Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Special Guest Post: Justin Shapiro

For those that don't read the comments, you're often missing out - fellow Dylan uber-fan and talented writer Justin Shapiro often contributes thoughts as good, if not better, than the mind droppings I leave on this blog. In the interest of showcasing his talent (and, in this case, letting him make a salient point I may or may not have touched on down the road), I'm posting (most of) the most recent comment he made for "Down The Highway" as its own blog post. Just for the record, an earlier draft of the "Down The Highway" post had references to "Boots of Spanish Leather", but I chopped it out because I couldn't think of a proper and intelligent way of linking the two songs together. Justin, as is his wont, did it with ease. Here's his thoughts.

...As much as I like a lot of the outtakes from the 60s and 70s, I don't think this becomes a detrimental issue until you end up in situations like, "Watered-Down Love is certainly no Angelina but I wouldn't want to be without it, you know?" except then you're without Angelina on an album with some songs that are lesser compositions than Watered-Down Love. (But I'm probably going to contradict myself by the very next album when I will probably be agreeing with you about how The Times would've been a richer record with Lay Down Your Weary Tune to offset some of the bleakness.)

I do agree that, of the many songs Dylan would end up writing out of the blues archetype, this is one the least inventive. I like the turn in the last verse from "the highway" to "your highway" (I presume the Lord's, after the song turns to address Him), which literalizes the highway-as-life metaphor. As much of a generic blues as it is, the verses about the ocean taking his baby and said baby taking his heart to Italy (...Italy) also makes this one of his more literally personal songs, as biographically well-documented as The European Rotolo Situation was. In that aspect, Down The Highway makes for a lyrical companion to Boots Of Spanish Leather, each of them caused by that damn baby-taking lonesome ocean, with Spain replacing Italy (...Italy). Consolation prize: the loss of highway shoes conveniently offset by Spanish boots of Spanish leather.

I'm drawing a blank thinking of the earliest batch of somewhat forgettable songs he wrote, but I think Down The Highway would have to be his first original composition using this lyrical blues form, right? It'd have to be either this, Rocks And Gravel, or Ballad of Hollis Brown. As dreary as Hollis Brown is, Dylan imbues the lines in the blues structure with more poetic language. This is a practice he would build on throughout his life as a songwriter, from Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat and Down Along The Cove, to Meet Me In The Morning and Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking, on through Cat's In The Well and Dirt Road Blues.

No less than four songs on the last two albums utilize this style, and I think that it lends itself well to the kinds of songs he's been writing, with the stacking of lines and images and fragments of phrases next to and on top of each other. It's a long way from "Lord I really miss my baby, she's in some far off land" to the verbosity packed in latter days lines like "The landscape is glowin', gleamin' in the golden light of day" and "She says you can't repeat the past, I say what do you mean you can't, of course you can." A quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald being reappropriated through 5-bar blues being a quintessential example of the kinds of literary juxtaposition that is taking place in these new songs. At the same time, it's a very short way from "I been gamblin' so long, Lord, I ain't got much more to lose" to "Woke up this morning, I must've bet my money wrong."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, TONY. Son of a bitches, I'd always prided myself on my subject-verb agreement.