Some days, I just surrender to a memory that was life-shaping. Today is such a day.
It was the early 60’s, I was in high school, and I had started playing the guitar. There were three musical influences – Elvis, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan – all converging at once. And it was Dylan, of course, who informed me.
At the same time, things were happening out in “the world” – the March on Washington in ’63, the Civil Rights struggles, the Cuban Missile crisis and the threat of annihilation, the assassination of the president and the assassin.
Into this world came this song. It certainly wasn’t on the radio, but I had bought the album – my second Dylan album – and listened to it, late at night, in the living room, on the hi-fi console, with my headphones on, in stereo.
When I first heard it, it was just “the next track” on the album. But halfway through, I stopped and moved the needle back to the beginning. I listened. Then played it again. And again. And again.
I learned, in 5 minutes, about poverty. Farming. South Dakota. Pain. Helplessness. Desperation. Terror. Loss.
And the cycle of that life. “There’s 7 new people born.” – the saddest line I had ever heard in any song ever.
Listening to The Ballad of Hollis Brown – it made me stop in my tracks – and change direction. Today I listened to it by chance. It made me stop and write this. With tears in my eyes.