Chapter 20 – Is there a Scarlet Town in Alabama?

I’ve been around this whole country, but I never did find Scarlet Town.  Someone told me it was in Alabama. Couldn’t find it.  Gillian Welch seems to have been there, and from what she has to say about it, it is likely the same place Bob is singing about.  Maybe the only way to find it is from Hell, looking through a telescope, although I wouldn’t know where to shop for a telescope in Hell. I can’t even find a Scrabble board in Lima.

Sunday morning Kel and I will climb into Arthur, our European Ford Escort, and drive down the coast to our new home, leaving Lima, where she has lived since birth and I have spent the happiest six months of my life.  I keep hearing the song “High Noon” in my head, Frankie Laine singing “I do not know what fate awaits me/ I only know I must be brave.”  Bob Dylan will also be in a new place, playing his first concert ever in Saint Augustine, Florida, the last stop on his tour.  But tonight he is in South Carolina, where North Carolinians drive to fill up their tanks with cheap gas. And tonight Kel and I spend our last night in Lima.

I’ve been trying to find Scarlet Town on the map. It can’t have existed only to give Barbara Allen a place to murder William-o, with the expectation that Gilliam Welch and Bob Dylan would come along and find something else significant about the place. The narrator of Scarlet Town claims to have been born there, as does the narrator of the Barbara Allen, while Gillian Welch claims never to have been there until the events of her song took place. She disappears and winds up in Hell without much of an explanation. Maybe that happens to everybody who fails to find a hiding place fast enough.

It is hard leaving a city that you are just beginning to know. There really isn’t anybody to say goodbye to, just a lot of things you think of that you wish you had done. I wonder what Bob Dylan thinks of all the cities he visits.  He comes into them and goes out of them.   There has got to be something special to him about some of them. I wonder why he picked these cities for this tour.  Did he have a reason for going through them, or did somebody just hand him an itinerary. I believe him when, in “Can’t Wait,” he sings, “It doesn’t matter where I go anymore, I just go.”

I’ve got a friend who travels the world singing the blues.  He has a wife in South Carolina and an apartment in New York City.  Last time I saw him, in Seattle at Jazz Alley, he said to me, “Bill, the reason you ain’t famous like me is because you like staying home too much.”  And he was right.  I do like staying at home. But tomorrow I hit the road again.  Not because I want to leave home, but because I want to stay home, and my home is spinning around inside a tornado named Kel.  Lord knows I love her so.