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Shirley, Revisions, Bob Dylan

I was up in SF on Valencia Street again yesterday. Here's Ouroboros the world snake who swallows his own tail; twisted into an infinity sign to boot! Ad for an upstaris tattoo parlor.

I hung with John Shirley in the Mission and then went with Sylvia and Michael Blumlein to see Bob Dylan play.

It’s always great to be with Shirley. He gives me this sense that nothing matters but the now. He has the fresh, innocent, all-seeing quality of the true Outsider. (As does Blumlein, come to think of it. I love being with my writer friends, it's like breathing unpolluted baseline-type Antarctic air.)

John and I walked down the grafitti alley off Valencia (which looks like image inside the man in this picture) and there were a bunch of artists at work repainting the murals.

I was rereading Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” this week. And here’s poor Gregor Samsa, he’s turned into a giant cockroach and can’t even get out of bed in his parents apartment because his little legs are waving uselessly in the air, and his boss shows up at the apartment and is yelling through the door, and Gregor offers this very long and heartfelt explanation, but all that the boss and his parents hear through the door is guttural twittering.

To be really far out, you turn into a giant cockroach and make noises that don’t even sound like a human language. I’d like to write a story like that with John Shirley one of these days.

Right now I’m busy revising Postsingular. My editor Dave Hartwell gave me some good suggestions. Basically it’s a matter of rounding out the secondary characters. The spear-carriers. When I’m writing the first draft, I focus on the primary characters, but often the secondary characters are just doing what’s necessary to move the story along. So maybe in Part I Craigor is a jokey artist, and in Part IV he’s a brainless Lothario. So now I need to make him consistent and explain why he changed. The explanations don’t even have to be that convincing, but you need a fig leaf to cover the behavioral forking.

It’s great how Dylan keeps at his art, year after year. Out there performing. A good role model for any artist. Like the writer who writes every day and continues publishing.

A few weeks ago I read an excerpt of an old interview with Dylan, and he was talking about certain of his songs as depicting the quality of later afternoon light in certain parts of a city. Which reminded me that a musician isn’t just thinking about the words, the art is in the sound, like a painter piling up colors and shapes, and it may indeed synaesthetically evoke just about anything that’s on the creator’s mind.

He and the band had a killer trio of songs for their encore: “Thunder on the Mountain,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and “All Along the Watchtower.” That last one—I was remembering thirty years ago how I’d sometimes get out my big flat black plastic records and play the Dylan and Jimi Hendrix versions of this song, enjoying both of them. And maybe Dylan didn’t play this song live for awhile, but now he’s back to it. He reimagines his songs on every tour, tailoring them to the band and current state of his by now somewhat duck-like voice.

There were some good guitar lines in “Watchtower” — not mimicking Jimi, which would be dull — but playing something that takes into account what Jimi did, and then does something different. A postmodern, 21 st Century sound, post-9/11, irony in the music, a full awareness of the past thirty years, the long vista of time we’ve passed through, the dead friends and relatives, our own inevitable deaths to come, the human condition, and that good old touchstone: the ecstasy of losing yourself in the music in a crowd.

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