You ever have just a small part of a song stuck in your head that no amount of other music will get rid of? Today, I woke up with the refrain "The vagabond is rapping at your door/ Is standing in the clothes that you once wore/Strike another match, go start anew/ And it's all over now, Baby Blue." It took me a minute to remember where I'd heard it recently.
It's such an amazing video on so many levels. You can see Dylan's weariness at being on the road for so long, his maybe-snarkiness at Donovan's sweet performance, and, especially, the way that he just transforms the room that he's in. It's a stretch to call Bob Dylan a singer, but he is, for all intents and purposes, one of the master storytellers of the twentieth century.
You feel bad for Donovan- he's a good singer/songwriter in his own right, but he's usually brushed off as Dylan-lite- the rough edges aren't there, the intonations and phrasing are traditional and predictable, but he's still good. I love the look on his face when he finally cracks a smile and has to admit that he is in the presence of a genius.
That got me thinking about this song. I've heard so many ideas of what it's about: it's a love affair, it's Dylan's FUCK YOU to the music world, it's blah blah blah blah... I think it's all of those, quite honestly, but I have always taken a different message from it.
Some people argue that it's about his departure from the "hippie" lifestyle, except this song was written 1964. I have always thought that he was using the metaphor of leaving a broken love affair to mean that he was leaving his current lifestyle.
"You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last/ But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast." This is an abandonment of the material things in your life, a call to hold on to what you truly believe you need to survive. "You better grab it fast-" do it now. Something greater is calling for you, a spiritual and emotional void has been gradually opening in your life and your greater purpose now is to find out why it's there and how to fill it.
"Yonder stands your orphan with his gun." This isn't a literal orphan, but, to me, that sense of displacement we all experience as we mature, where our parents are no longer the be-all and end-all of our consciousness. Even the more rebellious have to deal with it at some point. You stand there, feeling utterly alone and thinking that your family doesn't understand you, with "his gun-" the destruction that'll be wrecked if we don't break away from the suffocation of your current life.
"The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense/ Take what you have gathered from coincidence/ The empty handed painter from your streets/ Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets/ This sky, too, is folding under you"
How many times do parents warn their children to be careful in the outside world, to always stay out of danger? What is life without risk? Risking your life, disapproval, disappointment, and maybe even your heart? But, if you are trying to reach a, oh I don't know, higher of being, of truly knowing who you are, you have to take those risks. You learn from the outside, maybe from like-minded individuals, i.e. the Tribe.
Saying that the sky is folding under you sounds so ominous, like you're being sucked away, until you imagine what it would actually look like. The sky is folding under you... clearly, you're above the sky. You're walking in space, trying to find God. You're lighter than air and your body no longer tethers you to the ground- your spirit is flying free and always always searching.
"Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you"
Something more powerful than your comfy life is beckoning you to come find it. What is it? Sex? Love? Drugs? Enlightenment? All of it? How would you know unless you follow it?
"Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you"
How can you expect people who don't feel the same pulling away from home to understand? You can't. They won't understand why you're abandoning what you already have. At the same time, though, if you're not there to listen to their disapproval, you can hope to recapture some joy that you may have lost over the years. You can play with your new friends, experiment, but always, on some level, retaining some of those blissful qualities of a more innocent time in your life. "Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature" (Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker). You're surrounded by people who are also searching for something, whether that be meaning in life, a way to fix the world, or even just a drug-fueled fuck, you are all searching and you help each other on the way.
"Strike another match, go start a-new"
It's a cliche about how when you move away from home to go to college, you reinvent yourself. Still, a cliche is usually true- how can you truly find yourself unless you leave behind the comforts of the home you grew up in and see what sort of mettle you have in you? Growing up is all about reinvention... it's hard to do when you have someone looking over your shoulder all the time.
"It's all over now, Baby Blue."
And this is why my tribe name is Baby Blue.
"If you believe in peace, act peacefully; if you believe in love, acting lovingly; if you believe every which way, then act every which way, that's perfectly valid— but don't go out trying to sell your beliefs to the system. You end up contradicting what you profess to believe in, and you set a bum example. If you want to change the world, change yourself."