Note: This is the first in a series of conversations wherin we try to reduce select Bob Dylan tunes to their essence, then pair the sensory experience with the perfect wine. Hosted by yours truely and Wolfgang Weber, wine impressario and keeper of spume.
I agree – let’s gather some sense of the coincidence that your subject is wine and my, not subject but, say, passions are always filtered and aged through a lifelong appreciation for Mr. Dylan. Naturally and of course, a mutual interest in the other’s tastes allows, one hopes, for some fluency, some cross-polination between your interests and mine. So then, to sum up our conversation on Christmas eve (and I was, I confess, mulled like the burgundy on the stove): you propose a conversation where Dylan’s music is paired with wine. I accept, with a counter-proposal. Let’s start with the music and lyrics, but there not limit ourselves. I propose our work include at least two components: first, we’ll take some tunes and reduce down to a more concentrated taste: is the song bitter, sweet, old and aged or young and bright? These elements defined, how to pair? Second, what is a given song’s terroir? I’ll illustrate what I mean by example then punt to you for the pairing.
Let’s start easy: Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. We know our narrator (and let’s not confuse Dylan with the “I” of his songs) has started out on Burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff. Okay, so that’s easy. Pair the tune with Burgundy. But let’s dig deeper. This is a song of experience (as opposed to the songs of innocence penned only one or two years previous). Our narrator opens by giving advice: “When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez/ And it’s Eastertime too.” We’re in borderland country, Mexico specifically, having crossed over (started out on Burgundy, before crossing the line that divides). We’ve left the familiar and are now in a strange land, strange customs, stranger visions. Not only lost, but it rains, too. In Mexico, Catholic Mexico. It’s Eastertime. You, alone and lost, divorced from familiarity witnessing as a stranger the rituals of a foreign place as it celebrates the resurrection. Famously and of course, Jesus is said to have given his blood to the disciples and, to remember his sacrifice, we drink wine. (“To remember, we drink wine.” This could be played with later.) Experience is a kind of sacrifice and our narrator has sacrificed so we listeners learn from the narrator’s experience. Conclusion of the experience, the lesson learned: you better go back to from where you came. (Aside: ever notice Dylan’s use of “better”? You better use your sense. You better start swimming. Always the gambling pun – you, gambler, better git movin’)
Wolfgang, I think we’ve got a starting point. Borders are crossed and blurred, we’re a foreigner, wet and alone, at a time when blood becomes wine. We’ve seen what starts as Burgundy gets harder. We also know our narrator couldn’t take it, couldn’t deal, has gone back to New York City, having had enough.
My second example of how to approach the conversation would be to look at terroir. As example, consider Mr. Tambourine Man. The tune was written also in 1964, also paired with acoustic guitar, but written as Dylan turns from a passionate, earnest and decidedly un-ironic caring for the external world to a more introspective, visionary period. Dylan’ we know took Rimbaud very seriously at this time, and his version of Rimbaud’s drunken boat is a magic swirling ship (Rimbaud having written of the demand for a rational derangement of all the senses, a “dérèglement de tous les sens.”) Ignoring where the ship takes our visionary, let’s look instead at the time, the soil from which the song grew – and keeping in mind this is a song of intoxication.
According to Dylan’s Biograph notes, the visions come from Dylan’s experience of the Mardi Gras in New Orleans as he followed those “skipping wheels of rhyme” echoing through the street. (Acid came several months later.) What to pair with a song born in New Orleans, 1964, in the days before a 40 day fast for lent? The time has been described as one of “perpetual bottles of Beaujolais,” which I suppose can serve as a starting point.
Okay then – two songs, one with a quick look at the lyrics, and the other with a look at the zeitgeist in which the song germinated, the terroir from which the song grew. I hope this gives us a starting point. I imagine we can also look at covers, photos, gossip…let’s keep focused but be sure we let at least one hand wave free.