21 November 2011

Old Friends

There are certain songs to which I never grow weary of listening. It is not that they appear new with each listening; rather, when each I hear some familiar chord in my soul sounds. These songs are old friends with whom I share my thoughts, my fears, and my confidences. These are the songs that make me feel at home though often they speak of alienation and aloneness. I suppose that the category under which these compositions might fall is Desert Island Songs—and the category traditionally includes those works (songs, albums and novels usually) that I would have to have with me if I were to be marooned on a desert island. Well, I am not marooned on a desert island. I am here and it is now. And there are certain songs to which I never grow weary of listening. I will offer a sample of three that have sounded recently on my iPod:
For forty-five years or so I have listened to Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” I will probably listen to it for another forty-five years. The song has always evoked the sense of the world in which I think I live and of the people who populate that world. Desolation Row is where Lady and I live out our lives, and with each hearing I recognize better another part of the scene. “All these people that you mention/Oh I know them, they’re quite lame/I had to rearrange their faces/And give them all another name.” I have not searched for the faces, though I am certain that they all have other names. And I have never tired of looking at the life on Desolation Row nor the behaviors of its residents. Alas. I am one. And behind Dylan’s nightmarish vision I delight in the intricate guitar accompaniment of Charlie McCoy that delights and surprises me with its steady and unpredictable movement that comments intricately on the poem.
For the same amount of years I have listened to Eric Anderson’s “Thirsty Boots.” For me this is a song of struggle and solidarity though not at all one of triumph. Anderson offers respite to his weary friend long on the road: “So why don’t you take off your thirsty boots, and stay for awhile.” But implicit in the offer is the acknowledgement that soon he must be going out again. For some reason I associate this song with the failed candidacy of George McGovern to whom I looked for a way out of hell, and when I hear the song I am reminded of the struggle and my place in it.
Finally, there is Bill Staines’ song, “Show Me the Road,” both in his own version and that of Harvey Reid. Here it is a single phrase to which I am drawn. He sings, “Show me a sign, tell me a reason/Cold winds have scattered these seeds I’ve sown.” In these lines spoken to the universe I hear not a demand but a plea. The supplicant seeks some sense of hope that all his effort has not been in vain. Explicit here is the reality of the cold, harsh winds and the despairing suspicion that our efforts will not bear fruit. Despite our work and intent, our seeds are blown about by cold wind, do not land on fertile soil, and will not grow roots. In these lines I hear resignation but not despondency, and in these lines as well an acknowledgement of our struggle and its cost. Sometimes, I take some comfort I am not alone.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Old friend," no, you are not alone.

05 May, 2012 22:32  

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