T for Tom

Day 18 – Desire – 1976

Posted in A Dylan A Day by johnsontoms on July 9, 2016


When I said a week or so back that Dylan likes to put his strongest anthem up front on every record, I keep getting haunted by whether I was intuitively correct or absolutely wrong. Desire does nothing to help this case, as it provides for the first time a song that even Dylan himself couldn’t say wasn’t a protest song. I speak of course about “Hurricane.”

I’m halfway through now with reading Chronicles I, and as a songwriter starts to find structure in a full-length novel, Dylan begins to wax a bit about this and about that. There’s a poignant moment though, and something that he always comes back to throughout the book as he discusses the myriad other songwriters and players he comes across in New York, and that’s his devout faith of the folk song. The particular description I’m speaking of now, he says “to me, folk music gets to the heart of it – that is the whole of life, and that life is lies…” This equation means then that he also believes that folk songs are lies. There is no refutation of this, though he frequently explains cryptically, “it was always only just about the music.” He never meant to protest anything.

“Hurricane” though is different. Telling the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a black boxer who was jailed for the crime of murder, though only specious evidence at best was ever provided by the law enforcement and prosecution. It later became a film some 20 years on, but Dylan was, as he is wont to be, ahead of the curve. There is no mysticism in the lyrics – Carter is named by name, and the song is direct its accusation of the white people involved in keeping a black man in jail. That is something we can all stand against, and Dylan was no less a man to say so.

The rest of the record though, is where the inverse occurs, as the first song again is contrarian to everything that follows. The second track, “Isis,” is one of his all-time bests and tells the mythological modern tale of a sorceress leaving a man divorced and empty and sad. It is probably rightly attributed to his own divorce, and is a continuation of Blood On The Tracks filtered through a rock’n’roll lens.

And that’s the landing point – this is Dylan possibly at his most comfortable. Having now destructed the title of generational speaker, and having now for five years made separatist music, he donned his Rolling Thunder Revue hat, put on some makeup, and took the stars that housed Jimi Hendrix and later Stevie Ray Vaughan – a man solely about his music. For that we get one of his greatest albums, an achievement that wasn’t really hit again until Love and Theft or Modern Times.

It’s no surprise then that the final track is “Sara.” It is the name of his children’s mother, the name of his now former wife.

“Sara, Sara, whatever made you want to change your mind?”

There is no protest. Only a song about life, and this time, for the first time, it isn’t a lie.

Song: “Sara”

For the reasons above.


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