Thread: Love Sick
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Unread 08-26-2019, 09:37 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi John,

I've been a big Dylan fan from aged 15 or so. I was wondering if he'd ever get one of your musical appreciation poems! So, this is about the first song on the Time Out of Mind album from 1997, which is generally regarded as the beginning of something of a late career comeback in terms of Dylan's critical standing. It's also the album where he seemed to face mortality and began to inhabit and even embrace the idea that he was becoming an old man, by returning to traditional folk and blues imagery and song styles that pre-dated Rock. Ironically, the same sort of imagery he embraced when he was a very young man covering blues songs like 'See that My Grave is Kept Clean' and 'In My Time of Dyin''.

I think the poem is ok, but it feels like it's fulfilling the same role as music journalism to me, in that its main function seems to be an attempt to recreate the atmospherics of the song. As you say about your reluctance to remove Dylan's name, you "want folks to go back to his song". Maybe they would, but I wish there was something more memorable about the poem itself that made its existence feel like more than just an adjunct to the song. When the speaker does editorialise and comment on the music, the language often feels alternately cliched and portentous to me.

I’m walking, says the singer, with a voice
come welling up through the black soil, as if
there were no God, as if the sky at night
saw only atoms burning.

This is quite an arresting opening, though it feels a bit over-cooked in that rock journalist kind of way. The verb formation of 'with a voice / come welling up' (rather than 'that wells up' eg) is unusual and sounds like an attempt at some vernacular. But since you don't do it again, it feels a bit mannered to me, a bit of a novelty. I can't hear 'only atoms burning' without thinking of the Neil Young song with the chorus 'only castles burning', the phrase is so similar in its formation.

All the great

beliefs have ebbed. On the guitar, a chord
nags at my brain. The singer says his feet
are so tired. He’s been singing for a good
few decades, there is nothing to be told

that’s not been told before.

I wonder about the enjambment between stanzas here, and what purpose it serves. In fact I wonder if the poem might be better if you didn't concern yourself with regular stanzas and metre and stripped it down to its essentials as a piece of free verse. Often the language feels padded out for the metre: 'On the guitar, a chord' could be 'a guitar chord', 'He’s been singing for a good / few decades' could be 'He’s been singing for decades'. This section is four declarative sentences that feel quite flat separately, and don't really gel together musically, for me.

'All the great // beliefs have ebbed' reminded me of this little bit from Dylan's liner notes for Bringing it all Back Home in 1965:

Quote:
i would not want t be bach. mozart. tolstoy. joe hill. gertrude stein or james dean / they are all dead. the Great books've been written. the Great sayings have all been said.
and similarly, 'there is nothing to be told // that’s not been told before' reminded me of this lyric from the same 1997 album that includes 'Love Sick':

Quote:
The party's over and there's less and less to say
I got new eyes, everything looks far away
I don't know how conscious these connections are, but basically your lines just put me in mind of more interestingly phrased Dylan lines.

This kind of love – he sings –

I’m sick of it. And that is how the sky
sits on the world, how ocean laps the shore.
The young don’t get it. But the old, do they
then need reminding of the way the night

succeeds the day? Of how things fall apart,
till just the heart is left?

I don't quite understand how the way 'the sky sits on the world' and 'ocean (no 'the'?) laps the shore' follows on from the singer claiming to be sick of a particular kind of love. There's some sense of inevitability you seem to be getting at, but I can't work it out. It's delivered with such conviction, yet it just sounds like a big empty statement to me. Similarly, 'The young don't get it'. Don't get what? Something that you then question whether the old need reminding of, using 'night succeeds day' and 'things fall apart' as metaphors. A sense of their own mortality? I'm not convinced that's true, I think that shocking realisation of inevitable death that goes beyond words can hit at any age. If that's what you mean.

Along the bare
horizon goes Bob Dylan. Been laid low
so many times. Now, he is on his feet.

The ending feels a little corny, to me, with its movie poster image of Dylan on the horizon and the blues idiom of 'Been laid low'. Also, in what sense is he suddenly 'on his feet', other than as a way to wrap the poem up with an upbeat image. After the emotional 'holocaust' you describe the song as being, what has changed? Did I miss something? Is it as prosaic as the fact that this album was an unexpected hit?

I'm just not sure what the poem is saying, beyond ''Love Sick' is an atmospheric, doom-laden song'. But we have the song itself, and a whole industry of fawnimg, purple-prose writing music journalists, to tell us things like that. What new insight or perspective is the poem bringing?

Best

Mark
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