Sunday, October 22, 2017

Flirting with perfection

Timeless and meme-worthy
It took only the first listen for it to dig deep into me... and stay there. Bob Dylan had been only a peripheral figure in my life, the Millenial that I was, as someone who was a big deal during my parents' college days but that's about it. Sure, I had heard Knocking On Heaven's Door and Blowin' In The Wind but nice as these songs were, they were just that for me and nothing more.

Then "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" happened. As my sister's Best Of Dylan cassette tape played, a song began with mild toned quick fingered guitar playing. Whatever it is I was doing went AWOL as my attention, for reasons still unclear, turned to the song. The nasal "It ain't no use to sit & wonder why babe, even if you don't know by now..." opening took a hold of me and I listened to the song... word for word, note for note in a manner I had never listened to a song before. The impact of those 3 and a half minutes would last a lifetime.

It's not that I related to the song because someone had made me feel the same way, bitter and regretful. I was then in my late teens, but too geeky and too reticent to even think of a situation where the lyrics would apply to my life. It was just that feeling of having listened to a piece of art composed in 1963 [The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan] and not have the intervening 38 years as any sort of impediment in understanding it.

"And it ain't no use in turning on your light, babe
I'm on the dark side of the road"

"I'm a-thinking and a-wonderin' walking down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I am told
I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don't think twice, it's all right." 

"So long honey, baby
Where I'm bound, I can't tell
Goodbye's too good a word, babe
So I'll just say fare thee well"

Lines like the above, when heard for the first time and delivered in Dylan's lazy drawl had staying power beyond all measure. That words could be that powerful and that a silky smooth voice was not a requirement for a great song were driven home in those eye-opening moments. 

Yes, the song is bitter but just the right kind of bitter, playfully tolerant and forgiving in tone until the very brutal denouement ("You just kinda wasted myyyy precious time... but don't think twice it's alright!") I was astounded by the play of words over those few minutes that led up to that kind of finale, when the slowly smouldering remains of anger flare in that brief phrase only to melt away into painful acceptance again. 

Angry without being really angry, cynical but not outrightly so and hopeful despite not openly saying so - all emotions I could identify with then and still do, hence the personal significance. All said and done, this set a benchmark, an impossible ideal to aspire to. It was a song, a poem, an emotion - all rolled into one package of perfection! If sadness and anger could be channeled into such a beautiful end product, it wouldn't be unfair to say that I am glad someone broke Dylan's heart.