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Shadow in the Night: Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall

By Richard Marshall.

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‘If it is possible to produce misery one should produce it thus.’ Kafka.

Nothing can be drawn from these outbursts, this turmoil of death, that a non-poetic language could express… the poetic vision is not submitted to common reduction…‘ Bataille

He’s the imperishable actor whose confirmed sophistication drives a drama that’s fugitive, driven in an operation that’s always changing physically, materially, visibly and on the spot, that always asks about the revolution, knowing that everyone cries out for that even though they might not bargain for what they get when it arrives. He’s an occult crew of band slaves where human breath suddenly shifts and the voice molecularly transfers to a new register. Throughout he manages to hold down magnetically the openings and soarings in a mysterious, beautiful, mesmeric pure flight. The atmosphere that results is physically rotten with actual poetry, naked and atrocious. Dylan works the psychic state between the schism of spirituality and sensibility. There’s always an organic scream in his voice, a mood that’s bloody and light, definitive and opaque, gripping sincerity that has nothing to do with authenticity but more a matter of grace and dense concentration. And then there are these heartbreak songs where what haunts their edges are the monsters of copulation and catapulted breath. The heart is heavy here, and both betrayed and a betrayer. Forces have been gathered from other places, other voices, other times and then in a lukewarm psychic night of suicides and near suicides simple contradictions come home to roost. Here frailty and aberrant life are distilled into lucid sensibilities of martyred defeats and desire.

Where are we in these songs? We’re in van Gogh’s Arles café where the spells and an infinite train of stars rave in the conscious night, a gelatinous street shooting volcanic colours and energies to the other side of reason’s plate of eggs and cheap red wine. This is where you finish with life whilst determined to continue in an insane loneliness where all the battles have been lost but where, nevertheless, in a harmony rising over the dirt and evil, there’s an atmosphere where a broken stripped soul starts to sing. Out of the last solitude overflowing with terrible pressures and forlorn grieving crack-ups, out of the swirling bars, whiskies, coke, streets of memory and strange divisions, bad decisions, wrong turns, lost bets, bad luck and immense glacial loneliness, out of this come songs, leafy hearts at the edge of the abyss, that reunites the soul with its long lost, abandoned self. Dylan takes the voices and songs we’ve heard too many times – even if it’s for the first time – and finds in them the rituals that are as old as the Flood, sedimentary strata that are like carved primitive symbols, roots of a tree that pass through the heart of life and to the legendary acanthus leaf, surrounded by crosses – but submerged. Anguish, despair, collapse and then mystery, a ceremony of forgiveness in each song where the stories imply the coherence behind which the garbled, shambled lives suddenly shine.

Dylan takes each step forward assuming that his sovereignty depends not on power but a survival without self-betrayal. This requires an austere, agonising struggle to maintain a delirious purity that falls outside of reason and action. This is the insane process of delirium you hear in Kafka where he writes; ‘I do not hope for victory, I do not enjoy the struggle for its own sake, I can only enjoy it because it is all I can do. As such the struggle does indeed fill me with joy which is more than I can really enjoy, more than I can give, and I shall probably end by succumbing not to the struggle but to the joy.’ Dylan’s advance towards distraction always resists the easy threshold but instead asks, song by song, which way? which way? in voices alternatively sullen, aggressive, pleading, irrational, calculating, capricious, lost in whim, obstinant, elated, despairing and for ever expecting some final obscure benevolence from pitiless authority. This is the boldest libertine working towards the deep exhaustive destruction of punishment. He’s always wondering what’s the direction of the roll, the wave, the rotation, and he’s asking this in terms of the music that always shimmers some way off – he plays loud in concert as if he’s trying to drown himself out so you hear what’s really happening so that the music is a mere spectator of the other music, of what is happening when we do that. In Dylan there’s always been a sense of the desperate reserves of the will stretched across the nerves, where the sound is difficult to pin, because the sound is what makes the songs work. He’s made his way across the American landscape because his world in this is America, the land of Elvis and latterly now Sinatra – the drenched bloody, monstrous, imperial glut of empire built on genocide and insane perpetual hallucinatory death joy that convulses the globe like a sequence of violent ejaculations.

It was inevitable that Sinatra would be contacted directly at some point. It’s a contact coming out of division, duality, strange memories that were needing to be confronted if only when the dust had settled and no one remembered what the original dispute looked like, or had lost interest in it. Dylan’s voice is the delicacy of the marrow wired through occult electric nerves. It’s an instrument of secret, profound, absolute and profound assimilation with the flesh and the world, a solitary and unique consciousness of suffering , as quick as lightening, intact, transcendental and balanced with a sinister realism. It carries a direct knowledge, an interior clarification, a spectacle of pure flesh with its conscious agonies indescribable by science, deranged by explosions of naked and vital radiance. It resembles all of us, a shape-shifter as close to culmination as anything we have. In a recent talk Dylan himself drew attention to his voice and compared it with the voices of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen and wondered why critics seemed to prefer theirs to his. After all the voice of Waits is just the tender voice of an old man feeling sentimental, the consequence of age drowning with a beauty that is empathic and dependent on a narrative drama resolved in the closing script returning to sweet childhood. Cohen’s is a less sentimental beauty and winds a sort of dark charm that glides impressively close to smarm and European English. It’s buckled with a seedy lie that gives it both a cheesy underbelly and pretentions edging to knowing, orgiastic pretentiousness. These are both great ancient voices, but Dylan’s is greater because it is the vital instrument we have interrogating our unique consciousness of suffering and love. And it seems the most ancient voice we have at the moment.

Enter Sinatra’s strange exploratory voice which scrambles to each note on each breath, swinging an intense jazzy chancy clarification to hit bullseye in the swift half-period later, bringing the tonal excitement of his voice into the brazen light of songs that would step back out of the light once his voice has found itself. Dylan isn’t so much making songs in his versions but is interrogating the possibility of those old Sinatra Columbia records. His singing is a kind of listening in, like John Wayne’s acting was a listening in on the script he was called to act out, and what Dylan is listening in to are the sources, listening to what is happening inside the songs and their sounds and tones, and using the songs and the craft of song making to wake us to the mythical pathos and tragedy of our beings.

With Dylan you have to reckon with the highest project, that of engaging with the making of life. The sound is all live, just a single mic and the small band around it. His voice is gentle, tender and everything is as it was, and there’s a sense of ecstasy embedded in these songs. ‘I’m a Fool To Want You’ addresses the nature of ecstasy straight out – the state Bataille writes of as being outside of oneself, where we’re wanting to stop, but we can’t want to stop even though our actions lead us inevitably to the final end, the climax, the end that is also an escape and new beginning. It’s a song enacting the crime of rejecting love, where…

‘time and time again I’d say I’d leave you
time and time again I went away..’

where simultaneously the singer understands and feels the swelling desolation of regret ;
‘…but then would come a time
when I would need you
And once again
these words I have to say
take me back, I love you
pity me a need you
I know its wrong
it must wrong
but right or wrong I can’t get along
without you…’

This drives us to the contemplation of this eerie ecstatic momentum. Dylan’s voice captures the intensity of this engagement, of the trap and found release that is also, fundamentally, what art is, tied so intimately to the human condition. The songs performed here are disruptive and destabilizingas tender regret and longing can be: ‘soft through the dark/ the hoot of an owl in the sky…’ warns of the rejected Queen of Love raging in the night as the Queen of Hell yet nevertheless they require an evocation of our communicative circumstances, done through melodies that pitch us towards a sound, or a sequence of strange sounds, that are internal and biological, sounds whose coherence is not physical but the psychological reality of our feelings and their buckled personalities and circumstances.

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What we’re listening to in his uncanny, haunted renditions of the Sinatra songs are the lives of the complex sepulchral ecstasies captured by the songs themselves. We live among songs like we live among nighthawks, lost bars, last ride home railway stations, the rouge of lipstick and the smoke of cigarettes in midnight’s noir streets. The way Dylan reorganizes the rhythms, melodies and tones of these songs reminds us of what Sartre wrote about Baudelaire but which seems equally to apply to Dylan:

‘He watched himself seeing, he watched in order to see himself watching. It was his awareness of the tree or the house which he watched, and things only appeared to him through his awareness, paler, smaller, less touching, as though he saw them through a pair of opera glasses… Their immediate mission was to bring the individual back to self-awareness.’

That we live and organize parts of ourselves rhythmically, melodically and tonally is a fundamental, but the music here investigates how we do this, gives a platform for scrutinizing what happens when we do this, and therefore answers that part of us that wants to shows us what we are. The intimacy and warmth of these recordings articulates something we know– that the songs are Dylan’s shape of perception. His voice, that eerily magical instrument which for the last fifty or so years has been refining our understanding of what songs can tell us about ourselves and about our biological instinct to make and to respond to music and song, undresses the songs. In doing so he undresses the soul beyond the subterfuges of the mind.

‘Where are you?
when we said goodbye love, what had we to gain
when I gave you my love, was it all in vain?’ goes one song.

‘All life through, must I go on pretending/
where is that happy ending, where are you?’ another.

And the voice overwhelms itself and the nothingness that never harmed anyone. The band winds a mysterious, hyper-lucid alarm and pain in the desperation of the song – and even as we pass through it the procession gets sadder and sadder, a penetrating pain that gives whilst it dissects the irrefutable psychology of the lonely heart. Here the songs detect the truth that you don’t commit suicide alone, just as you don’t live alone, nor die alone. Society delivers and rejects, takes and gives. Executioners will come for all of us, as Kafka makes clear, and as they came for Van Gogh, Poe, Baudelaire and Artaud et al. Dylan sings into this atrocious truth, the desolation of nothingness that ‘sends down its cloud’ looking for the ‘silver lining’ that doesn’t kill anyone but shows no mercy. Dylan’s paintings are correlative scenes from coffined hotel rooms looking out to desolate pools, back yards, bicycles or corner bar room tables peering at the backs of people, or railroad tracks leading to the winched horizon as plangent and inborn as nerves.

There is endless desolation here, iron songs dressed in a dark velvet, temple to temple of the poor quivering suffering that bestows something else beyond the misery. In doing so there’s an occult embrace in them, a clarity, headiness, heaviness and stratification that reveals how greedy we are, even in moments of quiet desperation, for life, – and a greed that in its lamenting, minor, evasive sound is attached, still able to dream for the erotic sense of life, its salacious beauty. The scansion of its dreamy music unhooks the history clock and faces a kind of origin, a necessary-seeming gesture that seems inborn.

Stay With Me’ has the delicate weight of a heroic sense of spiritual stirring, and the band plays to the power of the human face caught in the song’s breath, a field of death that pleads for sustenance and another face from one who has gone or threatened to leave. Autumn and winter are the smuggled social processes that he draws through everything, a various but underlying – sometimes fore-grounded – faux naïf pathetic fallacy . The voices in the songs are the vulnerably alienated who exist in the shadow of their own possessed personal histories. Their single tears represent everything they are, their fragility and spiritual need living in the hurricane of their sentiment and emotional warmth. Memories are what are exposed in many of the songs, wounds that refuse to heal but nevertheless are transmitted as an unsettling enchantment, but the sound brings back the world to zero, a world that’s a kind of whirlwind of tragic mortal kisses.

And of course Dylan never stares directly even though he sings straight but has an esoteric intrigue always hanging about in the spectacle:
‘send down that cloud with the silver lining
lift me to Paradise
show me the river, take me across…’ and what we hear in the songs is the voice of deserved suffering. He evokes an Apollonian tragic dimension to the nighthawk scenes – Apollo as poetry’s god, divine harpist of the seven vowels, god of healing whose shrine was at Delphi – just as here it’s Las Vegas where these voices are being buried in a cycle of dying and rebirth. And of course Dionysus was buried there too. Aeschylus invented tragedy at the annual festivals of that God. The ecstatic forces at the bottom of the tragic equations of Aeschylus and Shakespeare root themselves in the rejection of the unconditional Divine love – but Shakespeare’s insight was to develop it further to show how through atonement and suffering spiritual transformation is possible. This idea of a dying reborn ‘god’ hasps to the religious mythic imagination of Dylan and finds a literal immediacy in ‘The Tempest’ – and we saw this emerging in an explicit affirmation in the previous studio album. Dylan’s made explicit that he likes his concerts to evoke that Shakesperean atmosphere.

There’s a powerful phantom self-identification with Prospero running through much of this late work. All these sad voices become the voices of the wronged brother who now refuses the option of deranged madness and murderous revenge. These voices are not the earlier bitter strong, hallucinatory, Macbethean, insane voices that Dylan has presented, voices dangerous and criminal. The voices here hold the rival brother’s wickedness in a magical mid-air gravity and mournfulness. Just as Shakespeare in ‘The Tempest’ went back to the beginning in order to show what had been going on in all the earlier plays, so too Dylan goes back to his beginnings, the time before rock and roll was lost to soul and pop, and adopts the simple attitude of ritualized grief for the rival. So imagine these Sinatra songs are the songs of a Prospero not a Macbeth, voices so much older, seeing the chance of settling accounts from a vantage of exile. The voices are also post-storm voices, voices that are encountered after hell’s eruption – first introduced by Shakespeare’s Richard III in 1592/3 – a dynamic myth of birth/death ecstasy where the rejection of the Divine love spawns the tragic transformation of love to hell – and continued in Measure for Measure, then Othello, through to Macbeth where ‘Lamentings heard I’ the air; strange screams of death/ And prophesying with accents terrible/ Of dire combustion and confus’d events/ New hatch’d to the woeful time…’ tell of something crazy, violent and destructive.

But from the growing horror of this mythic emblem Shakespeare turns to remake it in his ‘Tempest’. And Dylan is maybe working in the same way, so in this last album the songs are gentler, mean the opposite of what Macbeth made of his, and become the songs of minds looking to redeem and reconcile their crimes with the immense re-offer of love. They are the voices that have become strangers to themselves. You listen to the songs and wonder what has happened to bring them to their knees, and just what it was that meant they rejected their lovers. But there’s a loveliness in their self-understanding. They address their errors and in so doing face death redeemed and absolved, gathering themselves towards a reunion with their lovers like a flower between Venus’s breasts. Of course, that’s also the mood any drunk in a late night strip joint adopts, but it’s the mercy in Dylan’s voice and the grace of each song’s rough exteriors that starts to convince us that maybe just maybe there’s genuine understanding being expressed here, more than just a sentimental lonely feeling. Heard like this, these are versions of ‘… the naked new-born babe,/ Striding the blast’, that bloody child that comes to Macbeth to prophesy his doom who returns as King Lear falling into Cordelia’s arms crowned with flowers and where love there is Cordelia’s pregnant silence.

But Dylan as always screws his songs to the large wilderness of the human song, taps into the landless refugee joy and tragedy of the artist casting out miles beyond human life so we can see ourselves. Each sadness is a stark specimen flying out from a strange swelling dilation of love’s agony. It’s a human storm he reveals, a human richness that’s sumptuous and calm despite the distress. America has become a flooded landscape of blood and wine, drowning us in its great emulsion. And Dylan sings as an impassioned, passionate Elizabethan dramatist, and turns our heads to listen in to the intrinsic beauty of drunken lines spinning around so many of life’s desperate passions. His luminous demarcations make it possible to think he thinks we’ll find the mythic in the most common and ordinary things in life, not the other way round. Art is the strange criticism that rings out of an eerie surprising judgment submerged in the songs. Under the line that is older than the song itself- though never heard as that line before the song – we keep edging towards making up our minds about what catastrophe led them here over the brink.

The single event in Dylan is that of irrational love usurping reason, an event where the soul is destroyed in the violence used in the attempt to seize it. The mythic content replays again and again in different moods, atmospheres, combinations, sequences and consequences. The rejection of love turns the divine goddess into a queen of hell: and reason gets reborn as a flower and as an insane killer and rapist. Throughout his songs the madman and the flower sing as part of a long tragic sequence where death is weary despair, threat and endurance. Or the voice collapses, overwhelmed by the choices laid out before them. ‘Love and Theft’ deliberated on the intensification of the choices and the rough outer darkness of these voices showed Dylan working out how to close the gap between the two options – flower and killer – and it was a strange amalgam. We found it refracted and summarised through ‘Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum’ who are throwing knives into trees, rivals, usurpers, and come to symbolize a single contrapuntal of murder and reversal. Both are low down, both will stab you where you stand, and one says of the other, “I’ve had too much of your company.’ The song catches the murderous desire that rejects love for selfish reasons where violent death is the only possible atonement, but steps away before we see that nevertheless the melody refuses to yield.

In Dylan the tragic is mitigated by the melodies in the songs. It’s the same equation running through ‘High Water’ where everything is ‘breaking up’ and the flood of the storm is rising. The storm is the lover returning to destroy those who have rejected her. Dylan can sing the murderous insanity of the rejector of love and simultaneously transform this voice into its nemesis. Rejecting love, love kills. Rejecting love, the character transforms into the murderous rapist who will try and take love, and will again be destroyed realizing the emptiness of his condition as a kind of atonement. The storm is a constant condition in Dylan, the moment when the transforming mythic elements take shape.

‘Well, the rain beat’n’ down on a window pane
I got love for you, and it’s all in vain’ he sings in Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum;

‘a squall is setting in
sometimes it’s just plain stupid to get into any kind of wind’ in Floater; elsewhere he sings;

‘If it keep on raining, the levee’s gonna break’; and the wretched fury of voices shrined in the weariness of their rejection is nowhere more powerful than in ‘Pay in Blood’ where the rejection is a moral principle.

In this version, the murderous strength is one which roars menacing over the land,
‘I’ve been thru Hell, What good did it do?
You bastard! I’m supposed to respect you!
I’ll give you justice, I’ll fatten your purse
Show me your moral virtue first
Hear me holler and hear me moan
I pay in blood but not my own’ where the terrifying aloneness is violent, stone-hearted and a kind of burial. If it isn’t explicit everywhere it is in some places: ‘Po Boy’ from ‘Love and Theft’ for example references Othello whose own death is the result of his own fateful assault on Desdemona, a compound event that Dylan heroically reconsiders, visible and clearly phrased, as part of love’s dark and sly humour.

The point is that ‘Tempest’ was a way he signaled what he’s been doing all through these years where his characters warp and twist diabolical delusions spinning towards imminent death. Think ‘Nettie Moore’ if this isn’t clear, where the voice is that of the delusional Tarquin, murderer and rapist heading for the gallows mutating towards some sort of last gasp spiritual rebirth, the killer now harmless and proven wrong, ignoring his own image whilst going towards the hanging tree, which is of course the flower Venus turns Adonis into and places between her breasts which shadows Osiris resurrected from the tree, Attis and Christ sacrificed on trees and so on. The tree is love flowering on the tragic level at the breast of Venus, Lear’s crown of flowers, and the branch in the hand of the child in Macbeth – as well as the one in ‘Hard Rain’ where it bleeds. It’s also the ‘primitive wallflower frieze’ that make it all seem so cruel in Visions of Johanna, and the tomb flowers through which an idiot wind blows.

And opening his concert with the weary, cynical Macbethean voice of one ‘standing on the gallows… expecting all hell to break loose’ and who supposes ‘All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie…’ Dylan introduces us to the beginning of an atonement phase of madness that will lead to the rebirth of love. In his version, the tempest storm has been turned to music, the sound where ‘God and her were born’ which promises a shelter from the storm. In retrospect what we’re witnessing is the betrothal masque out of Tempest, a summation of all the flower festivals and tempests for the hazardously reborn soul.

Storms come to accompany the death of whoever can’t love love, and mark the birth out of that death of the murderer/usurper. But these latter day tempests mark another death, the death of this hellish mind and its hellish blood drenched, murderous, violent, cruel, tyrannical atmosphere and the birth of a radiant peacefulness, a tender-hearted music that is melancholic but yet understands at last what it means to have rejected love – and starts to seek redemption:

Should my heart not be humble
Should my eyes fail to see
Should my feet sometimes stumble
On the way, stay with me

Like the lamb that in springtime
Wanders far from the fold
Comes the darkness and the frost
I get lost
I grow cold

I grow cold, I grow weary
And I know I have sinned
And I go, seeking shelter
And I cry in the wind
Though I grope and I blunder
And I’m weak and I’m wrong

Though the road buckles under
Where I walk, walk along
Till I find to my wonder
Every path leads to Thee
All that I can do is pray
Stay with me
Stay with me.’

If Sinatra is as necessary as Elvis and Chuck Berry to understand all this then it’s in this phase, where the tempest storms blow internally until redemption and rebirth are on the horizon, that we find him. The frenzied disturbances of the ‘sharkskin suits’ who ‘buy and sell… destroyed your city… destroy you as well…. Lecherous and treacherous, hell bent for leather…’ and whose shape shifting forceful incarnations hold crazy dimensions – ‘each of ‘em bigger/than all them put together’ are the excluded dimensions of the possible. In their ‘fancy gold rings’ where ‘all the women goin’ crazy’ for them on the ‘Tempest’ song ‘Early Roman Kings’, these lacerated derangements of erotic desire become in the Sinatra songs the ground the storm crossed over. There’s still the verbal power and poetic intensity in them but we’re no longer humming like a battery, a moving missile that is the very hurricane itself. There’s still a storm in these songs, but it’s the storm of a criminal’s atonement and rebirth into reunion with love.

Songs of deep regret and self awareness coming from a maimed sensibility where darkness and Hecate’s owl hooting leads to sadness and a sunless time ‘the night we called it a day/ there wasn’t a thing to say…’ comes as if atonement shines bright darkness into silence. It’s Cordelia’s plenum of silence, her ‘nothing’ to insane, monstrous Lear that ends transforming him into the innocent child again, the old man with the crown of flowers, an ‘old winter’s song’ out of ‘Autumn Leaves’. Dylan’s old Lear-like voices are tender and humble, the sentimentalist who walks in the rain and has habits that he can’t explain. These are voices closing in on death though not corpses yet. There’s a helplessness and defeat in these voices and maybe we hear the fear in the edges of the songs, the fear that although regressing to the sentimental painful miraculous understanding of the need for love there are still more horrors and trials yet to come.

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Dylan sings with a sense of the ominous fibers of the reborn in the air, and fills us with dreadful awareness of supernatural women power whose salvation is lethal and Divine. It’s this secret power that fuses the sounds in the air. Enraged by rejection, she transforms into the monstrous Queen of Hell to tear apart the heart of those who rejected her. Fused with the hard hearted soul who rejected her they become a violence that has to be killed so that the wrecked soul survives to understand the need for love at long last. It’s this mood that Dylan is singing to now and the Sinatra songs show the way the storm now turns in this moment to strewn flowers. You hear this in ‘Love Sick’ where we get a close up portrait of what was rejected when love is rejected, where the insanity of the damaged soul is recognized and its brutal self-ravishment leaves the voice ‘sick of love‘ and ‘sick of being in the thick of it’, a song that seems to rise out of a deranged merciless lovelessness to a hunger and desire that reaches too far and threatens to destroy not just the voice but the world where ‘… the silence can be like thunder’ and where the tyrannical, murderous rapist still dazzles in nightmares, sick with jealousy, paranoia and lust:

‘Sometimes I wanna take to the road and plunder
Could you ever be true
I think of you
And wonder.’

This is a killer soul still capable of illness and vileness, where inside the mind the tempest storm still weeps and rolls in his head. But new inner vistas suspend the queen of hell in mid air, and now the tree is an old oak, the one in ‘Duquesne Whistle’ that’s ancient , a memory next time round, one that used to be climbed, the tree of children. It’s a place where crimes haven’t yet been committed, but has become a memory and a hope in a brutally real universe, grown against all odds, memorizing an innocent love as if from beyond death, and being sung as a form of remorse. These are performances that acknowledge the full spiritual consequence of crimes against divine love.

Dylan pushes up against the erotic and murderous, a multitude of creatures reduced to sacred and divine discontinuities lying in the hand of God. Transgression is marked invariably by violence in his songs, an overwhelming fusion of hatred from the damned with memories of the chance of final destinations, sacrifice, harmony, conciliation in love and the loneliness of submission. Every song sings as if it’s a prolongation of the deranged soul turning to whatever lies beyond this profane world. His persistent religious quality never spares but rather lacerates the divine connections that torture and twist and freeze up from the inside. The special quality of Christian sacrifice is that it doesn’t result from desire and responsibility but rather from sin and failure. The impurer earlier gods become in this light a criminal parody. Death is here a moment of revelation where what happens next is shared with survivors and dealers both, for death is always a violent end in Dylan, a murderous intensity that results from offence running in the deepest darkest underground. The primitive madness of the soul’s power broken by memories of its own death, or impending, or refused, this is converted by the songs into the delirium where victims and murderers rise out of an existential humdrum baseline . They become elevated into blinding intensity, overcoming the limits traced by repeat and custom. Transgression is deliberate and conscious, and the strong curse laid on such violence is always going to fall on this murderous crew. Excess and the deranged need to break free are continuous in this world, and revenge and murder common. Singing ‘Pay In Blood’ and the refrain ‘I pay in blood, but not my own’ was just one reminder that the murderer’s soul, the assassins’ and the criminals’ were on stage all night where ‘The more I take the more I give/ The more I die the more I live’ all hasped to an insane religious dynamism that hooked the dark to his sacramental sense of excess.

The horror of death drives us insane and makes us run – Dylan’s characters are often running, preferring life to the solemnity and terror of death but at the same time registering a fascination and disturbed desire for death too where violence shoots off in opposite directions in the hallucinatory intensity of its gift. The idea of a supernatural peril, of nights bringing witches curses from the long tempest ground, of corpses rising up from damned earth as a disorder and fulfilled promise is always at the border of his voice where he sings in a voracious primal melody of the necklace of love, revenge, jealousy, empire, murder, guilt :

‘You get your lover in the bed
Come here I’ll break your lousy head
Our nation must be saved and freed
You’ve been accused of murder, how do you plead?
This is how I spend my days
I came to bury, not to praise…’

It’s a particularly brilliant decomposition of all his voices, a hallucinatory moment where we feel the dead held in the fingers of violence and the survivor seeing the whole thing as part of an insane disorder, the killer drinking in the loneliness at the end where the corpse become the last token of a deranged pacified spirit…

‘I’ll drink my fill and sleep alone
I play in blood, but not my own.’

Dylan strings his songs in this interrelationship of corrosive anticipations, desire and taboo entwined, so that a luminal obscenity is not an accidental consequence but the irrevocable requirement of life escaping its dull restraint. The pleasure of losing control or of controlling the deliberate violation of a taboo are the twisted foundations of Dylan’s ecstasies. For his voices are in the grip of ethereal scandalous spirituality, voices of minds caught up with their own versions of fraudulence and lust, witnesses of what lies far out of range, distorted and off balanced players where loss is a winner in the long run, where everything has a cost and all debts must be paid. And will be. And are being. In Dylan women are of course precocious and a stimulus, and men ditto for his women. Desire is the foundation in these songs. Sex is communication and movement, an essential derangement of the human that roots itself in the very core of the vows of the flesh. For Dylan the senses are all about this catastrophic need, a neverending hunger from which no one can escape. The intensity of the relationships in his songs, and the violence and intensity of rejection, desire, lust, revenge, betrayal, everything becomes a world of retraction, a renunciation requiring compensation elsewhere if the madness isn’t to become a contagion. The songs are mosaics of these deranged blood soaked erotic meanings. Love triangles twist and fate themselves to murder, suicide and execution throughout many of his songs: ‘Tin Angel’ is just the latest of these stories that Dylan tells. In that song the voice is energized by lust, fatal jealousy, rage and a catastrophic revenge that works like a long curse through its insane excess-loaded verses. Emotions expose wounds that are never going to be healed and the wrong doing is a possession of strength wasted on a degenerate simulacra of love and desire that destroys righteousness and villainy both. This is the erotically charged vanity of the voice who thinks that all strength is in vain and he’s alone. What Dylan’s voice and songs do is show us that the vicious man indulging in vice – even murder – is nothing but a poor doomed creature.

Which takes us back to the Sinatra songs he chooses to sing. They are, in the light of his own ferocious and cruel songs, songs welling up out of the same souls but touching on the pleasure and intense sweetness transgression procures. The religious soul in Dylan is required in this because without it the idea of transgression becomes impossible. Dylan is well aware that perhaps now many of his songs can’t be felt because fewer people fear hell and desire heaven. The intoxication of existence and a sort of innocence where the isolated creature loses himself or herself in something other than themselves, transcending common limitations where reality doesn’t have limits and becomes nothing, here is where his language and music come together with his voice. Anguish in Dylan becomes intense exaltation. Similarly, the sacred, primitive and deranged atmosphere of intensity that sex and desire have in Dylan’s religious mind is also something that perhaps many can’t feel today. But these songs of desolation and loneliness, of waiting for a glimpse, of hoping for a chance, of defeat and hopeless longing are just the other side of souls for whom love and desire are the occult seditious transgressions that lift their lives out of grey hollow apathy. Even in unrequited bleakness they find voices and spirits from hell and heaven that give them a meaning and intensity. They are expressions of an infinite violent experience of sadness. The world is experienced as immense and bewildering and the shadows of the night are where we glimpse death face to face as a condition of life’s renewal.

Again we see that the curse is the necessary moment of blessing. Dylan remains loyal to this equation all the way through. His characters loyally accept the challenge and all the bad consequences that follow as fate. Only a fool would not love the beloved object, but to do so they must realize the hopelessness that must follow. Passion always comes with a curse from the universe. The pathological state associating murder and sacrilege arouses the infinite sadness and desolation where the object of desire is elevated to the holy. Carnal desire therefore introduces the earthly taboo. Lives in this extremity are enchanted lives of ensuing punishment and ruination. Hypocrisy, stupidity, wickedness, cruelty, servility, cowardice, dense abjection and an abstract sense of vertiginous and agonized majesty are where Dylan finds the beauty of life. These are detestable figures singing their laments, the kind Genet writes about, and because of this it is despite their wrongness that a criminal loveliness rings true.

Dylan’s voice gives back the peculiar features of these doomed creatures and still gives the impression that it hasn’t even begun to say what it says and knows.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Marshall is still biding his time.

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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, November 8th, 2015.