Maybe the only way I could possibly provide any insight on Bob Dylan's Together Through Life is by talking about the circumstances in which it seeped its way forever into my consciousness.
Together Through Life hit me on a road trip to see my mom. Back and forth between Burlington‚ VT and Albany‚ NY I let it play over and over again. The only thing on my mind was my best friend for the past thirteen years. We've been losing each other along the way‚ like people in relationships often do. A few weeks prior we decided the best thing would be some time apart. It's a common story‚ but nonetheless‚ heavy as ever. So‚ I let my mind wander while the music played. Leave it to Bob Dylan to release an album called Together Through Life the same week I was going through the hardest thing I've ever gone through.
Nothing felt more appropriate than when the second track kept rolling around--it's called "Life Is Hard." I have it pretty good‚ better than most. But no matter what your situation is‚ life kicks you in the nuts every once in a while. Bob Dylan's music has always been there to make sense of it all--the hurt‚ the pain‚ the joy‚ and all the things you can't make sense out of‚ including your own irrationality.
His band sounds fantastic--the more times you let the album spin‚ the better they sound. They have the familiarity of another time‚ but you can't quite place when. At the same time‚ nobody sounds remotely close to the way they do. Dylan carries that enigmatic mystique so well and unpredictably in every turn. He's succinctly out of step. Just get the one-of-kind guitarist Dave Hidalgo of Los Lobos to play on the album‚ but only have him play accordion. Hey‚ sometimes great music comes from the spontaneity of actions that don't make much sense.
We can discuss the good tracks and the bad tracks and all the bullshit. But every once in a while you hope you can express that you've heard some sort of truth or that you believe in some sort of truth. The only thing I did on the evening of 9/11 was walk down to my local record store and buy Love and Theft--it was a Tuesday‚ the day of its release. I didn't listen to it until a few days later‚ but in the process of starring at the TV in soul-wrenching turmoil‚ horror and confusion‚ getting outside and taking a walk to buy the new Bob Dylan record made me feel happy to be alive.
It's easy to dissect it all and dilute it and say that the mystery of Bob Dylan's music and the way it arrives is all some strange coincidence. And it's easy to say that I'm buying into the mystique too much‚ but for fuck sake‚ let me keep it as some strange force that arrives on time to make sense out of the insensible. For most of my life Bob Dylan's songs have arrived to provide some form of healing‚ empowerment‚ joy‚ etc.
When my friends stabbed me in the back‚ Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street" came blaring out of the stereo. When I felt powerless‚ knew I was getting fucked over: "To keep it in your mind and not forget/That it is not he or she or them or it that you belong to" came rushing out of the speakers like a sermon and gave me the confidence to say fuck off. And all those times‚ right or wrong‚ in love and life‚ Bob said it to me the best. When I've felt like I was dying inside and out‚ Bob reminded me I wasn't alone: "I have new eyes/everything looks far away."
With Together Through Life on repeat‚ thinking about life and the heaviness of all of its changes‚ Bob's delivery was spot on as I heard the lines‚ "We laughed and had a good time you and I/It's been so long/Now you're content to let the days go by‚" on "Forgetful Heart." I got to Albany to visit my mom in the hospital--there were tubes coming out of all different parts of her body. She was weak. She's never been quite there‚ but she's always been one tough woman. When I was growing up‚ we took care of each other. She would do whatever she had to do for me‚ right or wrong. She'd beat up men‚ lie and cheat to make my life better. It's strange seeing her fire tamed. The only thing we know how to do together in such a dire situation is laugh. I'm thinking about what she's taught me about life‚ and again‚ I'm not sure what's right and wrong. But I feel like I grew up with two constant positives from her: laughter and music. And the majority of the time‚ she played some bad-ass music.
I left the hospital and got back in my car to head back home. "Well now what's the use in dreaming/You got better things to do/Dreams never did work for me anyway/Even when they did come true‚" sings Bob in "I Feel A Change Comin' On." I headed north on I-87 and an hour later I visited my friends who have four-week-old baby boy. When I arrived I found out they've been riding the edge: the most beautiful thing they've ever created has depleted them. Sleep deprived and emotionally drained‚ they've been going through life together… well‚ they've been going through creating life together. The baby boy didn't come with instructions.
The wheels kept on spinning and I was thinking about the beauty‚ pain and love that comes with the cycle of life‚ and one man that still explains it to me better than anybody else so far. Together Through Life ends with a track called "It's All Good." With lines like "It's hard to believe‚ it's all good" and "Buildings are crumbling in the old neighborhood/There's nothing to worry about‚ because it's all good." Yes‚ it's all good. Yet‚ I found myself completely perplexed chewing on a hard question: When I write about this album what should I rate it? I said to myself: "Should I give the album three-and-a-half stars or eight unicorns with rainbows shooting out of their asses?"