Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream Part 1: There’s very little that you can’t imagine not happening

Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream (1965) part 1

by Jochen Markhorst

 

I           There’s very little that you can’t imagine not happening

 In April 2020, Robert Eggington, director at Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation in Perth, posts an enchanting story on Facebook about his two encounters with Dylan, in 1992 and in 1997. Amongst other things he tells us, actually as an aside, that his friend Anne Lambadgee managed to delight Dylan with a painting she had made herself. Dylan is apparently so moved, that he wants to return the favour;

“Following the meeting Bob Dylan asked me to accompany him to his vehicle. Inside the van he pulled out this pencilled sketch of looking south down St Georges Terrace from the window of the Parmelia Hilton Hotel. He asked me what the young woman’s name was that gave him the painting so he could put a special acknowledgement to her on the drawing, he then went on to ask me the date and year that we were in (a true statement), then he handed the drawing to Anne, see attached image.”

He asked me the year we were in… granted, not knowing the exact date is hardly remarkable, especially when you travel the world practically non-stop. But the year?  Dylan was in Perth on 18 March 1992, so 1992 is already 78 days old, and somehow the year has eluded him until now. It demonstrates a peculiar kind of detachment, and it places Dylan’s many statements about and his fascination with The Passing Of Time in a different light.

In expressing this fascination, Dylan does not always seem to be too sharp. Take his review of “Tangled Up In Blue”, for instance, in the 1985 interview with Bill Flanagan. The comparison he chooses to make his point is actually quite poor:

“I wanted to defy time, so that the story took place in the present and past at the same time. When you look at a painting, you can see any part of it or see all of it together. I wanted that song to be like a painting.”

The analogy with looking at a painting really makes no sense. “When you look at Michelangelo’s David, you can look at a toe or at the whole statue.” “When you read a poem, you can read one line or the whole poem.” “When you listen to a string quartet, you can listen to just the cello or the whole string quartet.” Yes, all equally true and all equally empty – and it does not contribute anything to what Dylan is trying to explain: to defy time.

Perhaps Dylan is thinking of those medieval paintings that depict various life events from the life of Jesus or some saint. Or something like the Bayeux Tapestry, although that is in fact just one long horizontal comic strip. Or painters like Breughel or Bosch, who stuff their paintings with allegories, proverbs and anecdotes. But that still does not illustrate something like “a story taking place in the present and the past at the same time”. The brilliant scenario of the film Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) might come closer to that ideal.

In that film, insurance agent Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) suffers from anterograde amnesia after a blow to the head – he can no longer make new memories and has forgotten everything he is experiencing after a few minutes. The film has two chronologies. One in colour that tells the now, in reverse order – so the viewer, like Leonard, does not know what has just happened; the past comes to us in the present. The colour sequences are alternated with black-and-white scenes, which are told chronologically. In the end the two storylines come together, the colour scenes and the black-and-white scenes, the reverse chronological and the chronological, and there is a brief moment of Dylan’s ideal: the past and the present at the same time.

The failed comparison is all the more remarkable, given Dylan’s years of preparation for this structural analysis of “Tangled Up In Blue”. Seven years earlier, in the interview with Jonathan Cott published in Rolling Stone in November ’78, he tries to explain the same thing in similar terms:

“What’s different about it is that there’s a code in the lyrics and also there’s no sense of time. There’s no respect for it: you’ve got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little that you can’t imagine not happening.”

So in addition to the past and the present, there is also the future, but it remains somewhat awkward. Mixing timelines is not all that revolutionary – time travel stories have been around since the nineteenth century, since H.G. Wells, and most of them have key scenes in which past, present and future come together. We see a well-nigh poetic version of this in another brain-teaser by Christopher Nolan, in Interstellar (2014), when protagonist Cooper can manipulate his own past from inside the “tesseract” in another galaxy so that his then-future, i.e. the present, will actually happen. Yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room – a concept that might be slightly overstretched in Nolan’s ultimate mindfuck film Tenet (2020), by the way.

The sense of time and the imagination of the three Nolan films, however, are of a sophistication that the story line of “Tangled Up In Blue” does not come close to. Dylan messes around with the chronology, seemingly at random and not too spectacularly, and changes personal pronouns just as randomly. Neither of these literary interventions has a directing influence on the plot, insofar as a plot can be distilled from the song at all. But it pleases nonetheless, apparently. In his more ambitious songs, Dylan remains fascinated by the effect of interwoven timelines, up to and including his most recent album. More than ever, actually; in 2020, Rough And Rowdy Ways opens with the words “Today and tomorrow and yesterday too” and the album goes on to offer a dizzying carousel of interwoven historical figures, events and works of art from ancient times to the present.

“No sense of time” may still be a reasonably accurate characteristic, but a synchronicity does not arise – not simultaneity in the physical sense, not synchronicity in the psychological sense, the coincidence of events that are not themselves causally connected. Funnily enough, Dylan comes closest to that ideal long before he gives it any thought at all, long before “I Contain Multitudes” from 2020 and even long before “Tangled Up In Blue” from 1974: in the witty odd duck out on Bringing It All Back Home, in “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” from 1965.

Asobi Seksu – Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream

To be continued. Next up: Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream part 2: Blow Boys Blow

Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:

 

 

 

 

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1 Response to Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream Part 1: There’s very little that you can’t imagine not happening

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    A bit of “low” burlesque –

    Treating significant subject matter in a trivial manner –

    ie, Captain Ahab of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick’ becomes Captain Arab.

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