Sunday, June 12, 2005

On the Road Again

Sometimes being on the road, playing the role of troubadour or itinerant journalist or wandering traveler isn’t running away; sometimes it’s who you are.

Ask Bob Dylan. He’s been on the road virtually non-stop for years, yet no one dares to ask him who or what he’s running from, or even if he’s running at all. (Well, almost no one.) Everything he does is unquestioned, unquestionable. That’s just Bob, that’s who he is. Yes, he is playing some odd venues with some unusual cohorts. But when you think about it, what else should he be doing with himself? And why should we even care?

There is a great piece by Bill Wyman in today’s New York Times in which he attempts to place Dylan in the tradition of his heroes Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin' Hopkins: people who refused to give their audiences what they wanted to hear, who challenged, upset the balance, who laid it on the line every night because it was both their job and their calling; it was who they were. Similarly, Wyman tells us that Dylan sees live performance as his mode of expression, his art. He prods and cajoles fellow artists who don’t see things the same way, famously telling Patti Smith to get her butt back on the road after 16 years. “He told me I should share what I do with the people,” as Smith is quoted in the piece. Dylan biographer Jonathan Cott puts it best later in the article: "I've thought about it, and I know it's a cliché, but I think he finds himself on the road - 'finds' in both senses of the word. I think for him the goal is the road."

What, indeed, is wrong with that? Perhaps there are some people whose minds just work differently, people who are never truly at peace, who constantly need to move on, see new things, confront new challenges. For them, it is the standing still that does not compute; it is the failure to question, to dig deeper, to move that seems like running away. To them, the people who settle down are, in a sense, hibernating, wrapping themselves in cocoons so as to not face things.

So there are, in essence, two types of people: those who restlessly travel life’s highways, and those who find peace in its quiet corners. And fundamentally, neither of these is the “right” way to be. What’s important, ultimately, is the connections one makes throughout life: friends, family, lovers…

Only connect, said Forster, only connect…

Then take me disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind,
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves,
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach,
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

----Bob Dylan, “Mr. Tambourine Man” Copyright © 1964; renewed 1992 Special Rider Music

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