where it appeared on The Times They Are A-Changin’. The two albums do have a resonance as he was still in the unplugged period of his early career.

The first stanza runs like this:

Down the street the dogs are barkin’
And the day is a-gettin’ dark
As the night comes in a-fallin’
The dogs’ll lose their bark
An’ the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my mind
For I’m one too many mornings
And a thousand miles behind

Several things strike me here. First, there are the dogs. Here he uses the dogs to portray the sound of day and the sound of night, but as the stillness of the night settles in, there are other sounds shattering that silence, that stillness… the sounds inside his head.

The title of the song is introduced in the refrain, “For I’m one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind,” a grim assessment of his situation, delivered with eloquence and pain.

This introduction to the story is elaborated in the second stanza.

From the crossroads of my doorstep
My eyes they start to fade
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid
An’ I gaze back to the street
The sidewalk and the sign
And I’m one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

The first image is of a crossroads. Throughout literature and song we see references to crossroads. Tom Hanks in Castaway comes to a crossroads near the end of the film after he has returned from being lost. Blues singers of all stripes have put it out there, “I went down to the crossroads…” Fate and destiny are all wrapped up in the image.

The narrator stands on the doorstep, and for him it’s a crossroads moment because the highway is calling. He’s torn, and looks back to the bed they have shared. But then he looks once more to the street.

The word selection is interesting, because he looks out then back and then out but never uses the word look. He is on the doorstep, then turns his head, then gazes to the street, to the sidewalk and the sign. There is no beautiful vision here as his eyes start to fade. And we’re back into the refrain about their dying relationship and the weight of its emptiness.

Then verse three emerges, the summing up.

It’s a restless hungry feeling
That don’t mean no one no good
When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’
You can say it just as good.
You’re right from your side
I’m right from mine
We’re both just one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

If you’ve ever experience this communication impasse you know how agonizing it can be. Misunderstanding, mixed up emotions, communication breakdown.

At the beginning of the song we here dogs barking, but how well can they articulate the nuanced meanings of language? Here in this last stanza, even with language there is no communication.

Everyone knows how painful breaking up can be. The pop way of saying it is expressed in a song like “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.” Dylan’s poetic images may convey the same message, but in a manner more in keeping with the real rawness of that experience.

A few years later Dylan gave us a whole different take on the breaking of day with his song and album New Morning. Whatever he was experiencing here has been left behind and the songwriter is on a new page.

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