When you're a child, time lasts forever. The closer you get to the end of your time, the faster it goes.
Time's funny like that, but not the laughing kind.
The first lyrics of 'The Changing of the Guards,' sung by Dylan in a tone heavy with the weight of experience. 'How could so much time go by?' the voice seems to say.
I likewise now shake my head in amazement and incomprehension at time gone by. September 29th, 1997. I was living in Boston, in the Back Bay, waiting for midnight. There was a Tower Records nearby then, a huge four story brick building on the corner of Newbury Street and Mass Ave that the Tower Records company sheathed in grey metal, to make it resemble a tower. Most everyone got their music from CD's then - there was no such thing as an Ipod or Iphone, no Pandora, no cloud. Tower Records was pulling in money hand over fist selling CD's.
And time was accelerating, flying by faster and faster.
Sixteen years. Seven years since Dylan had released a record with an original song, the pallid "Under the Red Sky", in 1990. It contained a few gems, but it wasn't strong Bob, it was weak Bob. It was tired Bob. Uninspired Bob. He sounded livelier when he sang with the Traveling Wilburys.
I'd been waiting a long time, since then. The record was being released Tuesday, September 30th, and Tower Records had the practice of opening the store at midnight Monday, which in the blink of an eye turned to Tuesday, and all the new Tuesday release albums were suddenly on sale. This was a big night because "Time Out of Mind" was coming out with the rest. The line was down the street for a half a block at least, at midnight. I got there early, close to the front of the line and bought one of the first copies. I nearly ran home. I listened to it over and over, all night into the dawn, then went to sleep, smiling. This was strong Bob, the strongest he'd been since "Blood on the Tracks." Maybe even since the 60's, Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61.
The title itself appears in many author's works - Shakespeare, Poe, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Faulkner - Warren Zevon used it in "Accidently, Like a Martyr," Steely Dan as a song title. It's a phrase that's been in the vernacular for centuries, merely meaning "since I can remember." Or can't anymore. "I've been doing that since time out of mind." If Dylan chose it in order to reference a source, my guess would be Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," because of the general dissolute, spectral tone that runs through both the story and the album.
Remembering, or almost remembering, or not remembering. That's what "Time out of Mind" is about. Haunted memories, rising in the mist at his feet like Dante's damned souls - weary memories, nagging, death-like, occupying his mind as if whiffs of poisonous potions - memories of youth now gone, memories of love, fading but never disappearing, memories he wishes he could forget but they just won't let go. As he says in what is arguably the record's greatest song, 'Not Dark Yet,' "I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from."
Time out of mind.
The album cover shows Dylan in the midst of recording equipment, a curious cover, but one that makes perfect sense immediately on hearing the album. As Dylan said in his Grammy acceptance speech, after talking about being 'down in the trenches, "...we got a particular sound on this record which you don't get every day."
Indeed. Listening, the first thing I noticed a few notes in on 'Love Sick' was the startling, swampy production Daniel Lanois had created. Bob's phased voice cutting through the repeating organ chord, the spare but ethereal music, like he's already halfway gone, an almost ghost wandering lost in a phantom landscape of his own making, trudging along amidst the weeping clouds and silhouettes in the windows and he knows brought it all on himself, yet he's willingly allowed it to happen. And so comes his pronouncement in the chorus, "I'm sick of love, and I'm in the thick of it..."
Unlike anything he's recorded before, surpassing the sound experimentation Lanois had begun with Dylan on "Oh Mercy." "Oh Mercy" had flashes and colorings of atmosphere, "Time Out of Mind" plunged the listener wholly into the center of an entire atmospheric environment. Places existing in Dylan's mind. Though the recording draws heavily on modern studio technology, it sounds so old, beyond time old, conveying some ancient timeless spaces, other dimensions than the ones we walk around in.
The singer is love sick, yes, not in a healthy way, no, more like a disease, a fever dream, and when the final lines come they sum up the real reason for the song, and as will be seen, sum up everything coming after on the record.
I’m sick of love; I wish I’d never met you
I’m sick of love; I’m trying to forget you
Just don’t know what to do
I’d give anything to be with you
Part two coming