Tight Connections to My Heart
The house is dark. It feels like twilight, about time to turn on a light or two although it’s not even noon. I’m ensconced on the front porch enshrouded in a cloud of grey cigarette smoke, watching the hard pewter rain and listening to the downspouts gargle and spit. A dreary Monday in May. Pinpointing what year we’re nearly in the middle of seems somehow elusive.
‘Full Moon and Empty Arms,’ a hit for Frank Sinatra at the close of World War II and later covered in 1961 by Canada’s Sir Lancelot, Robert Goulet, is streaming at Bob Dylan’s official web site (bobdylan.com). His Bobness is the invention of one Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, MN. And His Bobness has been ceaselessly reinventing himself for half a century; Dylan makes David Bowie’s guises appear rational and stable. Or stale. Currently I think of Dylan as the self-appointed curator of all things Americana, music certainly, and possibly baseball and heavyweight boxing for all I know. Even God ponders upon what moves through that mysterious mind. What confounds about the new song is not that it’s a dusty standard, but the voice. It is not the croak and growl we’ve either come to tolerate or despise since the start of the Neverending Tour in the 1980s. His warm, smooth tone is shockingly similar to ‘Lay Lady Lay’ or ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,’ music written and sung over 40 years ago. The forthcoming album is called Shadows in the Night.
We hosted an impromptu party last Saturday night. Mostly to welcome Edmonton’s semblance of spring and her mosquitoes, but if anyone asked why I said it was Bob Dylan’s 72nd birthday. No easy listening compilations for the guests. Inspired by ‘Full Moon and Empty Arms’ I made sure Nashville Skyline was in the CD player. That album kicks off with Dylan and Johnny Cash reprising ‘Girl From the North Country’ which originally appeared on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. (Tangent: I have a lovely bootleg version of Keith Richards doing this song solo complete with a guitar error and a quietly whispered “Fuck!” but he keeps going.)
Here in the city, provided the sun ever shines again, the nights are getting long. Darkness falls around 10 o’clock. A fitting place for another visit from a north country girl. Neil Young’s new album A Letter Home comes out tomorrow (currently streaming at CKUA.com). He covers ‘Girl From the North Country;’ if Dylan mostly barks and grrs these days, Neil mews and purrs – in fidelity so low that Alan Lomax’s Library of Congress field recordings of American rural blues and folk musicians from the Great Depression sound like Pono remasters.
And then on a day like today, there is Gordon Lightfoot’s astoundingly blue ‘Early Morning Rain’ which Neil does on A Letter Home and which Dylan covered years ago on Self Portrait. With apologies to the Band (‘It Makes No Difference’), Blue Rodeo (any Jim Cuddy ballad) and Lou Reed (anything, although New Sensations is surprisingly light-hearted), it was to be my death song. Most guys think about sex; I thought about suicide. I always heard it standing alone in the garage and contemplating the orange power cord, the ceiling joists and the dusty, disused hunter green lawn chair – I would leave footprints when I kicked it over. I’ve gone to bed a few times with a carving knife or a bayonet. No matter how much whiskey and beer I’d drunk I couldn’t manage more than a pinprick between two of my ribs. A dot of blood. I couldn’t grasp the hilt in my fists and thrust down, twist the blade and churn up my insides. A botched job would’ve lead to years of embarrassment, or worse, hours of therapy for such a selfish sin. Maybe it’s not so bad to be an uncommitted coward. ‘Early Morning Rain’ reminds me of my all time favourite song in the world, the Stones ‘Tumbling Dice,’ in that you can never ever have too many versions.