Rena said, “Would you fuckin turn that Dylan off? Jesus mother of mary magdalen! He’s lost his mind. I cannot be exposed to insanity today, no matter how artistic. Turn him..the fuck..off!”
I was playing Tempest, Dylan’s latest, a most un-Dylanesque album, to put it mildly. A sweet tune called 'Early Roman Kings':
I can strip you of life
Strip you of breath
Ship you downTo the house of death
One dayYou will ask for me
I can dress up your wounds
With a blood-clotted rag
I ain't afraid to make love
To a bitch or a hag
If you see me comin'
And you're standing there
Wave your handkerchief
In the air
I ain't dead yet
My bell still rings
I keep my fingers crossed
Like them early roman kings
I mean, this guy was supposed to be the voice of the 60’s, which an 80’s guy like me associates with Love and sunshiney silly innocence, and ridiculously ineffectual political protest, and my own dear sisters... Sixties girls…one the Queen of the Hippies now, at age 61, up in an enlightened Maine artist enclave, and the other a funloving hedonist.
But this record was violent and bloody and meanspirited in a spritely way. Like me. And the guys I had eternal brotherhood bonds with. The voice that Dylan has manufactured for his 6th decade of artistic brilliance is a …down home ‘blood of the land’ smoky rasp that I cannot ignore . Thus I keep playing this damn album.
“Why do you object to our musical poet laureate, my dear woman, “ I said, after I’d turned off ‘I pay in blood’, and begun to to transition from Bob’s call to arms, to Rena’s nude arms, pulling on a sports bra and a pair of running shorts.
“He has succumbed to dementia, is my theory, “ Rena said as she pulled on her bright shiny new sneakers. She did it in the most feminine way. I was now hers, again, for whatever torture she might put me through, as revenge for the Dylan torture..
I happened to be in my pajama bottoms and t shirt. Lurking weirdly on the corner of the bed we shared in her small one bedroom apartment, cross legged, swaying rhythmically. Rhythm is the key to life. I believe this as an eternal truth.
She jumped up, all sportsgirl jonesing for a long run in the woods. The way she fussed with her sportsbra made me jump up too, in a private way which she noticed immediately.
“God’s sake, man. It is time to run. Put that thing of yours down and get into your running gear!” she commanded.
I complied. You don’t wanna know the kind of outfit I run..or, rather, follow.. in.
She was five feet ahead of me, watching her moving buttocks my only reason to continue, when she said, “shitmotherfuckergoddamit!” and fell down to the forest floor. I huffed and puffed and got my breath, and put a cigarette in my mouth as I arranged myself cross-legged at her side. I had nothing to say. I hoped my strong male spiritual presence, somewhat obviated by my ridiculous physical presence, would lend her the courage to tell me what the fuck what was on her mind.
We sat there awhile. Rena lay back in the leafs. Seemed to gain spiritual sustenance from them. She worked herself into a rather sexually inciting position , legs spread, sneakers shucked so that her footies could dig in the warm humid earth. I kept silence.
I would like to tell you that Rena’s psychological condition was what I was considering, as I sat there watching her remove all her running accoutrements, and finally laying nude in the earth. But her physicality is rather formidable , and I fell into a lustful reverie. When nothing happened , I continued to stare at her nude prone figure, her hand across her eyes, til finally she spoke.
“You are sitting there like this kinda shit happens all the time, kiddo, “ she said.
“Rena,” I said in a new deeper voice, “ Don’t call me ‘kiddo’ again. Ever. Got it?”
I was bloodthirsty. I wanted to do damage. Not to this dear woman, but to someone, somewhere. Something that I hated. The anger was filling up my eyes and my mouth. I wanted to grab Rena and put her in a long robe and lead her through the forest. Not in a supplicatory way, but as a conqueror, with his beloved bride, seeing what wonders Nature may display for us to consider and appreciate , together, in a human way.
“Ok. But..” She suddenly jumped up and was dressed in her running clothes again, before I knew what the fuck was happening. She bounced around on one leg pulling on those sneakers, which was comical and cute, and made me wanna strip her down again and fuck her into the ground. But I deferred that desire. I desired whatever insanity was coming from her Mind. I was devoted to her Mind. And her body, when it was appealingly displayed according to the infinitely fine behavior her Mind often imbued it with.
She sighed and said, “I am sick of running.”
“I never got to the point where I became disillusioned with running, sweety. Cuz I never liked a minute of it.”
“Then why did you do it, you dumb pussywhipped fucker, “ she said, answering her own question.
“To see what the fucking trees are up to, and if they got wisdom for us.”
“Oh. Ok. “ She took my arm, like some dame. We walked all the way back to her apartment.
After what you know happened , a bunch of times, she said, “play me that awful song again.”
“I pay in blood, you mean?”
“Yeah man that is the least weird of that hippy psycho’s songs. The rest of em are just guy songs. But play me that.”
I certainly capitulated.
Well I'm grinding my life / steady and sure Nothing more wretched/
than what I must endure/
I'm drenched in the light that shines from the sun/
could stone you to death for the wrongs that you done/
Sooner or later you make a mistake/
I'll put you in a chain that you never will break/
Legs and arms and body and bone/
I pay in blood, but not my own
Night after night, day after day/
They strip your useless hopes away/
The more I take the more I give/
The more I die the more I live/
got something in my pocket make your eyeballs swim/
got dogs could tear you limb from limb/
I'm circling around the Southern Zone/
I pay in blood, but not my own
I'll play this hand whether I like it or not/
I'm sworn to uphold the laws of God
You could put me out in front of a firing squad
I've been out and around with the rowdy men
how I survived so many blows
I've been through hell,
what good did it do?
You bastard! I'm suppose to respect you?
I'll give you justice,
I'll fatten your purse
Show me your moral virtues first
Hear me holler and hear me moanI
pay in blood but not my own
You pet your lover in the bed…Come here,
I'll break your lousy head
Our nation must be saved
You've been accused of murder,
how do you plead?
This is how I spend my days
I came to bury, not to praise”
She took it in, a lot to take in. The screaming smokey remnants of days and ideals and idols and idealism gone by.
“The voice of a generation, hm?” she murmurred, finally sleepy in my arms.