Culture Rover

#107 - Dylan's Departures and Arrivals

Bob Dylan's new song from the Modern Times album, "Someday Baby," is featured in a black-and-white ITunes commercial. Based on the old Muddy Waters classic, "Trouble No More," the song draws directly from the blues. (The commercial, by the way, is black and white in more ways than one: not only does it strive for classicism, but it also hints at an old-white-man-young-black-woman miscegenation fantasy.)

"Someday baby, you ain't gonna trouble poor me anymore": the central and most powerful line in both songs, but especially in Dylan's new version, is sung over a hook of a catch-and-release, tonic-dominant-subdominant chord progression. The music and the lyric are, of course, an act of solidarity with Dylan's blues forefathers. But they are also something more: they seem like his next comment, a kind of sequel or response, in his conversation with his own songs, especially "The Times They Are A-Changin'." "Someday Baby" is another chapter in Dylan's chronicles of his times -- and of time itself.

This is because Dylan's phrasing -- especially the way his voice cracks -- echoes the vocal performance of "The Times They Are A-Changin" on the 1994 Unplugged album. This was a crucial version of the 1964 composition, on which the singer of the song at last recognized that he was on the other side of time. On Unplugged, Dylan became an old man. He expressed rumination and sorrow, a sense of failure and opportunities lost, a kind of farewell to the sixties, a "goodbye to all that" tinged with anger and regret.

Now, though, roughly ten years later, he has broken free from the past. He has done so, paradoxically, by digging deeper into the gift bag of American song, in whose depths nuggets of nonsense and wisdom emerge to provide him with the keys out of the jail cell of time. Armed with these these fragments that he has shored against his ruin, Dylan escapes to the open road.

"Someday baby." The melody rises up above the tonic chord as the lyric announces that liberation is just around the corner. "You ain't gonna worry." The singer now wills this liberation into being through insistence alone, as the chord reaches up to the dominant V chord. "Poor me." Sliding down to the sub-dominant IV chord, a recognition of subjectivity occurs and the "I" emerges intact from his travails. "Anymore." Set free from time itself, the singer breaks loose on the resolution back to the tonic chord.

There is unity, autonomy, discovery, perception, a surprising realization of perseverance, a self-generating welling up from within. This spits the singer forth into and onto a horizon beyond time, rolling like a stone, where one is freighted but free.

The times have changed, but time is now irrelevant. Time in the sense of progress, history, order, and achievement is hereby dissolved, it doesn't matter anymore. Only rhythm matters. Time is done for, but timing lives on.

06 September 06

Back to #106

Go to #108