Shelter from the Storm – Bob Dylan
A marvelous song that’s been in a lot of things and has had many things said about it. I first heard this on the soundtrack to Jerry Maguire, but It was originally on Bob Dylan’s album Blood on the Tracks which came out in 1975.
This is an epic song full of symbolism told with delightfully surprising rhymes and references.
But what is it about?
To me this song is about love, and in particular how it sustains us through hardship even when all we have is the memory of it.
There’s a good chance the woman in the song might be Sara Dylan, to whom Bob Dylan was married when he wrote the song. The marriage was falling apart, and he could have been mourning the loss of how things used to be. Sara Dylan was born Shirley Marlin Noznisky to Jewish immigrants from Poland, but according to Bob Dylan biographer Robert Shelton (sourced originally in wikipedia) she “had a Romany spirit, seeming to be wise beyond her years, knowledgeable about magic, folklore and traditional wisdom.”
It’s reasonable to suppose that Sara might be the woman born at the same time God was, but it also could be about Dylan’s mother. The song seems to describe a birth into a nurturing environment after living several harsh lives. Sara was a mother already when Dylan met her so it could be that both things are true. To put it crassly, Dylan may have had mommy issues. Or it could be the song isn’t autobiographical at all and it’s about a fictional man recalling a fictional woman. For the sake of discussion I’ll call the lady referred to in the song as “the Goddess.”
The verses are not sung in chronological order, but the singer seems to be telling the story of his life after being asked by someone “Is it helpless and forlorn?”
He talks about other lifetimes, times when he suffered in numerous ways before he found this Goddess who might have been a lover, but who was also something of a mother figure.
Then there was a time of blissful childhood or something like it where he was always safe and warm.
Then people tried to tell him who to be ( they gambled for his clothes) and he didn’t like that so he decided to leave, and the Goddess let him (he bargained for salvation and she gave him a lethal dose).
Growing into adulthood, life was hard and he encountered adversity ( he offered up his innocence and got repaid with scorn).
He currently lives in ” a world of steel-eyed death and men who are fighting to be warm.” Where, regardless of whether one hopes to learn philosophy (becoming a preacher riding a mountain) or learn street smarts (become like a deputized horse walking on hard nails) in the end all that matters is that time is short and you’re going to die eventually (it’s doom alone that counts). But even in this dire situation, to answer the man’s question, the singer repeats “Come in, she said, I’ll give ya, shelter from the storm” There was one time he found love and acceptance, and that alone is enough to make up for whatever hardship he has to endure.
The one-eyed undertaker hasn’t gotten the singer yet. He still walks in this country that seems foreign to him, but someday he will cross the line and succumb to the razor’s edge that beauty walks along. And if he lives in this world again he vows to always do his best for his goddess.
I’m almost entirely sure I got that wrong, but that’s what I’ve come up with for what the song is about. What do you think?
Fire, Water, Earth, and Air – Julie Felix
This song is vast in scope, encompassing the elements of Earth, and weather, and states of human existence. I would like it for that alone, but then you factor in the surprising internal rhymes of the lyrics, the thrumming native american sound of the music, and Julie Felix’s clear, confident vocals, and it’s just a marvelous, wonderful song.
There is, of course, a hippy undercurrent to the song. One expects there will soon be some one along to say that we should protect the squirrels or eat nothing but rutabagas grown in reclaimed sewage. But I prefer to take the song at face value, as a celebration and appreciation of nature and life. I don’t disagree with people who say we should preserve the environment, but I think where such people can go astray is when they see themselves as separate from it. We are part of the environment, part of nature. It is foolish to destroy nature to preserve ourselves, but it is equally foolish to destroy ourselves to preserve nature. A body needs both a brain and a stomach to function.
I’m a Dog – Crash Test Dummies
Like many Crash Test Dummies songs, this one offers a unique perspective on a seldom explored aspect of life. In this case the song is from the perspective of a dog wondering why humans venerate people who don’t seem to live good lives.
The dog, being a dog, is essentially a hedonist, appreciating the physical pleasures of life like brushing up against a cow’s leg and having breakfast with the master in the morning. He marvels at humans who try to control their instincts and be civilized, when all it seems to do for people is make them miserable
There is an added layer of irony here in that Brad Roberts, the lead singer and lyric writer, is, himself, an example of the poets the dog is criticizing.
Other April Songs
I’ve made a YouTube playlist, which you can see here:
It has the songs I described above plus the following:
- Otherside – The Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Or Is It Just Me – Reverend Horton Heat
- Middle of Nowhere – Hot Hot Heat
- The New Pollution – Beck
- I’d Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me – Randy Hanzlick, M.D.
- Landed – Ben Folds
- Duvet – Boa
- Not Today Baby – Crash Test Dummies
- MMM, MMM, MMM, MMM – Crash Test Dummies
- Linger – The Cranberries
- Do It Again – Smash Mouth
- Patricia – Flashlight Brown
- Mary Jane – Megadeth
- Devotion and Desire – Bayside
- Foolish Heart – The Mavericks
- Megalomaniac – Incubus
One song that’s missing though is this one:
Mr. S – Letter People