Monthly Archives: October 2008

Project Dylan: The Time They Are A-Changin’ (1964)

This was my favorite Dylan album when I was 20. It’s easy now for me to see why- the album is full of anthems, stirring statements about the issues of the day, with good and evil clearly drawn in black and white. Granted the day was more than twenty-five years old by the time I got to it, but in the era of Rodney King and the first Gulf War it rang just as true. You never doubt who’s side you’re supposed to be on in “Only a Pawn in Their Game”, “With God On Our Side” or “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and I needed that conviction, along with the certainty that right will eventually prevail that the title track conveys.

Listening to it now, I’m stuck by the poignancy of that song. The times had changed after he wrote it, and then changed back by the time I first listened to it. And since then they changed and changed back and may now be changing back again. The song itself hints at the humility that comes form a long historical view: “don’t speak too soon/ For the wheel’s still in spin/ And there’s no tellin’ who/That it’s namin’/ For the loser now/ Will be later to win” And then win and lose again.

Which is not to say, even now, that I’m immune to the prophetic notion that the time is at hand and the order is about to be fundamentally recast. And anyone who has ever burned with the sense that their time will come can’t help but respond to the bitter defiance of “When the Ship Comes In” (which Dylan himself wrote after being snubbed by a hotel clerk while touring with the then much more famous Joan Baez). But it’s the more personal moments of this album that endure for me now.

Whereas the relationship songs on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan have a kind of pro-forma quality, the real feeling behind “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “One Too Many Mornings” is obvious and moving. As is the sound of the man beginning to struggle against the constrictions of his own public image in “Restless Farewell”. On “North Country Blues” the politics is still there, but subsumed by the personal in the story of the bleak lives of those left behind in a small mining town when the business moves south of the border. And then there’s the “Ballad of Hollis Brown”. The spareness, poetry and driving power of the song that ends with seven shots ringing out “like the ocean’s pounding roar” wowed me when I was twenty and continues to do so today.

San Francisco Daze: September

Here’s the next installment of San Francisco Daze, a series of (aspirationaly, at least) daily sketches of life in our fair city that I wrote in 2005. This one is actually sets off in Salinas, since I was there for my brother’s funeral. Hard to believe that was three years ago. It both seems like a numb million years ago and a piercing just yesterday. *************************************************

September 1

Mortuary in Salinas. Wood panels. Felt. Old furniture. Subdued lighting. Everything designed to keep hysterical people controlled and calmed. It’s both comforting and stifling. I depart in the backseat of my dad’s truck with a golden plastic casket on my lap. Inside are my brother’s ashes, which they transferred into the box, along with an inscribed Bible from dad and a note from me, before they sealed it. This is all such strange business.

September 2

We buried Josh
this liquid gray foggy morning
at the small cemetery in Moss Landing.
The minister from my Mom’s church
sang Amazing Grace
as a striped seabird squawked and alighted nearby.
A small black and white cat
from the weeds of the windswept field
just one dune down
from the ocean.

September 3-5

Nothing but foggy day naps with cats.

September 6

Clement Street, between 11th & 12th
Police motorcycle, lights flashing blue-white-red
Parked next to Linen Outlet
12th Avenue, between Clement & Geary
Motorcycle cop, big and tough in black leather
Pulls over little gray Japanese car
Geary Avenue, corner with 12th
Two police bikes have pulled over two cars
Another hums up the street past me
Policeman suspiciously eyeing the green Perrier bottle
I drink from a brown paper bag
11th Avenue, just before it crosses Geary
Three police motorcycles pull up to the corner
Geary, on the bus now, passing 10th Avenue
Police bike, lights blazing, roars past us
Why do I fear this symmetry?

September 7

The square green park
between Jackson & Front Streets
was full of birds
Unseen squawks, chirps, twitters
all seethed from the dark green spaces
in the trees
A sea of sound
washed out
my thoughts of my brother
and brought me back to life
Which insists on going on
No matter how unwelcome it is

September 8

Whoever did the clouds today really outdid themselves. There were layers on liquid gray layers. Big puffy white cauliflower. Brooding gray that seemed ready to let loose with some serious rain. Yellow orange highlights on fast moving cumulus as the sun set. Well done, mystery cloud maker. Well done.

September 9

On the Way to My Brother’s Memorial

Cal Train slides past
Twisted scrap heap of junked cars
Rusted loading cranes
Graffitied warehouses and squat buildings
With chimneys smoking
Wooden piers rotting
In brackish waterways
Water in the distance
The color of steel
Weird scenes
On the leeward side of the Bay

September 10-11

Saturday was Memorial Day for Josh. Rain clouds scuttled across the underbelly of the vault of heaven, thick, gray and fast. The bright sunny day above and beyond the clouds drove shafts of sunlight down like the voice of God, intermittently lighting up the floor of the Salinas Valley.

September 12

At first glance, nothing seemed off. She wore jeans, and a fuzzy sweat-jacket, zipped all the way up. Her hair, black flecked with gray, was pulled back from her face, and neatly kept. It was the glare in her eyes that gave it away. By the time I spotted that, it was too late. I was sitting in the seat one over from hers.

“Don’t look over here bitch! Keep your damn eyes to yourself. Don’t look at me! It’s your own damn fault, living the life you been livin’. Don’t look at me, bitch! You won’t be laughing when he puts the rag around the barrel of the gun. I gotta get outta here. I can’t stand she keeps looking at me.”

I and two cute brown haired girls in jeans and brown jackets kept our eyes focused rigidly forward. But she didn’t seem to be addressing any of us. Her rant was directed deep into the distance of the bus, or even out the window. And then she was gone. “Did you record all that for posterity?” asked the tall blond guy in the white work shirt opposite me.

September 13

Written in my notebook, not in my handwriting:

Christy White Productions limelight products

Did it happen when I was out with my writing group at Trader Sam’s? If so, who wrote it? Someone in the bar? Someone from my writing group? Admittedly, my memory of the evening is somewhat fragmentary, as they were showering me in Zombies as a form of grief therapy. So it certainly is possible. But what does it mean?

September 14

I sat on the rocky outcropping at the northwest corner of Baker Beach. The waves advanced in rolls of green and gray and blue and billowing brown flung out into white foam that crept a little further forward with each surge. I shared the waves with three birds. One some kind of little sandpiper that ran forward as each wave retreated, and dabbed his long bill into the wet bubbling sand. Then a big gray and brown seagull would occasionally charge the sandpiper away from what must have been some particularly tasty morsels. Finally, in the surf itself, a black bird with slick wet feathers, splayed legs ending in big webbed feet, and a bright orange beak bobbed up, over, and down each wave crest, except when he would turn over and dive straight down, popping up again a few feet away from his previous location. I loved all three, but him best of all.

September 15-18

Sierra County Weekend Hot Springs Vacation Observations:

A silver rental Honda. Good brakes! A CD player!
Double Cheeseburger at Jack in the Box on the way there (for shame, budding vegetarian, for shame).
The Sierra Valley, a big flat plain, fifteen or twenty miles on a side, surrounded by wooded mountains.
Pine trees like fingers, pointed straight up against the impossible steel blue of the sky.
The pleasantly drinkable surprise of Ginseng Cola at the main lodge.
The check-in man’s deadpan delivering about there being a quicksand pit in our room.
Giant acrylic folding screen adorned with peacocks in our sweet small room in the Globe Hotel.
Sitting in the Temple Pool, moonlight glittering through pentagon-shaped windows in the domed roof.
The fat wooden Buddha with one hand broken off.
Old friendly self-described redneck telling us about the rebirthers who used to run the place, and could also sometimes be found running around downtown in diapers with pacifiers.
The tantric couple practicing breathing, and possibly coupling, in the pool.
The female half of that couple, lean, with long curly black hair, floating.
The man equally dark curly haired, blowing bubbles while exhaling underwater.
Pale beauty of a girl with long curly golden hair floating in moonlight.
Her older companion (Mother? Lover?) doing the same.
All women, when floating, display round breast and thick bushy pubic mounds, beautiful and natural.
Comparing myself to every guy. Therefore I liked the chubby ones with small dicks the best.
Talking in the main pool naked with a Spanish girl who lived in Oakland, her visiting friend from Spain, and a gentle bald computer programmer from Berkeley.
The Spanish girl was nicknamed La Facista because of how radically anti-smoking she became after she quit.
Being shushed and asked to whisper by the groundskeeper’s long curly black and white beard.
Dos Hermanos for dinner the best Mexican food found 500 miles from the border.
The Roundup for breakfast, evenly divided by old ranchers with their silver hair, and out-of-towners in long hair and tie-dye.
Tuttenstein a cartoon about a friendly reanimated mummified pharaoh, and other weird weekend morning TV at the Roundup.
The coy gray and white cat at the Phoenix Baths.
The brown striped frog perched in a little notch next to the meditation pool.
Nearby, I played with Jen in the tents they’d set up to house the green vinyl massage tables. She played with me too.
A couple in the pool, consisting of a bald man, a thin and muscular 45 or so, and a brown-haired nubile woman who could not have been as old as 30. That fucker.
The smell, always the fat rotten egg smell, of the water.
Last night in the main pool, bodybuilder with the blonde with fake breasts talking about seeing satellites in the pristine night sky.
Three other girls shared the pool that night:
– a one legged amputee with a perfect butt
– a girl too shy to ease into the smaller pool, belly and breasts blazing with pregnancy
– sweet brown haired girl, body soft and curved with real womanhood
Their friend arrived later, lithe and bald with cancer treatment.
Jen meditating on the pool deck in absolute stillness and silence for 45 minutes.
A mother deer and faun, delicately picking out steps through the brush, seen from the deck of the pool.
The tree frog in the shower room two nights in a row.
Searching for dinner later, we found that in Truckee, no restaurant is open after 9:00 PM.
You can, however, eat chicken tenders and Fritos in the Safeway parking lot no matter what hour it is.
Grim little hotel in Loyalton on the second night, single beds in an L-shaped room keeping Jen and I apart.
The sweet Calico rubbing against my leg while being petted on the last morning there.
On that last morning, the big hairy mustachioed guy in the Meditation Pool reading Dune radiated subtle menace.
Approaching San Francisco from the East Bay on the way back, only Sutro tower visible above a bank of fog.
Midnight wine and pizza with Jen upon returning.

September 19

Fog and rising sun
The towers of downtown
Seen through a milky sky

Perfectly clear sky’s blue
fades to pink and white,
up on the hill
clustered around the spires of USF
huddled evergreens
lit in orange

September 20

Spiritual patterns of icy haze shown through the rippled gray and white sky today.

September 21

“He’s young, totally good, and sexy.”- overheard in the Front Room, corner of California and Larkin. Overhead from a gal who has that little bit too high, little bit too heliumed kind of voice. Short blond hair, professionally dressed in something cream or gray or taupe or something. Twirling the wine in her glass as she talks to a dude. Do I feel superior or am I green with envy? I see the chain of co-dependent origination rearing its ugly head. Thank Buddha I am sometimes in conscious contact with the process these days. Let Siddhartha be praised!

September 22

The clouds
skid across the city sky
this afternoon
like a solid sheet
of scalloped white

September 23

Never been so close to Sutro Tower.
All the homes stacked on each other, layer upon layer marching up the hill. Concentric circles of red, blue, yellow brown and white with windows glinty in the afternoon sun.
And at night they glow like clusters of sleeping fireflies. (Do fireflies glow when they sleep?) Atop them all, the tower, black outline sketched by moonlight, blinks its spires in regular patterns of red and white.

September 24

There’s something about the Love Parade.

The Love Parade is techno, techno, techno, a 90s that never ended.
The Love Parade is a woman in a giant vagina costume.
The Love Parade is cleavage showing midriff bearing girls, inscrutable in sunglasses.

The Love Parade walks on stilts.
The Love Parade wears leather.
The Love Parade dresses as a gladiator.

The Love Parade goes nude as a girl on a soundstage painted in silver.
The Love Parade goes nude by having its bountiful breasts visible under a fishnet top while playing drums.
The Love Parade goes nude as four old men stark naked in the hot sun.

Civic Center, swamped by the Love Parade this sunny Saturday, can no longer maintain its chastity.

September 25

Today, on the way there, I gazed at a telephone pole as I stood at the bus stop. It was thick from staples and pins from old flyers, rusted and painted over in light brown. On top of which were staples and pins from flyers, on which another layer of dark brown was painted. And then again. Layer on layer, month by month, year after year. Eras of rallies, bands, underground clubs, lost cats and art show openings leaving their sediment behind. What a beautiful city this is.

September 26

“I am a psychiatrist, and you both need serious medication!”- young woman exiting the 38BX this morning, after having chewed out a hapless young man who tried to keep her backpack from hitting him repeatedly in the face, and arguing with another woman until the word “bitch” erupted multiple times.

September 27-30
Four days vanished into the maw of overwork. Even though my birthday is one of them, there is no trace of the wonders they might have contained. On that day, I merely worked until 10:00 PM, came home and collapsed on the couch, and got up again for work the next morning.

Project Dylan: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan occupies roughly the same place in my development as a music fan that the first nervous teenage toke of a joint does in the life of a future heroin addict. Every day after grade school I’d be alone all afternoon until my parents got home from work. My companions, in reverse order of influence, were cats, television, and mom and dad’s dusty old records. Over many an afternoon, my musical teeth were cut on repeated playing of the Beatles, the Stones, the Doors, Janis Joplin, CSNY, Simon & Garfunkle, and Bob Dylan. In particular this album by Dylan. Years later, when I finally forayed into the world of CDs, this was one of the first CDs I got as well, carting it off to college with me.

One of the chief problems with having put in more than a quarter century of listening to it is that I can hardly hear it anymore. I mean really hear it, beyond all the accretions of its place in my life, and history and indeed music history in general. Having tried to do that just now, I observe mostly how young an album it is. It’s the first one where Dylan is Dylan- in exact reverse of his debut Bob Dylan, it’s almost all originals, with only two covers. He’s stretching out and finding his voice here, and as a result his voice is all over the place- both literally and lyrically.

In traveling from the rough-hewn and timeless “Blowin in the Wind”, to the out and out absurd horsing around of “I Shall Be Free”, the overall sense I get is of a powerful car being taken for a test drive by a kid who doesn’t quite know how to drive it yet. So, for example, on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” we find him in the emotional territory of the bitterness of failed relationship that he’ll mine extensively later, but he plays it too consciously jokey to really turn the knife. Or hear him having fun with the mythology of the Western plains on “Bob Dylan’s Blues” (Well, the Lone Ranger and Tonto/ They are ridin’ down the line/ Fixin’ ev’rybody’s troubles/ Ev’rybody’s ‘cept mine/ Somebody musta tol’ ’em/ That I was doin’ fine) but not yet able to tap its genuine power as he later will with the Band.

On the tight corners that really matter though, he pulls out the bitter, poetic and razor-sharp focused “Masters of War”, the surging symbolic “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and the Swiftian satire of “Talking World War III Blues”. If he’d never recorded anything beyond these three songs, he’d already have surpassed the lifetime achievement of many another songwriter.