Bob Dylan Modern Times

[Columbia; 2006]

Styles: blues-rock, swing-jazz, parlor ballads
Others: W.C. Handy, Bing Crosby, Lonnie Johnson

"I wouldn't even think about playing music if I was born in these times...I'd probably turn to something like mathematics. That would interest me. Architecture would interest me. Something like that." -excerpted from the 2005 Bob Dylan Show tour program

Perversion. Perversion packed with allusions — forgotten titles, purloined and paraphrased sources, pilfered public records and archives. This is what steeps the songs in American history instead of planting them in psycho wards, clinics, and retirement homes. What are your feelings on the elderly gawking at nymphets? But this isn't a crooked old man with milky-white spittle on his chin. Not a withering old man playing pinochle and bridge with fellow feebleminded.

The signs have been ostensible — creeping about Victoria's Secret sets, declaring high school sweethearts "brought out the poet in [him]" (glaring at the camera with a come-hither stare as he says so), urging a mistress to throw her panties overboard. With Modern Times, Dylan has fallen headfirst into a young lady's lap.

Initial accusations will say it is the loins of Alicia Keys, but that may only be celebrity lust. Dylan, despite backstage run-ins, isn't aware of Ms. Keys struggle with acne, a blemish that may dishearten him. Look further: "I want some real good woman to do just what I say," "I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows," "Put some sugar in my bowl," "Some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains," "I'm going to wring your neck," "Bad-luck women stick like glue."

This zest for sex and a female accomplice corresponds with Dylan's mortality. It's the natural reaction to death. Modern Times is said to complete a trilogy of albums, combining the macabre Lanois effort, Time Out of Mind, with the rollicking Jack Frost Love and Theft.

But how does this death/arousal dynamic fit in with our modern times of depravity, war, turpitude, and bad music? Perhaps an Aristophanic Dylan is proposing a Lysistrata solution to our current state of decrepitude. On "Rollin' and Tumblin'," Dylan states: "I swear I ain't gonna touch another one for years." We will withhold sex until the world is back in order. Eureka!

The result? — romance Katrina while mending her destruction; cleavage and levees, chivalrous courting and crowded courtrooms, flattery (blowing kisses) and injustice (low rations). Apply this formula to our other troubles and strife. Our rallying cry? — Be FERVENT, be DETERMINATE, be the one to decapitate the SERPENT! What do you think the Dylan of "Ain't Talkin'" is doing in the mystic garden? He's hunting. When he sings "the gardener is gone," he's not talking about gone fishin' or gone clearin' brush. He's gone huntin'. So who's joining the force? Dylan has high standards on "Thunder On the Mountain": "Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches".

Charlie Chaplin has volunteered. Dylan and Chaplin are kindred codgers who share an identical gait. Chaplin, always sort of a deviant (sexual or otherwise — vagrancy is a crime, people!), in his 1936 film, Modern Times, finds himself secured and strapped into the Automated Feeding Machine, an exercise in bondage. And for further comparison, Chaplin's exploits of younger women (Oona O'Neill, et al.) have always been an open-book affair.

One must have faith in the movement, and that faith hasn't been practiced in ages. It's a faith that has long been abandoned — no altars either. Dylan, Chaplin, and who else? There's a guy named Tony, and a George, don't forget Donnie and Denny, Stu too. They strut to the frontlines in studded suits. They're a cowboy band. They killed a man back there, as Dylan admits on "Spirit On the Water." Left him crimsoned. They're on that long and lonesome road, led by the creepy old-timer behind the row of chiseled elephant tusks. That leader walks slowly, for he walks "with a toothache in his heel."

Dylan, like Lysistrata, spins a mighty bobbin of yarn — and weaves, without bias or seam, a cloak to clothe the United States of America.

1. Thunder On the Mountain
2. Spirit On the Water
3. Rollin' and Tumblin'
4. When the Deal Goes Down
5. Someday Baby
6. Workingman's Blues #2
7. Beyond the Horizon
8. Nettie Moore.
9. The Levee's Gonna Break
10. Ain't Talkin'

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