Saturday, August 2, 2014

Beyond Here Lies Nothing Is Great Intro to Dylan's Together Through Life

My first solo art show in Duluth was called First Hand Experiences. The idea being that the process of making art is a first hand experience and that people should come and experience it first hand rather than just take someone else's opinion on the matter.

A couple days ago I heard someone speaking critically of Picasso as an artist and painter. It was obvious to me that they drew conclusions based on images they'd seen in a book and had never really had a chance to marvel at his skills up close and personal. Maybe they didn't like his style, and I can accept that, but he knew his materials, and from a very early age he demonstrated skills beyond his years.

I bring all this up to put in a plug for Dylan's 2009 studio album Together Through Life. For me it will be forever associated with that First Hand Experiences art show as I hung the show while listening numerous times to this album which I consider an excellent addition to the "Late Dylan" period.

Like Picasso, Dylan's interests evolved and can be loosely packaged as periods. With Picasso there was his Blue Period, Cubist period, and onward, always avant garde and breaking new ground. Dylan began in the folk realm, broke new territories for rock, took in Nashville spirits, and so on. The late period beginning with his Grammy-award winning album Time Out of Mind is consummate Dylan, produced in conjunction with Daniel Lanois whom he praises in his book Chronicle: Volume One. (Volume Two is on its way!)

This may have been a stepping stone to his taking over full control for his subsequent albums, all produced by Jack Frost, Dylan's "pen name" for the projects Love and Theft, Modern Times and Together Through Life.

The first two in this trio were highly praised by critics who lumped them together with Time Out of Mind to form that trio. My feeling is that it should be the third in in the Jack Frost trio. For some reason this latter did not receive the same critical acclaim. David Fricke's Rolling Stone review puts both sides of the assessment in a pair of sentences that seem to praise and parch the album: The lyrics seem dashed off in spots, like first drafts, while the performances — by Dylan's current touring band — feel like head arrangements caught on the run between Never Ending Tour dates. But there is a grim magnetism coursing through these 10 new songs — and most of it is in Dylan's vividly battered singing.

My first hand experience with the album has been to find it a re-occurring pleasure. The title of the album is taken from a quote by Ovid, and like both of its predecessors it borrows heavily from other sources.

What's fun in this album is the addition of David Hidalgo's accordion as a thematic musical thread, much like Scarlet Rivera's violin set the tone for Desire. Hidalgo, of course, is the Tex/Mex accent that gives "Must Be Santa" its raucous joyousness on Dylan's Christmas in the Heart. From the opening pair of chord shots "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" yanks you in. Maybe it's having spent a year in Mexico, but there's something engaging about that musica nortena accordion effect, and it obviously appeals to Dylan as well.
Still the King of Cool.

I'm not the only one who likes this album. Dylan himself has played this song 226 times since 2009 on his Never Ending Tour, the last time being two weeks ago in Pori, Finland. Forgetful Heart is another great song from this album, which he is still playing, the last time being in Sweden two nights before Pori.

Maybe some people are critical of the fact that most of the songs were written in collaboration with Robert Hunter, lyricist of the Grateful Dead. And maybe as a listener I don't really care that much how the songs were produced or where they came from. I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the sound, the feel, the vibe of this album. It's opening number here was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Solo.

The album cover itself has that Old Mexico feel with its red, black and white color scheme. The history of Mexico is itself dark with bloodletting and revolutions. Spain sent its Conquistadors and its Inquisition heritage, but the human sacrifices of the Mayans were no picnic for those tribes and peoples who were thus placed on the altars. Dylan's stance toward our present historical situation offers a similar bleakness.

One last thing I like about the album title is that having spent fifty years of listening to Dylan music, it really does feel like we've been together through life.

Here are the lyrics, followed by a music video with the song itself. As always, it's the delivery that makes it uniquely Dylan.

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

This music video for the song, produced by Blue Tongue Films, is a pretty dark piece of videography. It's a story that takes you somewhere you hope you never go.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Just keep breathing.


Unknown said...

From the opening pair of chord shots "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" yanks you in.

Absolutely. I bought it from a store in a mall, got into my car, put it on and BAM straight in, loved the first track and all of the album. Grat idea to get David Hidalgo in to play the accordeon (like harmonica) parts.

Great song, great album.

Micah McCoy said...

Thanks for this write-up. I love this album and your thoughts only made me appreciate more.

Ed Newman said...

Thanks Robert and Micah... I have been wanting to put in a defense for this album for some time now. Glad I did.

Glenda said...

I love the LAST verse. This is a man standing on deck about to sail a "flat earth" and ready to go off the edge….it is an awesome ending to a song. And an awesome beginning of an album. Great story telling don't you think?

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