009 – “No Time to Think”

Episode 009 – “No Time to Think” from 1978’s Street Legal.

How did we feel? Kelly didn’t care for it (2:35). “There’s not anything particularly wrong with it. It’s just weird and it’s not super interesting.” I made the case that the music was a perfect foil for a Dylan lyrical onslaught (3:27). Speaking of onslaughts – we read out all the words (8:45) and note the repetition of “mortality,” “humility,” “tyrant” and “mercury,” for what it’s worth. Kelly was reminded (6:57) of movie scenes where girls in flower crowns dance and lutes serenade an audience (see Firefly). I found that taking this song personally instead of apocalyptically brought a new resonance for me (13:00).

Before we break it down, verse by verse, what’s the context? (5:00) We can’t, nine episodes in, seem to get away from Dylan’s personal life and his divorces (see “Cold Irons Bound” and “Tangled Up in Blue”). And while I love the cohesiveness of the record, it’s famous for being under-produced (though, in time, the fortunes of its remastering have also been fraught). Dylan wanted a break from his previous Desire so he reset the band, looking for a radically different sound. Michael Gray, in the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia notes that Street Legal is as much a presaging album as Bringing It All Back Home was to Highway 61 Revisited or John Wesley Harding was to country Dylan, Planet Waves to Blood on the Tracks Dylan. Street Legal was his first foray into Christianity, albeit as circumstantial as it would be after this phase of Dylan’s music would take on another form. “No Time to Think” begs to be seen through (and beyond) this lens.

Let’s go verse by verse. 

Verse 1 (10:45) In death, you face life with a child and a wife / Who sleep-walks through your dreams into walls. Are they ghosts?, Kelly asks. I counter that I think we’re into another classic Dylan structure where the song is able to contain him, or another side of him, or some distant edge of him. You’re a soldier of mercy, you’re cold and you curse / “He who cannot be trusted must fall.” This last line prompts us to talk internal rhyme through the song: Stripped of all virtue as you crawl through the dirt / You can give but you cannot receive and The bridge that you travel on goes to the Babylon girl / With the rose in her hair and, the best one, I’ve seen all these decoys through a set of deep turquoise / Eyes and I feel so depressed. Verse 2 (15:40) begins with a GoT aside, Kelly stretching a tale of Dylan as a gay prostitute in Federal City. “We doesn’t even know yet. He’s like, I’m in the Empress… ehhh… no, I’m just a gay prostitute.” Betrayed by a kiss on a cool night of bliss – “who hurt you, Bob.” Judas… Verse 3 (18:21) What is a “country priestess?” What’s the deal with “china doll” standing out among the rest? Rosebud? Kelly likes the way the lines roll of her tongue, which reminds her of taking Japanese (20:30). Verse 4 (21:41) talk of the traitor in the midst as a western canon trope, “black blood mod” and his game, yo. Verse 5 and beyond (23:00) “anger and jealousy” is definitely “anger and marmite;” the verses taken together are more poetic than most we’ve listened to at this point; who the fuck is Camille?; “give and you shall receive” (from Michael Gray, “a play on Acts 20:35 ‘. . remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.’). To quote Gray one last time, into the theme of religion:

It is therefore only the tone, one of uncompromising certainty, that should surprise us on coming to the Slow Train Coming album, after all the struggle between his twin selves so brilliantly documented by Street Legal. The initial shock should properly be at the leap having succeeded—and at the tone of voice switching from the oh! but . . .’ of Street Legal to the severe certainty of You either got faith or you got unbelief / And there ain’t no neutral ground’ on Precious Angel.’ 

Thematically we rolled down that avenue (29:00). Christianity is a the most prevalent, in hindsight. Daniel, however, sees the artist in the art (30:40). One can divorce themselves all day from what they create but their fingerprints, their ethos, are there. Creation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Listening to Dylan should be personal first and critical second, each feeding into the other. Daniel, thinking about the songs to come on Street Legal, sees “No Time to Think” as more of a standout to the pedestrian songs that prop up this, “Changing of the Guard,” and “Where Are You Tonight?”

Kelly recommendations: Vampire Weekend as a whole. The Great British Spelling Bee. Some podcasts – My Dad Wrote a Porno and Put Your Hands Together. Also, Happy Endings.

Daniel recommendations: Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., Sorority Noise’s You’re Not as _____ As You Think, and Boysetsfire 20th anniversary shows in Berlin. (“HUMBLE.,” “Where Are You” and “YAH.” played.)

Next week: Delete #656. Kelly guessed #243. It’s #417. “Days of ’49.” (That’s 1849, naturally.)

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