“We drove that car as far as we could…”

A quick update, if for no other reason than I’m realizing this thing is, as Lester Freamon would put it, a discipline, and I, who was born without a disciplined bone in his body, find it all too easy to let the days slide away while everything withers on the vine. Bringing some backbone to bear is a even a little harder under the circumstances, mooning about as I’ve been this last week or so, and having basically put my life on hold until my trip to L.A. next week – to celebrate my 50th birthday and my friend Gary’s 40th – is over. I’ve also been in the thrall of a woman who I can’t get together with for reasons so valid and insurmountable that she may as well live on Venus, adding one more blue note to these days. And to top it all off I’ve had a beaut of a fever the last 24 hours, the kind that keeps driving you to the couch for rest but which won’t let you actually drop off to sleep, choosing instead to fill your head with bits of torturously repetitious wordplay and the outlandish beasts of mythology.

What the fuck – I’ve got Bob Dylan to get me through. One of my employees on that project who looked like the Ultimate Music Geek – an owl-shaped face with Coke-bottle lenses, vintage clothes, and Prince Valiant haircut – asked me one day who I like and I threw out some names. He started bringing me CDs – about 10 in all – crammed with some pretty damn obscure shit, including outtakes and live performances by Dylan and Cash during the Nashville Skyline session, the complete concert from the Dylan-Band ’74 comeback tour, a great disc of prewar blues, a fucking monster compilation – some 120 songs – of live Neil Young, etc. He also gave me the outtakes and alternate versions from Pat Garrett replete w/all the studio chatter – before one track Dylan laughs, “This guy Jerry Fielding is going to go nuts when he hears this, man.” (Fielding is a bigtime Hollywood composer who scored The Wild Bunch and some other Peckinpah works; he and Dylan took an immediate dislike to each other when Peckinpah told ’em to work together on Garrett.) About half a dozen times today I listened to a scorching version of “Tangled Up in Blue” – the song that comes closest to serving as my biography if we’re not counting “Pop a Top” – that Dylan performed in Portsmouth in 2000. It’s a song whose lyrics Dylan has been wont to change willy-nilly over the years, but even if it wasn’t I’m not sure I’d understand more than a fraction of what he’s physically saying here. It doesn’t matter, though, for as the author of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats once wrote, “Great poetry communicates before it is understood.” Okay, maybe Eliot didn’t mean it that literally, but by the time Dylan and his band launch into the song’s final two minutes, a fractious assault of guitars and drumwork that just keeps peaking and peaking, you feel positively smeared with anger and rue and tenderness. These things are fragile and usually best not put into words, and I’ll probably regret even trying when I finally get back down to ninety-eight-point-six, but in the meantime it feels like the right thing to do. Wherever you are, Dave R., you done good, boy.

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