Thursday, May 5, 2022

Throwback Thursday: Titanic Reflections

“I think that he bought a ticket on the Titanic.” ~Moneyball

Last night I began watching A Night To Remember, the 1958 drama about the sinking of the Titanic. It brought to mind a variety of memories. Our friend Robert, a "street person" who lived in the Seaway Hotel here, had something of a fixation with regard to this tragedy. He'd watched this film many times. The film's power half lay in the fact that this event really happened, the invincible ship striking an iceberg and sinking on its maiden voyage. As I watched I was impressed at how quickly the characters were sketched, the story told. 

Bob Dylan's song about the Titanic centers around characters in the 1997 James Cameron film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. One theme of this story is hubris. In Greek tragedy, hubris is excessive arrogance or "defiance of the gods leading to nemesis." Dylan's telling of this story appears on the ninth track of his album Tempest. (You can read the lyrics here.)

When the Reaper’s task had ended Sixteen hundred had gone to rest The good, the bad, the rich, the poor
The loveliest and the best.

Here's what I wrote about the Titanic in 2012

It’s interesting how much the sinking of the Titanic has been woven into the fabric of our culture. Here I am watching Moneyball and one of the former baseball scouts who used to be on the payroll for Oakland is sniping at General Manager Billy Bean (Brad Pitt) for his new approach to the game of baseball. (the quote above.) It’s a perfect segue into a revisiting of Bob Dylan’s latest release Tempest.

The title song is a 45 verse recounting of the demise of the Titanic on her maiden voyage to New York. But this is not Dylan’s first reference to the 1912 tragedy in the North Atlantic. Many decades earlier he made an obscure reference to this same incident in his song Desolation Row, Highway 61 Revisited's capstone.

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting 
“Which Side Are You On?

Desolation Row is another of those lengthy classics Mr. Dylan shot up into the stratosphere of the Sixties, but the Titanic reference is little more than that here, a reference. This time around, on Tempest, it's a fourteen minute exposition.

Just out of curiosity I decided to Google the phrase Nero's Neptune to see what popped up. And guess what? It's another cool Dylan site that I'd been previously unaware of. Or rather, it's a site by a musician consciously influenced by Dylan. Though not a comprehensive site, for the Dylan fan it's worth exploring.

Here's a quote from that site pertaining to Dylan's influence:

Bob showed that lyrics are important, about equally important, as the music. That songwriting and poetic imagery can make you.

That certainly has to be a central piece of insight in understanding the longevity and pervasiveness of Dylan's influence.

For the record, Nero was a Roman emperor who persecuted the early Christian church. Neptune was the Roman name for the god of the sea. (The Greek name was Poseidon.) Another of the songs on Tempest is called Early Roman Kings. Another thematic echo? And here's another, from Slow Train Coming:

Sheiks walking around like kings, 
wearing fancy jewels and nose rings. 
Deciding America's future from Amsterdam and to Paris 

Early Roman kings? The Titanic sails at dawn. Apocalypse now.

Billy Bean purportedly said, "It's hard not to be romantic about baseball." The same can probably be said about the Titanic. In a more macabre manner, however.

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Related Links
In 2021 I wrote the following blog post:
Titanic: A Metaphor for Our Times
Schedule for 2022 Duluth Dylan Fest 

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