Monday, September 17, 2007


How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

(from "Like a Rolling Stone," Bob Dylan, 1965)

Yesterday when I walked into the grocery store, I heard the 1965 recording of Bob Dylan singing "Like a Rolling Stone." Although I've heard that song countless times since I was 15 years old, I heard it again as if for the first time.

The "sound" of the song (not the scornful taunting words) has always had a kind of celebratory quality for me. At 15 years old, I didn't feel anger directed at me as a young woman. Instead, inexplicably, I felt a sense of being included -- that someone cared enough to ask me how I FELT.

On hearing that song with its koan-like questions as a 15 year old young woman, I experienced the parodoxical feeling that although I often felt I was "without a home," I certainly wasn't alone anymore.

There was something in Bob Dylan's voice and range of songs covering the spectrum of emotions that gave me peace of mind for years after that, well into my 40s. I never stopped listening to him, but gradually the "peace of mind" feeling was replaced with a "trouble in mind" feeling. In recent years, I've had to learn to find "peace of mind" within myself but have never felt entirely alone since first hearing what to me is a beloved, bewildering and distinctly expressive voice.

Hearing that voice yesterday gave me a "trouble in mind" feeling.

("Woman With Her Hands Full," gouache, watercolor and pastel on paper by am, 1984)


The Solitary Walker said...

I know that feeling of encountering a Dylan song afresh - even tho' you've heard it countless times before. It can give you quite a shock.

Going to a Dylan gig is a roller-coaster. You come out troubled, you come out elated - you never know which it's going to be.

The things about his songs is that they go so deep - deeper than Springsteen, Mitchell, Young et al - right to the bone, sometimes -which is why they are a such a painful pleasure to listen to.

But funny too - people forget how incredibly funny, witty, sardonic Bob is. I love him in the Scorsese film. He's just so amusing and interesting - and sweet, somehow.

am said...

I love the funny sides of Bob Dylan, too. In these recent years, although I have more of the "trouble in mind" feeling when I hear him sing, that has been tempered by the times I have laughed in delight in response to his enduring and wide sense of humor. Someone clipped together a series of his sillier moments in a YouTube video called "Funny Bob." Maybe you've seen it. And, yes, there IS a definite sweetness to him in the interviews from the Scorsese film.

Loren said...

I don't think I've ever felt quite the same way you feel about Dylan, am, though I've certainly followed singers like Elvis, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, and few select others closely.

If there's one song that always gets me, it would probably have to be Simon's "Slip Sliding Away." Though Cat Steven's "Where Do the Children Play" also resonates pretty strongly.

Generally, though, I think I outgrow each of them in ways I generally don't outgrow favorite poets or writers like Emerson or Thoreau.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thank you for adding me to your blogroll, am. I was about to do likewise.

I haven't seen the YouTube video but will call it up right now.

Loren, I love that Paul Simon song, and many others of his. Cat Stevens too. But Dylan just hits the spot for me. It's both a visceral as well as a mental thing. Like the best of cool jazz can be - tho' Bob's poles apart from jazz in most other ways!

The Solitary Walker said...

PS But most of all an emotional thing...

The Solitary Walker said...

That montage is the coolest thing I've seen for ages! The funniest thing. Bucky Baxter used to be his guitarist, didn't he? My, those were scorching times...

am said...

Thinking about what you wrote, loren. If Bob Dylan hadn't kept growing, I would have outgrown him. He is eight years older than I am and was walking ahead of me from the beginning. I am grateful that he is still out there walking after all these years, though I'm on my own path now.

These words of his mean as much to me today as they did when I first heard them so long ago:

Let me drink from the waters where the mountains streams flood

Let the smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood

Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves

Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace

Let me die in my footsteps

Before I go down under the ground

(from "Let Me Die In My Footsteps," 1963)

For me, he is in a different category from poets and other writers, even other songwriters. I'm not sure what that category is. Maybe a teacher in the Zen or Hasidic or John Muir or Robinson Jeffers tradition. But that's not quite it either. He certainly doesn't see himself in that role.

robin andrea said...

I'm a little bit more like Loren in that I like Dylan, but never connected in the way you have. There is something about him that seems so enigmatic and beyond my ability to fully grasp that I tend to shy away. I'll go check that video just to see the lighter side. I tend to be more of a Joni Mitchell fan probably because her music seems more heart than head focused. Still, Dylan is a fantastic poet, and I am struck by how much his art has influenced you.

am said...

robin andrea -- Joni Mitchell's songwriting also had a powerful effect on my life and artwork. I saw her once in Vancouver, B.C. in a memorable concert in the early 1980s, during the time that my art energy was at its height. Have followed her music through all its changes. She is a self-described "heart and mind" woman and that's why I like her so much. Come to think of it, while painting and drawing, I listened to her as much as I listened to Bob Dylan. Thanks for reminding me of that!

robin andrea said...

am-- That "Funny Bob Dylan" video is really grand. I especially like him dancing with that young woman. Very touching.

One of my favorite Joni Mitchell albums is Court and Spark. I also love Songs to a Seagull. That's her first and it's fantastic.