Saturday, March 28, 2009

Most of the time...

we don't get it. We don't get what we want.

The first Bob Dylan album I heard was the universally-panned Real Live. (see Michael Gray's entry on this in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia; even uber Dylan critic, Paul Williams calls it "unsatisfactory") Not a very good intro to a rock legend and at that age, you just can't get past that voice. Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger, sure, they were cool cats. But Dylan? That took a while.

And that's the amazing thing about him. I hardly listen to The Doors anymore or even the Stones, Beatles. But I can always return to Dylan. I finally 'got' him in my 20s and now as I approach my 40s, he is the only one from that generation of artists that I can constantly return to and literally hear new things.

Take Most of the Time. I first heard the song back in 1989, track six on Oh Mercy, the gem among all the ho hums of the 80s Dylan output. It was a good album, the track was decent, interesting title. But it wasn't a standout. Maybe most of us were too focused on Political World, the opening track of Oh Mercy and the critics were saying it was a return to form for the social conscious Dylan of old. Even Everything Is Broken got more attention than Most of the Time.

But it's always the personal Dylan to gets to you and it's a sucker punch that comes out of nowhere. Just when you thought you have heard it all and there's nothing new from a song you have encountered before, it slips so cunningly into your consciousness and you're floored.

These discoveries are wonderful. And it's not even planned unless there is some divine hand at work that arranges this playlist for you and the epiphanies are released to you from time to time.

Yes, we shall all be released, eventually.

So 20 years on, revistations and revelations occurred in Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989 - 2006 (The Bootleg Series Vol 8). I picked up the deluxe edition from HMV for Christmas, took my time to run through it. Sync the songs to my ipod and listening to them on dark miserable mornings to work. Other songs catch your attention faster:

"Soul of nation is under the knife/Death is standing in the doorway of life/In the next room a man is fighting with his wife/Over dignity" (new verse in the piano demo of Dignity)

"Some of us turn off the lights and we live/In the moonlight shooting by/Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark/To be where the angels fly" (Red River Shore, unreleased)

Lines that sent a shiver down your spine. Most of the time is simple in that sense. Simple but never simplistic. Because the first encounter was in Oh Mercy together with songs like Political World and Everything is Broken, you thought it's another song about the sign of the times. You don't pay attention to the lyrics. In fact, you have never done so for this song for 20 years.

And it hits like bombshell.

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't 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 'till it makes me sick,
I ain't afraid of confusion no matter how thick
I can smile in the face of mankind.
Don't even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time.

Most of the time
She ain't even in my mind,
I wouldn't know her if I saw her
She's that far behind.
Most of the time
I can't even be sure
If she was ever with me
Or if I was with her.

Most of the time
I'm halfway content,
Most of the time
I know exactly where I went,
I don't cheat on myself, I don't run and hide,
Hide from the feelings, that are buried inside,
I don't compromised and I don't pretend,
I don't even care if I ever see her again
Most of the time.

It is about love after all. It always has. The best stories in the world, they are all about love and war. "I can survive, I can endure/And I don't even think about her/Most of the time". Those are some of the saddest lines I've ever heard. The sense of loss, longing and denial. You can never say goodbye.

So, better late than never. Don't think I'll really get this song even if I had listened carefully to it 20 years ago. Who I am then, what I am today, who wouldn't give to know what they know now then. But it doesn't work that way, most of the time. What is life without love and regrets?

Postscript: Dylan himself wrote about the recording of Oh Mercy in Chronicle Volume One. He recalled the recording of Most of the Time was difficult. But it paid off. Paul Williams described Most of the Time as a "big song, a major work, the sort of listening experience that brings people back to an album again and again." Well, not quite. But sooner or later, it all comes back to you.

Hello, hello, hello again.


Anonymous said...

Ahh wasnt that song also on the High Fidelity movie soundtrack? thats where i first heard it and yeah its the song from the soundtrack that i remember best too......wonderful song.


Psychmetalfreak said...

Bob Dylan... I am a pretty latecomer to him too... Its much easier to get my kicks with dissonance, extreme volume, free form playing and kick ass attitude via The Stooges, Merzbow, Fushitsusha, Ground Zero, Boredoms, Albert Ayler and Sonic Youth. I love Dylan's Blood On The Tracks, the Basement Tapes (strange that I got into Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music first before I started digging it) and of course The "Royal Albert Hall" Bootleg 2xCD set. Most of his 1960s and 1970s still makes sense today but we need artists and I mean ARTIST to mean more today more than ever... try Volcanic Tongue, at least for me, for music which might seem outlandish and obscurantist but essentially anti-glorified nihilistic (which the world is sadly sliding towards at ever-increasing speed) music which is rarer than rare today.

Anonymous said...

You ought to try Bryan Ferry;s Dylanesque if you haven't.