No Direction Home

Posted by on Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

Bob Dylan: No Direction Home by Martin Scorsese. 

I’m a folkie.  I’m the kind of folkie whose heart skips a beat when she sees Mike or Pete Seeger, because I feel that they represent a community of musicians who has captured and preserved a part of human history that I can’t live without.  I was born a folkie.  My mother the nursing student was caught up in the acoustic folk music wave that swept America in the 1960s.  She gave me a priceless gift by opening my infant ears to folk tunes and poetry.  When there was no money for toys or travel or dance lessons, there was a treasure of rhyme and rhythm and melody inside the shelves of our house and the crackly speakers on our cheap stereo.  She didn’t have the opportunity to study music, but she made sure my brother and I did.  I’ll never be a great musician, but I have the keys to tune and rhythm and poesy.  All of my greatest gifts spring from that seed she planted.

I don’t know when I first heard Bob Dylan.  I know that I was very young, and that we had his earliest albums in the house, and that I listened to them over and over again.  I know that I never understood how angry people were when he plugged into an amp, because it happened years before I was born.  But I remember wondering why he traded one kind of power for another that way–why he had turned away from the simplicity of one person with one instrument?  Scorsese’s film opens with a crowd in the UK screaming at Dylan for being a traitor.  It was painful to watch.  Dylan is some kind of chameleon–that we all know.  But more than anything else, Dylan–particularly the very young Dylan, has some strange muse-connection that allows him to break our hearts with the startling honesty of his words and their greater importance.  His best songs are universal and true.  It means something when Ginsberg calls you great.  It means more when Ginsberg and Liam Clancy and the Seegers and Joan Baez call you great while simultaneously admitting you are flawed.  What means to most to me, ultimately, is that a young man gave us this gift, and that no matter what else he has ever done, this will ring in my head till the end of my days, and its beauty will make me weep:

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains,
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways,
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests,
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans,
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard,
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’,
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’,
I saw a white ladder all covered with water,
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children,
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’,
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world,
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’,
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’,
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’,
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter,
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley,
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony,
I met a white man who walked a black dog,
I met a young woman whose body was burning,
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow,
I met one man who was wounded in love,
I met another man who was wounded with hatred,
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’,
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’,
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’,
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Bob Dylan, Copyright ¬© 1963. 
He was 22 when he wrote it. 
That song makes me weep like a baby.  I think I may never be able to control my reactions enough to be able to sing it in public.  Watching film of the baby-faced kid who wrote it face crowds who shrieked their hatred at him because he couldn’t write it over and over again chilled me to the bone.

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