Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bob Dylan's Dreams

The past 24 hours I have been thinking again about the nostalgic 1963 reflection Bob Dylan's Dream, which I now notice that I've written about on a couple previous occasions, the first being in 2011 and the latter this past January where I called the song a poignant lament. The dream is about happy memories, but they leave him sad because they are times that will never return. What's saddest isn't their passing, rather it's that at the time we failed to fully appreciate how special that time was.

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John Bushey in the moment, selecting the next Dylan track.
This past Saturday on Highway 61 Revisited, the KUMD radio program hosted by John Bushey, the theme was the humorous music of Bob Dylan. Bushey's brother and a friend were in the studio with him as they played songs like Wiggle Wiggle and Tweedledum & Tweedledee. One of the songs Bushey played was Talkin's World War III Blues, a sequence of hilarious scenarios with characters like Captain Ahab and Chris Columbus, and that throwaway line, "It was a bad dream." Dylan's playfulness was in part what made him so charming when he first emerged on the scene blowin' his harmonica (about a dollar a day's worth) and delivering payoffs like, "you gotta cut somethin'."

Dreams are either mentioned in passing or featured prominently in quite a few of Dylan's songs. In 1986 Dylan sang, "I had a dream about you, baby" on the album Down in the Groove. On Empire Burlesque he sang, "You're a living dream," on the song Never Gonna Be the Same Again. Also on Empire Burlesque he sang, "I know this dream, it might be crazy" on Clean-Cut Kid, which also cites the notion of buying into the American dream. Was this a reference hearkening back to the "crazy dream" of Talkin' World War III Blues?

"When my last dream exploded" appears on the 1986 song Under Your Spell from Knocked Out Loaded. In 1992 he cites the American dream once again: "When my American Dream fell apart.."

Perhaps during this mid-career crisis period Dylan was reaching into the dream machine because the dream imagery of his early work had made such an impact. In fact, one of the great songs that he wrote for Oh Mercy was itself titled Series of Dreams, a masterpiece of imagery as beautiful and haunting as anything he has ever written.

 On Another Side of Bob Dylan, a critically underrated album if there ever was one, he sings of the "timeless explosion of fantasy's dream" in the song Ballad In Plain D. In To Ramona he instructs, "It's all just a dream, babe, A vacuum, a scheme babe, that sucks you into feeling like this."

In Too Much of Nothin', from The Basement Tapes, he writes, "heard it in a dream."

Dylan is certainly a dream-twister, an image he uses to describe the Jokerman on Shot of Love.

So many of these dream references resonate with me as they have been woven into the fabric of many of my favorite songs. Here's a line that packs a punch, from Street Legal: "Son, this ain't a dream no more, it's the real thing." --Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)

On the album Desire he sings, "At night I dream of bells in the village steeple." --Romance in Durango

On the album New Morning, which has so many associations for me, he sings about being "lost in a dream" in Time Passes Slowly.

And there's still more. On Love and Theft, in the song Bye and Bye, he sings, "I've still got a dream that hasn't been repossessed." And there are lines about dreams in When You Gonna Wake Up, Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie and Hard Times in New York Town.

I found all these dream references by means of an online Dylan Concordance I discovered yesterday.

Here's still one more dream reference, from a song I especially like, Every Grain Of Sand.

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer's dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face
I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

May all your dreams be good ones, and your best ones be fulfilled.


Phil T. said...

Nice article, especially the ending lines. What always amazed me about Bob Dylan's Dream was the fact that he was only 21 or 22 when the song was released. By the way I was 10.


Ed Newman said...

Thanks for the note. Yeah, he produced some pretty amazing work while so very young.
Thanks for the note.