Monday, July 30, 2007

Dylan Project - Forever Young

The song "Forever Young," is not a typical Dylan song _ what is? _ but it's a masterpiece.

It was released on "Planet Waves" in 1974, after he was past his prime. That version, although widely played, is not very good.

It's the demo version that I love, and I have no idea when it was recorded. Much earlier, by the sounds of it.

It's obviously one of his most melodic songs.

But the lyrics are the best thing about "Forever Young." It's 'right on target, so direct.' Simple and profound. Nothing weird, abstract or tangential here, I think you'll agree.

In all, the closest comparison with this song in spirit and style would probably be "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go."

It's addressed to a young person, implying an older narrator.

I'm going to post the whole song, and see if it gets me in trouble; my reasoning is, it's hard to get your hands on this version anyway, and anybody reading this will know it's good publicity for Dylan. So listen here.

It's like your grandpa has put his hands on your cheeks, is looking you in the eye, and is giving you all his good will and advice.

"May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true."


"May you always do for others
And let others do for you."

The idea is a riff on 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' But in this case, it's a challenge to help make this world a better place. In the end, what more important lesson can a parent teach a child?

"Let others do for you." Accept that 'no man is an island,' and everybody has to ask for help sometimes. Don't be proud.

Next, the song leaps in pitch, paralleling the leap into the poetic sky the words themselves take. John Donne would have prolly would have understood and approved:

"May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung, and
May you stay forever young."

Achieve your dreams, but keep the outlook you had as a child.

The next verse begins with the two wishes,
"May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,"

These are unsettling because we live in a cynical age. We'd be embarrassed to ask somebody to be brave, strong, and true. And 'righteous' _ it has religious overtones. But to a child, these idealistic requests can be made without sarcasm or cynicism. A young person can really be these things, before the world spoils him. I vividly remember Ross McCall standing up to a bully back in Jr. High. Man, it was something to behold.

"May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young."

The final verse has two more pearls:

"May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift."

Indeed. Life is short. Be doing.

"May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung, and
May you stay forever young."

As if a human being, like a chord, could vibrate with joy his entire life. I get chills every time I hear this. And that was before I had any children.

May your song always be sung...

For the full background to this project, click here


Anonymous said...

Can you play this one on your guitar?

Toby Sterling said...

Ha! I can play the chords, but picking like that is a little above my ability level, let alone picking and keeping the rythym and singing...