Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bob Dylan Song #172: Wedding Song

And so we come to the close of Planet Waves with one of the most interesting songs of Dylan's career, a song that puts a lot of its potential meaning directly in the title (why wouldn't you immediately think of Dylan's own marriage upon hearing that title?) and also is imbued with a whole different meaning after Dylan's next album came out ("wow, what the hell happened between then and now?"). On top of that, this is one of the precious few Dylan songs since Bringing It All Back Home that is purely acoustic, and from the sounds of things Dylan recorded it more or less in the same slapdash style as he did his acoustic albums (you can hear Dylan's hand slapping against the guitar, or perhaps the guitar hitting the buttons on his shirt, near the end; Dylan plays the third line of every verse differently, to both the song's benefit and detriment; and there are definitely moments where Dylan seems to be searching for words). It's kind of an odd way to end an album that's been billed as a collaborative effort, and yet a fitting way to end an album that has given so much of its lyrical content to love and devotion and such things. In short, it's kind of what you'd expect from our man Bob - a mass of contradictions that still manages to add up to the image we have of him as a whole.

So what the heck are we, the listening public, to make of this song? There are moments that stray towards legitimately uncomfortable emotional nakedness (that first verse, in particular), or perhaps it just seems that way because we're not used to that sort of thing from Bob; there are also moments as cloaked in poetic mystery as his Electric Trilogy mindbenders (I'm thinking of that "courtyard of the jester" bit). Dylan talks about his children out of nowhere - although he only mentions three, presumably because the extra syllable would've thrown the entire line out of whack - and he also plays at elements of possible discord in his relationship ("we can't regain what went down in the flood" - I've often wondered if this is where the title of Before the Flood came from) that don't quite fit in with the rest of the song's always-and-forever beatitudes. He makes a mention at the end about how he "love(s) you more than ever, now that the past is gone", which can't help but spark any number of theories about what exactly he's getting on about. So, just like most of Bob's songs, then!

To get back to the most obvious point - and, I suppose, the one most people would expect to be talked about in this post - "Wedding Song" has gained an extra and probably unwanted level to its fame because of what came afterwards. I would agree that it seems like something of a disconnect between some of the more over-the-top platitudes Bob's slinging here (who would expect him to sing about ANYBODY "sav(ing) my life" in an unironic manner?) and something along the lines of "oh, I know where I can find you/in somebody's room" (not to mention his improvised bit of business on the Hard Rain version of "Idiot Wind", which is just plain mean-spirited and not even particularly creative), and that "Wedding Song" takes on another plateau of significance because of that disconnect. Hell, maybe it makes sense from the most purely emotional position - I loved you this much, but you were a bitch, so now I hate you this much. QED.

Or maybe we can explore that position a little bit more. The thing about Blood on the Tracks (oh, how long I've studiously avoided trying to discuss that album, only to have to buckle and show some of my cards with just one damn song to go) that makes it a) such a masterpiece and b) a cut above every other breakup album that has ever been recorded is the fact that it shows so many different shades of what it means to be in love and have that love collapse, sometimes even in the same song. "You're A Big Girl Now", which contains the line about adultery (real or accused), also contains one of the most fascinating lines in Dylan's entire catalog, where he sings "I can change, I swear/See what you can do", both revealing naked heartache and desire for reconciliation and taking a bitter semi-mocking jab in practically the same breath. "Idiot Wind", for all its rage and bile, turns the "you're an idiot, babe" of the choruses to "we are idiots, babe" at the very end, Bob ultimately as self-aware as we all know he is. And I argue that an album with that much shading and complexity, one that has so many angles of that most unknowable of the human condition examined to a T, can only come from a love as strong and deep as the one that Bob must have had with his wife. Suze Rotolo (RIP, by the way) got some great songs. Sara Lowndes got a hell of a great album.

It has been said, I'm sure (as in, I'm quite certain somebody said it once, but can't for the life of me remember who) that "Wedding Song" was Dylan's last Hail Mary shot at reconciliation with his wife, a way to try and show her that he still deeply cared for her and their strained marriage was still worth saving. That makes just as much sense as anything else - after all, Dylan REALLY lays it in thick on some of those verses, doesn't he? But I would think that, even if that were true and Dylan simply wrote the song on the way to the studio because he wanted to end his album with a blown kiss of a song to his wife, that viewpoint might diminish the very thing that the theory is trying to prop up - i.e., Dylan's love of his wife, even at the very end of their relationship. I would think that the following album, full of bittersweet emotion, sadness, anger, and even the occasional ray of hope peeking through the black clouds, should tell that story well enough. "Wedding Song" might very well have been a last-gasp declaration of love, but I'd hope that enough time has passed that it can just be seen as a declaration of love.

And that, after far too long of a hiatus in between songs, is the end of Planet Waves! Thank you all for your support and your readership, even with the long arid stretches between content on this site. The next post will be my take on Tour '74, and then we get into what is (in my opinion) the pinnacle of Bob Dylan's career, and a pretty good candidate for the pinnacle of popular music as a whole. Hope you keep reading!
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Bob Dylan Song #171: Never Say Goodbye

Hello again.

So I'm not really sure if I've talked about this at any point during the writing of this blog, but one of the issues that I was going to have with this project was with songs just like this one. As I hope I've ably demonstrated so far, there was never going to be much of a problem with coming up with things to talk about for the major songs - even if it meant that I'd have to trod over some ground that has been trod over (and trod over, and trod over, and trod over...) in order to create a post of any substance, there were still some interesting channels to explore in doing so, and it was always fun to look at some of Bob's classics in ways that perhaps the more entrenched Dylan writers might not. But it's songs like this one - a pleasant sorbet of a track, a palate-cleanser leading in to the epic closer that is "Wedding Song", and a way for The Band to do their thing while Dylan sings a charming but ultimately forgettable song about love that charmingly but ultimately forgettably serves as part of the album's overall aesthetic, Robertson's processed guitar tone and all - in which I find myself truly struggling to come up with something to talk about (so much so that it's taken me six months - well, okay, maybe not). There's an interesting bit about "chang(ing) your last name too" (so it's not about his wife, then?), and a lovely opening verse where Dylan seems to be singing about Minnesota, but there isn't much else to distinguish the song other than its inherently pretty melody.

I imagine I will get at least a few comments taking me to task for my apparent offhand dismissal of the song (a song that, I need to point out, I do like, if not love or anything), and that would not surprise me one bit. After all, I've written my fair share of posts about songs that some Dylan fans, even fans of much greater magnitude than I (I've only been to THREE shows, and the last one a couple years ago - I would guess a fair number of readers here have me beat on that one) could care less about, and I see absolutely nothing with that, either. I do not expect people to have the same reaction to "Mama, You Been On My Mind" as I do. That's what fandom at a level beyond "casual listener" brings you - any true fan's mix CD of Dylan would surely go down roads the typical Columbia-issued Dylan compilations would not, and they will always be the better for it.

Look, I'm not going to pretend that somehow it's the "Black Diamond Bay"s of Dylan's catalog that make him the revered artist that he is today, and not the "Subterranean Homesick Blues"s, any more than I would suggest that the people that compile the Dylan compilations that seem to crop up every couple of years should put on more album tracks and less hit singles. But what I will suggest is that it's one thing for Dylan to be a REVERED artist, a man who wrote "Tangled Up in Blue", for the love of Pete, and another thing for Dylan to be a LOVED artist, a man whose catalog can continually surprise, bewitch, and thrill even his most ardent diehard fans. And I honestly think that it's the lesser-known songs that give Dylan the real heft and substance to his catalog beyond "hey, Famous Songs!", you know? Come for the hits, stay for the numbers like these, so to speak. The mere fact that there are YouTube covers of "Never Say Goodbye" says all you need to know; inasmuch as recording your own version of this track and posting it for mass consumption says you love this song, the existence of those videos shows a commitment and love that is as meaningful as any other way to show how much Dylan's music affects you.

Which, I suppose, comes back to this blog and how I feel about it. You might not think it from the protracted layoff (for which I can only offer sincere apologies), but this humble little project of mine is how I show my own love and commitment to Bob Dylan's music. And just as much as I find myself struggling to write about certain songs (like this one), there are any number of posts in which there are so many things I could write about that song that I find myself having to whittle down the potential topics to something easily readable and not Moby Dick-length. I suppose that explanation is as much apology as it is explanation, but that's just the way that this sort of deal works. I can very easily imagine the alternate universe in which somebody is currently writing an opus the size of my "Mama" post about "Never Say Goodbye", about how a certain era of their life was defined and shaped by that song, and about how it has greatly affected their life the way that "Mama" has affected mine.And if that universe, and that person, and that person's blog actually does exist, I wish them the best of luck. Oh, and I'd tell them to give "Sign on the Window" another spin - that one's a real peach.
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