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As I’ve noted before, Real Depressed Men Don’t Cry – well, hardly ever. I’ve had Bob Dylan on my mind lately, he’s about the last person you’d think would trigger those droplet-things that have a wet way of blurring your vision. Have you seen I’m Not There
– the completely original film about dimensions of Dylan’s life captured by six different actors? The first of these is an 11-year old runaway, escaped from a youth correction facility (remember “reformatory?”), or something like that. He’s an African American kid with a guitar, and his name is Woody Guthrie. We first see him running beside a freight train and pulling himself into an open car. There are two tramps there, and he sings them a song I hadn’t heard in forever. It’s the rousing ballad of the triumph of good over evil, called When the Ship Comes In.
Now the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin’
Like the stillness in the wind
Fore the hurricane begins
The hour when the ship comes in.
As soon as I heard that fast guitar rhythm and those first words, I knew I was in trouble.
Throat choking, eye-storm threatening, wave of feeling breaking lid-tight composure, I chomped the right side of my lower lip as I do when I just won’t let that stuff rise to the surface. So I listened as that ship split the seas, shook the shoreline and ignored the “words that are used/ for to get the ship confused.” Then those sands rolled out a carpet of gold as the ship hit land:
And the ship’s wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin’
And those bad guys, the “foes,” roused from sleep, can’t believe what’s happening – but soon they see it’s real:
Then they’ll raise their hands,
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands,
But we’ll shout from the deck your days are numbered.
Those merciless masters of war will drown like Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea “And like Goliath, will be conquered.”
Just so simple and pure as that, a beautiful power will drive the evil right out of life. Then that exploding emotion threatened my face and I fled the room, as if driven by urgent need of pit-stop time. Closing the nearest door behind me not a minute too soon, a sob lurched my throat, then another, then three – oh, man, I was in trouble! But I soon shut it down, as real depressed men do, and went out to watch more-but then got blasted with another song – and on and on. It was a tough night to be tough.
And the next day, I got out my big book of Dylan lyrics, hunted down those songs and tried (in absolute privacy, of course) to sing them through. But each time I got to something like the whole wide world is watchin’ or the first will be last and the last will be first or the chimes of freedom flashing, my tuneless voice broke, I got wet eyed and worse, and I tried to understand what the hell was going on.
Sure, it was heartbreaking to feel again the idealism and hope of the early sixties, smashed like Kennedy’s skull, then lost in the miasma of Vietnam, race riots, police riots, escapes into hallucinations and rockin’ peace and love, then more assassination, Russian tanks crushing Czechoslovakia, Nixon, Watergate and everywhere drugs, murder and laundered money. Who wouldn’t shed a tear for lost innocence and hope from a time when the revolution of the young was all but certain, when we knew it would surely sweep all injustice before it? Perhaps I was crying for that, but I could tell there was more, much more.
We’ve lived to feel a resurgence of hope right now, and who could keep eyes dry watching so stalwart a figure as Jesse Jackson listening to Obama’s victory speech with tears streaming down his face. That was triumph to be sure, all the way from chattel without status as humans under the Constitution, lynching, police beatings, voting that got a black man shot dead, the murder of one great leader after another, all the way to President of the USA. Who wouldn’t shout and sob for joy at once – even knowing how fragile the hope in great leaders is? So that was mixed up in my breaking voice, but there was more, much more.
I could cry for my own sense of loss so deep, for a grief that rolls to the surface when I least expect it – a grief I don’t fully understand. There are shadows of family, past and gone forever, broken apart, cracking the earth open right under my feet. And that happened despite – or as I believed, because of – my imagined and failed ability to hold it all together – losing the grip that secured a family, as I thought, as I hoped and hoped, when a kid of 8 or 10. The syndrome of the too young adult took hold so early, and I impressed the hell out of all the grownups. But I’ve been dealing with such loss and later disappointments and hopes that fill any life for a long, long time. A grief survives that a song can trigger, but there is still something more, so clearly much more.
And that comes back to me here and now, cautiously hopeful about a life turning onto a recovery road instead of staying fearful in a dark wood, the straight way lost. I cry in hope and fear at once. Will that Goliath who has crushed and weighted me down for so long finally be cut down to size? A depressive mind has overpowered me for far too long, and I’m on the offensive now, at last.
Will I conquer? Will I survive?