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Bob Dylan

  • Bob Dylan--Found In Translation

    BOB DYLAN—FOUND IN TRANSLATION

    By Chuck Cascio

         Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature recently, and some people raised their eyebrows a bit at the news. Dylan? The raspy-voiced musical icon about whom my mother once said, “If he can make a record with that voice, then so can you!” (which I am not sure was intended to be a compliment to me or a criticism of him...or perhaps a criticism of both!). In any event, I think the award was completely appropriate. No, Dylan is not an author, nor is he a poet in the traditional sense, but if you believe—as I do—Robert Frost’s comment that “Poetry is what is lost in translation,” then Bob Dylan is truly a master poet.

         Frost’s comment has been kicked around by many masterful literary scholars, a group of which I hardly consider myself a member.  However, I have given it considerable thought over the years, and I believe the idea was captured perfectly in the 2003 movie, Lost in Translation.  If you haven’t seen the movie, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, I won’t give away the ending, but it does an excellent job of conveying the essence of what I think Frost was saying…and what Dylan captures in his lyrics, voice, and music.

         In his most powerful songs, Dylan seems to be striving for something unreachable, something that goes beyond his words and his own attempts at musical adaptation. The result is a genuine sense that he is straining for some explanation or description that he feels he cannot fully express. Like many artists who live with a persistent sense of uncertainty about how their work is understood and accepted, Dylan’s voice and words often resemble a plea of sorts, and in his best works, it is a plea for something bigger, something more than what we already know and experience. Consider this verse from Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”:

    Oh, what did you meet my blue-eyed son?

    Who did you meet, my darling young one?

                                                                                I met a young child beside a dead pony

     I met a white man who walked a black dog

            I met a young woman whose body was burning

                                                                                I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow

                                                                                I met one man who was wounded in love

           I met another man who was wounded in hatred

          And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard

                                                                                And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

         If “poetry is what is lost in translation,” then this is truly poetic. It allows the reader to see clear, somewhat painful visuals, while simultaneously understanding that Dylan’s imagery represents something more, the “white man who walked a black dog,” the “young woman whose body was burning” contrasted with the “young girl” who “gave me a rainbow” and so forth. Yes, put to music, it is a song, but even in that format, it is lends itself to many personal interpretations, individual experiences, and societal commentary. Or…perhaps it’s simply a folk song, or a poem.

         The same is true of so many of Dylan’s works, works that truly touched a particular generation now known as Baby Boomers, a generation to which I belong. There were plenty of voids for Dylan’s words to fill for us, many real life events that seemed to defy translation, logic, and individual rights. So along comes Dylan to tell us to look for the answers that are “Blowin’ In The Wind” and to assure us that “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”  In those confusing and tragic events of the Sixties and Seventies, the images were real, the opportunity for translation significant, the application of the words to personal circumstances plentiful, and, consequently, the impact genuine.

         For anyone too young to have experienced the full impact of Dylan, or for anyone who may need a reminder of the lasting power of poetry—whether applied to music or taken in isolation—consider the following, which is the first verse of Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” and see if there is a void today that it addresses, a void that perhaps has been lost in translation in the 52 years that have passed since this poem was first sung by Bob Dylan, Nobel Prize winner:

    Far between sundown's finish an' midnight's broken toll

    We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing

    As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds

                                                                      Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing

    Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight

    Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight

                                                                       An' for each an' ev'ry underdog soldier in the night

                                                                       An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

    (Readers thoughts always welcome at chuckwrites@yahoo.com)

    ©Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

  • Jonathan Edwards on Bob Dylan

    My friend singer, songwriter Jonathan Edwards (www.jonathanedwards.net) had these rather eloquent comments in reaction to my Blog about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. I think Jonathan provides a unique insight as to what Dylan meant not only to a generation with his social commentary through song, but also what Dylan meant to artists themselves:

    Bob was the guy who spoke for us, gave voice to our ever-churning, urgent desire to have things make sense, for our burgeoning culture to achieve the peace he let us know just might be possible. I don't think any of us really knew what each and every song was about, but he engendered in us the will and the curiosity to endeavor to find out and to see ourselves to be as little like Mr. Jones as we could. And he did it all within  a range from smirking satirist to humble servant of the truth and everywhere between and beyond. And all of this contained and illustrated with a reverent music accessible to us all...an entire grateful hungry generation. Thanks Bob, you're the best!

    Your thoughts are, as always, welcome by writing me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com. Be sure to check out Jonathan's ever busy concert schedule and new releases at www.jonathanedwards.net.  

    © Chuck Cascio

  • Prof. Staunton Speaks on the Day of the MLK Assassination-1968

    Prof. Staunton Speaks on the Day of the MLK Assassination-1968:

    An Excerpt from the novel THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN by Chuck Cascio

         “Langston Hughes asks us if dreams deferred dry up like raisins in the sun or if they stink like fetid meat and, of course, he must know the answer is yes to both—we know both are true because we see those truths in people every day, people who dry up with their dried up dreams, shrivel with their emaciated love affairs—and yet Hughes tries to convince us that it is wrong to give up on dreams because if we do, as he puts it in another poem, ‘Life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.’

         “So the same man who poses the question in one poem, ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ warns us in another that without dreams our lives will not fly. If you are writers, you are dreamers by definition, so you must wrestle with Mr. Hughes’s thoughts—some of you will, some won’t, some will be haunted by dreams deferred, some will forget about dreams altogether, some will look around and dream of outrageously ostentatious houses—the measure of opulence today being size and amount whether in square footage of homes or horse power or number of cars—and exotic vacations and perhaps beachfront mansions and cabin cruisers.

         “So many of you will be fickle to the dreams and words and passions that move you now, and by letting it all dry up or trading it all in, you will become vulnerable repeatedly to what we should have seen coming:

        “The squeezing of the trigger of the rifle whose scope was focused on Martin’s round black head, the assassin waiting, holding steady, calm, a horrifying distortion of Hemingway’s grace under pressure, slowly focusing on the hairs that covered the epithelial cells drawn tight across the cranium that stored one man’s extravagant and bold dreams—the perverted assassin turning his perverted dream into reality as he fired and felt the powerful kick of the rifle butt warm against his shoulder, and in the instant that he blinked from the explosion and smelled the acrid odor of gunpowder, he watched through his scope Martin’s exploding head, while inside that broken head confused and gasping dreams now spun madly in milliseconds into blackness and then hurtled out the exit wound or dripped out of the entry wound.

         “The assassin ended those dreams, betting that all of us will let them all dry up along with our own dreams, which we will trade in for comfort; in so doing, the assassin hopes to turn you all into assassins, murderers, killers, hypocrites. After all, he had the courage to act on his perverted dream and to gamble that we are not as courageous about pursuing dreams as he is. So what happens, I ask you, to a dream deferred and deferred and deferred and deferred…” 

         Staunton repeated the word, banging his fists on the podium while we sat in a silence only death itself could duplicate, until, finally, after screaming the word “deferred” one more time, his voice cracked into falsetto, and the blue veins in his neck bulged like tree roots, and his face shone like a beacon, and he looked up, panting, into the face of the tall woman with the long hair, who was noiselessly crying, and extended his arms to her. She embraced him, his white hair touching just below her mouth.

    Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved