Workingman's blues

Ron Jacobs

I took my Harry Choates CD off the player, even though that Cajun violin he plays had a lot to say a year after Katrina hit. The new Bob Dylan album was in my hand and it was time to put the little disc on. Modern Times is what he's calling it. The cover has one of those time-lapse photographs with the car lights a blurry line. In fact, the whole freakin' car is a blurry collection of lines. Other than that, it's kind of plain. Picture of Bob on the back. The song titles and a production credit belonging to Jack Frost - just another one of Dylan's characters from the man called Alias in the film Pat Garret and Billy the Kid. The man born under the sign of Gemini - the sons of Leda and that swan. One who dies and is reborn on the condition that one lives in night and the other in day. The shadows of the underworld and the ecstasy of the heavens.


Put it on. Thunderous guitar licks open the song "Thunder On the Mountain." The music surpasses the lyrics at times. Mellow blues grooves slashed in two by sterling toned electric guitar. The opener, "Thunder on the Mountain", and the finale, "Ain't Talkin'", represent the lyrical highlights of this recording. In between lie a number of new and reworked blues tunes, a rocker or two and even a Forties crooner piece, all enhanced by Dylan's lyrical cleverness.


Owlman watching from the pressbox

As part of my purchase package, I received a one hour sample of the radio show that Dylan is currently deejaying on XM Radio. Fortunately for me, the theme of the show is baseball. Dylan the deejay playing the role of the play-by-play and colour commentator rolled into one. To borrow Marianne Moore's phrase from her poem "Baseball and Writing," Bob's the owlman in the pressbox. Mel Allen and Gurt Gowdy, Joe Buck, Harry Karry, Joe Morgan, Jerry Remy, even Tim McCarver, to the tune of America's jukebox. The disc is worth it just for the sound of Dylan singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."


"The lyrics are more of a lament for the days when the classic US union tool-and-die man could make a real living from his work instead of wondering where and when it all went to hell."

Anyhow, strike three. Back to the disc in question. There's a song here called "Workingman's Blues #2", which seems to be a nod to Merle Haggard's song of a similar name. Like everything else on this disc (and on every disc since his 1962 Freewheelin'), the song is not overtly political in the sense politicos think of politics. You know, left/right, either/or, compromise and so on. No, he mentions the proletariat by name in the first line or two, but the lyrics are more of a lament for the days when the classic US union tool-and-die man could make a real living from his work instead of wondering where and when it all went to hell. The music is gentle - even lilti