Tuesday, May 24, 2011
don't think twice (it's alright)
I remember the very first time I thought about a story I was writing when I heard a piece of music. I was writing one of my many, many "bad boy" stories. This one was called "Wrapped," and was my very first published story (1992, if memory serves).
A couple dozen cassette tapes had followed me across the country and up the west coast, and now they were stored haphazardly in a large gold tin that had originally held fancy Christmas cookies. There were the usual suspects: bootleg Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Johnny Cash. But mostly, the tapes were Dylan. Dylan and the Dead, Blonde on Blonde, Freewheelin', and several compilations claiming to be his "best."
One tape ended up in the sometimes-working player of my Subaru wagon more than the others. It was a tape of unknown origin, any one of a half-dozen bad boyfriends of my past could have left it behind. All the greatest tunes whined scratchily from its film as it blared out my dashboard speakers: Lay, Lady, Lay; Knockin' On Heaven's Door; Tangled Up In Blue; Isis; When the Ship Comes In, and my all-time favorite, Don't Think Twice, It's Alright.
That song would come on and I could see Robert Zimmerman, (and all the drunk, no good boys of my youth), slinking down the other side of the street to escape entanglements of the heart, and blaming the woman for not being kind enough or some line of crap. And yet. I felt sorry for the fellows. Sure, they were cads, but there was a longing in that song that I knew lurked in the heart of any boy I'd ever, uh, kissed. A boy wanting a girl to envelop him with love and acceptance.
Well, I wrote this story, and I'd invented a composite bad boy boyfriend I named Pirate, and the next time I drove somewhere long and pressed the play button and Bob's gravelly voice and passionate harmonica churned the air, my story played in my head like a movie. The whole thing: a composition accompanied by Dylan's ambivalent shuffle off down the road. And this amazing thing happened. Instead of being the girl in the story, I morphed into the boy. I became the fragile soul posing, for all the world, as a stud who was on to the next conquest, or bend in the road--ungettable, untamable, free. In other words, the song made me think twice, and offered me purchase to another point of view, another way in to the story I'd written. So I went home, and rewrote it. I made Pirate more complex. Gave him a wee bit of backstory.
Anyway, I thought about this today, for the first time in a long time--it being Dylan's 70th birthday and all. I'm sure lots of you have Dylan song stories, right?