"Simple Twist of Fate" / Bob Dylan
This one goes out, through the spiritual ether, to Tom Gallagher. Tom and I agreed about a lot of music but, pig-headed as I can sometimes be, I always refused to share his love for Bob Dylan. You've gotta know I was just being contrary, reacting against the knee-jerk Dylan worship of my generation. Of course Bob Dylan's a brilliant songwriter -- he just doesn't speak to me.
He spoke to Tom, though. Tom was a true believer, and respecting his musical opinions as I did, I always cut Dylan extra slack just for Tom's sake. So here I am tonight, missing Tom like hell, and one thing that comforts me is spinning a little Dylan in his honor. A story song, of course -- one of Dylan's little novels-in-song -- this one from Blood On The Tracks, an album that even I am forced to admit is freaking genius.
Just follow Dylan's loser lovers, fumbling their way through a doomed affair: "They sat together in the park / As the evening sky grew dark, / She looked at him and he felt a spark / Tingle to his bones." Soon enough they're in a hotel, and not just any hotel, but "a strange hotel with a neon burnin' bright" where he "felt the heat of the night / Hit him like a freight train." Funny how just that abrasive singing voice, the strummed guitar, a wheezy harmonica interlude, can draw you into their world and suddenly turn sexy like that.
It's an iconic American scene, like an Edward Hopper painting: "A saxophone someplace far off played / As she was walkin by the arcade. / As the light bust through a beat-up shade / Where he was wakin up, / She dropped a coin into the cup / Of a blind man at the gate." Now there's poetry for you, so cryptic it's almost Biblical. (Yeah, I know, I strongly suspect it's all smoke and mirrors and means nothing, but it sure does sound good.) I love how he soars upward on those final rhymes, breaking loose from the talking-blues monotone.
Then of course the girl disappears, he realizes too late that he misses her, and he's left to wander the lonely byways by himself. In verse four, okay, Dylan stretches for a few extra rhymes: "He hears the ticking of the clocks / And walks along with a parrot that talks, / Hunts her down by the waterfront docks / Where the sailors all come in." But you have to admire him for trying that aaab rhyme scheme; in this case, more is more. In the last verse, he finally drops the third-person mask and comes clean: "I still believe she was my twin, / But I lost the ring. / She was born in spring, / But I was born too late / Blame it on a simple twist of fate." I don't know, that goofy last verse endears itself to me. That's part of its folky charm.
If everybody I know didn't revere Bob Dylan, I'd find it a lot easier to be a fan. There's nothing keeping me from it but my own cussed nature. But just tonight, Tom, I'll let down my guard and love Dylan with you. Somewhere, I know you're listening too, and digging it.
Simple Twist of Fate sample