I remember seeing this video (embedded below) on MuchMore Music maybe 20 years ago, maybe more. I knew enough to understand how cool it was to get these guys together for the performance, but I didn't quite realize just how special it was. What a performance, and what a way to introduce people to an excellent song.
For the last few months, I've been working on memorizing songs I know, but I don't quite have memorized. I started with "Gentle on my Mind," a song I feel like I've known for as long as I've been alive but never quite memorized. It took a while, but eventually I was able to get the imagery in my head into an order that made sense, and I'd like to think the song's basically in my long-term memory for good now.
Then I moved to "My Back Pages," which challenged in a much different way. Each verse is built on strong imagery, but the images smash into one another; they don't quite create a full photograph like the verses do in "Gentle on my Mind." It took a few weeks of singing along, practicing verse-by-verse, copying out the lyrics by hand, before I could have it memorized. And even now, when it's all in my head, I still struggle to make some of the lines flow from their previous ones.
The last stanza mentions "abstract threats too noble to neglect." Dylan writes,
Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
To me, this sort of lends itself to our current "identity politics" moment: the Venn Diagram of Abstract to Practical is kinda' messy right now. That messy overlap is ok, but I hope we can acknowledge its blurriness. Everything's always more nuanced than it seems, no matter the side we pitch our tents. And abstract threats... are still threats. We need to move beyond threatening one another to move change in a useful direction.
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