Bob Dylan's latest album "Modern Times" captures the gritty and raw tales of the road in his classical style, though with a voice weathered and worn and references to blindness, canes, and scripture. His sometimes disregard of lyric metric comes off as the tired acceptance of an old man. Lines such as "my mule is sick and my horse is blind" and "they say whiskey will kill you, but I don't think it will" tell us that Dylan, or the personas of his songs, speak of a confrontation with fate. The accompaniment of the harmonica is minimal, with the solitary notes of an electric guitar more dominant, imbuing the album with an air of pointed and critical reflection. Even before the first lyrics of "Nettie Moore", the refrain tells his story - lingering regret of words unspoken, his loneliness offered as a tribute to a love lost.
This album has been the sound track of my story over these last few weeks. Given to me by my father for Christmas, it has been my background while I work at his house, and the rocks off which my thoughts cascade on my drives at night. It speaks to my father, perhaps as old men both he and Dylan share an understanding of battles won and lost and the pains of time. While the mastered version of "Nettie Moore" is superbly moving, his live performances offer an acute measure of the sands of time. I have tried through this album to learn something of what my father feels.
I spent the last two weeks removing the majority of my father's possessions from his apartment. It's been a combination of shoveling shit and an archaeological dig. Each of his 10,221 papers, receipts, pamphlets, letters, catalogs, musings and illegible scratchings were sorted and acted upon. It would have been much easier to bulldoze the lot and move on, as the goal of this effort was to recreate his living space in a way that is efficient and comfortable. Buy you cannot just dispense of someone's life. Each piece had a meaning, a story. A golden example of this is his 1977 edition of the "National Design Specification for Wood Construction: Structural Lumber, Glued Laminated Timber, Timber Pilings and Fastenings". While many other similar ones went to the big file cabinet in the sky, this one we kept for his shelves. Back in the 70's my parents put their efforts toward building houses in Oregon, and nearly lost their shirts doing so. They created beautiful houses. I can only remember faintly now the curved brickwork and carved timbers dressing the roof. In the mess I came across a card from my mother to my father for the Christmas of 1984, when I was still a tot living in Oregon. My father had gone south to seek work in California while my mother stayed back with myself and my sister with our house on the market. The picture here aptly describes our poverty.
Tonight we walked up the hill and watched the sun set, then returned to his house, made dinner and played a game of chess. Our words are few. When we speak, it is often of the projects we will work on, the businesses we might start, the hikes we want to make. I doubt if we will ever embark on any of these adventures together, but life is too short to be concerned only with the dreary details.
My experiences over the last few weeks have been mixed. It is the sadness of a classic tragedy, anger that he has passed on to us the burden of sifting the meaning from the noise, and a great satisfaction of spending this time with him. Being and doing have merged into one. Perhaps it is by sheer exhaustion of the effort, or by meeting squarely the tragedy of his fate, I am not sure. If I have a resolution this year, it has been said in my actions, - to be and do with purpose and generosity. These are good days, trying as they are.