Watching the river flow

I warmed up for the celebration of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday by attending a great show — Blondes on “Blonde on Blonde” — presented last Saturday as part of the Concerts at the Crossing series held in Titusville, N.J., near Washington Crossing, where, yes indeed, Washington crossed the Delaware and invaded Trenton.

I know…we should have let the British keep Trenton. But I lived there with my parents right after I was born. My young father was serving in the Air Force, stationed at Fort Dix. So if Washington hadn’t crossed the Delaware and routed the Hessians, I’d be speaking with a British accent and…

I know.,.I’m drifting too far from the shore…Here’s a video of one of the “Blondes on Blonde on Blonde performers,” Sloan Wainwright, singing “Meet Me in the Morning” from “Blood on the Tracks” —

On the actual Bobday — Tuesday, May 24 — I sat by the banks of the Raritan River in New Jersey, reading a poem by Allen Ginsberg of Paterson, N.J., .listening to “Things Have Changed” by His Bobness…and watching and listening as an Orthodox Jew with a cantor’s voice stood alone at the riverside, first with his hands on his hips and then with his arms opened wide to the sky. The man chanted and sang a tune I did not recognize and words I did not understand, and he looked out over the holy river, and it was a confluence of Jewish poems and prayers, a meeting of the orthodox and the avant-garde, as the cantor and I sat and watched the river flow on Robert Zimmerman/Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday,

Here’s the song I was listening to, sung by the birthday boy himself:

And here’s Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton watching the river flow…


Souls in the balance

This is the latest in a series of essays titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death.”

A friend checks in with a response to my previous essay, “Beautiful corpse,” in which I state my case for writing about death. This old friend signs his note “written with tongue in cheek and Soul in the balance.”


I like the fact that he – born and bred in northeast Massachusetts, near the New Hampshire border, a true neighbor of Thoreau and Hawthorne and most especially Emerson – capitalizes the word Soul.


My old friend speculates that “perhaps as the body ages there occurs a chemical reaction that translates into the conscious awareness of one’s own mortality.’‘


He notes that a phrase he learned “from my mother,” the phrase “There but for the Grace of God, go you or I,” was “never wasted on anyone’s Death. It was strictly reserved for the most miserable and blighted living creature. Those who’d be better off dead.” 


My friend writes, too, about the night his entire family gathered in his parents’ bedroom to keep vigil as their father, a prominent surgeon in Boston, died. “We watched as my father literally breathed his last.” The next day, my friend recalls, one of his brothers “spoke of how palpable was the experience of seeing a soul separate from a body.”


Finally my astute friend – who, I note with total disregard for relevance, is the person who first played a Bob Dylan record for me; for the record, the record was “Blonde on Blonde,” and the year was more years ago than I want to calculate, and the place was on the outskirts of Niagara Falls, N.Y., in a room where the windows looked out over the Niagara River to the flat and frozen plains of eastern Ontario – speculates that “We will never read in the papers a story with the heading ‘Scientist create Death in laboratory.’ Death is the given. It cannot be cloned.”


 In closing he suggests that maybe that’s the reason for religion: “Improving the quality of our state of being Dead.”


 I like the way my old friend capitalizes the word Dead. Lots of people capitalize Death. I’ve never known anyone to capitalize Dead unless they were referring to Jerry Garcia and his merry band.