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Desolation Row Revisited

They’re selling post cards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown  

The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town….

That is the opening verse of both my favorite Dylan song and favorite song ever . You know how when you meet someone new you ask “Dylan yes or no” to gauge the level of potential? Ok well maybe not everyone uses this as the litmus test to friendly compatibility -Andy maybe comes to mind.   Don’t misunderstand, there are many here among us whom I adore and are not Dylan fans… just don’t adore them as much.

About a year ago I met my writing mentor, Duck. His real name is Donald and if you have to ask why I gave him that moniker perhaps you need to spend less time reading blogs and more time watching Saturday morning cartoons. Early on I asked Duck if he liked Dylan. He did. Your favorite song? You go first. Like a Rolling Stone he says. AMATEUR I think!! Everyone and their mother likes that song even those who have no clue who sang it. I tell him mine is Desolation Row. Good choice, he says. I understand why you like it but have you actually been there? Yes I have and I really loved it there. Tell me what it looked and felt like he said. That’s why he is such a cool writing mentor and so I do…

“It’s sultry first and foremost. The streets are dirt filled, like a really cool old European or Mexican town. Very tiny.  The buildings are adobe like and beige and burnt orange and sand color. It’s warm, not tropical warm like Hawaii, not totally humid like Florida but not dry like Palm Desert either. It’s a perfect mix of moist and arid- you can feel the air on your skin like a warm sensuous blanket.

The characters’ clothes are so colorful. They are the most brilliant reds, and oranges, and purples and blues the likes of which you can’t ever see anywhere else.  Cinderella is half tatters, half ball gown!  The whole place is alive with such a festive, carnival like atmosphere but nothing is cliche or something you have ever seen before.

I am Lady at the window of a wonderful room- a kitchen- without shutters and windows, no screens, like those in my house in Italy and I am leaning out and looking down at all these amazing people in the street below.  It makes me so happy to see them.  I don’t know who I am with though, I don’t have a clear sense of a man with me, more like a shadow of someone with me at the window.

I can see every character in the song and I can see what they are doing and it’s not sad at all. It’s unique and fascinating and interesting and there is nothing banal or mundane about any of the lives here. And that I guess is what draws me in the most. I hate boring and no one here is!”

A short writing exercise for a song I haven’t heard in years actually. I seek Duck’s counsel on the art, the craft and the business of writing. He gives me advice and then I do exactly as I please. He shakes his head and dispenses such keen observations like ‘ you’re completely bananas’ but stays my mentor. Duck is priceless as a mentor. I mean that literally-he is price less. He mentors me for free. His way of giving back he says. Duck supported three teenagers with his writing many years ago. He was also quite an accomplished sax player for many bands, many years ago. I am lucky to have his time and patience with a fledgling writer like me.

Back to Desolation Row- I only wish. I had not heard the song in a long time. Too busy with the new Beyonce records I guess. A few weeks ago, Sandi “the Dylanfest Queen” Behar and I were going to visit the new and old Tracker Dave babies. The day before, I wanted to hear Desolation Row again. I went to download it and what??? You can’t download just one song from Highway 61, the album it appeared on the first time. You have to download the entire album. Good thinking, Bob’s people. Now don’t tell me I’m not a good patron of the arts. Rather than walk across my backyard and get Highway 61 on vinyl, cassette or CD from my living room (and I am sure if I looked hard enough I could find it on 8 track) I just paid the $8.99 and downloaded it. When I picked Sandi up and told her what my favorite Dylan song is well wouldn’t you know it – another reason we say we were separated at birth. She loves that song just as much!! What are the chances really of picking someone up for the first time ever for a road trip and having them like the same song you do just as much. I let her be Louise to my Thelma. She liked that since she get’s to sleep with Brad Pitt in the movie and I get to be the bossy one.   No brainer here, have you seen Sandi? She’s gorgeous and me, well yes I have been known to do bossy well. I digress. We proceed to sing the entire song and we know every single word of that 11minute /20 second feast for the lyrical senses. I did beat her by one preposition though, a fact I shall never let her forget.

We had such a great trip from BelAir to Monrovia… well at least until her color commentary on my parallel parking skills. At one point, Sandi says, we need to go to Boston. Ok, I say, but we will have to pick up a few more Bob and Bruce CDs to get us there.

Tomorrow, I’ll be imagining Cinderella in tatters and silk sweeping up at the end of the fest as I stay and help clean up. I like the clean up part and that’s my contribution. Cleaning up the Torino Plaza after about 500 or so people tomorrow is infinitely easier than the seven years of cleaning up the backyard after a 100 or so 20 and 30 year olds.

Come on down Sunday if you can. Desolation Row only got played one time at Dylanfest many years ago by a Mr. Tutor but the likelihood of your favorite Dylan song being played at Dylanfest is quite high really.

Tomorrow…26 chosen favorites from the rehearsal people. If I come near you with a blingy beautiful notebook and pen.. humor me please.

One comment on “Desolation Row Revisited

  1. Brian says:

    Gotta agree with you. “Desolation Row” is Dylan at his finest.


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