Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy Birthday to Dylan; favorite lines revisited

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan, and thanks for the words and the music.

The songwriting icon, born Robert Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, has provided me and countless others with songs and verses to map our lives, the ups and downs, with words and phrases, and figures of speech in thousands of verses, hundreds of songs, scores of albums and a lifetime of coolness.

As Bob’s 70th approached, the music and entertainment world counted down to the milestone birthday of the great one, the singer-songwriter who defined several genres of American music and along the way earned his own adjective, “Dylanesque.”

Other people have paid tribute and analyzed the mystery of Dylan’s genius better than I can, in the books and studies and websites devoted to him. For me, a writer and reporter at my core, it is about the language. That’s what Stephen King, a favorite author and Dylan fan himself, said about writing well in his book, “On Writing.” It’s about the language.

In the Dylan cover issue of the Rolling Stone (with an on-line version including RS’s 15 Dylan covers), Bono wrote about Like a Rolling Stone, the number one Dylan song for many. Bono of U2, a pretty cool dude himself, described Like a Rolling Stone as a “song that changes everything.” He called Dylan “the king of spitting fire himself, the juggler of beauty and truth, our own Willy Shakespeare in a polka-dot shirt.”

It’s about the language. My love for Dylan and his songs, I have figured out, is rooted in Dylan’s use of words and phrases, rhymes and verses, to paint us eternal pictures.

Sure, his music is legendary, having created some of the loveliest, funkiest, rocking and impactful melodies in the 20th century. I dare a doubter to listen to Blind Willie McTell, Just Like a Woman, Maggie’s Farm, Gotta Serve Somebody, Tangled Up in Blue, Mr. Tambourine Man and continue doubting. But alas, I am here today not to convert those who don’t get Dylan or care, but to recognize and share the impact his words and verses have had on my life.

There is rarely a situation where I cannot apply Dylan song verses or lines. So instead of counting down my favorite Dylan songs, I offer a short list of favorite lines from Dylan songs. I welcome those who read this to offer their own favorite lines. Also, I reserve the right to add to the list at anytime during Dylan birthday week or month, so here goes.

“You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows”

 Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bringing It All Back Home

“Well, my back has been to the wall for so long, it seems like it’s stuck
Why don’t you break my heart one more time just for good luck.”

 Summer Days, Love and Theft

“Some neon lazy slut has charmed away my brains”
“This woman so crazy, I swear I ain't gonna touch another one for years”

 Rollin’ and Tumblin, Modern Times

“I can write you poems, make a strong man lose his mind
I’m no pig without a wig
I hope you treat me kind”

 High Water for Charley Patton, Love and Theft

“When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

 Like a Rolling Stone (LARS to we Dylan people), Highway 61 Revisited

“When I was down
You just stood there grinning...
You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on
The side that’s winning”

 Positively 4th Street

“You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right”

 Don’t Think Twice, FreeWheelin’ Bob Dylan

“People are crazy and times are strange”

 Things Have Changed, The Essential Bob Dylan

“And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl”

 Just Like a Woman, Blonde on Blonde

“I see my light come shining from the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now I shall be released.”

 I Shall be Released, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, 2

“What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top
You’re on the bottom..”

 Idiot Wind, Blood on The Tracks

“To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to..”

 It’s Alright Ma, Bringing it All Back Home

“May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young…”

 Forever Young, Planet Waves

Monday, May 16, 2011

Images of tornado devastation include horror, hope

The images of the devastation of the tornadoes of April 27, 2011 and the aftermath come to me in many ways:

• Real time video of the tornado in Tuscaloosa we watched on television that afternoon, knowing people are dying and going to die. The weather tower-cam video showed a swirling, angry storm so large and so menacing that we blinked and thought it looked like a Hollywood-manufactured tornado. But this storm was Mother Nature’s deadly creation that tossed houses, bodies, vehicles, buildings, neighborhoods and lives.

• My daddy and stepmother, aged 83 and 74, when they finally made it to our house the day after, Daddy gasping for breath and Emily exhausted but still caring for others.

• Emily and Daddy’s place in Pleasant Grove, where his almost 100-year-old home of 40 years still stands, a wounded warrior with scars on its roof, siding and ceilings, surrounded by debris piled up like fortifications in an on-going battle.

• The homes and lives that didn’t make it through the storm, some 238 people in Alabama, including my niece’s mother in law, Gayle McCrory, whom Dawn says two weeks later she still picks up the phone to call. But then she remembers. The McCrory family’s loss was multiplied across the state and south in what will now forever be known as the tornadoes of April 27, 2011.

The images of the storm also include the debris collected from Daddy’s yard in Pleasant Grove, symbols of the lives forever changed, including:

• A picture of a young black woman holding her baby, probably minutes after it was born. We posted the picture on the Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/#!/PicturesandDocumentsfoundafterAprilTornadoes. People replied, “I hope she and the baby are okay.” So do we.

• One size 12 men's yellow dress shoe.

• A W-2 for a teen-ager who worked a summer at Alabama Adventure.

• A Christmas ornament and most of a ceramic wise man.

• A torn section of Bo Jackson’s book, Bo Knows Bo, four pages of the chapter called: “Set Your Goals High – and Don’t Stop.” Bo, who we Auburn people love, grew up in McCalla, not far from some of the storm’s worst devastation in Pleasant Grove, Concord and Tuscaloosa. Bo’s advice to “don’t stop” is council everyone affected by the storm, as victims or volunteers, must have as a mantra. So much has been done to help and care for others by regular folks from all over, and there is still much work to be done.

Other images follow me, here and now more than two weeks after the storms:

• Daddy, Emily and Dreama, their adopted daughter and the little sister I always wanted, telling the story of riding out the storm in the hall of their house.
  • A blanket on top of Dreama and Prancer the Chihuahua, they held onto each other as the storm raged outside, the windows shattered and the bathroom door blew out and the sucking wind grabbed Emily. Daddy recalls hanging on to Em, his wife of almost 50 years, as the wind grabbed her. They heard trees falling and ceiling crumbling, but they walked out of the hall, the only injury a nasty cut to Daddy’s arm and bruises that still shine purple on his right arm. They spent a miserable night in the house that night – trapped by the fallen trees, powerlines and devastation, and watched their neighbors walk out of the chaos – “like refugees from a battle,” Em said, folks clutching a few possessions, a garbage bag of treasures saved.
  • (My aunt and uncle-in-laws, Jimmy and Anne Adams, were among those Pleasant Grove neighbors who walked out with just the clothes on their backs, after surviving the storm huddled together as their house disintegrated around them. Aunt Anne walked out, they now know, with a broken leg. I tried to look for their house when we returned, but blocks and blocks and blocks of Pleasant Grove are gone, so that one rubble looks like the next, unless it’s your rubble.)

• Images of volunteers, helpers, saints, who came to help:

o The young man Cody who helped Emily get panels and tarps in place on the house the day after, so that Daddy would leave it without worrying too much about looters or rain taking what the storm had not.

o The folks at their church, Pleasant Grove United Methodist, who checked on them, sent volunteers to help clear the driveway, retarped the roof and are still helping. Em and I stopped by the church after meeting the insurance adjuster last Thursday, and we had a hot meal with volunteers from all over. I was amazed at the expert-level coordination of help and services and the caring – a front-line, “faith-based” rescue and help initiative duplicated in communities across the state. Churches have been the backbone of on-the-ground help in affected communities, and we praise the Lord for them.

o A man named Kevin and two helpers, who came Saturday before last, sent by the church, armed with chain saws and a diesel-powered loader to clear the rest of the drive way. They cut and piled and toted. We had a small family work party that day -- Frank, Will, Mary Claire, Em and Dreama. We shoveled insulation and dry wall in the living room and bedroom; Frank and Will cut and dragged limbs and piled debris that used to be the tool shed and tools, and they took down the pecan tree that pierced the roof. And, because of Kevin and helpers, angels from Daphne, we left with most of the debris at the curb and another step closer to the new normal.

Daddy and Emily, Dreama and Prancer, the yipping Chihuahua (or is that redundant?) spent two weeks with us before taking the invite to live in the basement apartment of friends Jeff and Tina Lindsey, nearby in Hoover. They are settling in and nearer to that new normal state, in this one-level apartment with kitchen. We have my list of what the adjuster said insurance will cover, expect the official one next week, and next on our list is getting bids from roofers, drywallers and painters. A reliable contractor to coordinate it all would be another wished-for miracle.

Meanwhile, like others whose lives were scrambled and tossed in these storms, my folks just keep going. They’re still shaken, but thankful, sometimes sad but happy to be here, and they do the next thing. They “Don’t Stop,” just like Bo advised in the four-pages that flew into the Romine yard in the storms of April 27, 2011.

Pictures of the day:

The bathroom door that went flying.

A Pleasant Grove neighborhood, after the storm

Songs of the day:

The songs in my head that speak of the horror, fear and sadness and the hope, determination and caring that were a part of this natural disaster are many. And, most were written by Bob Dylan, of course, who in his 50 years of songwriting has addressed most emotions many times. I’ve thought of A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, Shelter from The Storm, High Water Risin’ and even Blowin’ in the Wind. Since I can’t decide, and because Bob’s 70th birthday is my likely next blog, I’ll share some of them and close with a song I’ve only heard on a Bootleg album, Most of the Time, with words that ring true for those who survived the storm.

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, 1962 (Free-wheelin’ Bob Dylan)

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Shelter From the Storm, 1974, (Blood on The Tracks)

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail
Poisoned in the bushes an’ blown out on the trail
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

High Water Risin’ for Charley Patton, 2001, (Love and Theft)

(Note: The Mississippi Flooding in 1927 inspired this song, a Dylan tribute for Blues Legend Charley Patton who wrote the first High Water Risin’; let us remember those in the wake of that pending disaster)

High water risin’, the shacks are slidin’ down
Folks lose their possessions—folks are leaving town
Bertha Mason shook it—broke it
Then she hung it on a wall
Says, “You’re dancin’ with whom they tell you to
Or you don’t dance at all”
It’s tough out there
High water everywhere

Most of the Time, 1989, (Oh, Mercy)

He’s writing about a woman here, but I suspect many storm survivors feel this way…most of the time.

Most of the time

I’m clear focused all around
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground
I can follow the path, I can read the signs
Stay right with it when the road unwinds
I can handle whatever I stumble upon
I don’t even notice she’s gone
Most of the time

Most of the time
It’s well understood
Most of the time
I wouldn’t change it if I could
I can make it all match up, I can hold my own
I can deal with the situation right down to the bone
I can survive, I can endure
And I don’t even think about her
Most of the time

Most of the time
My head is on straight
Most of the time
I’m strong enough not to hate
I don’t build up illusion ’til it makes me sick
I ain’t afraid of confusion no matter how thick
I can smile in the face of mankind
Most of the time