There’s no getting past this; this is a time we’ll probably not get back again. As we watched the English football recommence this week we wondered how often these photographs of players with BLM logos replacing their names in front of empty grandstands would appear on future pub quizzes asking for explanation. Who knows, perhaps in a few years this will seem to be the norm, but we hope not.
So it is with a new Bob Dylan album. Much of my adult life has been peppered with the anticipation and reaction to such an event, but in reality, we have no right to expect many more Fridays like June 19th. ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways‘ came in at the time we needed it most. That it’s been greeted with such joy by critics and admirers alike really comes as no surprise. I listened to it all on Friday first thing and it really is Bob at his best.
What I love most about this record is Dylan’s connectedness to the world. There’s still that sense we got on Time Out Of Mind that this is someone more than aware of his own mortality yet, in Yeats words, casts ‘a cold eye on life and death.’ This time we’re twenty three years down that road and the artist is in his eightieth year with no intention of pretending otherwise. These were lines that poked out on that first listen through:
‘I sleep with life and death in the same bed,’
‘the city of God is there on the hill’
‘Mother Muses wherever you are, I’ve outlived my life by far.’
Then there are the references. The Rolling Stones, Indiana Jones, the back catalogue of songs and artists mentioned on Murder Most Foul, writers, poets, blues men, saints and …. well….Liberace. Julius Caesar creeps in more than once….
What are these dark days I see?
In this world so badly bent
I cannot redeem the time
The time so idly spent
How much longer can it last?
How long can it go on?
I embrace my love, put down my hair
And I crossed the Rubicon
Why is any of this important to me, to us? Firstly this is the very heart of what Americana must be. A writer who is steeped in the traditions of American song. The ghosts of all the souls we once loved are scattered in and around this record. It’s a compendium of traditions, styles and echoes of all that we have known and come to accept as the foundations of roots music. But secondly, and maybe importantly, it’s Bob Dylan at 79. I think I’m not being entirely doom-laden here when I say that there won’t be many days when the world stops for a few hours and over different time zones we, as one, consume a new Bob Dylan record. So we need to celebrate that he has made one of the records of his life, plotted every curve, produced and directed the entire enterprise…and lest we should forget, sung it all with panache, wit and style. He’s made us laugh, shocked us a little and again broken our hearts in all the right ways.
Hours have not passed without me tapping into this record over the weekend. I intend not to break that pattern on Tuesday evening this week. There will be more too. Expect records from Phoebe Bridgers, Nadia Reid, Jeb Loy Nichols and something wonderful from Bill Kirchen, Paul Carrack and Nick Lowe as they take on Merle Haggard. It will be two full hours starting at five past eight this Tuesday evening on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.