Monday, August 17, 2015

Scarlet Town

It's bad times in town.
The end is near, good's in fear,
Bob's vision is clear.

The roots of "Scarlet Town" are easy to see. It's the setting of the old English ballad of grim, grim death and love (but I repeat myself), "Barbara Allen," known to some as the tale of the red rose and the briar. It's where a young man falls for Barbara who scoffs at his love. Then he takes sick and dies, and she, realizing too late what she has thrown away, dies too. Out of their graves come the rose and the briar, forever entwined with the beauty and fragrance of the petals inseparable from the harm of the thorn. Romance...

Bob Dylan's song "Scarlet Town" takes off in different directions from there. This song is from the 2012 album "Tempest," and Dylan has become a more masterful songwriter here in many ways, as well as on his last few albums, laying on thick homages and quotes lifted from other songs and poems, weaving together all sorts of knowledge stored in his experienced, acquisitive mind. You can see that here:

In Scarlet Town:
1. There's ivy and thorn, streets with names you can't pronounce, gold whose value has fallen on the currency market. It's full of people dancing and asking if you're going their way. Uncle Tom still works for Uncle Bill, or as you would say more plainly, the whites still control the blacks.
2. Sweet William Holme is dying as Mary lies by his side and prays for him. Bob would weep for Sweet William as Sweet William would for him. Little Boy Blue comes to blow his horn.
3. Scarlet Town is under the shadows of palm trees during the hot day. There are beggars and there is too little help for everyone, too late. They pray in the graveyards there. Bob touched the garment, which I take to mean the garment of Jesus, but found that the hem was torn.
4. The signs of apocalypse -- as seven wonders -- manifest in Scarlet Town. Evil and good are neighbors. If you wear your heart on your sleeve -- or place it on the platter -- someone will take a bite out of it. Nobody will hold you and kiss you goodnight. Crying won't do you any good, as the blues song goes.
5. In Scarlet Town, children fight their father's battles, with whiskey, morphine and gin if necessary. There is a woman there, incidentally, with legs that could drive a man mad. Through all this, you would wish you had stayed in Scarlet Town if you had left.
6. And in spite of all the ills that plague Scarlet Town, people still have a good time at night, and heaven comes a little closer to the ground. "All things are beautiful in their time, The black and the white, the yellow and the brown, It's all right there in front of you in Scarlet Town."




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