5. Lewiston, Maine – Things Have Changed / Lovesick / Summer Days

In Lewiston, Maine, from where the Indians took flight into Canada after the fur trade destroyed inter-tribe relationships by placing monetary value on things that were once shared freely by all, Bob Dylan sets the western union afire with a dramatic change in the program, “Summer Days” replaces “Thunder in the Mountain”  The paradox here is that “Thunder in the Mountain” is a second-rate copy of “Summer Days,” and replaced it in Dylan’s shows after a period of time during which both songs, to some mysteriously redundant purpose, were frequently performed.

“Summer Days” may be the first rock and roll dance tune written and performed by a senior citizen. As such, it is a key to why the latter day work of Bob Dylan is so unique.  The language of rock and roll has always been the language of youth.  It is the language of adolescent sexual drive and frustration, the language of those denied the full measure of participation in life.  Plenty of rock and rollers continue to play music into their seventies, but never with the fire of their prime, and if they write new songs, it is just material for the show, nothing significant.   Dylan marks the change, making rock and roll a universal language, a language with a lexicon, a language through which one can confront death as well as adolescence.

Summer days, summer nights are gone,

Summer days, summer nights are gone,

I know a place where there’s still somethin’ goin’ on.

This sentiment is echoed in “Spirit on the Water,” when he sings:

You think I’m over the hill

Think I’m past my prime

Let me see what you got

We can have a whoppin’ good time

The echoing, however, is reversed in Lewiston, with “Spirit on the Water” being performed in advance of “Summer Days. But let’s put aside such accidental and irrelevant observations and go back to the beginning of this musical journey that is finally beginning to take cohesive form in live performance.

Walking through streets that are dead

Walking, walking with you in my head

My feet are so tired

My brain is so wired

And the clouds are weeping.

So begins a musical trilogy that is perhaps the finest literary achievement in the popular music of the United States.  Many will disagree that ”Time Out of Mind/Love and Theft / Modern Times” is a trilogy, but a glance at the final verse of the final song on the final album so perfectly resolves this opening verse that I cannot see it any other way.

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’

 

Up the road, around the bend.

 

Heart burnin’, still yearnin’

 

In the last outback at the world’s end.

The journey Dylan begins in Love Sick comes to its end in Ain’t Talkin’. It is a journey through a century of popular music, half of which was dominated by the singer’s own work.  It is the search for love that is the prime motive of modern man’s existence, and it ends in his absolute failure, not only to find love, but to escape from the vanity of the search itself. The trilogy is similar in ways to Michelangelo Antonioni film trilogy of L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and Eclipse (1962).  Both Dylan and Antonioni see eroticism as the disease of the modern age.   As L’Avventura was awarded a special Jury Prize at Cannes for its ‘remarkable contribution to the search for a new cinematic language, so should Dylan be honored for doing the same thing with popular music.

The setlist for his spring tour has so far begun with Dylan’s Oscar-winning song “Things have Changed, which has been a fairly permanent fixture in the Bob Dylan concerts of this century, which shows that he is awfully proud of his award, as the song itself is not particularly distinguished among recent work.  It is not bad though.  Not at all. And serves as a more practical overture for what is to come than standard warm-up tunes such as “Leopard Skin Bill Box Hat,” which is 100% irrelevant to the tale he currently sings.

I’ve been walkin’ forty miles of bad road

If the Bible is right the world will explode

I’m tryin’ to get as far away from myself as I can

Some things are too hot to touch

The human mind can only stand so much

You can’t win with a losing hand

Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet

Puttin’ her in a wheelbarrow and wheelin’ her down the street

 

People are crazy and times are strange

 

I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range

 

 

The acoustic guitar intro is an improvement over the harsh electric riff that previously introduced the song. The tempo is also slower, even when it goes into double time, with the words more carefully enunciated. This is the narrative voice of Tempest, but at the beginning of his journey, love sick but not yet morally decrepit.

He follows his Oscar song with his Grammy-winner, “Love Sick,” also a minor blues, but without the humor of the former. With a minimum of images, he suggests a landscape that is more internal than phenomenological. It is a landscape that will become more populated over subsequent albums until the freak show that emerges is more colorfully desolate than the tales of the carnival vagabonds he left stranded on Highway 61 and its related tributaries.

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