On this beautiful Sunday morning I awoke with a longing for the past. Not my past, but not the past of someone else, either. Perhaps this is a past that hasn't happened yet. And it's one that probably never will. It is a past sung about a long time ago by a young man who hadn't yet found his own.
A few years ago a friend gave me an original copy of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (on vinyl, of course). So after I stumbled for my coffee and put on my only pair of blue jeans, I cranked up the old record player and placed the needle to the opening chords of Blowin' in the Wind. The urgency in his words and in the vocal delivery still resonates 45+ years later. The rainbow of emotions and experiences are covered here: love and love lost, anger, hope, fear and, of course, nostalgia.
The eloquent verses about our own collective pasts as Americans spilled thru the speakers and all over my blue jeans. At a time when war, civil rights and social change loomed large like Goliath, David stood firm in the center of the hurricane with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a homemade harmonica brace. The lyrics in A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Oxford Town, Talkin' World War III Blues and I Shall Be Free do as much to remind us of the times as John F. Kennedy, video clips of the Vietnam War or Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have A Dream Speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (albeit, just minutes from a young Bobby Dylan taking the stage with Joan Baez).
He also sings of a past that brings heartache with Girl from the North Country and Don't Think Twice, It's Alright. This past brings heartache, but it also brings hope for a possible future where the lonesome girl from the north does indeed keep her hair hanging long and a coat for cold weather. It brings hope for the young man who leaves his lover at dawn, shuffling his feet down the dirt road and kicking dust at that damn crowing rooster. Maybe he'll find whatever it is that she couldn't give him. Maybe the next time I listen to this record, he'll turn from his crossroad and return to his darling love as she sleeps soundly in that (big brass) bed of hers wrapped in white sheets. Maybe this time it will be different.
No one song hits me harder during these last few months, though, than Masters of War. The corruption and contempt displayed here have not faded with the passing of the years. Perhaps the protagonist can be found on some street corner today, singing bitterly. Perhaps on every street corner in every town in this country of ours there is some reincarnation of the protagonist or, if not, there probably needs to be. It's funny how current his plight seems during these days of bloodshed. It's not the fact that over the past 45 years we haven't heeded the protagonist's message that saddens me the most. It's the realization that he has been declaring this message since the beginning. And not the beginning of this century or the last. His past does not start in December of 1962. His past starts on the battlefields of Troy, Himera and Bull Run. His past starts with the spilled blood of a million wandering souls. Since the beginning of time kings and generals have given death to the world for the selfish spoils of war while far greater men have given that same world a simple song and a voice to sing it with.
My coffee is finished now. The record has stopped playing. But whenever I wish to revisit the past or the past that will possibly one day be, all I have to do is put the needle to the opening chords of Blowin' in the Wind and close my eyes.