Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Final theme

It was the summer of 1965. I was sixteen years old. My mother, stepfather, brother and I drove from Cleveland, Ohio to Trenton, Tennessee to visit the place where our ancestors arrived from Africa. The drive was excrutiatingly long. My stepfather owned a Lincoln Continental. It had a nice sound system, but he hated listening to anything that wasn't jazz.

Unfortunately for him, there weren't too many jazz stations between Cleveland and Tennessee back then. Fortunately for me it turns out, "Like A Rolling Stone" was making its way to the top of the charts and every AM station was playing it -- almost all of them the full six minute, nine second version. I swear we must have heard it 50 or 60 times. This drove everyone in the car a little crazy except me. I kept thinking to myself, "This dude is out there." I'd close my eyes when the song came on, and would see movies. I became a Dylan fan that summer and have been hooked ever since. (GW)


"As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden/The wounded flowers were dangling from the vine." As usual, it is the words that seize your attention first.

"Ain't Talkin'," the last song on Bob Dylan's deceptively mellow-sounding new album "Modern Times," places the listener in a landscape of sweet decay, as handsomely ruined as Dylan's sixtysomething voice, populated by sick mules, blind horses, a missing gardener, nameless foes, some woman, and the walking, weeping, brooding, ironically smiling singer.

The vocal line is threadbare: it consists of just five notes, the ancient pentatonic scale. But there is the unswerving sureness of the musical choices -- guitars twisting like vines around plain chord changes, an intermittently keening cello, a steady pulse like dripping water -- that holds you mesmerized.

The protagonist seems to be searching for some sign of hope in the apocalyptic garden, and at the last moment, he finds it: after eight minutes in the minor mode, and a sighing reference to the "world's end," a moonbeam falls in the form of a glowing chord.

Alex Ross


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