HCH 10 / May 2016
Mr. Tambourine Man (1965), by David Cerdá
Poets say more than the average guy, then less, ocassionally maybe nothing, sometimes too much. If you need crystalline, written-in-stone truths, maybe poets are not for you. But if you can cope with open assertions and suggestions, and feel comfortable with the music of words, you’ll probably love Bob Dylan. This song can serve you as a test to find out.
It seems Mr. Tambourine Man is a sort of Hamelin Pied Piper oneself invokes to get kidnapped by. Why would someone do something like that? Well, there’re plenty of reasons. Unhappiness. Boredom. Fear. Unhappiness is a primary source of alienation. Boredom leads us to the most stupid behaviours: Graham Green tells us in his autobiography that he used to go to the dentist and extract perfectly healthy teeth just for something to happen to him. And fear makes us prefer a sure unhappiness over an uncertain happiness.
Hence the flight, hence the calling.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you
Meaning is not a walking stick for humans, it is their very legs. If you’ve got a meaning, you can handle everything; If you don’t, you cannot tolerate anything. Viktor Frankl saw it quite clearly: in this all-time masterpiece called Man`s Search for Meaning, he echoes the great dictum Nietzsche uttered some years before: man is this animal who can support any How if he has a Why.
The question about who’s responsible for that Why has already been answered after the Existentialism Cyclone: it’s up to us. Nobody’s gonna tell us; humans don’t come to Earth with a manual. And that’s a hell of a burden, a burden that may be too much for some people; a burden many of us may be wanting to be released of.
Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship
What if you don’t have a Why, and you’re so weak you cannot quest for any? Then you choose an illusion. Art is an option. Remember Adorno: art as a promise of happiness. Woody Allen, in that wonder called Annie Hall points to this: he says we throw ourselves into art because there we can build a happiness which just does not work on real life. And naturally, we’ve got at reach other possibilities, much more gloomy or at least risky, like drugs, alcohol and other artificial paradises, whose constitution is not stronger than sand castles.
Though I know that evenin’s empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
This is indeed the traditional interpretation of Mr. Tambourine Man, that it is an ode to a dealer. I guess Dylan had to face the same question for decades. Anyway, asking if a song or a book is biographical is always a silly question. First of all, because it automatically reduces the span of any art, taking for granted that a single source is to be contemplated. Second, because it considers art as a mere personal catharsis, a way to get liberated from personal monsters, period. But that is how non- artists express themselves, while artist always look for something more, and that is why (provided they have some genius) we distinctively call them artists. Is it a song Dylan addresses to his muse? Is it a call for religion? Well, who cares? It’s an opportunity to think and feel, and and that, on it’s own, is quite a lot.
The final doomed product of lacking-a-meaning (and also, its by-product) is loneliness.
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming
We do not even grasp how many people go to therapy simply because they’re lost and alone. We have this categorical, scientific image of people getting psychoanalyzed because they have problems and thus real illness, real blemish, true handicaps. And in a lot of cases it doesn’t work like that. Some people are just lost and alone. So they face a dilemma. They may fight or surrender. They may get a shrink, some helping hand, some philosophy. Or they may call the Hamelin Pied Piper.
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it
And sometimes (just sometimes) the clouds are so dark that transitional solutions (or even dissimulated failures) are enough. Sometimes painkillers and relieves buy you some time, and that’s all you need to rebuild. Sometimes, just one more sun makes the difference.
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow