not a member? click here to sign up
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
The first track, 'Duquesne Whistle', is perfect for the start. What journey doesn’t begin with the whistle of a leaving train? America has such a thing for trains – we strangely think of them as very American, even though in the modern day they’re better run in just about any European country. I think it’s a touch of the Wild West – a landscape Dylan likes to live in, imaginatively, and one that’s so essentially American – with the train as the only way to get to town, the lifeline to “civilization” and Back East.
And there are more good train songs than there are for any other travel genre. Sure, there are some good car songs. Not so much airplane songs. Then you can go back for all the old sea chanteys, most of which I’d bet Dylan knows, but ships these days are too archaic a mode of travel – or a romantic and privileged one. (More about sea chanteys and ballads later; the title track is one). 'Duquesne' is one of those names that are fun as heck to say, if you know how to pronounce it – a town that seems to be lost in the middle of nowhere, but that hooks up to anywhere by train. Even if, as Dylan has it, it’s via Gary, Indiana, where once upon a time The Music Man lived. But which Duquesne is it, anyway? They’re all over the American map – including one in Arizona that’s a ghost town now. (It cracked me up to see that a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania paper has already run an article saying Bob Dylan has a new song about the Duquesne Steel Works and Andrew Carnegie.) The whole sense of the song made me feel like Jay Gatsby, back from the war on that eastbound train, leaving Louisville: “But it was all going by too fast for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and best, forever.” Yet this first song’s not all looking back, and tristesse. As I listened to some of the more genial lines linking the train to women, and the idea of the singer’s baby being on board, I thought of radiant Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane in 'Some Like it Hot', singing 'Runnin’ Wild' in the aisles of a southbound train somewhere in the Midwest. I loved the invocation of the “lights of my native land,” and was pleasantly surprised when the train-whistle voice, feminized already, echoes the “mother of our lord.” The ending challenge in Dylan’s light, resonant voice as to whether or not you’ll “know me the next time I come ‘round” is for us all – and yes sir, we’ll know you.