Saturday Single No. 20

Originally posted July 7, 2007

Sometime during my junior year of high school, in an attempt to more clearly grasp those things that moved my contemporaries, I checked an LP out of the high school library’s collection and took it up to one of the two listening rooms above the stacks. There, I laid on the turntable Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits and started the record player.

I didn’t get past the fourth track on the first side.

The first was the raucous nonsense of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” and the second was the well-known “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Then came “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” followed by “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Four songs, three very different styles, one very odd voice. None of it sounded at all like “Lay, Lady, Lay,” which I’d heard coming from the radio numerous times late the previous summer as the St. Cloud Tech football team – for which I was a manager – roughhoused and rowdied in the locker room after the first practices of the season.

I’d liked “Lay, Lady, Lay,” though I did not yet have the sense to seek out the album from which it came, Nashville Skyline. I was only beginning in that autumn of 1969 to listen to pop radio; buying albums would take a while. As the radio had played in the locker room, though, something about “Lay, Lady, Lay” had caught my ear, making it stand out among such airwave companions as the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar,” Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue,” the Lettermen’s “Hurt So Bad” and “Keem-O-Sabe” by the eminently forgettable Electric Indian.

Now, I’d also heard other stuff I liked on the locker room radio: “Laughing” by the Guess Who, the Beatles’ “Ballad of John and Yoko,” “Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones had all laid nicely on my ear, as had others. But at the moment that I was in the library listening room, I was on a mission to grasp the appeal of Bob Dylan. And I failed.

I think I gave up halfway through “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the fourth of five tracks on Side One, and thus, I missed my first hearing of one of the electric moments in rock history: the gunshot snare drum and the rolling chords that start “Like A Rolling Stone.” Whether I’d have recognized the song’s greatness that day is another question, but I think I would have, as it would have at least have sounded somewhat similar in its style and instrumentation to what I was hearing on the radio. The first four tracks on the record hadn’t, and I gave up. I put the record back in the jacket and turned it in, wondering still what my friends and classmates heard in Bob Dylan.

Lots of folks have wondered similarly over the years, of course. I don’t think there is any neutral ground when it comes to the Bard of Hibbing: When Dylan’s voice comes out of the speaker, one either turns it up or turns it off. I was, that school day in the autumn of 1969, a turn-offer. By the midpoint of my freshman year of college, just a little more than two years later, I was a turn-upper. What changed me? Well, the Concert for Bangladesh in the summer of 1971 and then Rick’s birthday the following winter.

I got the live Bangladesh album for Christmas 1971, and listened closely to all of it, but especially to the Dylan performances. They didn’t seem any less mannered, but they seemed somehow more, well, accessible than the recordings I’d listened to that morning in high school. Or maybe I’d changed and appreciated a broader selection of tunes by that time. (I suspect a combination of the two factors was the truth.) Anyway, for Rick’s birthday in February, I got him a copy of Nashville Skyline, which he’d been wanting. At the same time, I bought for myself Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 and dug in.

And I loved it, the odd voice, the assortment of musical styles, and the words, oh, the words! From the Leon Russell-produced opener, “Watching the River Flow,” through the over-written “My Back Pages” and the utterly surreal “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” to the closing “Down In The Flood,” I was entranced. From that point on, my nascent lyric writing became more focused and more free at the same time. My willingness to listen to a broader range of music grew, as did my record collection.

I didn’t listen to or buy all of Dylan’s stuff. With the single exception of the Beatles, I wasn’t then a completist for any musician or group. But as the years went by, I listened to Dylan perhaps more than I did to others. I loved Blood on the Tracks in 1975 but was not quite as fond of the records that followed. But still, I listened – sometimes avidly, sometimes wondering where he was going, which was the case with his trilogy of Christian albums in the late 1970s and 1980s. And, skeptical, I more or less ignored the two records that followed, Infidels and Real Live.

And then, one Saturday morning in the spring of 1985, an R&B chorus of women’s voices burst out of the radio in the bedroom: “You’ve got a . . . tight connection to my heart; you’ve got a . . . tight connection to my heart.” And a few moments later, Dylan’s voice filled the room in a cadence that sounded like 1966:

“I had to move fast, but I couldn’t with you around my neck.
“I said I’d send for you and I did. What did you expect?
“My hands are sweaty and we haven’t even started yet.
“I’ll go along with the charade until I can think my way out.
“I know it was all a big joke, whatever it was all about.
“Someday, maybe, I’ll remember to forget.
“I’m gonna get my coat – I feel the breath of a storm.
“There’s something I gotta do tonight. You go inside and stay warm.”

I lay back and listened, captured by the song. It had some synths, some beats, some of the sounds of 1985. More than that, though, it sounded like a return to form, to strong melody and to, yes, cryptic words, and it brought me back to paying careful attention to Dylan and then to other musicians. Hearing that single on the radio that Saturday was – as I look back – the start of a new voyage into music and lyrics that led me eventually to, among other places, this blog.

I recalled all that, and more, yesterday, when the RealPlayer settled on that 1985 song. That’s why “Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?)” is this week’s Saturday Single.

Bob Dylan – “Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?)” [1985]

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