Thursday, November 18, 2004

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

Among the many frustrations that Chelle and I have with our coworkers is their dogged resistance to trying new and unfamiliar cuisines. Here we are in the Bay Area, with amazing Thai, Indian, Japanese, Ethiopian, Afghan, and Greek restaurants right under our noses, and still these people quiver with disgust when faced with anything other than pasta, steak, or broiled fish. Over the years we have tried in vain to sell them on the pleasures of hot and spicy pho on a blustery day, of plates full of fragrant, delicate dumplings at the local dim sum house, or of cheap, satisfying Filipino food at a nearby bakery - but each time they blanch at the very thought of all those foreign tendons and tripe and chicken feet and retreat to the safety of good ol' Mary's Pizza Shack across the street.

I just don't get it. It is one thing for young kids to turn up their unrefined little noses at anything more exotic than PB&J or Kraft macaroni and cheese. But as an independent, thinking, voting adult, why on earth would you choose to completely close yourself off from new tastes and experiences?

So, that is pretty much how I feel when people tell me that they don't like Bob Dylan. Believe me, I am no music snob - my personal CD collection includes Barry Manilow, John Denver, Neil Diamond, and the Carpenters, not to mention the soundtracks to Flashdance, Fame, and A Very Brady Movie. I turn up the radio whenever that one song by Avril Lavigne comes on. For god's sake, I have seen Night Ranger in concert! And I hate - absolutely hate - when people try to browbeat me into liking some musical group or another because they are supposedly so cutting edge or avante-garde or deep. Just leave me alone with my Lionel Richie ballads, would you?

Still, it really galls me to hear people dismiss Dylan based on nothing but his few odd, shambling, marble-mouthed public appearances or the overplayed "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35" (the "everybody must get stoned" song). I realize that his music is an acquired taste. He doesn't exactly have the sort of voice that makes you think "Boy, this guy was just destined to be a professional singer." No doubt he would have been kicked off American Idol in one of the "what is this deluded person thinking" early rounds. In fact, he was routinely laughed at and booed right off the stage in numerous clubs and coffeehouses until he eventually built up a groundswell of grassroots fans who responded to his astonishing ability to evoke the most complex, intimate emotions - heartbreak, resignation, passion, wistfulness, tenderness, regret - sometimes all in the same song.

The first time I really listened to Dylan I was 14 or 15, catching a ride to Foster's Freeze with a bunch of hippies from school. "Shelter From the Storm" was playing on the tape deck. Though my musical tastes at the time ran to New Edition and Duran Duran, I was struck by the lovely, poetic imagery of the lyrics:

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."

Suddenly I turned around and she was standin' there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair.
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns.
"Come in," she said,"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

Soon I was rocking out in my bedroom to a scratchy Greatest Hits album I found at a secondhand store. "Was that 'The Times They Are A'Changin?' you were playing?" my dad would ask incredulously. "Don't you know that all the people who listened to that song in the '60s are now investment bankers for Shearson Lehman?"

Maybe he was right. But is there any doubt that "Masters of War" is as true now as it was in 1963?

Like Judas of old, you lie and deceive
A world war can be won, you want me to believe
But I see through your eyes and I see through your brain
Like I see through the water that runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers for the others to fire
Then you set back and watch when the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion as young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies and is buried in the mud.

I once had a psychology professor who was also a huge fan. She carried around a heavily dog-eared biography of Dylan, from which she would often quote to illustrate some point about human nature. Since I was becoming more and more enchanted with his music, I bought the same book and tried to get through it. I never got past the first chapter. I found that I didn't much care about Dylan, the person. I have no interest in hearing about his childhood in Hibbing, Minnesota, or his musical influences, or his controversial decision to go electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. I never followed his dizzying switches from Judaism to born-again-Christianity and back again, though I have purposely avoided listening to most anything from his Jesus-centric Slow Train Coming era. And unlike most of his die-hard fans, I was not waiting anxiously for his autobiography to be released, though I expect I will get around to reading it eventually.

I don't even understand most of his lyrics. I have no clue what the hell "The kings of Tyrus with their convict list/Are waiting in line for their geranium kiss" means, but "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" is an epic elegy of love and longing nonetheless. And when it comes to the ultimate fuck-you song, you can forget about "Go Your Own Way," "Hit The Road, Jack," or the screeching, overly literal "You Oughtta Know." None of these can touch the scathing brilliance that is "Idiot Wind."

I woke up on the roadside, daydreamin' 'bout the way things sometimes are
Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are makin' me see stars.
You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies.
One day you'll be in the ditch, flies buzzin' around your eyes,
Blood on your saddle.

Idiot wind, blowing through the flowers on your tomb,
Blowing through the curtains in your room.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You're an idiot, babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

Hey, sometimes you have a craving for a nice, tasty, familiar Big Mac - and that's okay. But if you ever decide to expand your horizons to include, say, contemporary Vietnamese fusion with a French twist, you can't go wrong with Three Seasons. And if you want to enjoy the aural equivalent of a richly layered feast, might I suggest Blonde on Blonde?

3 Comments:

Blogger Gooch said...

That's kind of how I feel about Stevie Wonder. I wish he had never come out with that cheesy "I Just Called to Say I Love You" song, since to many of my friends that is the beginning and end of his catalog.

5:07 PM  
Blogger moosie said...

"But, this dish is sooo...ORIENTAL."

3:38 PM  
Blogger lucidkim said...

I can't speak for anyone but me - but I am often afraid to try new food because I get migraines - often triggered by MSG or other food enhancers/preservatives in food.

It's funny because I have the opposite problem - the people I eat out with ALWAYS want to try something new and get mad if I insist on a comfortable old stand-by restaurant.

I love your music collection list, much of it mirrors my own.

kim

5:18 PM  

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