#2 “Bob Dylan’s Dream” off his second album The Freewheelin Bob Dylan (1963)
“I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had”
I am not sure exactly the title of the poem, the author who wrote it, or where I was when I read it, but I have a vague recollection of once reading about a poet watching children play while taking a walk one afternoon. If my memory serves me right, the poet looked to these children, and their free-spirited games, with a sense of remorse. He himself longed for those days again, wanting to be a part of world no longer offered in adulthood. His response, naturally, was to write a poem reflecting that moment. Whenever I read it, I recall wondering if I too would one day have these feelings. This of course leads to my choice of a song on Bob Dylan’s second album, The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963.)
Just a year after releasing his first album, Bob Dylan wanted to be rid of it. He disliked everything about his first effort, from the songs on the album to how Columbia promoted his work. His main problem with it was that he no longer performed 75% of the songs from the album. By 1963, Bob had committed to the idea of writing and performing his own songs. Perhaps it is the natural reaction, to be self-critical and continue moving towards something new. Being our own worse critics is an easy part of the creative process. Anyways, on some nights Bob would write five songs in a sitting, at other times he would go two weeks without putting pen to paper. Much of the music that came out of him reflected the topical news at the time. News headlines of the American Civil Rights Movement, or the Cuban Missile Crisis would appear in his new songs, although they would be recreated or subverted in new directions. Sometimes the songs would come out satirical, poking fun at the panic of war or bombs, but at other times his songs were significant, using powerful imagery within the lyrics. It is no wonder that master folk singer Pete Seeger declared that Bob Dylan was, “”the most prolific songwriter on the scene,” even when Bob was only 22 years old.
The political songs off of The Freewheelin Bob Dylan, ended up earning Dylan the title, “Spokesmen of a Generation,” a moniker which he would later resent. The album also got him recognition from another groups on the rise, including a quartet from England called The Beatles. But perhaps what it really reflects is a gigantic leap towards what Bob Dylan had been attempting in his musical career. Songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” and “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall” made it clear that people (mainly the youth) were interested in hearing songs about the political un-rest that surrounded them. He also sang interesting love songs, such as “Girl from the North Country, “ and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” These unconventional songs likely dealt with Suze, the girl who is wrapped around his arm on the album cover. She had decided to study art in Italy for semester, leaving Dylan alone with just his thoughts and a blank piece of paper throughout the recording of Freewheelin’. It is important to acknowledge that instead of writing about holding hands, and summer moons that hung in the night clouds, Dylan spoke of his truthful feelings, with an approach that was at once straightforward and partly obscured. And just like that, Bob Dylan was already beginning to change the face of music forever.
The song that interests me more than the others though is a hidden gem titled, “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” With nostalgia as its primary focus, Dylan sings a song dedicated to the friends of his youth and the fun they had growing up. Loosely based on an English traditional folk song “Lady Franklin’s Lament,” the song opens with Dylan telling of a dream he experienced while riding a train. What develops throughout the song however is two-fold; it is both a reflection of his past and understanding of his future. The structure is fairly simple, with just a guitar and harmonica to accompany his lyrics. The poignancy of the song is extraordinary, well at least to me.
“Our words were told, our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside”
While growing up my family and I moved around a good amount. By the time I reached 5th grade in Ohio, I had already lived in Florida, Louisiana, and Nebraska. My father, being the hard worker and professional businessman that he is, quickly moved his way up through his company’s corporate ladder. So it was no surprise that we would get called to Akron, Ohio, the capital of the tire and rubber industry in the early 1990s. I ended up attending Northwood Elementary, less than half a mile from our new house in the Bob-O-Link subdivision. There, like so many of the places I had lived before, I had to make new friends, and learn a completely new set of social norms. Luckily for me, although I was pretty geeky throughout my years in North Canton, I managed to befriend other kids in the neighborhood and at school. Thus began my glorious coming of age sequence (if this were a movie). As I sit here, listening to Freewheelin’ in the background, I think back over all those years. I remember (among various other events) sledding at Arrowhead golf course, wasting hours at Belden Village, cliff jumping at the rock quarries, skiing at Boston Mills, spending time at the North Canton YMCA, May Fiesta, Dance Plus, art class, Dogwood pool, Memorial stadium, Apples grocery, Ro’s ice cream, the Chicken Manor, Quonset Hut, Trivium coffee shop, and a thousand other places and stories. (One of the reasons this post has taken me so long is that I began to write out a memory from each of these places, but I am not trying to create a novel out of this yet.) With each of these above-mentioned memories, a special time and significance has been placed in my head for the people that were there and the experience of it all.
“We never thought we could ever get old”
Throughout my years in Ohio, I never did think about growing old. I guess I did develop into my own identity there (musically at the very least,) but the idea that I would ever be 32 years old and sitting behind a computer at a coffee shop in Nashville never really appeared as a reality. I believe that most of my friends and I back then lived in the present, which maybe is the way all teenagers think. As my very intelligent and thoughtful girlfriend pointed out recently, perhaps what we see as we reflect on our past is a sense of “timelessness.” I don’t think that it would be going for too much of a stretch to say that Bob Dylan might have been seeking the same idea through his music. Without even recognizing what we were trying to achieve in our childhoods and teenage years, my friends and I pulled from the ether of life a unique story that was wholly our own experience. Also, with the benefit of hindsight, we have the ability to focus on the good times and exciting moments. I guess there may have been rough patches along the way too, and maybe even moreso for friends of some mine. Realizing this makes me eternally thankful for all that my parents gave me during that time. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the reason my life has always had a feeling of balance is due to their efforts in raising me.
Now back to the song. If I, like Dylan says, was given the opportunity to go back to that time where kids can be kids, I am not sure if I would put down the $10,000 dollars (or any amount of money) to recapture that time. For as thankful that I am of that time and place, I believe that right here and now might be my favorite time to experience life. I love that I can still keep up with all of the people I crossed paths with, from the cornfields of Nebraska, to the hallways of Hoover High School, and everywhere in between. I feel as if I live in a universe that Charles Dickens (or any great novelist) has created, where fascinating characters and events all intertwine with one another, and the culmination of it all is my life. Perhaps that is the reason why I have such a desire to be a writer?
In my research for this post, I went on an internet searching hunt for the poem that I referenced at the beginning of this piece. After searching through a list of 20 or so poems (including “Jabberwockey” by Louis Carroll, “Frost at Midnight” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Children’s Hour” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth,) I came to realize that my memory of that poem may best fit with all those other “timeless” events of my life. And to that moment in my life that I will never truly recapute, and all the rest, I am grateful.