Over the weekend, going through some of the stuff my daughter brought when she moved home from Pennsylvania, my wife found a travel case full of CDs I’d about given up on. Some of them were favorites — albums I had bought on vinyl in my youth, such as Steve Miller’s "Your Saving Grace" and The Band’s "The Band."
I put The Band’s master opus into the player in my truck yesterday, and it transported me back. I love those indescribable autumnal tones and word imagery. Over the weekend, we had watched the odd, uneven "I’m Not There," and the scenes with Richard Gere wandering through the faux old-timey (vaguely western, vaguely country) landscape and town were obviously an attempt to evoke that very same feeling, especially the parts around the bandstand. Far less successful, of course.
But you know how it is when you read or see or listen to something from your youth, and you see a flaw you didn’t see back then, and you’re sorry you noticed it? An extreme example of this was the time about 20 years ago when "The Dirty Dozen" came on television, and I said to my in-laws, "Oh, let’s watch this; this is good," and then minute after awful minute dragged by until I felt constrained to apologize for it? When I had seen it at 14, it had been good; I assure you.
This was more subtle. I’m listening to "King Harvest (Will Surely Come)," which makes the October wind blow like no other, and I’m suddenly struck by the incongruity of these two lines:
I will hear ev’ry word the boss may say,
For he’s the one who hands me down my pay.
Which makes perfect sense on one level — the words being spoken by a failed farmer who wants to make a go of his new job. But, with its suggestion that the worker’s position and future are dependent upon doing the will of the boss, it’s wholly inconsistent with the repeated theme that he is now "a union man now, all the way."
This later passage is more consistent with that attitude:
Then there comes a man with a paper and a pen
Tellin’ us our hard times are about to end.
And then, if they don’t give us what we like
He said, "Men, that’s when you gotta go on strike."
But wait — maybe the "boss" is the union boss, not management. That way it works. I feel better now. (Come to think of it, I believe that’s the way I sort of unconsciously understood it years ago.)
In any case, I still love the song, and the whole album. I stopped it in the middle of the second play this morning, and put in the Steve Miller, to keep myself from getting tired of it. (It’s much better than the Steve Miller, but perhaps that’s an unfair comparison — especially since I haven’t heard the much stronger second side yet.)
All you gotta do is rag, Mama, rag, Mama, rag…