Thursday, November 29, 2007

Modern Times track-by-track: When The Deal Goes Down, part 2

Chris Gregory, who has just finished writing an engaging, thoughtful track-by-track analysis of Modern Times, has kindly consented to The Dylan Daily publishing a sample of his writing, on two of the album’s ten songs.

The first article, in two parts, analyses When The Deal Goes Down. A second two-part article, on Workingman’s Blues #2, will follow next week.


(Part 1 was published on The Dylan Daily yesterday)

By Chris Gregory

The third verse depicts the singer in a twilight, moonlit world – as if he is the ‘pale ghost’ from Spirit On The Water. The mood of reconciliation continues. …We learn to live… he tell us …and then we forgive/ o’er the road we’re bound to go… The anachronistic expression give the lines a kind of timeless quality, with the reference to the ‘road’ of life echoing the ‘street’ on which we ‘stray’ from the first verse.

Perhaps Dylan was recalling Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Not Taken with its final declaration that …I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence/Two road diverged in a wood and I/Took the one less travelled by/And that one has made all the difference… The tone of resigned acceptance of fate and the idea that the choices we make that determine our lives are not always thought through parallels Dylan’s position here. The next lines, partly ‘sampled’ from Timrod, focus again on the fragility of life: …more frailer than the flowers/these precious hours… Dylan adds the remarkable …that keep us so tightly bound… suggesting that we often keep the ‘flower’ of our lives, and of our creativity, ‘tightly bound’ like pressed flowers in an old book. The implication seems to be that life is infinitely precious and that it should not be wasted in futile struggle. Following this, the final lines are now triumphant, with the singer greeting his muse like a revelation, a …vision from the skies…

The final verse sees the spiritual seeker reaffirming his newfound acceptance of life’s turbulent path. Instead of following a 'road 'he follows a more natural ‘winding stream’. He tells us that picks up a rose, the Blakean symbol of love, life and death and that, rather comically … it poked through my clothes… as if he does not feel it pricking him now. He is immune to its effects. Although he lives in …this earthly domain/full of disappointment and pain… he now fully accepts his place in the scheme of things. Despite the ‘deafening noise’ of life’s mad confusion, he accepts the ‘transient joys’ of life, even though … I know they’re not what they seem… He confesses that he ‘owes his heart’ to his muse. He fully accepts the hand that life has dealt him. And he implies that when death comes - when his ‘deal’ finally ‘goes down’ he will be reunited with the spirit of creativity that he now places his faith in.

Thus When The Deal Goes Down is a kind of summation of the journey through spiritual confusion symbolised in Every Grain of Sand’s heartaching line …the bitter dance of loneliness, fading into space… It rejects the dark visions of much of what follows, such as the terrifying final line of 1985’s apocalyptic Dark Eyes : …a million faces at my feet/and all I see are dark eyes… and the jaded, resigned millenialist moralism of 1989’s Ring Them Bells : …Ring Them Bells/For the chosen few/Who will judge the many/When the game is through ….

Since the late ‘80s Dylan has pursued, through his Never Ending Tour, a thorough exploration of the sources of his inspiration. Caught in the grip of spiritual despair and artistic desperation he declared himself …determined to stand… whether or not he could still retain his faith. Now, with Modern Times he triumphantly reasserts his ‘conversion’ to a new kind of faith – faith in himself and humanity.

When The Deal Goes Down dramatises the struggle he has been through to reach this point. Now freed from the shackles of dogmatic thinking that have plagued him for so many years, he has produced a fundamentally humanistic collection of songs which confronts mortality and the vicissitudes of life itself with heartfelt compassion and great courage.

All lyrics quoted are used for the purpose of criticism or review. All lyrics quoted are by Bob Dylan.
EVERY GRAIN OF SAND Copyright © 1981 Special Rider Music.
WHEN THE DEAL GOES DOWN Copyright © 2006 Special Rider Music.
DARK EYES Copyright © 1985 Special Rider Music
RING THEM BELLS Copyright © 1989 Special Rider Music

(A second two-part article, on Workingman’s Blues #2, will follow on The Dylan Daily next week.)

See all Chris’s writing at: