Thursday, January 24, 2013

Beyond Here Lies Nothin'

Part of Bob Dylan's success as a songwriter has been his ongoing in-depth analysis of our culture. His lyrics have writ large the injustices and demise of post-modern mankind. From the beginning he got our attention with questions like, "How many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned?" and "How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see?"

Though criticized for abandoning his folk roots and appeals to conscience in songs like "Hard Rain" and "Only a Pawn in Their Game'" (The Times They Are A-Changin', 1964), Dylan never stopped being the cultural critic, as witnessed in songs like "Hurricane" (Desire, 1976) and "License to Kill" (Infidels, 1983.)

Dylan's "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" is the Grammy-nominated  opening track of his 2009 studio album Together Through Life. I associate it with my first solo art show titled First Hand Experiences at The Venue @ Mohaupt Block in West Duluth, the reason being that I played this album almost continuously while setting up the show.

At first, the song sounds like a love song, or relationship song, the first line being "Oh I love you pretty baby..."  But each verse is summed up with the bleak acknowledgment of doom: "Beyond here lies nothin'..."  

I'm reminded of the twilight of the gods, the Götterdämmerung, but in this case not the Norse gods of mythology, but rather modern mankind's eroded confidence that we ourselves could be gods after the decline of Christianity in Western culture. Modern man stretched his wings, tried to touch the sun, and like Icarus crashed to earth again. 

Postmodernism is a response to the false hope of modernism, whose pillars were Reason, the belief in progress, the belief in science as the guide to human progress, and the self-sufficiency of man. Post-modern deconstructionists and cultural observers like Dylan recognize the rickety foundations and dangerous place we have come to as a purportedly civilized race. It's after midnight, and not a pretty scene, a boulevard of broken cars. We look for something to hold onto, knowing that all that is left is bleakness and the mountains of the past.

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’

Oh I love you pretty baby
You're the only love I've ever known
Just as long as you stay with me
The whole world is my throne
Beyond here lies nothin'
Nothin' we can call our own

I'm movin' after midnight
Down boulevards of broken cars
Don't know what to do without it
Without this love that we call ours
Beyond here lies nothin'
Nothin' but the moon and stars

Down every street there's a window
And every window made of glass
We'll keep on lovin' pretty baby
For as long as love will last
Beyond here lies nothin'
But the mountains of the past

My ship is in the harbor
And the sails are spread
Listen to me pretty baby
Lay your hand upon my head
Beyond here lies nothin'
Nothin' done and nothin' said

Copyright © 2009 by Special Rider Music and Ice-Nine Publishing 
 It's a great song, but a disturbing music video, directed by Nash Edgerton (c) 2009 Sony Music Entertainment

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