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Changing of the Guards on a Nobel Open Thread

15

Robert Spencer here. Pamela asked me to contribute a Bob Dylan post for tonight’s Friday Night Music entry, in honor of his Nobel Prize for Literature, and since Bob Dylan lyrics are essentially the Greek chorus for my life, I am happy to oblige.

One of the ironies of this Nobel Prize selection, which is richly deserved in my opinion, is that the thoroughly Leftist Nobel committee may not realize that Bob Dylan is not quite the Leftist icon he is usually assumed to be. For decades he has shrugged off or outright rejected the “Voice of a Generation” moniker; he left protest songs behind in the early Sixties with “My Back Pages” (“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”); in Chronicles he says, in an apparently deliberate attempt to mock the Left’s sacred cows, that in the Sixties his favorite politician was Barry Goldwater; when his contemporaries were finding religion in Hare Krishna (good old George Harrison) and Islam (sinister Cat Stevens), he became that bane of the Left, a born-again Christian; he then declared, in “Neighborhood Bully,” his proud and unapologetic Zionism and support for Israel; and above all, his entire career is an exercise in gathering, preserving, and extending a live tradition, that of American music in all its essential forms, from blues (Together Through Life) and folk (all the early stuff) and gospel (Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love) to country (Nashville Skyline) and rock (all through) and even to jazz (“If Dogs Run Free”) and Tin Pan Alley (Shadows in the Night, Fallen Angels). He has shown his respect for tradition and consciousness of his place within it from the blues quotes in his early songs to his album Self-Portrait to his magnificent Theme Time Radio Hour radio series, as well as to all the various genre-spanning of his albums.

That is a quintessentially conservative action: remembering what is past rather than rewriting it to suit oneself; respecting history rather than despising it and thinking oneself superior to one’s forbears; bringing out of the past what is good and making it new again; gathering from the air a live tradition, and from the fine old eye an unconquered flame. His entire career is a tacit affirmation that America is good, and worthwhile, and something to be proud of, her bards and poets and songwriters a source of wisdom and insight — something worth preserving, and defending, and fighting for.

And so as your erstwhile rival Paul Simon might say, here’s to you, Mr. Dylan. Nowadays when literature is so drearily politicized and focused on the ephemeral, few are more deserving than you are of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Everyone will be talking about “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Like A Rolling Stone” in connection with the Nobel Prize; here is one that is less well known: “Changing of the Guards,” from the 1978 album Street Legal.

This is a live version that is a bit frenzied for my taste; I’ve got nothing against frenzy, and certainly nothing against Bob radically altering his songs live, but the studio version of this song from Street Legal is preferable, just not available on YouTube. Nowadays when the corrupt hegemony of the political and media elites is being challenged, and those deeply threatened elites are screaming at us to get back in line and shut up and take the medicine they have prepared for us, one stanza from “Changing of the Guards” seems particularly a propos:

“Gentlemen,” he said
“I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes
“I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
“But Eden is burning, either get ready for elimination
“Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards”

Sixteen years
Sixteen banners united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves
Desperate men, desperate women divided
Spreading their wings ’neath the falling leaves

Fortune calls
I stepped forth from the shadows, to the marketplace
Merchants and thieves, hungry for power, my last deal gone down
She’s smelling sweet like the meadows where she was born
On midsummer’s eve, near the tower

The cold-blooded moon
The captain waits above the celebration
Sending his thoughts to a beloved maid
Whose ebony face is beyond communication
The captain is down but still believing that his love will be repaid

They shaved her head
She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo
A messenger arrived with a black nightingale
I seen her on the stairs and I couldn’t help but follow
Follow her down past the fountain where they lifted her veil

I stumbled to my feet
I rode past destruction in the ditches
With the stitches still mending ’neath a heart-shaped tattoo
Renegade priests and treacherous young witches
Were handing out the flowers that I’d given to you

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected
The endless road and the wailing of chimes
The empty rooms where her memory is protected
Where the angels’ voices whisper to the souls of previous times

She wakes him up
Forty-eight hours later, the sun is breaking
Near broken chains, mountain laurel and rolling rocks
She’s begging to know what measures he now will be taking
He’s pulling her down and she’s clutching on to his long golden locks

“Gentlemen,” he said
“I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes
“I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
“But Eden is burning, either get ready for elimination
“Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards”

Peace will come
With tranquillity and splendor on the wheels of fire
But will bring us no reward when her false idols fall
And cruel death surrenders with its pale ghost retreating
Between the King and the Queen of Swords

The Truth Must be Told

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