Rushed Limbo, Bob Dylan, and the Event Horizon
Things I can’t see - they’re blocking my path
Show me your wisdom - tell me my fate
Put me upright - make me walk straight
Forge my identity from the inside out
You know what I’m talking about
~ Bob Dylan
"Mother of Muses" from Rough and Rowdy Ways, 2020
Down to the quadrennial wire, I find myself thinking about this day four years ago. Reading the blog post “Finding Strength in Pain” now makes it seem like I knew what would go down in the 2016 contest. But 20/20 hindsight is not exactly a superpower. I surely did not know then. And I don’t know now: what indeed will happen Tuesday and in the weeks to come?
On that election morning, I was already seeking the balm of Bob Dylan and distracting myself with the glow of his Nobel Prize. Even without a single live performance this year — a first that I know of since 1977 — Bob Dylan pierced through the lockdown with explosively creative and beautifully haunting new songs on his album Rough and Rowdy Ways. Seeing the certainty of the Never Ending Tour — and that of all other cultural institutions — shaken and taken right to the brink of existence has been humbling.
The state of cultural institutions pales in comparison to the astounding toll of human lives. But the loss of the industry is a maiming to New York’s identity, and one that we will contend with for years to come if only for the economic impact, which to me is not the most of it. That said, if we’re tabulating perversities such as the silver linings of Covid, I’ll happily add to the list an unimaginable coming boom from our artists experiencing a world on pause. A balm to look forward to.
For Election Day 2020, the pandemic has enhanced the intensity, increasing the stakes and the risks people feel worth taking. The early voting lines in our neighborhood alone and the ambiance of neighbors talking to neighbors in those lines indicate an engagement we’ve never experienced before and put me in mind of the 1994 general election in South Africa, which we watched high on our horse. Little did we know: there but for the grace of voices unheard would go we. Our 2020 lines were more spread out due to social distancing, but the snaking and voter tenacity in the face of potential disenfranchisement rhyme.
I feel as if I am experiencing all of this in a state of Rushed Limbo. I want to see more change, more enfranchisement, more civil society in action. Again, such are the perverse silver linings of this moment in our country — things we shouldn’t have to suffer through a constitutional or healthcare meltdown in order to harness. But perhaps this is just human nature, that action comes at the 59th minute of the 11th hour.
Limbo. Yes, I want the limbo of uncertainty to end. Rushed because I want to savor and let ferment all the powerful potential that’s coalesced in 2020. I want to herald the vindication of all the Colin Kaepernicks who knew. Who tried to tell a country not ready to hear. I want this massive populist potential to be what saves us after three branches of government have neither checked nor balanced one another or our sinking democracy.
The time signature of 2020 defies notational convention. It’s more like a warping than anything else. To borrow from an astrophysical metaphor, I feel like I am sitting just beyond the event horizon of a black hole watching a clock slow down to imperceptible forward momentum. Y2K20 has done all it could to spaghettify us.
At this galactic Rubicon, will we snap? Or will we break free from the gravitational pull, claw back to the edge, move away from the event horizon, and see clocks resume their normal speed. And return to the Limbo, not as a state of anxiety but as a living room dance, done with family and friends in close proximity.
What are these dark days I see in this world so badly bent
How can I redeem the time - the time so idly spent
How much longer can it last - how long can this go on
I embraced my love put down my head
and I crossed the Rubicon
~ Bob Dylan
"Crossing the Rubicon" from Rough and Rowdy Ways, 2020
And Now for Something Completely Different, The Lagniappe
And alas it is true, there will be no Bob Dylan residency on the Upper West Side this year, but you can relive Bob@Beacon (1) here, (2)here and (3)here.