Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dylan on a Sunday

I recently read a piece on Highway 61 and its relationship to the blues. Seems that this stretch of road has a bit of lore surrounding it, including the story that accounts for the naming of BB King's guitar, Lucille. And of course, Dylan has a song, Highway 61 Revisited.

It's one of those songs that has grown on me over time. It's rolling and fun. I love both Dylan's version and the cover by Karen O and The Million Dollar Bashers on the I'm Not There soundtrack. The whistles (outrunning the law), the oddball lyrics, the smiling vocal, all give you a sense that your on the lam from reality, which is what any good road trip ought to be.

I love the scenes from the Dylan documentaries when he's composing on a typewriter (ask an old person), and its just rolling out of him, stream-of-consciousness, onto the white paper. And this song feels like that. Words running over the dotted lines, fenceposts flying past your doors. Who knows what could happen? The life you still might have is out there.

Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."

Well Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare Department they wouldn't give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard where can I go
Howard said there's only one place I know
Sam said tell me quick man I got to run
Ol' Howard just pointed with his gun
And said that way down on Highway 61.

So great. (I love this version of the Abraham story. It could've happened this way on the road, on Highway 61).

The road is one of those big recurring music themes. Every good musician has a road song, and for many its a signature song (Springsteen, Thunder Road, Doobie Brothers, Rocking Down the Highway, BB King, Riding with the King, Jackson Browne, Running on Empty, Clapton, Further Up on the Road, Tom Petty, Running Down a Dream, the list could go on). The road is full of promise. It's adventure and possibility. It's a way to be free just for awhile of those things that tie you down, that make your arms heavy and your head sore. You never know what you might see. Think how many stories begin with the phrase, "I was driving once between Abilene and Dallas, along the backroads, and... ."

The road is Jack Kerouac, Thelma and Louise, Homer, Clark Griswold, Bill and Ted, Hope and Crosby, Harry and Sally, Bonnie and Clyde, Brando and James Dean. And the road is made up of actual roads all with their own stories. My world has been marked with long stretches frequently traversed, an eye-ful of life. Abilene to L.A three different ways, or to Portland five different ways. L.A. to Portland. Abilene to Dallas or Austin or San Antonio. Portland to the Coast or Seattle or the Wallowas or north through Spokane into Montana and the Dakotas, St Paul to Detroit. I've driven a 68 mustang, a subaru station wagon, my brother's vw beetle, a jetta, a sciorroco, a 24 foot u-haul with my father-in-law's cadillac in tow, a mercury marquis, a bmw 318e, a jeep cherokee, a lexus, and other lesser cars hardly worth mentioning. Warriors all. And in each case with the stereo blaring.

No road trip is right without some cranking music. Middle of the night. Cruise control. Led Zeppelin. Boston. Heart. Lenny Kravitz. Queen. More than a little head bobbing, fake keyboards on the dash, drum solo on the steering wheel and rear view mirror. Music and the road, the road and music. They just go together. And so today, Dylan is calling me into the freedom of the road. I'm on the lam, for just a few minutes, from comps. Wanna go?

Well Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
I got forty red white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don't ring
Do you know where I can get rid of these things
And Louie the King said let me think for a minute son
And he said yes I think it can be easily done
Just take everything down to Highway 61.

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night
Told the first father that things weren't right
My complexion she said is much too white
He said come here and step into the light he says hmm you're right
Let me tell the second mother this has been done
But the second mother was with the seventh son
And they were both out on Highway 61.

Now the rovin' gambler he was very bored
He was tryin' to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done
We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61.

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