It’s 1 am on what I think its a Friday. It’s a bit hard to tell these days. I haven’t been sleeping well and that adds to the strange haze of quarantine. Every day we wake up and trying to figure out how to make today different than yesterday and, based on what I see online, fail miserably. The only thing that changes every day are the number of deaths and infections. We’re cursed with living in interesting times. Riding into the middle of it all is Bob Dylan with another new song.
The new song, “I Contain Multitudes” is different from the epic ballad he released earlier in the month. For starters, it’s a relatively compact 4:38 versus the 17 minutes of “Murder Most Foul.” This is a smaller song in scope as well.
“I Contain Multitudes” begins with a gentle guitar that functions as a tour guide as Dylan sings the lines:
Today and tomorrow
And yesterday too
The flowers are dying
Like all things do
As opening lines go, that feels very timely. He then goes on to sing about what sounds like different aspects of his life and personality. He namechecks Anne Frank, Indiana Jones, The Rolling Stones and more. Namechecking people has been a hallmark of later Dylan and it’s always a bit fascinating. If you had bet me if Bob Dylan knew what Indiana Jones was I would not have taken the bet.
The song feels like a meditation on a life filled with mythology and tall tales. Only Dylan really knows the truth of his experience and this song seems to speak to that some. It feels like the last drink at a bar with an old friend, after the music has been turned off, somewhere between a hymn, a lullaby, and a prayer.
His voice is gruffer now, honey that has hardened into amber. There is a growl in it that wasn’t there when he was younger, but somehow it’s gentle all the same. The music is slower and more methodical. The sound is anachronistic, the kind of thing that wouldn’t be out of place the last time the ’20s started to roar.
As I write this I’m listening to it on repeat to try and hear what he’s trying to say and writing this in a somewhat stream of consciousness style. The lack of sleep and general world anxiety has put me on edge for a while and it’s harder to avoid at night when it’s dark and quiet. My refuge has always been music, and tonight I did not expect to have Bob Dyan come down from whatever mountain he lives on and try and sing an anxious world to sleep.
When I logged into twitter tonight I didn’t expect to find anything uplifting or beautiful. Twitter isn’t really the place for that. Hell, most of the internet isn’t. Then I saw the tweet from a friend linking to the song, and everything for a little while got better. Tomorrow I’ll get up and wander through another desultory day bouncing between anxiety, boredom, hope, and fear. For tonight though, just for tonight, I can go to sleep having heard something good and kind and comforting.
Thanks, Bob, you’re just what I needed.