The Book of the Dead Man (Dylan’s Names)

Live as if you were already dead.
                           —Zen admonition

All I can do is be me, whoever that is.
                           —Bob Dylan

 

 1. About the Dead Man and Dylan’s Names

 

Who were Elston Gunn and Blind Boy Grunt, Bob Landy and Robert

                  Milkwood Thomas, Tedham Porterhouse and Lucky Wilbury, Boo

                  Wilbury and Jack Frost—who was Sergei Petrov?

When the Swedish Academy gave him the Nobel, the grumps got huffy

                  and, wouldn’t you know it, the squares got hip.

Ah, but the dead man is the one who knows what it’s worth and what it’s

                  not worth, so too the performer who thought up “The Never Ending

                  Tour.”

The dead man knows that being a grownup means knowing that things

                  end.

The dead man understands in his bones that a lifetime is an interlude, not

                  yet a flagged sixteenth in a century of whole notes.

To bend the genres as Dylan did meant holding up the sky and spending

                  his reserves.

We do not ask for propriety when the music starts, nor for civic good, nor

                  do we await the return of sounds traveling a spherical universe.

We do not ask the music of the spheres to notate the progression of

                  dissonance to harmony and back—it would take forever.

Who is Bob Dylan, and who was Bob Dylan, and who will have been Bob

                  Dylan?

It is not incumbent upon the artist to know, nor need a witness come forth.

 

 

2. More About the Dead Man and Dylan’s Names

 

The Dead Man holds that what are known as the blues are only the first

                  blues, and that hands-up gospel, the lost souls of country, the

                  rebellious arousal of rock, and the helpless loves of The Great

                  American Song Book are also the blues.

The Dead Man will not argue in words, for music always wins.

It’s the Dylan of true rhymes, iambics, songs that go on breathing where

                  others stopped, choruses that became marching orders—not the

                  staging, but a voice like straw and lungs like an accordion that could

                  not stop.

The Dead Man, like Dylan, does not linger in expectation, he too changes

                  keys and forms, he lightly sings his lines and hums in private,

                  waiting for the new thing to find him.

No one knows better than the Dead Man the backward looks of an

                  audience that craves the all-time favorites.

The Dead Man is neither a fanboy nor a follower, but is out front with his

                  ears open.

He knows it when he hears and sees it—music breaking through the noise,

                  and the analysts in wet shoes.

When lightning hits, the critics simmer and fizzle.

The Dead Man knows that for the artist who reimagines himself some luck

                  is bad luck, as are someplaces, so why stay there?

Not to remain a Zimmerman, then, who may be the backstage usher who

                  tells his children he once met you.

 

Marvin Bell’s recent books include Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2013 )and Whiteout (Lodima Press, 2011), a collaboration with photographer Nathan Lyons. The selections from “If & When” in this issue continue Bell’s poetic correspondence with Christopher Merrill, earlier exchanges from which were collected in After the Fact: Scripts & Postscripts (White Pine Press, 2016).