Melbourne, Australia. Winter 2020
On a Monday in late June my 23 year old son sends a text. Hey Dad, Have you heard the new Dylan album yet? I’ve paid most attention to Murder Most Foul. Beautiful!
On a Friday in early July I come home to a sealed, unopened copy of the two-CD Rough And Rowdy Ways album sitting on the coffee table. A gift from my son Reuben, passing through.
On a Sunday evening in mid-July I close the door of the TV room, where Julie is watching a Northern England detective series (with sub-titles, to keep up with the dialect of the dialogue), and play the first disc of Rough And Rowdy Ways.
I’m cooking a big pot of soup and figure the album will be good company. It’s a common litmus test of mine. Play a new album while you’re doing something else. See – well – listen for what stays with you.
On the kitchen bench I’ve got carrots and parsnips and potatoes and zucchini. Peas from the freezer. Powdered vegie stock from the pantry. Jar of pasta sauce. Lentils and barley to soak. I start slicing and dicing. Dylan starts singing.
Today and tomorrow and yesterday too
The flowers are dying like all things do
Follow me close – I’m going to Bally-Na-Lee
I’ll lose my mind if you don’t come with me
I fuss with my hair and I fight blood feuds . . . I contain multitudes
Don’t ask me what the song means. Not yet. I’m no Dylan scholar. And, yes, I’ve read that the song title, and a key lyric about contradiction, stem from a Walt Whitman poem (Song of Myself, 51). For now, I’m just sensing the mood. A calmness. An awareness of one’s place in the world. The words might not all add up if you take a linear view. (You could say that of a lot of Dylan songs, but you’d be missing the point. Don’t try too hard to separate the ingredients.) I catch phrasings and intonations in-between cutting the carrots and the parsnips. Before the song’s finished I want to hear it again.
The album continues. Some blues numbers don’t grab me but maybe another time they will, perhaps when I’m not dicing potatoes and zucchini. Music stands still, in a way, while we orbit with changing emotions. Or we stand still as the music moves around us.
By the time Dylan is singing the wonderful Key West, the final song of the first CD, I’ve filled the big pot and it’s quietly cooking everything inside.
Thinking of my son Reuben, I insert the Murder Most Foul CD, find the lyrics on my phone and sit as still as I can for seventeen minutes. Seventeen minutes where Dylan throws everything into the pot. Hell of a song. Will take years to fully appreciate. There are, well, multitudes of things to take in.
Time to re-join the rest of the household. I open the door of the TV room, where Vera, the detective from Northern England, has solved another murder.
My eyes catch the subtitles of the song accompanying the start of the next program, a BBC historical drama, Vanity Fair. A woman is gently singing over the opening scenes.
“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too..
The opening theme for a 2018 series starring Olivia Cooke, Martin Clunes and Michael Palin, a series based on an 1848 novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, a series set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, a series that follows young Becky Sharpe as she attempts to claw her way out of poverty and scale the heights of English society, is All Along The Watchtower, from 1968, performed rather more recently by Afterhere.
Bob Dylan contains multitudes.
Stereo Story # 523