Feb 19Liked by Graley Herren

Graley - I continue to be so impressed and not a little jealous at your ability to find and gather disparate threads from Grant Wood to Sara Dylan to Thomas Jefferson to Phillis Wheatley into a a complete piece that completely makes sense. So happy I started my Presidents Day reading with this. On to the next Dylan and Cincinnati piece.

Expand full comment

The first segment on Merritt’s painting had me all emotional, and got me thinking about Dylan’s songs about leaving and being left. I think what makes songs like If You See Her Say Hello and Sara so rough to listen to is that Dylan is so famously un-nostalgic, and usually quick to move on, both from situations and people (I think it's a Gemini thing). But these songs are the heartbreaking document of exceptions to the rule. We can hear Dylan struggling with something that usually comes easy to him.

Maybe when he sings that he "respects" her for "getting free", he's also secretly envying her for finding it so easy to leave. This train of thought has also just given me a new perspective on one of my favourite songs, “Abandoned Love”: I always took the singer at face value (MY BAD), thinking that he’s looking to have one last night with his lover before he’s able to sever the ties for good. “Let me feel your love one more time before I abandon it”. But now I’m ready to call his bluff, because – does it ever work like this? How many smokers have sworn that the next will be their last cigarette, and then said the same before the next and the one after that? So while the singer is undoubtedly looking to quit, he also needs another fix first (a shot of love if you will). In fact we know that we can’t really take him at his word, because throughout the song he emphasises the power she has over him, begging her to turn him loose, to cross him off her list, to descend from her throne, and it’s only in the very last line that he pretends like he has the power to quit her, but of course he doesn’t. The love is all but abandoned!

Incidentally, "Abandoned Love" is also a long with a lot of looking: “I can see the turning of the key”, “I see you in the streets, I begin to swoon” (he’s down bad!), “I love to see you dress before the mirror” (double looking!), kissing in the theatre (not looking at the screen), and the request that she get all dolled up for his gaze.

I just love your writing, Graley, thank you for this beautiful piece! I so appreciated learning about these paintings, their artists and their histories, and to find out more about Phillis Wheatley.

Expand full comment

Thanks, Laura! I'm glad you're digging this series.What a great interpretation of "Abandoned Love"! You nail it with your comparison to a smoker trying to kick the habit. Nice catch with all the looking references in that song, too. I belatedly realize that I should have pointed out the same dynamic in "Sara": "I laid on a dune, I looked at the sky"; "You came up behind me, I saw you go by"; "Sara, Sara / So easy to look at, so hard to define."

You could do a whole Definitely Dylan episode on Dylan's key songs (or have you already done that and I'm forgetting?). You mention the opening line of "Abandoned Love": "I can hear the turning of the key." He uses the image in "Sara" too: "You gimme a map, and a key to your door." And in "Up to Me": "The old rounder in the iron mask slipped me the master key / Somebody had to unlock your heart, he said it was up to me." It's one of those obsessive images Dylan locks onto (ha!) for Blood on the Tracks. But it also looks back to "Absolutely Sweet Marie" ["I can take him to your house, but I can't unlock it / You see you forgot to leave me with the key"] and looks ahead to "Key West" ["Key West is the gateway key / To innocence and purity"]. And what good is a key without a door or gate to put it in? So now we're back to liminal thresholds, a subject near and dear to us both. Without a key, you're just left knock-knock-knockin'!

I really appreciate your comments, Laura, and love the mutual inspiration we get from Dylan's conversations with art, and from our conversations about Dylan's art.

Expand full comment