The Thousand-Yard Stare

This weekend, I saw “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’ film about Bob Dylan. Portland has a couple notable filmmakers. Haynes is one of them. He’s made a beautiful film, the kind you walk out of thinking: I wish I’d made that. If you’re out there, Mr. Haynes, thank you.

Growing up, I never paid much attention to Dylan. Knew who he was. Knew “Like a Rolling Stone,” of course. Everybody knew that, along with a handful of the protest songs, maybe “Mr. Tambourine Man.” He just never quite clicked. The Stones fit so much better with all the testosterone I was dealing with.

It was when I got to college and ran into “Subterranean Homesick Blues” for an intro to poetry class that I went: hmm. This is interesting. A friend’s girlfriend (who I was secretly in love with) loaned me “Bringing It All Back Home,” and, wham! I had to hear everything he’d done. Right now.

And I pretty much have. Dylan’s work is hard to like. You have to be flexible. Work on faith. I don’t think he even delights in confounding us–he just keeps moving, following his instincts, and we come along or not. I think he’s had to, so many people trying to fit him in a frame, hang him on a wall. “Poet” is a pretty hard brand to market. Almost as tough as selling poetry.

Other musicians, I like their sound or lyrics or the mood or time they take me to. I like some songs from almost every genre. A few bands–the Stones, the Airplane, the Doors, the Clash, REM, Nirvana, U2–are inextricably woven into places and events of my life. But I think only Dylan’s work has gone as deep, reached down and become one with my personal history.

“Blind Willie McTell” says pretty much everything I feel about America: bountiful, damned, mysterious. Haunted.

A lone tree in an empty field erupts in flame. Burns. Silently falls to the group. Smoke rises through dusk. Then all is dark, save a red moon rising.

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

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