“Agonies are one of my changes of garments,
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person,
My hurts turn livid upon me as I lean on a cane and observe.”
“It is you talking just as much as myself, I act as the tongue of you,
Tied in your mouth, in mine it begins to be loosen’d.“
(“Song of Myself”, Walt Whitman)
It’s all about extending the lines and connecting the dots when Bob Dylan generously gives us another piece in a possible suite puzzle of his testament. He doesn’t compromise and he doesn’t pretend, he puts himself in the middle of the tradition of visionary writing with a song of himself as much as a song of us all, a song of human nature and a song of human existence, no pussyfooting around. There is no time for that.
“The flowers of the city/Though breathlike/Get deathlike at times”, the young Dylan sings in “To Ramona”, and nothing’s really changed, as he opens the song with “Today, and tomorrow, and yesterday, too/The flowers are dyin’ like all things do”. That’s life, and life only. Something will never change. Still – time is an ocean and it ends at the shore. Bob Dylan knows.
“I Contain Multitudes”, when it comes to Bob Dylan himself, is stating the obvious, as it was for Walt Whitman, both masters of lists, both masters of variety, both masters of diversity, of contradictions and of self awareness, in the same time humble observers of human life with an unique sense of empathy. In his new song Bob Dylan sums it all up, all his work, all his life, all his advice or lack of advice, all his art – a traveling human melting pot, deeply anchored in tradition, history and song, deeply in need of continuous renewal and changing directions – it might look that he was moving, but he was standing still, but now, at last, if not always, resting assured in the fact of the song: “I Contain Multitudes”. He writes and sings the songs of experience, just like Whitman and Blake did it, he tells stories with his tell-tale heart like Mr Poe, he paints both landscapes and nudes, he is the imprisoned explorer of his inner self, like Anne Frank, and of the wonders of the world, as Indiana Jones, he is a bad guy and he is a good guy, sleeping with both life and death in his bed. Always did, debuting at 19 years old, 58 years ago, with an album deeply preoccupied with death as much as life, always drinking songs & eating poetry for breakfast, lunch and dinner, always keeping the path open, the path in his mind, taking the one road less traveled by, a choice that made all the difference. Still walking.
Both “Murder Most Foul” and “I Contain Multitudes” continues his tireless work as a guide of visions, not to the final answers, but to the possibilities we all have lying in front of us, to our own pilgrim’s progress, both as explorers of our own self, of our next of kin, of history, of art and above all, of the life-giving treasure chest of music, of listening to the voices and words of all kinds of wisdom, both simple and complex. In Dylan’s guidelines we can see Beethoven drinking coffee with Warren Smith, we can see Bowie and all the young dudes play chess with Whitman and Blake – It’s all right there in front of you – in Scarlet Town, Dylan reminds us, while making his masterly mosaics of clues, traces and tracks, blood or no blood, now making millions, all over the world, in our fellow time of darkness, dive into it all, listening to his songs and the songs of the songs, his poetry and his predecessors poetry, opening the flood gates to both our memory and things we never before have heard or read, making new connections, his phrasing so tender and tasteful that every word matters, both as sound and as meaning, as he partly chants, partly speaks, partly sings, in a way that only he can, and in a way that, for me, is the real gateway to the depth of his magic.
It feels like it’s a personal song, but not private, when he gives us this modern song of himself, and it really feels like a present when he now sings it for us all. And we believe him totally when he tells us what most of us already knew:
I’m a man of contradictions,
I’m a man of many moods,
I contain multitudes