It is priceless to read Bob Dylan's ruminations on the music and words that inspired him and shaped his universe. During a portion of his memoir where he is reflecting on making the album "Oh Mercy" he comments that his own song "Man in the Long Black Coat" was his equivalent of "I Walk the Line". Here are his words describing the impact this Johnny Cash classic had on him;
He sounds like he's at the edge of the fire, or in the deep snow, or in a ghostly forest, the coolness of conscious obvious strength, full tilt and vibrant with danger. "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine" Indeed. I must have recited those lines to myself a million times... Words that were the rule of law and backed by the power of God... it sounded like a voice calling out, "What are you doing there, boy?" I was trying to keep my eyes wide open to."I keep a close eye on this heart of mine". To me, one of the best opening lines to a song ever. It captured my imagination as a child hearing Cash's music on my dad's radio, and even more so as an adult when I rediscovered it. The power of a few simple words sung by a soul with a preacher's conviction.
Its difficult and perhaps unnecessary to over-analyze something that operates on a spiritual level like this. If I had to describe what it means to me I would say that is in a similar vein as Leonard Cohen's Chelsea Hotel No. 2 where he laments being one of those "oppressed by the figures of beauty" . Perhaps one does need to keep a "close eye", letting the heart wander where it may is dangerous business.
A line from a more recent song that has come close to having the same impact is from "Hold On, Hold On" by Neko Case; "The most tender place in my heart is for strangers/ I know its unkind but my own love is much too dangerous" A haunting song, and these tragic & beautiful words have definitely taken a hold on me.
For me lines like these are snapshots, fleeting shadows that capture truth and offer a brief glimpse of a larger reality. They reference a place that exists just outside of your peripheral vision. A place that is always present, though rarely seen. Good music or poetry is a key that expands your vision and opens new doors. This was certainly the case for Dylan.
Its magical stuff reading Dylan's musings on the forces of life that shaped his identity. Its a powerful and life altering force having words or music become embedded in our mental landscape, forever altering our personal geography and giving it a dynamic new form. After a while they cannot be separated and simply become a part of who we are.
(Note: Here's the link for my first posting on Dylan's Chronicles)