Saturday March 2, 2019

The light tapping of a pick across the muted strings of the guitar on Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” reminds us as listeners that a clock is ticking. Dylan’s lyrics are in part about remaining cool despite the pain of mortality, the pain of accepting one’s wounds in order to live. What about those initial verses, though: they reference the possibility of nuclear apocalypse, don’t they? Doesn’t the Cold War form the song’s political horizon, “eclipsing both sun and moon”? I worry, though, that the song is also somehow an indictment of me, the teacher who teaches that “knowledge waits” — one who “must obey authority,” one who does not respect it “in any degree,” one who despises his job and his destiny and “speak[s] jealously of them that are free.” The same figure Nietzsche condemned, in other words, for being moved by a politics of ressentiment. But is Dylan singing as the voice of a student who can’t please me, or am I the one who can’t please them? “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” comes up a few tracks earlier on Bringing It All Back Home, and it’s a riotous, rowdy picaresque — the story of a poor sailor who dodges his way through the nightmarish slapstick of my country ’tis of thee.

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