13 September 2009

Red River Shores

Gosh, so much seems to start with Dylan. I’ve been listening for months now to the Bootleg Series #9, Tell Tale Signs. And particularly I’ve been replaying “Red River Shore.” In the liner notes there is the suggestion that Dylan’s work is a derivative of a traditional folk song, but I’ve not been able to discover it yet. Not a concern: if I listen to enough music I discover roots. For example, I’ve traced Dylan’s “Paths of Victory” to a ballad from the 1880s: “Pans of Biscuits.”

In any case: “Red River Shore” is a song about Desire, a subject not unfamiliar to Dylan’s themes. I think immediately of “I Want You,” “Visions of Johanna,” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile, With the Memphis Blues Again.” Anyway, in “Red River Shore” it is the girl from the Red River shore who epitomizes the ephemeral nature of Desire. He seeks her but can never attain her: fulfilling desire destroys desire. It’s a lovely song and this blog is not a literary essay. The song concerns loss and Desire: he has lost the girl from the Red River Shore—she has sent him home to lead a quiet life, and though he has moved on to “scare himself in the dark to be where the angels fly,” he has not ever been able to let go of this Desire for the girl from the Red River Shore. And he wants to be certain that he has, indeed, known this girl from the Red River Shore, even if he could not finally have her. He wants to know his Desire was Real. But when he goes back to the bar to ask about his encounter with her, no one there knew what he was talking about. They hadn’t seen him or her! Whatever the event, it was his consciousness that created it and the girl from the Red River Shore. We make our Desire, and we pursue our Desire, and we never achieve our Desires. And no one really knows what it is we are talking about.

And so the last line of the song continues to catch me up sharply: “Sometimes I think, nobody ever saw me here at all, except the girl from the Red River Shore.” My narrator says that he is invisible to all except to his Desire; it is a position of remarkable aloneness, even of loneliness, and yet, there is the comfort of the unreachable Desire that makes one present.


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