5/28/21- Overcast Friday, but balmy. Gratitude for good work done. Dylan thoughts.
Alias….anything you please. Reminded by the celebration of his 80th birthday to delve back into my Dylan collection, I am again amazed by the lyrical genius and pathos of this extraordinary storyteller, musician, human being. Though I likely intend to return for a closer look at other of his works, I was struck in particular this morning by the soundtrack he created for perhaps my favorite Western film of all time, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Having just reviewed the film a month ago after years of interval between viewings, and even though Amazon sold me a later Director’s cut missing perhaps the best scene of the movie, I was again gutted by the narrative of friendship, betrayal and the choices we make when pressure comes to bear. I enjoy this punishing clarity.
I consider the music that Dylan created for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid some of his gentlest, most subtle commentary upon human vulnerability and relationship. It is evocative of wide open land, expansive skies, flaming sunsets. When I hear it in the film, I want to LIVE IN THE SOUND that it creates. Images arise of partners in the best kind of crime: outlaws enjoying their incorrigibly wild freedom from the oppressively regimented, commodified future coming with the westward advance of the Santa FE Railroad. When I hear this music, it reminds me of the quiet confidence, gentle ferocity, the sensitive audacity of Billy as played by another idol of mine, Kris Kristofferson.
Dylan’s touch to this Peckinpah classic simply sends it over the top; it complements the storytelling so well that it is indeed part of the story. The surprising softness of it capably holds the space for the emotional conflict presented by two long time friends placed in opposition to one another by the shifting pathways of their responses to a quickly changing and unforgiving world. Despite the deep connection they’ve shared from many adventures survived, and likely enjoyed, they must make choices, like all of us everyday, to respond to, to survive the greater momentum of larger society. Songs like Cantina provide an even greater depth of feeling for the viewer, the tension of regret and resolve bonding the characters even as they dispense with one another. The title track, Billy, allows the audience to feel the nuanced affection these apparently very bad men feel for one another from their introduction in the town square. When Billy is taken the first time, the resigned abnegation of self he displays walking, arms splayed to his captors, is accentuated undeniably by Dylan’s background ditty.
I could go on, but you probably don’t care about westerns anyway. Not sure Dylan did so much even, considering the wealth of what might be considered more serious work through the career of one of the most talented lyricists I am likely to experience in my lifetime. Doesn’t matter. The magic that his sound lends to this film is akin to the beauty of the deep, soulful stare of Harry Dean Stanton, another longtime favorite of mine, like the long anticipated embrace of an old friend tinged with a haunting sense of foreboding for its ephemerality. This hits me in the belly, heart and head all at the same time. Even as I write about it, the feeling that the images his music conures, tightens my chest, wrings the water from my tear ducts, and a then moment later like a trickster, it calms with similar incontestability, the consoling warmth of the memory of better times. But I reside with a Cancer domiciled Moon, it’s easy for me…:) Thank you, Bob Dylan, for your brilliant sensibility and for the talent with which you express it. Happy 80th Birthday. Thank you for music that has enriched my life beyond measure.