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Bob Dylan's Near Perfect Storm
The master songwriter's new record is called Tempest – and it includes both a tribute to John Lennon and an epic chantey on the sinking of the Titanic. A world exclusive preview by Anne Margaret Daniel.
Anne Margaret Daniel, 17 Aug 2012
'Tin Angel' is another ballad, of which there are, happily, several on this record. Nobody does ballads like Dylan, said Liam Clancy the last time he was in New York – high praise, coming from Clancy. (Then Clancy did his Dylan impression, and very affectionately, too). One of the earliest poetic forms in English, the ballad’s also one of the most enduring and popular. People purely love a song that tells a good story – and, as Richard Thompson likes to say in concert, we especially love ballads when everyone dies in the end, except for whoever the writer/singer of the song is. 'Tin Angel' is Scotland meets Mexico, a borderline Dylan loves: the bonnie bonnie banks of the Rio Grande. There’s a weird love triangle, here, among a woman and two men. I couldn’t quite tell who the woman’s married to, but then maybe neither can she. Both men claim to be at some point, or she calls them at some point, husband. But the plot of 'Tin Angel' is 'The Raggle Taggle Gypsy', or 'Gypsy Davy', with a dash of 'Lord Darnell' thrown in. (It’s also rather Romeo and Juliet. Whenever a woman pulls out a knife and kills herself with it, between two dead lovers, I have to think of poor Juliet. There are several lines in the songs of Tempest that are straight out of Shakespeare). As in 'Early Roman Kings' the diction’s high and low, archaic words and phrasings mixed in with modernspeak.
And why not? We have such a rich language in English – use it all. Dylan’s brilliant to do so. Words don’t go away; we just keep making up more of them, and there’s such a wealth of ones that have fallen out of use. Bring ‘em back. Here, people lower themselves on golden chains, and crumple at the waist like twisted pins. This guy with whom the woman’s run off isn’t so raggle-taggle – she’s not sleeping rough on a riverbank wrapped in a horsehide, but naked in bed in a nice warm room, clinking glasses in front of the fire, when we enter the scene for her last moments. One man shoots the other, who crawls across the floor, dying; she then kills the killer – and herself. It feels fated, like a good ballad: she’s not mourning the dead lover, but quitting (in the sense of quitclaim) the “husband” she’s just stabbed – sort of a self-executed eye for an eye. That they all end up in a heap together, thrown in a hole, seems appropriate.