Sunday, January 8, 2017

Bob Dylan's Dream: A Poignant Lament

Interviewer: Do you read the Bible?
Bob Dylan: Of course. Who doesn't.
Interviewer: Do you read Shakespeare?
Bob Dylan: Yes
--Rome Interview, July 2001

Dylan is clearly a product of his time. What kind of music would he have produced had his career begun twenty years later instead of here in the 1950s Northland and Greenwich Village of the Sixties? Of course everything else would have been different, too. Peter, Paul & Mary would never have sung "Blowin' in the Wind." The Byrds would never have found fame with "Mr. Tambourine Man." The wild mercury sound of Blonde On Blonde... Could an album like that have been produced in the 80s? Paul, George and Ringo would never have been lured to Nashville to record after the breakup of the Beatles.

Had Dylan come along twenty years later he'd never have seen Buddy Holly at the Armory in Duluth just days before his music died. Dylan, or rather, Robert Zimmerman, would not have been born yet. His earth-shaking world tour with the Hawks, a.k.a The Band, would never have happened. He would have been four when he had his motorcycle accident and moved up to Woodstock.

No one knows what might have been had Dylan come of age into a different age. The only thing we really know is what actually did happen. The soil has as much to do with a seed's success as the seed, and in Dylan's case the fertile Greenwich Village scene could not have been better for a young 'un enamored with American roots music.

* * * *
I'm not sure exactly what it is about "Bob Dylan's Dream" that so resonates with us. Perhaps it's because Dylan so effectively captures the feeling of living inside what Hinchey calls "the cocoon of adolescence," before the realities of life and responsibility and the necessity of growing up force us to break out of that cozy security. What's striking is that he was himself but a youth when he wrote this, not yet 22. It's written as if he were an older man looking back on an idyllic earlier time, but it reminds me more of freshman year at college, hanging out in dorm rooms with new found friends.

While riding on a train goin' west,
I fell asleep for to take my rest.
I dreamed a dream that made me sad,
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had.

Those early years we often fail to appreciate or properly appreciate our friendships, taking so much for granted due to our lack of experience. When I moved away from Ohio, and later New Jersey, I never really stayed in touch with anyone. Social media has resulted in a few surprising contacts but the brevity of youth and our forward looking trajectory doesn't always cement these relationships for the long haul. I'm often impressed and even amazed when someone shares that she and her friend have been friends since kindergarten.

As we meet new people and encounter new ideas, we're often changed, our friendships re-arranged.

Unfortunately, like the Robert Frost poem about two diverging roads, many of the wonderful people who were once part of our lives get left behind. Occasionally it is due to our own neglect, or failure to value those treasured people. That is why this song is more lament than dream.

As we get older, and begin to understand ourselves a bit, we are less haphazard in our friendships. We begin to seek out like-minded people with values or interests similar to ours. It takes time. New interests or changes in geography test these friendships. And as we are flung forward by fate and circumstances, and choices -- for better or worse -- we disconnect and reconnect with many people of greater or lesser influence upon us.

Likewise as we get older we value the good in others more deeply, especially when there are those rare connections that seem like true gifts. But it is with great pain and dismay that I remember all the really special people whom I failed to value fully, and even sometimes hurt through my own insensitivity and self-centeredness.

So it is that in "Bob Dylan's Dream" the writer is drawn to a familiar Northern Minnesota scene, a memory of friends huddled around a wood stove on a chill winter day, warming up by the fireside on a day not unlike today where the thermometer reads 20 below zero and the packed snow squeaks from the cold.

* * * *
The first time Bob Dylan performed this song live was at Gerdie's Folk City on February 8, 1963. The last time, at the Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barrie, PA, November 15, 1991. Just before performing it, during an acoustic set that included Desolation Row and Don't Think Twice, he said, "Here's a song right here that's autobiographical."

The song originally appeared on his breakthrough second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. It has also been included on The Original Mono Recordings, released in 2010, as well as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos, which I've been listening to again this week. Finally, you can also hear it on Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University.  (A 1963 recording.) Dylan has performed the song 50 times in concert.

The first time I wrote about this song was in September 2008.

It’s a song about old friends from his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. As I listen to it again I am impressed at the maturity he demonstrated in these early songs.

Bob Dylan’s Dream

While riding on a train goin' west,
I fell asleep for to take my rest.
I dreamed a dream that made me sad,
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had.

With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon,
Where we together weathered many a storm,
Laughin' and singin' till the early hours of the morn.

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung,
Our words were told, our songs were sung,
Where we longed for nothin' and were quite satisfied
Talkin' and a-jokin' about the world outside.

With haunted hearts through the heat and cold,
We never thought we could ever get old.
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one.

As easy it was to tell black from white,
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right.
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split.

How many a year has passed and gone,
And many a gamble has been lost and won,
And many a road taken by many a friend,
And each one I've never seen again.

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain,
That we could sit simply in that room again.
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat,
I'd give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.

If you have a friend whom you have known all your life since grade school, I consider you most blessed. If you have a friend whom you have not stayed in touch with because you moved away, get back in touch… and promise to meet again some day.

* * * *
Meantime, life goes on all around you. Don't let it pass you by.


Tim Cumming said...

One of my favourite early Dylan songs - here's a link to an essay and poem about Bob Dylan's Dream, its source, Lord Franklin's Dream, and how Dylan heard it from Martin Carthy for the first time on 22 December 1962 at the King and Queen pub in Fitzrovia, where I have read poems, and which still hosts the same folk club Dylan attended

LarryK said...

one of my favorite early bob tunes, which I love singing and playing with a bunch of my earliest friends when we convene for our annual sojourn in Maine...great melody, easy to finger or flat-pick, and perfect lyrics. LarryK

george clark said...

I think the 4th verse is "with hungry hearts", thanks

Hilda Fernhout said...

With haunted hearts through the heat and cold

We never thought we could ever get old

We thought we could sit forever in fun

But our chances really was a million to one

Ed Newman said...

There are a number of variations on some of the songs. On THIS version ( he sings "With haunted hearts" but he also sings "Laughin' and jokin' where the words say "A-jokin' and talkin')

It's not the only place where there is divergence between versions of recorded or performed songs and the printed lyrics. fwiw

Thanks for the notes and comments, and attention to details. Great song in all its versions