Passion and Betrayal – Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs reassessed

(This article is an expanded version of a review that I wrote when this album first came out. I was really unhappy about the way that the magazine, who commissioned me to do it, published it. They changed the title. They printed it in a way that removed paragraph breaks and they made editing changes to it without consultation. Needless to say, I stopped freelancing for them shortly afterwards. I revisited the article, originally just with the intention of restoring it to the way it was meant to be but then as I read it and listened to the music, I figured perhaps there was more to say. It concentrates on the spiritual and faith-based references in Mr Dylan’s lyrics but touches on other matters too.)

“Those old songs are my lexicon and prayer book.  All my beliefs come out of those old songs, literally, anything from `Let Me Rest on that Peaceful Mountain’ to `Keep on the Sunny Side.’ You can find all my philosophy in those old songs. I believe in a God of time and space, but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back toward those songs. I believe in Hank Williams singing `I Saw the Light.’ I’ve seen the light, too.”

This was Bob Dylan speaking in 1997 – a period which provides 11 songs on his 3-disc set “Tell Tale Signs” (10 out-takes from his “Time Out of Mind” set and 1 live recording).

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The rain doesn’t have to hurry in the city……

Joyce lived on her own. She’d pretty much given her life caring for her aging Mum. When Mum died, Joyce lived on her own. Each Sunday, her friends from the local church would come and collect her to take her to a service. Her neighbours avoided her. Joyce lived on her own.

Joyce died on her own. One Sunday, her friends from the local church came to collect her to take her to a service and there was no answer. Her friends from the local church called around the hospitals. The strain of life had given Joyce some mental health problems and it wasn’t unusual for her to need to go away for a week or two. But the hospitals didn’t know. Her friends from the local church called the police. They came and opened the door to Joyce’s lonely house and found her in her bed. The coroner said that she had stopped breathing. Her heart wasn’t in it. He said it was good that her friends from the local church noticed. Joyce died on her own.

When you’re poor and you die on your own, you become less important than you were in life. The local authority had to wait “for a convenient slot” for Joyce to be buried. There was no money in this departure. It was a little inconvenient. Nobody wanted to know. Her friends from the local church felt that this wasn’t right. So they told the local authority so. It didn’t make a lot of difference. They offered to pay for the funeral. The money was declined. But slowly, because they were a nuisance, things began to change. Finally six weeks after her death, Joyce was allowed to be buried. Joyce was not buried unnoticed. Her friends from the local church saw to that.

Some tell me that religion divides and cause war. I think they’re right. But a true faith in God and the proper understanding of the nature and worth of humanity – now that can be something else. It brings dignity and respect in a society that fast seems to be losing those things. 

Time…no more

A friend of mine died yesterday. She was an old lady in my care. I wrote about her before in a journal entry I called “Time passes slowly… here in the mountains”. You could look it up! I’d meant to call on her on Thursday afternoon but the pressures of life got in the way. I decided to go Monday instead. Now there’ll be no calling. It wasn’t a commitment. She didn’t know I was coming. But I got it wrong. Life is very hard. Sometimes. This year is shaping up to be one of the worst.

Time passes quickly…. here in the mountains

Life goes by too fast. Over the last few weeks a friend of mine has died, my daughter got baptised, another friend spent way too much time crying (and I don’t know what to do about that) and they began to mess with my favourite cereal. Is nothing sacred?

Human life doesn’t seem to be. An old lady in my care is resident in a nursing home now and I went to see her today. They say that in her day she was brilliant and determined and achieved much. She even had contacts with the royal family…. but, hey, I’ll forgive her that. Now her memory has gone. Today, talking to her I could only find two people she remembered from the recent past and I was one of them and she couldn’t quite figure out my name.

The trouble is with her spectacles. Four months ago, she was transferred to her nursing home. Her glasses were broken and the frame was held together with a sticking plaster (band aid). Four months ago, they said that her glasses would be sent away and repaired. Each time I visit they can’t find her spectacles and then when they do, they still have that sticking plaster holding it together and there are the usual round of excuses and we go through the pantomime of placing the glasses on her nose. Each time they say that they will be sent away to the opticians for him to do their work … but they never are. And I know they will be missing next time… And I know that when they find them they will still have that sticking plaster holding them together. Trouble is they never find them on the floor or under her clothes or on her chair or in her bedroom….. they always find them somewhere where the nurses have put them for safety. On a shelf or behind a desk. Somewhere safe where the broken glasses won’t get broken.

To add to this conundrum, all of the nurses seem reasonably dedicated and professional. The optician tried to test her for a new prescription but she won’t co-operate.

It seems there’s no-one to blame except the passage of time that has robbed her of the capacity to arrange these things for herself and the passage of time that has laid waste to all of her close family. And the passage of time that means that there’s nothing can be done and by the time it is, she’ll probably be dead.

There’s a lot happening at the moment but I know that sticking plaster is going to haunt me for a long time to come……..